Today, Tibet remains under de facto martial law. In the 2020 freedom index published by Freedom House, Tibet was listed as the second least-free region in the world, after Syria. Reporters Without Borders states that it is harder for journalists and media people to get into Tibet than it is into North Korea. Chinese authorities have built a pervasive and Orwellian surveillance system where every aspect of Tibetan life is monitored. Human Rights Watch reported there are more than 500 Tibetan political prisoners currently in detention. The most well known being the 11th Panchen Lama who was abducted when he was six years old and has not been seen in public since..
Tibetan nomads are forced to give up their centuries old traditional way of life and relocated into permanent settlements. China’s education policy is excluding Tibetan language as a medium of instruction. Religious freedom continues to be severely restricted with major demolition and mass expulsion of monks and nuns from religious institutions like Larung Gar and Yachen Gar. Under Xi Jinping, China has adopted a policy of “Sinicizing” Tibetan Buddhism and co-opting the Tibetan reincarnation system. In addition to His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s pictures continuing to be banned, the authorities have now also banned retired Tibetan government employees from performing kora. Mining and damming of Tibetan rivers pose major environmental challenges. Migration of Han Chinese people into Tibet and Tibetan areas threaten to reduce Tibetans to a minority in their own country.
Despite the extreme repression, 154 Tibetans have self-immolated in Tibet since 2009, and another 10 in India. These Tibetans have all called for greater freedom in Tibet and the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet. Even though China has occupied Tibet for over 60 years, it is no closer in its quest to win over the hearts and minds of Tibetans. This failure is reflected in China’s multiple White Papers on Tibet. China’s repressive and oppressive policies in Tibet stems from insecurity and the realization that its occupation and rule of Tibet is illegitimate.
While China’s growth as a major power over the last 30 years has been unprecedented, we may possibly be at a stage where growth has peaked. More importantly, the world appears to be finally awakening to the fact that China’s goal is to become a hegemonic power that extracts all the benefits, but does not give back or play by the rules. This has triggered a growing backlash. India in the meantime is on an ascending path. The Tibetan diaspora community in the West has expanded significantly spawning a whole new generation of Tibetan leaders and opening new possibilities. Tibetan Buddhism is winning over followers in the millions with an estimated 300 million Buddhists in China alone many of whom follow Tibetan Buddhism.
- The early optimism that Xi Jinping might follow in the liberal footsteps of his father has been dashed. He has maintained the hardline policies in Tibet, and has adopted a very belligerent and expansionist posture on the world stage. The removal of term limits means that Tibetans may have to deal with the current authoritarian Chinese leader for quite some time.
- Official dialogue with the Chinese government has stalled since 2010. Tibetans are in a passive reactive mode while the Chinese government appears comfortable with the status quo and are not adequately incentivized to come to the negotiating table.
- There is an imbalance between CTA’s identity and role as an ‘administration’ and as a freedom movement. While CTA needs to be both, its raison d’être is to advance the freedom struggle. In order to move more towards the latter, significant changes are needed in terms of policy, structure and resource allocation.
- There is a lack of a clear plan and a unified cohesive message. With His Holiness the Dalai Lama having devolved his political authority to the elected Tibetan leadership, there is undue reliance on the Sikyong. Secondary voices and leaders need to be nurtured that can share some of the duties.
- Participation of more youth in all aspects of the Tibetan freedom struggle is needed to inject new energy and dynamism. The sacrifices and the accomplishments of the earlier generation need to be clearly communicated to the younger generation who then can play a vibrant role and serve as a catalyst in the success of the freedom struggle.
- Multi-year strategic plan for the Department of Information and International Relations (DIIR) with separate and specific plans for the Offices of Tibet.
- An educational and advocacy plan tailored for the government and people of India.
- A clearer articulation of the Middle Way Approach (MWA) Policy and how it continues to be the most viable approach to resolve the Tibet issue
- Training in diplomacy and advocacy for senior staff of DIIR, Office of Tibet Representatives, Settlement Officers and the leadership of the Tibetan Association and organizations overseas.
- More research, writing and publications on the historical, political, social and environmental situation in Tibet.
- Better coordination with various Tibet Support Groups and collaboration with other organizations fighting for rights from the Chinese government.
KAYDOR’S FIVE INITIATIVES
1. Enhancing the Freedom Struggle and Elevating CTA’s Profile: The following initiatives/plans/ will be implemented to ensure that DIIR will be able to work at an optimum level: The Department of Security and the Tibet Policy Institute will be strengthened in relation to research, monitoring, analysis, cyber threats and will work in close integration with the DIIR; a strong and capable DIIR Kalon will be appointed; more funding and training will be provided; and special attention will be paid in integrating the work of the Offices of Tibet with well developed plans for key offices in New Delhi, Washington, DC, Brussels and Geneva. The CTA will actively seek more visibility and direct support from foreign governments and international institutions.
2. Expanding Support in India and in East Asia: Tibetan advocacy effort has mainly been centered in the West. While that approach has been relatively successful and the support of governments like the United States and the European Union will continue to be critical, the time has come and a plan will be developed for educating more Indians on Tibet, the CTA, Tibetan culture and Tibetan Buddhism. India’s rise from a regional to a global power provides new opportunities and this central relationship will be further strengthened and a major initiative to create greater awareness and mobilize support of the people of India will be launched. The Bureau Office in New Delhi and the Department of Religion and Culture will be strengthened in this context. Japan, Mongolia and Taiwan will also receive more attention in CTA’s diplomatic and advocacy efforts.
3. Highlighting Tibet’s History as an Independent Nation: We must shift away from the current status quo to a “mutually hurting stalemate” zone. An effective way is to deny the one thing that Beijing craves on Tibet: legitimacy. A major campaign to highlight Tibet’s history as an independent nation will be launched to strengthen and highlight the reasonableness of the Middle Way Approach policy. Activities will include publication of textbooks for students, production of a high quality docuseries on Tibetan history which will be widely distributed, seminars, conferences, exhibitions, research projects, and a coordinated global effort highlighting Tibet’s independent history. It is important to debunk the notion that Tibet has always been part of China. Such an effort will have many positive effects including strengthening the MWA, providing an incentive for the Chinese leadership to restart the dialogue process, and educating younger Tibetans on their history.
4. Strengthening Youth Participation: Greater youth participation is needed to inject new energy, creativity and leadership into the Tibetan freedom struggle. DIIR will coordinate closely with the new youth division within the Department of Home and the Department of Education and launch various initiatives aimed at mobilizing and harnessing Tibetan youth power. A major initiative will be the establishment of an annual summer youth leadership program where a selected group of Tibetan youth from across the globe will receive an intensive immersion in Tibetan history, Tibet-China relations, CTA, Tibetan culture, language and Tibetan Buddhism. The Five-Fifty Youth Ambassadors initiative will be expanded into the Young Leaders of Tibet program where the CTA will provide fellowships, training and other support to a select group of young Tibetans who have demonstrated strong leadership potential. In general, more opportunities will be offered to Tibetan youth in all aspects of CTA’s work.
5. Developing a Communication Strategy and Action Plan: The CTA will move beyond the “victim narrative” and communicate a more holistic message of a hopeful future and the values-driven nature of the Tibetan freedom struggle. The information section of DIIR and TibetTV and social media sections will be further strengthened. A new position of a Chief Communications Officer will be created within DIIR and an expert will be hired. This person will help develop a comprehensive communication strategy and an action plan, expand communication tools, strengthen communication capacity and formulate a unified cohesive message. Communication priorities include: Tibet’s independent history, the Middle Way Approach, the importance of the Tibetan Buddhist system of recognizing reincarnate Buddhist teachers, developments inside Tibet, and educating the public on the CTA, and countering China’s propaganda and narrative on Tibet.