‘We are dying a slow death. Genocide in whatever form, whatever speed, we are dying slowly,’ mourns Penpa Tsering
Call it expansionism, imperialism or colonisation, in the context of China all is fair. Its dying urge for controlling and grabbing territory, either through debt diplomacy or territorial coercion, has lately landed small nations into the clinching arms of the Dragon in an irreversible manner. When China insists on all visiting dignitaries to reiterate that Tibet is an integral part of China including the countries of SCO and its neighbours, it believes that a lie told hundred times becomes the truth. The narrative of the communist authoritarian state is so loud that it tends to silence the alternative narrative.
The President of the Tibetan government in Exile in Dharamshala, Sikyong Penpa Tsering, quotes scholars and authors to prove his point that Tibet was never a part of China. Calling it an occupation in 1950, he points out that when China says it’s ready to talk to the Dalai Lama, it’s not on Tibet and that it’s a façade that China plays out for its domestic audience.
Grid Lock System
“We are dying a slow death. Genocide in whatever form, whatever speed, we are dying slowly,” mourns Penpa Tsering. He informs that the number of nuns and monks have drastically decreased and the ones that are staying put are under strict watch. In terms of religion, there is a lot of surveillance by the Public Security Bureau and from the Intelligence Department. Tibet is going through a lot of social and democratic change, he emphasises. Big monasteries which earlier had 3,000-4,000 of them are left with 300-400 now. There is control over the movement of nuns in the Tibet Autonomous Region as they are considered a threat by the government.
The visit of Chinese Premier Xi Jinping to Tibet in May 2020 ostensibly was nothing much ado about anything but the undercurrents spelled a larger objective. There has been an increased intensification in terms of control. Interestingly called the Grid Lock system there is increased electronic surveillance on Tibetans living both inside and outside Tibet. All Tibetans, wherever in the world, are under Chinese scanner to the extent of threats to their kin in Tibet for their behaviour outside. There is a palpable fear of Tibetans meeting the same fate as that of Uyghurs and Hong Kong citizens, says Tsering.
Killing of a culture
The Tibetan language is being destroyed slowly, rues Penpa. Chinese is being taught from the kindergarten level to Tibetan children ensuring that without knowing Chinese, which is the official language now, employment opportunities will be nil for them. Control of curriculum and religion be it Buddhism, Christianity or any other is changing the entire landscape. Pictures of His Holiness are banned in the Tibet Autonomous Region by China. Students and Communist Party cadres are not allowed to visit monasteries. To travel to Tibet Autonomous Region one needs at least five different permissions.
China has been too concerned about the reincarnation of the Lamas that falls into the domain of religious freedom of the Tibetans. “Panchen Lama was abdicated and if rumours are to be believed he was killed which went without a post mortem,” says Penpa Tsering.
So how are they furthering their cause? The Government in Exile has restructured a Task Force of Tibet Dialogue which is called the Permanent Strategic Committee to talk to the Chinese government and work out a “middle way”. Compromise and surrender is the only way out as Sikyong says, “We are not asking for total independence as we are well aware that the world will not be on our side in our claim for independence against China and we cannot fight a lone battle against the Dragon.”
As for India, the government of the Autonomous Region of Tibet is in constant touch with the Indian government at the top level seeking support for their cause. Without mincing words, Tsering says, “Without India we wouldn’t have survived. Dharamshala would not have been what it is now. So for our communities.” He admits that the response from the Indian government is very cooperative and that they seek advice from the Indian government. “Often times I bow down to the wishes of the Indian government.”
Ironically the number of Tibetans visiting India has decreased dramatically to five from 2,000-3,000 in 2008, of which two are students. Chinese control over the borders has seen a drastically reduced number of students coming from Tibet to India. From 20,000 students in 2012, the numbers have come down to 9,700 in 2021. ‘My Pet Project’, a study by Tibetans, registers the number of Tibetans in India, Nepal, Bhutan and in the West.
Tibetans on borders
India is concerned about Chinese villages coming up on its eastern borders. Reports say that Tibetan soldiers recruited by the Chinese army are deployed at the heights and in these villages. Sikyong says, “By pushing more Tibetans at the borders they bring in more Chinese citizens into the cities and towns making up for money. Any height above 12,000-13,000 metres above sea level is not possible for the Chinese people to go and settle down, which is possibly the reason that Tibetans are being pushed to the borders by China to occupy land and make villages.”
He adds, “This could be more propaganda than real warfare. This involves a lot of trust. Even a small military intelligence is important to forget about war and then trusting Tibetans to fight their war, is a huge risk.”
Attributing a reason to China’s expansionist aspirations Tsering says, “I sense a lot of insecurity in the Chinese leadership as they are the only country who spends more money on internal security then external security.”
Tibet is China’s Achilles’ heel. Along with it threatening Taiwan, brazenly occupying Indian territory, going against UNCLOS, demolishing dissent in Hong Kong and torturing Uyghurs, China seems to be everywhere. And this is changing the world order.
The author is an independent journalist who writes on diplomacy and is a political observer.