Places in World Most Likely to Secede Tibet

About Tibet a place in the world likely to secede from China, size, population, and history of conflict.



Size: 463,323 sq. mi. (1,200,000 sq. km.), about 4/5 the size of Alaska.

Population: About 2 million.

To the extent that isolation can be equated with independence, Tibet, an autonomous region in southwestern China, has a long history of independence. Chinese warriors first conquered the country in 1720, but in practical terms, Tibet continued its own master until 1904, when Great Britain marched into Lhasa, the capital, and convinced officials there not to grant trade concessions to anyone without London's prior approval. At British prompting, Tibet in 1913 formally declared its independence from China.

Shortly after the Communist takeover in Peking in 1949, Chinese forces invaded Tibet, ostensibly to liberate the region from oppressive religious influence, but also to snap up a chunk of ground which today comprises 13% of China's land area. Although Tibet looked to the U.N. for help, the veto power of the U.S.S.R. prevented the world body from intervening. Finally, in May, 1951, a peace treaty was signed under pressure in Peking, guaranteeing the Tibetans "self-government" and freedom of religion.

Eight years later, Tibetans staged a revolt in another effort to run the Chinese out. It failed. The Dalai Lama, the religious and political leader of Tibet, fled to India one step ahead of his would-be captors. However, his deputy, the Panch'an Lama, remained to collaborate with the Chinese and in 1960 popped up in Peking singing the praises of Mao's proposed agrarian reforms for his region. Meanwhile China's Tibetan policy drew denunciations from many quarters, including the U.N. and the International Commission of Jurists, the latter accusing Peking of outright genocide in its systematic effort to stamp out Buddhism and the influence of the Dalai Lama.

Under China, material life for the average Tibetan has not improved. There is no public transportation, and the Tibetans are not allowed to travel without a permit from Chinese military authorities, who rarely grant them. 85,000 Tibetans have been successful in escaping over the borders into India, Bhutan, and Nepal since the Chinese invasion. The recruitment and training of monks has been suspended, and all but a handful of the 5,000 monasteries have been shut down.

Today China rotates field administrators in and out of Tibet on two-year tours of duty. Some 300,000 members of the People's Liberation Army and 100,000 Chinese civilians are thought to be in Tibet.

As China attempts to consolidate its hold over Tibet, officials in Peking seem ready to woo the Dalai Lama back from exile. On May 1, 1977, a deputy chairman of the National People's Congress of China, a Tibetan named Ngapo Ngawangjigme, announced that China was prepared to welcome the Dalai Lama back "to the embrace of the Motherland," provided that he give up his dream of Tibetan independence. "Our party's consistent policy," Ngapo added wryly, "is that all traitors are welcome whether they come forward early or late."

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