China has unveiled a White Paper entitled, Democratic Reform in Tibet – Sixty Years On. The White Paper, published March 27, comes at a politically-sensitive time. Last month marked the 60th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s escape to Tibet and the beginning of his exile in India. Concurrent to the publication of the White Paper, China has tightened security arrangements, disallowing foreign journalist and diplomats to enter Tibet.
China uses White Papers to advocate for its views on issues that are controversial internationally, such as Tibet, Xinjiang, human rights, intellectual property protection, and trade disputes. The current White Paper on Tibet is similar in content to a past White Paper from 2009 entitled, 50 Years of Democratic Reforms in Tibet. Both White Papers advance a unitary narrative on Tibet: since 1959, China has transformed Tibet from a dark past of feudalism and serfdom to a bright era of modernity and economic development.
Even though the two White Papers contain similar talking points, the most recent one contains a notable departure from its predecessor. The 2009 White Paper criticizes the Dalai Lama for supporting the feudal forces of Tibet’s past. Meanwhile, it also declares that: “The central government has opened and will always keep its door open for the 14th Dalai Lama to return to a patriotic stand.” This statement attests to a more pragmatic approach to Tibet embraced by Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, as it left the door open to negotiations. The current White Paper, however, omits any hint of China’s willingness to negotiate with the Dalai Lama. This could suggest that China under Xi has toughened its stance toward the Dalai Lama.
The White Paper also comes at a time of uncertainty regarding the Dalai Lama’s successor. On March 18, the incumbent Dalai Lama said that after his death, the Dalai Lama may incarnate in a child living in India, and warned that a successor picked by China will not be accepted by the Tibetan people. In response, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson declared that “the reincarnation of living Buddhas is not subject to interference and control by any organization or individual outside the country.” The question of how and where the successor of the 83-year-old Dalai Lama will be selected remains a thorny issue in relations between China and the people of Tibet.