Throughout the lengthy and tumultuous history of China, no people among its oligarchy have been such an annoyance as are the Tibetans. Unlike neighbors such as Eastern Turkestan who contend with sporadic violence, Tibet poses no military threat to the People’s Republic of China.
Even so, Tibet is a challenge for China. Since 2009, across Tibet 127 young Tibetans set themselves on fire, calling for freedom for Tibet and the return of the Dalai Lama. These acts point to the fact that China physically controls Tibet but not the hearts and minds of the Tibetan people, and this unnerves the authorities of the Chinese regime.
In any other society, such unprecedented protests would lead to reflection and concerted attempts to redress grievances. Unfortunately for Tibet however, the response of the Chinese regime is the thud of the iron-fist coming down on the remains of the fiery protestors, their family members or their villages, an imposition of tighter news flow control and total lockdown.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China is serviced in Tibet by a network of airports and an expanding array of railway lines and all-weather roads for quick troop deployment making China’s military presence in Tibet unassailable. The state-subsidized economic boom that Beijing has sparked attracts the real “foot soldiers” of China- migrant workers who overwhelm the Tibetans in cities, towns, and in the job market. Chinese companies exploit at will Tibet’s vast and diverse untapped natural resources.
And all this happens in an ideological and spiritual vacuum with a “frontier town attitude”. The Chinese communist regime offers no guiding light and no moral compass and the moral vacuum has spawned all the major domestic problems in Tibet that plagues China today: entrenched almost institutionalized corruption, rising inequality, vicious land grabs and poisoned rivers.
Firmly under Chinese control, Tibet was incorporated into the People’s Republic of China in 1951 when the 17-Point Agreement was signed between Lhasa (under duress) and Beijing. Although Tibetan protests question the legality of the Agreement, all governments, including the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration, do not question China’s sovereignty over Tibet.
But for the Chinese regime, this is not enough. The reach to control Tibet extends even to those who are in exile.
Next, Part II: The hard way for Tibetans in Exile