China's New ‘Ethnic Unity Law’ is Seen as Effort to Sinicize Tibetan Culture

A Tibetan worker is watched by Chinese police in Tibet's capital Lhasa in a file photo.

A Chinese law mandating “ethnic unity” in state and social institutions in Tibet took effect on Friday, raising concerns among Tibetans and outside observers who say the new law will further undermine Tibetan identity, already weakened by decades of ethnic Han Chinese migration into the region.

Titled “Regulations on the Establishment of a Model Area for Ethnic Unity and Progress in the Tibet Autonomous Region,” the new law requires equal participation by non-Tibetan ethnic groups at all levels of government and in schools, private business companies, religious centers, and the military.

In an April 30 statement, the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) said the law’s new regulations “explicitly depart from the principle of ‘preferential treatment’ for Tibetans, which was supposed to guarantee that Tibetans could maintain their culture and traditional way of life in their own homeland.”

“By asserting a dominant ethnic culture with the aim to Sinicize the Tibetan people, the regulations violated international human rights standards, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,” ICT said.

ICT vice president Bhuchung K. Tsering told RFA’s Tibetan Service that while China’s new law says parts of Tibet’s cultural heritage should be preserved, the law should be closely monitored for its long-term, actual effect.

“If Beijing truly wishes to protect and promote Tibetan cultural identity, Tibetan cultural values should be protected, as they were before,” Tsering said.

Discrimination 'whitewashed by the law'

Sophie Richardson—China Director at Human Rights Watch—called China’s new Ethnic Unity Law “wildly and grossly in tension with China’s own constitution and the Chinese government’s obligations under international law.”

“You can’t mandate ethnic unity,” Richardson told RFA. “It’s a form of discrimination that’s being whitewashed by the law, but that doesn’t make it legitimate.”

Tibetans must be able to “practice their culture as they see fit,” Richardson said.

“The Chinese government’s campaign to control Tibetan culture and religion has long violated international human rights norms” added U.S. Congressman James McGovern, writing in a May 1 statement.

“And these new regulations seem designed to further discrimination and repression, in clear violation of China’s international obligations.”

“The U.S. and the international community must be vigilant as these ‘ethnic unity’ regulations go into effect, and we must all work together against efforts to destroy Tibetan identity or repress the Tibetan people,” McGovern said.

Reported by Tashi Wangchuk for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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