Sunday, August 30, 2020

A Tibet Forum without Tibetans

An important event took place on August 28 and 29.
The Seventh Tibet Work Forum (TWF) was held in Beijing.
While the previous one (the Sixth), organized on August 24 and 25, 2015, completely escaped the Indian (and the world) media, this one got immediate coverage; indeed, it is a crucial event not only as far it concerns the fate of the Roof of the World, but also for the presently-tense Indian frontiers.

But what exactly is a Work Forum on Tibet?

A Tibet Work Forum (TWF) usually decides the fate of Tibet for the next five to ten years. Delhi should be deeply concerned, at the time India faces a precarious situation in Ladakh, because the TWF also defines China’s western border policies.
The Fourth Forum was held in Beijing in January 2010; the four previous ones were organized in 1980, 1984, 1994 and 2001.
A Work Forum (or Conference) is attended two to three hundreds officials, including the entire Politburo (with the Standing Committee standing on the dais), the People’s Liberation Army (including the all-powerful members of the Central Military Commission), Party Secretaries of at least five provinces, representatives from different ministries, as well as local satraps posted in Tibet.
The Seventh TWF has been given large publicity; the TV report lasted more than 14 minutes, mostly quoting the ‘People’s Leader’ (Xi Jinping) and showing the large ‘masked’ attendance (including the Chief of the PLA Navy!); a detailed report (in Communist jargon) was immediately issued. The select  attendance shows Tibet's extreme importance for the Communist Party.

The Sixth TWF, already presided over by Xi, pleaded for more efforts to promote economic growth and bring about an inclusive social progress for Tibet and the Tibetan-inhabited areas; in 2015, Xi vowed to implement 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.” 

Note that the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan-inhabited areas of four provinces (Sichuan, Gansu, Qinghai and Yunnan) were clubbed together as far as Beijing’s policies for Tibet were concerned.  

The timing of the Forum
The TWF comes two months before the Fifth Plenum of the Communist Party of China, which will have to take difficult decisions for the Middle Kingdom's shaky economy and also at the time, Beijing is celebrating the 55th anniversary of the creation of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), which has never really been autonomous; additionally, a tense situation on the border with India.
The Fifth TWF resulted in poverty alleviation schemes and the construction of hundreds of ‘moderately-well-off’ villages (‘ghettos’ say the Tibetans), particularly close to the border with India. There is no doubt that it is easier to control the masses when they are sedentary and settled in well-connected villages (via Wifi); when the whereabouts and actions of the villagers can be controlled through their mobile phones.
In 2015, Xi mentioned his well-known theory about the ‘border areas’: "governing border areas is the key for governing a country, and stabilizing Tibet;” since the month of May, we understand better why China wants to stabilize and control its borders with India.
Xi’s language was not very different this time.

Where was Gyaltsen Norbu?

No Monks, Not many Tibetans
But looking at the TV report one is struck by a few images.
First, no monk attended the Forum. For a society which has traditionally been based on “the Harmonious Blend of Religion and Politics,” it is strange to say the least. Even Gyaltsen Norbu, the Chinese selected Panchen Lama, a favorite of the Chinese media, was nowhere to be seen. He is probably too young (and unsafe) for the Communist hierarchy. His predecessor, the Tenth Panchen Lama, first a stooge of the Communists, had revolted and became one of the most ardent Tibetan patriots when he was released from jail in early 1980.
It is not only the lamas who were missing in action, but as far one can recognize  the masked faces (only members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo were exempted from wearing masks), hardly any Tibetans were present; although all the speeches (and the TWF itself) are around the welfare of the ‘masses of all ethnic groups’ in Tibet.
‘All ethnic groups in Tibet’ is a way to mention the large migration of Hans on the plateau.

The Ten Musts
In his speech, Xi Jinping emphasized The Ten Musts to “fully implement the Party's strategy of governing Tibet in the New Era;” he went through ten areas or ‘musts’.
The objective, he observed was to build a new socialist modern Tibet that is “united, prosperous, civilized, harmonious and beautiful.”
Xi Jinping elaborated on “forging a sense of the community of the Chinese nation, improving the quality of development, ensuring and improving people’s livelihood, promoting the construction of ecological civilization, strengthening the party’s organization and regime building, ensuring national security and long-term stability, ensuring the continuous improvement of people’s living standards, ensuring a good ecological environment, and ensuring the consolidation of the border defense and security, and finally striving to build a new socialist modern Tibet.”
That is the Ten-Point Program.
The CCP’s General Secretary pointed out: “Practice has fully proved that the Party Central Committee’s policies on Tibet work are completely correct, and that Tibet’s sustained, stable and rapid development is an important contribution to the overall work of the party and the country.”
He congratulated the comrades struggling on the ‘snowy plateau’, especially the cadres who serve on the frontline (read the border with India).

Members of the Politburo

Follow the Party
The new Great Helmsman further explained: “To do a good job in Tibet, we must adhere to the leadership of the Communist Party of China, the socialist system with Chinese characteristics, and the system of regional ethnic autonomy.”
Although Xi loves to speak about regional autonomy, it is clear that the Tibetans do not have much say in the matter. Why for example, seventy years after the so-called ‘liberation’ of Tibet, has any  ethnic Tibetan been made Party Secretary in Tibet? No Tibetan has ever made it to the Politburo?
The reason is that the Han still do not trust the Tibetans.
One can only wonder where does the Dalai Lama’s Middle Path fit in all this?
Xi continued his long speech (qualified as ‘important’ by the Chinese propaganda): “We must adhere to the strategic thinking that governing the country must govern the borders and stabilize Tibet before governing. It is necessary to maintain the unity of the motherland and strengthen national unity as Tibet's work.” He went on in the same vein, speaking of “enriching the people and rejuvenating Tibet, uniting people’s hearts, and consolidating the foundation.”
It is clear that the hearts of the Tibetans have not so far been ‘unified with the Motherland’; this will be probably what Xi and his colleagues will try to achieve during the coming years, by building more infrastructure, bringing more tourists and assimilating in different ways the recalcitrant Tibetans into the Chinese nation (by integrating them in to the PLA for example).

A copper wall and iron wall

Xi Jinping pointed out that it was necessary to “extensively mobilize the masses to participate in the struggle against separatism, and form a copper wall and iron wall for maintaining stability. It is necessary to carry out in-depth education on the history of the Party, the history of New China, the history of reform and opening up, and the history of socialist development, and the history of the relationship between Tibet and the motherland.”
In other words, indoctrination of the Tibetan masses and the fight against the Dalai Lama and his followers, is the need of the day for Beijing.
Buddhism has an important place in the scheme, but the Communist Party strive to “actively guide Tibetan Buddhism to adapt to the socialist society and promote the Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism.”
One could call it ‘Buddhism with Marxist characteristics’.

Chief of the PLA Navy and his colleagues
Infrastructure Development
Worrying for India is the large scale development of infrastructure on the plateau; Xi spoke of promoting “the construction of a number of major infrastructure and public service facilities around the Sichuan-Tibet railway construction and other projects, and build more solidarity lines and happiness roads.” Other projects could be a railway line from Tibet to Xinjiang across the Aksai Chin and a new route between Tibet and Xinjiang (G216 Highway).
Xi added: “It is necessary to strengthen the construction of border areas and adopt special support policies to help border residents improve their production and living conditions and solve their worries.”
One wishes India would make the same resolution and help its own border populations.

The Old Spirit?
Like five years ago, Xi mentioned the ‘Old Tibet Spirit’, referring to the first Communist cadres who went to Tibet in the early 1950s: “the [present cadres] should not lack the Spirit, even if they lack oxygen, they should not be afraid of hardship, or the higher altitude. They should continue to enhance their sense of responsibility and mission” and he added : “It is necessary to care for Tibetan cadres and workers, improve and implement various supporting policies such as wage income, housing, medical treatment, children's schooling, and retirement placement, so as to solve their worries.”
The Tibetans still are at the center of the scheme, though they are hardly asked about their aspirations or their opinion.
In any case, all this does bode not well for the Tibetans in India (who will soon face a general election for a new ‘president’) and for the Indian border areas, whether in Ladakh or elsewhere on the northern frontier, which need more attention from the Indian Government.

Incidently, where was Foreign Minister Wang Yi who recently went on an inspection tour in Tibet and to the Indian border? Apparently in Paris. To convince President Macron that all is fine on the Indian border? Strange that he did not attend the Forum.

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