Tibet Can No Longer Be Overshadowed By Xinjiang

It is unfortunate that Tibet has fallen out of the international lexicon surrounding the Chinese Communist Party’s approach to human rights.

The attention of international observers was captured by evidence of human rights abuses towards Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang in 2017. In the years since however, foreign interference, cybercrime, economic coercion and the COVID19 pandemic have formed the bulk of international attention when it comes to the CCP’s approach to its neighbours and the wider world.

That said, there is a pressing need to examine the situation faced by Tibet in light of recent attempts by the Chinese government to suppress Tibetan language and culture.

Earlier this week, the Tibetan rights campaigner Tashi Wangchuk was released from prison. After a five year jail sentence for the specious crime of “inciting separatism”, Wangchuk should never have been imprisoned according to the Seventeen Point Agreement. Indeed, the very basis of modern Sino-Tibetan relations was ignored five years ago when Wangchuk was merely exercising his rights under Point 9 of the Agreement in question which states that:

The spoken and written language and education system of the Tibetan nationality shall be developed step by step in accordance with the actual conditions in Tibet.”

Elusive language though it may seem, Wangchuk was arrested in 2016 on what were clearly political charges. His arrest was a move designed to suppress freedom of expression and opinion.

The Chinese Communist Party Government has also been intolerant of secessionist movements – particularly ones that have at their core a minority identity.

With the passing of the Hong Kong security law, Xinjiang persecution and recent military jostling in Taiwan, the international community should expect the CCP regime will make strides to suppress more freedoms, identities and criticise any country that condemns it for doing so.

The recent attempt by the CCP to eliminate Tibetan language and emphasise the importance of Mandarin throughout Tibet – covered by Human Rights Watch – indicates that China considers the teaching of minority languages in classrooms a threat.

It is ultimately indicative of the authoritarian CCP regime’s intention to solidify its grasp on power by controlling the narrative around national identity throughout China and the territories it occupies. This is approach is also evidenced in the CCP’s action towards Hong Kong and Macau in 2019 when it announced its intention to plan “patriotic education”.

Tibet, having been annexed by the The People’s Liberation Army in 1950-1951, were coerced into signing the Agreement of the Central People’s Government and the Local Government of Tibet  – commonly known as the Seventeen Point Agreement. The agreement includes precepts for Tibetan sovereignty along with broad acknowledgement that the central government (specifically referring to China) will respect Tibet’s autonomy. In the mid 1950s there were small rebellions against Chinese occupation for Tibetan autonomy with the Central Intelligence Agency even providing weapons to rebels in the east. The United Nations General Assembly also  passed a resolution condemning Chinese repression at the time. Three years later, the Tibetan Uprising of 1959 took place with an estimated death toll in the tens of thousands and the closure of most of Tibet’s monasteries by the CCP. The CCP also made private religious practice illegal throughout Tibet during the time of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

Tibet holds an unfortunate record in having been the country occupied the longest by China – over 60 years. Xinjiang’s Uyghur population, Hong Kong’s citizens and the Taiwanese along with the international community should take heed of what China has done in Tibet. If further attempts to suppress national identity are not called out by international observers, the hope of smaller nations in the periphery of China’s grasp will fade.

Mitchell Thomas

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