Narrating the Sino-Tibetan conflict
: a nation building and security dilemma approach

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Focusing on Tibet, this thesis argues that ethnic tensions in general, and ethnic conflicts taking place in China in particular, are caused by the ways in which national/ethnic identity are constructed and protected. Through the lens of identity politics, a theory of security dilemma is applied to explain the strained Sino Tibetan relationship over the past decades and the historical context of Chinese nation building is highlighted. This thesis distinguishes two categories of security dilemmas: ‘Low uncertainty societal dilemma’, where an illusory incompatibility exists within mutual perceptions, referring to a scenario of conflict mitigation; and ‘high uncertainty societal dilemma’, where one’s own security requires the other’s insecurity, leading to a scenario of conflict outbreak. This thesis discusses two individual variables state led modernisation and international intervention and conceptualises their impacts on security scenarios. Since Tibet was annexed by the People’s Republic of China, it is argued that a sense of uncertainty repeatedly emerged and caused tension and violence as Beijing and ethnic Tibetans adopted multiple approaches to implement identity reinforcing means, whereby Beijing practiced its nation building project and the Tibetans acted and reacted with resistance. The ensuing conflicts were the outcome of contextual Sino Tibetan interactions caused by a pervasive sense of uncertainty, in which both the Chinese authorities and Tibetans perceived behaviours from the opposite side as threats, and thereby employed securitisation, resulting in a greater insecurity for all. Mitigation and ways to escape the security dilemma are arguably workable though this would rely on sincere dialogue and trust building as well as the creation of positive domestic and international conditions.
Date of Award1 Dec 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorKonstantinos Tsimonis (Supervisor) & Jennifer Altehenger (Supervisor)

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