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Why is the re-election of Xi Jinping in China as harmful as it is for Tibet?

The Chinese president’s attitude towards Tibetan Buddhism can be read in his actions before the 20th Congress: monks, nuns, and activists were arrested, monasteries were destroyed, and surveillance was intensified.

 Why is the re-election of Xi Jinping in China as harmful as it is for Tibet?


Why is the re-election of Xi Jinping in China as harmful as it is for Tibet?

A Tibetan man named Lhotse was arrested and taken from his home in Sarxu County of Garzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan Province to operate an “illegal” WeChat group created just for the anniversary of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama Gone. This was another confirmation of the level of Chinese suppression of Tibetan culture and religion. The same is happening for the Muslim Turkic culture in eastern Turkestan (Ch. Xinjiang) and for the Mongolian Buddhist culture in southern Mongolia (Ch. Inner Mongolia).

Repression of non-Han minorities has always been a part of China’s approach, but Beijing’s government has adopted it more arrogantly in the 21st century, as it regards itself as an untouchable superpower.

Now, it is expected that Xi Jinping will consolidate his supremacy through an unprecedented election for a third term as Chinese president this fall. What would be the consequences for Tibetans? Many of them believe that their condition will go from bad to worse.

China must face low economic growth, confrontations with the United States and the Western world about Ukraine, and a crisis in the South China Sea. Xi Jinping has always responded to the crisis with a more assertive policy in controlling China’s territory. His recent unannounced visit to East Turkestan is similar to his unannounced visit to Tibet last year. These are not just appearances.

Xi oversees and controls how what he considers his masterpiece, “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics,” is implemented in areas with significant non-Han presence. Xi calls for complete control by the CCP of the acquired territories now known as autonomous regions, provinces and counties. Therefore, Tibet finds itself in a firing line with East Turkestan and many other “autonomous” entities in CCP-ruled China.

Historically, Tibet has given refuge to Chinese Buddhist scholars when they were excommunicated by Chinese emperors. Now, Tibet itself has been excommunicated by the Chinese Communist regime. Initially, it occupied the territory of Tibet. Now, it is eliminating the soul and essence of Tibetan identity, which is Tibetan Buddhism. President Mao once told the 14th Dalai Lama that “religion is poison.” Mao’s successors may not explicitly state this, but it remains the basis for his handling of Tibetan Buddhism.

When they entered Tibet, the Chinese communists promised not to interfere with the autonomy of monastic institutions nor to collect taxation from them. However, things took a turn for the worse after the 1951 signing of the Seventeen Point Agreement and the subsequent exodus of Tibetans in 1959, which involved the 14th Dalai Lama and several leaders of the Tibetan government. The Chinese then launched a full-front attack on Tibetan Buddhism, which climaxed during the Cultural Revolution.

This dark period in Tibetan history saw the greatest destruction of religious structures, the arrest of many high lamas, and the banning of Buddhism and other religious practices. Despite the fact that he tried to accommodate the Chinese, the 10th Panchen Lama was not only arrested but also had to go through a public strife/condemnation session like many other high lamas and individuals who were known to be involved in the Chinese project in Tibet. was considered a threat.

Why is the re-election of Xi Jinping in China as harmful as it is for Tibet?
Xi Jinping traveled to Lhasa by train during his 2021 visit. Source: Government of the Tibet Autonomous Region.


Although there was some relief under Deng Xiaoping’s leadership, Beijing continued to view Tibetan Buddhism with distrust and suspicion. According to many scholars, the 1987 Lhasa riots where Tibetan monks led the protests were inspired by the 1989 Tiananmen Square events (and the resulting massacre).

These events convinced the CCP that another crackdown on Tibetan Buddhism was needed. In 1995, the Chinese “disappeared” the legitimate 11th Panchen Lama recognized by the Dalai Lama and appointed their own 11th Panchen Lama. In 2007, Beijing called the State Religious Affairs Bureau Order No. 5 “Measures on the Management of the Reincarnation of Living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism”.

The order was enacted on 13 July 2007 and came into force on 1 September 2007. It states that a reincarnation application must be filed by all Buddhist organizations and temples (monasteries) in China before they are allowed to identify individuals as a tulku (reborn lamas). Giving an atheist party the power to control reincarnation, Order No. 5 added insult to injury to Tibetans.

Repressive mechanisms existed well before Xi Jinping. What did Xi add to the plight of Tibetans? The answer is technology. Under Xi Jinping, high technology is being used to oversee all Tibetan activities, especially those related to Tibetan Buddhism. Chinese tech giants like Tencent Holding Limited have developed new tools for personal monitoring.

Tibetan Buddhists themselves used new techniques to spread their religion, but the surveillance power deployed under Xi Jinping makes this more difficult. Any Tibetan activity on WeChat and other platforms that CCP does not like is immediately detected and punished. As Bitter Winter has pointed out, Tibetan monks are also being prevented from preaching in other regions of China.

Chinese evangelists sometimes argue that as the Tibetan economy and society move from “medieval” to “modern”, it is not surprising that religion declines. That this is just propaganda is proved by the fact that outside Chinese borders, in exile, and in diaspora, Tibetan Buddhism is flourishing. It would also flourish in Tibet and in areas of historical Tibet outside the Tibet Autonomous Region (where monasteries or parts of monasteries have now been destroyed) if religious freedom was granted.

What can we expect as Tibetans from Xi Jinping’s third term? The answer lies in the facts. In the months leading up to the CCP’s 20th Congress, which opens on 16 October, monks and nuns who try to spread Buddhism online are arrested and punished. monasteries are destroyed, and Tibetan teachers are prevented from doing so. All Tibetan Buddhist life, including teaching, and reincarnation outside Tibet, is strictly controlled. The stronger Xi Jinping is, the more he will crack down on Tibetan identity, culture, and religion. Tibetans will not celebrate his “historic” re-election. 

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