President Xi Jinping, along with several other senior Chinese government and military officials, paid a visit to the Tibet Autonomous Region on July 23.rd. This visit, the first that Xi has made to Tibet since taking office, coincides with the 70e anniversary of the forced peace agreement between Tibet and invading China.
Xi visited several controversial Tibetan environmental, cultural and spiritual sites, including the public square in front of the traditional home of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader the Chinese government forced into exile in 1959. Several of Xi’s speeches to these people sites involved educating local officials to identify Tibetans more with “the great homeland, the Chinese people, the Chinese culture, [and] the Chinese Communist Party, âMicrosoft News reports. Given the Chinese government’s widely documented human rights violations and cultural genocide in Tibet, critics have claimed the visit is an attempt to intimidate Tibet and reaffirm China’s rigid control over the region.
According to Free Tibet, a London-based nonprofit, China has long sought to quell social justice rebellions of the âbackward massesâ. Years of Chinese “counterterrorism” policies muzzling Tibetan religious activists have recently been joined by a series of “sinization” campaigns broadcast from the mainland. A combination of economic and cultural integration processes, Sinicization campaigns aim to deprive Tibetans of their autonomy, both over their land rich in resources and over their culture and spirituality. As journalist Kate Saunders said in an interview with Deutsche Welle, China âerases the collective memory of what it means to be Tibetan and erases the influence of the Dalai Lamaâ¦ with an emphasis onâ¦ the Tibetans’ emotional adhesion to a re-molding. “
Sinicization aims to make “residents of ethnic minorities feel like they belong to China” by meticulously removing or undermining religious and cultural foundations, according to the China Digital Times. In Tibet, this is done through a targeted forcible internment program, banning Tibetan language and history in schools, and urbanizing and commercializing important Buddhist sites (such as Drepung Monastery, which Xi has visited during his trip). Even the mention of “dangerous separatist” spiritual leaders like the Dalai Lama means being subject to state-sponsored surveillance and censorship, both online and offline.
China’s strategy to occupy land over which it has no legal control involves the militarization of the area, coupled with “building infrastructure, trade and investment networks” that directly benefit the continent in order to support fragile land claims, according to Deutsche Welle. Xi implemented a similar strategy in Tibet, where tourism increased 12.3% last year. Foreigners, the majority of whom are from China, ignorantly vandalize and endanger environmental and cultural sites, according to the South China Morning Post, and urbanization has rampant. Dozens of infrastructure projects were launched in 2020 alone, under the pretext of “catching up with other parts of the country,” according to Chinese state news site Xinhua.
In this context, Xi’s visit to the main Tibetan cultural and environmental sites that have been commercialized for the benefit of the Chinese economy is presented in a new light. As Microsoft News puts it, âthe underlying message is one of integration, signaling that Tibet is physically and economically integrated with China with each passing dayâ¦ a process involving[ing] … [the] cultural and psychological marginalization of the Tibetan people.
China’s human rights abuses in the region must obviously end. A common solution suggested by Western officials is to tie trade rights to the promotion of human rights by imposing taxes and tariffs on Chinese officials and companies that directly contribute to the abuses in Tibet. While this is an intriguing idea, the impacts of the Trump-era trade war in China made this option a bit controversial. New economic sanctions could further exacerbate tensions between the two countries.
Human Rights Watch says a united EU front against these diplomatic abuses will achieve much more effective results. âDecades of experience should make it clearâ¦ that Beijing responds only to the expectation of unpleasant consequencesâ¦ And while many governments recognize Beijing’s abusive tendencies, few are prepared to independently consider meaningful consequences in response. , often privately deploring their lack of influence, “he added. written nonprofit. President Biden’s new Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell seems to agree with the need for a united approach. In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Campbell said that “coalitions of allies and partners are essential to address China’s multiple challenges for order and stability in the Indo-Pacific.”
This coalition can put pressure on the Chinese government by taking advantage of the fears that China already has about internal and external conflicts. A report of Human Rights Watch noted that the main points of contention that could serve as opportunities for negotiations with China revolve around its desire for international cooperation: with its anti-corruption and anti-terrorism campaigns, its internal conflicts over the lack of democratic elections in the country, and âBeijing’s quest for pomp to protect its powerâ and âsave its faceâ. China is too deeply entrenched, both economically and socially, in the machinations of foreign nations to afford to lose that access. These are all opportunities to expose publicly, but not aggressively, the position of the EU and the US on human rights violations in China. Human Rights Watch suggests that, where possible, the EU involves or draws attention to those most affected by the Chinese government’s censorship and oppression: by involving Tibetan activists, by directly questioning the Chinese government on its most famous prisoners and victims of torture during the sessions, or by drawing attention to programmers who strive to break the “great firewall” of censorship separating Tibetans from the rest of the world. Even something as simple as setting aside funds can put direct pressure on China to recognize and take action to curb its abuses in Tibet.
Throughout all of this, we must pay close attention to how the negotiations with China are framed. Discussions of human rights abuses in China often turn into rhetoric about China’s “aggressive” or “barbaric” character. Campbell states that this anti-Chinese rhetoric is, in part, because of the way foreign officials treat talks with China. âThe United States must move away from a zero-sum ‘cold war’ mentality,â he stresses, âin which every move since Beijing is seen against the backdrop of a rivalry.
Dealing properly with China’s human rights abuses in Tibet will take a lot of work. As Campbell says, we need to focus on âbalancing competition and cooperationâ to achieve peace talks with China.