THE PLACE OF TIBET IN CHINESE GRAND STRATEGY
"We see Beijing struggling to maintain control over China. Its vast security apparatus and interlocking economic system are intended to achieve that. We see Beijing building coastal defenses in the Pacific, including missiles that can reach deep into the Pacific, in the long run trying to force the U.S. Navy on the defensive. And we see Beijing working to retain control over two key regions: Xinjiang and Tibet....
Now look at Tibet on the population density and terrain maps. On the terrain map one sees the high mountain passes of the Himalayas. Running from the Hindu Kush on the border with Pakistan to the Myanmar border, small groups can traverse this terrain, but no major army is going to thrust across this border in either direction. Supplying a major force through these mountains is impossible. From a military point of view, it is a solid wall.
Note that running along the frontier directly south of this border is one of the largest population concentrations in the world. If China were to withdraw from Tibet, and there were no military hindrance to population movement, Beijing fears this population could migrate into Tibet. If there were such a migration, Tibet could turn into an extension of India and, over time, become a potential beachhead for Indian power. If that were to happen, India’s strategic frontier would directly abut Sichuan and Yunnan — the Chinese heartland.
The Chinese have a fundamental national interest in retaining Tibet, because Tibet is the Chinese anchor in the Himalayas. If that were open, or if Xinjiang became independent, the vast buffers between China and the rest of Eurasia would break down. The Chinese can’t predict the evolution of Indian, Islamic or Russian power in such a circumstance, and they certainly don’t intend to find out. They will hold both of these provinces, particularly Tibet.
The Chinese note that the Dalai Lama has been in India ever since China invaded Tibet. The Chinese regard him as an Indian puppet. They see the latest unrest in Tibet as instigated by the Indian government, which uses the Dalai Lama to try to destabilize the Chinese hold on Tibet and open the door to Indian expansion. To put it differently, their view is that the Indians could shut the Dalai Lama down if they wanted to, and that they don’t signals Indian complicity.
It should be added that the Chinese see the American hand behind this as well. Apart from public statements of support, the Americans and Indians have formed a strategic partnership since 2001. The Chinese view the United States — which is primarily focused on the Islamic world — as encouraging India and the Dalai Lama to probe the Chinese, partly to embarrass them over the Olympics and partly to increase the stress on the central government. The central government is stretched in maintaining Chinese security as the Olympics approach. The Chinese are distracted. Beijing also notes the similarities between what is happening in Tibet and the “color” revolutions the United States supported and helped stimulate in the former Soviet Union.
It is critical to understand that whatever the issues might be to the West, the Chinese see Tibet as a matter of fundamental national security, and they view pro-Tibetan agitation in the West as an attempt to strike at the heart of Chinese national security. The Chinese are therefore trapped. They are staging the Olympics in order to demonstrate Chinese cohesion and progress. But they must hold on to Tibet for national security reasons, and therefore their public relations strategy is collapsing. Neither India nor the United States is particularly upset that the Europeans are thinking about canceling attendance at various ceremonies".
"Chinese Geopolitics and the Significance of Tibet", by Dr. George Friedman, 15 April 2008, in www.stratfor.com.
The riots and violence in Tibet over the past two months, have again reminded the world of the ongoing PRC grande projet of turning the 'province' and the neighboring 'province' of Xianjiang into bastions of Han Chinese hegemony. A projet which has roots going way back into the Manchu Dynasty in the early 18th century. With the collapse of the Manchu Dynasty at the beginning of the 20th century (1911), both of these enormous territories were lost to the power holders in Peking. In a classical example of the Rankean idea of 'Der Primat der Aussenpolitk', the fact is that all Han Chinese authorities since, whether neo-Monarchist (Yuan Shikai), Republican (Chiang Kai-shek) or Communist (Mao to the present leadership), were and are adamantly determined to either regain or keep their hold on Tibet, come what may. As Dr. Friedman correctly notes, regardless of any protests by the West, or conversely any public relations embarrassments to the PRC's 'coming out' party, at this summer's Olympics, Peking's main goal is to retain its grip on both provinces.
Given the above circumstances what is the best line for the West, and in particular the USA to take? I submit that the only intelligent line is one of 'ethical realism' (all due acknowledgement to Anatol Lieven of course for coining this phrase). Of course in the absence of the self-destruction of Communist rule, both territories will remain part of the PRC. Of that there is no question. However, just as the West, kept ties to the dissident movements in the 'People's Democracy's' of Central and Eastern Europe, so too must the West make sure to retain contact with, and, even if need be sub rosa support for those groups currently in and outside of Tibet who are struggling, albeit peacefully against Han Chinese oppression. The 'pay-off', for such support may be years, indeed many, many years in the offing. Perhaps the 'pay-off' will never come at all. I for my own part, will agree that the PRC is very much an economic dynamo, and, on the surface at any rate highly unlikely to collapse anytime or significantly reform itself anytime soon. However notwithstanding this fact, it is very much the case that the PRC, is full of contradictions, both economic and political. And, just as in the case of Sovietskaya Vlast, such contradictions can indeed bring about the downfall of the entire regime (or should we say, allowed the existing elites to prepare the way for the same and profit from doing so), so similarly in the case of the PRC, it is not impossible to imagine that the regime in Peking, will under the force of circumstances, and pressures brought about my its own programme of 'modernization from above', will eventually encompass its own ruin. Which one can only say again and again: pire ca va, mieux c'est.