ALLOCATING TIBET A ROLE IN THE GLOBAL DIVISION OF LABOUR
#3 in a blog series on THE FUTURE OF TIBET
If China succeeds in enmeshing Tibet with the lowland economy of China, Tibet will not only be re-oriented to look east for all economic connection, it will also be globalised. China is deeply enmeshed in the global economy, while Tibet is not. That will soon change. China’s plan is to bring Tibet into the global division of labour, in a lowly role as a production base of minerals and energy resource extraction.
In a globalised world, there is a division of labour that is now worldwide. China has become the world’s factory, its endless human labour supply making any and every thing that can be manufactured, for sale anywhere on the planet, often made from raw materials imported from remote parts of Africa or Latin America. China is the hard working body, but, for the moment, the rich countries remain the head, doing the design work, locking up the patents, building the brands, reaping the rewards for the intellectual work. But not for much longer, since China has a plan to go upmarket, add value, create its own national champions and global brands, and produce tens of millions of university graduates each year, capable of shifting to China the head-work as well as the body-work.
There is a status hierarchy embedded in this concept of the head and body division of labour that constitutes modernity, and Tibet has its part to play in this vision of the globalised future. The unskilled manual labour of migrant workers in Chinese factories is at the bottom of the hierarchy, while members of the Chinese Communist Party define themselves as the most advanced and exemplary models of all that is progressive, scientific, civilised and of high quality. If China is to be as great as possible, even Tibet and the Tibetan people must be mobilised, to play their part, to enter history, to become factory workers on the bottom rung of the hierarchy of success. The land of Tibet is to supply the minerals and energy needed as the factories relocate far inland, closer and closer to the Tibetan Plateau, powered by hydroelectricity from damming the great rivers of Asia as they descend from the Plateau. The chromium, lithium, copper and gold essential to manufacturing everything from mobile phones to cars, is increasingly coming from Tibet. The removal of the nomadic population from their ancestral pastures will create an industrial labour force that migrates to where the factories are. This is an integrated plan.
The division of labour, in which Tibetans are now at entry level, is not the only hierarchy in the minds of Chinese planners. China inherited from Joseph Stalin a categorisation of ethnic minority nationalities which ranks nationalities on a ladder of human social evolution. At the top are the same advanced, progressive forces of civilisation and high human capital, who are not only Party members but also of Han nationality. At the bottom are those nationalities that stubbornly cling to feudal mentality, their minds fogged by religious superstition, which follow animals around the landscape, leading lives little better than the animals they herd, at the mercy of nature.
In this social Darwinist hierarchy the Tibetans are again at the bottom; while urban Han Chinese are at the top, the model for everyone else to emulate. Tibet has far to go, but it must climb the ladder, this is a historic necessity, because no ethnicity can live outside history.
Tibet occupies a fixed niche in the mental maps of the planners of Beijing, as a backward, primitive, uncivilised, remote and poor area that will always be a follower, unable to catch up to the better endowed areas of China. Yet Tibet must be made to try to climb the ladder, to outgrow its attachment to feudal superstitions, to free it from itself. Tibet must move from darkness to light, to use a metaphor frequently used by central leaders, abandoning unproductive lives wandering the rangelands, at the mercy of the elements.
While communism may have largely disappeared, other ideological stances persist, in the mindsets of central planners. The racist hierarchy of nationalities persists, perhaps stronger than ever after state media in recent times depicted Tibetans as ungrateful, violent and dangerous. The economic hierarchy of central planners assigns to Tibet the lowliest of roles, as a supply base for raw materials, minerals and hydropower, all of which are sent to industrial hubs far downstream, where value is added and profits are concentrated. Tibet is just a remote geography where much needed resources can be sourced, on the bottom rung of the ladder for the foreseeable future. Not surprisingly Tibetans, historically used to making their own decisions, find such a fate unappealing and disempowering. Through Tibetan eyes, it means greatly expanding the scale of resource extraction, and a mass influx of tourists who show no understanding or respect for Tibetan values, while enduring endless restrictions on what matters most to Tibetans, including religious freedoms, the Tibetan tradition of mind training and preparation for future lives.
This report depicts China’s current plans for the Tibetan Plateau, embodied in the current 12th Five-Year Plan and in official slogans that make central policies memorable. If China is ever to win the hearts of the Tibetans, these are the policies that must be questioned afresh, so the new leaders can reform them.
Conventional thinking among central leaders has been in a self-defeating rut, ever since Hu Jintao, as Communist Party Secretary of Tibet Autonomous Region in the early 1990s decided that the only effective method of governing unruly Tibetans is coercion.
But conventional thinking is hard to shift. Although many Chinese see China’s approach to Tibet as rigid, inhumane and counter-productive, central leaders have surrounded themselves with the ideology of a “civilising mission” to reinforce the insistence that the Tibetans must be saved from themselves in order to become productive, cash-earning citizens of a modern nation-state, for their own sake. The slogans of official propaganda imprison the imaginations of those who coin the slogans, as well as those who must memorise them.
Little by way of fresh factual evidence disturbs central leaders, who rely on the official chain of command which reaches right down through all levels of government to the township level, with each official reliant, for promotion, on suppressing evidence of popular unhappiness, reporting only success to higher levels and quelling dissidence. One aspect of the Communist Party’s institutionalised dominance of government, party organs and enterprises is that the CCP Organisation Department continues, unreformed, the Leninist practice of directly making all senior appointments, and makes promotion dependent on success in stifling protest and petitions.