Has China decided the Future of Tibet?

CLAUDE ARPI

Though it escaped the Indian (and the world) media, a crucial event occurred in Beijing: the Sixth Tibet Work Forum was held on August 24 and 25.
A Tibet Work Forum usually decides the fate of the Roof of the World for the next 5 to 10 years. India should be concerned, as it also defines China’s western borders policies.

The previous Forum was held in Beijing in January 2010. Before that, four Tibet Work Conferences were organised in 1980, 1984, 1994 and 2001.

But what is exactly a Work Forum on Tibet?

It is a conference attended by several hundreds of officials, including the entire Politburo, the People’s Liberation Army, representatives from different ministries, as well as local satraps.

The 6th Tibet Work Forum was presided over by President Xi Jinping, who pleaded for more efforts to promote economic growth and bring about inclusive social progress in Tibet and Tibetan-inhabited areas.
Note that the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan-inhabited areas of four provinces (Sichuan, Gansu, Qinghai and Yunnan) have been clubbed together as far as Beijing’s policy for Tibet is concerned.

Xi vowed to take sustainable measures and continue preferential policies for the mountainous region which, “has entered a critical stage toward fulfilling the country’s [China] goal of building a moderately prosperous society in a comprehensive way.”

The Chinese President asserted:

“Development, which aims to improve living conditions for various ethnic groups and beef up social cohesion, should be advanced in a prudent and steady manner, and all measures taken should be sustainable.”
The dual objective of improving the ‘local conditions’ and ‘beefing up social cohesion’ pervaded the speech of the President. Xi also affirmed,

“Efforts should also be made to incorporate education on ‘socialist core values’ into courses in schools at various levels, popularize the national commonly-used language and script, and strive to foster Party-loving and patriotic builders and successors of the socialist cause.”
Will the Tibetans accept these ‘core values’?

Imposition of Chinese language could have severe backlashes on the Tibetan plateau. The unrest in March/April 2008 has already been a sign of rejection of the imposition of a new Tibetan culture with Chinese characteristics.

Premier Li Keqiang was also present at the Forum. He affirmed that “it will be an arduous task for Tibet to build a ‘moderately prosperous’ society over the next five years,” though this is a component of the Chinese Dream, so dear to President Xi.

Li also pledged to increase financial aid to Tibet and build further infrastructure which means more roads, airports, railway lines and dams. For India, it is certainly a cause of worries.

The entire politburo, including the seven members’ Standing Committee, was in attendance.

Behind these promises, the Forum focused on China’s main worry, namely the ‘instability’ of the Land of Snows, or in other words, the ‘nationalist’ aspirations of the people of Tibet.

According to the official news agency, President Xi Jinping mentioned “national and ethnic unity as the key plans for Tibet, vowing a focus on long-term, comprehensive stability and an unswerving anti-separatism battle.”

It is ‘an obligatory task’ said Xi. It shows that China is still trembling, more than 60 years after Tibet was ‘liberated’.

Xi reiterated his theory about the ‘border areas’: “governing border areas is the key for governing a country, and stabilising Tibet.”

Tibet’s main border is with India. Does it mean that China is afraid of India?

Xi also urged “the promotion of Marxist values in people’s views on ethnics, religion and culture.” Party’s officials should “keep pace with the CPC Central Committee in their thoughts and deeds, telling them to ‘cherish unity as if it was their eyes’,” said Xi.

Will Tibetans one day cherish unity with Han Chinese as if the latter were their own eyes? It may never happen.

An important Politburo meeting
Already on July 30, a meeting of the Politburo had discussed Tibet affairs. Xinhua had then announced:

“Chinese leaders met to discuss economic and social development in Tibet, and how to ensure the autonomous region achieve prolonged stability.”
President Xi Jinping said the solution for Tibet was to “maintain national religious policies and promote patriotism in Tibet.”

The July Politburo meeting, 4 weeks before the Forum, raises a serious issue. Why to have a full meeting of the Politburo to ‘prepare’ the Tibet Work Forum?

When people had speculated about the possibility of the Party holding meetings at the summer resort of Beidaihe, Xinhua argued:

“Not long ago, the CCP Central Politburo met twice, on July 20 and on July 30, which was unusual. They have already discussed ‘The Thirteenth Five-Year Plan’, the CCP Fifth Plenary Session, economic strategies, the ‘anti-tiger campaign’, and other important issues.”
The article, though it does not mention the Tibet issue, asked:

“Is it meaningful, necessary, or possible to talk about these issues again in Beidaihe several days or ten days later?”
So why have a Politburo meeting on Tibet (even if ‘Tibet’ was just a topic on the agenda of the July meeting), to discuss the same things 4 weeks later?

A plausible explanation could be that there was some serious disagreement amongst the leaders on the Tibet issue.

The air had to be cleared (or the positions fine-tuned) before calling for the much larger forum which is usually attended by 200 or 300 cadres.

Since the time of the so-called ‘liberation’ in 1950, the leadership has always been sharply divided on the direction to take for the Roof of the World.

The situation seems the same today.

Around the same time, former President Jiang Zemin was targeted.

It was insinuated that ‘a highly positioned cadre’, when he was in power, arranged for his trusted aides to be in the top positions for the purpose of being able to manipulate power in the future. Jiang was asked to stop interfering in China’s affairs.

Could it be that some members of the Jiang faction were trying to derail Xi’s policy of development in Tibet? It is a possibility.

Two high-level visits to the Roof of the World
Following the July Politburo meeting, two members of the over-powerful body were sent to Tibet on ‘inspection’ (a few days before the Forum was held).

Wang Yang, vice-premier of the State Council ‘inspected’ Lhasa and Nagchu between August 13 and 15. Xinhua said that he “investigated relevant work [linked to] poverty alleviation and development, animal husbandry, tourist industry and meteorological services.”

This indicates the direction in which the Forum went a week later.

Wang is said to have concluded:

“We are proud of the great achievements made for the development of Tibet, Tibet has a precious natural and cultural heritage; it should be cherished.”

It was a prelude to the 6th Tibet Work Forum.
On August 13, Xinhua reported that Xu Qiliang, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), another member of the 25-member Politburo, visited Tibet (and Chongqing). He urged the military forces posted for defense of the border [with India] “to make down-to-earth efforts and build a strong army”.

Xu pleaded for better management and control of the borders “as well as innovation with ideological work at military forces to shore up the morale of servicemen for border defense.”

Xu’s exhortation was reflected in Xi’s speech during the Forum.

Xi reiterated his theory about the ‘border areas’: “governing border areas is the key for governing a country, and stabilising Tibet is a priority for governing border areas.”

In the years to come, the ‘stability’ of Tibet and the borders with India, irrespective of economic and other issues, will remain crucial for the Beijing leadership to survive.

It was perhaps worthwhile to have 2 meetings!

And of course, “the Central Government did not in the past, nor is now and will not in the future accept the [Dalai Lama’s] Middle Way solution to the Tibet issue,” said an article penned by an official the United Front Department after the Forum.

Here too, the hard line has prevailed once again.

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