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Tibetan Teens Taken to ‘Special’ Camps for Chinese Military Training

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Published: December 27, 2021
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BENGALURU, INDIA - DEC. 10: Tibetan students hold up placards calling for the boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics during a protest on Dec. 10, 2021 in Bengaluru, India. Reports have surfaced indicating that the Chinese military has been gathering Tibetan students up and forcing them to undergo military indoctrination to be converted into soldiers.(Image: Abhishek Chinnappa/Getty Images)

In recent years, Tibetan children have been taken away by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to special camps to undergo military indoctrination and to be converted into soldiers. This move is very likely motivated by a need of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to reinforce its military capabilities across and within its borders.

Students into soldiers

A report by the Hindustan Times, based on intelligence from Indian security agencies, indicated that the Chinese authorities have been sending hundreds of Tibetan children to camps to be “re-educated” and trained for military purposes. 

Other reports indicate that Tibetan children as young as eight or nine years old are being separated from their parents.

According to the Tibet Action Institute, an U.S.-based non-government organization (NGO) campaigning against the CCP’s control over Tibet, the children are sent to live in state-owned boarding schools, deprived of their own language and culture. 

The Tibet Action Institute also reported that around 900,000 Tibetan children, between ages six to 18, along with four- and five-year-olds, are now in these schools, comprising almost 80 percent of Tibetan children in China.

The Institute believes that the schools are used to convert children into loyal subjects of the CCP, forcing them to learn primarily in Chinese, discouraging the practice of their religion, and forcing them to submit to “political indoctrination.”

Indian intelligence also seems to indicate that the children are being taught a “Sinicised worldview” to denounce Tibetan Buddhist beliefs and be forged into soldiers. 

Mountainous operations

In the midst of China’s standoff with India on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy reported that the PLA requires soldiers that can operate at high altitudes with low oxygen levels, where “ethnic Han soldiers” are said to be disadvantaged, as they are more prone to suffer psychological and other health issues.

“In turn, that means not only recruiting Tibetans willing and able to confront the Tibetans of the Indo-Tibetan Border Force, but also ensuring the loyalty of their Tibetan families and communities,” the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said.

According to Indian intelligence, at least two camps have been identified that provide basic military training for children aged nine to 14 years. 

The Nyingchi training camp, located opposite India’s Arunachal Pradesh state, was also reported to have 400 Tibetan children undergoing military training, including handling weapons, the people behind the intelligence said.

A training camp in Shiquanhe was also said to have seen around 200 children migrated to Gar Gunsa in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) in November, the people added. 

In an earlier report by the Hindustan Times, several new militias consisting of Tibetan youths were deployed at the Chumbi Valley in the TAR to drive the recruitment of more Tibetans to the CCP’s cause. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) itself has also been making their move to bring in more Tibetans, in an effort to form a Special Tibetan Army Unit.

The indoctrination of children into the PLA violates international conventions that oppose the recruitment of children in military affairs. These conventions all state that “no one below the age of 18 can be recruited into any form of military organisation.” 

Tibetan turmoil

After occupying Tibet and crushing its autonomy in 1951, the CCP promised that the “religious beliefs, customs and habits of the Tibetan people” would be respected. However, after the Tibetan Uprising in 1959, Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, was forced to flee to India.

There were times when the CCP allowed Tibetan languages and culture to be practiced, especially in the 1982 constitution, which reads that “the people of all nationalities have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages and to preserve or reform their own ways and customs.”

According to news outlet Free Tibet, three Tibetan teens were arrested, one of them brutally beaten by police and was subsequently sent to hospital, for failing to register a WeChat group.

Several activists of multiple backgrounds, including Tibetans, Hong Kongers, Uyghurs and pro-democracy Chinese activists, have rallied together to join the #NoBeijing2020 campaign, which hopes to expose the repression conducted by the CCP.

“We postponed the Olympics for a pandemic, I don’t see why we can’t postpone for genocide,” Tibetan activist and student Tsela Zoksang told Teen Vogue.

“Genocide has to be a red line,” she added. “When you have Uyghurs being put into modern-day concentration camps, I think there’s little room to say, ‘These are games that happen every year, we can’t just change everything.’”