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Ethnic Transformation In The Tibetan Region History Essay

There has been a history of a rather enthusiastic policy of demographic changes or population transfer in China. It started with China’s mass settlement campaigns in Manchuria in the late 19th century which left the Manchus there in a minority. The same policy was followed in East Turkistan in the 1950s [i] . The Chinese now call it Xinjiang (Sinkiang Uighur Autonomous Region) but the Uyghur’s, a Turkic speaking ethnic group, have been many times outnumbered by over seven million Chinese settlers. Earlier too, the ethnic Han Chinese had outnumbered the Mongols in Inner Mongolia by the middle of the last century [ii] . Tibet took time, but invariably followed. Today, the migration of the Chinese into Tibet is often spoken of as the greatest threat to its stability and its political and economic integrity.

A comparative study of population figures of Tibet vis-à-vis other occupied regions in the western China would show how Beijing government has already inundated the Amdo and Khams regions of Tibet with Han population during past five decades. Figures given below from China Statistical Year Book-2002, China Statistics Press(p-100)aptly confirm this trend:  

Tibet (Truncated) i.e. TAR                     2,616,329

Sichuan                                                82,348,296

Yunnan                                                42,360,089

Qinghai                                                  4,822,963

Gansu                                                  25,124,282   

Tibet (Original)                                   6,000,000

According to the Tibetan government-in-exile, headed by Dalai Lama, the population of Tibet (Cholka-Sum) was six million before China invaded and occupied Tibet. Although the transfer of Han population from mainland China to Tibetan areas has gained a big momentum after 2002 in past five years, yet these seven years old figures show that Tibetans accounted for only 3.5 million in the four Chinese provinces as compared to 154.7 million Chinese population. No wonder the Tibetans in Khams and Amdo have been already reduced to an insignificant minority – like the Manchurians in Manchuria and the Mongols in Inner Mongolia. A majority of these Tibetans live in ethnic pockets, termed as ‘Provincial Autonomous Regions’ (PAR) in these four Chinese provinces. It is interesting to note that during recent Tibetan uprising in March 2008 against Chinese rule over Tibet, more than two thirds of troubled areas belonged to these Tibetan ‘PAR’s of Khams and Amdo [iii] .                             

China had already chalked out a well defined approach, popularly known as the China’s Tibet Policy to exert its influence and domination over Tibet. On 7th October 1950, the Chinese PLA invaded Tibet and forced the Tibetans to sign the Seventeen-Point Agreement. The agreement proved diabolical. While, on one hand it stated the ‘Tibetans’ right of exercising national regional autonomy’, on the other it said that the ‘Central Authorities will not alter the existing political system in Tibet’. Subsequent developments revealed.that the Chinese instead would.determine ‘Tibetan autonomy’ and ‘Tibet’s future’. The Country Report on Human Rights Practice – 2000 released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, the US State Department, February 2001, enumerated the impact of China’s Tibet policy and the gross Chinese violation of human rights in Tibet by pointing out the following:

Large-scale transfer of Han population in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) has sidelined Tibet’s traditional dominance.

Ethnic Han Chinese holds many positions of real power and they make most key decisions in Tibet.

Discrimination in employment is rampant with ethnic Han hired preferentially for many jobs and receiving higher pay for the same work.

Tibetan language is neglected and Chinese language is used in most commercial and official communications. In fact the Chinese have disregarded the popular demand from students protest march in Oct 10 over the mandatory usage of Chinese language as the medium of instruction in schools of Tibet [iv] .

Severe restrictions have been imposed on many traditional practices of the Tibetans and public manifestations of religious belief in the Tibet’s urban areas have been restricted. The government has moved to curb the proliferation of monasteries – as it regards them as the den of subversive activities.

In fact, from April 1996 Tibet is reeling under ’strike hard’ campaign, which mainly targets monks and nuns loyal to the Dalai Lama. Since the ’strike-hard’ campaign, almost 10,000 monks and nuns have been expelled from their monastic institutions. Thousands have been persecuted. The photos of the Dalai Lama were banned. Thus, China’s minority policy and regional autonomy practices has greatly affected Tibetan nationalism. ‘Hanaisation’ has been catastrophic for Tibet. It essentially implied that the Han being in the majority had the right to rule over the minority. The logical corollary to this was that Han culture became the cultural model legitimizing national integration and assimilation of the minorities. Therefore, Han nationalism threatened the “cultural identity and political autonomy of the Tibetan people”. The denial of self-determination and adoption of regional autonomy in Tibet was meant to promote Han hegemonism and Han expansionism in non-Han regions [v] . 

Implications Of Ethnic Transformation Of Tibetans For India

China had learnt its lesson well that without a popular support from the domestic population it was unlikely to be successful to launch any kind of aggressive manoeuvre against India for without a popular support ,the chances of sustaining its military fighting on the borders would severely jeopardized. However it was quick to realise this aspect and commenced the well known Tibet policy .Given the sympathy that India enjoys in Tibet, chiefly arising from the fact that over the years it has protected the revered Dalai Lama, the Chinese wish to leave nothing to chance. It can also be argued that now with the Tibetan population firmly under their influence, the Chinese might try to even use the same template of transforming the population in the so called disputed areas of India [vi] . This, however, will be executed once they militarily gain control of these areas. Yet one can never rule out this action being carried out covertly, given the porous borders between the two countries and even the demographic similarities and connections within the population of both the sides. In case this threat comes in to being then this would be a master stroke of China’s diplomacy. Thereafter it would only be a formality for China to establish its claim by enforcing a UN mandated plebiscite which would not be a tall order for China as it is already a permanent members of the Security Council.

There is also a view that China has deliberately encouraged to the settling of the Tibetan refugees in Indo Himalayan belt. These Tibetan refugees are the very ones who have been displaced from their homeland by virtue of the massive Han influx in Tibet. The Chinese recognise that the Dalai Lama does have a massive support amongst the Tibetan refugees in the Indi Tibetan belt. However, since they are convinced that any Tibetan move for independence would need to have an acceptance and support from Lhasa, they have now turned this into their advantage. They are well aware of the fact that in case the next Dalai Lama is based in Lhasa, the Tibetan Refugees would look towards Tibet for allegiance. Inevitably, since Tibet is now Han dominated, such a situation would become a destabilizing factor for India [vii] . Historically too, Lhasa, when had the opportunity had also laid claims to Indian territories up to Tawang and many Tibetans still believe that a large section of the Himalayan belt falls in Tibetan area of influence [viii] .

It is a known fact that China has laid claims to Indian Territory and except on the status of Sikkim retains its claim [ix] .The ethnic transformation surely will positively aid its efforts of bringing greater support and credibility to its military capability. Thus a better prepared and stronger base in Tibet will now enable it to boldly subdue India diplomatically knowing that it does not have to worry about its rear area security local support should it decides to execute the military option.

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