Tibet, the mountain plateau-region known worldwide as the home of the Buddhist spiritual leader Dalai Lama, is considered to be a Chinese province. However, many of its inhabitants and citizens-in-exile say Tibet is an independent state and should be recognized as such.
TTensions over the issue has caused unrest and protests, which have included over 120 individuals setting fire to themselves, according to the International Campaign for Tibet.
Why the conflict is happening
For the Tibetans, it’s obvious: the people have a long and unique history, with a unique culture. The population of Tibet is also mostly Tibetan, a different ethnicity than Chinese.
The escalation of protests now is happening because many in the younger generation are unhappy with the peaceful, “Middle Way” approach preached by the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Dalai Lama, according to an article on Rutgers University’s website. They would rather fight than simply accept Chinese rule.
Tibetans believe that Chinese schooling, immigration, monitoring of religious officials, and exploitation of the region’s natural resources is destroying their ancient culture.
The Chinese government, on the other hand, says it’s bringing modern development and prosperity to an otherwise undeveloped, backwater region, the BBC reports.
What the different claims are
According to the policy think tank Council on Foreign Relations, the Chinese consider Tibet to have been part of China since the 1300s, when it was integrated with China as part of the Mongolian invasion.
Previous to the invasion, Tibet had been its own empire for hundreds of years.[contextly_auto_sidebar]
Tibetans say that doesn’t necessarily make it part of China, as the empire was Mongol, not Chinese.
Since that time, however, Tibet was politically connected to China, either as a protectorate as Tibet claims, or as a subordinate. This lasted until 1913, when the Qing dynasty collapsed, and Tibet had a period of de facto independence that lasted until the newly-victorious communist regime invaded in 1950.
Unable to defend themselves from Mao’s army, Tibetan leaders in the country (not including the Dalai Lama, who was away), signed the 17-point agreement essentially acknowledging Chinese sovereignity, according to a paper by Professor John Reynolds Harkness at Case Western Reserve University.
The agreement created the Tibet Autonomous Region, which is what the area is officially called today. There have been many calls for Tibetan freedom since, not the least from the Free Tibet movement, but whereas the Dalai Lama preaches preaches greater autonomy within the current arrangement, more and more are now wishing for a completely free Tibet.
What could happen
The region, which according to the Xinhua news agency numbers just over 3 million, has little chance of winning a violent struggle against Beijing.
And with Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama, in his 80’s, a successor will have to be found soon. As reported by the New York Times, when that time comes there will likely be further tensions, as China might try to control the election of the 15th Dalai Lama.
However, an increased scale of violence from Chinese authorities could lead to more pressure from the West to give the region more freedom, if not independence.