Blog post by Tenzin Dorjee Council on Foreign Relations
In a post published on the Council on Foreign Relations’ Asia Unbound blog on March 29, Tibetologist Robert Barnett admonishes what he sees as the blurring of lines between advocacy and scholarship in the discourse on Tibet. The article, whose stated goal is to dispel the notion of a “Xinjiang-Tibet equivalence,” begins with legitimate arguments for distinguishing knowledge from speculation, urging the media and the academic community to refrain from overstating China’s repression in Tibet.
However, in cautioning against overstatement, Dr. Barnett goes much too far in the opposite direction, downplaying the severity of China’s repression and painting a picture of Tibet that deviates sharply from the lived reality of Tibetans. The version of Tibet that he depicts has little in common with the experience of ordinary Tibetans, who are routinely deprived of their freedom of expression, movement, religion and assembly. His description also sits uneasily with the fact that Freedom House has ranked Tibet as one of the least free places in its 2021 “Freedom in the World” report, assigning it a combined score of 1 out of a possible 100 for civil liberties and human rights –– by comparison, Syria scored 1/100 and North Korea scored 3/100.
The titular argument of Dr. Barnett’s article is that the level of repression in Tibet cannot be equated with that in Xinjiang. There is nothing novel or controversial about his thesis that the internment camps of Xinjiang do not exist in Tibet. So why bother to state the obvious? Because, according to Dr. Barnett, “a number of commentators, journalists, and politicians” have equated Tibet with Xinjiang “in terms of mass abuses.”
Read in full here