In 2014, the Dalai Lama praised Chinese President Xi Jinping for being "more realistic" and principled than his predecessors, a day after Xi's visit to India. “He said that since becoming president in March 2013, Xi has demonstrated "through his handling of problems, he is comparatively more realistic and with more principles" than the leaders that preceded him. [Source: Katy Daigle, Associated Press, September 21, 2014]

Xi Jinping didn’t respond with the same amicability. In August 2020, he said China must build an "impregnable fortress" to maintain stability in Tibet, protect national unity and educate the masses in the struggle against "splittism" Reuters reported: At a senior Communist Party meeting on Tibet's future governance ending, Xi lauded achievements made and praised frontline officials but said more efforts were needed to enrich, rejuvenate and strengthen unity in the region and said China will step up efforts against separatism in Tibet. [Source: Reuters, August 29, 2020]

Political and ideological education needed to be strengthened in Tibet's schools in order to "plant the seeds of loving China in the depths of the hearts of every youth", Xi said in remarks published by state news agency Xinhua.“Pledging to build a "united, prosperous, civilised, harmonious and beautiful new, modern, socialist Tibet", Xi said China needed to strengthen the role of the Communist Party in the territory and better integrate its ethnic groups. Tibetan Buddhism also needed to adapt to socialism and to Chinese conditions, he added.

In October 2013, the South China Morning Post reported: “China has no intention of altering its “correct” policies in Tibet as they have brought unprecedented achievements, a government white paper said, slamming the romanticised notion Tibet was once an idyllic fairyland. When President Xi Jinping took office in 2013 there had been expectations in some quarters he may take a softer line on Tibet, partly because his late father, a reformist vice premier, had a close bond with the Dalai Lama. But Xi has shown no sign of changing course in Tibet. In August 2016, China appointed new party chief for Tibet — Wu Yingjie — the highest position in Tibet. Among the first things he was condemn the Dalai Lama, another indication that Beijing's hardline stance in Tibet was unlikely to change. [Source: South China Morning Post, October 22, 2013; Reuters, August 31, 2016]

Robert Barnett, who has long followed Tibetan affairs, told the BBC China's repressive policies in Tibet had the support of most of its citizens. "China hasn't succeeded in winning Tibetans over, but that doesn't matter if 1.4 billion Chinese people believe you are right," said the expert, now at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. But he said Chinese leaders would never be able to relax and enjoy their power in Tibet. "It's a fragile construction. They will spend the entire time living in fear that the whole system might collapse." [Source: Michael Bristow, BBC News, May 17, 2020]

China’s Plan to Spend $140 Billion on Infrastructure in Tibet

In September 2020, Chinese official said that China was planning to spend around $140 billion on infrastructure in Tibet that included new and previously announced projects. The plan to step-up development in the remote and impoverished region coincided with increased tensions between India and China and seemed part of an effort to beef up frontier security in Tibet alongs its border with India. [Source: Reuters, September 4, 2020]

During a senior Communist Party meeting on Tibet's future governance a week earlier President Xi said a number of major infrastructure projects and public facilities were slated to be completed, including the Sichuan-Tibet Railway, a railway line between Nepal and Tibet that has remained in the planning stages, and a dry port. Within Tibet, the planned spending covers the revamp and expansion of highways, roads and scenic spots.

Construction on the most difficult section of the Sichuan-Tibet railway — the middle part — linking Chengdu with Lhasa — began in 2020. The $38.8 billion section railway presents many challneges including rough terrain and complex geology, notably the segment linking Sichuan's Ya'an city with Nyingchi in southeastern Tibet near the border with India. Beijing also says it wants to go forward with the Tibet-Nepal Railway linking Kathmandu with Shigatse, the second-largest city in Tibet, which was among a number of bilateral deals signed in 2018 between Nepal and China, but has yet to gain much traction.

According to Reuters, “Nepal is a buffer between China and India and is considered by New Delhi as its natural ally, but China has made inroads by pouring aid and infrastructure investment into what is one of the world's poorest countries. A June clash in the western part of the China-India border was the worst violence between the Asian giants in decades, and there is little sign of easing tension.

China Promotes Materialism in Tibet

Yew Lun Tian of Reuters wrote: “Dzekyid, a 54-year-old barley farmer, presents himself as a role model for his neighbours and for the success of China's efforts to tie economic development to social control in Tibet. Dzekyid's well-built house in Jangdam village has a hall filled with Buddhist scriptures and Thangka paintings, and a row of prayer wheels for his religious 76-year-old father, Tenzin, to spin twice a day. As a member of China's ruling Communist Party, Dzekyid is an atheist. “This house is possible because of good government policies. My heart is wholly with the party, not even one bit with religion," said Dzekyid, whose family was showcased to a group of reporters on a government-organised tour of Tibet, an area where access to foreign journalists is normally barred. [Source: Yew Lun Tian, Reuters, October 30, 2020]

“On the trip to Tibet, officials showcased poverty-relief programmes that include relocation of families to better homes, schooling, vocational training, and business development efforts such as a climate-controlled mushroom farm. The efforts are part of China's push to eradicate rural poverty nationwide.

“Pictures of the Dalai Lama, once commonly displayed in Tibetans' houses, are banned, but framed posters of President Xi Jinping were visible inside all the homes the journalists were shown. “Propaganda slogans urging allegiance to China and the Communist Party are conspicuous along roadsides and billboards in Tibet. “Dzekyidencourages his neighbours to support the party and its programmes. His house was built with a government grant of nearly $20,000. “Praying to the gods and Buddha can't get me this," he told Reuters.

China Downplays and Discourages Spirituality in Tibet

Reuters reported: “China is pushing to transform the mindsets and values of Tibetans to bring them into the country's modern mainstream, which includes urging the region's devout Buddhists to focus less on religion and more on material prosperity. “Tibet has some bad old habits, mainly due to the negative influence of religion that emphasises the afterlife and weakens the urge to pursue happiness in the current life," said Che Dhala, chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region. [Source: Yew Lun Tian, Reuters, October 30, 2020]

“Officials also described efforts to "manage the minds" of Tibetans, who for centuries lived in a deeply religious society with a belief in reincarnation and a devotion to their spiritual leader. The head of Caiqutang village, Dekyi Paldron, described how poor households who receive free new government housing "should not" set up a family room for worshipping Buddha, a common feature in traditional Tibetan houses, because they "shouldn't be two-faced" after benefiting from the atheist Communist Party. “If space is taken up by the Buddha room, the boy and girl may have to squeeze into one bedroom — this is not ideal for the healthy development of either child," another official told the visiting journalists.

“Recipients of poverty relief are told to curb their spending on religion and to instead invest in increasing their earning power and in their children. At a vocational school in Nyingchi, a signboard stated that the school uses ideological and political education to fight against "separatism", denounce the Dalai Lama and to prevent religion from making people "passive". “Ten years ago, villagers competed among themselves to see who donates more to temples. Now they compete to see whose son or daughter has a stable government job, or who owns a car," Karma Tenpa, deputy propaganda minister for the Tibet Autonomous Region, told Reuters.

Critics of China’s Development Schemes in Tibet

Critics say China's efforts linking poverty eradication to an embrace of a secular life and the Communist Party infringe on human rights. “The Chinese government's efforts to force Tibetans to change their way of life to the one the government approves is a violation of their fundamental human rights, including their freedoms of thought and religion," Maya Wang of Human Rights Watch told Reuters. [Source: Yew Lun Tian, Reuters, October 30, 2020]

“A recent Reuters report based on official documents described how growing numbers of rural Tibetans were being pushed into recently built training centres, where they are trained to be factory workers in a programme that some critics have called coercive — a characterisation China rejects. “At first we have to go around explaining to the nomads and herders why they should go for skills training to earn higher wages. Now that they see the benefit of doing so, they come to us automatically," Lin Bei, a poverty alleviation official, told Reuters.

“Families who practise good hygiene or have other desirable attributes receive credits for goods such as washing powder or towels, Lin said. The best are listed as "Five Star Families" on the village notice board. Those deemed to show undesirable behaviour are named and shamed. “If someone has been lazy, drunk alcohol, hung out at the teahouse or played games instead of taking care of his family, we will call him out at the village meeting," said Lin, who is a member of China's ethnic Han majority.

Chinese Language and Cultural Symbols Pushed in Tibet

In August 2021, Wang Yang, a top Chinese official said that “all-round efforts” are needed to make sure Tibetans speak and write standard Chinese and share the “cultural symbols and images of the Chinese nation.” He made the remarks before a handpicked audience in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa at a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the Chinese invasion of Tibet, which the Chinese call a “peaceful liberation" Tibetan peasants from an oppressive theocracy and restored Chinese rule over a region under threat from outside powers.[Source: Associated Press, August 19, 2021]

Associated Press reported: “Critics say such moves toward cultural assimilation spell the demise of Tibet’s traditional Buddhist culture and that Tibet was effectively independent for most of its history. Wang, who is a member of the Politburo Standing Committee — the apex of party power — and who oversees policy toward ethnic minorities, said “separatist and sabotage activities committed by the Dalai (Lama) group and hostile external forces have been crushed.”

“Since 1951, Tibet has “embarked on a path from darkness to brightness, from backwardness to progress, from poverty to prosperity, from autocracy to democracy, and from closeness to openness,” Wang said. Wang said Tibetans had been included in representative bodies. “Only by following the CPC leadership and pursuing the path of socialism, can Tibet achieve development and prosperity,” Wang was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

Increased Repression in Tibet

Charlie Campbell wrote in Time magazine: ““Freedom of religion, long suppressed in China, is now being squeezed to the limit. While Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama has long been reviled by Beijing as a dangerous “splittist,” his image was still displayed discreetly. No longer. The portrait of His Holiness that until recently adorned the main prayer hall at the Ganden Sumtseling Monastery has been removed. In its place are dozens of CCTV cameras and a mural urging the Tibetan people to embrace Xi’s “China Dream.” [Source: Charlie Campbell, Time magazine, July 12, 2021]

“Under Tibet party chief Wu Yingjie, there’s been a renewed focus on separating “religion from life.” Tibetan society is divided into a “grid system” of five to 10 households, each with a nominated representative responsible for political activities forced to keep track of individuals via an integrated electronic system. Cadres are installed in every monastery or religious institution, while “convenience police posts” at road junctions track the populace. Across Tibet, “transformation through education” facilities targeting monks and nuns for “correction” have produced reports of torture and sexual abuse that mirror testimony from the Xinjiang camps. Inmates are forced to denounce the Dalai Lama and learn CCP propaganda by rote in a bid to obliterate memory of a time before party control.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2022

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