Tibet’s identity crisis deepens- a call to the international community!
CCP has been trying to establish political & cultural uniformity in Tibet posing a threat to their identity. Tibetans are now hoping for the global community to hold CCP responsible for its actions.
Tenzin Dasel is of Tibetan origin, born and raised in India as a stateless person. She is currently pursuing MPP at MaxBell School of Public Policy, McGill University. She is a human rights activist and hopes to embark on a path where she can contribute to effecting meaningful change in the world.
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WHEN TIBET WAS INVADED by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 1949, the Chinese government promised that the “beliefs, customs and religious habits of the Tibetan people” would be respected through a 17-point agreement. Unfortunately, that has not been held in many areas of Tibetan life, including education, environmental issues, and native culture. Despite 70 years since Tibet's invasion, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) still sees Tibetans' distinct identity as a threat to their power in Tibet. A clear understanding of the global significance of Tibet is necessary to understand why the CCP is so determined to establish political and cultural uniformity in Tibet.
China has always maintained strict control in Tibet. Experts say it is so because of Tibet's geopolitical significance for China to maintain its dominance. For instance, the Tibetan plateau, which is also commonly known as 'the roof of the world,' is home to 46,000 glaciers which are the source of many significant rivers flowing into Asian countries, such as India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Nepal, Cambodia, Bhutan, Laos, Thailand, Pakistan and Burma. Nearly 1.3 billion people depend on this freshwater. Tibet's water resources have become a strategic political element for the CCP to maintain its global dominance. For instance, the CCP continues to build colossal dams and operates several mining operations in Tibet. Dechen Palma, a specialist on Tibet's transboundary river at the Tibet Policy Institute (TPI), wrote that "Over the last seven decades, the People's Republic of China has constructed more than 87,000 dams. Collectively they generate 352.26 [gigawatts] of power, more than the capacities of Brazil, the United States, and Canada combined. On the other hand, these projects have led to the displacement of over 23 million people."
Tibet currently faces a severe environmental crisis as many of its glaciers are melting because of rising temperatures due to climate change. The Tibetan glaciers are melting twice as fast as those in the rest of the world. This is likely to cause huge water security issues in the near future.
Against this backdrop, it is essential to hold CCP accountable for its actions in Tibet. Projects of such nature in Tibet are often opposed by local Tibetans concerned about environmental damage and displacement of Tibetan nomads. Local communities struggle as they lose control over their lands. The locals who raise these concerns are identified as separatists who can be imprisoned, tortured, or killed. In December 2019, A Nya Sengdra, a Tibetan nomad environmental activist from eastern Tibet, was sentenced to seven years in prison. The government charged A-Nya with "gathering people to disturb public order" when he was merely opposing China's failed policies in Tibet. By initiating such a brutal crackdown of voices, CCP is ensuring that there is no mechanism to hold it accountable for its environmental and other policies on the Tibetan Plateau.
One of the ways CCP does this is by forcing political and cultural unity in Tibet of mainstream China. Residential schools are one such example that is part of Tibet's greater Sinicization to achieve political uniformity without resistance. This assault on Tibetan freedom is narrated in a report by the Tibet Action Institute in December 2021, which revealed that almost 80 percent of Tibetan children are being sent to Chinese residential schools run by the CCP regime. According to the report, these children, mainly aged 6-18, were isolated from their families, language, and culture. The Tibetan diaspora community and human rights advocates have been alarmed by what seems like a policy assimilation method by the CCP to alienate the younger generation from its identity through a chain of residential schools in China.
Residential schools in Tibet began early in 1985 under the scheme of “inland classes,” which offered a selected number of seats at secondary schools that were very competitive and required the applicant to adhere to the Party objectives. But the growth of residential schools in Tibet accelerated dramatically with the school consolidation policy after the 2008 Tibetan protest through which local schools were consolidated into larger centres. The Tibetan protests were a series of large-scale demonstrations held before the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. Since then, most of the already few Tibetan-speaking schools have been forced to close. As the local schools close, Tibetan parents are often left with no alternative education choices for their children. Parents who do not wish to comply are forced to send their children into boarding schools of such a nature. The CCP asserts that residential schools in Tibet are set up to facilitate education for rural Tibetan children. But this assertion, as argued, omits essential details.
The CCP has always insisted that it is the only legal authority in Tibet. As far as the exiled Tibetans are concerned, neither their cry for independence nor their middle way approach has ever been acknowledged. Instead, the exile Tibetan community has been tagged by the CCP as a "separatist clique” representing only a tiny fraction of Tibetan people.
However, this entire narrative has become implausible since the recent self-immolation of Tsewang Norbu, 25, in early February 2022 has shocked the communist authorities, as Norbu is a by-product of the CCP's narrative of "liberated Tibetans". Tsewang was a famous Tibetan singer whose mother was also a famed singer in a troupe led by the Chinese army. Tsewang was a child of the mid-late 90s. He did not witness the Chinese brutal invasion or crackdown in 1959, nor has he met “the separatist Dalai Lama”. But despite all his comforts, from his popularity to his mother being in the good books of the CCP, he set himself ablaze in front of the Potala Palace and became the 158th confirmed Tibetan to do so since the beginning of 2009. His actions do not signal agreement with Tibet that is promoted by the PRC (People’s Republic of China) or as a region liberated by them. A US-based think-tank Freedom House has ranked Tibet among the worst countries regarding civil liberties and political freedom for the last six years.
Tsewang Norbu’s action reflects his desperate plea for the international community to reflect on its ignorance on the issue of Tibet. Moreover, his actions reflect the failure of the CCP’s assimilation tactics against Tibetans, a hope for Tibetan identity. Nevertheless, this hope requires immense support from the global community, without which it may not endure for long.
The Bell is edited by Jaclyn Victor, Jason Kreutz, Shweta Menon and Phaedra de Saint-Rome of the Max Bell School of Public Policy at McGill University.