Opinion: US Lawmaker introduces Bill on Tibet: Has China’s Propaganda Succeeded?

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Chinese propaganda poster
Chinese propaganda poster

By Tenzin Lhadon

Amid escalating tensions between US and China, the pressure intensified after US Congressman Scott Perry introduced a Bill (H.R. 6948) that would “authorize the President to recognize the Tibet Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China as a separate, independent country”. A perfunctory read of the Bill might seem like it poses a direct challenge to China’s sovereign claim over Tibet, but in reality the bill represents a product of the deep-rooted propagandistic efforts of China. The solitary fact that the bill worded Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) rather than calling the region as Tibet indicates how far the Chinese narrative and propaganda has advanced into Washington. The Bill might have antagonized Beijing, but it also presented a distorted historical representation of Tibet and the Tibetan struggle.

The political and historical notion of “TAR” has been a central node of contention between Beijing and Tibetans. The latter views Tibet as encompassing a region 2.5 million square kilometres in are, including the 1.2 square kilometer landmass of “TAR” as well as the traditional Tibetan areas of Kham and Amdo which have been incorporated into the Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan. China demarcation of Tibet into “TAR” and the rest is based on its claims that the regions beyond the “TAR” were never under the “local” Tibetan government in Lhasa and so sees no ground for the establishment of an “enlarged Tibet” or what the Tibetan Government in exile views as Tibet in totality. Furthermore, China claims a “historical ownership” over Tibet since the Yuan Dynasty, which Beijing views as the historical moment when Tibet became a part of the empire and subsequently of China itself.  The Tibetan Government – in – exile ‘s official policy in its negotiation with Beijing, known as the Middle Way Approach, is grounded on the insistence of an autonomous Tibet comprising of all its provinces, since an acceptance of the “TAR” is validation for all of Beijing’s historical claims and narratives on Tibet.

Therefore Congressman Perry’s Bill indirectly validates China’s historical claims over Tibet, subverts the Middle Way Approach, and proves the success of the China towards changing the discourse on Tibet and its history. Its propaganda network extends beyond its borders into both the public and private domains. For instance, major newspapers such as The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Telegraph, Le Figaro, Süddeutsche Zeitung, El Pais, Rossiyskaya Gazeta and The Mainichi Shimbun have partnerships with China Watch, the news supplement of China Daily which is a daily newspaper owned by the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China. Similarly, Xinhua, the largest state run news agency of China, has 170 offices worldwide and works in partnership with many international media and news groups.  The State affiliated Confucius Institutes have garnered significant public attention for its Beijing approved course – materials as well as influencing academic discourses in universities, particularly in the US which houses the largest number of these institutions.

China’s reach through diplomacy and propaganda is targeted towards a global audience, where its effects can be measured in terms of framing international opinions in its favor. The Confucius Institutes are a product of such measures. Recently the Queens Public Library in New York became a target of protests due to its exhibition of propagandistic displays on Tibet.  Beijing has sought to clamp down on any “divergences” from its position on sensitive issues such as Tibet and Taiwan. Recently companies such as GAP and Mercedes Benz issued apologies to the Chinese Government for what it believed were objectionable statements made by them on Tibet or Taiwan. Similarly Australia and the EU were subjected to much public pressure by Beijing for their inquiries into the origin and spread of the COVID – 19 pandemic.

The United States is no stranger to the contemporary opposition of the Tibetan people to the historical narrative of China on Tibet. Similarly Washington DC hosts some of the largest Tibet Advocacy groups such as the International Campaign for Tibet as well as the offices of the Tibetan Government – in – exile yet for a Bill to be introduced as seeking an independent recognition of the “TAR” is representative of grounds gained by the propagandistic and diplomatic efforts of Beijing. Ironically in a legislation that is diverted towards pressurizing Xi’s regime, within its content lies an outright validation of China’s claims that there never was a historically independent and unified Tibet. China has sought to change the discourse on Tibet and its people in its outright favor, having pooled in its vast reserves of media outlets, institutions, economic prowess and diplomatic pressure. The introduction of such a Bill is misleading in its efforts to alleviate the plight of the Tibetan people but rather serves as an attestation to the realization of Beijing’s objectives.

 

(Views expressed are her own)

The author is currently a visiting fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute (TPI), a think tank under the Central Tibetan Administration. She has completed her PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

 

9 Responses

  1. If you watch Miles Guo’s (he’s an in-exile mainland Chinese billionaire) livestream praising the Dalai Lama and calling the CCP out for its attempts at using the Dalai Lama to convert Tibetans to Maoism, he steps very lightly around the idea of “Greater Tibet”, so basically Tibet with all three Tibetan provinces.

    From this I have a hypothesis that the Chinese government, and to an extent maybe even a lot of its people (I have no proof of this), have been extremely (unreasonably) sensitive over Tibetans claiming their rightful homeland with all its regions and leaving no Tibetan out. This Chinese mentality of the seeing the people they’ve subjugated for so long getting back all of their homeland as a worst nightmare scenario may have affected the American government. They want to pressure China, but not offend them so much that they’re driven away completely from the discussion table.

    I agree with the writer fully, the Middle Way approach should be staunchly about ALL of Tibet, not a single Tibetan village should be left out of being granted the potential cultural protection that genuine autonomy would grant.

  2. The Bill if passed will be the best thing to happen for Tibet and Tibetian People, who have been killed , raped and crushed by China. “Cry Freedom”, now is the time to revive the Tibetian Freedom movement and for Tibetians to highlight their plight and ask for support from the whole world. India will definitely recognize Tibet and will morally and materially support it .

    “Viansha Kaaley Viprita Buddhi “– means when your bad time is coming , you start doing unjust and unfair things.
    That time has come for arrogant China . The time for democracy in China will also come soon .
    People have to speak out and protest .

  3. I believe congressman Scott Perry knows TAR would not include Kham and Amdo, so may be the wording was intentional. I try to follow politics as much as I can. Usually when a bill is passed in the US House, they are usually about Human Rights issues, Religious Freedom issues, Economic disparage issues, Education Rights, etc. But this time the word Independence shows up, and I think it is a good step forward.

    As I mentioned, I do not follow as much politics, what usually is the turn around time when a bill is introduced and get signed by the President? Or it is just a sound bite?

  4. there may be 101 reasons or none, as to why Pennsylvania congressman Scott Perry worded “TAR” and not ‘Tibet;’ honestly, we won’t know unless the congressman comes out and explains why. The article made me think why would Beijing engage in such a hairsplitting exercise knowing that whether one uses the term Tibet or “TAR,” both in a way, acknowledges Chinese colonialism in the context of this bill. So what’s in it for Beijing? May be Beijing wants to anger Dharamshala?

  5. Tibet doesn’t include Kham and Amdo province according to this Bill, am i right? US congress defines Tibet as Utsang region only, and doesn’t cover the whole of ethno-cultural Tibet. Maybe a signature campaign to Trump to get amdo and kham included?

  6. Under the Trump administration, the United States have been vigorous in pushing back not only against CCP propaganda, but everything that the CCP does to undermine the free world. The Wuhan Virus crisis have helped opened the eyes of the world so much that many nations such as Australia, USA, UK, Japan, etc, are now reassessing their relationship with China. China’s failed soft power has now hardened to wolf warrior stance where ccp ambassadors almost daily lecture and berate their host nations.. which in turn is isolating China even more. China is not looking too good in the eyes of the world at this time, while Taiwan’s soft power is receiving lot of love.

    Of course, USA would have their own self interest when dealing with China just like any other sovereign nation would…..but, where is the Middle Way leaning CTA in all this? The silence is deafening. As if we have given up the ghost. We are either complaining or complimenting. Always reacting, never initiating.

    If we can’t lead, at least we should show strong support for the vanguardian HK, Taiwan, President Trump, because their successes are in our interest.

    1. China loves that Trump is in Power. He has weakened the USA’s standing all over the world. He encouraged the use of concentration camps. He did not stand up for Hong Kong and certainly didn’t stand up for Tibet. Trump is a criminal, who belongs in prison for the rest of his life.

      1. Yeah, he definitely weakened the United States’ power when he was the first president to walk into North Korean soil while walking with Kim. Wish we were back in the Obama era, when we were more powerful, and our president just watched from a distant South Korean bunker with a pair of binoculars.

  7. Interesting read and certainly important to highlight the Chinese narrative in that bill. I’d like to point out a slight correction: the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung has stopped its partnership with China Daily, however, the newspaper Handelsblatt still cooperates with them and inserts China Watch.

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