BRI’s impact on Tibet require far wider scrutiny

Tibetans feel that the massive investment in infrastructure across their country is geared towards tightening Beijing’s stranglehold on Tibet

By Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury | The Economic Times

NEW DELHI, India, 4 May 2019

The second edition of Belt and Road Initiative or BRI Summit is over but the mega project deserves far greater scrutiny than it is currently receiving, including the impact that it may have on the people of Tibet.

Tibetans inside and outside of Tibet have repeatedly expressed deep concerns that the massive investment in infrastructure across their country is not aimed at improving people’s lives, but is geared towards tightening Beijing’s stranglehold on Tibet.

They have seen millions of nomads forcibly relocated from their land, their pristine environment ripped open by mines, their way of life threatened by pollution in their rivers and lakes, and the construction of a network of roads and railways designed to make it easier for Chinese companies to raid their resources. The Belt and Road Initiative is a natural extension of these plans.

The route between China’s eastern cities, Pakistan and markets in the west passes through Tibet, and there is reason to fear a further tightening control over Tibet, against the will of its people. Much of the infrastructure that China has been building in Tibet has also been created to more easily access Tibet’s precious resources, so there is also reason to fear more and more of Tibet’s resources heading out of the country under the Belt and Road Initiative.

It should be noted that as plans are developed to facilitate the movement of resources through and out of Tibet, Tibet’s people cannot move freely. Their country is littered with checkpoints, the borders of the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region are tightly controlled and Tibetans live under constant, intrusive surveillance designed to prevent any dissent or protest against the human rights abuses they are subjected to every day. Those who are caught protesting or criticising the government are routinely imprisoned and tortured. Under the Belt and Road Initiative, The trucks and trains carrying resources to the west will enjoy a freedom that Tibetans can currently only dream of.

“I should add that there has also been increasing concerns about the Belt and Road Initiative among western leaders, including President Macron of France and Chancellor Merkel of Germany. In March 2019 President Macron called for an end to “naivety” about China, saying that letting Chinese companies buy up EU infrastructure such as ports had been a “strategic error” and adding, “the relationship between EU and China must not be first and foremost a trading one, but a geopolitical and strategic relationship.” Chancellor Merkel said Europe’s involvement in the project “must lead to reciprocity and we’re having a bit of trouble in finding it,” according to John Jones ‘Campaign and Advocacy Manager Free Tibet’

Tibet is crucial to this initiative. In 2016 China’s deputy director general of the Department of External Security Affairs, Liu Yongfeng called Tibet the gateway to South Asia during a talk on its role in the Belt and Road plan.

Control of Tibetan Buddhism is also a possible method for China to gain power and acceptance in Belt and Road countries which have large Buddhist populations like Nepal and Sri Lanka. The Fifth World Buddhist Forum in October 2018 which is managed by China, held a session on how Buddhism can contribute to the BRI.

In Tibet the belt and road can be associated with Chinese mining, increasing Chinese pressure, influence and surveillance along with sinicization of religion and construction of improved rail and road links between Tibet and China. Beijing claims there are benefits for Tibetans including a better way of life and increased GDP. But the Government in exile has denounced the BRI plan for Tibet. China’s Belt and Road initiative will lead to colonisation, subjugation of Tibet and exploitation of natural resources in the region, the head of the Tibetan Government in exile, Lobsang Sangay said late last year.

He said the move is very damaging to water, air and land of Tibet. “For us, one road leads to the colonisation of the Tibet, one road leads to extraction of all kinds of minerals and natural resources. Hence, for us, the one road leads to net loss.” Sangay warned US leaders about the BRI and the Chinese influence it brings. He said that the world should learn from the Tibetan experience so they can avoid it.

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