The Regional legislature Council of the Tibet Autonomous Region passed a new ethnic identity law titled “Regulations on the Establishment of a Model Area for Ethnic Unity and Progress in The Tibet Autonomous Region” on 11 January 2020. It will be implemented at the beginning of May 2020. The newly passed ethnic identity law in Tibet has a “cloak-dagger” agenda which aims to affirm extra-territorial rights in India’s north-east region.
The fundamental objective of China’s ethnic minority policy is implementing the system of regional autonomy of the ethnic minorities. “Such policy could be considered as the realization of China’s Ronghe (intermingling) approach upon the ethnic issue. Under the system of ethnic regional autonomy, local state organs are granted the right to legislation” (Yuen Siu Tim, p.7). China’s policy on regional autonomy for ethnic minorities is aimed to unify the ethnic minorities under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC). In fact, this is a failed policy. The 2008 protest in Tibet and 2009 protest in Xinjiang, patently demonstrated their resistance to China’s legitimacy to rule over them. Therefore, this law is primarily targeted to annihilate the spirit of Tibetan nationalism, culture and people. At the same time, it has conspicuously linked to China’s geopolitical ambitions for expanding its sphere of influence across the Himalayas and beyond through ethnic politics.
The Global Times, a mouthpiece of the CPC, published a report titled “Tibet government first in China to legislate ethnic unity guarantee” on 12 January 2012, cited that “the government of southwest China’s Tibet legislated to guarantee ethnic unity for the first time at the ongoing 3rd Session of the 11th People’s Congress of Tibet on Saturday, reflecting the significant role of ethnic unity in the region’s economic and social development.” Notwithstanding, China’s developments in the ethnic autonomous regions are primarily focused on physical infrastructure developments. “Most of the investment is spent on the construction of infrastructure like the West-East Natural Gas Transmission Project, West-East Power Transmission Project and Qinghai-Tibet Railway (Yuen Siu Tim, p.10).”
The report further illustrated the significance of the law, which says that “it is the common responsibility for the people of all ethnic groups to safeguard national reunification, strengthen ethnic unity and take a clear-cut stand against separatism.” A guideline of this law has emphasised on the “Safeguard National Reunification” and “Strengthen Ethnic Unity”, which is meant for all ethnic groups including many tribes who live in India’s north-east region, Bhutan and Myanmar.
A report titled “Tibet considers written Lhoba script”, published by the Global Times on 3rd March 2019, which stated that “Lhoba means “southerners” in Tibetan language and Lhoba people speak different languages but are considered the same Lhoba minority. The Lhoba population consists of many tribes and others in the group live in northeast India, Bhutan and Myanmar.”
Tibet shares its borders with India, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar. The Trans-Himalayan inhabitants of Tibetan stocks are affiliated under the orbit of the Tibetan Buddhist cultural world. China claims an Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as its own territory where it is a home for many tribes.
As per the guideline and directive principle, a newly passed ethnic identity law in Tibet has a geopolitical implication for changing ethnographic landscape in India’s north-east region in the near future.
*Tsewang Dorji is a visiting fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute. He is a Ph.D scholar from Madras University with the research interest on India-China Relations. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Tibet Policy Institute.