Population replacement. A term mostly heard in fringe right-wing groups, closely linked to the racists and white supremacists of the world. At least, that is when it comes to Europe. In China the situation is easier to observe – the population of Tibet really is being replaced.
The Chinese Invasion
China invaded Tibet on the 6th of October in 1950. Although Tibet had been under Chinese influence before, it had been fully autonomous since the removal of the Chinese emperor in 1911. Although many consider the attack as an invasion, China claims it was a liberation campaign. It argues that the serfdom that still existed was abandoned thanks to the Socialist Chinese government taking control of the area.
Thus, the Chinese consider it a benevolent act towards the peoples of Tibet. Nonetheless, if it was mere benevolence they could have simply set up a new Tibetan government, rather than incorporating them into China.
There are two primary rivers in China; the Yangtze and the Yellow River. Both of them have their sources on the Tibetan plateau. With a population of over a billion, it is critical that the government can supply them with water. If a conflict would occur where Tibet would side with the enemy, this could endanger their water supply. Or, imagine building a dam in order to have renewable energy. A dam located in Tibet would put China in a fragile place.
Although Tibet itself was unlikely to show aggression towards China, it could ally with, or be conquered by, India. There was a Sino-Indian war in 1962, confirming there is some hostility between the two nations. The greatest reason these countries have not been at war more often is the presence of the Himalaya. The mountains form a strong natural border. However, if India would have taken over Tibet, China would have been exposed.
The People of Tibet
At the time of the Chinese invasion, there were around 1.3 million Tibetans. It was a sparsely populated region in a rough environment. Living on the high altitudes for so long has actually resulted in Tibetans having a genetic adaption for it. Although it is also possible the gene was passed on to them by the extinct Denisovans.
Either way, the native Tibetan population is minuscule compared to the billion Chinese. Out of the overall Chinese population, over 92% are Han. Worldwide there are 1.3 billion Han, of which 60 million are living abroad. The Tibetans and Uighurs form minorities.
The Chinese actively support Han to move to Tibet and offer stimulating incentives to push the migration. The process has been called the Sinicization of Tibet. The Chinese are well aware that in order to prevent civil unrest, they need to have a homogeneous society.
Already in 2002 half of the Tibetan capital of Lhasa was ethnically Han, leaving majority Tibetan areas only on the farmlands and villages. According to some the numbers of Han are even higher as many do not register for residency in Lhasa if they are only there on a temporary basis for work. By losing control of their cities, it is more and more unlikely that Tibet will ever be independent again.
Step by step and decade by decade, Tibet will fade away. At some point in the future, the Tibetans will be a minority all across Tibet. They will be surrounded by Han, drawn in by government incentives and a thriving tourist industry. The Chinese government will draw attention to the economic growth of the region, but one might wonder how much the ethnic Tibetans are profiting from that.
The situation does give us a clear example of population replacement in action, and generally admitted as taking place. For those unconvinced, have a look at the province of Xianjing. The Uighur population of what used to be East-Turkestan is suffering a fate similar to that of the Tibetans. If we look into the future, it is fair to say that in a century the Tibetans will be a small minority in their homeland. A distant memory of a once proud nation.
Is freedom and self-determination not longer something to strive for?