Legacy of CIA operations in Tibet shows Pompeo can't be trusted
Tom Fowdy
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press briefing in Washington D.C., U.S., April 22, 2019. /Xinhua

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press briefing in Washington D.C., U.S., April 22, 2019. /Xinhua

Editor's note: Tom Fowdy is a British political and international relations analyst and a graduate of Durham and Oxford universities. He writes on topics pertaining to China, the DPRK, Britain and the U.S. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

As part of a relentlessly growing anti-China push, U.S. Secretary of Mike Pompeo on Tuesday announced visa restrictions on Chinese officials pertaining to the Tibet Autonomous Region. In doing so, Pompeo claimed that the restrictions were in response to a "lack of access" concerning the region and that "access to Tibetan areas is increasingly vital to regional stability" accusing China of failing to prevent "environmental degradation near the headwaters of Asia's major rivers."

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Wednesday said that was an" erroneous move by the U.S. side" and stated that foreigners are able to visit Tibet, with the "premise that China's laws and relevant regulations must be followed and the necessary formalities must be fulfilled".

It is important to recognize the content in which Tibet fits into U.S.-China relations. On this issue, Washington has not been a good faith actor.

Prior to the Joint Communique of the United States of America and the People's Republic of China, also known as Shanghai Communiqué, the U.S. had a well-documented history of promoting government change and separatism in the region on behest of the family of the Dalai Lama, a continuation of longstanding Western objectives in the pursuit of seeking to promote Tibetan independence in order to divide China and weaken its strategic position.

Given this, it is essential to understand that Beijing had some very legitimate reasons to distrust Washington over this.

Chairman Mao Zedong shakes hands with U.S. President Richard Nixon in Beijing, February 21, 1972. /CGTN/Nixon Presidential Library

Chairman Mao Zedong shakes hands with U.S. President Richard Nixon in Beijing, February 21, 1972. /CGTN/Nixon Presidential Library

In the 1950s, the People's Republic of China emerged in the strategic environment of the Cold War whereby the United States foreign policy was geared towards a fear of global Communist expansion. They feared that the sustaining of Chinese sovereignty over Tibet would lead to dominance across South Asia and the Middle East.

As a result, the United States established what was called the "CIA Tibetan program"- which actively aimed at promoting separatism and unrest to divide the country. As stated by the U.S. Office of the Historian at the State Department which posted memorandums from the 1960s: "The program consists of political action, propaganda, paramilitary and intelligence operations" and was based on "U.S. Government commitments made to the Dalai Lama."

The goal of promoting outright separatism was not ambiguous, as the document further notes the objectives of such a program were "aimed toward lessening the influence and capabilities of the Chinese government through support, among Tibetans and among foreign nations, of the concept of an autonomous Tibet" and it also sought to work with the family of the Dalai Lama in doing so.

The policy however, came to an end when Richard Nixon visited China in 1972 and paved the way to re-establishing bilateral relations, resulting in the creation of Shanghai Communiqué. The agreement set out that both sides should "conduct their relations on the principles of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states" and therefore, the United States accepted Chinese sovereignty over Tibet and ended the program.

As a result of this legacy, China has perceived its sovereignty in the region as being challenged by the West. While active promotion of insurgency has ended, the United States has nevertheless sought to indirectly encourage separatism through tools such as Radio Free Asia and as a result, the United States has failed to establish trust with Beijing on this issue.

Now, in the present day with the most relentless anti-China administration since Nixon's reset, whereby relations are turning sour and the White House is deliberately establishing a new Cold War environment, it is quite obvious that Mike Pompeo's attempts to play up the Tibet issue, as he is with other sovereignty matters, is very much made in bad faith. He does not want the best for the region or its people, he wants to antagonize China and encourage division.

Given this, Beijing is right to mandate American access to Tibet as reciprocal on its commitments to sustaining and upholding the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of the country, as which it agreed to do in the Shanghai Communiqué.

While the region certainly has a unique cultural, linguistic and religious background, nevertheless the history of attempting to spike division in order to geopolitically weaken Beijing via an appeal to theocracy, is well-established and well-documented. There will be no return to the 1960s.

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