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Sunday, March 3, 2024

The next frontier against China

Of all the recycled criticisms of China, Tibet is a romanticized chic issue in the United States and has fronted its 'moral compass' twice in the 1960s and the 1990s. In the 1950s Chinese forces reunified Tibet with the mainland during the Cultural revolution and allowed relative autonomy to the Dalai Lama to run his daily affairs.

The past ten years have seen a steady increase in propaganda by the United States against China. The dilemma facing the United States is how vast and multi-layered China is, and one ‘label’ would not suffice to unite various factions of the globe against it. To target Western Democratic countries, China’s implementation of the one country, two systems policy in Hong Kong is weaponized as an attack on Democracy and European values, increasing resentment and distrust against China.

To create discord between ASEAN countries and their relations with China, the South China Sea has witnessed an uptick in provocation by the United States and its allies, baiting the country into a confrontation. The separatist ambitions of the Uighurs in Xinjiang Province have been manipulated into a religious frame in an attempt to rile up sentiments in the Islamic world, as these countries either supply China with 47% of its energy or are integral parts of the Belt and Road initiative.

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Understanding the matter better

Issues like Climate Change and vague statements about human rights abuses are sprinkled atop to supplement the regional-themed propaganda aimed at tarnishing China’s image to delegitimize its standing in the world. However, one issue has largely remained untouched by the State Department’s propaganda mill, and that is Tibet and the return of the aging Dalai Lama to find his successor as he turns 87.

Of all the recycled criticisms of China, Tibet is a romanticized chic issue in the United States and has fronted its ‘moral compass’ twice in the 1960s and the 1990s. In the 1950s Chinese forces reunified Tibet with the mainland during the Cultural revolution and allowed relative autonomy to the Dalai Lama to run his daily affairs. A letter was written to the Dalai Lama by Loy W. Henderson, who was the United States Ambassador to India on September 17th, 1951. He placed a premium on U.S assistance and suggested that if he were to leave Tibet for another country, it would allow greater cooperation increasing his chance to come back into power.

He stated, “… if you could arrange to leave Tibet and seek asylum in some country…you might be able to continue your struggle to preserve the autonomy of Tibet”. It is crucial to make this distinction that U.S support did not guarantee independence but autonomy. The primary motive was to bleed Mao’s forces per operations already taking place in Latin America and Eastern Europe against Communism. The United States gave no distinction between the motives of the USSR and the Cultural Revolution and, in turn, reduced Tibet to just another conflict. The Dalai Lama acknowledged the opportunistic nature of the assistance in his autobiography, stating it “had been a reflection of their (United States) anti-Communist policies rather than genuine support for the restoration of Tibetan independence.”

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Furthermore, Ambassador Henderson wrote, “…readiness of the United States to render you the assistance and support outlined above is conditional upon your departure from Tibet… the Indian Government would be prepared to permit Your Holiness either to pass through or to reside in India.

The United States delivered in aiding the “spiritual struggle” for the monks of Tibet, who received $US 1.7 million a year from the CIA to train, arm, equip and propagate against China. The Dalai Lama was also on the payroll of the CIA, receiving $US 180,000 a year between 1959 to 1974. After successive failures in employing guerrilla-styled tactics to subvert China’s control of Tibet, President Johnson began withdrawing funding for the covert war in 1968. President Nixon in 1972 normalized relations with China to save American prestige, which had taken a hit in the Vietnam War.

The renewed interest in Tibet

The concern for Tibet lay dormant for the next two decades before gaining traction in 1989 as the Dalai Lama was awarded the Noble Peace Prize. Renewed interest in Tibet captivated Hollywood, where the ‘Free Tibet Movement’ gained a global audience plastering allegations against China. During the 65th Academy Awards in 1993, Richard Gere went off-script to launch a scathing attack against China regarding Tibet. Then in 1996, San Francisco held the first of many Tibetan Freedom Concerts to reinfect Tibet into the national conscious. With the advent of 9/11, the hues and cries for Tibet fizzled out as the United States realigned its focus to funding freedom in other parts of the world.

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Tibet is an untapped paradox in the post-modern social media-driven world, and it remains a mystery when this issue will become contentious. The Dalai Lama turns 87, raising prospects of Tibet having a third coming and more than likely reappear on the global stage either at the end of the decade or in the early 2030s. The quest to find his successor will raise the issue of human rights in Tibet, and its autonomy, with efforts already being made with the Tibetan Policy and Support Act passed in December 2020 in the U.S Senate.

The Act focuses on “human rights, religious freedom, and other challenges faced by the Tibetan people”. Tiananmen Square, Uighur and Tibet all fall under the human rights war cry for the United States against China, and these issues will likely revolve around each other depending on the appetite for White-saviours and the stamina they can display before exhausting themselves on to the next frontier against China.


Sameed Basha is a defense and political analyst with a master’s degree in international relations from Deakin University, Australia. He specializes in Asia-Pacific regional dynamics and conflict & security studies. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.