Speaking out on Tibetan politics and international relations

Submitting Institution

University of Westminster

Unit of Assessment

Politics and International Studies

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Human Society: Political Science
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

Dibyesh Anand has effectively translated his international reputation as a scholar on contemporary politics and international relations of the Tibetan diaspora to impact on public discourse and policy, in particular on self-immolation; the false accusations against Karmapa Lama; the India-China border dispute; and, more broadly, minority-majority relations in the Himalayan region. This has been achieved through:

  • regular media interviews and citations
  • direct engagement with policy officials in the Tibetan Government in Exile, India, China, US and the UK
  • a commissioned policy paper for European officials
  • participation in events organised by think tanks and activist groups
  • hosting events at the University of Westminster
  • extensive social media activity

Anand's standing was reinforced by the Dalai Lama's decision to hold his only public talk at a university in the UK in 2012 at the University of Westminster.

Underpinning research

Anand leads the research theme `Borders and Territoriality' within the Emerging Powers Programme. The Department of Politics and International Relations has a particular specialism in the relationship and conflicts between majority-minority populations, driven by competing nationalisms and differing conceptions of territory and sovereignty. For example, Dannreuther's work has focused on the treatment of Muslim communities in Russia and border conflicts over energy resources in South Asia.

Anand's research integrates three inter-related themes from which his impact on public discourse and policy is drawn:

  • The role of West in the international problem of Tibet
  • China's policies and practices to legitimise its control over Tibetans
  • Tibet and the Dalai Lama as factors in India-China relations.

Anand joined Westminster in 2007 and at the end of that year published Geopolitical Exotica:
Tibet in Western Imagination
with University of Minnesota Press (1). The book was republished in 2009 in South Asia where the bulk of Tibetan exiles live as Tibet: A Victim of Geopolitics. A revised version was translated by the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in Beijing, but the approval for its publication was withheld by the Chinese Government in 2010. A review by the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), a major South Asia think-tank described the book at `a masterful exposition of Tibet's place in international relations using the lens of postcolonialism'. This and later published essays (2, 3, 4) provide postcolonial critique of colonial practices that shaped Tibet as an international problem and engages with the politics of identity and representation in the Tibetan diaspora. Contrary to the widely held myth of the West as a benign and helpless observer as China occupies Tibet and converts Tibetans from a distinct ethnonational community into a minority, Anand argues that both Western ideas and practices are complicit in Chinese control of Tibet.

Current research by Anand shifts the focus to a critical analysis of China's public diplomacy and the conversion of Tibet into `China's Tibet'. In addition to fieldwork through a travel grant from the Universities China Committee of London (UCCL) in 2008, a British Academy funded research grant `China's Tibet: (Inter)National Politics of Imagination' took Anand to Beijing, Lhasa and other parts of China in 2010-11.

An emerged strand of research focuses on the cooperative and competitive relations between China and India with special reference to the border dispute and differing attitudes toward Tibet (5). It also engages with the significance of China-India relations for other peoples and countries in the Himalayan region, especially Bhutan and Kashmir. Part of this research was funded by a British Association for South Asian Studies Small Grant in 2008-09 and an article in the Journal of Defence Studies (6) is the first major output on this theme. Anand is currently completing a monograph on the border dispute and its significance for the Himalayan region.

The Director of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney who commissioned a policy report from Anand (see Section 4) recognises his `demonstrable expertise in this area... Tibet is a complex issue and the kinds of relevant scholarly background that Dr Anand has is very rare.'

References to the research

1. Anand, D. (2007) Geopolitical Exotica: Tibet in the Western Imagination, Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press. Republished as Tibet: A Victim of Geopolitics (2009), New Delhi: Routledge.


2. Anand, D. (2009) `Strategic Hypocrisy: The British Imperial Scripting of Tibet's Geopolitical Identity', Journal of Asian Studies 68 (1), 227-52.


3. Anand, D. (2011) `Revisiting the China-India Border Dispute: An Introduction' and Special Issue Editor, China Report 47 (1).


4. Anand, D. (2012) `India, Tibet and the Tibetans: A Troubled Road Ahead?'', Current State of Affairs in Tibet: Reasons? Papers Presented at the Conference Tibet Series II, 2012/4, New Delhi: Foundation for Non-Violent Alternatives, 42-56.

5. Anand, Dibyesh (2012) `China and India: Postcolonial Informal Empires in the Emerging Global Order', Rethinking Marxism 24 (1), 68-86.


6. Anand, Dibyesh (2012) `Remembering 1962 Sino-Indian Border War: Politics of Memory', Journal of Defence Studies 6 (4), 177-196.

Details of the impact

Anand is a much sought after commentator on political issues related to Tibet and the wider Himalayan region, contributing to and affecting public discourse through numerous interviews and citations in international media and active presence on social media: he has been termed the `Facebook professor' (1). His opinion is also sought by officials in the Tibetan Government in Exile, India, China, EU, UK and US in the development of their policy positions. His standing was reinforced by the Dalai Lama's decision to hold a public talk in the UK in 2012 at the University of Westminster following an invitation from Anand when he chaired a closed-door session earlier in 2011 in Helsinki.

Anand first came to public prominence following the eruption of protests in Chinese- controlled Tibet in 2008. He was interviewed on BBC TV, Al Jazeera, BBC World Service, various radio stations in USA and Canada and his views were solicited by the New York Times, the Asia Times, The Independent and Asahi Simbum (Japan). He was commissioned to write articles by the Guardian, Singapore Straits Times, Times of India and The Hindu. He was particularly prominent in debates about self-immolation as a form of protest since 2011, where an article critical of the practice commissioned by the Guardian (2) was republished by Outlook India (the largest circulation magazine in the sub-continent) and led to a commissioned article by the New Internationalist, an interview with Zee News (3) (a popular Indian TV station) and public talks organised by student organisations, activist groups and monasteries in India and the UK.

Anand was commissioned in 2013 by the Europe China Research and Advice Network (ECRAN) to write a policy paper `The Self-Immolation Crisis in Chinese Controlled Tibet'. ECRAN provides policy reports to the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the 28 member states of the European Union. According to the ECRAN Team Leader and Director of the Chinese Study Centre at the University of Sydney, the impact of the report has been high: `it had direct impact on the policy thinking of a huge community of diplomats, and officials, across the EU, and located in China... The feedback from the EEAS that we received afterwards was very complimentary, and it had evidently helped them think through more deeply issues in this complex area. I would therefore say that Dr Anand's paper had very high policy impact.' (4)

Anand's profile increased further when he made a public interjection in response to the controversy around the Karmapa Lama (the second highest ranking Tibetan religious leader in exile in India). Following the false accusation by the Indian media that Karmapa was a Chinese spy in February 2011, Anand was commissioned to write an article by the Hindustan Times (5), shared by more than 2000 people on Facebook and read online by more than 25,000 people within the first two days. This was quickly followed by an interview on Zee News and a second article commissioned by Kafila (an alternative media website). These interventions received significant attention well beyond India, with citations in articles in Time World, Chinese and Korean media and on Tibetan activist websites. Anand was approached by Indian government officials to substantiate his views and was thanked by the Karmapa's office in India and invited to meet him personally in December 2011.

Anand is frequently invited to give policy advice in face-to-face meetings with officials on Tibet and wider issues related to the Himalayan region, for example with individuals in the Tibetan Government in Exile (including audiences with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala), Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Chinese Foreign Ministry and the US Congressional Research Service. The Head of the Asia Pacific Research Group at the FCO, who meets with Anand regularly, is highly complimentary of his `timely and carefully tailored advice... I find his work balanced and nuanced in a field where neither of these traits is common. He clearly has a very strong network of academic and Government contacts in the region which I think are unparalleled in the UK. It is extremely helpful for the FCO to be able to tap into these contacts through Dr. Anand... he has helped deepen our understanding so that we can better nuance our approach' (6). The UK Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama states: `Dibyesh's prolific and objective research and his ability to engage with the Tibetan communities in London and India on various vital issues including challenges of survival and democratisation, self-immolations and non-violent protests are admirable and helpful' (7).

His reputation as a public commentator on Tibet and the broader Himalayan region has led to numerous invitations to speak to and visit think-tanks and other civil society organisations, including: in Delhi in 2012-13, the Foundation for Non Violent Action (FNVA), the Institute of China Studies and the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA); Bhutan Society UK in 2011; and visiting fellowships at the Centre for Bhutan Studies (CBS) in the summer of 2012 and IDSA in 2013.

Anand is highly pro-active in his public engagement activities, through organising events, hosting delegations and social media. The most prominent event was clearly the Dalai Lama's visit to the University of Westminster (which was oversubscribed beyond the packed audience of 500). He also organised a public event on Kashmir and Tibet, involving two prominent dissident intellectuals: Wang Lixiong from China and Arundhati Roy from India. The youtube video of his discussion with Roy has received more than 22,000 hits. He has hosted Chinese government delegations on three separate occasions in 2008-10 (covered by Chinese and exile newspapers). His social media activities have been extensive, using Facebook and other platforms to interact with and on occasion mentor activists and writers. As the Deputy Program Director at Students for a Free Tibet in India states: `His illuminating research and talks not only provided Tibetans diaspora with greater understanding of possible challenges and opportunities it might face in future but also inspired and guided many aspiring Tibetan youngsters in their educational pursuits' (8).

As his research broadens to other areas in the Himalayas, his impact on public discourse continues to develop. An opinion piece was commissioned on China-India border disputes by the Indian newspaper Seven Sisters Post in 2011 and his views solicited by news media including The Times Magazine. He was interviewed on Bhutan State TV on the significance of China-India relations for the Himalayan peoples; an interview that was picked up in the country's newspapers. The President of the Centre for Bhutan Studies highlights how one of Anand's public lectures that presented an alternative perspective on Bhutan-India relations has had a significant impact: `Since then, quite a few columnists has taken Dr Anand's stance and several researches are underway along the same line' (9). A lecture at Kashmir University in April 2013 was covered by major Kashmir newspapers and picked up and criticized by an Indian newspaper that established a campaign against him (10). Elements of his Facebook commentary are re-produced by the Kashmiri separatist group online magazine Voice of Jammu Kashmir. Anand has established an online platform `Kashmir Writes and Kashmiri Rights' through which he mentors young Kashmiri writers. Already one has had pieces printed in Kashmiri newspapers.

Anand utilises the full range of pathways to impact. Based on the international standing of his research and his willingness and ability to engage across a variety of formal and informal mediums, he has had significant impact on public discourse and policy developments on Tibet and other aspects of minority-majority relations in the Himalayan region.

Sources to corroborate the impact

(1) https://www.facebook.com/dibyesh

(2) http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/oct/19/china-tibetans-self-immolation

(3) http://zeenews.india.com/exclusive/tibet-self-immolation-wont-trigger-china-spring_3393.html

(4) Personal testimony by Europe China Research and Advice Network (ECRAN) Team Leader and Director of the Chinese Study Centre at the University of Sydney. Full text available and contact details in `Corroborative Individuals' document that accompanies this submission.

(5) http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/Columns/Buddha-s-not-smiling/Article1-657332.aspx

(6) Personal testimony by the Head of the Asia Pacific Research Group, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London. Full text available. Contact details in `Corroborative Individuals' document that accompanies this submission.

(7) Personal testimony by the UK Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, London. Full text available. Contact details in `Corroborative Individuals' document that accompanies this submission.

(8) Personal testimony by Deputy Program Director, Students for a Free Tibet (India). Full text available. Contact details in `Corroborative Individuals' document that accompanies this submission.

(9) Personal testimony by President of the Centre for Bhutan Studies, Thimphu. Full text available. Contact details in `Corroborative Individuals' document that accompanies this submission.

(10) http://www.niticentral.com/2013/04/23/anti-india-elements-taking-over-kashmir-university-69677.html