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President Xi’s call for bolstering defences in Tibet ‘misguided’ and ‘unrealistic’: Lobsang Sangay

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s call for bolstering border defences in Tibet and “sinicisation” of Tibetan Buddhism are “misguided” and “unrealistic”, the head of the Tibetan government-in-exile has said.

Lobsang Sangay, the sikyong or president of the Tibetan government-in-exile, also expressed concern at China’s military build-up on the Tibetan plateau, and questioned Beijing’s “military expansionism and its intentions on the ‘five fingers’ as well as on the border regions of Himachal Pradesh (HP) and Uttarakhand”.

Xi had given a call to promote the “sinicisation” of Tibetan Buddhism and to build an “impregnable fortress” to maintain stability in Tibet while addressing China’s top leadership on Saturday at a forum on future governance in Tibet.

Also Read: Sinicise Tibetan Buddhism, build fortress around Tibet, says Xi Jinping

Xi was quoted by state-run Xinhua news agency as saying that the government and military leaders should “solidify border defences and ensure frontier security” as well as ensure “national security and enduring peace and stability” in Tibet, which shares a long border with India.

Responding to Xi’s remarks about building “an impregnable fortress” in Tibet, Sangay said: “China has been quietly militarising the Tibetan plateau for over 60 years under the pretext of development and modernisation. For Tibet, this has only led to an influx of soldiers, Han (Chinese) settlers, and weapons.

“For its neighbours, this militarisation of the Tibetan plateau has led to a military build-up on its borders, jeopardising the already contentious border regions as evidenced by the recent Galwan incident.”

Sangay said that “to foster stability in Tibet, China must first address the genuine grievances of the Tibetan people and not to forget the 154 Tibetans who have set themselves on fire in protest against Chinese policies in Tibet”.

He added that the increasing militarisation of Tibet is a “serious source of concern for the Tibetans as well as India and Asia’s security at large. Restoring the status of Tibet as a zone of peace with its historical demilitarised border with India is the only way of enduring peace in Asia.”

Sangay, who heads the Central Tibetan Administration based in Dharamshala, HP, said: “The root cause of instability in Tibet is not the Tibetan people’s faith, but the repressive and failed policies of the Chinese government. The continuation of these hard-line policies and repression is only going to make matters worse. That’s why genuine autonomy based on the ‘middle way approach’ is the only viable solution.”

He also refuted Xi’s call for “sinicising”. “China’s policy of sinicising Tibetan Buddhism is a misguided attempt at controlling the Tibetan people’s religious belief and the reincarnation system. China must draw on its past experiences and allow the Tibetan people to maintain its distinct faith and religious traditions,” he said.

The remarks were a reference to increased efforts by Beijing to choose the next Dalai Lama. Chinese authorities have said they would reject any successor to the current Dalai Lama chosen outside China, and experts have contended that any Indian involvement in the issue could potentially affect bilateral relations.

The Chinese president’s assertions and Sangay’s response came against the backdrop of the dragging India-China border standoff.

Tensions flared again on Monday, when the Indian Army said it had thwarted China’s “provocative military movements” to change the status quo along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on the southern bank of the Pangong Lake.

Some experts have suggested that the Indian government should play up the Tibet card as part of efforts to pressure the Chinese to complete the stalled disengagement and de-escalation process on the LAC.

Sangay said Buddhism is more important than communism for Tibetans.

“To force them to treat communism as more important than their faith is not only a violation of international religious freedom, but is also deeply misguided. Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism is never going to work. The last 60 years of Chinese rule in Tibet is a testament to that fact,” he added.

The demolition of Larung Gar and Yarchen Gar, two of the largest Buddhist institutes in the world, by Chinese authorities was a “tragic example of Chinese atrocities on Tibetan Buddhism”, he said.

Despite their suffering, the people in Tibet are “still strong and remain faithfully devoted to the Dalai Lama”, Sangay said.

He also emphasised that, as envisioned by the Dalai Lama, Tibetans seek “genuine autonomy within the framework of the Chinese constitution”. He added, “Resumption of dialogue with…the Dalai Lama or his envoys remains the only foreseeable solution to resolve the Tibet issue.”

The Central Symposium on Tibet Works was the Chinese Communist Party’s most important forum for Tibet policies.

The two-day meeting was the first such gathering since 2015.

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