The Second Version

25/03/08

Tibetan Scenarios

How could Tibet regain if not indipendence at least real autonomy from China?

I don't think that international pressure is going to accomplish much; the Chinese regime has a way too thick skin for that. And they also wield considerable military power, and immense commercial power. No-one in the rest of the world can take China head on even in a commercial war at this point; even a strong gesture as boycotting the olympic games is pretty much going to remain just that - a gesture with little weight.

As a few millennia of human history teach, when non-violent methods fail, violent ones may work. However, for Tibet even that is not much of a solution, because China has both the capabilities and intentions to brutally crush any Tibetan rebellion - as it's happening now.

So what is left? The military doctrines developed to allow small and under-equipped forces to take on a much stronger enemy: guerrilla and terrorism. The Tibetan rebels don't have enough troops (if any) to reach the level of guerrilla, so terrorism is the only violent option they may have.

But terrorism as in attack on non-combatants works quite well against western democracies, where the life and well-being of citizens, and their opinions, are held in quite high regard and media remain free. In China, where massive social engineering, deportation, arbitrary imprisonment, mass executions (and mining disasters) and strict governmantal control on the media are the norm, civilian casualties will go almost unnoticed.

Back to Clausewitz then: what is most important issue for the Chinese regime? Not the well-being of its citizens, but rather the strength of the economy. An attack that forced the Shanghai stock exchange to close for one day would be first impossible to censor; and second, cause much more damage than the death of dozens of peasants. Targeting the central nodes of Chinese economy is the only way Tibetans may use to force China to compromise.

Problem is, someone would have to help the Tibetans with getting started, and any country doing so would be exposed to Chinese ire, which is something most countries want to avoid. Being no Communism or Islam involved from the Tibetan side, there are almost no chances of help (or meddling, if you like) from international, non-state actors.
Moreover, initially the Chinese reaction is bound to be exceedingly brutal and thorough; there is a definite chance that any Tibetan terrorist organization may be rendered ineffective. Only a prolonged campaign might succeed.

Another possibility is for the Dalai Lama to act like Gandhi in a non-violent uprising, and he himself become the target of the repression and brutality of the Chinese regime. However, I am highly skeptical: I think that Gandhi's success was due to an unique situation - first of all, a basically decent foe like the United Kingdom of 1930-40 - and is not going to be repeated anytime soon.

But while I can list scenarios, the decision of what course of action to take is definitely not in my hands. Oh, and strategic analysis is by its own nature cold and hearthless.

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