Thursday, March 1, 2012

UN Support for Tibet: Are Tibetans Unrealistically Optimistic?

The hunger strike organized by the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) in front of the UN Headquarters at New York City enters its 9th day.  The main purpose of this indefinite hunger strike is to appeal the United Nations (UN) to immediately send a fact finding delegation, pressure China to stop the undeclared martial law, pressure China to allow international media, pressure China to release all political prisoners, and pressure China to stop patriotic re-education in Tibet[i].  However, the question that remains hidden from discussion is – How well the UN will respond to these appeals?

With a hope of analyzing this question, the piece is an attempt to review the past UN resolutions on Tibet, to study the rise of China, and to share my conclusion.  As a note of caution, when I mention TYC’s hunger strike, it does not mean in any way to question or relate to the three hunger strikers.  Rather, the onus is put on the “act” of hunger strike.

Historical Background

Just after a year of signing of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, China’s People’s Liberation Army entered Tibet in 1950 with the aim of gradually invading all of Tibet.  In that same year, the Dalai Lama appealed to the newly formed UN to protect Tibet from the invasion.  However, nothing was done since Tibet was not a member state of the UN[ii].  Moreover, with no support from the new independent neighboring country, India and The United Kingdom, an appeal from Tibet (via Tibet Mission based in Kalimpong) was deemed and discarded by the UN as a communiqué from a non-governmental organization. 

When Tibet started to lose all hopes on the UN, a big surprise came from a very small and unlikely country.  On November 17, 1950, the Chairman of the El Salvadorian delegation, Hector Castro wrote to the President of the General Assembly requesting the “invasion of Tibet by foreign forces” to be included on the agenda for the General Assembly[iii].  Thus, the first UN resolution on Tibet was made possible.  In the next few years, two more resolutions on Tibet were passed in 1961 and 1965.

After 1965, there was not even a single resolution on Tibet.  Among many defining factors, one that can’t be ignored was the October 1971 UN resolution to recognize the People’s Republic of China as the legitimate government of China.  It replaced Republic of China (now known primarily as Taiwan).  Thus, Communist China took birth in the UN with a permanent seat in the Security Council.  This was a huge blow for any hope of future resolutions on Tibet in the UN.

Rise of China

From the 1950s to 70s, communism was considered a threat to Western form of democratic government.  The US support for Tibetan Resistant Movement (Chu-Shi-Gang-Druk) in 1950s and 60s was primarily intended towards negating this threat by causing nuisance to the Communist China.  However, the perception towards Communist China changed with the Rising China.  Economically, China is now not a threat.  China is bread and butter for many countries in the world.  Billions of people depend on China’s cheap exports.  At present, China is a neo-liberalized socialist authoritarian state that succeeds in putting itself on the world map as the global manufacturing center. 

In addition, during these economic downturns, many developed countries seek support from China to stabilize their country’s economy.  China is an economic savior for many developed countries and a friend for many underdeveloped countries such as African countries.  To make it short, China is a power to reckon with – not only in the international economic and social spectrum but also in the global political arena.

Thus, it may be too naïve to think the UN as a world organization.  It is very political and undemocratic.  Five superpowers own the veto to stop any resolutions.  The recent veto by Russia and China on Syria Uprising is a good example of how handicapped the UN is.

Discussion and Conclusion

Putting this historical and rising China into perspective, one may be able to understand why Tibet failed to see even a single UN resolution after 1965.  At present, hoping for UN resolution on Tibet may not only be unrealistic but optimism at its worst.

Coming to the present TYC’s hunger strike, there is no question on the need and significance of the five-point appeals.  However, the question is on the effects of hunger strike?  The likely results or effects could be:

An official from the UN may assure to “discuss” the Tibet problems (but not by putting forward as an agenda).  Hunger strike may stop with a general satisfaction that the UN assured to discuss the appeals.  The UN may put Tibet as a human rights problem in their report.

The end result may be same as past hunger strikes i.e., no progress or improvements in Tibet.  Tibetans in exile will soon not worry about the five-point appeals while TYC might consider this hunger strike as an achievement in its annual report.  At the end, everything is back to SQUARE ONE.

With these act of protests (including hunger strikes), Tibetan in exile may be showing tacit support for self-immolations in Tibet.  Tibetans in Tibet keep burning with the hope that Tibetans in-exile will do something.  But what Tibetans in exile have been good at doing is only creating News Headlines that stays for a day or two in print or media.  How long and far Tibetans in exile can go like this?

To conclude, the piece is not to question the hunger strike.  Rather, it is to highlight key areas that Tibetans in exile often miss and that Tibetans in exile tend to repeat time and again.  It’s a high time to discuss and rethink any future course of actions for Tibet and by Tibetans.

Bhod Gyalo!

[i] Tibetan Youth Congress (2012). Retrieved March 1, 2012 from
[ii] Tibet, the United Nations, and Human Rights. Retrieved March 1, 2012 from
[iii] Tsering Shakya(1999). The Dragon in the Land of Snows. Penguin: New York.

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