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Tibetan Parliament and Chinese policies

posted Mar 14, 2012, 2:36 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Mar 19, 2012, 6:29 AM ]
By Bhuchung K. Tsering (International Campaign for Tibet, March 13, 2012)

As the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and the National People’s Congress (NPC) are ending their sessions in Beijing, coincidently or not, on March 14, 2011, the first of the biannual sessions of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile is beginning in Dharamsala.

This year, the meetings in Beijing discussed, among other issues, changes to the Criminal Procedure Law and elections to the National People’s Congress. Although these changes do not directly touch upon the essential Tibetan issue, they will impact the day-to-day life of Tibetans in some ways. One has to wait to see how these changes will play out.

(Closing meeting of CPPCC held in Beijing
Obviously, the elephant in the room, at least in the panel discussions where the Tibetan deputies are involved, would be the spate of self-immolations by Tibetans and its impact on China. One could sense that in statements made by PRC leaders, including President Hu Jintao and CPPCC Chairman Jia Qinglin, while interacting with the Tibetan deputies or addressing nationality matters.

I was wondering whether the CPPCC or the NPC would take up the issue of China’s approach towards nationalities affairs, in the light of the trial balloon floated in December by Vice Minister Zhu Weiqun of the Central United Front Works Department. In an article in the official newspaper of the Central Party School, Xuexi Shibao (Study Times), in December 2011, Vice Minister Zhu essentially maintains that the current nationalities problems that China faces are on account of the separate policies for nationalities, and he suggests doing away with them, including on how ethnicity is identified on government-issued identity cards. Some China watchers see this as wanting to change the very foundation of the People’s Republic of China as a multi-national state.

Here it may be relevant to note that even Dr. Barry Sautman, an associate professor of social science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, who is generally perceived as Beijing-friendly, has problems with Vice Minister Zhu’s suggestions.

In a report on Feb 15, 2012, the South China Morning Post quotes Dr. Sautman as saying, “What Zhu says is complete lies. If those [preferential] policies are abolished, that is a major departure in terms of the policy stance of the Chinese Communist Party government.

“The answer to narrowing the gap between the Han and the minorities is to increase the levels of privilege polices rather than decrease them. And the answer to satisfying minority people in terms of their desire for increased participation in the affairs of their state is to increase rather than decrease the level of autonomy.”

Vice Minister Zhu is not the first Chinese to come up with such an idea. In 2004, Prof. Ma Rong raised a similar issue in his “A New Thought on Ethnic Relations: Depoliticization of Minority Ethnic Issues.” However, what is different is that while Prof. Ma’s views can be taken as an academic exercise, Vice Minister Zhu is not only a political leader, but the point person from the Chinese side in the dialogue with envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on Tibet. Therefore, we can assume that he would not have outlined his suggestions unless there were some internal discussions in the Chinese leadership on the issue.

As such, I watched with interest for any news about this issue during the CPPCC and the NPC sessions. From what is publicly available, the two sessions did not seem to have taken it up.

Recently, I asked a China expert about his perception of Vice Minister Zhu’s suggestion and he said that this is an indication that there is division in the Chinese leadership on how to deal with the issue of nationality. He felt that we need to look at who are the possible backers of Vice Minister Zhu’s views in the Politburo. He was of the opinion that despite Vice Minister Zhu’s suggestions, the issue cannot be addressed easily as there is a lack of consensus among the leadership. This may be one reason why the NPC or the CPPCC did not seem to have discussed it.

I understand that the Tibetan Parliament will have discussions on the current situation in Tibet. I would suggest that the discussions be not only about an immediate political response to the crisis, but also the long-term impact of these developments in Tibet on Dharamsala’s strategic planning. Passing a strong resolution condemning China’s repressive policies in Tibet is appropriate, but that alone will not be enough. The Parliament and Kashag need to go deeper to analyze possible scenarios for the future. They need to put the self-immolations in the context of our protracted Tibetan struggle and understand the impact of these new developments on China’s thinking. How would the self-immolations impact the future direction of the Tibetan struggle in and out of Tibet, and what would and should Dharamsala do in tandem to this crisis and China’s response are questions begging answers.

Here is where Vice Minister Zhu’s views on nationality need to be looked at by the Tibetan leadership. On its face, one can certainly term it negative and condemn it. But one also needs to study its background, and see how this might impact China’s Tibet policy in the future.

Therefore, I expect the Tibetan Parliament will address these issues. I hope the members can go beyond rhetoric and really discuss their implications. This is what the Tibetan movement needs now. 

Reprinted in TPR with the permission of ICT.  Originally published at

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