Author: Warren W. Smith Warren W. Smith has a PhD in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He is the author of 'Tibetan Nation: A History of Tibetan Nationalism and Sino-Tibetan Relations'; 'China’s Tibet? Autonomy or Assimilation' and 'Tibet’s Last Stand? The Uprising of 2008'. He is currently a writer with the Tibetan Service of Radio Free Asia.
The history of Tibet under Chinese Communist rule is not exactly parallel to other countries or peoples that are or were “victims of Communism.” Tibet is primarily a victim of China and only secondarily of Communism of the Chinese variety. All previous Chinese regimes claimed sovereignty over Tibet; but it was only the Chinese Communists who were finally able to impose actual Chinese control and administration there. Tibet was a victim of Communist ideology and political methods in that the Chinese Communists used Marxist-Leninist ideology to justify their “liberation” of Tibet and they used Communist methods of political control to enforce their conquest and subjugation of Tibet.
Tibet is similar to the Eastern European countries that were victims of both the Soviet Union and of Soviet Communism. Tibet is most comparable to the Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, whose sovereignty the Soviet Union tried to eliminate. However, even in that case the Soviet Union preserved the formality of the Baltic countries’ “separate” political status within the federal system of the Soviet Union. Tibet, in contrast, has no such status under the administrative system of the People’s Republic of China.
Tibet is a victim of Chinese imperialism, facilitated and justified by Communist ideology, which has as its goal the elimination of Tibet’s separate national identity and the assimilation of Tibet and Tibetans into the Chinese state and nation.
Shortly after the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) established the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on 1 October 1949 it announced its intention to “liberate” Tibet and Taiwan. When Tibet failed to respond to overtures to “negotiate” its “peaceful liberation,” the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) invaded eastern Tibet and defeated the Tibetan Army stationed there. China then called upon the Dalai Lama’s government, which had sought refuge near the border with India, to negotiate under the threat of further advance of the PLA to Lhasa.
The PRC later claimed that its “liberation” of Tibet was “peaceful” because the part of eastern Tibet that the PLA occupied was already a Chinese province, created after the 1904 British invasion of Tibet, despite Tibetan administrative and military control there.
The Tibetan government was coaxed into ratifying The “Seventeen-Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet” with promises that neither the political, religious nor social systems in Tibet would be altered “unless Tibetans themselves demanded reforms.” The Agreement allowed the PLA and Chinese officials to enter Tibet, where they were careful not to abuse their authority until their political, military and logistical control was securely established.
When roads were completed from Qinghai and Sichuan to Lhasa and the PRC secured India’s acquiescence to Chinese control over Tibet in 1954 the CCP begin to propagandize for reforms of the Tibetan social, religious and political systems. The 1951 agreement allowed the CCP to promote reforms if any Tibetans could be persuaded to request them.