Manjushri’s Sword: Rethinking Tibet & East Turkestan’s Roles in Dealing with China
The intention here is to argue that the roles for Tibet and East Turkestan when it comes to dealing with China are far greater than just a humanitarian context (as important as it is).The unhindered inclusion of China into the international community has resulted in a severe corrosion of the norms based structure governing it. To commence the process of isolating China (and the damage that comes with it) we must employ pre-Westphalian levers to which China is very sensitive to. This requires a thorough understanding of Chinese nationalism, its systems of legitimation, and the vulnerabilities introduced by its civilizational thought through a careful execution of strategic empathy. China presently finds itself in a state of ‘imperial overstretch’ whereby opportunities exist where Tibet and East Turkestan become gateways of influence, information and systemic instability. Using China’s thought against itself and leveraging Tibetan and East Turkestani nationalisms can aggravate China’s woes further than has been recognised, partly due to having the wrong lens to view them so far. Going beyond self imposed mental restrictions and weaponising Chinese analogues is choosing the battlefield to one’s advantage.
China’s Sacred Geobody & its Relations with its Peripheries
China’s perception of strategic security is informed by a long cultural narrative of protecting the mainland from foreign powers and influence. While all countries have a nationalistic fervour or sense of revanchism with the idea of a homeland corresponding to territory, China has a distinct take on the matter. China’s territories do not just embody the land of the nation but draw a divine connection between its extent and its control by the Emperor. The notion that China is a sacred, indivisible unity is deeply rooted in Chinese culture and their extensive history. In the context of the unique compacts between Han racial perceptions, their homogenising character, Han mythos, Han theos, and enduring Confucian values, China can be considered a ‘sacred geobody’, a unique entity in its existence. It is a victory of ‘space over place’- a cartographic measure ushering in the subsumption of the local into the national through an authoritative proclamation of sovereignty - not only territorial but cultural, institutional, and for China, religious. This idea of what China is, and what China means, is encapsulated by the term ‘a sacred geobody’.(1)
Chinese administration has continued to be influenced by Confucianism, beginning with the ancient Zhou dynasty till today’s Communist Party of China. Confucianism brought stability to a country that had prior been impacted by frequent changeovers in dynasties. Confucian philosophy encouraged that every person had a place in society, the importance of a virtuous life, filial piety and ancestor worship. Furthermore, he emphasised the connection between the physical and the moral world. One such teaching includes, ‘Heaven does not have two suns and the people do not have two kings’. A consequence of this teaching is that there is only one cosmic environment, only one true way to live and only one correct political system.(2) Based on the Confucian framework, we see the resilience of systems of legitimation such as the Mandate of Heaven, as well as enduring Sinocentrism and a Han superiority complex.
The Qin Dynasty marked the beginning of China uniting under the first emperor of China. Emperor Qin abandoned the title of King and created the honorific title Huangdi. Huangdi is a fusion of two separate mythical titles, with one half from the Three Sovereigns, and another from the Five Emperors. This title was an exclamation of two great feats. The first being, a reunification of the sacred lands of civilisation, and the second being a unification of the progeny of the Yellow Emperor, the founder of the Han people. Therefore, the Emperor embodies a sense of dual unity to an ethno religious people and territorial nature. The unification arising out of the Qin Dynasty still exists today, with scholars suggesting the common denominator of the Han race is a reason, where 92% of the Chinese population identifies as Han, where the identity is now synonymous with the nation.(3) Geographically speaking, 90% of the Chinese population live in Eastern China, where the western half contains only about 6% of their population but accounts for over half of the territory of China. One can see China’s slow absorption of its occupied geobodies over the course of history as being driven by building mythical linkages between other erstwhile ‘barbarian’ races and the Han. An example from history is the incorporation of distinct identities under the Han umbrella under the Tang’s Sinicisation of South China.(4) Ethnocultural identities have been central to the Chinese project, in line with the Confucian precepts at its soul, with multiculturalism being anathema. Such attempts have been made on East Turkestan and Tibet as well, stretching from fabricating mythos to the current genocide in East Turkestan. The situation in East Turkestan is particularly dystopian, where Uighur children are forced to learn Mandarin, where millions remain incarcerated(5), tortured to relinquish essentials of their faith(6), and where forced birth control is being used to wage demographic warfare.(7) Subduing the peripheries is not merely a matter of armed suppression, but can only be guaranteed by the erasure of ‘problematic’ identities.
How are China’s peripheries still ‘weak’?
China’s peripheries are still very restive and perceived as such by Beijing.This is evident by comparing changes in local security budgets for the Tibetan region and Xinjiang in comparison to the rest of the PRC. While Chinese domestic security spending across all regions and provinces grew by 215% between 2007 and 2016, Xinjiang registered a whopping 411% increase, while Tibet grew by 404%, and Qinghai’s grew by 316% (Qinghai’s population is roughly a quarter Tibetan). Sichuan’s two Tibetan autonomous prefectures, Ganzi and Aba, grew by 295%. Xinjiang alone almost doubled its budget from 2016 to 2017. Since 2010, China has spent more on domestic security compared to its external defence. Data has become progressively scarce, most definitely on purpose.The restive nature of both regions can be deduced from these numbers, as are China’s increasing efforts in suppression(8).
However, the real vulnerabilities are intangible because it is a matter of perception for China. These regions aren’t merely provinces, but organs in the Chinese sacred geobody.(9) A removal of any of these territories is not merely a shrinkage for China, but a catastrophic sacrilege portending grim times. It is a dissolution of one sacred whole, and a conclusive ‘sign from heaven’ signaling a removal of its mandate from China’s presiding ruler. Hence the more tenuous the relationship between the Han centre and the restive periphery, the greater the anxieties concerning legitimation of the ruler in Beijing.
The fact that the Tibetans and the Turkic speaking Muslims of Xinjiang still do not consider themselves Sinic, only adds to a deep sense of insecurity regarding the unity of China's sacred geobody- an ethnocultural fact which China has repeatedly attempted to change. There is a long history of attempts to co-opt the ethnolinguistic origins and histories of the non- Han into a broader abstract Han centric umbrella, drawing on mythic emperors and genealogies with a rather imaginative reading of history. Most notably, Chiang Kai- Shek, one of modern China’s founding fathers and the last nationalist President before the Communist takeover in 1949, invested considerable effort into constructing a mythological ethnocultural narrative that sought to consolidate ‘nationalities’ like the Tibetans and all Muslims within the Han ethnic fold, while making allowances for variation in religion.(10) This is because including the non- Han into a sacred geobody is an internal contradiction, a cause for both worry and consternation.
This brings us to the circumstances behind the reintroduction of the ethnonym ‘Uighur’ in Chinese Turkestan (today’s Xinjiang) in the first Xinjiang Nationalities Congress in 1934. The term Uighur had been dead for some five centuries before it was revived by Lenin in 1924 when the various Turkic speaking peoples in Soviet Central Asia were labelled with divisive ethnonyms. The Soviets influenced the Kuomintang warlord-governor Sheng Shi-tsai’s decision to label all the Turkic speaking Muslims settled in oases in the Tarim Basin, ‘Uighur’ along Soviet lines from a decade earlier. This clubbed together previously overlapping sedentary Turkic speaking Muslim communities around oases such as the Kashgari, Taranchi, Turki, and Sart-Kalmuk which existed under a broad, fluid ‘Turki or East Turkistani’ identity label. The Han Chinese previously only recognized such people as Chuantou Hui or ‘turbaned Hui’, with Hui being a label for all Muslims encompassing varying ethnicities(11).
Imperial Russians (later, the Soviets), and then the Chinese had their own differing expansionist modus operandi at work, motivating the re-imposition of the name ‘Uighur’. Starting in 1924, the Soviets embarked on a policy of manufacturing identity labels for the Central Asian peoples. There were two reasons for the continuation of such actions. The first was creating ethnic divisions where only softer cleavages existed, trying to break up a geobody into competitive ethnolinguistic nations, stressing on their differences for their legitimation. The second reason was to make these people fit into a Westphalian framework, dominated by rigid ethnic states as opposed to distinct but closely related peoples identifying themselves as members of a unified geobody. This endeavour was opposed assiduously by the Central Asians, exemplified by numerous revolts as well as the insistence of the Jadids, an influential Islamic revivalist movement, to call themselves ‘Turkis’ or Turks, an indication of the strong recognition of the unity of this Geobody.(12) The Chinese, however, adapted this Soviet formulaic prescription of imposing identity labels for its own purposes. They did not merely stop at dividing the communities of Xinjiang from its greater Turco- Mongol geobody, but maintained a consistent intent of Sinicising them.This process was categorically pre-Westphalian in nature, leveraging the soft differences within a cohesive geobody to engineer the division of the same to its advantage. Muslim intellectuals in Xinjiang realised Chinese intentions, and opposed this division and fought to be identified as ‘Turki’ or ‘East Turkestani’.(13) To simplify, the Chinese turned soft lines into hard ethnic divisions so as to divorce East Turkestan from its organic geobody and absorb them into the Sinic sacred geobody. This is not the first instance of China expanding its geobody through this dual means of division-cum-absorption in its history. South China and Yunnan have been Sinicised by such means, and China failed with Mongolia even as it does not relent with Tibet. A Soviet project was thus co-opted into the Middle Kingdom, fitting neatly into China’s historic mould.
Historically, China followed a decentralised form of governance in relation to its Han heartland & non-Han peripheries. De-centralisation here does not necessarily connote autonomy. The Qing dynasty had Ambans presiding over such provinces, and even governors nearer to the heartland often attempted to assert control. The centre and the provinces had a loose relationship and the centre attempted to control these provinces by retaining the fealty of the local leadership. This process waxed and waned based on the degree of intrigue in the Forbidden Palace, however, the fundamental nature of relationships between the centre and the peripheries were characterised by a distance. The sway the centre had over its Ambans and Governors remained inversely proportional to their distances. These governors or plenipotentiaries themselves depended upon a hierarchy of local leadership, where factional and vertical infighting was rife. In a way, Chinese administration was merely a layer, which when scratched, revealed a feudalistic hierarchy of leaders who acted as the foundation for Chinese rule.This mode of power relations exercised using this specific administrative technology is a feature common to that part of the world, and is at odds with a modern, Westphalian paradigm.
In Xinjiang prior to 1949, the Kuomintang courted ‘Chinese Nationalists’ among the political elites from the Turkic speaking population, such as the Russian Empire born Burhan Shahidi, who also played a significant role in the adoption of the ethnonym Uighur in the first Xinjiang Peoples Congress in 1934.(14) The Kuomintang governor was a warlord called Sheng Shi-tsai, at whose behest Shahidi countered prominent Turkic nationalists in the region at the time such as Muhammad Amin Bughra. This not only displays the factional strife existing between elite sections, but sheds light onto the nature of East Turkestani politics. Tribal allegiances, warlords, a hierarchy of local leaders, and two Great Powers, all existed simultaneously. The sociopolitical hierarchy of leaders was not too dissimilar from the Chinese, and the understanding of this administrative technology allowed the Chinese to ultimately manipulate factions to its interests.
The Chinese Communist Party was able to take control of East Turkestan in its entirety by co-opting two opposing warring political factions in the region in 1949. On one level, Mao Tse Tung’s representative Deng Liqun was able to negotiate a surrender of the areas held by the Kuomintang by negotiating with Burhan Shahidi. Mao was also able to co-opt the leadership of the Soviet backed Second East Turkestan Republic led by Saifuddin Azizi, with the man in charge Xi Zhongxun (Xi Jinping’s father) insisting on a ‘soft touch’ as a means of control.(15) Therefore, China spread its rule on the shoulders of local elites, as it has for all these centuries.
Saifuddin Azizi, Xi Zhongxun (the father of Xi Jinping) & Burhan Shahidi in Xinjiang circa 1952.
Image Credit: Public Domain Image via Wikimedia Commons
Following the foundation of the PRC in 1949, the Chinese took administrative technology beyond just administration. In 1956, in his capacity as a co-founder of the Islamic Association of China, Burhan Shahidi was dispatched to the Arab world as a part of the PRC’s diplomatic efforts.(16) As a consequence of Shahidi’s efforts, Egypt under Gamal Abdel Nasser officially recognized the PRC and simultaneously ended relations with the ROC in Taiwan. This officially ended American led diplomatic sanctions on the PRC. That same year, Shahidi led a delegation of Chinese Hajj pilgrims to Saudi Arabia, where he held meetings with King Saud as well as King Hussein of Jordan.(17) In the Islamic world, where pilgrimage is largely accepted to be beyond the pale of political consideration, it is a component of their administrative technology. The PRC deftly took advantage of this confluence of administrative technologies in their diplomatic overtures to the Islamic world. The recognition of administrative technology provides China tools beyond conventional diplomacy. This is not just in regards to external states but also Xinjiang & Tibet.
Tibet on account of its distance from the Han heartland and due to the nature of its local leadership (‘bloated bubble of monkish power’ as Lt. Col. Francis Younghusband rather uncharitably described during the British military expedition to Tibet in 1903-4(18) remained independent enough to never pay any tribute nor tax during the Qing & Kuomintang periods. Given the nature of Tibet’s historic quasi-theocracy, the Panchen Lamas, who were second in spiritual authority to the Dalai Lamas, were often readymade candidates for Chinese manipulation. Soft cleavages between the two were most notably exploited in the cases of the 9th and 10th Panchen Lamas. In fact, the Chinese Communist Party refused to even begin negotiations for what became the infamous 17 Point Agreement in 1950-51, until the 14th Dalai Lama and his administration officially recognized the would be 10th Panchen Lama.(19) This fits neatly into China’s mould, where it co-opts local leadership when it cannot replace them.
This modus vivendi explains the recurrent theme of warlordism in China preceding reunification, with the most recent example being the capricious warlord governors of the Kuomintang. The strength of the province and that of the centre is locked in perennial tensions save for moments of extreme centralisation, which despite their temporary successes, have not succeeded in changing this model of operation.
The 14th Dalai Lama: China’s Boogeyman
While East Turkestan is one part of a much larger geobody, Tibet is its very own sacred geobody, embodied in the person of the Dalai Lamas who have held the unique position of being Tibet’s religious and temporal rulers since the 17th century (ie the 5th Dalai Lama onwards).The concept of Tibet’s sacred geobody is best summarised by Gyalo Thondup, one of the 14th Dalai Lama’s elder brothers, who once commented to Hu Yaobang in 1981 that, ‘the people of the Tibetan nationality should be unified under a single administration...Under the Manchus, parts of Kham and Amdo were split off from Tibet and incorporated into the Chinese provinces of Qinghai & Sichuan. I compared Tibet to the human body. If you cut off the arms and legs of a human being, the human being is incomplete’.(20) Comparing Tibet to a human body is emblematic of a sense of intrinsic wholeness, where the whole is more than simply a sum of its parts. It is this wholeness which forms the keystone for any sacred geobody, including Tibet.
Unlike, say East Turkestan, legitimacy of rule is not diffused across a range of elites but is concentrated in the personhood of the Dalai Lama, who is also inseparable from Tibet’s sacred geobody. Recognizing this, the PRC unsuccessfully attempted to incorporate the current 14th Dalai Lama into their administrative technology from 1950 to 1959, when he finally fled to India in the wake of the mass Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule. He has been a thorn in China’s side ever since. A multitude of elites, beginning with the ‘traitor of Chamdo’ Ngabo Ngawang Jigme, were bought over by the Chinese, but it did little to dislodge restiveness from Tibet- a testament to the political resilience of Tibet’s sacred geobody, including its institutions such as the Dalai Lama. As a matter of fact, despite the silent acquiescence of the Tibetan aristocracy with Chinese administration, this still was not able to prevent the mass uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.(21)
It is thus not surprising that the Tibetan Government in Exile under his tutelage has been a source of much consternation for the PRC, despite not exercising any tangible hard power. This is because the Tibetan Government in Exile not only dilutes China’s claim of being the sole legitimate representative of the people of Tibet but also its non negotiable sovereignty. It is an open challenge to Chinese power, subverting its administration, and an authentic Tibetan voice China has not been able to subdue.
The Dalai Lama’s authority is still accepted as the final word on several matters in Tibet, often exposing the limits of China’s authority in the region and flexing the extent of his own writ. In response to an investigation which revealed a flourishing trade in tiger and leopard skins in Tibet in 2006, the Dalai Lama issued strongly worded statements elaborating his own personal opposition to the trade, along with pointing out its complete contradiction with Vajrayana Buddhism. The result was the instantaneous erection of mass bonfires throughout Tibet in which such contraband was burned, much to the chagrin of Chinese authorities.(22) Even today, any disturbance in Tibetan areas under Chinese occupation are attributed to ‘the Dalai clique’ by the Chinese state controlled press.(23)
Confining India’s and Tibet’s relations to being exclusively cultural would be grossly misunderstanding their relative roles. Indian civilisation forms the bedrock for Tibetan self- perception, and the two geobodies share the same schemas through which they make sense of the world. Their large zone of people to people contact in every sphere of social existence goes much beyond its face value. Tibet is deeply influenced by what India thinks, with a constant interchange of their self- positions and interpretations of the world. Tibet’s geobody extends into India as well, with parts of Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Ladakh having varying degrees of ethnolinguistic relations. A culturally Tibetan Kingdom, Bhutan, also lies within India’s orbit.
India also hosts a range of Tibetan institutions in exile, ranging from the political to the cultural. These institutions, legitimised by the Dalai Lama, exert an incredibly strong influence on Tibet while discrediting Chinese backed initiatives. Large monastic universities like Ganden, Sera & Drepung thrive in exile in comparison to their Chinese controlled ‘shells’ in the TAR. This religious-cultural apparatus can be politically leveraged against Chinese interests, something the Tibetan refugee community has repeatedly done with implicit Indian blessings. The relationship has a little known yet explicit security component to it, with a highly secretive force known as the Special Frontier Force attached to India’s external intelligence agency, the Research & Analysis Wing. It is dominated by ethnic Tibetans and specialises in operations against the Chinese (its most famous recruit being Tenzin Choegyal, the youngest brother of the 14th Dalai Lama)(24). It is separate from the regiments of the Ladakh Scouts, Sikkim Scouts, and Arunachal Scouts, as also ethnic Tibetans serving in other units of the Indian Armed Forces.
The late Prof. Sh. PN Dhar, Principal Secretary to the then Indian Prime Minister, Smt. Indira Gandhi, after being ceremonially inducted into a Khampa tribe by officers of the Special Frontier Force in Chakrata, Uttarakhand in May 1975. (Note the Tibetan ‘Snow Lion’ insignia on the officers' uniforms.)
China is not only acutely dextrous in its underhanded use of administrative technology, but is also amply aware of the functionings of sacred geobodies. One such time, where China almost managed to subdue Tibet without expending any efforts occurred in 1981. Deng Xiaoping offered the Dalai Lama a blank cheque on Tibetan rights, with the sole exception being negotiations on complete independence. Hu Yaobang followed it up with five conditions, containing the details where the devil lurked. One of the conditions was for the Dalai Lama to return to live in Beijing with occasional visits to Tibet, and China receive him at its borders, while another was an invitation for Tibetans in exile to return, where the Chinese government would ‘look after them’.(25) The question to be asked here is not whether the deal should have been accepted (it was not), instead, the more pertinent question to ask is what would be the costs for either party to go back on their word after giving it. For the Tibetans, it would’ve been a disaster, with the Dalai Lama’s credibility shaken, him taken as hostage along with dissidents who returned, and the Tibetan resistance receiving a fatal blow to their convictions. China, on the other hand, would have no costs whatsoever, but gain all things said in the previous sentence, along with devastating the ability of exiled Tibetans to regroup after such a grievous loss. With costs and benefits so clear, it is only natural to see where the cards would have fallen, with China’s pre- Westphalian desecration of agreements further pointing towards the same direction.
The Gap between Centre and Province
China's attempts to strengthen the bond between Centre and Province is to close the administrative distance between the two. Administrative distance is not the same as physical distance, and comprises three interrelated elements- time taken to transmit decisions, time taken to convert policy into action, and the loss of coercive power over transmission time. While technology and infrastructure has drastically cut down administrative distances, the potential chokes on information and transport are asymmetrical still largely within provincial hands. As a matter of fact, credible information becomes a scarce commodity in a country like China, where local apparatchiks suppress unpalatable happenings to keep their bosses in good humour. It is evident that China has looked closely at these realities and acted. It has built an extensive system of multimodal transport connecting Xinjiang and Tibet to the rest of the country (and each other), and is constantly building a communications-cum-surveillance complex (including 5G infrastructure, which would be a big force multiplier when it comes to exerting control down to the last man).(26) It already appoints its choicest Quislings on every level of government, but also brings in corps of Han administrators and technocrats, acting as a supercharged version of an Amban or plenipotentiary. At the same, PLA troops and other Han militias are flown in and saturated to suppress any dissent.
China is acutely sensitive to the four aforementioned dimensions, and its historical paranoia would not be quenched until complete submission is achieved. China also realises that these four legs are supporting the edifice of its occupation, and these have deep connections to forces beyond its borders, due to the nature of their geobodies. Hence, it exports surveillance technologies across Central Asia and purchases their silence through debt trap diplomacy when it comes to Xinjiang.(27) For Tibet, it is trying to appoint its own Dalai Lama, by propping up a counterfeit one. It also intruded into Indian territory with one of the objectives being to browbeat it into stopping a military road threatening China’s road connecting Xinjiang to Tibet, as also the Karakoram pass. The perception of a tenuous string connecting the centre with the periphery remains within Beijing’s heads, as well as in many aspects on the ground.
Rules of Thumb
As is now abundantly clear, there is clear continuity when it comes to China’s paranoia with its peripheral borderlands. This is particularly telling as it now reveals the key issues on which the PRC is more than likely to have irrational & disproportionate reactions to. Therefore, the cracks in the Great Wall are not as opaque as they might seem at first glance. It is equally evident that administrative technology has been China’s timeless answer to these perceived weaknesses. Not only has Chinese paranoia about weak peripheries been a continuous feature of Chinese strategic thought but is intertwined with China’s quest to unify and maintain the unity of their sacred geobody. This paranoia, while sometimes reflected in Chinese caution, is also a weakness to be exploited. Small references or actions concerning China’s peripheries will entail a disproportionate Chinese response and act as a potent stressor on the ruling CPC.The recent Chinese silence on its casualties in its Galwan Valley misadventure of 15th June, 2020, is already causing a mounting furore amongst citizens and veterans alike. What is essentially a Chinese tactical operation gone awry is being seen through the prism of weak peripheries, stoking fears and unwelcome phantoms far greater than warranted.This sense of civilisational paranoia can be leveraged to further intensify China’s siege mentality and nudge them towards isolationist acts, undercutting their heft. The USA’s Freedom of Navigation operations in the South China Sea, as well as China’s neighbours resolutely standing up to transgressions is one aspect of it. A low hanging fruit, however, is to ramp up diplomatic pressures concerning Chinese actions in their peripheries. The USA’s targeted sanctions against Chinese officials in Xinjiang is one such example, and a consistent tonality of resoluteness would do much to make China feel undermined. While questions of secession may be too unpalatable for the international community, a posture of ‘aggressive neutrality’ must be adopted, where China is relentlessly questioned and challenged about its excesses in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong.
For India, according to the Dalai Lama its highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, goes far beyond merely ruffling feathers with China. There is arguably no bigger ambassador of Indic thought and ethos than anyone else. He has continuously supported a humane, rules based vision of the world inspired from Indic thought stretching back millennia.The self proclaimed ‘son of India’ is also symbolic of the deep civilisational ties between the Indian and Tibetan geobodies, and a soft power move against a China which wishes to export its cunning, sterile ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.’ While the Dalai Lama remains a parable of humility, knowledge, and a values based life, according him this honour would be not just a snub to Chinese expansionism, but also towards the inherent narcissism of its Emperor when he proclaims ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ along with Han centrism. The key to managing China through ‘aggressive neutrality’ is to use low cost, low hanging opportunities and send a consistent message of recalcitrance which would signal crystal clear intent.
Tonglen- Giving and Taking
China’s administrative technology offers particular weaknesses due to its pre-Westphalian nature. It is dependent on hierarchies of local leaders and its use of people to people contact (transcending borders) as well as what the west would call Track II diplomacy. These operational linkages can be exploited in both Tibet and Xinjiang as channels of subversion as neither is isolationist in nature.
This would require a close relationship with the communities involved as well as willingness to deal with a range of local leadership formal or otherwise. This would entail using people as channels of both information and influence. Culture and language plays a tremendous role in presenting oneself and one's intentions as credible. Considering the nature of societies in China’s periphery, dealing with them outside of Westphalian state to state relations is an option worth exercising. In a way, it is walking along the footprints of China.
Dharmakaya- The Truth Body
Understanding the nationalisms of the peripheries is crucial. We are already aware of the circumstances behind the reintroduction of the ethnonym, ‘Uighur’. Yet, human rights violations in Xinjiang are often misrepresented as exclusively ‘Uighur’ grievances, which is very far from the truth of its position within a broader geobody. Human rights excesses are by no means just limited to people classified as ‘Uighur’ but also several other Turkic speaking Muslims in the province such as the Kazakhs. In particular, the Kazakhs have historically been one of the most restive elements in Xinjiang, as revolts led by Osman Batur(28) indicate. Several thousand Kazakhs have also been illegally detained in the PRC’s camps, something which has caused much outrage and protest in Kazakhstan, a testament to the unity of the broader geobody.(29) In Tibet’s case too, the existence of sophisticated institutions in exile with a strong hold upon the soul of the Tibetan geobody provides a strong spectrum of influence throughout all walks of life within Tibet.
In totality, the short term objective of the aforementioned rules of thumb is to trigger Chinese paranoia regarding the security of its periphery and forcing it to allocate a disproportionate amount of its resources and attention to those particular regions. This is not just in terms of military allocation but also in terms of infrastructure relevant to communication and surveillance. This could be China’s ‘Vietnam moment’ within its own borders. The long term objective is to once again force China to associate foreign interaction with internal instability particularly through 5th columns. This would put China on the backfoot and help reclaim many a global institution that has fallen to systematic Chinese subversion. The prime example being the WHO.
The Means Exist, do we have the Will?
In order to manage China, one does not necessarily need to reinvent the wheel, one only needs to closely examine how China thinks and operates. The mechanisms have long been in existence, it is only a question of recognising and leveraging them. This would involve shedding our exclusive Westphalian idea of what diplomacy could be, and learn to work on multiple levels of administrative technologies. The global system is reverting to an anarchical struggle, and powers like China are civilisationally geared to upend the covenants of agreements or treaties in favour of its perceived civilisational goals. So far, it has been given a free run on a battlefield of its own choosing, and a folly which began with Kissinger in 1972 continues to extract its pound of flesh upon the entire global architecture.(30) Learning to play China’s game, and willingness to do so, is the only way forward for evolving a sustainable management system for the world. Doing so would need us to go beyond our self imposed normative restrictions, caging us within postulates inapplicable to China. India’s ancient collection of law texts, the Dharmashastras, have provided us a poignant reminder of much use- Dharma (righteousness) protects when Dharma is protected. Protecting a painstakingly built, even if imperfect, rules based order will require us to steer through contentious actions outside of its ambit as well. The means exist, do we have the will?
“So I thought, you are the destroyer of the Dharma after all…”- The 14th Dalai Lama on Mao, in his autobiography Freedom in Exile.(31)
This piece is dedicated to His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, and the brave warriors of the Special Frontier Force.
(Ishan Dhar graduated from the George Washington University with a Bachelors in Political Science in 2015 and has participated in Tiger Watch's conservation interventions since 2014. He has also co-authored the titles Wildlife Warriors and Jhalana: Leopard Forest in the Pink City).
(Deekhit Bhattacharya is currently a student of Economics at the Delhi College of Arts and Commerce, University of Delhi. He has interned previously at the Australia India Institute at New Delhi, and the Federation of Indian Exports Organisations under the Ministry of Commerce, the Government of India).
(Ashley Eadon is a New Colombo Plan Scholar which is an initiative of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs. Ashley has previously held the role of ‘Youth Advocate for the United Nations’ in Bangkok, Thailand. She is a Youth Citizen of the Year (Macedon Rangers Shire), co-founder of community education project ‘Dear CRIS’ and studies a Bachelor of Laws and Psychological Science at La Trobe University. As a youth leader, she has spoken at the United Nations Conference Centre in Thailand, Australian Parliament House and the Australian-Indian High Commission).
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