Peacekeeping: Smothering Tibet

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August 11, 2010: Over the last two years, China has changed its approach to keeping the peace in Tibet. This was triggered by anti-Chinese violence that broke out in Tibet in early 2008, leaving hundreds of Chinese dead or injured and thousands of Chinese owned businesses damaged or destroyed. The government responded vigorously, sending over 50,000 additional soldiers and police to Tibet. The intensity of these new security measures can be seen in the reduction of the number of Tibetan refugees showing up in India. Since an unsuccessful Tibetan rebellion in 1959, over 200,000 Tibetans have fled to India. Before 2008, over 2,500 Tibetans a year were crossing the border into India. Since then, that has been reduced more than 70 percent. Security is now much tighter in Tibet, as well as along the Indian border. Where it used to cost $500-1,000 to pay a smuggler to get you out, it now costs more than three times that. Smugglers demand more money because of the greater risks, and the longer routes that have to be used.

The 2008 violence in Tibet, however, should be put into perspective. Tibet is a big place (1.2 million square kilometers, compared to 9.8 million for the U.S.) , but has a tiny population of only about three million (compared to 300 million in the U.S. and 1.4 billion in China). Ten percent of the Tibet population is Chinese, and this is growing. Many more Tibetans have migrated to China, for better economic opportunities. The total number of Tibetans in China is about five million, meaning most of them live outside Tibet.

Tibetans have always resented Chinese domination, which has been going on for thousands of years. Most of the time, the Tibetans were able to run their own affairs. But from time to time, the Chinese take direct control. In 1950 the Chinese marched in and took over, and show no inclination to leave or grant autonomy. Parts of Tibet were added to China proper, but most of Tibet became an "autonomous region." There are about 325,000 Tibetans living outside of China, and many are active in trying to get nations to pressure China to either leave Tibet, or grant more autonomy. China treats this as a public relations issue, and has no intention of letting it influence how it deals with Tibet.

China is pacifying Tibet the way it has pacified other frontier areas in the past. Better educated and more entrepreneurial Chinese are encouraged to migrate, and they eventually dominate the economy, and politics, of the area. The Tibetans know this, and so far have not been able to do much about it.

 

 


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