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The Tibet-China Conflict - Part 2: Why China wants Tibet

Updated on June 15, 2014
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Why does China want Tibet?

This is part two in a 4-part series of hubs about the Tibet-China conflict. (Here is a link to Part 1: Overview and History, which discusses "Is Tibet part of China?" and gives a general overview. Links to Part 3 and Part 4 can also be found at the bottom of this page.)

In this hub, I focus on the reasons and motivations behind the conflict, not just of China, but also of other countries that have historically wanted Tibet. Why the focus on Tibet? And specifically, why does China want Tibet?

The Tibet-China conflict is a sensitive and controversial topic due to the strong interests and stakes of all parties involved. Information is often disputed, and conclusions drawn even more so. This isn't intended to be purely factual, and it includes the opinions and conclusions I've drawn from my research. I will post my sources at the end of the series (to try to avoid HubPages' duplicate bot). Please go to Part 4 if you want to take a look.

Again, I ask all readers, no matter how passionate on either side, to please keep an open mind. Be aware that information about the Tibet-China conflict is convoluted and difficult to get clear, and that almost all sources are disputable. Comments on both my conclusions and my facts are welcome; the more that comes to light the better. However, because I do not censor, I ask that all readers please comment responsibly.

A shot of a nomad on barren Tibetan plateaus
A shot of a nomad on barren Tibetan plateaus | Source

International Motivations

I wrote in Part 1 that this wave of conflict can be said to have begun with the 1914 Simla Convention, but the events that led to the current conflict did not occur suddenly or without precedent. Tibet has historically been a much contested area; Great Britain, Russia, Mongolia, and China have not fought for centuries over it without reason.

Being a small, mountainous region with relatively harsh conditions, at first glance it seems strange that Tibet is so desired. However, with a closer look, there are several reasons Tibet was, and is, an important region to have.

This is, in fact, quite a short hub, but I felt like it was best to explain the motivation and driving factors before diving any deeper into the conflict. Why China wants Tibet is essential to an understanding of the conflict. With that being said, let's take a look at what Tibet has of such importance to have driven several countries to war, or close to it.

1.) Military position. Located on a high plateau region overlooking India, Bhutan, Myanmar, and China, the region wields a great deal of influence in Central Asia. In the 20th century, when Russia and England were both vying for power in Asia (eventually, in fact, leading to the Simla convention [see Part 1]), Tibet was the main focus of both their attempts to expand their influence. Of course, in 13th century warfare, when battles were fought on foot or on horseback, the upper ground was of very prominent importance, but even in today’s world of fighter jets and nuclear weapons, the Himalayas’ natural barrier and strategic location in the center of Asia makes Tibet a valuable asset.

Mountains in Tibet, rich in resources
Mountains in Tibet, rich in resources | Source

2.) Resources. The Himalayan Mountains in Tibet are also extremely valuable for a very different reason: the rich minerals and rare earths buried underneath them. For example, even without deep exploration, Tibet already has the largest uranium reserve in the world.

Additionally, it has been estimated that Tibet has 10 million tons of copper, 6,000 tons of coal, 27,000 tons of zinc and lead, and possibly much more. In the 21st century, these minerals may be of more interest to other nations than even the potentially invaluable military position.

Tibet is also rich in other resources, like wood and renewable energy. In fact, environmental resources are their own controversy in Tibet. Getting those resources has cost a great deal for the natural environment, from deforestation to mining damage. The official China.org.cn site lists several resources considered important, including wild plants, wild animals, renewable energy, and minerals. (http://www.china.org.cn/english/tibet-english/zirzy.htm)

Anti-PRC Taiwanese protesters. October 25, 2008.
Anti-PRC Taiwanese protesters. October 25, 2008. | Source

Reasons Specific to China

In addition to those reasons, which apply equally to China as to other countries, the PRC has additional motive for wanting to keep its control over Tibet.

1.) Example to other semi-autonomous regions. A great concern for China is what precedents they might set by granting independence to Tibet. China also has other regions besides Tibet, such as Taiwan or Inner Mongolia, that are striving to gain either autonomy or independence.

Allowing Tibet to gain independence or even granting them greater autonomy would likely encourage increased pressure from Taiwan and others, something the PRC is definitely endeavoring to prevent.

2.) Water. Also, many of the major rivers in China, including the Chang Jiang, have their sources in Tibet. Without control of the source, China could potentially lose a good deal of their water supply should Tibet choose to build a dam over any major rivers. Though this is unlikely, due to Tibet's lack of funds and motivation, it still presents itself as a possibility.

A map of Central Asia. TIbet is the lighter region north of the Himalayas.
A map of Central Asia. TIbet is the lighter region north of the Himalayas. | Source

3.) Military position x2. The strategic position of Tibet has likewise holds more importance for China than for Russia and Great Britain, who do not share a border with the other Central Asia nations on the Tibetan side.

Should India or some other nation attack from the west, Tibet could prove invaluable to the PRC. Again, that seems unlikely, but the position has great potential nonetheless.

There are many reasons why China wants Tibet, and for these reasons, China is in no way eager to give up its fight. Nor do I think it ever will be, at least in terms of granting independence. I should save my personal conjectures, though.

Interactive Map: Countries Tibet Buffers For China

A markerXizang (Tibet), China -
Xizang (Tibet), China
get directions

Please scroll around to see Tibet's location in Central Asia. Its military importance suddenly becomes clear.

I know this article was fairly short, but I felt it necessary to establish a base of motivations before continuing further. In Part 3, I will cover the current policies and viewpoints of both Tibet and China, as well as cover the Dalai Lama. If you're interested, here is a link to Part 3: Current Policies and the Dalai Lama , as well as Part 4: Controversy and Protests over Violence, Past and Present.

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