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Elections put focus on China's other cultural genocide

Polls for exiled Tibetans are a reminder of a unique people and culture oppressed by Beijing's authoritarian regime

Elections put focus on China's other cultural genocide

Since 2009, more than 150 Tibetans, mainly in the Chinese provinces of Tibet, have carried out a tragic series of self-immolations. (Photo supplied)

Tibetans in exile are gearing up for fresh presidential and parliamentary elections in 2021, the first since 2016.

The exiled Tibetan parliament is based in the northern Indian city of Dharamshala, the long-time base of the Dalai Lama and other senior Tibetan exiles.

The decision that the Central Tibetan Administration would hold its next poll was announced in early August by its central election commissioner, who vowed that the election, which is open to Tibetans in exile around the world, would not be derailed by the coronavirus pandemic. The Dalai Lama has said there are about 150,000 Tibetans living in exile, mostly in India and neighboring Nepal.

While the world’s attention has rightly been focused on the horrific concentration camps and other abuses against Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province, Beijing has continued to prosecute its other brutal program of physical and cultural genocide in Tibet.

China annexed Tibet in 1950, strategically shoring up its western flank against India and Pakistan and securing a region rich in natural resources and the source for China’s 10 major river systems. Beijing put down a US-backed 1959 uprising that saw the Dalai Lama and up to 100,000 Tibetans flee into exile.

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Estimates vary of how many Tibetans have been murdered by Chinese authorities since 1950 but run to as many as 1.2 million. The better-educated and leadership-oriented elements among the Tibetan population have been targeted.

More than 6,000 monasteries and temples and historical structures have been looted and destroyed beyond repair. Tibet's ecosystem has been severely damaged: vast regions of forest have been removed while numerous wildlife species have been decimated just for food by the Chinese. The province has also been used as a dumping ground for nuclear waste and is home to about a quarter of China’s nuclear weapons.

Since the 2008 protests which shook Tibet ahead of the Beijing Olympics, a crackdown by Chinese authorities has seen the acceleration of the long-term policy of Hanification — the sending of China’s majority ethnic Han people into the province.

More than eight million Han Chinese have emigrated to Tibet. Along with the determination to water down the ethnic Tibetans has come Beijing’s program of cultural desecration. It has also jailed hundreds of Tibetans including the Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the second most important figure in Tibetan Buddhism. Following this, Beijing named its own Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, who lives in Beijing as a virtual prisoner of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

It’s worth noting that Tibet covers both the official Chinese province of the Tibetan Autonomous Region as well as 10 other autonomous Tibetan prefectures of the Chinese provinces of Yunnan, Sichuan and Qinghai. 

Since 2009, Tibetans mainly in the Chinese provinces of Tibet have carried out a tragic series of self-immolations; more than 150 have sacrificed themselves in this horrific way in protest against China’s actions towards their people.

Since 2010, no foreign journalists have been officially allowed into Tibet to document what is happening in the province, although some have succeeded in sneaking in. Annual groups were previously allowed in under the strict control of the CCP. The world had had to rely on human rights groups getting information secretly out of the province and other Tibetan areas.

China has long had a policy of retribution against nations who have officially met with the Dalai Lama, who has become a focal point for Tibetan resistance.

Still, there have recently been some signs that the US, at least, has a renewed focus on Tibet under the Trump administration, which has decided to focus on human rights abuses by Beijing.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in July that the United States remained “committed to supporting meaningful autonomy for Tibetans, respect for their fundamental and unalienable human rights, and the preservation of their unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity.”

He added that the US would impose sanctions against unnamed Chinese officials who blocked access to Tibet.

In 2016, the Dalai Lama decided to relinquish his political titles and hand over to a new generation of exiled Tibetans while continuing with his religious role. Indian-born Tibetan-American Lobsang Sangay took up the role of sikyong (president) and has assisted the region’s venerable leader in advocating for Tibet.

The Central Tibetan Administration elections may not have much meaning, but the election of a new president is particularly important at this time with the Dalai Lama now 85. That person will provide a much-needed focal point for people across the world who care about freedom and human rights to once more remember and advocate for a unique people, culture and country oppressed by China’s authoritarian and culturally destructive regime.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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