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The 51st Anniversary of the Tibetan Struggle: What is the future?

Gunjan Singh is Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • March 12, 2010

    March 10, 2010 marked the 51st Anniversary of the Tibetan Uprising which had forced the Dalai Lama to move to Dharamshala and establish the Tibetan Government-in-exile. The current week is also the second anniversary of the most recent prominent expression of Tibetan discontent—the riot of March 14, 2008 in Lhasa. This riot, according to official data, resulted in the deaths of 21 civilians and one policeman, apart from injuries to a large number of people. But Tibetans claim that almost 200 people were killed and around 5700 arrested by the Chinese authorities. This incident had taken the government completely off guard and what followed during the global Olympics torch relay was also quite disturbing for Beijing.

    It appears that Beijing has learnt its lesson from the 2008 riots and has been cautious this time around. Prior to the anniversary, the Communist Party of China (CCP) had increased security in Tibet manifold. Even the links between Nepal and Tibet have been severed as the Chinese government does not want a flow of people across the border. However, Tibetans in exile in India succeeded in protesting outside the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi. Beijing had also expressed its displeasure at US President Barack Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama.

    On the eve of the anniversary, Beijing promised to increase the level of development in Tibet and in other Tibetan-inhabited areas. But as media reports suggest, the government has not elaborated on how it plans to go about this. It appears that China is looking at holistic development in the minority ethnic regions, though its plans are still based on assimilation strategies. At a meeting held in January 2010 President Hu Jintao unveiled the path for social and economic development of Tibet. His speech focused on taking the per capita income of Tibetans close to the national level in a time bound manner and focusing on infrastructure development in the region. The government also promised more investment in health care services, telecommunication, education and other areas of social development. This is a continuation of the assimilation policy; as Hu noted, the PRC "will get ethnic minorities and the people of all ethnic groups who live in ethnic minority areas to feel the warmth of the motherland as one large family" (emphasis added).

    In spite of all these promises in place Beijing has still not been able to successfully come to terms with Tibetan discontent. The whole development plan and method of the CCP does not appeal to the Tibetans because there is no space and acceptance provided by Beijing for their cultural and religious beliefs. The CCP is still not tolerant of this difference, and is in fact quite apprehensive about this difference. What the CCP has to accept is that if it needs to find a long term solution to Tibetan discontent, it has to grant greater autonomy to Tibetans instead of pursuing assimilation oriented policies. This has been the Dalai Lama’s basic demand for the last 50 years. There is no other political or developmental solution to Tibetan discontent; a solution is possible only with greater tolerance on the part of the CCP. The Tibetans know that once the Dalai Lama passes away, there will be no equally strong voice of their cause. For its part, the CCP should realize that the Dalai Lama is the last possibility for a final peaceful settlement. After him, the Tibetan movement may well turn violent and calls for independence may gain momentum.

    On the 51st anniversary, the Dalai Lama stated that the PRC is trying to annihilate Buddhism in the Tibetan region and that this is the major discord between the two sides. He has also stressed that by deploying armed personnel the government is simply trying to ignore the problem. He also showed his sympathy for the people of Xinjiang and referred to Xinjiang as ‘East Turkmenistan’, the name used by its pro-independence group. The Dalai Lama’s stated that Beijing has put monks and nuns ‘in prison-like conditions’ making ‘monasteries function more like museums… to deliberately annihilate Buddhism’. To this Tibet’s Communist Party Secretary Zhang Qingli reacted by accusing Dalai Lama led forces for the chaos in Tibet. Thus, the war of words continues in the volatile region of Tibet.