China sends Tibetan teens to camps for indoctrination, military training

Chinese authorities have begun sending Tibetan children to special camps to be indoctrinated in a Sinicised worldview and given basic military training in order to prepare them to be inducted into militias amid the standoff with India on the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

Though most of the Tibetan children at these camps are teens, there are reports that some as young as eight or nine years have been sent to the indoctrination facilities, people familiar with the matter said, citing intelligence reports and intercepts from Indian security agencies.

The indoctrination is also aimed at overcoming resistance within the local population to the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) efforts to recruit more Tibetans, the people added.

Earlier this month, the Tibet Action Institute issued a report that said Chinese authorities in Tibet have set up a wide network of boarding schools for Tibetan children to separate them from parents, and reduce their exposure to their own language and culture. The report estimated that up to 900,000 Tibetan children aged six to 18, and an unknown number of four- and five-year-olds, are in the state-run schools.

“The schools function as sites for remoulding children into Chinese nationals loyal to the CCP. Removed from their families and communities, students must study primarily in Chinese, are barred from practising their religion, and are subjected to political indoctrination,” the report said.

The reports from Indian security agencies suggest children are being sent to special camps to indoctrinate them with a Sinicised worldview that disregards Tibetan Buddhist values and prepares them to be soldiers, the people said.

Recent reports have pinpointed at least two camps where Tibetan children aged nine to 14 years are being provided basic military training and indoctrination in order to prepare them for induction into militias. Some 400 Tibetan children were imparted basic military training, including handling weapons, at Nyingchi training camp, located in an area opposite India’s Arunachal Pradesh state, the people said.

Almost 200 Tibetan youth, mostly below the age for recruitment into the military, were shifted from a training camp in Shiquanhe to Gar Gunsa in Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) in November, the people added.

The people pointed out that the move to send children to camps where they are given military training contravenes international conventions against the recruitment of children in war zones or into militias.

These conventions include the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, or the child soldier treaty, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2000, the Paris Principles on Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict 2007 and instructions passed by Unicef, all of which state that no one below the age of 18 can be recruited into any form of military organisation.

As first reported by Hindustan Times in June, China’s military has raised new militias comprising Tibetan youths in the strategic Chumbi Valley in TAR as part of enhanced efforts to recruit more Tibetans. Since last year, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has held recruitment drives across TAR to rope in more locals and there are also plans to raise a Special Tibetan Army Unit.

Newly recruited Tibetan youth have now been deployed along the LAC in areas such as Demchok, Chepzi and Galwan Nala, the people said.

The people said that Chinese authorities are attempting to recruit more Tibetans in order to offset the disadvantages of posting ethnic Han soldiers at high altitudes, especially in areas under the Western Theatre Command, which is the main PLA formation responsible for the border with India.

The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy also concluded in a recent report that Chinese authorities now believe the first responder troops at high altitudes need to be Tibetan, who can function effectively in areas with low oxygen. “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 report said.

There have been numerous reports of PLA officers and troops being affected due to prolonged exposure to high altitude, the harsh terrain and adverse weather conditions during the standoff with India that began in May 2020. There have also been reports of Chinese troops suffering from psychological and severe health issues. Despite several rounds of military and diplomatic talks, the two sides have been unable to agree on disengagement at several friction points in Ladakh sector.

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