A new law passed by China mandating “ethnic unity” in state and social institutions in Tibet is raising concerns among Tibetans and outside observers, who say the law is aimed at destroying the Tibetan people’s national identity in their historic homeland.
Passed on Saturday by the regional legislature of China’s Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and set to take effect on May 1, the law drew immediate criticism from Tibetan activists, as well as from U.S. officials and politicians, who noted that Tibetans already struggle against immense pressure to Sinicize their culture and faith, an ever more narrow scope for them to practice their Buddhist religion and deteriorating human rights conditions.
Marco Respinti—director of the online Bitter Winter magazine, which monitors religious freedom in China—told RFA's Tibetan Service that China is now trying to “homogenize” Tibetans into China’s dominant ethnic Han culture, adding, “They call this sinicization.”
“At the international level, all governments—and especially the United States—must raise their voice against this cultural genocide and highlight the Tibetan issue in their public remarks,” he said.
The new law, titled “Regulations on the Establishment of a Model Area for Ethnic Unity and Progress in the Tibet Autonomous Region,” requires equal participation by non-Tibetan ethnic groups at all levels of government and in schools, private business companies, religious centers, and the military, according to state media reports.
“Tibet has been an inalienable part of the great [Chinese] motherland since ancient times,” the new law says, in language that rankles Tibetans, who largely few Chinese rule as an occupation impose when Communist Chinese troops invaded in 195o. It adds that all of China’s ethnic groups are “important members of the Chinese family” and must work together to uphold national unity and combat separatism.
Meanwhile, village committees and local communities shall “strengthen the establishment of a model of national unity and progress,” Article 23 of the new law states, adding that village rules and covenants should be reorganized to support “neighborly relationships of mutual respect, harmonious coexistence, solidarity and mutual assistance.”
In every case, ethnic minority culture should be seen as an inseparable part of a larger “revolutionary and socialist” Chinese culture, though, Article 11 of the new law says, adding, “Chinese culture is always the emotional support, spiritual destination and spiritual homeland of all ethnic groups in Tibet.”
Western Chinese provinces with large Tibetan populations like Qinghai and Yunnan approved similar laws last year, the South China Morning Post said in a Jan. 13 report.
Identity further undermined
Tibet’s new law will further undermine Tibetan national and cultural identity—already weakened by decades of ethnic Han Chinese migration into the region—observers told RFA’s Tibetan Service in interviews this week.
Speaking to RFA on Tuesday, Kunga Tashi—Chinese Communication and Outreach Officer for the New York-based Tibet Fund—said he fears that China’s new law masks what he called the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s hidden agenda to “completely wipe out Tibetan culture and ethnicity.”
In a written statement Tuesday, the U.S. State Department said it remains deeply concerned by “the lack of meaningful autonomy for Tibetans and the deteriorating human rights situation in Tibetan areas in China, including severe restrictions on Tibetans’ religious freedoms and cultural practices.”
“We continue to urge the Government of China to respect the religious, cultural, and linguistic identity of Tibetans, including by enabling Tibetans to study the Tibetan language in schools at all levels,” the State Department said.
Meanwhile, in a written statement, U.S. Senator from Florida Marco Rubio slammed China’s new ethnic unity law as “an explicit statement of the Chinese Communist Party’s remaking of Tibetan culture,” adding, “Ultimately, the CCP is enforcing a party-approved mold in order to reinforce the party’s control of Tibetan society.”
“We must voice our concerns and ensure that human rights are an integral part of our policy towards China,” Rubio said.
A formerly independent nation, Tibet was taken over and incorporated into China by force 70 years ago, following which Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and thousands of his followers fled into exile in India.
Chinese authorities now maintain a tight grip on Tibet and on Tibetan-populated regions of western Chinese provinces, restricting Tibetans’ political activities and peaceful expression of cultural and religious identities, and subjecting Tibetans to imprisonment, torture, and extrajudicial killings.
Reported and translated for RFA’s Tibetan Service by Tenzin Dickyi. Written in English by Richard Finney.