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Will Tibet ever achieve full statehood?

Question submitted by Brian Luckett, from Morgan State University, September 23, 2013

Answered by: Jerome A. Cohen, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Asia Studies


There is little prospect Tibet will achieve full statehood in the foreseeable future. Apart from preservation of its own power, China's Communist Party's highest imperative is the territorial integrity of the country. It is determined to keep Tibet a part of China and thus far the world community has acquiesced in China's claim. Tibetans who are Chinese citizens, whether in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) proper or scattered in neighboring areas of China, are denied the right to express themselves about their future. Tibetans living outside China are divided about whether to demand independence from China, i.e., full statehood, or meaningful autonomy within China, as the Dalai Lama and his political successor advocate.

The Chinese leadership misleadingly maintains that Tibetans already enjoy genuine autonomy, both within and outside the TAR. The terms of genuine autonomy—political, legal, religious, cultural, linguistic, social and economic—remain to be negotiated. Yet negotiations appear to be in a state of collapse. The clock is ticking, however, and the current crisis will probably become much worse when the seventy-eight-year-old Dalai Lama dies and a religious successor has to be chosen. Tibetans, always resistant to Chinese rule, will become increasingly restive as Beijing seeks to impose its candidate despite challenges to his legitimacy. The Communist Party apparently believes that time is on its side and is therefore unwilling to seriously negotiate while His Holiness lives. Is the Party's calculation correct? "Only the event will teach us in its hour," as Matthew Arnold wrote in a famous poem.