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Qin Gang Meets the Untold Suffering of Missing Tibetans, Hongkongers and Uyghurs

This blog is authored by Tenzin Kunga, Advocacy Officer at Free Tibet.

China has dispelled all speculations about Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, who was last seen in public on 25 June.

This week, the official announcement came that Wang Yi, a Chinese diplomat who was serving as the Director of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee Foreign Affairs Commission Office, would replace Qin. All official references of Qin Gang were scrubbed off China’s State Council website, pointing to his unceremonious ousting.

Erasing someone’s identity digitally is easy for a regime that is notorious for making people physically disappear from the face of the earth.

The fate of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima comes to mind.

On 14 May 1995, His Holiness the Dalai Lama proclaimed Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the reincarnation of the late 10th Panchen Lama. Panchen Lamas are considered to be one of the most revered religious leaders in Tibet, sharing a special relationship with the Dalai Lamas that is often compared to the “Sun and Moon” in the Buddhist spiritual firmament.

Just three days after the proclamation, the Chinese authorities abducted Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who was then just a six-year-old child, making him the world’s youngest political prisoner. He has not been seen since. He has been missing for the last 28 years.

In his place, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) appointed its own Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, who is a political figure who was known to dutifully follow government orders. According to Tibet Watch, a UK-based research organisation, Tibetans refer to Gyaltsen Norbu as the 'Panchen Zuma', or 'false Panchen', saying that he rarely visits Tibet and his occasional visits are carefully stage-managed and heavily policed.

While Qin Gang’s prolonged absence has captured major headlines around the world, sadly the fate of several missing Tibetans, Hongkongers, Uyghurs, Falun Gong followers, Chinese lawyers and democracy activists has gone silently unnoticed.

You may think that Tibet is peaceful and Tibetans are free under China. This speaks to the effectiveness of the Chinese government narrative which it disseminates globally through its ubiquitous propaganda mechanisms. The naivety of countries scampering for the attractive Chinese market and entering into trade deals unwittingly buys into this flawed narrative.

Having undertaken multi-year historical research, Dr Michael van Walt van Praag in a written testimony to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China in June 2023 notes, “that though not always ‘independent’ in the modern legal sense of that term and over time subject to various degrees of Mongol, Manchu and even British authority and influence, Tibet was most certainly never a part of China. The PRC could therefore not have ‘inherited’ Tibet from the Republic of China or earlier empires, as it claims. As a matter of fact, Tibet was an independent state de facto and de jure from 1912 to 1950/51, when the PRC invaded it.”

The PRC’s continued occupation of Tibet is a blot on the moral conscience of the free world. Tibet has consistently been ranked by Freedom House, which maintains a global freedom index, as the least free place on earth for civil liberties and political freedom, alongside countries such as Syria and Sudan.

Yet even after 70 years of its illegal occupation of Tibet, the Chinese government has not been able to win the hearts and minds of the Tibetan people. Their undying spirit for freedom and steadfast commitment and devotion towards His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who has been living in exile in India since March 1959, remains as strong as ever.

In a desperate attempt at assimilating Tibetans into the Han majority culture, Tibetan children as young as four years old have been placed into mandatory colonial-style boarding preschools where they live separated from their parents, home and Tibetan way of life.

According to the US-based Tibet Action Institute in its groundbreaking report: Separated from their families, Hidden from the world, the colonial boarding school system for Tibetan youth is at the heart of the Chinese Communist Party’s effort to subsume Tibetans into Chinese culture and identity and eliminate all but token elements of their “Tibetanness.”

On 6 February 2023, a group of United Nations human rights experts released a statement expressing alarm concerning “the residential school system for Tibetan children [that] appears to act as a mandatory large-scale programme intended to assimilate Tibetans into majority Han culture, contrary to international human rights standards.”

As a British Tibetan, advocating for the just cause of Tibet in the UK, I would like to underscore the fact that Tibet is not China’s internal matter, rather it is an unresolved international conflict for which we are seeking a peaceful resolution.

Whilst understanding the importance of UK’s continued engagement with China in pursuing its national interests, I call upon the government to strongly stand up to the PRC in defending the UK’s fundamental values such as freedom, human rights and democracy and to urgently call the PRC to halt its implementation of the colonial residential school system in Tibet as well as its targeting of Tibetans, Hongkongers, Uyghurs, Falun Gong followers, Chinese lawyers and democracy activists around the world.

With Qin Gang now confined to history, the global media’s attention will shift elsewhere, but it is critical for human rights advocates to continue to focus the spotlight on the persecution of peoples worldwide.

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