The modern world goes through significant changes when some countries dissolve and new states are formed. It is often accompanied by civil wars and animosities that last for years and even decades. China is one of those countries that are multinational. China has many minorities that live in geographical communities. One of those minorities is the Tibetans who want to form an independent state. Do they have a right to do that? This essay will undertake to analyze that.
Tibet is a geographic region located in the west of China. It is divided between several administrative units of China. There are around six million Tibetans living in the county. The question is whether Tibet should be recognized as an independent state? And also, how does the principle of "self determination" apply in this situation?
Tibet is a vast area that borders with India, Nepal and Bhutan. Its area is 2.5 million square kilometers or 965,000 square miles. The Tibetans live in five administrative units of China with Chinese population being or becoming dominant (Tibet at a Glance). For almost 1,500 years, the nation of Tibet has had a relationship with China that can not be called smooth and easy. The balance of power has not been one-sided and it shifted back and forth for many centuries.
Tibet fell under the rule of other countries and did not gain its independence until 1474 when an event, which was very significant for the Tibetans, occurred. In 1474, the abbot, who was over Gendun Drup, an important Tibetan Buddhist monastery, died. According to the beliefs of Tibetans, a child was born two years later and it was claimed to be a reincarnation of the abbot. He was raised to become the next leader. Afterwards, the two men were called the First and Second Dalai Lamas. The Fifth Dalai Lama obtained both spiritual and civil powers over the nation and thus, a new synthesis of power was born (Kallie Szczepanski). Since that time Dalai Lama has been recognized as the state leader.
The recent history of Tibet may help to shed some light on the present situation. In 1913, after the Chinese Revolution, the Tibetans expelled Chinese troops from Lhasa, its capital. Dalai Lama proclaimed Tibet as an independent state under his leadership. The Chinese Army tried to invade Tibet but it was defeated and both countries signed a peace treaty in 1918, which China refused to ratify. In 1950, the Chinese Liberation Army invaded Tibet. It was done under the claim of liberating it from “feudal oppression” (Tibet’s History).
The Chinese and Tibetan positions are obviously opposite. It is necessary to analyze them in order to understand the situation better. China states that no country has officially recognized Tibet and the treaty of 1918 was not ratified by China. Tibet asserts that recognition can be acknowledged by acts like treaties and diplomatic relations. Tibet claims that it had diplomatic missions of several countries, stationed in Lhasa, and it had treaties signed with such countries as Mongolia, Nepal and even Russia.
China’s perspective is that Tibet was liberated in 1950. China states that its use of troops was done in order to liberate Tibetans from the system of feudal slavery. Thus, in 1951, China and the Tibetan Local Government signed a 17-point agreement, regarding the peaceful liberation of Tibet. The Chinese say that the 14th Dalai Lama agreed with the fact that Tibet is an integral part of China (Tibet and China: Two Distinct Views). China asserts that many Tibetans lived in extreme poverty and were given the equal rights and opportunities because of liberation. China believes that Tibet is a modernized region now, which benefits from economic growth and social progress. The Chinese government claims that people of Tibet fully support the central government and the Communist Party.
The Tibetans obviously have the opposite perspective. They claim that even though independent Tibet was not a perfect place, its authorities initiated a chain of reforms. They assert that mistreatment of peasants was prohibited by law and that peasants owned the largest share of land in Tibet. They say that in old times famines were unheard of in the area and claim that the so called "liberation" brought death to over a million of Tibetans. They also say that the Chinese do not teach the Tibetan language in schools and practice the policy of assimilation of the ethnic Tibetans and “dilute” the indigenous population with Chinese settlers.
Each multi-national country faces two contradicting principles: one is the right of every nation for self-determination and the other is territorial integrity. In most cases, countries aspire to retain all their territories under the rule of the central government. However, this position often comes into conflict with the aspiration of a particular nation to form an independent state. Article 1 of the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States defines that a territory to be recognized by the world community as an independent state should have four qualifications: a) a permanent population; b) a defined territory; c) government; and d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states (Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States). As it can be seen from those characteristics, Tibet has all the four qualifications and so it can become an independent state.
However, the principles of territorial integrity, stated in Article 2 (4) of the UN charter, underlines that UN member states should refrain from using force or threat against the political independence or territorial integrity of any country (Article 2(4) UN Charter). This principle is often interpreted and the recent history of the global relations proves it, as “the prohibition to use force by one state in order to conquer or overthrow another state”.
According to the Montevideo Convention, the criteria of statehood in Tibet are legally met. The region conforms to all the criteria, for being considered as an independent state. However, the question of permanent population has to be clarified regarding the willingness of the majority of the Tibet population to form an independent state. The principle of defined territory also needs to be determined in the context of the region’s administrative borders, since Tibet was divided among five administrative units of China. The area has its local government and has the capacity to interact with other states.
The requirements three of the Montevideo Convention can be regarded as existing in the case with Tibet since there is the Tibetan Government in exile. It is represented by the fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, who when speaking on the leadership over Tibet in September of 2011stated that no acceptance or recognition should be given to any candidate, including those from China since he is the legitimate leader of Tibet (Statement of His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, on the Issue of His Reincarnation). His position for the independence of the region is firm and he claims it is consistent with Tibet’s independence. The Tibetan Government was formed in accordance with modern democratic principles. It operates in regard to all matters related to Tibetans in exile and it continues to strive for the restoration of Tibet's independence. The people of Tibet, who live both in Tibet and outside the area, accept this Government in Exile, which is based in Dharamsala, North India, as the only legitimate Tibetan government. The government includes the Parliament (Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies), the Kashag (Council of Ministers) and the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission (Tibetan Politics. Government).
Regarding the fourth requirement - acceptance of Tibet by other states – no state has officially recognized Tibet as independent. The United States consider Tibet as a part of China. In 1986, the Administration under President Reagan confirmed that the USA recognized Tibet as a part of China (Tibet). Western countries, including Britain, did not recognize Tibet as a fully independent stat, either (Jayshree Bajoria). Thus, the question of Tibet’s independence in relations with other states is unsettled. It will be resolved when China and Tibet are able unravel this issue with one another.
Thus, there may be a way to form an independent state peacefully as it happened during the break of the Soviet Union or the "divorce” of Czechoslovakia into two independent stats: the CzechRepublic and Slovakia. And that received a legal base, when the EU presented its Declaration on the Guidelines on the Recognition of New States. It had the following requirements for recognition: a new country should be built on a democratic basis, it should accept appropriate international obligations and commit itself to a peaceful process and to negotiations (Recognition of States – Annex 1).
As based on the above, it is may be concluded that it is possible for a region to obtain independence since it meets all the four Montevideo Convention criteria. However, it should be done through a peaceful dialogue with China and any violence should be avoided at any cost. The regional referendum, regarding the formation of an independent state should be taken prior to making any declarations and the region’s borders should be clearly defined. If the results of the above actions are positive, then the national leaders should start a dialogue with China, regarding the region’s independence. However, it could take a long time to obtain some tangible results if they can ever be obtained in the present circumstances.