Nothing worries China more than the potential independence of two ‘rebel’ provinces it continues to occupy by force. China has tried to completely colonize the “autonomous” region it claims as Xijang but the world knows as Tibet, and another “autonomous” region it named as Xinjiang (“New Territory”) whose original name was Eastern Turkestan. Beijing had annexed Xinjiang in the 1750s and Tibet in the 1950s when the British emerged in and eclipsed from South Asia.
Ever since, China has been trying to change their DNAs—Buddhism and Islam—by adopting carrot and stick policies, homogenization, alleged genocide, etc. But it realizes that the two key provinces, bordering South Asia, are, at best, cultural anomalies for an atheist China. An uneasy, rented occupation, which could become the first to throw out the Chinese yoke the way the predominantly Muslim provinces broke away from the disintegrating Soviet Union in the 1990s.
Xinjiang and Xijang are, therefore, China’s X factors. The unknowns. The variables. No other Chinese provinces are seen like time-bombs ticking in the Dragon’s belly.
That is why a worried China is now trying to woo the Tibetans and the Taliban.
In November 2020, the US Congress passed a bipartisan resolution by voice vote recognizing the autonomy of Tibetan culture and religion, and praised the Dalai Lama, proposing to hold a roundtable or a teleconference with him. It pressed for human rights in the Buddhist region.
Congressman Eliot Engel said the US State Department had found that the Chinese government had systematically impeded travel to Tibetan Autonomous Region areas for US diplomats, officials, journalists and tourists.
As expected, China condemned and rejected it. But the seed was sown.
Six months later, in July 2021, the US-led “War on Terror” virtually ended when the American soldiers secretly left Afghanistan in the dead of night without even informing President Ashraf Ghani they had been supporting so far. Not only this, the 36-nation forces also left behind a huge cache of arms and ammunition, apparently for the resurgent Taliban who, by August, are expected to regain control of the mountainous country.
China is aware that Afghanistan has been the “graveyard of superpowers” like the British, Russians and Americans. And, as they say in Afghanistan, the Afghans are at peace only when they are at war! The Taliban, therefore, are sure to discover a new battleground—and Xinjiang eminently fits into their Islamist architecture.
China is trying to keep the Taliban in good humour. The Taliban are also playing the game they must until they get Kabul. They are aware how China has crushed the Eastern Turkmenistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) supporters, many of whom the terrorist militia has been training for launching attacks on Chinese interests in Xinjiang. And also that Beijing has been running a drive against both Islam and Christianity to erase their vestiges, including identity of mosques and churches. In other words, China is engaged in a vast programme of deIslamization.
This the Taliban are expected to pay back to China. And this is also seen as part of the agreement between the US and the Taliban.
A sudden Chinese interest in Tibet is also interesting. For the first time in three decades, a Chinese President, Xi Jinping, visited Lhasa, and even a Buddhist shrine, to mollify the six million angry Tibetans scattered across the world that Beijing looks for a harmonious relationship with this “autonomous” region.
Then came the real news: China has made it mandatory for every Tibetan family to send one member to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for what it believes would strengthen its military deployment along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India, especially in extreme weather areas like Ladakh in the west and Arunachal Pradesh in the east, media reported.
The Chinese army is recruiting Tibetan youths and training them for operations along the LAC with India. The recruits have been made to take a loyalty test, including learning the mainland Chinese language and accepting the supremacy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) over any other belief. This, China hopes, would bind the Tibetan youths with their government.
This recruitment began early in 2021 after China learnt how the Tibetans-in-Exile brilliantly served the Indian Army. The Tibetans living in India have been part of an elite Special Frontier Force (SFF) formed after the 1962 war. Since then, this unit has been part of important operations during the 1971 war against Pakistan, the Kargil conflict in 1999 and also in the Sino-Indian conflict in Ladakh last year. These Tibetan youths
surprised the PLA on the southern bank of the Pangong Tso Lake last year when they physically occupied the Mokhpari, Black Top and other heights in the view of Chinese aggression along the LAC.
They are China’s ‘T’ factors.