At last the world is waking up to the horrors inflicted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Waking up to the pictures of chained and blindfolded Uyghurs being forced onto trains to take them to concentration camps. Waking up to accounts of the forced abortions and sterilisations of Uyghur women. Waking up to the news that a ship seized by US customs officers contained 13 tonnes of human hair taken from the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
Those who thought “never again” after the abominations of Hitler’s Germany are now seeing history repeated. Then it was Jews. Now it is Muslims…and Tibetans. For what the world is now seeing in Xinjiang now has already happened, largely unseen, in Tibet. And the man who headed the reign of terror in Tibet is now in charge of Xinjiang: Chen Quanguo.
Chen is a cold robotic figure who seems at an early age to have a sense of humour and charisma double bypass. He has never been known to make a joke or tell an anecdote. His official speeches are dry as dust, colourless, and full of politically correct party jargon.
In Tibet, he established a vast swathe of “convenience” 24-hour police stations, as little as 15 metres apart, to carry out non-stop intrusive surveillance of the local population, bolstered by an extra 12,313 police officers. He instituted a programme with the Orwellian name of “Benefit the Masses”. This saw the annual despatch of 20,000 communist cadres to carry out investigations in every house to test for loyalty to the party. And he created a “double linked household” regime where so-called loyal families were twinned with suspect ones and acted as informers. By the time he moved on to Xinjiang, every single Tibetan household had been brought into this sinister system.
The vicious repression of Tibet, however, is not new. It has been intensifying over decades. Its exotic, deeply religious and stunningly unique culture is slowly being crushed out of existence by the brutal butchers of Beijing. Tibet, violently and illegally occupied by China since 1959, is now the second least-free country in the world, according to the respected US-based Freedom House. Only Syria fares worse, with even North Korea regarded as more free. Tibetans have no basic rights and are treated as second-class citizens in their own country in what is now an apartheid police state.
It was in 1940, while much of the world was engulfed in war, that an ancient ceremony took place in independent and isolated Tibet, in a specially constructed tented city just outside the capital Lhasa. Here was where a 4 year-old was enthroned as the new Dalai Lama. The boy, born in a farmer’s cottage in eastern Tibet, was identified as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama through his ability to identify key possessions. For example he had said without prompting: “My teeth are in there”, pointing to a small case which did indeed hold a set of the 13th’s dentures.
He was conveyed to and from the joyous ceremony on a palanquin, a covered sedan chair, carried by noblemen dressed in green satin robes and round red-tassled hats. He was given a golden wheel and a conch, representing respectively spiritual and temporal power. Incredibly, he sat passively through the whole ceremony, which lasted hours, and even successfully answered questions about scripture.
Today the Dalai Lama, loved by his people and now 87, is in exile in India where he has been since the Chinese invasion of 1959. The Beijing government calls this consistent advocate of peace and non-violence a “terrorist” and accuses him of “espionage activities”. Ordinary Tibetans have been imprisoned and tortured merely for having pictures of him, or for celebrating his birthday.
Buddhism is absolutely central to the Tibetan way of life, but under the communist regime, just as mosques are being flattened in Xinjiang, so in Tibet thousands of monasteries and nunneries were, and are being, destroyed. Some were even contemptuously turned into pig sties. Those that remain are run by two-dimensional Chinese apparatchiks who insist monks and nuns now prostrate themselves to images of Xi Jinping and other leading party functionaries rather than to religious icons.
Absurdly, the atheist Beijing regime has decreed that nobody can reincarnate without their permission. The principal purpose of this policy, of course, is to enable them to anoint their own Dalai Lama after the present incumbent dies, and so remove the legitimate focal point round which Tibetans congregate.
They have already taken steps to facilitate this by kidnapping the second most powerful religious figure, the Panchen Lama, who normally plays a role in determining the identity of the reincarnated Dalai Lama. At the age of 6, he was whisked away, making him the world’s youngest political prisoner. If he is still alive, and nobody has seen him since, he will be over 30. Instead they have installed what the Tibetans call the Panchen Zuma, or fake Panchen.
It seems any expression of religious belief can now be regarded as a criminal offence. Recently a Tibetan man was arrested because he was asking people to recite prayers to ward off the coronavirus. Meanwhile, in eastern Tibet, the authorities have ordered monks to remove all the prayer flags that traditionally hang from houses, mountains and monasteries, ostensibly as part of an environmental clean-up.
Nor is Beijing’s iron fist limited to religious matters. Tibetans are imprisoned and tortured for promoting the use of the Tibetan language, participating in Tibetan cultural traditions, or contacting people, including family members, outside the country. Xi Jinping, the butcher of Beijing, wants everyone within China’s borders and occupied territory to behave like Han Chinese. Under the new sinister “ethnic unity” policy introduced in January, no variation is to be tolerated.
Faced with this hopeless situation, Tibetans in desperation began setting fire to themselves while shouting pro-Tibet sentiments. 150 or so have died a horrible death this way. The Chinese then prevent a traditional Tibetan funeral and punish the remaining family members.
The Chinese word for Tibetans is man-tze, meaning barbarian. It is a word much more appropriately applied to the psychopaths who run China. The 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such.” That is what is happening in Tibet. Xi Jinping and his thuggish henchmen should be brought before the International Criminal Court and made to answer for their actions.
Yet by and large, the world has shrugged its shoulders and done nothing. Instead, insidious Chinese communist influence has been allowed to take root and grow like an invasive species. Here in Britain we are content to welcome record numbers of Chinese students to our universities, which is fine. But the pressure and intimidation that comes from Beijing is not. Professor Dibyesh Amand, an expert on Tibet and China at the University of Westminster, told me:
“The efforts made by Chinese Embassy officials to maintain disciplining influence over Chinese students is an open secret amongst many of us in the university sector.” The students, he says, are often sceptical about their government’s position on human rights, but remain silent for fear of surveillance. He himself had been warned by the embassy that his hosting of the then Tibetan political leader, Dr Lobsang Sangay, was “an unfriendly act” that would jeopardise his future visits to China.
Our universities host Trojan Horse Confucius Institutes which peddle propaganda, including telling outright lies about the history of Tibet and the position of Taiwan. They are even now shamefully complying with internet restrictions demanded by the Chinese government. Their students will search in vain for the three Ts – Tibet, Taiwan, and Tiananmen Square. It seems for some of our institutions, money trumps academic freedom. We should not be putting up with all this. Are Britain’s values really for sale at the right price?
The Chinese regime has no qualms about applying pressure anywhere in the world, whether on governments or individuals. Recently it turned its fire on two popular Chinese celebrities, Faye Wong and Tony Leung Chiu-wai, because they had attended an event in India marking the anniversary of the 17th Karmapa, the third most important Tibetan lama. They were warned to keep to the “national position on Tibet-related issues” and avoid contact with “the 14th Dalai clique”.
Why does the Chinese regime behave in this extreme way? I believe part of it comes from an arrogance that all other races are inferior to the Han Chinese – their word for their own country means “middle heaven”. But part of it is also a deep-seated insecurity that they cannot command the genuine respect of their populations but have to coerce it through violence and intimidation.
There is also a fear that the disintegration of the Soviet Union could be replicated in China, and so minorities like the Tibetans and the Uyghurs have to be sat on heavily. Tibet is important to China in other ways too – as the source of many natural resources, as a convenient place to dump nuclear waste, and as the military frontier with India. This year China has embarked on the construction of a chain of “border defence villages”. And the damming of rivers is now seriously affecting water supply into India. Yet there are hopeful signs that the world is waking up, not least because the Chinese regime has over-reached itself in Hong Kong. The world is beginning to realise that the bully boys in China have to be stopped.
In the United States, happily Tibet is one of the rare bipartisan issues between Republicans and Democrats. The 2018 Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act demands that Americans have the same freedom to access Tibet as the Chinese do to access the States. And Chen Quanguo, the architect of mass human rights violations in Tibet, has been barred from entering the US and had his assets there frozen.
Here in Britain we have a very important role to play. Uniquely we were in Tibet while it was independent. In 1904 the Lhasa Convention was signed between Britain and Tibet, followed by the Simla Convention of 1914. China was nowhere to be seen. Until the invasion Tibet had its own government, its own foreign policy, its own currency, its own stamps. No amount of history rewriting by the Chinese regime can change the historical facts. We know this. We were there. We saw it.
In 1940 Hugh Richardson, representing the British government, was the only westerner present at the enthronement of the Dalai Lama. Britain must now make its voice heard and play a leading role in ensuring the destruction of all things Tibetan is halted before it is too late.