Is Tibet a country? Tibet is a place that, throughout history, has always somehow remained isolated.
Tall mountains and a harsh climate have guarded this place against Intruders for hundreds of years. and kept the land mystery for most.
But, over the course of the last century, and even into the 21st century.
this region has gone through some drastic political changes.and this has led to a lot of confusion about Tibet.
Some people call it a country, others an autonomous zone.
Is Tibet A Country?
Some people want to free it while others want to, well, the exact opposite.
Well, first things first, let’s look at a definition of country. Most simply, a country is a nation with its own government, occupying a particular territory. In this definition, I see three criteria and I want to look at each one individually.
Let’s start with the last part: occupying a particular territory.
Tibet can be found here in a region unsurprisingly named the Tibetan plateau in more or less the dead center of Asia found within the borders of China.
This is by far the highest region on the planet in terms of altitude as it contains the entire Himalayan mountain range
and has an average elevation above 4,900 meters!
Here are some of the world’s tallest mountains including the tallest on earth – Mt. Everest.
But the Tibetan plateau is more of a geographic determination rather than a political one
so we need to go a little deeper.
And not everyone can agree on the extent of Tibet
But it began looking something like this in 618 CE, when Songsten Gampo united the Yarlung River Valley creating the first Tibetan Empire.It’s reported, too, that he also brought Buddhism to Tibet.
Under Gampo, Tibet came to control the Kingdom of Nepal through marriage and then the Kingdom of Zhangzhung through a failed marriage and then conquest.
At its greatest extent, around the year 780, the Tibetan Empire looked something like this.
At this point, the Tibetan Empire encompassed nearly 4 million square kilometers! This today would be the 7th largest country in the world – right under Australia, and roughly the same size as India and Pakistan combined.
But, as many empires have learned before and since, you can’t get that big without a few people wanting to take some land for themselves.
Soon, the Chinese came in from the East to reclaim much of their lost territory.
The Turkic Uyghurs to the North helped the Chinese in this struggle, and even the Arabs to the far West of the Empire started to invade as well.
While these invasions did shrink AND weaken the Empire, they did NOT totally destroy it.
Finally, Tibet ended up looking something like this.
Within this there were three major regions:
There are Amdo and Kham, which are more or less equal in size And what’s left is Ü-Tsang, the largest of the three
However, Amdo gradually split away and integrated more into China. Culturally it’s still Tibetan, but when talking about Tibet as a possible country it’s not really included. Parts of Kham also fall under this designation.
For our purposes, Tibet will include all of Ü-Tsang And about a half of Kham, as this is the area.
China defines as the Tibet Autonomous Region.
And that’s for the most part what people are fighting to free.
So, with this definition, Tibet is over 1,200,000 square kilometers or, in other words, Tibet is just a little bigger than the country of South Africa and just a little smaller than the country of Mali.
That would make Tibet potentially the 25th largest country in the world.
Despite most of China is densely populated, Tibet has a population of only around 3 million people.
That means there’s only two and a half people for every square kilometer.
If you need something to compare that to, China as whole hosts 145 people per square kilometer
Yeah, Tibet is basically China’s Alaska.
Mountainous, out of the way, and sparsely populated.
But, there you go. We have a “particular territory.” Now let’s look at the first part: a Nation
This might be confusing for some because, to many,a nation is synonymous with a country.
But, to get technical, a nation is any large aggregate of people inhabiting a particular territory, united by a common
descent, history, culture, or language. Ok, yeah, so it’s pretty similar but what matters is this part:
united by something they all have in common.
First up, 90% of the Tibet Autonomous Region are ethnically Tibetan
rather than Han Chinese, who make up the vast majority of people in the rest of China Descent: check!
This alone is enough, but let’s take a look at the others anyway.
Next, being under the Tibetan empire for so long has given the region much the same story. So, History: check!
Life here is dominated by Tibetan Buddhism and surviving the elements So, Culture: check!
And people here for the most part speak the same language, Tibetan: another check.
So yeah, Tibet is definitely a nation. Alright, all Tibet needs now is its own government
and here’s where the issue begins.
The first thing you need to know is that in 1642, the highest monk in the school of Tibetan Buddhism declared himself
the ruler of Tibet. This monk’s title became the Dalai Lama
and ever since, whoever holds this title is recognized as the ruler of Tibet by the people who live here.
This type of rule, where people of religious significance control the land is called a theocracy and does count as government.
Since 1642, the Dalai Lama continued to govern, even while briefly under the administration of the Qing dynasty of China.
And the Dalai Lama’s rule lasted until the 1950s. Until this point, it’s fair to say that Tibet was an independent country. You can see on maps from this time, which clearly show Tibet as separate from anything else.
But then China went through a civil war and a Communist revolution
All of a sudden, China’s priorities changed.The new People’s Republic of China came to Tibet and negotiated
with the 14th Dalai Lama In what’s called the 17-point Agreement the Dalai Lama affirmed China’s control over Tibet while still sparing it some autonomy.Soon after, the Dalai Lama was forced into exile by the Chinese governmentand he now lives in India
But still, to this day, the Dalai Lama, the person everyone in Tibet accepts as their leader, believes that Tibet should be a part of China. But what he calls for is more freedom for Tibet to run its own affairs.
In an attempt to assimilate Tibet into Chinese culture, all religion was heavily restricted and over 6,000 monasteries were destroyed, effectively erasing much of the Tibetan culture and history.
China claims to be an atheist society, so religion isn’t really tolerated and shrines, or even just pictures. of the Dalai Lama can result in arrests or worse.
While in India, however, the Dalai Lama established what’s called the Government-in-exile. They try to maintain influence on the region.
from the outside, but China’s power has only increased since then.In 1962, China briefly fought a war with India and mobilized military forces into Tibet to defend the border,establishing serious military presence in the regionand redoubling Tibet’s importance in guarding China’s southwestern border.
Then, in 2007, large mineral deposits in Tibet were reported estimated to have a value of around $128 billion dollars.This deposit could double China’s store of valuable metals like copper, lead, and zinc.
This would mean that China would no longer depend on other nations for these raw materials, needed for manufacturing.So, due to Tibet’s strategic military position and resource richness, China is unlikely to loosen its grip on the region anytime soon.
What this means is that, in terms of government,the Chinese definitely control Tibet so our third requirement is not met.
Tibet is not a country, despite what many people might think, And unlikely to become one as China’s military capabilities
and global influence only increases.