Nonviolence makes Tibet invisible
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.