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China's White Paper on Tibet: No Middle Way, No How

posted May 13, 2015, 5:17 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated May 14, 2015, 8:23 AM ]

By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review  


On April 15, 2015, the Chinese Government issued its latest White Paper on Tibet.<i>  China has issued at least 13 White Papers to justify its occupation of and policies in Tibet.  These White Papers are not only government propaganda but an expression of official Chinese policy on the Tibetan issue.  This most recent White Paper is primarily devoted to explaining China's reasons for rejecting the Central Tibetan Administration's (CTA) Middle Way Policy (Tib. Ume Lam) for Tibetan autonomy.  The full Middle Way Policy is expressed in the 2008 Memorandum<ii> and the 2010 Note.<iii>  Additional comments and clarifications were made by Sikyong Lobsang Sangay in 2013.<iv>

Tibetan history and pre-1959 society

The recent White Paper on Tibet is divided into five sections.  Section one is about the Chinese Government's claim of Tibet being part of China for centuries and how supposedly backward and feudal was old (pre-1959) Tibet.  The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) goes to great lengths to explain how old Tibet was a dark and terrible place for the "serfs" (their term for the Tibetan poor and commoner classes) and how the Tibetan aristocracy and clergy (including His Holiness the Dalai Lama) allegedly abused the Tibetan people.  This is all done to justify why the PLA had to invade Tibet in 1949-50 in order to "liberate" it.

Logically, however, if China had sovereignty over Tibet during its "feudal" period, then should not China be held accountable for the purported abuses heaped upon Tibetan "serfs" by the ruling classes?  Why did China allow such abuses to occur for centuries if they had the ability to stop it since they ruled Tibet?  In other words, if Tibet were always part of China, then whatever problems existed in old Tibet are also the fault of China.  So China is essentially arguing that it had to "liberate" (invade) Tibet due to problems that are, by China's logic, China's own fault.   In any event, such arguments about "social backwardness" are typically used by colonial regimes to justify their invasion and occupation of other lands.  These arguments could just as easily have been made by a British or Japanese colonial administration on Chinese lands.

Several scholars have written about Tibet's history in this respect, so there is no need to go into great length here.<v>  In sum, we note that China's position on Tibetan history neglects to mention that the Yuan Dynasty was a Mongol empire, and the Qing were Manchus who had conquered China (and other lands).  Neither the Mongol Yuan nor the Manchu Qing ever administered Tibet as part of China, or considered Tibet to be part of China.  When the Republic of China was founded (1912), it had no actual or legal control over Tibet and Tibet remained independent in all aspects until at least 1951.

Tibetan culture, development and environment

Section two of China's latest White Paper is devoted to explaining how the CCP has allegedly promoted Tibetan culture and religion, improved the economy, educated the masses, protected the environment, and raised the living standards of ordinary Tibetans.<vi>  There is little or no mention about human rights which suggests a complete rejection of the numerous charges and evidence of human rights abuses by Tibetans, human rights NGOs, and foreign governments.  To the CCP, it's as if there are no human rights issues in Tibet.

With respect to the economy, Andrew Fischer has written extensively about how China's development in Tibet has not benefited the Tibetan people, and in fact leads to Tibetan marginalization in their own land.<vii>   And Michael Buckley has written about how Chinese development, particularly dam building, is severely damaging not only Tibet's environment but adversely affecting neighboring nations.<viii>

Our only addition is to note that the Tibet Autonomous Region's (TAR) per capita GDP in 2013 was approximately US$ 4,209 (and this is inflated by China's urban spending),<ix> while Bhutan's per capita GDP in 2013 was about US$7,196.<x>  Given that Bhutan is culturally similar to Tibet, and in 1951 was in a similar economic position as Tibet, one could extrapolate and assume that Tibetans would have been better off economically if China had never invaded their homeland.

Rejection of the Middle Way Proposal

The next two sections of the White Paper concern China's response to the Middle Way proposal.  China unequivocally rejects the Middle Way as an attempt to set up a semi-independent regime as an interim step to full independence.  China equates the Middle Way's request for a "high degree of autonomy" with asking for independence.   Curiously, in last year's White Paper on Hong Kong, China characterized Hong Kong has having a "high degree of autonomy" and seem satisfied that such autonomy did not mean independence for Hong Kong.

Why can Hong Kong enjoy a high degree of autonomy but not Tibet?  We addressed this question in a prior editorial, which explained that China views autonomy as a temporary tactic to ease "lost" territory back into the "motherland".   China does not consider autonomy as a permanent situation, which makes this issue a key stumbling block for Tibetan autonomy demands.<xii>

China also accuses the Dalai Lama and the CTA of seeking to restore the old "feudal" system and to set up an alternative political system that removes Tibet from central government authority.  The CCP officials who wrote this White Paper must not have heard or read the Sikyong's 2013 comments that the CTA is not seeking democracy for Tibet, and will accept Communist Party rule (albeit with more ethnic Tibetan Party members in control of local affairs).  Clearly, the new interpretation of the Middle Way not only doesn't challenge Communist rule; it accepts it.

China also accuses the Dalai Lama and Tibetan exiles with inciting or orchestrating violence in Tibet against China (i.e. the 2008 protests) and with instigating the self-immolations in Tibetan areas.  Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) is singled out in the White Paper and attacked for supporting resistance inside Tibet.<xiii>  Notably, China's White Paper is devoid of any credible evidence to support these accusations.

The last section concerns the CCP's attitude toward the Dalai Lama.  On the one hand, the CCP has in the past accused the Dalai Lama of being a "serf lord" and "slave owner" and His government of abusing the common people.  On the other hand, the CCP admits the 17-Point Agreement promised to preserve the Dalai Lama's traditional authority, acknowledges the Dalai Lama's influence to this day in Tibet (at least with respect to Tibetan dissidents), and nominally appears to be willing to discuss the conditions of the Dalai Lama's return to Tibet.  These arguments are inherently inconsistent.  How could someone accused of being a despotic ruler have such influence and loyalty among ordinary Tibetans inside Tibet to this very day, and also be welcome to return (so long as certain conditions are met)?


The take-away from China's latest White Paper is that the Chinese Government will never accept any degree of autonomy for Tibetan areas or loosening of its political and economic stranglehold over the Tibetan Plateau.  According to China, all of the talks between Chinese and Tibetan representatives for the past decade were not about Tibet's political status, but only about the conditions for the Dalai Lama's return.  The White Paper makes clear that China never intended in good faith to discuss the terms of the Middle Way.  China has made it abundantly clear that the Middle Way and Tibetan autonomy are non-starters.   The CCP appears unwilling to compromise on any issues concerning Tibet.

The CTA's response to the White Paper was to lambast China for whitewashing the tragic reality of Tibet.<xiv>  However, there has been no response or discussion so far from the CTA on whether it still makes sense to pursue the Middle Way policy, or how the Tibetan side can convince China to accept it given China's unambiguous rejection.

The situation inside Tibet has only deteriorated since 2008 when the Memorandum of Genuine Autonomy was published.  The CTA has conceded Communist party rule for Tibet, no democracy, and has accepted the stationing of PLA troops in Tibet.   As we wrote in a prior editorial, the current policy is more of a "Partial Middle Way" for limited autonomy.<xv>   But even this limited form of autonomy for Tibet has been rejected by China.

It remains to be seen what, if any, further response there will be from the CTA to the recent White Paper rejecting the Middle Way.  China seems unfazed by the CTA's international campaign to promote the current interpretation of the Middle Way, which reduces the Tibetan side to passively waiting for China to accept something it says it never will.  China also seems unwilling to loosen restrictions on speech and religion in Tibetan areas and is hell-bent on removing Tibet's natural resources to China's industrial and overcrowded eastern regions.

We urge the CTA and the Tibetan exile community to discuss alternative ideas and policies.  After more than two decades with little or no positive results, it is indeed long past the time to re-consider whether the current policy still makes sense, or whether it should be revised in light of actual conditions in Tibet and China.

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i http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2015-04/15/c_134152612.htm/.

ii http://tibet.net/important-issues/sino-tibetan-dialogue/memorandum-on-geniune-autonomy-for-the-tibetan-people/.

iii http://tibet.net/important-issues/sino-tibetan-dialogue/note-on-the-memorandum-on-genuine-autonomy-for-the-tibetan-people/.

See http://www.tibetanpoliticalreview.com/editorials/tashidelekcomrade.

See e.g., Sperling, Elliot, Tibet and China: The Interpretation of History Since 1950 (http://chinaperspectives.revues.org/4839); Authenticating Tibet: Answers to China's 100 Questions (http://www.amazon.com/Authenticating-Tibet-Answers-Chinas-Questions/dp/0520249283).

Notably China's White Paper does not compare per capita income of Tibetans to Han Chinese living in the TAR. However, one can gleam a rough estimate by looking at the per capita income of rural TAR residents, who are mostly Tibetan, (6,578 yuan) in comparison to urban TAR residents, who are largely Chinese (20,023 yuan). Clearly, there is a huge disparity of incomes between Tibetan and Chinese residents in the TAR.

vii http://highpeakspureearth.com/2013/the-disempowered-development-of-tibet-in-china-a-study-in-the-economics-of-marginalization-by-andrew-fischer/. See
also Economic Development and Cultural Change, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/533537; Poverty By Design: The Economics of Discrimination in Tibet, http://tibet.ca/_media/PDF/PovertybyDesign.pdf.

viii http://www.meltdownintibet.com/.

ix . http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Chinese_administrative_divisions_by_GDP_per_capita.

x http://www.economywatch.com/economic-statistics/Bhutan/GDP_Per_Capita_PPP_US_Dollars/.

Even with this high degree of autonomy, China's White Paper on Hong Kong imposed restrictions on the democratic process for future elections. These proposed restrictions generated so much anxiety in the territory that it led to massive street protests in Hong Kong and condemnation from many governments.

xii http://www.tibetanpoliticalreview.org/editorials/dimsumsurprisewhythehongkongmodelwontsavetibet.

TYC's response to the White Paper is here: http://www.tibetanyouthcongress.org/2015/04/tyc-refutes-chinas-white-paper/.

xiv http://tibet.net/2015/04/15/chinas-white-paper-whitewashes-the-tragic-reality-in-tibet/.
The Sikyong made additional comments to the press about China's White Paper: http://thetibetpost.com/en/news/international/4532-let-the-world-be-the-judge-sikyong-of-tibet-on-chinas-white-paper.

xv http://www.tibetanpoliticalreview.com/editorials/apartial-middlewaycampaignislaunchedindharamsala.


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