Obviously, whenever a political leader comes out with an initiative there is an interest in knowing what is new about it and how it might impact the people concerned. Given that Tibet is currently under Chinese rule, and as someone interested in the welfare of the Tibetan people, the urge is there to find out what the “new era” will bring to them.
During the 19th Party Congress in 2017, we saw the incorporation of Xi Jinping’s “Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” in the Party’s Constitution. During the recent 20th Party Congress, China claimed to have established the “new era.”
In fact, even on Taiwan, the 20th CPC document says, “We have put forward an overall policy framework for resolving the Taiwan question in the new era.”
So, what exactly is new in this “new era”? Although the 20th Party Congress report itself did not expand on what it might mean to the Tibetan people, developments before and after it tries to shed some light.
On November 16, 2022, a meeting of the Communist leaders of the Tibet Autonomous Region in Lhasa saw Party Secretary Wang Junzheng making a reference to the “Party’s strategy for governing Tibet in the new era”.
I had a glimmer of hope that there will be clarity now. However, this is not the first time when a Chinese leader has connected the “new era” to Tibet.
Xi Jinping made the first reference to governing Tibet in the new era during his address at the seventh Tibet Work Forum in August 2020. According to Xinhua, “Xi underlined the need to fully implement the CPC’s policies on governing Tibet for a new era.” The state media reported Xi as telling the meeting,” Efforts must be made to build a new modern socialist Tibet that is united, prosperous, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful”.
Thereafter, in May 2021, in its White Paper “Tibet Since 1951: Liberation, Development and Prosperity” the Chinese Government devoted a whole section to “Embarking on a New Journey in the New Era.” The White Paper said the “four main tasks embodied in the guidelines for governing Tibet – ensuring stability, facilitating development, protecting the eco-environment, and strengthening the frontiers – will be implemented”.
At the recent meeting in Lhasa, Wang expanded on what is meant by governing Tibet in the new era through bringing in more Chinese Communist jargons. He said it meant “anchoring the “four important issues” (四件大事 Sì jiàn dàshì) and “four guarantees”(四个确保 sì gè quèbǎo). Wang added that “The strategic deployment of “Four Creations” (四个创建 sì gè zǒu zài qiánliè) and “Four Advances” (四个走在前列 sì gè zǒu zài qiánliè) is an inevitable requirement for implementing the “two-step” strategic arrangement in the new era and building a new socialist modernized Tibet.”
What these jargons mean in actual practice is not clear to me and so the question remains on what the “new era” entails. Irrespective of the labels, one thing is clear from the “new era”: the Chinese authorities intend to strengthen their hold on all things Tibetan. In 2020, we surmised that the “new era” includes “Sinicization” of Tibetan Buddhism and improving the ability of Chinese Communist Party organizations and members at all levels “to deal with major struggles and prevent major risks.” This being the case, the new era that the Chinese Communist Party is offering to the Tibetan people is not a welcome one.
Speaking of jargons, the November 16 meeting in Lhasa was the third plenary meeting of the Tenth Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Region Committee Communist Party. As a matter of curiosity, I looked up the outcome of a similar plenary of the previous Ninth Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Region Committee Communist Party held in 2017. The 2017 meeting clearly said, “we must persist in carrying out the anti-separatist struggle in depth” whereas the 2022 meeting did not have any such references. Should one conclude from this that “separatism” — as the Chinese government terms Tibetan struggle for their own rights — is no longer an issue today? Something to ponder.
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Going by my personal observation and feelings as a Tibetan in exile, I can say, China does not need to fear Tibetan separatists. Other than one organization, TYC, which too by the way has become much dormant, there’s none that vocalizes Tibetan independence anymore particularly in the streets. March 10th anniversary has actually become an ‘anniversary’ for ‘remembrance’ only now. I don’t claim to know deep paths of diplomacy between Tibetans and China but seriously doubt if there’s any direct contact at all. So, where can China pick up information and separatist thinking? Of course from the street protests. Here in LA where I live even the March 10 anniversary has become doubtful if the ‘board’ does not organize it. Participation is usually by the same people or just the board because they’re ‘organizer’. Similarly even in more densely populated cities like New York or Toronto the 10/03 protest is made convenient and shifted to weekends. Perhaps its only in India where the spirit is still a little awake. Well, there too it’s an observing ‘the anniversary’. Hunger strikes, walks, embassy ambushes or any other form of striking resentment has become rare if not vanished now for Chinese diplomats to feel pressure. Self-immolations are individual attempts that are dramatic but not collective dissent to fear as a movement. Now where can China pick up separatist thinking? Online posts or perhaps spies can do that. We can see China has indeed been active there. Honestly I am not sure they’ll find anything damaging. Social media has divided us in similar ways as it has other countries and communities. Misinformation is rampant and serious disagreement on simple things as freedom or independence has become personal. A few articles and broadcast cannot replace our collective strength to show the demand for separation from China. Then I would conclude, China is very well noticing, observing and calculating what to say and plan for about Tibet in their meetings. Unless a strong leadership emerges China’s policy of waiting will succeed. And, I firmly believe leadership is not going to come from elections. It has to be organic and built through grit and actions. Gandhi was thrown out of a train and a new avatar was born that took British empire down. Andruk Gonpo Tashi saw his tribe decimated and eventually Chushi Gangdruk was born. Is it possible that Tibetans are content now? Something much deeper to ponder.