The word Tibet will no longer appear in official documents from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, and will instead be replaced by the artificial term “Xizang”, Radio Free Asia reports. According to the radio station, Chinese media and the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Department unanimously announced that “there should be no more Tibet” in the official documents of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
This development had been looming for a long time as scientists from the Chinese Communist Party advocated the name change. The “Sinicization” of the country’s name is a clear attempt by the Chinese government to give an appearance of legitimacy to its rule in Tibet. The term “Xizang”, which is now officially propagated by Beijing, can be roughly translated in English as “western treasure house” – an insidious reference to Tibet’s economic and strategic potential.
East Turkestan as a warning precedent
Something similar is happening in the home region of the Uyghurs, which they themselves refer to as East Turkestan. Beijing on the other hand uses the term “Xinjiang,” which means “new border.” Despite all the Uyghur protests, Xinjiang is now used by many to refer to East Turkestan, a fate that strategists in Beijing apparently also planned for Tibet.
Whether Tibet remains Tibet will depend for a large part on how the international community responds to Beijing’s “Newspeak,” as George Orwell once called the deliberate manipulation of language by state rulers. Dawa Tsering of the Tibet Policy Institute in Dharamsala therefore rightly calls it a “litmus test to see whether the international community will yield to the tyranny of the CCP.”
A recent speech by the EU’s High Representative Josep Borrell shows that even high level diplomats are in danger of falling for Beijing’s linguistic smokescreens. In it, Borrell says: “At the United Nations Human Rights Council, China seeks to promote the idea that economic and social rights take precedence over political rights and individual freedoms”. Unfortunately, Borrell’s words reveal a fundamental misunderstanding, as economic and social rights cannot exist without the right to express divergent opinions, the freedom to assemble freely and the possibility of recourse to independent courts, writes Vincent Metten in an opinion piece published by Euractiv. “In reality,” Metten said, “we’re therefore not talking about economic and social rights, but about political programs with economic and social dimensions that are imposed on individuals and communities”.
Business companies under pressure
Unsurprisingly, the rulers in Beijing are also trying to harness the economy for their own purposes. According to a report in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, Chinese e-commerce service provider Weidian has advised its platform retailers to replace Tibet with “Xizang” when translating products. The platform has warned traders that their products would be removed if they contained the word Tibet.
The Chinese Communist Party dictatorship does not limit its linguistic manipulations to geographical terms. Beijing is for example increasingly using the UN institutions to try to “rewrite human rights”. This was apparent in a speech by the Chinese Foreign Minister, who declared at the UN Human Rights Council that his country would follow “a Chinese path of human rights development”. The minister left no doubt that existing human rights standards should be abolished.
Beijing’s “Tibet” was already only half the truth
One thing shouldn’t be forgotten in all of this: the name Tibet previously used by Beijing was also a sham as it refered to only about half of the country, namely the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). The other half of Tibet – and its residents – were included in the Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan decades ago as so-called autonomous counties and prefectures.