Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Birth of Tibetan Separatism

The Tibetan separatist movement is a creation of US imperialism. It is not a product of an “independent” Tibet having been overrun by “occupying” Chinese. It is a product of US imperialism refusing to accept the reality of the People’s Republic of China and instead creating, through its interference in China’s internal affairs, an “issue” that would assist in the destabilization and overthrow of the “Chi Com regime”. Aiding US imperialism is an emigre community that could not reconcile itself to social changes that swept Tibet, and which saw in US imperialist plans for Tibetan “independence” a political cause to advance their socially regressive agenda.

This interpretation is fully consistent with the testimony of John Kenneth Knaus[1], a CIA operations officer who worked from 1958 to 1965 to create an “independence” issue for Tibet out of the fallout from the incipient moves towards democratic change demanded by Tibetan serfs under the protection of the Chinese government. China had said that it would let Tibet change at its own pace, but it could not prevent resistance to change from the feudal theocracy made up of a landowning nobility and the senior lamas of the great landowning monasteries. It was these latter classes that instigated an armed rebellion against the People’s Republic of China in 1959 and it was them and their supporters that the CIA subsequently shaped into an “independence” movement under the Dalai Lama.

As Knaus notes, prior to the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the US had taken virtually no interest in Tibet. “By March 10, 1959,” said Knaus in reference to the day on which the feudal theocrats began their rebellion, “the US Government had been involved in the affairs of Tibet for almost a decade.”

US meddling began in June 1950, two weeks before the outbreak of the Korean War. The US State Department initiated talks with the British around a proposal to “encourage and support Tibetan resistance to Communist control.” This was not a proposal relating to demands for Tibetan “independence” - that was to come later – but for the creation of an anti-Communist guerilla force to be secretly armed by the Indians. “The US was ready to assist in the procurement and financing of such military assistance,” said Knaus.

However, contradictions between US and British imperialisms resulted in nothing coming of the US proposal for interference in China’s internal affairs. So, according to Knaus, “Washington had decided by January 1951 that it was time to take more active measures concerning Tibet, unilaterally if necessary…” Thus, the US informed Britain that it was considering “recognition of Tibet as an independent state”.

Note that this new development, the spectre of an “independent Tibet”, originated in the US State Department. It did not originate with Tibetans, although some recalcitrants would later be found to lend this US progeny their support in return for financial assistance and the promise of a restoration of their class privileges under US imperialist protection.

This was the time when the new Chinese Government was securing its hold over parts of China that were still held by remnant forces of the defeated Guomindang (KMT) or which had suffered ruptures in their relations with the Guomindang Government during the three decades of civil war and the War to Resist Japan.

Early in 1950, the Chinese PLA advanced into a largely Tibetan-populated area which Chiang Kai-shek had been unable to control. This area, Chamdo, was not at that time a part of Tibet; at the end of the Qing Dynasty it had been incorporated into Sikang Province, which in turn would be incorporated by the new Communist Government into Sichuan Province.

One of the Kaloons, or senior officials of Tibet, the serf-owner Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme, was dispatched at the head of the Tibetan army to block the advance of the PLA. The Tibetan landowners’ response to the advancing revolutionary forces was no different to that of the warlords or large landowners anywhere else in China. Tibetan theocracy was a system of feudal privilege and it panicked at the advance of the revolutionary PLA. When the two armies confronted each other in Chamdo, the Tibetans were defeated.

Ngapoi was treated well by the PLA: this was quite consistent with their treatment of KMT generals who had been captured in battle or who had changed sides. It gave him the confidence to report in full to the Dalai Lama his observations of the behaviour of the PLA towards the Tibetans in Chamdo.

With the PLA making no effort to push beyond Chamdo, and with Ngapoi’s first-hand accounts of their policies towards the ethnic minorities, the Dalai appointed Ngapoi to lead a delegation to Beijing to negotiate an Agreement with the new Chinese Government. Chinese troops did enter Tibet, but eight months later, following the signing of the May 23, 1951 17-Point Agreement on the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet between the Chinese and Tibetan negotiators. Subsequently endorsed by the Dalai Lama, the Agreement was the basis on which China peacefully resumed sovereignty over Tibet. Tibet was guaranteed local autonomy as were other parts of China where non-Han minorities were dominant.

As soon as the terms of the 17-Point Agreement became known, “the US embassy in India, fully backed by Washington, undertook a campaign to persuade the Dalai Lama to renounce the agreement and seek asylum abroad” (Knaus). Part of the problem for the team of US interpreters, led by George Patterson, was that “the Tibetan language at that time made no distinction between the concepts of autonomy, self-determination and independence and terms like suzerainty and sovereignty were not in the Tibetan lexicon” (Knaus).

Loy Henderson, the US Ambassador in India, captured some of the confusion surrounding the US presentation of its requirements to the Dalai Lama when he told officials of the Dalai that while the US government recognized Chinese suzerainty over Tibet, the Dalai Lama would be received in the United States as a “great religious leader and as leader of an autonomous state.” According to Knaus, US support was “contingent upon the Dalai Lama leaving Tibet, disavowing the agreement his negotiators had been coerced (sic) into signing, and continuing his opposition to Communist aggression (sic). Implicit in the understanding was US support for his return to Tibet ‘at the earliest practical moment as head of an autonomous non-Communist country’.”

Despite these overtures, the Dalai Lama, who had been for some time at Yadung near the Indian border, returned to Lhasa. In 1954, he went to Beijing where he was received by Mao Zedong who assured him that the peaceful liberation of Tibet “would be implemented at a pace acceptable to the Tibetans” (Knaus). However, Tibetan communities in Sichuan, Gansu and other Chinese provinces would be subject to the social and economic changes being implemented in the wake of the Chinese people’s revolution and some of these policies, such as the confiscation of weapons and of land belonging to the nobles and the monasteries were already in evidence by 1954. The national minorities policies of the new Government respected cultural and religious practices but assisted the serfs to emerge from the cruelty and poverty of feudalism, and that was at the expense of the nobility and the senior lamas.

In this situation, the Dalai Lama had a clear choice: to use his authority as the Dalai Lama to support the transition from feudalism and help in the emancipation of the serfs, or to prevent the break-up of the feudal estates and lands of the monasteries and keep the serfs under the control of the nobility.

In 1956, the Dalai Lama visited India to celebrate the 2,500th anniversary of the birth of Buddha, but he then returned to Lhasa, despite the urgings of his two brothers who were working with the US imperialists. One of the brothers, Gyalo Thondup, who had left Tibet in 1952, was approached the same year by Guomindang officials offering arms for an anti-Communist guerilla army. He decided instead to accept US imperialist support for the same purpose. The CIA eventually undertook the military training of a nucleus of reactionary Tibetans who were parachuted into Tibet in 1957. One group met up with Gompo Tashi, who Knaus describes as “a wealthy trader from the Kham area”, who was active in the area between Lhasa and the Indian border. In 1958 and 1959 the CIA dropped rifles, hand grenades, machine guns and 26,000 rounds of ammunition to Gompo Tashi’s “army”.

The Dalai Lama made the fateful decision to desert the Tibetan people and throw in his lot with the US imperialists and the Tibetan reactionaries during an uprising by the social elite in Lhasa in March 1959. Although the PLA quickly put down this uprising of the nobles, it took no action to prevent the Dalai Lama from leaving Lhasa and heading to India.

With the Dalai Lama in its pocket, the CIA stepped up its support for violent counter-revolutionaries amongst the Tibetan émigré community, training them at Camp Hale, Colorado and in Nepal. More reactionary armed groups and huge quantities of weapons were dropped by the CIA into Tibet between 1959 and 1961, but, as Knaus acknowledges, “the guerillas were unable to establish bases inside Tibet.” The CIA financed the Tibetan émigrés to the tune of $US1.7 million a year for operations against China, and put the Dalai Lama on a $180,000 annual retainer. This support for violent émigré actions against China continued until the early 1970s, and ended in this form with Nixon’s visit to China in 1974.

Meanwhile, other developments were occurring in the Tibetan émigré community in India. As spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama could not advocate violent counter-revolution for the restoration of feudalism in Tibet. Such advocacy, despite his record of cooperation with the CIA, would have quickly eroded his credibility as a religious leader with the masses of Tibetans inside and outside of Tibet.

Having followed their spiritual leader into exile, however, there were some in the émigré communities that grew impatient with the Dalai. They supported his separatist agenda, but were for the violent methods espoused by the US imperialists. Such persons tended to gravitate around the Tibetan Youth Council, which was established by critics of the Dalai Lama in 1970. Relations between this group and the Dalai’s faction were exacerbated after 1988 when the Dalai dropped his 29-year long demand for full Tibetan independence, and put forward instead the tactic of “autonomy”.

The Tibetan Youth Council has taken over the role of “organizing military training for young exiles in jungles surrounding Tibetan settlements in India”[2]. One of its leaders, Jamyung Norbu, came to India as a child and joined the CIA-trained Chushi Gangdruk guerilla force that operated in Tibet from bases in Nepal. Jamyung says straightforwardly that “not all Tibetans are the Dalai Lama…I’ve met lamas who tell their followers that killing one Chinese is the karmic equivalent of building a thousand stupas”[3].

The current (2008) President of the Tibetan Youth Council is Tsewang Rigzin (centre, at right). He was elected in December 2007. In January 2008, the TYC and several other hard-line groups set up the Tibetan People’s Uprising Movement (TPUM). The TPUM has called for precisely the sort of violence that occurred in Tibet and elsewhere this March. However, its leaders have tried to conceal its role so as to make the killings and the burning and looting carried out by separatists in Lhasa, Sichuan and Gansu appear to be “spontaneous” reactions to Chinese “brutality”[4].

It is the activities of the TYC and the TPUM that prompted the Dalai Lama to threaten to resign – not as Dalai Lama, for that is a birthright through reincarnation – but as head of the so-called Tibetan Government-in-Exile. The Dalai was quite specific in linking his threat to violence committed by Tibetan separatists who were rejecting his leadership of their movement.

It may turn out to be one of history’s ironies that the Dalai Lama, the leader of Tibetan separatism, is consigned to the dustbin of history, not by the People’s Republic of China, but by violent factions among his own émigré community.

The separatist agenda, created by US imperialism to destabilize what was then the newly born People’s Republic of China, will then enter a new phase, and so will relations between China and the US imperialists.

[1] See John Kenneth Knaus’ Statement at the House International Relations Hearing on Tibet, March 11, 1999 at http://www.tibet.ca/en/newsroom/wtn/archive/old?y=1999&m=3&p=21_1

[2] Ajay Singh, Fires of Frustration, Asiaweek September 11, 1998.
[3] ibid
[4] See “Black Days for the Dalai Lama” at http://chinamatters.blogspot.com/2008/03/black-days-for-dalai-lama.html

1 comment:

ZepaniahW said...

Excellent work Mike - I have posted extracts from your article on Tibet on the International Marxist Education Assocation on You Tube.

Greetings from Nickglais