Sharat G. Lin


The U.S. government has been funding and encouraging Tibetan exiles in India through the U.S. Agency for International Development, National Endowment for Democracy, and through covert operations by the Central Intelligence Agency.


This is a continuation of the long history of CIA support for Tibetan insurrections after China formally asserted sovereignty over Tibet in 1951. Thus, it is not so surprising that the violent protests that erupted in Lhasa in mid-March 2008 were neither entirely spontaneous nor indigenous.


As China’s opponents and the political establishment in the United States have latched onto protests over human rights in China, the White House has officially pressured China to engage in negotiations with the Dalai Lama over the future of Tibet. With China’s rapid rise as a global power economically and politically, there is increasing reason for the U.S. government to find ways to destabilize a potential competitor on the world stage. Human rights have always been a convenient pretext for selectively mobilizing world opinion against and pressuring potential adversaries.


But in recent days, the U.S. National Security Council has had its eyes warily focused on yet another reason to destabilize Tibet to seek a foothold in that remote part of the world. In an ABC Television interview on “This Week with George Staphanopoulos” on Sunday morning, April 13, 2008, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley inadvertently revealed a new hidden White House agenda behind its covert backing for the pro-independence movement in Tibet. In response to repeated questions from Staphanopoulos on whether President George Bush would attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic games in Beijing over concerns about China’s policy on Tibet, Hadley mentioned “Nepal” in repeated slips of the tongue.


Hadley’s concern arises out of the surprising electoral victory by the Maoists in Nepal’s elections for a Constituent Assembly to write a new constitution. Not only does this popular mandate accelerate the end of the monarchy, but it decisively marginalizes even the centrist Nepali Congress, whose Koirala family has dominated Nepal’s electoral politics until now. While several Koiralas appear to be losing their parliamentary seats, the Maoists and their various communist allies are set to win an absolute majority in the 601-seat Constituent Assembly. Nepal has been a hot topic of discussion in secret National Security Council briefings in recent days, according to sources speaking on condition of anonymity. This explains why Nepal was on the tip of Stephen Hadley’s tongue.

The Maoist victory in Nepal is a boost to Maoists in India that through armed struggle have carved out large “liberated” zones in central and northern regions of the country. The situation has been of serious concern to the government of India as well as in the White House.


The violence in Tibet did not start as a government crackdown on Buddhists and Tibetan dissidents seeking independence or greater autonomy from Beijing. It started with Tibetan rioters attacking Hans and Huis in Tibet, and their shops and properties. This is substantiated by the Dalai Lama’s repeated appeals to his followers to stop the violence. Tibetans do have legitimate frustrations as a consequence of economic distortions and social alienation resulting from rapid capitalist development throughout China. This must be viewed in contrast to the historical context of Tibet’s violent serfdom past presided over by the Buddhist theocracy before 1959.


It is argued by proponents of Tibetan independence that China’s presence in Tibet is an occupation. Yet China today includes 55 officially-recognized minority nationalities, comprising 8.5% of the country’s population. This is up from 7% in 1970 because the One Child Policy was never applied to most minority nationalities. Should each of these nationalities seek independence? What would happen if each of these minority nationalities were to become independent and form their own countries? Some could be economically viable in their land; most probably would not. But all would become open to CIA schemes to subvert China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, North Korea, and Nepal. History leaves absolutely no doubt that the fragmentation of nation-states would be destabilizing without any added prospect of advancing democracy, human rights, or social justice.


The state in China has brought about very dramatic socio-economic changes — including land redistribution from the monasteries to the peasants, secular education, healthcare, and gender equality. It has also pumped billions of dollars in subsidies to develop the minority regions. This is quite different from the U.S. occupation of Iraq which has obliterated life, livelihood, secularism, and the moral fabric of society. It is also in stark contrast to the complete neglect by the U.S. government for the development of the Native American reservations. The Western allegations of “human rights violations” have become a knee-jerk pretext for demonizing China because it is rapidly becoming a competing world power, and now because of an interest in gaining a foothold in the increasingly volatile Himalayas.


The Chinese revolution failed to completely overthrow the former serf-owning ruling class precisely because it was embedded in the Buddhist religious institutions of the Tibetan theocracy. The locus of the independence movement inside Tibet is in the monasteries, the sole remaining political institutions of feudal power. The movement is kept alive by decades of simmering resentment in the monasteries against secular state institutions that have increasingly challenged their power and influence and redistributed monastery land to the peasants. Paradoxically, it is also the opening of Tibet to international tourism that has revived numerous Buddhist temples and monasteries as tourist attractions, providing an opening for the clerics to spread their influence.


Nevertheless, Tibetan society is profoundly divided over the protests. Many Tibetans, except those in exile, apparently do not regard China’s presence as an occupation. They oppose independence. Even while they revere the Dalai Lama as a religious figure, Tibetan peasants generally oppose the protests, fearing that the monasteries will revive the serfdom of the past. (That is actually improbable given the extent of development of post-feudal relations of production — capitalism, state enterprises, and former collectives.)


The Dalai Lama himself has been angered by the Western insistence on Tibetan “independence.” In a press conference on March 20, 2008 in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India, the Dalai Lama expressed his frustration: “The whole world knows the Dalai Lama is not seeking independence, one hundred times, thousand times I have repeated this. It is my mantra — we are not seeking independence.


So why are “human rights activists” in the West demanding what the Dalai Lama himself is not? This fact alone is consistent with an exogenous Tibetan separatist movement, not a true human rights movement that supports the aspirations of Tibetan people. The exogenous separatism is driven by the external influences of the U.S. and other Western governments. Now intervention in Nepal is yet another hidden agenda in their quest for a “free” Tibet.


Sharat G. Lin writes on global political economy, the Middle East, India, and the environment. He is affiliated with the San Jose Peace and Justice Center.

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