Eye on China: Tibet and Xinjiang – India’s ASAT Test – Europe’s Balancing Act – Drills with Russia

Eye on China is a weekly bulletin offering news and analysis related to the Middle Kingdom. This week the Chinese government puts out a White Paper on Tibet; Beijing reacts to India’s ASAT test; Xi’s Europe visit and much more.

I. Frontier Management

  • Tibet White Paper: This week the State Council Information Office issued a white paper marking 60 years of “Democratic Reform in Tibet.” The gist of the paper is fairly clear from the preamble, which says “These 60 years have seen a great leap of social progress. Under the strong leadership of the CPC, Tibet has been able to transform from a society under feudal serfdom to socialism, from poverty and backwardness to civility and progress.” The document is a CPC view of the modern history of Tibet. The last such paper was issued in 2009, and also pretty much told a similar story. It essentially paints pre-1951 era as “the dark and backward days of feudal serfdom.” It talks about the events of 1959 as attempted rebellion by “reactionaries from the upper class working in the government of Tibet” in order to “maintain their vested interests and to perpetuate feudal serfdom under theocracy.” CPC-PLA crushed that movement, earning broad  public support. The Party then went on to ensure that people become the masters of their own destiny, promoted developmentnew opportunities and religious freedom and ethnic unity.The one interesting change from the 2009 paper is the approach to the 14th Dalai Lama. The 2009 document had ended by saying: “The central government has opened and will always keep its door open for the 14th Dalai Lama to return to a patriotic stand.” The 2019 white paper doesn’t keep that door open. The publication of the white paper was followed by state media putting out a timeline of “Xi’s engagement in promoting the development of Tibet.”

    All of this is happening as a new US State Department report under the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2018 criticized the Chinese government, saying that it “systematically impeded travel to the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan areas outside the TAR for U.S. diplomats and officials, journalists, and tourists.” Beijing hit back saying that the US legislation “severely violates the basic norms governing international relations, interferes in China’s internal affairs.” Speaking of interference, here’s a report of a Chinese diplomat in Montreal, Wang Wenzhang, seeking to prevent a university from hosting Uighur exile Dolkun Isa from delivering a talk. So how do Chinese analysts view questions about Tibet internationally? This CGTN piece by Xiao Jie, an assistant fellow at the China Tibetology Research Center, offers a perspective, despite its complete lack of introspection. Xiao says that there are five reasons prompting the West to keep the Tibet issue alive, i.e., containing China; serving their ideological goals; lobbying by exiles; domestic politics and personal interest.

  • Xinjiang Rumblings: PSC member Wang Yang joined the list of leading Chinese officials traveling to Xinjiang this week. Wang spoke about the need to resolve “fundamental issues.” This involves urging “local authorities to maintain high pressure on the ‘three forces of terrorism, separatism and extremism” while also “guaranteeing people of all ethnicities are entitled to the same rights and obligations.” That’s a subtle rhetorical shift. Wang’s trip has also apparently resulted in the revelation of Shi Jun, vice minister of the United Front Work Department, as the head of the office of the Central Coordinating Group for Work on Xinjiang. That’s a key central group to coordinate policies in the region.Meanwhile, US pressure on China’s Xinjiang policies continued this week, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meeting with “a Uighur Muslim who survived horrific conditions and abuse in a Chinese internment camp” along with three other people “whose relatives have been detained in the camps or criminally sentenced by Chinese authorities.” Pompeo then called on Beijing to end the “abhorrent” China’s mass detention of Uighurs. Reports, citing unidentified State Department sources, also state that either US citizens or people with legal status in the United States are being held in camps in Xinjiang. Turkey is the other international actor that’s increasingly got skin in the game and has been critical of China. Turkey is home to a large ethnic Uighur population. Many of them are concerned about their future. A new Buzzfeed report claims that “six Turkish nationals — and possibly dozens more — have gone missing in China’s Xinjiang region, including a pair of young children. None of their cases have been publicly acknowledged by the Turkish or Chinese governments.” The report adds, these cases “show that Chinese authorities have been unafraid to sweep up foreign nationals in their campaign against Turkic Muslims, even people from countries that are important diplomatic partners.” One state that’s not questioning China, despite concerns among its public is Kazakhstan. The country’s Foreign Minister Beibut Atamkulov was in Beijing this week, with Wang Yi thanking him for “understanding and support for China’s position.”

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