Professor Robert Barnett of the London’s School of Oriental and African Studies and King’s College is one of the most eminent living Tibetologists. He published in the “Asia Unbound” blog of the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) a provocative article where he criticized those who claim that Tibetans are experiencing “similar abuses” to those vested on the Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim populations in Xinjiang. He mentioned in particular claims advanced by German researcher Dr. Adrian Zenz and by politicians and scholars connected with the Tibetan administration in exile, supported by some Western colleagues. Some Tibetan activists took exception to Barnett’s article, and one asked the CFR to publish his rebuttal.
The controversy has been discussed in several international media, and deserves some comments. First, it is important to clarify what Barnett did not say. He did not argue that Adrian Zenz is a partisan or unreliable researcher. On the contrary, Barnett wrote that Zenz “has done well-regarded work on Tibet and Xinjiang in the past. His more recent work has been attacked and abused by Chinese state media and others, including smears about his religious beliefs by a pro-Chinese denialist called Max Blumenthal, demonstrating a particularly ugly form of hypocrisy.”
Where, thus, is the disagreement? Barnett claims that, whatever the horror of the abuses vested on Tibetan nuns, monks, and laypersons, there is such a difference in “scale and degree” with what is happening in Xinjiang that equating the two situations is incorrect.