From Tibetan resistance to international tensions, China’s obstacles in TAR
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has stepped up activities in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) to achieve President Xi Jinping’s directive of “one people, one culture, one language and one country”. Visits in July-August by Xi and Wang Yang, chairman of the Chinese People’s Consultative Conference, underscored this priority. However, the contours of major obstacles that loom ahead are already visible.
A stream of senior CCP cadre visits has followed. Their visits add emphasis to the major projects approved by the 14th five-year plan and long-range objectives — 2030. The visits also indicate that the 20th Party Congress will endorse Xi for another term next year.
Senior cadres visiting TAR include Chongqing Party secretary and politburo member Chen Min’er, politburo member and Guangdong Party secretary Li Xi, whose delegation included Guangdong governor Ma Xingrui, who is a CCP central committee (CC) member; Cai Qi, party secretary of Beijing; and Yu Wenxia, vice-minister of the CCP CC propaganda department.
Most recently, Chen Wenqing, minister for national security, arrived in Lhasa with a high-level delegation and convened a meeting attended by TAR party secretary Wu Yingjie, commander of the Tibet military region lieutenant-general Wang Kai, and others. Among the topics discussed were maintaining unity, “diluting the influence of religion”, and eliminating the 14th Dalai Lama’s “negative influence” among the masses.
A major focus of the CCP’s efforts to “blend” Han and Tibetan cultures, and dilute the religious beliefs of Tibetans, is selecting the 14th Dalai Lama’s reincarnation. China wants to avoid a situation where there are two Dalai Lamas, with the one recognised by Tibetans residing outside communist China. Gyaltsen Norbu, appointed by the Chinese as a Panchen Lama, is not accepted by the Tibetans even after 26 years.
China’s efforts, however, are facing resistance. The adverse international environment provoked by Xi’s aggressive policies is fuelling opposition to China.
The Dalai Lama’s message, thanking those who wished him on his 86th birthday on July 6, would have been a dampener for the communist regime. He stated that he will live till the age of 113. The message would have given hope to Tibetans everywhere.
Chinese nervousness about the situation in Tibet has been especially noticeable during this period of enhanced military tension between India and China. Central and TAR propaganda, public security, and united front teams have been visiting border counties opposite Arunachal Pradesh. All stressed the need for loyalty to the party and strengthening border defence.
Meanwhile, confrontation is growing between the United States (US) and China. The US navy has increased activities in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, as have British, French, and German warships. After Quad, India is conducting the Malabar exercises. Japan’s latest defence White Paper explicitly stated, “The stability of the situation around Taiwan is important... for the stability of the international community.” With its withdrawal from Afghanistan, the US will now focus its resources on dealing with China — its primary threat.
Globally, the anti-China sentiment is high because of Covid-19. The US Congress passed the Tibet Policy Act, 2020, which specifically opposes any effort by Chinese authorities to identify, select, and install Tibetan Buddhist religious leaders, including any future Dalai Lama, in a manner inconsistent with the Tibetan Buddhist faith and community.
India’s location is critical in the context of Tibet. Indian public opinion, traditionally partial to the Tibetan cause, is now negative on China due to China’s military build-up and intrusions in Ladakh since 2020. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday greetings to the Dalai Lama were publicised this year as were US secretary of state Antony Blinken’s meetings in Delhi with Ngodup Dongchung, head of the Dalai Lama’s bureau and Geshe Dorji Damdul, director of the Tibet House. Indian public opinion has also begun to question India’s recognition of Tibet as part of China.
Jayadeva Ranade is former additional secretary, Cabinet secretariat, Government of India, and is president, Centre for China Analysis and Strategy
The views expressed are personal