China has set a definitive tone for this year’s commemorations of the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region’s 50 years by coming out with its most exhaustive and strongest rejection yet of the Middle Way Approach. But there is a catch. China’s version of MWA finds little consonance with the Tibetan proposal for genuine autonomy.
Last week, the State Council Information Office of China doled out its 13th whitepaper on Tibet, titled “Tibet’s Path of Development Is Driven by an Irresistible Historical Tide”. The 32-page document has five parts, excluding the foreword and the conclusion, and dedicates more than half of its pages in dispensing malicious rebuttals to non-existent arguments and vilifying His Holiness the Dalai Lama, using language that oscillates from the abusive to inflammatory.
The entire plot of the whitepaper is simple yet deceptively evil. China not only re-writes history, describing how Tibet has been an inalienable part of China since “ancient times”, they also author a perverted version of MWA and then painstakingly go on to provide point-by-point confutations. The Chinese Communist Party persists with its policy of rejecting introspection and dialogue with stakeholders and misinterprets reality using whimsical statistics and arbitrary stories.
The whitepaper supports its claims by quoting a number of statements which are either unattributed or are simply fake and cannot be traced to any independent source. For example, the whitepaper alleges that on March 10, 2008, His Holiness the Dalai Lama “made a speech urging his followers within Chinese territory to engage in violence.” Howsoever unimaginable and far-fetched even the very mention of His Holiness inciting violence may sound, for record’s sake, the entire March 10, 2008 statement of His Holiness can be found here in Chinese language for the Chinese leaders to read.
Tibetans will be the first to acknowledge that the old political and social system in Tibet was in much need of change and reform. To this effect, His Holiness, at the tender age of 17 in 1952, established a Reform Committee to alleviate the burden of indigent Tibetans and poor farmers by reducing their taxes and by re-distributing land equitably. No Tibetan, least of all His Holiness, who has handed over all his political responsibilities to the elected Tibetan leadership and has stated on many occasions that he will not accept any political office upon his return to Tibet, has any intention of “restoring” the old system in Tibet.
The exile Tibetan leadership on the whole, especially the Tibetan Kashag, headed by Harvard-educated Dr Lobsang Sangay, which has an average age of less than 55, were either born in exile or were too young when they escaped to exile to have any “sentimental attachment to the old theocratic feudal serfdom” as suggested in the whitepaper.
China would be well advised to study the strides that the exile Tibetans under the leadership of His Holiness have made in embracing the modern and scientific values of education, democracy and development while remaining true to their unique cultural heritage.
The essence of MWA, which seeks to secure genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people within the scope of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, has been enshrined in the Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan people and the Note. Both of these documents have been presented to the Chinese government and are available here and here.
The whitepaper alludes to frequent mentions of terms such as “greater Tibet,” “high degree of autonomy,” “international zone of peace” to misrepresent facts and drive home its disapproval of MWA. However, China has chosen to bark up the wrong tree as these terms, in particular, and many of their alleged demands of MWA, in general, don’t find any mention in the Memorandum or in the adjoining Note. The official stance of the exile Tibetan administration, as outlined in the Memorandum, in no way challenges or brings into question the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and harbours no intention to expel the non-Tibetans who have permanently settled in Tibet.
China, through its distorted interpretation of MWA, aims to alienate the exile Tibetans from Tibet while using scare tactics to create an atmosphere of mistrust and animosity between Tibetans and Chinese.
Although the whitepaper squarely blames His Holiness the Dalai Lama and certain groups in exile for inciting the 2008 protests and the ongoing wave of self-immolations, the Chinese leadership, with all the state security machinery at its whim, has once again failed to provide any credible evidence to support these allegations.
China’s ruse of finger-wagging and mudslinging not only dishonours the sacrifices made by the Tibetan people but also diverts attention from the real cause of the continuing unrest on the Tibetan plateau – China’s own six-and-a-half decades of misrule.
Instead of forcing Tibetans to be a part of the lie that they have created, China must accept the fact that the exiled Tibetans are their biggest ally in accomplishing a peaceful resolution of the Tibetan issue.
China must also realise that the aspiration for a Tibet united under a single administration is not merely an “illusion”. The maps of the 2008 Uprisings and the ongoing wave of self-immolations lucidly demarcate the territorial contours of Tibet’s ancient precincts, nurtured for ages by the Tibetan people, who remain united by history and a common destiny.
Sherab Woeser is a research fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Tibet Policy Institute.