Is Tibet a country?

From a legal standpoint, Tibet has to this day not lost its statehood. It is an independent state under illegal occupation.

- Michael van Walt, lawyer and visiting professor at Institute for Advanced Study

Tibet has maintained a unique culture, written and spoken language, religion and political system for centuries.

In 1913, the 13th Dalai Lama - Tibet's political and spiritual leader - issued a proclamation reaffirming Tibet’s independence: "We are a small, religious, and independent nation." The country had its own national flag, currency, stamps, passports and army; signed international treaties, and maintained diplomatic relations with neighbouring countries.

In 1950, the newly established Communist regime in China invaded Tibet, which was rich in natural resources and had a strategically important border with India. Tibet today is under China’s occupation.

The Chinese government justifies its occupation by claiming that Tibet has been part of China for around 800 years. Its claim is not supported by the facts.

Where is Tibet?

Map showing location of Tibet

Tibet is located to the south-west of China, also bordering India, Nepal, Burma and Bhutan.

Tibet’s historical territory would make it the world’s 10th largest nation.

Today it is under China’s occupation and has been divided up, renamed and incorporated into Chinese provinces (see more maps of Tibet here).

When China refers to Tibet, it means only part of historic Tibet: what it names the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of China.

What do Tibetans want?

The Dalai Lama

Because China denies Tibetans inside Tibet the right to speak freely, it isn't possible to say exactly what their goals are - but their opposition to China's current rule is clear.

Protesters in Tibet repeatedly call for the protection of Tibetan identity, for freedom, for human rights and for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet. Some call for "Rangzen" (independence from China).

In exile, the 14th Dalai Lama has established a democratic government (known as the Central Tibetan Administration) which currently advocates for the “Middle Way Approach" (MWA), which he first proposed in the 1980s. The MWA proposes that Tibet remains a part of the People's Republic of China but with far greater control over its own affairs.

Within the exile Tibetan community there is vigorous debate between supporters of Rangzen and those of the Middle Way Approach.

Free Tibet has no position on the future political status of Tibet. Our goal is to secure Tibetans' right to determine their own future and it will then be for the Tibetan people to make that decision.

Tibet's legal status

Tibetans say their country is an independent nation: the Chinese government says it is part of China. Who is right?

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