Tibet Was China’s First Laboratory of Repression

Tibet Was China’s First Laboratory of Repression

Xi Jinping is bringing methods honed in Xinjiang back to the Himalayas.

n the early 2000s, the Free Tibet movement galvanized the world. From celebrity endorsements to Simpsons cameos, the media launched the plight of Tibet into the Western imagination; the suffering of Tibetans under a foreign regime became well known. But today, with atrocities in Xinjiang and Hong Kong dominating the narrative and Tibet now more sealed off than ever, news about the Himalayan region has been reduced to stray sentences in coverage on Chinese aggression.

Yet oppression in Tibet has only gotten worse. On Aug. 29, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced plans to “strengthen unity and socialism” in Tibet by building an “impregnable fortress” to ward off splittism. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) views Tibetan disobedience, violent or nonviolent, as separatism, which, in Beijing’s eyes, threatens national security and expansionism. So when the 2008 Tibet protests erupted, fomented by discontent with decades-long repression, the CCP ruthlessly responded by killing and arbitrarily arresting protesters. But these immediate measures were not enough. The CCP began to plan a long-term policy of forced assimilation.Trending Articles

Chen Quanguo, then a rising star in the CCP, arrived in Tibet as the new party secretary in 2011 and rapidly transformed Tibet into one of the most pervasive police states in the world, a model that would soon be adopted in Xinjiang against the Muslim Uighurs. Chen implemented an urban design—a panopticon-like system that is euphemistically referred to as “grid-style social management”—that enables CCP police officers to easily surveil Tibetans. Also in the name of counterterrorism, Chen oversaw the formation of “double-linked households,” an Orwellian social system in which family members are encouraged to report one another to the authorities at any hint of transgression. In 2016, Chen became Xinjiang’s Communist Party secretary and nationalized these policies, bringing the techniques practiced on Tibetans to Xinjiang.

China has additionally seized the opportunity presented by a saturated news cycle to facilitate sinister policies against Tibetans. While the Hong Kong protests have absorbed fervent worldwide attention since last summer over an alarming extradition bill, Nepal and China signed a contentious extradition treaty in January. Xi arrived in Nepal to negotiate diplomatic proposals between the two countries. One proposal was a treaty that would extradite newly arrived Tibetan refugees from Nepal. After initial reports that Nepali officials would not authorize the treaty, Xi met secretly with Nepal’s foreign minister, Pradeep Gyawali, to sign it. This agreement condemns captured Tibetan refugees in Nepal to the rarely merciful penal system of mainland China. The Hong Kong bill and protests may draw attention, but an independent government shifting its policies to appease Beijing is just as worrying.