Tibetan resistance against China’s intensifying assimilationist policies is as strong as ever.
London: In its attempts at countering a perceived Western pushback against what China calls its peaceful and inevitable rise, the Chinese government makes effective use of global institutional mechanisms with mixed success.
But one global organization which China has effectively manipulated for its own deceitful purposes is the United Nations.
If the world required evidence on how China implements its devious strategy, one need look no further than the recent “controversial” visit of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Michelle Bachelet to China—the first such visit in 17 years.
The Chinese government—run by the Chinese Communist Party—firstly weaponised access to China (including to the so-called Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region) by making the visit conditional upon the UN human rights chief accepting that her visit (which was first requisitioned way back in 2018) would not be an “investigation”. It then turned her visit to a “closed loop” one, very conveniently citing the government’s notorious zero-Covid policy, thereby severely restricting whatever little purpose that visit aimed to achieve.
Human rights groups and activists called on the UN rights chief, time and again, to use her visit to confront the Chinese authorities with the credible evidence and testimonies of genocidal acts perpetrated on Uyghur Muslims illegally detained in mass internment camps. The Central Tibetan Administration (the government-in-exile based in Dharamsala, India) and Tibet Support Groups around the world called on Ms Bachelet to also include occupied Tibet—ranked by the US Freedom House as the least free country yet again—in her visit, but she thought otherwise.
Her official statement post the visit was as disappointing as her visit was ineffective. You might be forgiven for thinking that the statement may have been issued by the Chinese state. It was loaded with official Chinese parlance such as use of the term “vocational educational training centers” instead of “internment camps”. It further endorsed China’s version of human rights—that of equating it to economic development and poverty alleviation. By parroting the Chinese state narrative on human rights and Xinjiang, Ms Bachelet used her position and high office to do China’s bidding, thereby handing the Chinese government a huge diplomatic win.
So much so that the Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister used Ms Bachelet’s visit and her words to declare to the world that her visit had “enhanced understanding of China’s human rights development”, inflicting even more hurt and pain upon those awaiting justice and answers from the brutal regime.
No wonder more than 230 rights groups, including Free Tibet, signed a strongly-worded joint-letter on 8 June calling for Ms Bachelet’s immediate resignation.
Except for a passing reference to Tibet in her post-visit statement, Ms Bachelet has never before uttered the word “Tibet” since the day she took office, four years ago.
China has completely closed off Tibet to the outside world. Diplomats, officials and journalists cannot enter Tibet, and at the same time Tibetans inside cannot easily escape to exile due to the ubiquitous intrusive surveillance and severe restrictions on Tibetan movements—something which China does not want the world to see.
The illegal Chinese occupation of Tibet—that began in the 1950s—continues to this day, with intensifying Sinicisation policies being implemented by the Chinese authorities to deliberately eliminate the unique and distinct religious, linguistic and cultural identity of Tibetans.
According to well-documented and credible information supplied by Free Tibet’s research partner, Tibet Watch, the Chinese authorities in Drago County in Kham, eastern Tibet (incorporated into China’s Sichuan province) in late 2021 demolished Buddhist religious symbols, including a towering 99-foot Buddha statue (construction of which was approved by local party authorities and completed in 2015), and a monastic school that provided holistic education to more than 100 monk students, who have been forced into Chinese state-run colonial-style boarding schools as a result of the demolition.
Tibet Action Institute—a human rights monitoring group focused on Tibet—released a report last year on China’s vast colonial boarding schools in Tibet, which highlighted that approximately 800,000 Tibetan children aged six to 18, which represent 78% of Tibetan students, are living in Chinese colonial boarding schools.
The report quoted a former boarding school student as saying: “Every day for three years, I never felt happy starting a day or going to class…my only thought was, ‘When I get to go back home’.”
Meanwhile, a Tibetan expert eyewitness has recently confirmed the existence of a mandatory system of colonial boarding preschools for children aged four to six run by the Chinese government across historical Tibet. Dr Gyal Lo, a Tibetan educationist, who defected from China last year, has personally visited more than 50 such schools and estimates at least 100,000 Tibetan children are living in these institutions.
Tibetan children, as young as four years old, are forced off from their parents and families and put into state-run colonial residential preschools in a coordinated and well-planned move where the language of instruction is Chinese and where children are taught to be loyal to the Chinese Communist Party and to become patriotic Chinese citizens, distancing them completely from Tibetan language, culture and religion.
The myth of China’s claim that Tibetans inside Tibet live a happy, contented life was shattered when a young and popular Tibetan singer, Tsewang Norbu, 25, reportedly died in February this year ahead of Tibetan New Year, after self-immolating in front of Lhasa’s historic Potala Palace, bringing the total Tibetan self-immolation tally to a staggering 159 (including one by 81-year-old TaPhun the following month).
How many more Tibetans inside Tibet have to burn their bodies for the outside world to sit up and take notice?
China cannot wish away the Tibet-China conflict. The atheist state also cannot claim ownership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s succession, which is a purely religious matter. The only peaceful way of resolving the conflict is through dialogue between the representatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government. The sooner this reality sinks into the Chinese leaders’ minds the better. Meanwhile, the international community, including India, has a role to play in bringing China to the negotiating table.
India, our guru—from where Buddhism came to Tibet—and the people of India have done the most for Tibetans, especially during our time of great need. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama notes, we, Tibetans, have also been reliable chelas, by keeping alive the centuries-old rich Nalanda Buddhist tradition that continues to benefit millions around the world. I hope India will play a timely and significant role, even if considering the fact that a speedy resolution of the Tibet-China conflict would be in the long-term interest and security of India.
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, who turns 87 next month, has assured the Tibetan people that he will live on for another 15-20 years—which is great!
With his guiding vision the Central Tibetan Administration continues to spearhead the political movement, while a new generation of highly educated and motivated young Tibetan leaders take the freedom struggle forward. The resolute Tibetan resistance is as strong as it has ever been.
A former Tibetan civil servant, Tenzin Kunga, served at the Office of Tibet, London until 2020. He is currently working as Advocacy Officer at Free Tibet, UK. https://freetibet.org/