Fifty years after the creation of the Tibet Autonomous Region, it is time for Tibet to have true autonomy.
Earlier this month, Beijing marked the fiftieth anniversary of establishment of the Tibet Autonomous Region with a mass spectacle in Lhasa designed to showcase its powerful grip on Tibet. Dalai Lama’s proposal for a renewed agreement on autonomy was firmly rejected at the start of the year as stealth independence. Maintaining an absolute stance of forced unity as the only option, Beijing declared Tibet’s autonomy a success. This raises two questions: First, what aspect of autonomy in contentious for Tibetans and second, why might real autonomy still remain the solution for the Sino-Tibetan relationship.
From the outset, it needs to be recognized that viewing autonomy as a legal right is misleading, as autonomy is a concept in neither international law nor constitutional law. Invariably, international norms are the metric against which a state’s claim that it has granted autonomy to its minorities is measured. Professor Hurst Hannum, a distinguished authority on autonomy and self-determination, has nominated as criteria that a fully autonomous territory possesses a locally elected legislative body, executive and judiciary with independent powers. The operating words here are “independent powers.” In China’s authoritarian system with centralized power, devolution of power to the minority governments is stifled by structural default. For central authority, which enjoys extremely broad powers, granting independent powers for regional autonomy is out of the question.
Second, the right to participate in government is provided for in China’s law and well established in international law. However, in both law and practice, China’s ethnic minorities have little opportunity to participate in government in any meaningful way. The central government’s unreasonable limiting of power to its minorities regions, including the Tibetan areas, is discriminatory in practice. This is evident in the fact that the National People’s Congress applies an additional layer of approval over legislative power in minority areas, whereas Han provincial legislatures need only report. This condition means that laws passed by minority regional governments are moot. The constitutional prescription for the Party to enforce unity kills autonomy in all its nuances. The lack of meaningful group rights in China, compounded by political discrimination and marginalization of regional governments, reduces the central authority’s claim that political rights are guaranteed to a fiction. The Party’s exercise of draconian political control over the entire state leaves little space for true self-government.[Source]
Tenzin Norgyal is a research fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Tibet Policy Institute.