Will a China Collapse Bring Freedom to Tibet?

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

Comments (3)


I think there are two main scenarios:

1. China suffers the same implosion than USSR and its divided among 3 to 5 regions like: Han China, Tibet and Xinjiang Uyghur (maybe also Manchuria and an Inner Mongolia that returns to Mongolia) having a special relationship like the one with Russia, Ucrania and so on. This case is, nevertheless, very radical and the conditions nowdays are not the same as when USSR fall, besides may cause a lot of bloodshred like in the former USSR that to this day still has ethnic conflicts like Crimea, and before Georgia, and Chechenya, etc. So I don’t think is the best option nor for Tibet nor for everybody else.
2. China becames democratic, maybe a federation. I think a Tibet living under a democratic system with real autonomy and an elected government, Tibetan representation in the Parliament, the return of the Dalai Lama and other leaders as citizens of the country, etc., probably will give some stability, and with some luck maybe a referendum on Tibet’s independence can be peacefully held.

The problem with the second option is if happen the same as happen in Russia, in were Putin basically changed the old regime for a new nationalist, conservative, authoritarian regime, which can also happen in a future democratic China.
I do agree, generally no one-party system last more than 70 years, like Mexico and Russia, but the secueles of authoritarianism remains, as we can see in Putin’s government and to lesser extend to Mexico’s Peña Nieto.

Jan 15, 2015 05:07 AM


from NYC

This is all speculation but a collapse in China could bring freedom for Tibet. It happened once before in 1912-13. It happened for Eastern Europe, Central Asia & Mongolia when the USSR collapsed in 1991. But we Tibetans must be prepared for that day which could happen sooner than expected. One party states don't last past 70 or so years like USSR & in Mexico. The CCP is in its 6th decade of rule. That is why it's so important the TGIE not give up on the goal of independence.

Mar 22, 2013 03:00 PM

Anonymous Reader

If so, history will repeat, warlords will fight for territories.

Mar 21, 2013 01:07 PM





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