What’s happening in Tibet?

This appeared in The Millennial Source

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Few critics of China have historically directed their attention to the treatment of Tibetans, so this declaration marks a turning point for those who seek independence for the region.

International communities have recently turned their attention toward China over allegations of human rights violations in the Chinese province of Xinjiang and the autonomous regions of Hong Kong and Tibet.

In a recent statement by Ambassador Christoph Heusgen on October 6, thirty-nine countries have drafted a declaration denouncing China for these violations. The report was presented at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Among accusations against China primarily for its relationship with Hong Kong, the declaration adds, “We call on China to respect human rights, particularly the rights of persons belonging to religious and ethnic minorities, especially in Xinjiang and Tibet.”

Few critics of China have historically directed their attention to the treatment of Tibetans, so this declaration marks a turning point for those who seek independence for the region.

Currently, the status of Tibet remains contentious. With the Dalai Lama, the 84-year-old Tibetan leader, in exile, Tibet and China’s relationship does not appear to be moving toward any type of reconciliation anytime soon.

Beijing has asserted that Tibet has been a territory of China since the 13th century.

China’s authority within Tibet

Tibet was first consolidated into Chinese rule in 1903 during the Qing dynasty. After the dynasty’s collapse, the Dalai Lama expelled all Chinese nationals from Tibet and ushered in a period of de facto sovereignty that set a precedent for their later territorial claims.

Tibet’s independence shifted in 1951 when the Dalai Lama signed the Seventeen-Point agreement, which aimed to signal the beginning of peaceful coexistence with China. However, China quickly began tightening its grip on the region, leading to a series of uprisings by the Tibetan people.

In 1959, China commenced a total military takeover, surrounding the Dalai Lama’s Patola Palace and issuing a demand for the Dalai Lama to surrender.

On the eve of this occupation, the founder of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Mao-Tse-Tung, said, “Tibet is the palm we take over, then we go after five fingers — Ladakh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.”

Tibet fought back against the aggression and the Dalai Lama succeeded in escaping to India in disguise. Following his escape, between March 1959 and October 1960, China killed over 87,000 Tibetans and destroyed 98% of monasteries and nunneries.

The Chinese government disrobed nearly all monks and nuns, issuing what would later be six decades of strict rule, which went largely unnoticed on a global scale.

Following the Dalai Lama’s settlement in India, in April 1959, he established the Central Tibetan Administration in Mussoorie (later shifted to Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh). This administration functioned as a “government of Tibet in exile,” in which the Dalai Lama continues to push for a Democratic political system.

Today, the Dalai Lama is considered the sole spiritual leader of Tibet and leaves all political decisions to members elected by the Tibetan people.

Still, Beijing stands firm in its authority over Tibet. China is determined to appoint the next Dalai Lama on its own, stating that reincarnation must coincide with Chinese law.

In the decades after China’s military takeover, large-scale uprisings in Tibet were nearly obsolete with the Chinese government suppressed any effort within Tibet to showcase unrest or seek autonomy.

However, in 2008, a major Tibetan uprising erupted in Lhasa’s capital as Buddhist monks and other ethnic Tibetans came out against Chinese forces, resulting in gruesome clashes.

Many believe these sudden uprisings to be the most severe and long-lasting demonstrations in Tibet since the late 1980s when China overpowered a revolt that feasibly left hundreds of Tibetans dead.

In 2009, when authorities canceled a Great Prayer Festival (Monlam) that intended to commemorate victims of the 2008 crackdown, a monk set his body aflame in political protest. At least 148 other monks have self-immolated since then.

Understanding Tibetan protests

In the months that followed China’s assumed control over Tibet, China sent more than 20,000 officials to Tibetan villages and established police stations in every village and town across the region. In addition, the CCP began confiscating passports and heavily monitoring the internet.

In recent decades, China has increasingly reinforced its rule over Tibet, leading some to accuse the country of violating human rights.

It is difficult to substantiate evidence as to what is occurring in Tibet following the ban of foreign journalists from the region in 2011. However, according to a report by Freedom House, Tibetan Buddhists are among the most oppressed religious groups in China.

In 2016, President Xi announced his five-year plan to “sinicize” all religions, adapting them to socialist values. Under this directive, the CCP established administrative offices in Tibetan monasteries, ensuring strict monastics training to become “patriotic religious professionals” under the “Four Standards” policy.

China has forced monks to renounce their allegiance to the Dalai Lama and assigned Han teachers to promote the teaching of Mandarin to encourage assimilation. Outside of schools, Chinese authorities discourage using the Tibetan language, penalizing any advocacy for the language.

Well-known Tibetan language activist Tashi Wangchuk was charged last year with “inciting separatism” and sentenced to five years in prison for advocating to preserve the Tibetan language. His arrest later became international news after his alleged crime appeared in a New York Times documentary in November 2015. During the documentary, he discussed his fears for the continuation of the Tibetan language and culture under the Chinese Communist Party.

Two months after The New York Times uploaded the video, Tashi vanished.

Tashi resurfaced in March 2016 after apparently being tortured and charged with the crime. His lawyers argued that the 33-year-old was calling to implement China’s own laws and constitution, which guarantee the protection of ethnic minority languages. Still, he was held in prison for another two years before being sentenced.

Officials denied his attorneys’ appeals, stating that Tashi had “distorted the facts, attacking the state’s policies on ethnic minorities, making remarks that undermine ethnic unity and national unity.”

Tashi’s case is one of the thousands related to the push for protecting the Tibetan culture and language. Thousands of others were accused of crimes such as flying the Tibetan flag or showing support for the Dalai Lama.

An advocacy group called “Free Tibet” has spent years attempting to identify the location of prisons across the country. The group has found evidence of at least twenty facilities and numerous examples of hotels and abandoned buildings the Chinese government uses as “black sites.”

Here, Free Tibet claims that Chinese authorities are free to torture and abuse prisoners, drawing out confessions that are deemed legal and will likely serve as evidence in a trial.

“In the last few years we have become greatly concerned with the repeated patterns of enforced disappearances in Tibet,” John Jones, Campaigns Director at Free Tibet, told Byline Times.

“The fact that a Tibetan could be snatched from their home, their monastery or the street and effectively be made to disappear must be one of the greatest causes of distress in what is already one of the most repressive places in the world,” says Jones.

Jones then points to one of several cases the NGO had studied, when a monk was arrested in his monastery and sentenced to eighteen years after having been found in possession of portraits of the Dalai Lama.

“In some cases,” Jones remarks, “such as that of Jamyang Lodru, who was hooded and dragged into a car in 2016, we cannot even identify a motive. He was arrested and there has been no trace of him since then.”

Likewise, the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) also attempts to shine a light on Tibetan prisons. The Vice President of ICT, Bhuchung Tsering, stated, “From looking at satellite images we have seen that the physical boundaries of Tibetan prisons have been expanded and it is our summation that this is because the buildings at these prisons and detention centres are being expanded, but we are not sure of the exact reason for this.”

“It could be an expansion of the detention areas or it could be because they are building something else — that is yet to be understood. Unless someone has direct access to these places we cannot know for sure. Very few political prisoners have come out of Tibet in recent times.”

According to the UN, China has arbitrarily detained more than one million people in these “re-education” camps.

The United States has taken steps toward supporting Tibetans, introducing a new bill titled the Tibetan Policy and Support Act. This act would bar China from founding new consulates in the US if it persists in preventing the US from establishing one in Lhasa.

The bill could also lead to sanctions against Chinese officials who attempt to determine the Dalai Lama’s successor.

Originally published at https://themilsource.com on October 20, 2020.

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