By ANANT MISHRA [Former Youth Representative to United Nations]
For decades, the issue of shifting power has been surrounding the two nations, Tibet and its powerful neighbour in the East, China. One should understand that this complicated history does not end Tibet as a victim; instead it showed the level of engagements between the two parties. My column is a simple interpretation of history focussing on how the issue began followed by the importance to resolve the issue.
The history goes back to 640 A.D where the Tibetan king Songtsan Gampo added numerous territories along the Yarlung River Valley. After his death, the ascension of the empire was handed to his sons and their sons who added many important provinces such as Qinghai, Gansu, and Xinjiang in their reign. To regain back the lost territories, the War of Kashgar was fought between the empire and the then government of China. Tibet had made significant allies with the Arabs and eastern Turks who were then considered as enemies of China. Chinese government was defeat in the Battle of Talas River in 751, which weakened the government, allowing Tibet to control the whole Central Asia. They marched into the territories of northern India and increased extended their empire. In 822 A.D Tibet and China signed a peace treaty demarcating the border between the two empires.
By the thirteenth century, truce seemed to be on charts as both Tibetans and Mongols considered Tibet as a province of Yuan China. The fall of the Yuan China Empire resulted in Tibet’s reassertion of independence. Gendun Drup was an abbot of a Tibetan monastery. In 1474, two years after his death, a child was found to be a reincarnation of this abbot. Gendun Gyatso was then raised to follow his place. These men were the first two dalai lamas. In 1653, Dalai Lama met the Qing Dynasty's second Emperor Shunzhi. This meet resulted in equality of both the nation’s leaders. The Dalai Lama was then recognised as a spiritual representative of the Qing Empire. This began as a "priest/patron" relationship between the two, Dalai Lama and Qing China. However the radical and incompetence nature of the sixth Dalai Lama set the Tibetan sovereign land unstable. He was anti monastic and didn’t believe in a life within monastery; as a result Lobsang Khan of the Khoshud Mongols removed him in 1705. He then proclaimed himself as the king and declared an inauthentic individual as the new Dalai Lama. This resulted in mass outrage, vandalism and most importantly assassination of this “pretend Dalai Lama”. To ensure a longer instability, the insurgent groups were funded by the then Chinese government in order to control Amdo and Kham, of Qinghai province in 1724. Three years after the incident, Chinese and Tibetans signed a treaty that laid out the boundary line between the two nations. This treaty remained active till 1910.
The British entered the conflict by invading Tibet as a consequence of Tibet’s refusal to sign the treaty to demarcate the boundaries between Sikkim and Tibet. The invasion led to British interferences in Tibet’s internal matters. Thus, Tibet was used leverage over the Russian expansionist policies that were threatening British colonial rule and their ‘Raj’ in India. China extended their boundaries to Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan in 1904, during absence of the thirteen Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso, as he was out of the country. He returned to Tibet in 1912 when Chinese revolution drove Chinese forces out of Lhasa.
In 1914 negotiations under the cloak of the Shimla conference began. The outrage Tibetans threatened PRC as they had no claim over them. Hence, this brought back inner and the outer Tibet under Dalai Lama’s jurisdiction.
The collapse of the Qing dynasty led to the beginning of Chinese “warlord era”. This era witnessed many political assassinations, kidnapping of political ranking officials of the Qing dynasty. The PRC was henceforth occupied by the on goings of the Second World War, allowing independent Tibet to function peacefully till 1933. The year 1950 was eventful as People's Liberation Army invaded Tibet with an agenda to assert China's right to rule over Tibet by drafting the "Seventeen Point Agreement" which declared Tibet as an integrated part of PRC. Representatives of Tibet were threatened with severe punishment if they didn’t ratify the agreement. They repudiated the agreement nine years later. Since then we have witnessed guerrilla warfare techniques to oust the Chinese forces entering the nation. Outrage PLA soldiers retaliated by burning houses and villages. Tibetan government confirmed an estimation of 86,000 Tibetans killed.
In 1959 PLA made an attempt to abduct Dalai Lama which resulted in clashes with the Tibetan supporters while he escaped to find haven in India. China has initiated in his absence land redistribution and resettlement of Han Chinese in Tibet under the "Western China Development Program". This section of the population hoards most of the government jobs.
A revision of anti Chinese sentiments was witnessed when second in command, the Panchen Lama died under mysterious circumstances right after his hate speech (against the PRC). Another incident that drew international attention to the Chinese Tibetan conflict was the merciless killing of five nuns, three monks, and one male by the guards at Drapchi Prison in 1998.
The year 2008 witnessed another uprising wherein Tibetans demanded their nuns and monks who were imprisoned right after 1959 be released as they were treated inhumanly and at times killed in prison. To disperse the crowd Chinese police used tear gas and soon shots were heard. The protest continued for several days and soon it took the form of riot. The local Chinese immigrants were mainly targeted in the riots. Their houses were burned; shops were ransacked in Lhasa and other cities. China retaliated by cutting off access for foreign tourists in Tibet. This unrest reached the Inner Tibet, Gansu, and Sichuan Provinces. International communities condemned the actions of China as many leaders boycotted Olympic Opening Ceremonies. This riot was discussed heavily in the UNHCR along with human rights violations by PRC. Diplomatic negotiation soon died out when Dalai Lama in his message to the Tibetans stated “strong stance against Beijing”.
In 2009 the Chinese government apprehended 6000 alleged criminals just before the anniversary of the 1959 revolt. They also appointed a long term Politburo member as Panchen Lama. This resulted in a mass unrest in China's Xinjiang region. Condemning the attacks and apprehension of innocent Tibetans, Dalai Lama declared Beijing policy as “a policy to dominate ethnic communities”. 2014 also witnessed the discovery of the PRC admitting to the possibility that at least two Tibetans were killed in the 2008 riots. 2010 witnessed the resumption of between the conflicting factions after a break of more than a year. 2011 saw the self immolation of many Tibetan Buddhists monk. Almost 12 Tibetan monks used this act to attract the attention of international community’s towards the issue. Dalai Lama step down from the political reins and curved a path for his successor Lobsang Sangay. He also criticised the act of immolation that was used as a tool of protest against Chinese oppression. In 2011 we witnessed the regime change in China as the new president Xi Jinping came to power. He promised to deal strongly with the “insurgents” in Tibet whereas we also saw Washington extending olive Branch to the Tibetans. In 2012 the UN human rights Chief Navi Pillay called China to address the issue of human rights violations that have resulted in self immolations.
In 2014, PLA established large number of barracks and makeshift houses to station their infantry and to provide logistics support to their soldiers around Tibet. They constructed new airfields and upgraded landing zones including helipads in and around Tibet. They also established strategic missile launching sites in Tibet and enhanced China’s capability of deploying troops faster and sustaining them over a longer period of time.
Right to Self determination
“To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self determination of peoples.”
- Charter of United Nations Human Rights
This is clearly mentioned in the Charter of the United Nations. The principle further declares “all people have the right to determine freely, without any external pressure, pr their political status and are free to pursue political, economic, social and cultural development, and every State has the duty to respect this right in accordance with the provisions of the Charter.”
The right to self determination does not necessarily mean independence. The issue is very important both for Tibetans and neighbouring nations. No nation has right to subdue other religion or ethnic communities through military or political means. Hence to attain peace in the region it is imperative that a peaceful referendum be introduced.
The concept of the referendum can also come into play for the benefit of the PRC because the Tibetans have become a minority in the region. Over the years the Chinese government has strategically paced the ethnic Han Chinese in Tibet to garner the much needed support in the area. Every coin has two sides; I sincerely hope that this issue is raised in UNHCR along with UNGA and other South Asian organizations such as SAARC and ASEAN.