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This House believes that tibet should be an independent state
This House believes that tibet should be an independent state
Located high in the Himalayan Mountains, Tibet is one of the most isolated places in the world. Yet while it is geographically and culturally distinct, it has a long history of interaction with its neighbours. An aggressive series of Tibetan rulers built a large empire during the 9th century AD, repeatedly invading China, and while Tibet submitted to the Mongols, it was never quite conquered.
Tibet managed to remain largely independent of both the various Chinese and Indian dynasties until 1724 when the Qing dynasty sent a resident commissioner. His power varied – from 1794 until the late 19th century he wielded significant control over the court of the Dalai Llama, but the Llama remained nominally absolute, and Chinese influence collapsed prior to the 1911 revolution.
Tibet’s autonomy came to an abrupt end in 1950 when Chinese troops invaded. For the next nine years the Dalai Llama ruled in uneasy cooperation with the Chinese government before fleeing to India in 1959. Since that time China has pursued an aggressive campaign of secularization and modernization which on one hand has resulted in a large rise in living standards and the abolition of feudalism, but on the other in repression of Tibetan culture and the forced importation of Han settlers.
There are two main aspects to the question of Tibet’s future. First there are questions of how China has governed Tibet. Has China failed to govern Tibet in an appropriate manner, or has it done a pretty good job? Has it violated human rights in Tibet? Was its exiling of the Dalai Lama inappropriate? Is it illegitimate for China to govern Tibet while depriving it of its spiritual and historical leader? Does this constitute a suppression of its religious freedoms? How bad are China's human rights violations in Tibet relative to human rights violations elsewhere in the world where separatist movements exist? Is it really all that bad or are we just being hyper-sensitive to Tibet due to the public exposure of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan case? Has China stonewalled Tibet on negotiations, or has it been politically reconciliatory? Has China economically exploited Tibet or helped invest in and modernize it economy? Conversely, have Tibetans followed ethical and human rights norms in Tibet, or have they engaged in the same kind of abuses as the Chinese government? Have Tibetans killed and/or abused Chinese settlers in Tibet? Have Tibetan protests been peaceful and respectful, or have they been unethical and/or violent? Has the behavior of Tibetan exiles been appropriate, or have they been violent and revolutionary? Should a Tibetan right to self-determination survive any alleged Tibetan human rights abuses? Does Tibet have a history of human right abuses? What effect does this have on Tibet's bid for independence?
Secondly there are the more moral questions of legitimacy. Namely, whether the Chinese seizure of Tibet was legitimate, and whether that should have any bearing on the present.
Finally there are the questions of whether Tibet would be a viable independent state. Would it be able to resist Chinese influence? Would it only be able to do so with excessive Western aid? Would the latter justify Chinese fears about dismemberment? What would happen to the Han settlers who make up almost half the population?
 van Walt, Michael C., ‘The legal status of Tibet’, Cultural Survival Quarterly (Vol. 12, 1988), http://www.freetibet.org/about/legal-status
|Points For||Points Against|
|Tibet is a distinct nation with a distinct history that China illegally invaded||Tibet has made enormous strides under Chinese rule|
|Tibetans are rapidly becoming a minority in their own country||Tibet is almost 50% Han Chinese and they dominate the economy. Expelling them would be catastrophic|
|An independent Tibet would serve as a buffer state between India and China, reducing the chances of a regional clash||China has viewed the last century and a half as non-stop efforts by Westerners to divide China. This looks like another.|
|Tibet presents an explosive domestic political issue for China which the latter would benefit from eliminating||Tibet could never be a viable independent state and would either become a Chinese puppet or a launching pad for American and Indian power against China.|
Remember to choose a winning argument!
Tibet is a distinct nation with a distinct history that China illegally invaded
Tibet has a long history of independence going back more than 1500 years. Even in times of Chinese “domination”, Tibetans largely governed themselves independently of the small number of Chinese officials in Lhasa.
Tibet at most was a tributary of China, and was no more part of it than Thailand, Myanmar or Korea. And from 1911 until 1950 it was entirely independent and conducted its foreign relations as such, for example remaining neutral in World War II despite both its neighbours the Republic of China and the British Empire being on the side of the Allies.
Tibet’s annexation by China occurred under the guns of 40,000 Chinese soldiers, and the precedent begun by the invasion stands as one of the few post-1945 cases in which the national principle was abandoned and the only one in which a fully independent state vanished from the map.
When one notes that Tibetans have their own language, and a history that includes far more wars with the Chinese than examples of kinship, Chinese arguments of sovereignty have little bearing on the reality.
 van Walt, Michael C., ‘The legal status of Tibet’, Cultural Survival Quarterly (Vol. 12, 1988), http://www.freetibet.org/about/legal-status
In order for Tibet to have traditionally been viewed as part of the Chinese nation, there is no requirement that it have been under Chinese rule continuously. Like many other parts of “China”, it was ruled by China during times of imperial strength, and when governments weakened, so too did central authority. In this sense Tibet has a lot in common with Manchuria, another region that tended to drift towards autonomy during times of dynastic weakness.
One thing however has been clear – the variation in sovereignty in Tibet has been between autonomy and Chinese sovereignty. Even in the 9th century when Tibetan armies were outside the gates of the Tang Dynasty Capital of Chang’an, the Tibetans remained nominally the Emperor’s subjects as proclaimed by a monument from 823 stating “their territories be united as one”.
Tibet’s independence between 1904/11 and 1950 was consistent with this cycle. Tibet gained autonomy when China weakened, and this autonomy was as much a product of British influence as it was of any Tibetan desires themselves. In 1950, with China reunited under a strong government, Chinese sovereignty returned. It was undoubtedly the case that the local elites who were displaced resented this change, just as their predecessors did the previous times throughout history when Chinese sovereignty was restored, but this does not justify independence, especially when Tibetan independence in the past has always been a product of the dual factors of Chinese weakness and the strength of foreign powers in the region, neither of which is operative right now.
 China Daily, ‘From dynasty to republic’, 9 April 2008 http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2008-04/09/content_6601917.htm
Tibetans are rapidly becoming a minority in their own country
Due to systematic campaign of Sinocization, millions of Han Chinese have been encouraged to settle in Tibet, and with the support of the government they now dominate the economy and upper echelons of the administration. Demographically Tibetans are rapidly becoming a minority within their own country, and administratively this has already taken place.
While short of open genocide, the intent of the Chinese government is quite clearly the elimination of the Tibetan people as a distinct national, cultural and linguistic group. Not only are they attempting to drown them through settlement, but Tibetan students are forced to learn Mandarin in the schools and are being taught that they are Chinese.
While there may well have been past periods of Chinese sovereignty, the policies of the current Beijing government seem designed to produce an outcome far more permanent than those past efforts which respected Tibetan identity and culture.Improve this
Migrations for economic reasons is part of the modern global economy. Tibet in 1950 was massively underdeveloped with very low literacy rates, and little modern economic infrastructure. Given the determination of the Chinese government to modernize Tibet, the importation of workers was vital. Educated Chinese were needed to run the administration in the absence of qualified local elites willing to work with them, while Chinese teachers were needed to run the schools. In turn, they brought their families, and a host of businesses followed.
By the same token, teaching Mandarin is not an issue. There are 6 million Tibetans surrounded by 1 billion Chinese who speak Mandarin, teaching the language of commerce is an effort to integrate the Tibetans.
And integration is what the Chinese are after, as while no exact figures are published, it is overwhelmingly clear that Tibet is a net loser financially for them, and has been consistently since the 1950s. The costs of subsidizing a largely unemployed populous along with educational and infrastructure improvements has cost far more than the revenue coming in. If Tibet is a colony, China is not in it for the money.
 Coonan, Clifford, ‘Behind the façade of Chinese rule in Tibet’, The Intependent, 3 July 2010, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/behind-the-facade-of-chinese-rule-in-tibet-2017254.html
An independent Tibet would serve as a buffer state between India and China, reducing the chances of a regional clash
An independent Tibet would serve a useful purpose as a neutral and demilitarized buffer state between India and China. Given the rising economic and military clout of both powers, a future conflict is becoming ever more likely, and they already fought one war against one another in 1962.
An independent Tibet would mean that the two nations would no longer have a common border, making their rivalry less practical and far less pressing. This would reduce military obligations for both, and prevent the Tibetans from being caught in the middle of a future conflict.Improve this
On the contrary, this situation almost ensures that the Tibetans will become a puppet of one or another foreign power. Weak states almost invariably need allies to maintain their independence. An independent Tibet, especially one that has inherited the history of the last sixty years would likely be dominated by politicians who are militantly anti-Chinese, but would be too weak to defend itself against China. It would almost certainly become an Indian proxy, as its only hope of survival would be to attempt to gain the support of the United States and India against China.
In effect the creation of an independent Tibet, rather than avoiding conflict, would make it more pressing by moving the effective frontline hundreds of miles northward. Right now China and India may not like each other, but the Tibetan-Indian border is sufficiently mountainous as to make military action difficult if not impossible. By contrast, its northern border is much more easily crossed as the Chinese themselves showed in 1950. An independent Tibet would be a security threat to China and the region.Improve this
Tibet presents an explosive domestic political issue for China which the latter would benefit from eliminating
Tibet, and the resistance Tibetans continue to show to Chinese rule presents a toxic domestic and international political problem that costs far more than it worth.
Domestically, violence in Tibet is the most serious domestic disturbance facing the Chinese government, and the fact that there is nearly constant violence between Han Settlers and Tibetans forces the Chinese to alienate everyone in order to contain it. Furthermore, the economic and political disenfranchisement of the Tibetan people is an enormous domestic problem, as it has led to large numbers becoming unemployed and moving to other parts of China where they form an underclass.
Internationally, the Tibetan issue keeps China’s Human Rights record in the news and almost torpedoed the 2008 Olympic games. Given that China is already losing money on the province, it may well be worth it for China to jettison it in order to gain much greater international benefits.Improve this
Everything is comparative. The major reason why China does not face more serious domestic unrest is that its international and economic progress have allowed it to appeal to Chinese nationalism. Withdrawing from Tibet would be viewed as an act of weakness, one which would do far more to undermine the Communist party’s legitimacy and support base than remaining there.
Secondly, attacks on China’s Human Rights record matter less and less each year as trade with the PRC becomes more and more valuable to the West. It barely affected the Olympics and increasingly it is viewed as an effort by the West to divide China.
Thirdly, the cost of the province has to be compared against the potential security risks an independent Tibet, especially one under anti-Chinese leadership, would pose to Chinese security.Improve this
Tibet has made enormous strides under Chinese rule
Contrary to the impressions forwarded by the proposition, Tibet has made enormous strides under Chinese rule. The urban population has increased seven-fold since 1950, literacy has increased from the teens to being as high as 95%, and the average life expectancy has increased from the low 30s to the 60s.
Furthermore, with few natural resources and the economy in Han hands, there is a need for investment capital, and that capital can only come from China. Even the Dalai Llama acknowledged this in 2006, suggesting that a relationship with China similar to that between EU countries would be ideal.
 European Space Agency, ‘The Himalayan region’, esa.int, 18 February 2010, http://www.esa.int/esaMI/Eduspace_Environment_EN/SEM9VP0SAKF_2.html
 Literacy rate among young people climbs in Tibet, People’s Daily Online, 31 July 2008, http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90001/90776/90882/6464183.html
 Liu, Melinda, ‘Fears and Tears’, Newsweek, 19 May 2008, http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2008/03/19/fears-and-tears.html
Such progress has been self-serving, with many of the economic gains made by Han Settlers. Secondly it has come at the cost of Tibetan culture and the very national identity that Tibetans hold dear.
It is also absurd to suggest that these gains would disappear upon independence. Tibet would likely seek to continue to trade with China, and if that is not possible, there would be opportunities to gain investment from India or the West. The benefits of such trade could then be used to help the Tibetans themselves rather than Han settlers. As Ten Zin Samphel, a leader of the Tibetan community in Britain remarks "At the moment, the economic development is for the benefit of the Chinese… If Tibet were free, we could develop it ourselves."
 McGivering, Jill, ‘China’s quandary over Tibet’s future’, BBC News, 20 March 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/7305558.stm
Tibet is almost 50% Han Chinese and they dominate the economy. Expelling them would be catastrophic
Whatever the reasons or the moral legitimacy behind the move, Tibet is a very different place today than it was in 1950. According to the 2000 census, 2.3 million of Tibet’s 7.3 Million citizens are Han Chinese, and if temporary residents are added the numbers nearly double.
In the event Tibet achieves independence it is likely that these Han residents will face discrimination if not open pogroms. Already they are a constant target of riots launched by Tibetan Nationalists, events that often end in the destruction of Han businesses and property.
Such an outcome would not only be morally abhorrent – it would also be catastrophic for Tibet’s economic and political position.
This minority plays a key role in the Tibetan economy, and their departure would create a vacuum that could lead to an economic collapse.
Furthermore, any mistreatment of the Han Minority would likely push Chinese opinion, already of the view that the Tibetans are coddled according to Faread Zakaria, into support for military intervention.
The Economist’s James Miles remarked of the 2008 riots that "What I saw was calculated targeted violence against an ethnic group, or I should say two ethnic groups, primarily ethnic Han Chinese living in Lhasa, but also members of the Muslim Hui minority in Lhasa."
 ‘Transcript: James Miles interview on Tibet’, CNN, 20 March 2008, http://edition.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/03/20/tibet.miles.interview/
First of all it is worth noting that the Chinese settlers are themselves the product of deliberate campaign of cultural genocide on the part of the Chinese government. While individually they may be innocent, by their participation they have become targets. In this sense there is little difference between them and Israeli settlers in the West Bank or the former French settlers in Algeria.
But even granting that, there is no reason to assume this violence would continue if Tibet became independent and the major cause of conflict, namely the Chinese occupation, was removed as a major issue of contention. It could be expected that a new Tibetan government would have an incentive to avoid all of the harms outlined by the opposition.
Symbolic of this is the Dalai Llama’s remarks that Tibet’s future is linked to China’s and that an independent Tibet would benefit from a close relationship with China.Improve this
China has viewed the last century and a half as non-stop efforts by Westerners to divide China. This looks like another.
The last century and a half of relations between China and the West have from the Chinese perspective been one long period of national dismemberment. In 1842 the British took control of Hong Kong after the first Opium war, and after its sequel, China lost control of Shanghai and its own customs service. Efforts were made to sever Manchuria, Taiwan from China in the 20th, and Korea and Vietnam were fully removed from Chinese authority.
As a consequence the Chinese are quite paranoid about outside efforts to divide Chinese territory, and support for the Tibetan Independence, due to the fact that the West has no clear interests in the region, is interpreted chiefly as an effort to divide and weaken China.
As a consequence, western condemnation tends to be counterproductive, leading to public sentiment in China turning far nastier towards legitimate Tibetan demands.
These sorts of views on the part of the Chinese Public are far from unwarranted given the likely consequences of Tibetan independence, namely the creation of a Pro-Western, anti-Chinese state on their borders, and the Chinese are therefore likely to respond to future moves in favour of Tibetan independence the same way Americans would have reacted to Pro-Confederate moves on the part of Great Britain or France during the US Civil War.
 II. Origins of So-Called ‘Tibetan Independence’, http://www.china.org.cn/e-white/tibet/9-2.htm
While of obvious interest, it is hard to see how Chinese opinion is of vital relevance to whether or not Tibet should enjoy independence. Serbian opinion was almost certainly overwhelmingly against Kosovar claims in 1998, and it can be assumed that Southern Sudanese Secession may have been less than popular on the streets of Khartoum than Juba.
Furthermore, a large part of the reason for the reaction of the Chinese Public is that the Communist Party has consistently encouraged nationalist sentiment in an effort to deflect its own population from their lack of human and political rights. An independent Tibet would serve as a beacon of freedom in the region and might well inspire Chinese citizens to begin to make demands of their own for political and social freedoms.Improve this
Tibet could never be a viable independent state and would either become a Chinese puppet or a launching pad for American and Indian power against China.
Given the realities of geography, Tibet has little prospect of real independence. Landlocked, with few natural resources, and no clear way to get any resources it does have out, Tibet would be poor, and overshadowed by its much larger neighbours, China and India.
It would be faced with the choice of either becoming a prize to be fought over between those two powers or aligning itself with one or the other, most likely India given its difficult recent history over the last few decades.
The consequence would be that rather than giving the Tibetans greater freedom, independence would render them pawns, and rather than reducing tensions in the region, it would likely increase those between India, Pakistan and China. Tibet would be in the same position it was at the end of the 19th Century when it was a weak power at the mercy of the British and Chinese having to toe the line for whichever neighbour was stronger at the time.
Its hard to see how the United States could avoid being drawn into such a geopolitical quagmire, with likely negative consequences for the Sino-American relationship as well. The US having played a key role in gaining freedom for Tibet could hardly stand aside if that freedom was threatened, and the Chinese in turn would view any US influence in a free Tibet as further evidence of the existence of an American hand behind the Tibetan Freedom Movement.Improve this
Simple geography makes a general conflict over Tibet unlikely. Located on some of the most mountainous terrain in the world, moving large armies would be next to impossible in the region, with the consequence that conflicts like the Sino-Indian war of 1962 were contained by the simple inability of the combatants to bring supplies and reinforcements to the front.
Making Tibet a neutral buffer state would simply exacerbate these challenges by denying the likely combatants a common border behind which to build up military infrastructure. It may well be that China and India would become rivals for influence in Lhasa, but this would be a diplomatic war of shadows rather than a physical one, just like the current competition for influence in Myanmar which is in a similar position, and it would be a conflict which would provide Tibet with the opportunity to play the rivals off against each other in a way that would safeguard its independence as well as peace in the region.
 Kuppuswamy, C.S., ‘MYANMAR: Sandwiched between China & India and gaining from both’, South Asia Analysis Group, 31 January 2008, Paper no. 2574, http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/%5Cpapers26%5Cpaper2574.html
BibliographyChina.org.cn, II. Origins of So-Called ‘Tibetan Independence’, http://www.china.org.cn/e-white/tibet/9-2.htm
China Daily, ‘From dynasty to republic’, 9 April 2008 http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2008-04/09/content_6601917.htm
‘Transcript: James Miles interview on Tibet’, CNN, 20 March 2008, http://edition.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/03/20/tibet.miles.interview/
Coonan, Clifford, ‘Behind the façade of Chinese rule in Tibet’, The Intependent, 3 July 2010, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/behind-the-facade-of-chines...
European Space Agency, ‘The Himalayan region’, esa.int, 18 February 2010, http://www.esa.int/esaMI/Eduspace_Environment_EN/SEM9VP0SAKF_2.html
Kuppuswamy, C.S., ‘MYANMAR: Sandwiched between China & India and gaining from both’, South Asia Analysis Group, 31 January 2008, Paper no. 2574, http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/%5Cpapers26%5Cpaper2574.html
Liu, Melinda, ‘Fears and Tears’, Newsweek, 19 May 2008, http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2008/03/19/fears-and-tears.html
McGivering, Jill, "China's quandary over Tibet's future". BBC News. 20 March 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7305558.stm
Literacy rate among young people climbs in Tibet, People’s Daily Online, 31 July 2008, http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90001/90776/90882/6464183.html
Tsering, Lhasang, ‘India’s Tibet: A Case for Policy Review’, 17 March 2000, http://www.friendsoftibet.org/articles/india.html
van Walt, Michael C., ‘The legal status of Tibet’, Cultural Survival Quarterly (Vol. 12, 1988), http://www.freetibet.org/about/legal-status
Michael C. van Walt, an international legal scholar and a board member of the International Campaign for Tibet. "Tibet File No.18: The Legal Status of Tibet". Cultural Survival Quarterly (Vol. 12, 1988)
"Tibet: Its Ownership and Human Rights Situation," also known as the "China White Paper". Issued by Information Office of the State Council of the People's Republic of China in September 1992. (The definitive Chinese Government line on Tibet)
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