At a meeting of senior Chinese communist party leaders in Beijing known as the Sixth Work Forum on Tibet, Xi Jinping pledged to fight against Tibetan aspirations for greater freedom from Chinese controls, which Tibetan activists and rights groups have described as being harsh and repressive.
Coming just a month before Xi’s scheduled state visit to the U.S. where human rights is expected to be raised in talks between the two sides, the strong positions announced by Xi against the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama’s proposals for a genuine autonomy solution for the troubles in Tibet appear to be designed to make any meaningful discussion on the topic a non-starter.
With statements such as, "We should fight against separatist activities by the Dalai group," Xi is repeating words that have been used by the Chinese communist party since the early 1990s when it resumed attacking the Dalai Lama after a halt of several years. Beijing’s denigration of the Dalai Lama and stated designs on selecting the next Dalai Lama is highly offensive and hurtful for Tibetans, and analysts say has exacerbated the Sino-Tibetan conflict and is a leading cause of the protests that erupted across Tibet in 2008.
Since the 1980s, the Dalai Lama has pursued a goal of seeking genuine autonomy for Tibet in areas such as religion, culture and education, while remaining a part of China, a proposal he calls the Middle Way. Beijing has repeatedly rejected the compromise, calling it a call for independence in disguise, and talks between the two sides have remained stalled since 2010.
Other key vows from the meeting are that China would continue efforts to improve infrastructure development and urbanization in Tibet, two policies that China has been implementing since the 1990s. However, critics have said that these sorts of development do little to alleviate problems for Tibetans, and that they in fact cater to and encourage Chinese migrants and settlers in Tibet.
Two of the most repeated grievances heard during the Tibetan protests of 2008, as well as from many of the over 140 Tibetans who’ve carried out self-immolation protests since 2009, have been that religion and religious life in Tibet was being oppressed, and that China was forcing Tibetan language medium teaching in schools to either end, or be reduced to second language status.
Without expressing any acknowledgement for those grievances or providing assurances to study the situation, Xi called for further efforts to “effectively manage monasteries in the long run, encouraging interpretations of religious doctrines that are compatible with a socialist society", state media said. In the past, this sort of message from Chinese leaders has been zealously implemented on the ground with further controls and restriction on religion, and sweeping re-education campaigns in Tibetan monasteries where monks and lamas are forced to denounce their spiritual masters such as the Dalai Lama.
The psychological trauma and suffering caused by such state actions on monks and their family members is widely believed to be the catalyst for the first self-immolation protest inside Tibet by Tapey, a young monk from the heavily securitized Tibetan town of Ngaba (Chinese: Aba, Sichuan).
On the language front, Xi stated that efforts should be made in Tibet to promote ‘a sense of being part of the Chinese nationality’, and that the Chinese language and script should become more widely used in Tibet. Xi’s order appears to ignore the fact that the ending of Tibetan medium education and inability to study Tibetan properly in Tibetan schools were the specifically stated reasons for the 2012 self-immolation death of 20 year old female student Tsering Kyi, and the widespread recent student protests in the region.
The public announcements from The Sixth Work Forum on Tibet vow to continue many of the policies that Tibetans have been against, and that have been identified by critics and rights organizations as being some of the main causes behind the 2008 Tibet wide protests and their often harsh suppression by Chinese security forces and legal systems.
The only clear message from the meeting seems to be that China wants to keep Tibet for the benefit of China’s national interests, regardless of how well its policies and actions impact the Tibetan people.