Non­vi­o­lence makes Ti­bet in­vis­i­ble

Manawatu Standard - - Comment & Opinion - JOSH ROGIN

The Ti­betan move­ment is at a cross­roads, fac­ing in­creas­ing Chi­nese op­pres­sion and a short­age of in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion and sup­port.

If the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and the United States con­tinue to ig­nore one of the last and most af­flicted non­vi­o­lent re­sis­tance move­ments, the im­pli­ca­tions will reach far beyond the Ti­betan Plateau.

The Ti­bet is­sue in­ter­sects three huge global trends: The surge of na­tion­al­ism, the re­treat of hu­man rights and democ­racy pro­mo­tion, and the rise of China.

Thanks to the last two, the Ti­betan peo­ple’s strug­gle for sur­vival, dig­nity and au­ton­omy is steadily los­ing vis­i­bil­ity. That prompted the Ti­betan gov­ern­mentin-ex­ile here in north­ern In­dia to con­vene a first-of-its-kind con­fer­ence to de­ter­mine the path for­ward.

Called the Five-fifty Fo­rum, the con­fer­ence sought to chart a fiveyear plan for pur­su­ing a re­turn to di­a­logue and ne­go­ti­a­tions with China. If that’s un­achiev­able, the Ti­betans will plan for an­other 50 years of re­sis­tance to China’s oc­cu­pa­tion, sys­tem­atic re­pres­sion and at­tempted cul­tural geno­cide in Ti­bet.

Free­dom House’s lat­est in­dex ranked Ti­bet the sec­ond-least-free place, slightly bet­ter than Syria, but less free than North Korea. Yet the sit­u­a­tions in Syria and North Korea get far more me­dia cov­er­age, thanks to the crises’ threats of ter­ror­ism and nu­clear war. Ti­betan lead­ers lament that their non­vi­o­lent move­ment is ig­nored, while vi­o­lent move­ments and vi­o­lent regimes suc­ceed.

Ti­betans are na­tion­al­ists, but they are not seek­ing eth­nic pu­rity in Ti­bet like the mil­i­tant Bud­dhist na­tion­al­ists in Burma. Nor are Ti­betans seek­ing their own state, like the Kurds in Iraq. In­stead, the Ti­betan lead­er­ship is pur­su­ing a ‘‘mid­dle way ap­proach’’ that seeks lim­ited au­ton­omy within the Chi­nese sys­tem.

Some 150 Ti­betans have burned them­selves alive to protest China’s re­pres­sion since 2009, but no-one else was harmed in those in­ci­dents.

The Dalai Lama has held the Ti­betan move­ment to a strict pol­icy of non­vi­o­lence for decades. But when the 82-year-old spir­i­tual icon dies, that com­mit­ment to peace­ful re­sis­tance could go with him. The win­dow for strik­ing a deal with Bei­jing could close as well.

Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties kid­napped Ti­bet’s sec­ond-holi­est of­fi­cial, the Panchen Lama, when he was 6 and ap­pointed an im­pos­tor in his place. When the cur­rent Dalai Lama dies, Bei­jing may ap­point a fake Dalai Lama, which could cause the cri­sis to boil over.

Mean­while, China’s strat­egy to erase Ti­betan his­tory, re­li­gion and lan­guage from Ti­bet is ad­vanc­ing apace. Un­der the rubric of de­vel­op­ment, China has bull­dozed hun­dreds of Ti­betan re­li­gious and his­tor­i­cal sites. Mas­sive num­bers of Chi­nese ci­ti­zens are be­ing mi­grated into Ti­bet and given jobs, al­ter­ing de­mo­graph­ics to make Ti­betans a mi­nor­ity in their home­land.

China is also se­cu­ri­tis­ing the Ti­betan Plateau with ev­ery­thing from ad­vanced elec­tronic sur­veil­lance and mon­i­tor­ing to the es­tab­lish­ment of a fear cul­ture that turns neigh­bours into spies. Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping has said se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity in Ti­bet are the goal. His poli­cies are des­tined to have the op­po­site ef­fect.

To put the is­sue back on the map, Don­ald Trump could bring up Ti­bet dur­ing his up­com­ing visit to China, en­cour­ag­ing a re­turn to the di­a­logue that ended in 2010.

Trump should meet the Dalai Lama, as Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W Bush and Pres­i­dent Barack Obama did four times each while in of­fice. Trump and the Dalai Lama may not agree on is­sues such as cli­mate change, but they are nat­u­ral al­lies in the ef­fort to man­age China’s rise.

In the long term, deal­ing with China’s emer­gence as a world power man­dates con­fronting the regime’s most egre­gious and mas­sive of­fences. If China’s Ti­bet strat­egy is al­lowed to suc­ceed, ev­ery other ac­tor in the path of China’s ex­pan­sion will be in greater dan­ger.

The Wash­ing­ton Post.

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