We must all stand with Ti­bet

Chi­nese colo­nial­ism can­not con­tinue to be ig­nored

The McGill Daily - - Commentary - Max Honig­mann, Khando Lan­gry & Ty Cary Com­men­tary Writ­ers Max Honig­gmann is a sec­ond year Mas­ter’s stu­dent in Con­cor­dia’s pub­lic pol­icy and pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­gram. He also works as a re­search as­sis­tant for the Canada Ti­bet Com­mit­tee. Khando Ln­gry

The present North Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal con­text is de­fined by the per­pet­u­a­tion of deep fear, fac­tual in­ac­cu­racy, and the sub­or­di­na­tion of Oth­er­ness. It is one char­ac­ter­ized by the strug­gles of ne­olib­er­al­ism and the politics of greed and frac­ture which ac­com­pany it. In the wake of the re­cent Amer­i­can elec­tion, rad­i­cal right-wing po­lit­i­cal pro­jects to limit mi­grant and refugee rights, and com­plete de­struc­tive pipe­line pro­jects such as the Dakota Ac­cess Pipe­line have made this so­cial real­ity un­ques­tion­ably ex­plicit. Even if to­day’s sit­u­a­tion may seem unique in re­cent Cana­dian and Amer­i­can mem­o­ries, the pro­jects of the present are mere con­tri­bu­tions to a much broader global trend to­wards un­re­strained growth and pri­vate own­er­ship. Ti­bet seems per­haps an un­likely place from which to un­der­stand the chal­lenges af­flict­ing to­day’s North Amer­i­can con­text, though the sus­tained strug­gle of its tra­di­tional in­hab­i­tants of­fers a model for re­silience in the face of pow­er­ful op­pres­sive in­sti­tu­tions.

In 1950, The Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China in­vaded Ti­bet and by the end of 1951 had an­nexed the en­tire Ti­betan Plateau. The young Dalai Lama, who serves as the spir­i­tual and tem­po­ral leader of the Ti­betan na­tion, sought com­mon ground with the oc­cu­py­ing power to no avail. On March 10, 1959, ten­sions cul­mi­nated in Lhasa, Ti­bet’s cap­i­tal, lead­ing to mas­sive up­ris­ings, dur­ing which more than 10,000 peo­ple are be­lieved to have been killed. Fol­low­ing these up­ris­ings, the Dalai Lama fled his ances­tral home­land to ex­ile in In­dia, fol­lowed by around 80,000 Ti­betans. The In­dian city of Dharam­sala is now home to both the Dalai Lama and the Cen­tral Ti­betan Ad­min­is­tra­tion: the gov­ern­ing au­thor­ity which Ti­betans con­sider le­git­i­mate. Due to its sig­nif­i­cance in the col­lec­tive Ti­betan mem­ory, March 10 now serves as an in­ter­na­tional day of re­sis­tance against China’s abu­sive colo­nial­ism.

Lhasa, the his­tor­i­cal re­li­gious and po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal of Ti­bet, lies in an area des­ig­nated by the Chi­nese as the Ti­bet Au­tonomous Re­gion (TAR). De­spite what the name sug­gests, the re­gion’s gov­ern­ment largely ad­vances Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party (CPC) di­rec­tives through a lo­cal “peo­ple’s congress” de­signed by and an­swer­ing to the CPC. In or­der to have any real in­flu­ence in lo­cal politics, Ti­betans must join their lo­cal Com­mu­nist Party branch, where the athe­ism re­quired for mem­ber­ship ef­fec­tively pro­hibits rep­re­sen­ta­tion for the Bud­dhist ma­jor­ity. In­ter­na­tional la­bor and hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions are cat­e­gor­i­cally banned from work­ing in the re­gion, while ac­cess for foreign jour­nal­ists and diplo­mats is ex­tremely lim­ited and re­stricted only to gov­ern­ment-ap­proved ar­eas.

De­spite the façade of mod­ern­iza­tion prop­a­gated by the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment, Ti­bet is one of the most se­verely re­pressed places in the world. The re­gion ranks at the bot­tom of Free­dom House’s 2016 ‘Free­dom in the World in­dex,’ sec­ond only to Syria. Acts as harm­less as pos­sess­ing a photo of the Dalai Lama are met with ar­rest and beat­ings, while po­lit­i­cal dis­si­dents are rou­tinely si­lenced with lengthy prison sen­tences and tor­ture. This has led to a frus­trat­ing ten­sion within Ti­betan so­ci­ety: while the Dalai Lama’s paci­fist mes­sage em­pha­sizes non­vi­o­lent re­sis­tance, av­enues for such re­sis­tance have been blocked off by the Chi­nese regime.

Both cul­tur­ally and nat­u­rally, Ti­bet is un­der pro­found threat. At three miles above sea level, Ti­bet is the source of sev­eral of Asia’s ma­jor rivers, which leads to its pop­u­lar char­ac­ter­i­za­tion as the ‘roof of the world.’ The detri­men­tal ef­fects of cli­mate change are of­ten first and most in­tensely ex­pe­ri­enced within the re­gion through droughts, which dev­as­tate lo­cal agri­cul­tural prac­tices, melt­ing of per­mafrost grounds which form the foundations for count­less com­mu­ni­ties, and the loss of a myr­iad of key­stone species which pro­vide a cru­cial source of food in the harsh en­vi­ron­ment. More di­rectly, Chi­nese pres­ence within the re­gion has rad­i­cally dis­rupted en­vi­ron­men­tal au­ton­omy through the devel­op­ment of in­va­sive damming pro­jects and by way of pol­lu­tion via min­ing in­dus­tries and nu­clear waste dis­posal sites through­out re­mote por­tions of Ti­bet.

Such kinds of eco­log­i­cal dom­i­na­tion must nec­es­sar­ily be conceived of as in­sep­a­ra­ble from so­cial forms of op­pres­sion, wherein Ti­betans are lim­ited in their free­dom to prac­tice in­dige­nous spir­i­tu­al­ity and Ti­betan Bud­dhism. Since the Chi­nese Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion from the mid1960s to 70s, 99 per cent of Bud­dhist monas­ter­ies have been closed at the hands of the state. Most re­cently, China has be­gun the de­struc­tion of Larung Gar, one of the largest re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties in the world pop­u­lated by over 10,000 prac­tic­ing Bud­dhists. Due to the non­vi­o­lent teach­ings of Ti­betan Bud­dhism, a rad­i­cal act of po­lit­i­cal protest has been pop­u­lar­ized: self-im­mo­la­tion. In re­sponse to the des­e­cra­tion of their way of life, 146 Ti­betans aged 16 to 64 have self-im­mo­lated since 2009.

Be­cause of their lack of po­lit­i­cal rights and mean­ing­ful rep­re­sen­ta­tion in for­mal gov­ern­ing struc­tures. Ti­betans have had to look to al­ter­na­tive forms of mo­bi­liza­tion. Di­rect ac­tion such as dis­rup­tive protest­ing has be­come the norm, as the only prac­ti­cal way to seek change. Within Ti­bet, sig­nif­i­cant ac­tions have been un­der­taken, not by po­lit­i­cal elites but rather by ev­ery­day Ti­betans. Out­side of Ti­bet, a transna­tional so­cial move­ment has tran­spired thanks to the ad­vances of so­cial me­dia. Ti­betans in ex­ile, de­spite be­ing scat­tered across the globe, have set up var­i­ous is­sue-ori­ented in­ter­est groups such as the Canada Ti­bet Com­mit­tee and Stu­dents for a Free Ti­bet. Un­for­tu­nately, coun­tries con­sis­tently dis­re­gard the sit­u­a­tion within Ti­bet and con­tinue to treat China with def­er­ence. In fact, due to Chi­nese pres­sure, South Africa has con­sis­tently re­fused the Dalai Lama en­try, no­tably for fel­low no­bel Peace Prize lau­re­ate Des­mond Tutu’s 80th Birth­day cel­e­bra­tions in 2011 as well as for the 14th World Sum­mit of World Peace Lau­re­ates of 2014. Other coun­tries to act as such in­clude Mongolia and Nor­way.

Ul­ti­mately, glob­al­iza­tion has acted as an em­pow­er­ing force for the Chi­nese state and has granted it con­sid­er­able com­mer­cial, eco­nomic and diplo­matic power on the in­ter­na­tional stage. Canada has con­trib­uted to Ti­bet’s con­tem­po­rary chal­lenges in the form of ex­trac­tive min­ing de­vel­op­ments. Com­pa­nies pre­vi­ously fi­nanced by Canada, such as China Gold, aid the project of colo­nial­ism and en­vi­ron­men­tal dev­as­ta­tion through min­ing tech­niques in­volv­ing the pol­lu­tion of lo­cal wa­ter sources, re­source ex­trac­tion, and ex­ploitive la­bor prac­tices. Ti­betans hired to work at these mines fre­quently face dire health con­se­quences and be­come cycli­cally im­pov­er­ished as they come to de­pend on the me­nial wages they re­ceive from the in­dus­try.

In the early 1970s, Canada was one of only two Western na­tions (the other be­ing Switzer­land) to of­fer re­set­tle­ment to Ti­betan refugees. How­ever, Canada has had a mixed record, choos­ing to adopt a foreign pol­icy of “prin­ci­pled prag­ma­tism” with re­spect to China. This has trans­lated into a care­ful diplo­matic bal­anc­ing act aimed at ap­peas­ing the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment on the one hand, while main­tain­ing the care­fully cul­ti­vated image of a coun­try that rec­og­nizes hu­man rights as a cor­ner­stone of is in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions. In fact, hav­ing de-linked hu­man rights and trade to the point of with­draw­ing sup­port for a United Na­tions Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights res­o­lu­tion on China in 1997, Canada has ef­fec­tively ex­cused it­self from put- ting mean­ing­ful pres­sure on China. The likely-im­pend­ing free trade deal between our two na­tions will likely in­crease Canada’s in­volve­ment in the eco­nomic col­o­niza­tion of Ti­bet.

China’s far-reach­ing eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence does not mean there is noth­ing we, as Cana­dian in­di­vid­u­als, can do to sus­tain the re­sis­tance move­ment. The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment is ex­tremely sen­si­tive about its rep­u­ta­tion and sus­tained pro-ti­bet move­ments here and else­where in the world have had a tremen­dous im­pact, lead­ing to the re­lease of nu­mer­ous jailed dis­si­dents. Show­ing sol­i­dar­ity with the strug­gle of Ti­betans on March 10 sends an im­por­tant sig­nal to the gov­ern­ment of China that the op­pres­sion with which they meet Ti­bet’s non­vi­o­lent re­sis­tance move­ment is not ig­nored by the world. Stand­ing with Ti­bet means stand­ing against in­jus­tice and colo­nial­ism every­where. Bhod Gyalo!

All are wel­come to at­tend this year’s March 10 rally on Par­lia­ment Hill. For more in­for­ma­tion or to find out how you can show sol­i­dar­ity in other ways, please con­tact the Canada Ti­bet Com­mit­tee at ct­cof­fice@ti­bet.ca.

Cour­tesy of The Canada Ti­bet Com­mit­tee

Demon­stra­tors in front of the Cana­dian Par­lia­ment.

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