“Toward the light?”

Xi Jinping went to Lhasa yesterday, and rattled off the usual talking points to which we’ve all grown accustomed. Smash the separatists, every Tibetan loves the Party, etc. Writing for The Economist, Banyan gives his guess for what it all means:

ON THE topic of Tibet, Xi Jinping, the man widely expected to be the next leader of the Chinese Communist Party, sounds much like his predecessors. Speaking on July 19th in the capital, Lhasa, in front of the Potala Palace, former residence of the Dalai Lamas, Tibet’s spiritual leaders, he celebrated the way Chinese rule had led Tibet “from the dark toward the light”.

In material terms, he has an obvious point. Tibet is far better-off than in 1951, when a young Dalai Lama reached a “17-point agreement” ceding Chinese sovereignty over the territory. He also has a point that, before 1951, Tibet was not some idyllic Shangri-La of tinkling temple bells, lowing conch shells and smiling people, but a highly stratified society relying on mass monasticism and serfdom.

The difficulty Mr Xi and his predecessors face, however, is that large numbers of Tibetans resent Chinese rule. Many are still loyal to the Dalai Lama, who fled into exile with some 80,000 of his followers after the crushing of an anti-Chinese uprising in 1959. Since then the region has been scarred by periodic riots, including a bloody outburst of anti-Chinese violence in Lhasa in 2008.

So long as he is around, the Dalai Lama will remain the rallying-point for Tibetans opposed to Chinese rule. Yet he also remains committed to a negotiated solution—one, in fact, that would closely resemble the “one-country, two-system” model envisaged in the 17-point agreement.

So it is, for China, a peculiar document to commemorate. In it, China promised not to alter “the existing political system in Tibet”. In 1951 the political system was a feudal theocracy. Now, Tibetans in exile enjoy the forms of parliamentary democracy, though the exile government enjoys no international recognition whatever.

Mr Xi’s problem is that Tibetans in China chafe at autocratic Chinese rule. It is convenient to blame this on the Dalai Lama. But he probably remains the last and only hope for a settlement offering some Tibetan acquiescence in Chinese rule. Mr Xi, like most Chinese Communist leaders who have gone before him, promises the Party will “completely smash any plot to destroy stability”, and seems to prefer the only alternative to consensual rule—continued repression.

Apparently not his father’s son, what a pity.

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Filed under 2012 power transfer, China, Dalai Lama, Tibet

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