For centuries, Tibet and China stood side-by-side in harmony. That all changed in 1950 when, in the Battle of Chamdo, the People’s Republic of China invaded and seized control of Tibet in what Beijing calls a “peaceful liberation,” but what the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama calls “cultural genocide.”
The land of Tibet not only offered the Chinese an abundance of natural resources, but also a coveted border with India – which the Chinese immediately militarized.
At first, there was an uneasy truce, with Tibet acknowledging Chinese rule in exchange for an independent political system and the protection of Tibetan Buddhism.
Unfortunately, China did not honor the agreement and probably never intended to. Beginning in 1956, the Chinese were met with increasing resistance from the Tibetans until March 10, 1959 – now commemorated as National Uprising Day by the Tibetans – when the Tibetan people surrounded the Potala Palace in Lhasa to protect the Dalai Lama from rumored harm. The Chinese answered with a ruthless retaliation, forcing the Dalai Lama to flee into exile in Dharamsala, India.
For years, the United States government has treated the Central Tibetan Administration – which is the Tibetan government that is in exile – with a certain lack of respect, for no other reason than to walk on eggshells for China’s benefit.
For example, the Obama administration informed the Dalai Lama that he would be unable to visit the White House in President Obama’s first year. When His Holiness was finally invited, President Obama met him in the Map Room of the White House instead of the Oval Office, presumably to pacify Beijing.
What is this, eighth grade? Certainly, our relationship with China is delicate – and we certainly understand the issue of Tibet is a major sticking point – but not standing up for Tibet is just not right.
The United States’ willingness to tiptoe around this issue only emboldened China to escalate human rights abuses against the Tibetan people and try, once and for all, to completely destroy their culture, language and religion.
China has now built military-style “training centers” in Tibet, mandating that hundreds of thousands of people be trained for what will ultimately be forced labor. These camps also engage in forced assimilation and ideological indoctrination. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials were given strict quotas for the number of Tibetans they were expected to capture.
After reviewing Chinese documents about the program, the Jamestown Foundation – an institute for research and analysis – describes the situation this way: Reports “bluntly say that the state must ‘stop raising up lazy people’ and that the ‘strict military-style management’ of the vocational training process ‘strengthens [the Tibetans’] weak work discipline’ and reforms their ‘backward thinking.’”
“Tibetans are to be transformed from ‘[being] unwilling to move’ to becoming willing to participate, a process that requires ‘diluting the negative influence of religion.’ This is aided by a worrisome new scheme that ‘encourages’ Tibetans to hand over their land and herds to government-run cooperatives, turning them into wage laborers.”
These camps are similar to those in Xinjiang, another ethnic minority region of China, where the Chinese have detained over one million Muslim ethnic minorities – including Uyghurs and Kazakhs, both Turkish ethnic groups. Around 500,000 children have been separated from their families.
In a very troubling statement, the Chinese said that what many activists call mass detention centers were, in fact, nothing more than vocational and education centers, and that most everyone had “graduated.” Hmmm…. we don’t like the sound of that.
Thankfully, the U.S. Congress has passed the Tibetan Policy and Support Act. The legislation supports the idea that Tibetan Buddhists, not the Communist Party of China (CPC), should be able to choose the 15th incarnation of the Dalai Lama after the current Dalai Lama passes on. It’s pretty unbelievable, and incredibly insulting, that the CPC would even threaten to name the next Dalai Lama.
Further, the legislation updates the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002 to reflect support of the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way Approach and the idea that Beijing and the Central Tibetan Administration should negotiate directly with one another. The Middle Way Approach says that Tibetans are not seeking independence, but rather autonomy within the framework of the People’s Republic of China. This is a perfectly reasonable solution.
Finally, the legislation calls on the American government to sanction any CCP official who violates another’s human rights in Tibet and for the establishment of a U.S. consulate in Lhasa, the administrative capital of Tibet.