People's Republic of China: Background Paper on the Situation of the Tibetan Population

People's Republic of China: Background Paper on the Situation of the Tibetan Population


February 10, 2009
A Writenet report by Prof. Colin P. Mackerras
A Writenet Report by Professor Colin P. Mackerras
Commissioned by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
1 February 2005

The excerpt below was reproduced with permission from UNHCR.

Overview of the Situation since the 1990s

We can summarize the context of the contemporary period relevant to China and Tibet as follows:

  • China has continued and expanded its very rapid economic development, although disparities between rich and poor have widened greatly.
  • The economic growth has helped the strategic rise of China, and it is exercising growing influence in the world, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.
  • China has generally got on well with the outside world, including the Western countries. Two issues that have militated against improving relations are Taiwan and human rights. Taiwan is outside the scope of the present paper, but there will be much more to say about human rights below.
  • Socially China has seen increasing disturbances in such areas as labour and rural disputes, but they have been patchy and do not seem so far to pose a serious short-term threat to the survival of the CCP.
  • The CCP general-secretary from June 1989 to November 2002 and Chinese president from March 1993 to March 2003 was Jiang Zemin, while his successor in both posts is Hu Jintao. The transfer of power was much the smoothest of any in China for over a century.

We can summarize Chinese policy towards Tibet in the following points:

  • China has exercised zero tolerance for separatist movements.
  • It has striven to bring about rapid economic growth, including raising the living standards of the people, believing that prosperity will make the Tibetan people more willing to stay within the PRC.
  • It has maintained a limited autonomy, including a degree of religious and cultural freedom, but tried actively to increase Chinese control and cracked down on any signs that Tibetan culture poses a threat to the Chinese state.

These policies are actually quite similar to those towards other ethnic minorities in China, but separatism and threats to the Chinese state are not major problems other than in Tibet and Xinjiang.



Hintergrund Tibet

Die Proteste im Vorfeld der Olympischen Spiele haben die Aufmerksamkeit der Weltöffentlichkeit erneut auf die Konflikte um dieses Tibet gelenkt. Mit dem Ziel der Förderung einer öffentlich-politischen Meinungsbildung bietet die Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung jetzt ein überarbeitetes, aktualisiertes Tibet Dossier, das die Komplexität des Themas aus unterschiedlichen Blickwinkeln beleuchtet.