How Powerful Is Tibet?

In June 2016, Obama met with the Dalai Lama, the exiled leader of Tibet. So how influential is Tibet and it's independence movement?

U.S. President Barack Obama recently met with exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama at the White House. It was fourth time in eight years the two had officially convened, and once again the meeting drew diplomatic objections from China.

As Jules Suzdaltsev explains in today's Seeker Daily dispatch, Tibet holds a unique position on the world stage. As a geographical region, the Tibetan Plateau spans nearly one million square miles and includes territories claimed by both China and India. China's claim is further split into the Tibet Autonomous Region and another ethnic autonomous prefecture in a separate Western province of China.

What we refer to today as Tibet are these portions of the Tibetan people's traditional homeland absorbed by China in 1951. The Dalai Lama, 16 years old at the time, signed the agreement handing Tibet over to China. But the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile have long held that the agreement was made under duress.

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Over the years, the Chinese government has detained and prosecuted hundreds of Tibetan protesters. While the Dalai Lama is the de facto political and spiritual leader of Tibet, the Chinese government considers him a dangerous separatist. Hence China's objection to Obama's recent meeting.

In any case, Tibet is home to around three million people, according to China. The Dalai Lama contends that the real number is closer to six million, counting the surrounding regions outside Chinese control. Tibet's GDP reached $13 billion in 2013, a small number relative to either population figure. Much of the region relies on sustenance farming, although tourism has become an important source of income in recent years. Tibet is home to Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world.

Despite being an economically weak state, with its former government in exile, Tibet actually wields a good deal of influence in the larger world. The Tibetan independence movement has strong support in many countries, and the Dalai Lama is one of our most respected and influential world leaders.

-- Glenn McDonald

Learn More:

Reuters: Obama meets Dalai Lama in spite of China protest

Human Rights Watch: World Report 2015: China

NPR: Tibet's Economy Depends on Beijing

Business Standard: Tibet's economy registers 12 per cent GDP growth in 2014