By Lukar Jam Atsok
Translated by Sonam Gyatso
During a Public Talk entitled “Rangzen: When, How and Why?” held recently in Dharamsala, I was asked by the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), the organizer of the event, to speak about my ‘pride and confidence in regaining Tibet’s independence’. As a Rangzen activist myself, I accepted their invitation enthusiastically. If I choose the right words in Tibetan, my topic would be ‘Rangzen Tsang-ma’ (Complete Independence for Tibet). The reason I prefer to use the words ‘complete independence’ is because it aims to regain the total independence of Tibet from the totalitarian regime of the People’s Republic of China. This Tibet comprises of all the Tibetans and other minority nationalities living in the three traditional provinces of Tibet, encompassing an area of more than 2.7 million square kilometers. I also want to make it absolutely clear that I do not intend to speak on vague subjects such as “the truth of Tibet”, “Tibetan autonomy”, “happiness and welfare of the Tibetan people” and so on.
Some people assert that demanding complete independence for Tibet is not viable and, therefore, it is more practical and realistic to struggle for autonomy through the ‘Middle Way Approach’. For the past thirty years, we have been pursuing this approach. We are therefore in a position to evaluate what sort of benefits it has resulted for our cause. As far as I am concerned, the only thing that this approach has achieved is inaction and cowardice on the part of the Tibetan people.
Moreover, the Tibetan government in Exile seems to have forgotten the hard lessons of the infamous “seventeen-point agreement” that was forced on the Tibetan people. Between 1950-1959, Tibet tried in vain, to achieve reconciliation with the Communist Chinese regime; His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama even accepted ceremonial positions in the new communist government, and sang praises of Mao and socialism. The result was catastrophic, and we all know that Tibet subsequently became the so-called “Tibet Autonomous Region” under the PRC.
Tibet will be Free
Generally, there are many ways and approaches to strive for independence. Most important of all is to know which wind our boat of freedom struggle is heading into, and at the same time to have a firm and consistent policy. As far as I am concerned, the lack of any real progress in our struggle is not because the Tibetans inside Tibet have given up their struggle; nor is it due to the absence of concrete support from the international community.
In fact, if we examine the proclamations of the Chinese Communist Party, before capturing power in China, we would find Tibet, Xingjang and Inner Mongolia mentioned as having the right to secede from the “Motherland” and become independent countries. Guomindang’s Chiang Kai Shek also proclaimed that “after defeating the communist thugs in collaboration with the Tibetans, we [China] would provide the right to national self-determination to Tibet, in accordance with the wishes of Tibetan people”.
Similarly, after invading Tibet Mao Zedong said that Tibet was not as same as Xingjang and Mongolia, adding further that “Tibet should be given special status by all necessary means”. Likewise, during a special meeting on Tibet, held in 1984, Deng Xiaoping made similar statements concerning Tibet’s special status. However, the paradox is that the Tibetan government in Exile does not seem to realize this [Tibet’s ]special status, as it is merely seeking regional autonomy that is purported to have been given to China’s other so-called fifty-five minority nationalities, thus reducing Tibet’s status to that of Inner Mongolia and others. Nonetheless, the present overseas Chinese dissidents working for democracy have mentioned in article 39 of their Convention on Democracy passed in 1994 that Tibet will be given the right to national self-determination. They have also outlined ways to provide the Tibetan people with the right to national self-determination. Therefore, it is the height of absurdity if we assert that we cannot restore Tibet’s independence, when the Chinese themselves have assured us the right to national self-determination.
Tibet in the Context of Global Political Order
The United States congress has already passed a resolution, recognizing Tibet as an occupied country. Similarly, in a resolution passed by the German parliament in 1996, the Chinese government was reprimanded for carrying out a policy of “brute force of arms since 1950 to destroy Tibetan identity, brought about especially by the transfer and resettlement of Chinese in large numbers, sterilization of women and forced abortion, political and religious persecution as well as the subjection of the country [Tibet] to a Chinese-controlled administration”.
Another resolution by the International Lawyer’s Committee on Tibet emphasized that since the Tibetan people do not want to live under the oppressive Chinese rule, they should be given the right to national self-determination. In 1959, during a parliamentary session in the Lok Sabha, India’s Prime Minister, Jawahar lal Nehru, told the house that the final decision concerning Tibet should be made by the Tibetan people. In June 2003, when Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpai visited China, he issued an unusual political statement, declaring Tibet as part of the current People’s Republic of China established in 1949. This implies that no one can rewrite Tibet’s history, as being an independent nation.
I wonder what kind of stormy misconceptions are rumbling through the minds of those who assert that not a single nation would extend its support if Tibet asked for complete independence. The Chinese Communist Party can never distort the historical facts of Tibet by coining words and phrases like “under the influence of imperialist countries”, “anti-China forces”, “Regional Government of Tibet” and so on. Moreover, given the present difficult situation of China, it would not be too preposterous to say that the life expectancy of the Communist Party is on the decline. In other words, the prospects of China transforming itself into a liberal democracy are apparently increasing every day. This is a positive sign for Tibetans striving to regain Rangzen.
Therefore, as far as I am concerned, the reason why we have not been able to regain Tibet’s independence until now is not because the issue is a sensitive one for the international community. The principal reason in my view is our failure to take a firm stand on the issue. Speaking from the ideological point of view, our struggle for Tibetan independence is to ensure our survival as a distinct people, which is possible only when we free Tibet from the clutches of the brutal communist regime. This can be possible through a two-pronged strategy: Tibetans inside Tibet should secure their lands from further Chinese encroachment in the name of ‘development’, and those of us in exile must strive for Rangzen. Taking all these factors- the current global political order, the changing dynamics of China, and the situation inside Tibet- into consideration, I will present this thesis, entitled “A 15 -Point agenda for Regaining Rangzen” for global consideration.
If the three Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania had not striven for the right to national self-determination, Russia would not be a democracy today. On the other hand, if the seeds of Russian democracy had not sprouted then, it would have been difficult for the Baltic States to have regained their independence. Similarly, the Chinese democracy activists and colonies of the People’s Republic of China, such as East Turkistan, Tibet and others, are all striving for their right to national self-determination.
The Chinese Communist Party made an erroneous assumption that it was Gorbachev’s reform programs of Glasnost and Perestroika that caused the disintegration of the former Soviet Union and the eventual independence to its colonies. However, the international community is of the opinion that China’s gradual transformation into liberal democracy, and its colonies regaining national self-determination, is a positive development that needs to be encouraged, rather than derailed.
In the past, China’s justification for its brutal occupation of Tibet is what it unabashedly calls the “Liberation of Tibetans from feudal serfdom and western imperialist forces”. However, there are no takers to such rhetoric anymore, and has become a source of further embarrassment to the Chinese themselves. As a result, China is now desperate to find new justifications to continue their illegal occupation of Tibet.
These days one of the main arguments from China for remaining in Tibet is what it refers to as “securing its western national borders”. Strategic experts of the early 19th and 20th centuries considered Tibet as a “Power Vacuum”, recognizing Tibet as a great military and strategic asset that needed to be brought under its influence. For example, a British strategic analyst named H J Mackinder said that ‘any nation who conquered Tibet and East Turkistan would dominate the world’. On the basis of these assumptions, Chinese security analysts also believe that occupying the Tibetan plateau would be of immense strategic value during any potential conflict with its rival India. With such strategic calculus in mind, China constructed several highways, roads, and railways into Tibet.
Today many countries, including both India and China, possess inter-continental ballistic missiles, carrying nuclear war heads. The dynamics of warfare is also changing and becoming more sophisticated as can be seen with the start of the cyber space war. In tandem with this, the Communist Chinese has also changed their old military tactics of waging war from high topographies.
However, China’s neighboring countries are still suspicious that the Middle-Kingdom’s continued occupation of Tibet is not just for its own so-called ‘national security’, but to extend its empire further into the subcontinent.
The truth is that China’s national security is already under threat from its internal forces. History teaches us the lesson that all empires, including that of the former Soviet Union, collapsed from internal disturbances, rather than from outside aggression. Therefore, China’s justification that it needs to hold on to Tibet for its national security is untenable.
Another theory behind China’s reasons for continued occupation of Tibet is to exploit the plateau’s rich natural resources. This argument has obvious validity. After all, Mao Zedong once said, “Tibet has a vast land gifted with natural resources, but possesses less population. Compared to Tibet, China’s landmass is not very big, but it possesses a huge population handicapped by limited natural resources. Therefore, Tibet and China should not remain as separate nations”.
The present Chinese government also continues to plunder Tibet’s natural resources. Further, the claim that happiness and prosperity would not have dawned in Tibet had the Chinese Communist Party not liberated Tibet is absurd. On the contrary, Tibetans inside Tibet are growing increasingly aware of the need to secure their own lands. As a result, the Chinese government is wary of catastrophic results if it continues with the present policy of plundering Tibet’s natural resources.
When Tibetan people regain their independence, Tibet would cooperate with China in addressing its need for natural resources. For example, Tibet and China could sign a memorandum of understanding, lasting from thirty to forty years, concerning joint sharing of the plateau’s rich reserves of water, petroleum and gas that has been found in Tsaidam basin. Moreover, Tibet could provide a reasonable compensation to China for building up the Golmud-Lhasa railway lines.
After resolving the core of the Tibetan issue, which is the restoration of Tibetan independence, there will not remain many problems to overcome between the two countries. There is already a very good example set by Russia and its former republics sharing natural resources together, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ditto with Japan and China; both these countries have now decided to share together the oil and gas reserves found in the Pacific islands of Diaoyu and Senkaku, the sovereignty of which is claimed by the two Asian rivals.
The Chinese government claims in its so-called ‘white paper’ and other official documents that the Dalai Lama’s demand for a genuine Tibetan autonomy is unreasonable, and, therefore, will never be accepted by the Chinese people.
Such an autonomous status, the Chinese government asserts, will also be opposed by other so-called minority nationalities. The Chinese government has issued some weird statements, proclaiming that “separation of Tibet from the Motherland would be harmful to the interests of the Chinese people and other minority nationalities living in Tibet”. Regarding this issue, the (fears of the) Chinese government can be allayed, because when Tibet regains her independence all the minority nationalities residing in the country will become its natural citizens. The government of a new Tibet will serve such minority nationalities by providing every security and protection to their interests.
The Chinese settlers who have migrated to Tibet from other regions of China could be given a period of three to five years within which to leave Tibet. All their travel expenses and other facilities regarding their return to China shall be borne by the Tibetan administration.
One thing that should be clear for all is that Chinese people who have settled in Tibet since the time of Qing period, including Hui Muslims, have the choice to retain their Tibetan citizenship. Similarly with those Chinese who have married Tibetans for the last three generations. Moreover, experts, professionals and skilled workers invited to Tibet for developmental projects can also live in Tibet. We should have plans to teach Tibetan as well as other languages such as Chinese, English, and Urdu. Since Tibetan would be the official language, it becomes imperative that Chinese experts and professionals learn the language from now on. Moreover, Tibetans could have multiple citizenship rights.
China (can-del) could take responsibility for Tibet’s external defense for 30 to 50 years when Tibet regains her independence. Accordingly, a considerable number of Chinese soldiers can be allowed to be stationed in Tibet. However, all the Chinese communist party cadres, government officials and other military personnel must withdraw from Tibet. Present Tibetan party officials and PLA officers must vacate their posts. This will result in the loss of their interest and benefits for a few generations, which would be unfortunate. But for the larger interest of Tibetan people, such a decision would have to be taken.
During the official hand-over of power, for the sake of peace and stability, it should initially begin from small counties and districts. Drawing on this experience, the process shall be gradually extended to bigger cities such as Shigatse, Nagchu, Chamdo, and finally ending with the capital Lhasa. Such a complete handover of power might take a period of not less than 5 to 8 years.
With regard to the system of economy, Tibet would possibly go for a market-based capitalist economy. Free Market economy is the trend in most countries today. Therefore, there will be no restrictions on any business willing to invest in Tibet. No matter in which part of the world a country is located, it can attract investors and entrepreneurs to Tibet, as long as it puts into place a good infrastructure. The Tibetan government will not interfere with the free market economy, given that all investments shall be made by private individuals. Therefore, independent Tibet will welcome investors from all parts of the world, including from the present Chinese business entrepreneurs in Tibet.
We will also make sure that we respect the laws of the World Trade Organization by giving every protection and security to the Chinese businessmen presently investing in Tibet, and foreign entrepreneurs who might be interested to invest in the country. The value of Tibetan currency shall be made equivalent to that of the Chinese Yuan. Custom duty or taxes would be reduced. Astute business investors will, therefore, realize that they would enjoy more benefits than losses in a free Tibet.
Since the Chinese communist party is not entitled to own even an inch of Tibetan land, all the present illegal land transactions it has done in partnership with black marketers shall be investigated and reviewed by the newly-formed government of independent Tibet. Therefore, it would be in the interest of all the local traders, foreign businessmen and individuals to immediately put an end to all the illegal land transactions going on in Tibet.
In a nutshell, the reason why Communist China cannot leave Tibet is due to their imperial pride. Such imperialist mentality is not merely confined to the present Chinese Communist Party; it is a traditional Chinese attitude continuing since from Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. Because of this attitude, we have witnessed weird occurrences. For instance, in the past, a secret agreement was reached between British India and the Manchu dynasty in 1890, which allowed the British to enter Tibet. Again, in 1909, British India and imperial Russia had secret talks, agreeing with each other that if possible both would conquer Tibet, otherwise, Tibet would be put under Manchu influence. Again, in an agreement reached between British India and China in 1904, the British secretly included a clause, which said, “No foreign country, including British India, would be allowed to interfere in Tibetan affairs. However, British India should be provided its due share if the Tibetan government provides her natural resources to any other foreign country. One common illusion of any past and present imperialist nation is their extreme pride in its invincibility of military and economic strength”.
No matter, how big or small such imperialist nations are, they are possessed with the demon called imperial pride. However, today imperialism itself is outdated and anachronistic. These days no citizen takes pride in their nation subjugating other landmasses. For instance, Chinese visiting civilized countries of the world face trouble getting a hotel room if they declare themselves communist. Therefore, Chinese tourists present themselves as citizens of Hong Kong and Taiwan when they travel abroad.
It is the most appropriate time for the Chinese Communist party to shed their imperial skin and be a normal and responsible state. It does not behoove well for Uncle China to be astonished when his nephew wants to embrace his own Fatherland!
In Chinese propaganda documents such as the white paper, the Government claims that “Tibet will restore her feudal serfdom if China gave independence to the Dalai clique” as if it sympathizes with the Tibetan “masses”. It is indeed true that the term chos srid zung ‘brel (combination of religion and politics) has been mentioned in the charter of the Tibetan government in Exile. But I believe, when Tibet regains her independence, that any attempts to restore the feudal system will result in the new generation of Tibetans objecting, and they would even sacrifice their lives to prevent this from happening. Therefore, the Communist Chinese need not to be anxious about this.
Analyzing Tibet’s future by taking into account the overall international political developments and the gradual transformation of China itself, my confidence in regaining Tibetan Rangzen has increased enormously. Ordinary Tibetans would be swept up by the waves of a powerful sea if they continue to lose their spirit of resistance by following the words of our exile Tibetan politicians, most of whom see Rangzen as Utopia. In brief, my concern is not about Tibet regaining her Rangzen; it is whether we Tibetans WANT Rangzen or not!
Earlier China invaded Tibet hoping that the country would be a string of pearls with which to decorate the Middle Kingdom. However, Tibet has now become a malignant tumor giving the Dragon much pain and agony. Whether from political, economical or cultural perspectives, China realizes that Tibet doesn’t have much of a value. Particularly, the Chinese government suffered immense loss of face due to last years’ March uprising in Tibet. As a result, many Chinese settlers in Tibet have begun packing their bags and returning to China.
Moreover, due to the downfall in number of tourists visiting Tibet, the official Chinese document proclaims that China has to invest a sum of 130 million Indian Rupees to compensate the investment incurred merely on railway lines built in Eastern and Central Tibet. Experts say that the loss suffered by the Ngawa region will not be easily compensated, as the loss amounted to fourteen year’s GDP of the region.
Similarly, in order to avert international pressure relating to the Tibetan issue, the Chinese government uses Tibet as a commercial pawn against foreign countries. The reality is that China wants to get rid of the malignant tumor called Tibet. Moreover, at present the Chinese government realizes that no matter how much effort they put in to improve their system, it would become worse and more complicated. Therefore, China can not find an easy way to change its system and constitution, to remove the tumor, and the scar anyway will remain after the operation. This is because of not having a competent surgeon to perform the operation on China’s cancer of growing social contradictions.
The Tibetan government in Exile is not only incapable of working for Rangzen but also is unable to express its demands clearly. In general, the hard reality of life is that you will not achieve anything if you do not strive. How can your opponent fulfill your wishes if you do not express them clearly?
We have stepped down from Rangzen to Middle Way, and now to National Regional Autonomy. Further, when we talk about the Tibetan cause, it is misinterpreted by comments such as “Tibetan issue is not an issue of a nation and its people; rather it is a struggle between truth and untruth”, thus making it more ambiguous. Besides, I think, such ambiguities inadvertently lends credence to Chinese government’s claim that “we don’t consider important what the Dalai Clique says, what matters is what they are doing”.
In brief, we have not been able to achieve Rangzen because of our failure to express our demands clearly. We present ourselves as if we do not need Rangzen. There are many people who make as silly a comment as “It is of no use to achieve Rangzen if Tibet becomes like Nepal or some sub-Saharan African countries. It is therefore better for Tibet to be a part of progressing country like China”! Furthermore, by brushing the real issue of Tibet under the carpet, both the Tibetan and Chinese governments are treading an unrealistic approach.
The Chinese government acts as if they will not grant independence to the Tibetans, although they actually want to get rid of Tibet. On the other hand, the Tibetan government presents as if they do not want independence, despite their obvious wish to see a free Tibet. It is because of just such beating-around-the-bush approaches, that both sides have failed to resolve the issue so far. I believe we can reach a consensus, if the Tibetan government put forward its demands clearly before the Chinese government.
Middle Pathists claim that striving for Rangzen is not a stumbling block to gaining autonomy for Tibet. This could be true. However, the Middle Way Approach has harmed rather than benefited the struggle for Rangzen. Anyhow even if we regard the Middle Way Policy as a path, it is one which has now taken a full circle. When we analyze as to where we reached after following this path for 30 years, we find ourselves at the same place from where we began our journey, whereas Tibet continues to suffer terrible destruction. “Destroy the four old” madness of the Cultural Revolution days is continuing in a new avatar.
The upcoming ‘First Special Meeting’ is a result of the complete circle taken by the followers of the Middle Way Policy. This meeting is also a turning point, to decide whether we would continue with the same path or not. It is high time for the die-hard Middle Path advocates to realize that the path they are following is one that will lead them to nowhere.
I am actually wondering why the followers of the Middle Way are so enthusiastic about still continuing with their misguided path. Diplomatically speaking, we have shown all our goodness and sincerity. But the hard truth is that we have accepted defeat by showing our stupidity. The only silver lining is that we have so far not signed an official agreement on the National Regional Autonomy between the Chinese and Tibetan governments. And this achievement is not due to the astuteness of Tibetan government; rather it is due to the Chinese government’s skepticism and doubts about the talks itself.
Therefore, the only way out of this trap, for both Rangzen and Middle-Way advocates, is to effect a change of policy. Keeping up the status quo is not going to achieve anything for Tibet.
Note: This document is aimed at both the present Chinese government and the future democratic government of Tibet. I am distributing it to invite suggestions and comments for its improvement. Suggestions and comments received shall be acknowledged. If this thesis proves productive, it will be presented before the governments of the world, including both the Tibetan and Chinese governments. Send your feedback to email@example.com