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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Tibetan Independence

March 23, 2008

By: Gwynne Dyer
Yemen Observer, Yemen - OPINION
Mar 22, 2008

The monks who marched through Lhasa on 10 March to mark the anniversary
of the Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in 1959 did not want to
wreck China’s Olympic year, but they knew that Chinese troops would be
less likely to shoot them this year than most.  And so it proved: the
monks were arrested, but the crowds of Tibetans who gathered on the
following days to demand their release were not harmed.

The dilemma facing the Chinese troops was that if they didn’t shoot, the
crowds would inevitably grow bigger, for most Tibetans dream of
independence and fear that the mass immigration of Han Chinese to Tibet
is a form of cultural genocide.  By Friday, 14 March the crowds had
become so bold that it was they who turned to violence, attacking
Chinese civilians in Lhasa and looting and burning Chinese-owned shops,
banks and hotels.

The Chinese news agency Xinhua says that ten people were killed in Lhasa
on Friday. The Tibetan government-in-exile says that eighty were killed,
and accounts by foreign tourists in Lhasa support the higher figure. But
so far, by most accounts, the victims have mostly been Han Chinese
settlers killed by angry Tibetans.   This doesn’t fit the simple foreign
narrative of peaceful protesters and wicked Chinese, but nationalism,
whether Tibetan or Fijian, is not an inherently tolerant and peaceful
phenomenon. Foreign troops who hold their fire are still foreign
occupiers, and innocent Chinese civilians who were encouraged by their
own government to come and set up businesses in Lhasa are still
unwelcome foreign agents of cultural genocide.

All the players are sticking to their scripts. China insists that “the
recent sabotage in Lhasa was organized, premeditated and masterminded by
the Dalai clique” (the Dalai Lama is Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader).
Qiangba Puncog, the puppet chairman of the Tibetan Autonomous Region,
vows that “The plot of the separatists will fail.” They have to say
that, as otherwise they would have to admit that Tibetans don’t want to
be ruled by China.

The Dalai Lama insists that he is not seeking Tibetan independence from
China, but only more autonomy for Tibet’s culture and its Buddhist
faith. As the violence in Tibet intensified, however, he had to harden
his line. “Ultimately, the Chinese government is clinging of policy, not
looking at the reality,” he told the BBC on 15 March. “They simply feel
they have gun - so they can control. Obviously they can control. But
they cannot control human mind.”  Foreign governments urge China to
“exercise restraint,” but they carefully avoid questioning Beijing’s
right to rule Tibet. And with the unrest spreading to ethnically Tibetan
regions of neighbouring Chinese provinces -- hundreds of monks from
Labrang monastery marched through the town of Xiahe in Gansu province on
14 March -- the time may soon come when Beijing decides it has to crush
all dissent by force regardless of the impact on the Olympics.  Force
will succeed, as it has before.  The 1959 uprising was crushed, the 1989
demonstrations in Tibet were crushed, and the current unrest there will
be crushed as well. Tibet’s only chance to recover its independence will
come if and when there is a change of regime in China.

China did not traditionally seek to expand beyond the boundaries of the
Middle Kingdom, an agrarian society that lived in the north Chinese
plain and the river valleys of southern China. The non-Chinese
territories that now make up the western third of the country -- the
deserts and oases of Muslim Xinjiang and the high plateau of Tibet --
were not conquered by Chinese, but rather swept into the same Mongol
empire that conquered China itself in the 13th century.

Since the Mongol (Yuan) dynasty ruled from Beijing, Tibet came to be
seen as a Chinese possession, but the subsequent (ethnically Chinese)
Ming dynasty took little interest in it. When another foreign nation of
mounted nomads, the Manchus, conquered China in 1644, they too brought
Tibet under Beijing’s rule -- and when the Manchu dynasty was finally
overthrown in 1911, Tibet again slipped from China’s control. For the
next forty years, Tibet was effectively independent.

The Chinese Communists seized power in 1949, and invaded Tibet the
following year on the argument that “what was once ours is ours
forever.” So long as they hold power in Beijing, they will also hold
Tibet -- but an interesting analogy comes to mind. For the history of
the Baltic states -- Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia -- is not very different.

They fell under the rule of the expanding Russian empire in the 18th
century, but regained their independence after revolution overthrew the
Tsarist regime in 1917.  They lost it again when the Soviet Union
invaded them in 1940 -- but got it back when the Communist regime in
Moscow collapsed in 1991.  And the main motive for their drive for
independence was fear that their languages and cultures were being
submerged by a wave of Russian immigrants.   As with the Baltic states,
so too with Tibet. If there is ever a change of regime in Beijing, then
a window of opportunity will open -- and Tibet will have a couple of
years to establish its independence before a new government emerges in
Beijing that feels compelled to hold onto it in deference to Chinese
nationalist sentiment. But that window is not open now.
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