In November last year, a man struck a woman with a steel bar and killed her outside a hospital in China’s Fujian Province.
Later, he justified his actions to the police by saying that he attacked her because she was small and alone, and he was venting his anger after a dispute with a colleague.
To the casual observer, it could be seen as another case of an angry man gone mad for a moment, but on closer inspection, it reflects the sad side of a society long brutalized by violent political struggles triggered by crude Leninism and Maoism. Starting from childhood, people are indoctrinated to suspect everyone as a potential enemy, but to worship the powerful.
In such a society, it is not unusual to seek solace and solutions for personal or collective grievances and humiliations by overpowering and subjugating the vulnerable to create a false sense of powerfulness.
Unfortunately, this has been the case regarding Tibet’s relationship with China since the Maoist regime occupied the landlocked Buddhist country in the 1950s. Since the days of occupation, the military, police, secret agents, arbitrary laws, ideological re-education and racial discrimination have been fundamental to the brutish features of Chinese rule in Tibet.
This is all happening against the backdrop of a history that China laments as a “century of national humiliation” at the hands of Western and Japanese imperialists, without having any semblance of remorse for what it did or continues to do in Tibet.
Beijing seems to think that it need not care about the violence it inflicts on the neighboring people it controls — the Tibetans, Uighurs, Mongolians and Hong Kongers — as long as it can get away with it.
It has the imperialist arrogance to call, in the style of Orwellian Newspeak, the military invasion of Tibet its “liberation,” the imposition of a totalitarian dictatorship on Tibetans “democratization” and the systematic treatment of Tibetans as second-class citizens in their own nation “development.”
However, this is not surprising, because, intrinsic to the nature of colonial rule, everything China seized through military conquest has to be maintained with more force and fabrications. The Chinese know it well and the Tibetans know it even better.
The only difference is that the former, time and again, flaunts its ability to perpetrate violence against the latter as if its control will slip away without a constant barrage of intimidation and humiliation.
This show of raw power was conspicuous during the recent military drill over Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. It was Beijing’s way of expressing its displeasure at the smooth passage of the Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020 (TPSA) in the US Congress, which was readily signed by US President Donald Trump.
Since it cannot do much against the US, China unleashed its rage on Tibetans to nurse its bruised Middle Kingdom ego, which is becoming more brittle under Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平). The aerial drill involved a dozen military choppers that flew over Lhasa, right above the Potala Palace, which was the seat of the Tibetan cabinet (Kashag) and general assembly during its independent period, as well as the winter residence of the Dalai Lama.
As a Tibetan architectural wonder and point of cultural pride, by holding a military exercise over Potala Beijing wants to show that Chinese boots run on the ground and Chinese bullets bang in the air.
Regardless of its effect, the display of force aims to terrorize Tibetans to keep them silent. For the Chinese audience, it aims to stoke militaristic nationalism as indicated by statements made by the “wolf warriors,” including Xi himself.
However, instead of throwing nationalist tantrums over what the US is or is not doing regarding Tibet, it would be prudent for Chinese leaders to review their Tibet policy and redress the genuine grievances of Tibetans. The first step in that direction would be to stop deciding what is good and bad for Tibet and Tibetans.
Second, they should admit that it was China that sowed the seeds of the TPSA. If China had not occupied Tibet or carried out the systematic destruction of the Tibetan language and culture, including aggressive interventions in religious traditions such as the recognition of the reincarnation of Buddhist lamas, no such act would have been initiated.
China has cornered Tibetans and they have no choice but to seek international support in their struggle for freedom and justice.
Similarly, China’s increasing military aggression has compelled Taiwan to import arms. Given the multitude of threats posed by China from the seas to the air, Taipei has to build its armed forces. This includes the possibility of inviting the US to set up a military outpost in the nation.
Faced with the constant danger of military occupation, Taiwan, like any other country, must explore all options to defend itself as a nation and democracy.
If Beijing does not approve of the Taiwan Assurance Act, the first finger must be pointed at itself for pushing Taiwan too far.
The crux of the matter is that the Chinese Communist Party regime’s repression at home led to the grave violation of fundamental human rights in Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and China, and its belligerence in Asia is fueling an arms race from South Asia to Southeast and East Asia.
This endangers human development and human rights, as well as international peace and the security of Asia and the world. The dream of an Asian Century is a mere fantasy if the continent’s biggest member is an intolerant authoritarian at home and an imperial expansionist abroad.
Palden Sonam is a visiting fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute based in Dharamsala, India. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflects those of the Tibet Policy Institute. This article was originally published in Taipei Times on 19 January 2021.