What Is the Value of Tibet and Xinjiang to China

This essay focuses on the two of the five autonomous regions of China; Tibet and Xinjiang. These two regions have become widely known due to their fight for national independence. These regions consist of national minorities and have had long periods of national independence before they were included in the Chinese empire during the Qing Dynasty in 1949, (Central Tibetan Administartion, 2011).

China places a large emphasis on these regions and will not allow them to separate, as Tibet and Xinjiang are valuable to China due to the prevailing belief of the importance of unity, a unified China is seen as a strong China (Elmer, 2011). Furthermore, China’s history, with the century of humiliation, plays a big part in why China cannot loose Tibet and Xinjiang, as it would be seen weak. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) sees the Tibet and Xinjiang region as historically a part of China.

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China’s major development schemes in both of these regions cannot be lost; in addition the rich resources of Tibet and Xinjiang are crucial to China’s future. Lastly, Tibet and Xinjiang are seen geopolitically important to China. Background of Tibet and Xinjiang Tibet is located southwest of China and is one of the least populated but the second largest provinces by area, (as you can see in the Appendix Map 1).

Tibet declared its independence in 1913, and kept their autonomy until 1951, but due to a military conflict between Tibet and China, Tibet was incorporated into the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and declared an autonomous region of the PRC in 1965. There are many tensions between China and Tibet, due to the prevailing desire of the Tibetan people for independence and the Chinese government policies that restrict the Tibetan people, (Central Tibetan Administartion, 2011).

Xinjiang or Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is China’s largest province and is home to a population of Turkic and Muslim people, it also borders more then eight countries, (see in the Appendix, Map 1). This region has been fighting for independence; China continuously insists that ‘Xinjiang has been an inalienable part of the Chinese motherland since ancient times,’ (Kemenade, 1997). Though the presence of Chinese in Central Asia has been estimated to only 425 out of 2000 years, (Kemenade, 1997).

Ethnic tensions have intensified since the collapse of the Soviet Union and emergence of Central Asian states, (Moneyhon, 2002). The two regions are immensely important to China and that is why China cannot allow them to separate and become independent. Territorial Unity China cannot allow the Tibet and Xinjiang territory to become nationally independent, due to the strong believes of the PRC government in territorial and national unity and the vast history of the country with the century of Humiliation playing a immense role in China’s decisions. The PRC believes that a unified China is a strong China, (Elmer, 2011).

If China were to loose territory and the unity of the people it would be seen weak and fragile and could potentially be defeated. Additionally, the history of China and the century of Humiliation play a significant role in China’s strong hold on territory and the inability of the Chinese government to allow China to look weak. The emphasis on territorial unity within the PRC is due to the believe, that periods of unity have led to more successful development and have been more productive, than the periods of disunion, thus China places a high importance in territorial unity, (Elmer, 2011).

Beijing has two geopolitical imperatives and they are to: “maintain internal unity so that far powers can’t weaken the ability of the central government to defend China” and to “secure China’s periphery by anchoring the country’s frontiers on impassable geographical features; in other words, hold its current borders”, (Friedman, 2008). Even though Tibet and Xinjiang are not the ethnic majority of China, the Han, national unity is vital for Chinese politics, which promotes unity over gender, lineage, class and region to integrate the country’s people into a powerful community organically linked by blood, (DIKoTTER, 2002).

National unity; the unity of its citizens and the unity of China are crucial for the PRC to remain in power. “Unity is a major concern of the PRC government it believes that people living in the territory of now day China are a part of Chinese people”, (Elmer, 2011). Adam Segal and expert on Asia states that, there is a fear that if Tibet or Xinjiang gets independence, that other disputed parts of China will want independence, (Bajoria, 2008). “Mao and the CCP emphasises the importance of the maintenance of territorial unity in order to keep peace and achieve prosperity.

Thus, the emphasis on unity is an important part of China’s history in turn is a major factor for its policies. Tibet and Xinjiang are seen as part of PRC based on their history, as perceived by China. Based on the emphasis on history and territorial unity, China has invested vastly in the development in both Tibet and Xinjiang” (Elmer, 2011). Additionally, China cannot be seen as weak and fragile due to the history of China and the century of Humiliation, which was a period between 1839 and 1949 when the Chinese government lost a lot of its territory to foreign forces, this period still impacts modern China in a great way. Kaufman, 2010). The Chinese government must ensure that is it seen as powerful to be able to prevent factionalism and regionalism. The PRC cannot allow Tibet and Xinjiang to split from China, due to the strong believe of unity and the history of China. China considers these two regions as a part of the PRC and loosing them would be seen as weak, it cannot be seen weak or the century of Humiliation can re-occur. Resource Security Tibet and Xinjiang are resource rich regions, if China were to loose these territories it would loose resources, China needs these resources to survive with its growing population and to prosper.

The Tibetan region is extremely rich in natural resources such as forest reserves, natural minerals and water. Chinese geologists made a founding of several new sites of copper, iron, lead and zinc as well as deposits of Uranium. All these reserves have been found near the Qinghai-Tibet’ railway to Lhasa, that was developed by the government, making it easy for the PRC to enrich these minerals that are said to be worth 128 billion dollars, (Elmer, 2011).

Tibet has said to have as much as 40 million tons of copper, 40 million tons of led and zinc and more than a billion tons of high – grade iron. Zhuang Yuxun, director of the CGS’s Department of Geological Investigation, has implied that “the new supply of these resources can come to the market in two to three years”, as “the locations of the newly-discovered reserves are close to the ‘Qinghai-Tibet’ railway”, (Central Tibetan Administartion, 2011). This is an extreme advantage for China and its growing population.

Furthermore, the lack of natural resources the PRC has been faced with has been a real worry for the economy and the discoveries in Tibet has taken a lot of pressure off the Chinese government prompting the government to re-evaluate its potential domestic resources, due to the fact that Tibet has been found one of the richest regions in China’s territory, (Lustgarten, 2007). “ Extraction of borax, chromium, copper, gold, and uranium is being vigorously carried out by the Chinese government as a means of providing raw materials for industrial growth.

Seven of China’s 15 key minerals are expected to run out within a decade and consequently the extraction of minerals in Tibet is increasing in rapid and unregulated manner. ” (Central Tibetan Administartion, 2011). Additionally, Tibet is strategically important to Beijing, due to the massive amounts of water that are in the region, it is a storehouse of freshwater for Asia. Tibet serves as a headwaters to many Asian biggest rivers, such as, the Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong, Brahmaputra, Salween, and Sutlej, among others, (see on Map 1 in Appendix), (Pope, 2008).

The Chinese society needs fresh water in order to function and survive the “control of the Tibetian plateau which is a major source of rivers within Asia, provides China with leverage over the other countries in the region”, (Elmer, 2011). Furthermore, hydro – power can be made out of the water in the Tibetan plateau, Beijing is already manufacturing 200 million kilowatts of hydro energy per year, (Kezia, 2011). Nonetheless, the Xinjiang region is set on about 68 million hectares of land; it is valued to China due to its large biological resources as well as large resources of minerals and especially water and energy resources.

The region has become increasingly important as a result of China’s growing energy needs. Xinjiang region is extremely rich in oil and natural gas, so much as 40% of the worlds strategic coal reserves, (Worl Savvy Monitor, 2008)this is why China cannot allow the Xinjiang region to become independent. Additionally, the oil fields at Karamay are one of the largest in China, (Rastogi, 2008) and the region is the largest natural – gas producers, due to this it serves as a trade and pipeline road into Central Asian regions and beyond.

Furthermore, Karamay has broad deposits of coal, silver, copper, lead, nitrates gold and zinc, (Rastogi, 2008). The PRC continues to build roads and railroads to Xinjiang to ensure that this region is connected to the rest of China, so that the resources are easily transported to Eastern part of the country. The growing population and economy of China is in need of mineral resources, oil and water, if these resources were to be separated from China, the PRC government would not be able to support its people and continue the growing economy and the rise of China.

The government of the PRC cannot allow these to provinces to be separated from China. Geopolitics Tibet and Xinjiang are geopolitically very important to China, due the positioning of both regions; they serve as a so-called buffer zone to the further west countries, additionally the Xinjiang people are important to Beijing due to the extensive energy diplomacy that Beijing has with the Middle East. Tibet is positioned in the Himalayas and is situated north of India, Nepal, Bhutan and Burma, west of China and South of East Turkistan, as you can see on the map 1.

The Himalayas is a very hard terrain to move across, and to supply a major force through these mountains is seen as impossible, it is a solid wall, from a military point of view, dividing China from India, (Friedman, 2008). Beijing is aware of this and Tibet is seen as a very important buffer zone dividing China and India and Central Asia. “Once a peaceful buffer state between India and China, Tibet has been militarised to the point of holding at least 500,000 Chinese troops and up to one quarter of China’s nuclear missile arsenal. (Central Tibetan Administartion, 2011).

India is seen as a possible threat to China, as a consequence of its populations, which is second largest in the world (after China) and expanding. If china was to withdraw from Tibet, Beijing fears that Indian population could migrate into Tibet and Tibet could become and extension of India if that was to happen India would border the Chinese heartland – Sichuan and Yunnan, (Friedman, 2008).

Furthermore, Xinjiang is geopolitically very important because of its strategic position that provides access to the Arabian Sea through Pakistan, and hence to the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf, where the PRC brings in vast amounts of oil supplies. This region with its vast Muslim population serves as an important factor in energy diplomacy and foreign policy, due to its culture and position. (Elmer) China wants to control this region to assure its access to Pakistan in order to hasten the transport of resources overland and avoid excessive dependence on vulnerable sea route. Beijing has invested in high-speed rail and road links (Harrison 2010) (Elmer).

“ Xinjiang has taken on an increased importance as China’s energy needs have grown. Because the US Navy controls most major shipping lanes from the Middle East to Asia, the CCP has increasingly been turning westward across the Chinese interior, developing pipelines that will move oil over land to China’s consumers. Although China and the US have no present conflicts involving the international shipping lanes, China is taking no chances when it comes to oil.

The final component of this new transport strategy is the Port of Gwadar in Pakistan, where Chinese firms are building a large deep water port designed to accommodate large oil tankers. ” (Worl Savvy Monitor, 2008). Beijing sees Tibet and Xinjiang increasingly important for its economy and the survival of the PRC, it cannot let these two territories separate due to the positioning of these two regions. If these two territories where to become independent the buffer zone between the rest of Eurasia would break down, the PRC need to hold these areas.

Beijing is very aware of the strategic position of these two provinces and will ensure to be in control of them. Conclusion In conclusion, Tibet Autonomous Region and Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region are provinces in China that have exacerbated a considerable amount of media attention all around the world, especially Tibet, due to the struggle for separation from the PRC. The Chinese government will not allow these regions to separate, due to the importance of these regions. Tibet and Xinjiang are immensely important to the PRC, ideologically, resource wise, as well as geopolitically.

The ideology of the Chinese government is that a unified China is a strong China, and a segmented China is a weak China, this is due to its vast history, and the century of Humiliation, where China lost much of its territory. In addition, the natural resources that have been found by the PRC in both of these regions are extremely important to the Chinese growing population and economy. Beijing cannot loose these vast amounts of resources that it needs to survive, this meaning that Beijing cannot loose Tibet and Xinjiang.

Nonetheless, Tibet and Xinjiang are geopolitically positioned in a strategic sense to China. Tibet is a buffer zone separating India, with its growing population, and China. Xinjiang is positioned separating the Middle East and China. Xinjiang more importantly serves as a path to the Arabian Sea through Pakistan, this to the Persian Gulf, which is immensely important due to vast amounts of oil that it supplies to China. Xinjiang region, in addition assists in energy diplomacy and foreign policy due to its large Muslim population that are understand the Middle East better than Beijing.

The value of Tibet and Xinjiang is extremely important to China, and Beijing cannot give these regions up or allow them to separate. The PRC will make sure that these two regions are under the PRC government.


  1. Bajoria, J. (2008, December 5). Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved July 2, 2012, from The Question of Tibet: http://www. cfr. org/china/question-tibet/p15965
  2. Central Tibetan Administartion. (2011). Issues Facing Tibet Today. Retrieved July 4, 2012, from http://tibet. net/about-tibet/issues-facing-tibet-today/
  3. DIKoTTER, F. (2002). Forming National Unity: Ideas of Race in China. (Blackwell, Producer) Retrieved July 2, 2012, from Centre For World Dialogue : http://www. worlddialogue. org/content. php? id=489
  4. Elmer, F. (2011). Tibet and Xinjiang: Their fourfold value to China. Culture Mandala: The Bulletin of the Centre for East-West , 9 (2).
  5. Friedman, G. (2008, April 20). Stratfor Global Intelligence. Retrieved July 1, 2012, from Chinese Geopolitics and the Significance of Tibet: http://www. stratfor. com/weekly/chinese_geopolitics_and_significance_tibet
  6. Kaufman, A. A. (2010, March 10). The “Century of Humiliation” and China’s National Narratives.

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