News and Views on Tibet

Press Release: United Nations Association, Bath and District Branch

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For Immediate Release

Bath, UK, March 27, 2006 – Tsering Topgyal, a PhD student from the London School of Economics and Political Science addressed the Bath and District Branch of the United Nations Association on China-Tibet relationship, focusing on the Tibetan perspective. Born in Western Tibet and Educated at Tibetan Children’s Village, India; and Berea College, USA, Tsering Topgyal holds a Masters in Pacific International Affairs at the University of California, San Diego. He now lives in London with his wife and son.

Tsering started with a brief historical overview of Sino-Tibetan relations from the era of the Tibetan kings and Tang dynasty to the present. Then he summarized the key demands that Beijing and Dharamsala have put forward for negotiations to take place, which revealed an immense gap between the two sides. Tsering then introduced the concept of security practice, which means how groups and states think and cope with security problems and applied the concept to explain China’s behaviour towards Tibet.

For China, he explained, state and regime survival are the key security referents. He said, citing Wu Xinbo (Fudan University, Shanghai), Alastair Ian Johnston (Harvard University) and Henry Kissinger (Ex-US National Security Advisor and Secretary of State), that there is a general consensus that China’s security practice conforms mostly to the realist paradigm of international relations, which treats states as the key, rational, (material) power-maximizing actors in the international arena, the anarchic international system (structure) as the main source of threat, calculations of relative capabilities as driving state policies, and reliance on the threat or use of military power to pursue interests defined as power and security. However, China’s security behaviour also exhibits non-realist characteristics such as its pre-occupation with internal security threats in an era of relatively benign international conditions, and vulnerabilities to and threats posed by ideational factors. Chinese wariness of “peaceful evolution” is an illustration.

Then, he used the realist framework to explain some of the key positions that Beijing has taken with respect to Tibet. He explained why Beijing even denies the existence of a Tibet Issue, while it is quite eager to negotiate the return of the Dalai Lama; why Beijing imposes the condition that the Dalai Lama should live in Beijing and not in Tibet; why Beijing gave Hong Kong SAR status, promising more to Taiwan, while denying the same to Tibet and why Tibet was given a similar status in the 1950s; why China is pursuing the current hard-line policies in Tibet, while promoting rapid economic growth; why it is not interested in the Tibetan demands for unification of traditional Tibetan territories and demilitarization of Tibet.

He concluded that some of Beijing positions can only be explained by ideational variables. Why did Beijing reject outright the Tibetan demands for democracy in a newly-negotiated Tibet? Why does Beijing insist that the Dalai Lama declare beforehand that Tibet was an inalienable part of China? Why are the Chinese authorities still busy carrying out patriotic education campaigns all over Tibet?

During the Question-Answer session, a number of questions were asked. What is the ideal outcome that the Tibetans want to see happen and what is a realistically possible? What will convince the Chinese government to negotiate with the Dalai Lama? Is Tibet militarily administered or run by a civilian government? When this Dalai Lama passes away, how will his reincarnation be selected and what is the significance? In view of the fact that a lot of economic activity is going on in Tibet, are the Chinese playing a waiting game, inasmuch as the forces of modernization and consequent dilution of Tibetan identity will render calls for Tibetan rights irrelevant? These and other questions were comprehensively addressed.

The audience listened to Tsering Topgyal with great attention and felt that their understanding of the present position of Tibet, its people and its leaders, was particularly enhanced through the thoughtful exposition of Chinese security practise. They thanked Tsering and wished him well.

Tsering Topgyal can be contacted by email at

Contact: Irene Prentice (

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