Tibet, China's pioneer in social control

·10-min read
 Portraits of Chinese President Xi Jinping and former leaders Jiang Zemin, Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and Hun Jintao at a checkpoint in Lhasa, Tibet
Portraits of Chinese President Xi Jinping and former leaders Jiang Zemin, Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and Hun Jintao at a checkpoint in Lhasa, Tibet

Hong Kong, May 10 (ANI): As much as China is trying to silence critics and hide its pogroms against Uyghurs in Xinjiang, more and more is being exposed of its horrendous human rights abuses there. Unfortunately, China will not settle for just exorcising Uyghur culture, as other minority groups and religions are undergoing similar treatment, particularly in Tibet.

Ngodup Tsering, Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to North America, warned, "To me it looks like they want to totally eliminate Tibetans as such."

This statement was uttered in a webinar of The Jamestown Foundation think-tank in the USA on 10 March. Tsering also said Tibetan Buddhism was China's first war against religion, and that recently many monasteries had been destroyed or downsized. Tsering warned that China wanted only to "control and destroy" Buddhism. He claimed more than 156 Tibetans have killed themselves by self-immolation so far.

Tibet is one of three key "T" issues for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the others being Taiwan and the Tiananmen Square massacre.

In a nation where you can only be a religion if you worship the CCP and toe the party line, Tibet has always represented a sensitive issue for Beijing. It is also the region where the CCP pioneered draconian measures, and where they are also rebounding in force after being fine-tuned to the extreme in western China.

Adrian Zenz, Senior Fellow in China Studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, was another presenter at The Jamestown Foundation webinar.

He explained, "Tibet has long been representative of some of the core strategies of Chinese ethnic policy, because Tibet has long posed a particular problem that has come through the fact that the Tibetans have a high-profile political and spiritual representation outside of China; it has largely not been under Beijing's control. Particular challenges come with that and its activities."

Zenz went on to describe the interaction between Chinese policy in Tibet and Xinjiang. "From 2011-16, Tibet was governed by Chen Quanguo, who is now party secretary of Xinjiang. Chen pioneered a whole lot of policing and other surveillance techniques and strategies which he later on applied in Xinjiang. It's very likely he was brought into Xinjiang for that very reason. So the link of Chen and what he represents is very important in understanding what is going on and how China is approaching this. Similar methods are being applied to other minorities too, and Han Chinese themselves. Poverty alleviation has become a signature effort of Xi Jinping's. However, poverty alleviation has also become a very coercive tool of fine-grain control and assimilation."

He continued, "What we are now seeing in Tibet is something of a cross-fertilization between Tibet and Xinjiang. Whereas initially, in 2016-17 especially, a whole number of policing techniques and social control mechanisms were exported from Tibet to Xinjiang and applied there at drastic speed, we are now for the first time seeing ... a forced labor transfer system that was developed and is unique to Xinjiang now being exported to and applied to Tibet."

Tibet for quite a while has had labour programs to reallocate surplus rural labourers. From 2012, however, a pioneering scheme of military-style training for 65,000 labourers was implemented. Then, in March 2019, Tibet issued a new policy called the Farmer and Pastoralist Training and Labor Transfer Action Plan, which mandated military drills, Chinese language and ethics.

In 2020, the transfer of 60,000 rural surplus labourers was ordered. Of these, 55,000 would be moved within Tibet and 5,000 to other parts of China in highly regimented conditions. The program is designed to "transform" Tibetans' thinking and alter their "backwardness".

Zenz described the CCP's constant battle against religion, traditional culture and, to use Chinese speak, against "closed mindsets". The German academic said there is a lot of pressure on government officials, with systems of rewards and punishments for those who meet or fail monthly quotas.

"Coercive elements play a very important role here, starting with recruitment through village-based work teams, and here the Tibet Autonomous Region has many of the same social control mechanisms as in Xinjiang." Teams go house to house, coercing people into participating.

Zenz continued, "Another disturbing aspect...is a scheme of transferring herds and land into state-run cooperatives or large private cooperatives run under government support, whereby the user's rights to land and animals are being surrendered and given to these collectives. And in exchange, in Tibet they become shareholders."

This might sound not so bad, but it disguises the fact that Tibetans are being driven from their land and traditional way of life and forced into factories. Their language, their religion, their culture and their individual freedoms are all being stripped away in the name of "poverty alleviation".

Many Tibetans can no longer choose where to live, what religion to follow or what job to take, because the state is forcing its will upon them. These are crimes that the United Nations legislates against, but for which China is avoiding any penalty and receives only muted approbation.

Zenz said most concerning was Chairman Xi Jinping's ethnic policy approach, "increasingly characterized by securitization logic, militarization, a focus on transforming minorities' minds, behavior and livelihoods, all of that powered by detailed digital databases ... Nobody can escape it. These mechanisms are highly intrusive; no one is left out, can hide or run from these government schemes."

Beijing no longer relies on voluntary or gradual long-term assimilation. "Now, minorities are being forced to comply by way of intrusive micromanagement from the state armed with sophisticated surveillance systems, databases and intensive forms of social control," Zenz explained.

There have been large shifts of population in both Tibet and Xinjiang. Population density is not the issue, as it is low already, but rather "it's about centralizing populations under closer government control, uprooting and tearing apart traditional communities" as they are funneled into high-rise apartment blocks.

Robert Destro, the former US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and former Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, in President Donald Trump's administration, also spoke of the cross-pollination between Xinjiang and Tibet. "Everything that happened in Tibet is now happening in Xinjiang and elsewhere."

Destro added: "Tibet really is the object lesson of where things are going. Tibet was the first step in China's subversion and domination of its neighbors ... What we see in great relief in China and Tibet today is the destruction of the language, the destruction of the culture, the domination of religion, the attempt to Sinicize Tibetan Buddhism - which we are now seeing with all the Christians as well, with the Muslims in Xinjiang - but also the destruction and use of families as weapons, the destruction of other key intermediate institutions like monasteries and education. And basically we saw Tibet was the proving ground for where we are today in Xinjiang."

Destro said the Chinese were masters at the ancient game of Go, whereby they seek to "surround and dominate without firing a shot, and making it impossible for there to be a middle way. That's basically what we've got going around the world."

For example, any country signing up for Xi's blue-ribbon Belt and Road Initiative knows that it cannot recognize the Dalai Lama nor criticize China over Tibet or Xinjiang. China imposes intense pressure over the Tibetan issue, and has enjoyed tremendous success in places like Europe in removing Tibet from the dialogue.

Ellen Bork, Contributing Editor of American Purpose, said "the Chinese Communist party is approaching Tibet from a strategic vantage point, using Tibet literally to project power across borders, but also using the issue of Tibetan Buddhism to advance alternative norms in its relationships with foreign countries and international organizations".

The Dalai Lama is 85 years old, so a serious upcoming matter is his succession or reincarnation. Bork shared, "His Holiness rejects any Chinese role in the determination of his successor. The Chinese Communist Party will appoint some kind of an imposter and then demand deference to that figure."

As with Tibet, the CCP is masterful at creating its own versions of "history", educating the Chinese populace on which version will dominate. In other words, historical nihilism exists, where competing versions of history must be destroyed. When it comes to issues such as Xinjiang, the outbreak of COVID-19, Tiananmen Square, Hong Kong or China's illegal territorial claims in the South China Sea, Beijing tries to convince the world of its own narrative. It regularly succeeds too, one example being Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's limp surrender to Chinese claims in its exclusive economic zone.

In fact, this year is the 100th anniversary of the CCP's founding, so the propaganda machine has gone into overdrive to glorify the party and its achievements.

Simultaneously, it is destroying alternative viewpoints. As Xi himself stated: "It is often the case that hostile forces at home and abroad make use of the history of the Chinese revolution and the history of the new China, doing their utmost to attack, vilify and smear them, with the fundamental aim of...inciting the overthrow of the leadership of the Communist Party of China and our socialist system."

Interestingly, the Cyberspace Administration of China recently created a hotline so that members of the public could report cases of "wrong" histories in four broad categories: distorting the "four histories" (CCP, New China, reform and opening up, and development of socialism); attacking the leadership, guiding ideology and policies of the CCP; denigrating heroes and martyrs; and denying the excellence of Chinese traditional culture, revolutionary culture and advanced socialist culture.

This is merely a continuation of Xi's attacks on intellectual pluralism, on anything that weakens CCP ideological cohesion or ideas that might "infect" the Chinese people.

Despite China's acerbic attacks on anyone who highlights abuses in Xinjiang and Tibet, there are indications that there are many in China who lament the direction in which Xi has taken the nation.

Recently, Wen Jiabao (premier from 2003-13) published an article dedicated to his mother who passed away last December. This letter was censored by the CCP, for in its last few lines, Wen wrote: "Many things can be imitated, even painstakingly contrived. But the only thing that cannot be faked is the sincerity, simplicity and kindness of feeling and heart. Just look at his eyes, his compassion, his courage in times of distress, his spirit of commitment at critical moments concerning the future and destiny of his country, and you will get a glimpse of his truth. I sympathize with the poor, with the weak and oppose bullying and oppression.

The China I have in mind should be a country full of fairness and justice, where there is always respect for the human heart, humanity and the essence of human beings ... I have cried out and fought for this. This is the truth that life has taught me and that my mother has given me."

The "he/his" refers not to Xi, but presumably to Hu Yaobang, a reform-minded former CCP general secretary. The CCP forced him to resign in 1987, and his death in April 1989 helped catalyze the Tiananmen protests.

Wen's was a case of veiled criticism of the authoritarian trajectory that Xi has embarked China upon. Wen was saying that Hu, if he were still alive, would have taken China in the opposite direction.

Sadly, for now China continues unchecked in its brutal application of incarceration, brainwashing, sterilization of women, intrusive mass surveillance, social control, persecution of religious adherents and forced labor. These are at their worst in Xinjiang and Tibet, but Xi has no compunction against their use on any who might oppose his authoritarian regime. (ANI)

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