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The Trump Effect
Tibetan Leader Sees New Hope In Trump

Donald Trump’s conversation with Taiwan’s president was the call heard round the world, signaling an end to the Obama era of foreign policy and a willingness to re-negotiate the fundamentals of the U.S.-China relationship, including the One China policy. Now, Trump’s disruptive break with the status quo is encouraging the hopes of another disputed territory: Tibet. Reuters:

The head of the Tibetan government-in-exile said on Friday he was encouraged by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s tough stand on China and urged him to ditch backdoor diplomacy on furthering the Tibetan cause and be more confrontational.

The United States and its European allies have sought to engage China over allegations of repression since Washington reached out to Beijing back in the 1970s, effectively driving the Tibetan issue out of public forums, Lobsang Sangay said.

But that approach had not worked and human rights abuses had only worsened, the Harvard-educated legal scholar told Reuters in an interview. […]

“It’s time for an open discourse where we press the Chinese government. We are not saying put sanctions, but that we be forthright, be frank on what’s going on in Tibet and in China in general and to raise the issue.

“And publicly share what’s going on what has happened, because we have to make the Chinese government accountable,” he said in remarks ahead of the release of a report on what activists see as the erosion of Tibetans’ ethnic and religious identity and the degradation of their environment.

Sangay’s exhortation reveals the extent to which Trump’s messaging can have knock-on effects that he may not have anticipated. The president-elect recently suggested that he viewed the Taiwan issue as a bargaining chip to extract a better trade deal with China. But in his eagerness to pursue bilateral negotiations with China, Trump may struggle to keep such issues contained; already, his words have unnerved some in Taipei and now seem to be giving ideas to Tibet’s government-in-exile.

It is not clear how much Sangay really expects of Trump, nor is it evident that Trump particularly cares about Tibet’s human rights situation. The president-elect has notably downgraded concerns about human rights and democracy in favor of a more transactional foreign policy. Still, Tibetan activists like Sangay may see in Trump the chance to increase the public exposure of their cause, and Trump could use Tibet as another way to needle Beijing. Expect for more marginal players to jockey for influence as they seek to ride Trump’s coattails and push for a more confrontational posture against China.

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  • Disappeared4x

    Tibet is China’s, and much of Asia’s, watershed, neither ‘marginal’ nor a ‘needle’: “The Tibetan Plateau, known to many as the “Third Pole,” is an enormous storehouse of freshwater, believed by some to be the world’s largest. It is the headwaters of many of Asia’s mighty rivers, including the Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong, Salween, Brahmaputra, Indus and Sutlej. These vast water resources are of course vulnerable to environmental challenges, including climate change, but they are subject to an array of political issues as well.

    “Should China be the lone stakeholder to the fate of the waters in Tibet? What happens in the downstream nations that depend heavily
    on these rivers? China has exploited all but two rivers from the Tibetan Plateau; an exception is the Nujiang River, which flows through Yunnan province and enters Burma, where it is known as the Salween. China’s north-south diversion plans on the Yarlung Zangbo (known in India as Brahamaputra), the other untouched river, are bound to worry India, a downstream state….”

    postscript: Tibet’s main human rights issue is about the deliberate Han-ization, or Sinicization of Tibet, where China policy encourages Han Chinese to migrate to Tibet, and inter-marry to dilute Tibetan religion/culture.

    • Andrew Allison

      Thanks for this. It explains a lot.

      • Disappeared4x

        Most welcome. Wish I could find such good maps showing Kashmir conflict, and dividedKurdistan, both are also about watersheds, but control of Tibet is non-negotiable for China.

      • Disappeared4x

        Add “riparian dominance” and “re-engineering transboundary water flows” to the diplomatic dictionary for China. One wonders why Obama44 wasted his efforts on TTP when China’s real power is a Water War. This link from RCWorld today explains a lot more.

        “Asia’s fight over fresh water” by Brahma Chellaney Dec 18, 2016

        “…In fact, China’s “territorial grab” in the South China Sea has been accompanied by a quieter “freshwater grab” in transnational river basins. Re-engineering transboundary water flows is integral to China’s strategy to employ power, control and influence to fashion a strongly Sino-centric Asia.

        Its relationship with India, for example, is roiled by increasing discord over shared water resources. Recently, to complete a major dam project, China said it has cut off the flow of a tributary of the Brahmaputra River, the lifeline of Bangladesh and northeastern India. The tributary drains into the Brahmaputra within Tibet itself. The blocking of the Xiabuqu River’s flow comes amid ongoing Chinese work to dam another Brahmaputra tributary, the Lhasa River, into a series of artificial lakes. …”

    • Some Chinese nationalists also try to claim the Indus River, because they say it originated in the Tibetan plateau which rightfully belongs to them, in their mind.

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