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).