by Yug Yadava
Image source: Graeme Bartlett
Tibet was an independent country after the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912 but abruptly became an “autonomous” region of China in 1951. While the Chinese say they treat Tibet with respect, there have been numerous reports of human rights violations within the region such as the destruction of Buddhist monasteries and the arrest of innocent civilians according to organizations such as the Human Rights Watch. Even more so, the Chinese have expelled the Dalai Lama and replaced the Panchen Lama with someone who is backed by the communist-led government. Tibet, in all cases, deserves its independence not only because of the atrocities committed to its people, but of its potential to be a country of wealth. With this in mind, Tibet’s estimated mineral deposit worth billions of dollars, its strategic location, and its potential hub in both tourism and renewable energy can assist in the nation to live up once again to its call to be an independent country.
Tibet’s recent history with China has been at the forefront of debates today. After the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912, Tibet was, by all means, an independent state ruled over by the Dalai Lama – the highest spiritual leader of Tibet. However, after China’s communist takeover in 1949, this new government invaded Tibet and, in 1951, dictated a treaty that allowed the Chinese to establish military and civil headquarters in Tibet’s capital, Lhasa. Since that time, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tensin Gyatso, has sought refuge in India. Gyatso declared that he may be the last Dalai Lama, as China prepares to choose the 15th Dalai Lama. This adds more fuel to the fire as the Dalai Lama is usually chosen by the Pachen Lama, Tibetan Buddhism’s second-highest leader. While the Pachen Lama was chosen by the current Dalai Lama in 1995, China did not acknowledge this and installed one of Han Chinese descent from the communist government. Since then, the chosen Pachen Lama is nowhere to be found. As a result, Tibetans and people around the world call for Tibet’s independence; however, many are worried about the ramifications it could have on the global economy and the possibility of a war breaking out between the two nations. Whatever the case may be, China’s mistreatment of the Tibetan people, along with Tibet’s prospects, is enough to declare independence once and for all.
China’s mistreatment of the Tibetan people extends beyond its influence in selecting the Dalai Lama. Since the Chinese took control of the region, they have destroyed over 6,000 Buddhist monasteries in an effort to assimilate the Tibetan people into the Atheist Chinese culture. One of the more recent destructions is the demolition of the academy of Larung Gar in 2016. This site served as the largest Tibetan Buddist institute in the world, home to around 10,000 people and visited by thousands of others for their education. However, as of 2016, the communist-led government has demanded the population of Larung Gar to be reduced to 5,000 people, citing overcrowding concerns. If the Chinese government is so worried about overcrowding, should they not take a look at their own cities like Beijing and Shanghai where overcrowding has led to some of the worst living conditions for the poor and air pollution seen in modern history? To add to China’s religious intolerance towards Tibet, thirty villagers were arrested in 2018 on the citation that they had supported opposition to Chinese mining on what is considered a sacred mountain by Tibetan Buddhists. Moreover, the Tibetan community has been encouraged by the Chinese government to rat out members who are sympathetic to the Dalai Lama and are supportive of an independent Tibet. To encourage a community to betray its own people who have seen the Dalai Lama as the leader of Tibet for nearly four centuries is despicable and goes against the basic human right to express oneself.
The human rights atrocities set to one side, Tibet is a region that has the potential to be a self-reliant country. Today, Tibet has a GDP of 23 billion dollars, with a current resident population of about 3.1 million people. With this in mind, Tibet also contains many mineral resources including, but not limited to, iron, copper, and titanium. The estimated total worth of raw materials in the Tibetan autonomous region is around 128 billion dollars. These precious metals, most commonly used in the manufacturing sector, could make the region very wealthy, which allows both developing and developed countries to rely on Tibet over the next few decades or even centuries.
Additionally, Tibet also lies in a region that is very strategic for its safety. Tibet is a region that has one of the highest average altitudes in the world, with many mountains such as the Himalayas surrounding the area. If the country were to be independent, Tibet would serve as a barrier between the two growing superpowers, India and China. The Chinese used the Tibetan plateau during its brief war with India in 1962; it was because of the Tibetan region that China was able to maintain some of its still disputed territories. These features aside, Tibet’s most significant geographical advantage is that it is the starting point of many rivers, such as the Yellow and Yangtze rivers of China, the Indus river of Pakistan, and the Brahmaputra river of India. With this strong asset, Tibet is at the discretion of many essential, clean water sources for up and coming leading nations.
Noting that many rivers start in Tibet, one can infer that Tibet has serious hydroelectric potential. If this were to be harnessed, Tibet could be one of the leading countries in terms of renewable energy. This would lead to an electricity boom previously unseen by the region and, in turn, increase the production of other essential resources such as farming, raising cattle, and building new industries without harming Tibet’s unique ecosystem. Other renewable energy sources possible in the area include wind, solar, and geothermal. With this final note, Tibet’s natural beauty, such as its capital Lhasa, can serve as a major tourism hub with highlights such as high scale mountains, religious pilgrimages, cultural heritage sites, and interactions with the region’s native people and animals.
Tibet is a region that has been important in the past and will continue to be in the near future. Its people have suffered unimaginable human rights violations such as the ousting of both its Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama, the destruction of its many monasteries, the limiting of the number of people in religious sites, and the Chinese communist government imposing restrictions that make the word “autonomous” in Tibet’s name a laughable joke. With its billions of mineral deposits, its strategic location, its geographical advantage, and its potential to be a hub for both tourism and renewable energy, Tibet could become a nation of riches. With the right actions, Tibet, which was once an independent nation, can live up to the call to be an independent country once again.