Will a China Collapse Bring Freedom to Tibet?

By Richard Finney
The Potala Palace in Lhasa in a file photo.

Amid Beijing’s reluctance to ease its harsh rule in Tibet, some experts believe that change in the region will come only as a result of significant political and economic turmoil in China itself, while others caution that even a major upheaval may make little difference to Tibetans.

Gordon Chang, a China expert who predicted the failure of the Chinese state more than a decade ago, still asserts that the days of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are numbered.

A slowing Chinese economy, together with growing anger in China over pollution, corruption, and income inequality, is going to bring about the collapse of the modern Chinese state and allow Tibet to free itself from Beijing’s rule, says Chang, author of the 2001 book The Coming Collapse of China.

“Within a short period, the modern Chinese state will fail. It will shake and stumble. The Chinese occupiers will leave Tibet,” Chang said, speaking last week at an event organized  by the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet.

Preoccupied at home by social chaos resulting from a collapse of the CCP, “I believe the regime will have to withdraw its troops, its police, and its officials,” said Chang.

These forces now underpin China’s presence and interests in the Himalayan region, Chang said.

And in their absence the hundreds of thousands of Han Chinese migrants who have poured into Tibet since Chinese troops invaded in 1949 will also leave, fearing retribution for more than six decades of abusive rule by Beijing, Chang added.

Tempting scenarios?

But an end of Party rule in China might not create the conditions necessary for freedom in Tibet, other experts say.

Party rule in China could end “in any number of ways,” such as by simply changing its name and current ideology, without necessarily making much difference to society,” Columbia University Tibet scholar Robbie Barnett told RFA.

“And even if there was a total collapse, it might not lead to any improvement in Tibetans’ situation.”

Emerging from political turmoil, China could possibly even reorganize itself as a more nationalist and militarized state, Barnett said.

“Tempting scenarios” of a better future produced by outsiders or by history “can divert people from seeking practical or immediate solutions to their current situation,” Barnett said.

'Highly speculative'

Elliot Sperling, a Tibet expert and associate professor of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University, noted that the 1911-1912 collapse of China’s Qing dynasty had allowed Tibet once before “to emerge free and independent of outside rule.”

If democratic forces play a role in the end of communist rule in China, elements of this group may be willing at least to listen to Tibetan grievances, Sperling said.

“But this is highly speculative,” he added.

Tibetan independence “would most likely be supported by most Tibetans,” Sperling said.

But Tibet’s India-based exile leaders may have weakened international support for a future independent Tibet by conceding now that Tibet is a part of China “as a core part of their political position” in a bid for greater autonomy, Sperling said.

“The exile leadership has spent over two decades effectively convincing international  leaders that only a small number of radicals oppose their position.”

Speaking in Dharamsala, India, on March 10, Tibetan exile political leader Lobsang Sangay upheld his government’s policy, first proposed by Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, by which Tibetan claims for independence are set aside in favor of a “genuine” autonomy under existing Chinese law.

“Tibet’s exile government is fully committed to the Middle Way Approach, which seeks genuine autonomy for Tibetans, to solve the issue of Tibet,” Sangay said.

Add comment

Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.

View Full Site