Seven Questions: What Tibetans Want

From Foreign Policy magazine, via A Glimpse of the World:

The most vigorous Tibetan protests in decades have been crushed by Chinese soldiers and police. expert Robert Barnett explains why the most significant action is taking place outside Lhasa and what we can expect the Chinese to do next.

Foreign Policy: What does the average Tibetan want? Is it independence, or a greater share of Tibet’s modernization and economic growth, which has been dominated by Han Chinese?

Robert Barnett: Not really either of those things. We have to be very careful not to confuse exile politics, which is a demand for anti-China this and anti-China that, with internal politics, which is much more pragmatic, complex, and sophisticated.

A very important sector of Tibetans have become very wealthy because China has poured money into creating a middle class in Tibetan towns, though there hasn’t really been a dividend for the countryside and the underclass. So, we can’t explain this as just economic modernization. We could explain the violence against the [Han] Chinese in that way. It could have to do with that. But the violence is present in just one demonstration out of 50 in the past two weeks.

These protests are really about two things: A huge sector of the rural population has said, “Tibet was independent in the past. We reassert that belief. That doesn’t mean we demand that it be independent again, but we are reinserting that into the discussion.” And, “The Dalai Lama represents our interests.” I suppose a possible third thing is, “We are certainly not happy with Chinese President Hu Jintao.” This is a huge political statement that nobody anticipated.

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