The Bleak Future of Tibet

Discourse over the fate of Tibet, in the light of its conflict with China has been a burning issue. The Chinese invaded Tibet back in 1950. They believed that they were only re-establishing control on their part of sovereign territory, which had been ousted from them during former foreign imperialism and a precipitating civil war. Post the Tibetan uprising of 1959 being violently squashed by the Chinese, the Tibetan government went into exile and the 14th Dalai Lama sought refuge in India. Political imprisonment of the 11th Panchen Lama, the Han-Tibetans issue, Chinese resentment over the spread of Tibetan Buddhism, external support to Tibet from India, repeated atrocities on the Tibetans and channelized military intervention in Tibetan regions have lead to numerous protests, destruction of Tibetan architecture, desolate Tibetan villages and shocking amounts of deaths.

Tibet Autonomous Region (T.A.R.) has been slowly flourishing under China. GDP reached USD 20.5 billion in 2017. The availability of food grains for all, marked the progress. Yet, one cannot overlook the harsh atrocities China has caused by destroying the cultural heritage of Tibet, and committing mass murders. The economic growth halved with the onset of Lhasa riots. Tourism is an important source of bread earning in T.A.R, which was thus affected. Tibet under Dalai Lama had not seen education grow like the way it has under China. Illiteracy rate which was then 95% now is below 10%. Telecommunications, energy and transportation services are doing better under Chinese aid. The inauguration of the engineering marvel of 1956km long- Qinghai-Tibet railway, marked the beginning of the development model of T.A.R. Tibet boasts about agriculture, forest reserves and cottage industries, that had a great role in the rise of GDP.

Revival of traditional handicraft seems like the best bet for Tibetans to keep their cultural integrity intact. They draw profit from selling handicrafts and Tibetan goods to tourists. Beijing and human rights’ groups are always at a constant tiff, where the former is convinced that they are the reason for T.A.R’s progress, whereas, the other claims it comes with a price of great violation of human rights. The working conditions in Tibet has improved in the near past with financial incentives fostering change. 50 years ago, the Dalai Lama left Tibet in fear for his life. The Chinese labelled him as an “anti-China separatist” and a “wolf in monk’s robes.” Even his meeting with former U.S President Barack Obama sparked off tensions between the two superpowers.

In Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the Dalai Lama is the spiritual and governing leader of the Tibetans. The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the 14th incarnation of the Dalai Lama. When a Dalai Lama dies, a new one is chosen after a search conducted by Tibetan high priests led by the 2nd most important religious figure (after the Dalai Lama) in Tibetan Buddhism, the Panchen Lama. It’s been 22 years ever since China abducted Gedhun Choekyi Nyima (the 11th incarnation of the Panchen Lama and also the longest held political prisoner in the world), and named Gyaltsen Norbu the Panchen Lama instead, a move that angered many Tibetans. When the current Dalai Lama dies, China will use their false Panchen Lama to establish their hegemony over the Tibetans.

The Dalai Lama has hinted in the past that he may be the last person to hold the title, leaving the decision of his reincarnation up to the Tibetan people to decide. In such a scenario, Tibetans can reject the Chinese government’s choice of the Dalai Lama and be without a spiritual leader for the first time since 1391. After Mao Zedong’s Communist Party took control of Lhasa, killing thousands of Tibetans, large number of Tibetan exiles migrated to India. The trend continues today, with Tibetans wanting to send their children to India to study in Tibetan and Buddhist schools instead of Chinese schools in Tibet. This, for them, appears to be the only way to preserve their culture and identity.

In September 2016, the Delhi High Court ruled that Tibetans born in India between 1950 and 1987 were eligible to apply for Indian passports. The new offer of nationality presented a dilemma. Take the passport, some said, and end decades of uncertainty. Others argued that giving up your nationality meant betraying the Tibetan cause that three generations have fought for. While many Tibetans applied for these passports, they still dream for a free Tibet. With time running out, the Dalai Lama cannot have or give false hope. He has been steadily losing international support in the face of China’s rise as a world power. No longer does any country dare to receive the Dalai Lama officially. The delay in reaching a solution causes anxiety, uncertainty and division among his people. Even inside Tibet, owing to frustration and hopelessness, people resort to self-immolation.

China’s growing economic strength means even the Dalai Lama’s sublte demands for autonomy appear distant. For Beijing, Tibet is of strategic importance; a sizable proportion of China’s water reserves are on the Tibetan plateau and the region possesses a long land border with India, a neighbour and competitor. Concessions to Tibetans could draw discontent among hard-liners within China’s ruling Communist Party and rouse nationalist sentiment in Inner Mongolia and other regions. International support for Tibet is waning away. US President Donald Trump proposed to reverse a decades-old policy of providing financial support to the Tibetan administration. Without political and economic support from the West, the hope for an independent Tibet seems even farther away than it did before. With respect to other countries, not much has been aid has been received.

Cultural hegemony attempted by China by destroying Buddhist monasteries and establishing Chinese education have deeply threatened existence of Tibetan culture. Perhaps recognizing all this, the Dalai Lama proposes only narrowed-down demands- development and basic autonomy instead of independence. Tibet can continue to fight against Chinese hegemony, without conceding to the Chinese and aspire development, giving up on identity. Lastly, it can rely on India, a country which has so far been welcoming, but could have to consider its relationship with China to ensure peace. With the question of Dalai Lama’s successor hanging, the future of an independent Tibet seems very, very bleak.

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