By Dhananjay Sahai*
Shortly after the annexation of Tibet by the People’s Liberation Army, the Communist Government in Beijing began to tighten its grip over the region. Over the decades, Beijing has used economic development as a plank, and attempted to transfer large number of Han Chinese people into Tibet, and combined this with suppression of elements of Tibetan culture and religion. Scholars term this process as ‘Sinicization’ whereas Tibetan groups prefer calling it a ‘cultural genocide’.
Traces of this strategy could be seen from the years of Mao. Beginning in the 1950s, the People’s Republic of China began sending youth from urban areas in Eastern China, either voluntarily or through coercion, to the lesser developed portions in the West. – Tibet, naturally came under its purview. This massive mobilisation culminated in the Xiafang or ‘Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside Movement’, whose ostensible purpose was to ‘integrate’ the minorities while also augmenting China’s economic growth rate. 
As Deng Xiaoping assumed power, he ushered many changes in policies in China. However, the strategy of Sinicisation remained constant. He made it clear in 1987 when he said that “The two million Tibetans are not enough to handle the task of developing such a huge region. There is no harm in sending Han into Tibet to help…”.  This was a part of his ‘four modernisations’ policy, which included a staggered transfer of millions of Chinese workers to the ‘border regions’ including Tibet.
The Seventh Five Year Plan further developed on this approach. China aimed to boost its economic growth by extracting the rich mineral and energy resources from the western regions, like Tibet, and using them in industries and manufacturing hubs in China’s central provinces. The Plan also provided for moving labour into the western provinces for providing technology.
These attempts continued after Deng’s demise. The end of the 20th century brought the Western Development policy in China to promote social and economic integration in the western provinces, including Tibet.  As part of this program, for instance, China sought to relocate 58,000 Han Chinese farmers into Tibet through the Western Poverty Reduction project. In wake of widespread protests, the World Bank withdrew its US$ 40 million loan to this project, forcing Beijing to finance it on its own. 
Tibetan concerns about the impact of migrant population is turning difficult for even Chinese authorities to refute. The International Campaign for Tibet, in a report about the Qinghai-Tibet railway described how migration of Han Chinese has transformed Lhasa since 1959, concluding that “In terms of population, a senior official said that half of Lhasa’s inhabitants were Chinese. It was a surprising admission even though most observers have put the Chinese population at 70 percent or more. He went on to say that, “in the future, the number of migrants will be determined according to the requirements of economic development”.” 
Over the years, changes in laws and policy have assisted the movement of Chinese migrants to Tibetan. The reformed hukou system has made it easier for Chinese migrants living in rural areas to buy land in Tibetan cities, and the authorities have directed that fees like an urban population surcharge is not to be collected from Chinese moving into Tibet. 
The Chinese government on a parallel level, has kept up the policy of suppression and interference in cultural and spiritual matter of Tibetan Buddhism. Monasteries and nuns have been frequent targets of Chinese repression, beginning even prior to Mao’s Cultural Revolution. With a few aberrations, reports suggest that China continues to strictly enforce a ban on the images of the Dalai Lama that began in 1996. Tibetans are forbidden from offering prayers to him in public and the Communist government tries to ensure that Tibetans are unable to visit him in his exile in India. China has kept the 11th Panchen Lama in detention since his identification in 1995, and replaced him with their nominee who is widely considered an imposter. Beijing has also passed declarations giving them near-complete control over the reincarnation of all high-ranking Tibetan Lamas, and their intention to interfere in the identification of the next Dalai Lama appears quite clear. The atheist Chinese Communist Party has often declared that they will control the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, especially in the wake of comments suggesting that the 14th Dalai Lama may not reincarnate at all – feigning concerns that such a decision is not in accordance with Tibetan traditions.
Even the most basic expression of Tibetan Buddhism has been supressed in the name of controlling ‘splittism’. Celebrating important Tibetan festivals, like the Dalai Lama’s birthday continue to be banned and the list continues to grow.  The Communist government has also carried out aggressive campaigns in Tibet towards ‘Patriotic re-education’ – a euphemism for concentration camp like centres, where Tibetans are detained. Reports suggest that detainees in these camps are not only forced through pro-Government propaganda, but also often subject to torture.  The Chinese President Xi Jingping has even called for stepping up the campaign for ‘Sinicisation’ of Tibet amidst reports of Tibetans being forced into labour camps. This has drawn widespread condemnation.
Beijing has also historically attacked the Tibetan language, trying to impose Mandarin on the pretext of promoting bilingual education. The ostensible reasons stated by the Communist Party not only include the usual ruse of better economic prospects but also stated its better for greater integration and stability for Tibet and its people. However, the Human Rights Watch observes that this policy “appears to be eroding the Tibetan language skills of children and forcing them to consume political ideology and ideas contrary to those of their parents and community”.
China’s increasing economic investment abroad has also expanded its global footprint. Increasing Chinese influence has been accompanied by the deployment of tactics that the Chinese Communist Party has been using in Tibet. Despite claiming to be China’s ‘iron brother’ Pakistan has not been spared this treatment. The emergence of Chinese only-commune in the port city of Gwadar, points towards the population transfer taking place into Pakistan under the garb of developing their economy through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.  The Chinese diaspora’s utter disregard for local customs and practices resemble Beijing’s deliberate targeting of Tibetan religion and culture. Clerics have reacted angrily to reports that Chinese businesses operating in the Islamic Republic don’t allow their employees from offering namaz.  Such a prohibition resemble the ban on offering prayers to the Dalai Lama imposed on Tibetans by China. Pakistanis ought to be careful. As China’s influence increases in their country, Pakistanis could soon find their cultural and religious values being undermined at the behest of the Chinese diaspora. They should draw lessons from the experience of the Tibetan people whose culture is being attacked in their own land.
Policymakers in Russia also ought to examine the population transfer program that Tibet has endured. The 23.9 million Russians living in the Far East are bordered by a Chinese province with a population of 111 million. Chinese investment in this region has been followed by an influx of migrants, that has created local tensions.  Russian authorities also complain about a large number of illegal immigrants crossing over from China.  It is here that the resemblance to the Tibetan model can be seen much more clearly. As the Chinese have settled in the region on the back of economic projects, the local Russian population has complained of their lack of respect for local customs and traditions. Locals are also angry about the takeover of land and the extraction of natural resources from the resource-rich region,  a design deployed by China in Tibet for decades and clearly spelled out in the Seventh Five Year Plan. Vladimir Putin perhaps understood this model when he stated that in the absence of mitigative steps, “the Russian population will be speaking Chinese, Japanese, and Korean”. 
In addition to this population transfer, Russians would be worried that much like Tibet, parts of Russian territory were once under Chinese control. Chinese often remind the Russians that Vladivostok was once part of China until the signing of a Treaty at Aigun in 1858. Despite resolving their boundary dispute decades ago, tensions flare up. The Russian celebration of the 160th anniversary of Vladivostok’s founding led to an angry reaction from Chinese citizens and prompted many Chinese officials to comment on the name of the city and its history when it was a part of Chinese territory. It seems doubtful that officials representing a country where the policing of both thought and expression spare none without exception would make such politically insensitive remarks without the tacit support of the Communist Party.
Though it might be alarmist to suggest that an armed invasion, the kind that Tibet saw in 1950 is incoming, the conduct of Chinese diaspora and businesses abroad is clearly influenced by the strategy used by Beijing after the annexation. Chinese investment itself has been referred to as a “debt-trap” , and countries welcoming it need to evaluate whether they are willing to risk the Sinicization that comes with it. Both China and Russia have seen the signs of what Tibet has undergone for decades.
*Dhananjay Sahai is practicing Law in New. Delhi. He published numerous research articles and papers on security and foreign policy related issues.
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