In the comments to an earlier post related to Tibet, I found it striking that, although by different routes, bianxiangbianqiao and wuming and I have reached roughly the same conclusion, viz that there’s no logical reason why Tibet should remain part of China, but, at the same time, it is completely impossible for China to let it become independent, since that would invariably be seen as China giving up 19% of its land area (or even 13%, which is what the TAR is). Particularly so since, as bxbq points out, the boundaries of “Tibet” are quite fuzzy. I could draw a border that I think would be a fair delimitation of “where Tibetans traditionally predominated and still do”, but obviously there would be a lot of people who would disagree with any given attempt.
My suggested solution then, is that Tibet should remain within PRC sovereign territory, but it should be cordoned off into a separate “nation within a nation”. This would effectively recreate the traditional arrangement in which Chinese empire had suzerainty over Tibet; except that, because there is no concept of suzerainty in modern international law, China would never describe the situation as suzerainty, but would continue to insist on legal sovereignty in order to avoid challenges to its sovereignty in the future. When I say “cordoned off”, I do not mean that Tibet would be isolated from the world like a hermit. It would continue to have extensive links through tourism and media, but a) immigration into Tibet would be restricted and b) it would not necessarily be governed under exactly the same legal system as the provinces. Technically, both of these are already true: the former under the Regional Autonomy for Minority Nationalities Act of 1984; and the latter under the basic law of the PRC, because the TAR is an autonomous entity. It is not autonomous of CCP rule, of course, but it is autonomous of the provincial legal structure.
I would suggest that the CCP could implement this change as part of a deal with the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan exiles by keeping the Tibetan CCP in control of Tibet but radically altering its personnel. This would allow Beijing the following advantages: 1) it would not directly undermine CCP rule in the rest of the country; 2) there would relatively less risk of losing face, as the change would be described positively as “reform” or as an affirmative action measure; 3) there would be an easy way to back out of the deal in the future, simply by altering the party leadership again. I have heard it said the #1 obstacle to detante between Beijing and Dharamsala is the TAR party leadership, which contains a lot of holdovers from the bad old days. Party central in Beijing should get rid of the entire TAR party leadership: the Han members would be re-assigned to positions in the provinces and the Tibetan members of the party leadership (of whom I think there are not many) would be encouraged to retire with full pension. The party leadership would be replaced with Tibetan CCP members who are amenable to conciliation with the Dalai Lama and autonomy for Tibet. The exact membership of the new leadership would be agreed to as part of the agreement with the government-in-exile. The only restriction would be that the individuals chosen should be existing CCP members living in the TAR. The exiles probably don’t trust most the Tibetan CCP cadres, but surely they must be able to find a few party members in Tibet who can be relied upon to implement the agreement if it has Beijing’s imprimatur.
High-level government (as opposed to party) offices would also be reformed, but not as dramatically. Jhampa Phüntshog could remain as governor of the TAR for a couple years as a gesture toward continuity. A few of the Dalai Lama’s cronies from Dharamsala – but mid-level ones, not the elite cronies like Lodi Gyari – could be given mid-level positions in the government, but it would otherwise continue to be staffed by current party members. As the political system of PRC reforms itself and opens up in the future, the same could be implemented at the same time in Tibet, gradually leading to a more democratic and genuinely autonomous status.
Ideally, after everything else was settled, the Dalai Lama would sit down with me and a representative from the Bureau of Religious Affairs to discuss reforms of the monastic system to prevent the type of abuses that have rightfully enraged bianxiangbianqiao from ever happening again. While, it is somewhat unlikely that I would actually be invited to such a meeting, hopefully the results would nevertheless satisfy bxbq.
This agreement would not necessarily be applied only to the Tibet Autonomous Region; nor would it necessarily be applied in every Tibetan autonomous area. The second most important Tibetan area in China is Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan, which is historically the heart of the Kham region. Perhaps the same deal could replace not only the TAR party leadership but also the Garzê TAP party leadership, while other areas continue to be governed as they currently are. In the future, if the new arrangement is considered a success, both sides might find it agreeable to expand it into other Tibetan autonomous prefectures.