China’s Tibet Challenge: Peak of the Snowy Region 2021

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The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) conducted a military exercise on the highest plateau in the world. In the statement made by the Ministry of Defense of China on the subject, it was stated that the exercise called ‘Peak of the Snowy Region 2021’ was carried out with real ammunition. Beijing does not currently recognize the current Tibetan administration and recognizes Tibet as an integral part of its territory. Therefore, it is possible to say that the exercise in question carries a message to both Tibet and the international arena.

In this context, Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM) presents to your attention the opinions received from important experts and academics in the field in order to evaluate the meaning of the military exercise organized by China in the disputed region and the importance of Tibet for China.

Dr. Nazmül İSLAM (ANKASAM Asia Pacific Coordinator)

On the subject, Dr. Nazmül Islam said, “The multidimensional tactics of the Chinese Army on Tibet show how desperate they are to protect this land from any outside interference, especially India and Western interference. For China, controlling Tibet is strategically very important. Because the Beijing administration wants to maintain control in the next Dalai Lama election. In the third White Paper published under Xi Jinping, China revealed its desire to manage religion on its own values and integrate Tibetan Buddhism into socialist society. The statement that Xi stated at the National People’s Congress in 2013, “To govern the country well, we must first manage the borders well, and to manage the borders well, we must ensure stability.”

In addition, Islam said, “Looking at the past, it can be said that in February 2021, Chinese and Indian troops were withdrawn from the mountainous border between India and Tibet in a synchronized manner. One of the consequences of the border tension between the two countries has been that China has expanded its military and civilian facilities in Tibet in order to strengthen its military position on the Indian border, known as the Line of De facto Control (LAC). It is understood from the last field reports that; China has doubled its military presence in the east of the LAC, including air bases, air defense positions and helipads.” expressed as.

Referring to the details of the border clashes, Islam said, “At least 10 brigades and regiments (approximately 10,000 soldiers) of the PLA Tibetan Military Command took part in the current military exercise. In addition, China; used the latest weapons technologies and equipment, including howitzers, artillery and multiple rocket launch systems.” said.

Finally, Islam said, “It could be argued without hesitation that the main purpose of this military exercise was to send a strong message to India and its Western allies. China aims to stop India’s campaign in Tibet in two ways. First, to use Chinese-style Buddhism; that is cultural influence. The second is military power. The current exercise is also a reflection of the second goal.” He ended his speech by saying.

Dr. Zhanggui ZHOU (Director of the Overseas Institute of Safety and Security)

In his assessment on the subject, Dr. Zhou Zhanggui, “According to Chinese broadcaster CGTN, the PLA has begun joint three-dimensional exercises called ‘Peak of the Snowy Region 2021′ on the Tibetan plateau and mountains, with more than 10 brigades and regiments participating in it.” said.

“These exercises have been interpreted by many observers as a message from the PLA to India that it is ready for any border conflict or even war,” Zhou said. Throughout history, there have been various conflicts in the China-India border regions. For the first time in 1962, the PLA’s border defense forces in Tibet and Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region defended themselves against Indian forces occupying Chinese territory in the border regions. After the victory, China took the initiative to withdraw its troops from here. This demonstrates China’s consistency in resolving border issues peacefully. The latest attack by India took place in the China-India border region on June 15, 2020. Since June 2020, several meetings have taken place between the parties. But over the past year, the Indian Army has repeatedly hinted that it is increasing the number of troops on the border.” used the phrases.

Pointing out that China has developed its war capabilities, Zhou said: “In terms of tactical capability, these exercises demonstrated the characteristics of high-altitude areas and three-dimensional operations. Through joint reconnaissance, firepower attack, three-dimensional point shooting, clearing, suppression and other practical operations, the PLA has extensively tested the operational efficiency of various combat units and types of firearms and improved the combat capabilities of its troops in high-altitude zones.”

Emphasizing that border security is about national security, Zhou said, “When it comes to the Tibetan Question, Xi used the well-known phrase, ‘To rule a country, we must manage the border, and to manage the border, we must first stabilize Tibet.’ Tibet is a special ethnic region and an important national security barrier. In 1951, the Chinese Central Government and the Tibet Local Government signed an agreement in Beijing on measures for the peaceful establishment of Tibet, and this agreement laid the foundation for the implementation of Tibet’s regional national autonomy. The peaceful liberation of Tibet was an important event in the reunification of China after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. For Beijing, Tibet is an integral part of China, and dealing with the Tibetan Question is China’s internal affair. Frankly, China will not allow foreign powers to separate Tibet from China by taking advantage of issues such as religion and human rights.”

Finally, Zhou said, “For more than 70 years, people of all ethnic groups in Tibet have created a new Tibet with economic and cultural prosperity, good ecological environment, and all-round social progress. Tibetans make up more than 90% of the Tibetan population. The most important thing for China is that maintaining national unity is the core principle of its strategy of governing Tibet.”

Ahmet Bülent MERİÇ (Retired Ambassador)

In his assessment, Retired Ambassador Ahmet Bülent Meriç said, “The Chinese Army has launched a comprehensive military exercise in the Tibet Autonomous Region. The exercise, called ‘Peak of the Snowy Region 2021’, was carried out based on a live scenario. In the statement made by the Ministry of Defense of China, it was emphasized that in the exercise, in which more than 10 brigades of the PLA Tibetan Military Command participated, the ability of the troops to act in a coordinated manner, to shoot accurately and to destroy the target in a short time in a high altitude area was tested.” said.

Meriç said, “The fact that the exercise coincides with the 70th anniversary of Tibet’s attachment to China reveals that Beijing gives a message to the states that defend Tibet’s independence, especially India, by showing its military capabilities and capabilities. Tibet, which is called the “roof of the world” with an altitude of close to 5000 meters, joined China in 1950. Opponents who did not recognize the Beijing government established the Tibetan Government in Exile under the leadership of the Dalai Lama in 1959 upon the invitation of India. Thus, the status of Tibet in the international arena has become controversial.” and summed up the situation with these words.

Finally, Meriç said, “The fact that Tibet has adopted Vajrayana Buddhism (Lamaism), which carries the traces of Brahmanism, which differs from the mainstream Mahayana Buddhism in China and stratifies the society, creates a cultural difference with the main Chinese society and gives religious strength to the independence supporters.” and he ended his statements by saying these.

Doç. Dr. Fahri ERENEL (Istinye University)

Reminding that Tibet is one of the five autonomous regions created by China to facilitate the administration of ethnic minorities, Assoc. Dr. Fahri Erenel said, “Tibet is a region that China follows uninterruptedly, together with the Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region, within the scope of the ‘One China’ policy. The most important feature of both regions is that they have different religions. Uighurs adhere to the religion of Islam, while Tibetans adhere to Buddhism. This situation deeply affects China’s approach towards these regions. In addition, the location of the mentioned places in the border regions is perceived as a security problem by China due to the close relations of the Uyghur region with the West and Tibet with the West and India.” used the phrases.

Erenel said, “Tibetans have reacted against the Chinese administration from time to time and have therefore been subjected to harsh interventions by Beijing. As a matter of fact, there are separatist tendencies in the region. It also has a structure that is described as a government in exile. In this exile, the government is in India.”

Erenel said, “The economic developments in the Tibet region, especially in recent years, the Nobel Prize awarded to the Tibetan Leader Dalai Lama, and the increasing support of India, which opens its doors to Tibetans every time, cause an increase in China’s concerns about the loss of Tibet.”

Finally, Erenel said, “The exercise, held in the highest region of the world, aims to intimidate China’s growing concerns both inside and outside the country. China needs training, equipment, etc. in its army, especially for operations in high altitude areas. It warns India by showing that it has eliminated the deficiencies it has identified in these matters. Again, the dam he plans to build for this region should also be considered as a means of putting pressure on India.” He ended his speech with these words.

Mehmet Emre ÖZTÜRK (Journalist-CRI Turk)

Journalist Mehmet Emre Öztürk, who claimed that the ” Peak of the Snowy Region 2021″ exercise is of great importance on an international scale as well as on a regional scale, said, “From a technical point of view, more than 10 brigades of the PLA’s Tibet Military Command participated in the exercise, which was carried out at an altitude of approximately 4,500 meters. and the procession. It has been seen that the multidimensional combat theme is performed on a difficult war terrain. Real ammunition was used in the exercises. The exercise, in which day and night scenarios were evaluated in different terrains, demonstrated the combat capabilities of the PLA and its determination to maintain the stability of Tibet. In addition, on the second day of the exercise, the scenario tested against enemy targets revealed how the Chinese Army would benefit from technology in a possible conflict with India.”

“PLA spent 2021 with an intense exercise season in order to better apply its combat power in the field. The military is known to have conducted more than 100 exercises near the border in the Tibet region this year. In this context, it is stated that China has held at least 120 exercises in the Bohai Sea, Yellow Sea, East China Sea, Taiwan Strait and South China Sea. After the developments in Afghanistan, another important exercise came from China and Russia. Chinese and Russian forces recently conducted a joint exercise in Ningxia Huy Autonomous Region in northwestern China. “Coming on the stage as a great power, China has given the message that it is sure of its military power,” he said.

Referring to the importance of Tibet for China, Öztürk said, “The Tibetan Question is a prominent issue during the leadership of Xi. Xi is recorded as the first president to visit the region after 30 years. The last Chinese leader to officially visit Tibet was Jiang Zemin in 1990. During this visit, which took place in July 2021, Xi’s meeting with the people in front of the ‘Peaceful Liberation Monument’ located in front of the Potala Palace used by the spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, indicated the beginning of a new process. After the failure of armed rebellions in 1959, separatist groups who fled to India began to campaign for “Tibet’s independence”. Separatist groups, which have played an active role in the unrest in the region since the 1980s, have become a trump card that the West can use to control China.”

Finally, Öztürk concluded his statement by saying, “Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Zhao Lijian, at the press conference held on July 29, 2021, said that the ’14. The Dalai Lama is by no means just a religious figure; He is mostly a political fugitive who engages in anti-Chinese separatist activities.” He confirmed his stance against Tibet. Chinese security sources believe that after the death of the 14th Dalai Lama, his supporters will become more aggressive and come to the fore with terrorist attacks. The extent to which the West will support this is a question mark. Considering all these, it is possible to make the following assessment for the final exercises: China is preparing for possible threats”

Özge Eletek 1999 yılında İzmir’de doğdu. İlk ve orta öğretim hayatını İzmir’de tamamlayan Eletek, 2021 yılında Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Çeşitli düşünce kuruluşlarında birçok konferans ve seminere katılan Eletek, Ankara Kriz ve Siyaset Araştırmaları Merkezi’ndeki stajını sürdürmektedir. Halihazırda Dokuz Eylül Üniversitesi'nde yüksek lisans eğitimini sürdürmektedir.