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The core of the China-Tibet conflict is the status of Tibet. China is of the opinion that Tibet is an inalienable part of China while the Tibetans are of the opinion that Tibet has historically been an independent country. The complexity of this issue has increased as both parties have misconstrued history to serve their purposes.
Tibet is a mountainous region located between India, China, and Nepal. Tibetan history, as a separate and independent country, dates back at least to the early 7th century, with the establishment of the Tibetan Kingdom. Modern Tibet gained independence from the Manchu Chinese Empire in 1911, and enjoyed independence until the Communist Chinese invasion of 1950-1951.
Tibetans are Buddhists, and the secular leader of Tibet since the late 1500s has been the primary Tibetan Buddhist religious leader, known as the Dalai Lama.
The following sections aim at presenting in an unbiased manner the origin of the conflict, the Chinese and Tibetan perspectives, the ethical concerns that are involved and the impact of this issue on international business in these areas.
THE ORIGIN OF THE CONFLICT
670 –War between Tibet and the T’ang dynasty of China. Tibet won the war and gained control over the Central Asian trade routes.
1207 – Tibet surrenders to Mongol ruler, Genghis Khan, who also conquered China, as well as many other nations. The empire came to be known as Yuan China. This marked the beginning of the conflict as even after their rule ended China claimed that Tibet was a part of it.
1903-1904 – British Invasion of Tibet. In the 19th century both Russia and Britain were trying to gain control over the trade route in Central Asia and Tibet was an important factor. The British invaded Tibet and made them enter into a treaty with them.
1911-1913 – Tibetan Uprising – During the anti-Manchu Chinese Revolution, Tibetans revolt and force out the Manchu Chinese garrison. The surviving Chinese troops evacuate Tibet by way of British India. Tibet declares itself Independent.
1918 – Sino-Tibetan War – China, having never accepted Tibet’s independence, sent troops into eastern Tibet in 1918. This conflict is considered as a stalemate, and ended due to British diplomacy.
1930-1932 – Sino-Tibetan War – A Tibetan army attacked Sichuan Province in China, which was at the time ruled by a warlord named Liu Wen-Hui. China was at the time divided among dozens of “Warlords” who often fought amongst themselves as well as against the central Chinese government. Liu Wen-Hui battled the Tibetans for several years, sometimes with the aid of other warlords, such as the Qinghai province’s warlord Ma Bu-Fang. A peace agreement was finally signed in 1932, setting Tibet’s eastern border at the Yangtze River.
1950-1951 – Chinese Communist invasion and occupation of Tibet. The subsequent occupation and consolidation of Communist control over the Buddhist kingdom resulted in the destruction of thousands of Buddhist temples and the deaths of at least tens of thousands of Buddhist monks and other Tibetan civilians.
1956-1959-Tibetan Revolt–Khampa rebels in eastern Tibet rebelled against Communist Chinese rule. Up to 20,000 Tibetan guerrillas battled the Chinese army. By March, 1959, the situation in the capital city of Lhasa had deteriorated as tens of thousands of Chinese troops occupied the city and made preparations for an attack on the Dalai Lama’s palace and his guard force. On March 17, 1959, after two Chinese mortar shells landed near his palace, the 14th Dalai Lama escaped from Lhasa with his bodyguards and headed into exile in neighboring India. In Lhasa, the Chinese troops attacked the Dalai Lama’s palace, killing thousands of Tibetan civilians who had encircled the palace to prevent the Chinese from seizing their spiritual leader. Over the next several days, severe urban warfare played out in the Tibetan capital, as the Chinese consolidated their control over the city, killing thousands of rebels and civilians. Many Tibetan monks and civil leaders were publicly executed.
Since the Chinese takeover of Tibet, in addition to the acts of brutality against the native population and the religious leaders, Chinese policy has led to a large influx of ethnic Chinese into Tibet. This is termed by many as a form of “Demographic Genocide,” with the Chinese culture beginning to supplant the native Tibetan culture.
1956-1974 – Chushi Gandrug Resistance Movement – The American Central Intelligence Agency aided Tibetan rebels from 1956 through 1974, when China and the U.S. began to re-establish relations. The Tibetan guerrillas used American-supplied weapons and training to wage a war of resistance to the Communist occupying army. After American aid ended in the early 1970s, the surviving rebels fled to Nepal, where they were wiped out by Nepalese security forces.
March/April, 2008 – Tibetan protests against Chinese occupation gain the attention of the world media, in part because China was the host of the 2008 Olympics.
THE CHINESE PERSPECTIVE – Why is China so intent on keeping Tibet?
The Chinese government is of the opinion that its right to Tibetan territory is left over from the Thirteenth Century, when China and Tibet were both incorporated into Kublai Khan’s empire. They claim that the union formed at that time was never legally broken; therefore, Tibet, the smaller of two countries, has a legal obligation to become absorbed into China.
The Government of China has traditionally been an imperialistic one. As a result of this in the 1950’s when violent conflict between China and Tibet began, the Chinese government justified its actions by saying that it was “helping” the Tibetans. They still believe that the Tibetans need Chinese help to maintain a successful society and to prevent Bucddhism, a religion to which the Chinese government is violently opposed, from influencing the Tibetan culture.
China is a heavily overpopulated nation and has many social problems because of it. The society could greatly benefit from more land, and the government sees taking over Tibet as a way of gaining land and making life more comfortable for the Chinese people. The one-child policy is largely ignored for the Han people in Tibet so the incentives to immigrate are great. The Han now greatly outnumber ethnic Tibetans throughout Old Tibet.
Tibet, known as Xizang, or the “Western Treasury,” is a fabled land of riches in old Chinese tales that still influence the Chinese popular imagination. The Chinese have long coveted the mineral wealth, forests, and other natural resources of Tibet. The vast open lands of the Tibetan Plateau have beckoned to ambitious Chinese for centuries.
The Tibetan Plateau is of great strategic significance to the Chinese as it provides a buffer between China and India. It was greatly sought in the “Great Game” for the control of Central Asia that Britain and Russia played in the 19th and early 20th century. Military strategists claim that Chinese missiles based in Tibet can hit all of the Middle East. Conversely, missiles placed in Tibet by a foreign power could easily strike into the heart of China. For this reason alone, China feels it needs to exert permanent control over Tibet.
China has greatly invested in Tibet and helped build the infrastructure to a great extent. Even though his development primarily benefits the Han immigrants and not the native Tibetans, China will not willingly give up its investment in Tibet.
As one of the world’s oldest continuous civilizations and greatest early cultures, the Chinese have a great deal of national pride. It would be increasingly difficult for them to let go of Tibet at this point and admit that they have been at fault all this time.
THE TIBETAN PERSPECTIVE
The Tibetans resent the violation rights imposed on them for the past 40 years by the Chinese government. They are also infuriated by the destruction of Tibetan culture, elimination of religious freedom and destruction of religious symbols and houses of worship and Chinese immigrants into Tibet which is destroying the atmosphere of a pure Tibetan society. China is in direct violation of international law by imposing their rule on Tibet as the Tibetans are of the opinion that they are given the right by international law to maintain their own government.
Tibet is also facing grave social and environmental problems under the Chinese rule. One of the greatest of these is the influx of the Han Chinese as a result of which the Tibetans have been reduced to a minority in their own homeland. This population pressure is not only adversely affecting the environment in Tibet but also of that of other Asian countries as it is the source of some of Asia’s greatest rivers. The Chinese leadership has constantly ignored to recognize the grave problems in Tibet, the genuine grievances and deep resentments of the Tibetan people, forcing them to either make the issue international or take matters in their own hands.
The following issues have enraged the Tibetans even further and given greater momentum to the Tibetan Movement.
The status of the 11th Panchen Lama was declared without consulting the officials in Beijing which enraged the PRC and lead them to make the “Reincarnation Law”. The Tibetans consider this as an interference in their cultural and religious practices.
The patriotic education campaigns that are carried out in Beijing in an attempt to promote loyalty to the regime in Beijing and the theft of traditional Tibetan artefacts have not helped the Chinese administration and only further strengthened Tibet’s cause.
Like it is the case in most conflicts the general public always sympathizes with the underdog and sides with the oppressed. Most non-Chinese tend to take the side of the Tibetans.it is clear to impartial observers that the Tibetan people are victims in this whole sorry business, though careful readers will have noticed that the riots in the Tibetan areas of China, like riots everywhere, have been fairly indiscriminate in their violence. The people are offended and baffled by the Chinese efforts to demonize the Dalai Lama, probably the best known and most widely revered Buddhist leader in the world. Above all, the tenacity with which the Chinese cling to Tibet and insist that Tibet is an integral part of the Chinese fatherlandis amazing.
All the above stated issues raise ethical questions on the activities of China. Most of what China has done is a moral grey area and to a large extent is considered unethical by any unbiased individual or organisation.
IMPACT ON INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS
The Tibet issue has been around for decades and has not posed any serious problems for foreign investors. But the combination of the first serious unrest in Tibet in almost 20 years and the wider groundswell of criticism that was being directed at China ahead of the Beijing Olympics had sent businesses and investors scrambling to assess what it means for them, particularly in terms of reputational and ethical concerns.
The investors in China need to consider their vulnerability to negative publicity, and be confident that they can explain their position. Many corporations are likely to be targeted in connection with the ongoing campaigns to draw international attention to various human-rights issues ahead of the Olympics.
The most vulnerable firms are generally those with the highest public profile, those making the largest or most visible investments, those that were the major sponsors of the Games, and those with some specific connection to Chinese government policies in Tibet. The latter group includes extractive- and construction-related companies operating in partnership with the government of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) itself. They face the greatest difficulties, both in terms of distancing themselves from government policies and in countering negative investor perceptions about the viability of operations there in the current climate.
Foreign investment in the TAR is hardly anything in comparison to that in China as a whole. It is not possible to attack all foreign businesses in China, so most firms are unlikely to be specifically targeted or suffer reputational damage. It seems highly doubtful that the tide of international opinion will turn against China to the extent that investors in general are seriously expected to shun the market.
Nonetheless, where firms or industries are particularly vulnerable to reputational issues, image and ethics could be a significant factor in more marginal business decisions (particularly with rising costs and tougher labor regulations already causing some firms to look elsewhere). Meanwhile, the most recent twist in the Tibet fallout serves as a striking reminder of how China’s newfound assertiveness and clout on the international scene is creating an increasingly complex challenge for foreign companies.
While Western firms investing in China must face the prospect of protest and criticism back home from pro-Tibet campaigners, some companies are coming under pressure in China itself. The unstable environment, its human rights issuesIn the current climate, many businesses will find it difficult to avoid becoming stuck between a rock and a hard place.
A POSSIBLE WAY AHEAD
If the PRC accepts Dalai Lama’s proposal and makes a few changes in order to protect Tibetan culture and religion a peaceful solution can be obtained. China could adopt the One country, two systems policy of Hong Kong and achieve long term peace. This would also enable them to make a favourable international impression. Demilitarizing Tibet would help China save a great deal of money and resources.
Relations with bordering countries such as India, Nepal and Bhutan would become more relaxed, making way for economically beneficial partnerships.
The cost to China of extracting lumber, herbal medicines and minerals from Tibet is far greater than it would be if Chinese firms simply contracted with Tibetan suppliers.
Thus China has been unnecessarily attempting to colonize the highest plateau in the world, subsidizing huge numbers of officials and workers with hardship duty pay and perquisites and maintaining massive internal military forces to suppress Tibetan discontent.
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