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A Geo-strategic Importance of Tibet: China’s “Palm and Five-Fingers Strategy”; By

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Article 19/2020

China warned India that it will open new fronts in the Himalayas soon after the violent face-off took place between Chinese and Indian soldiers in Ladakh along the Indo-Tibetan border, which will cost heavy load for both India and China.

At the height of the coronavirus crisis in the world, all the media have focused on China’s military aggression in Ladakh and Sikkim. But the root cause of China’s military incursions across the Indian Himalayan borders is barely known by the Indian public.

This article aims to explore the geo-strategic importance of Tibet is a fundamental strategic blueprint for the protracted India-China dispute over the Indo-Tibetan border.

China’s military aggression in India, Bhutan and Nepal is strategically designed by the Chinese communist leaders’ perception that Tibet is the palm and Himalayan regions are the five-fingers. China considered Tibet as the palm and Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh as the five-fingers.

In the early 20th century, British India adopted its forward policy towards Tibet for expanding her market and at the same time, British desired to establish Tibet a buffer against the Czarist Russia’s threat to India.

British successfully made Tibet a buffer state between Russia, China and British India after British India’s short invasion of Tibet in 1903. Subsequently, Chinese nationalists viewed the British invasion of Tibet as a security threat to China from its backyard. British left India in 1947.

The Communist Party of China established the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on October 1, 1949. After that, China invaded Tibet in 1950. Subsequently, centuries-old a zone of peace between India and China disappeared.

After China’s occupation of Tibet, the first-ever Sino-Indian military face-off was seen in the world’s highest border – the Himalayas. Since then, more than thousands of Chinese military incursions took place across the Indian Himalayan borders.

By invading Tibet, China asserted Tibet as a treasure of its strategic asset to speed up China’s expansionist policy towards the Himalayan nations and beyond. And also, China’s militarization of the Tibetan plateau triggered the geopolitical tensions in South Asia.

China sees Tibet as a strategic passage to extend China’s geopolitical ambition in South Asia. Mao Zedong, the founding father of PRC and a firm believer of Tsun Tzu’s strategic doctrine – “the Art of War”, strategized Tibet as the palm of China to expand its sphere of influence in South Asia. China invaded and occupied Tibet in order to bring the ”five-fingers” Himalayan regions under its supremacy.

The 2017 Doklam stand-off and recent China’s occupation of a Nepali village Rui Gaun of Gorkh district are just a tip of the iceberg of China’s military aggression in the five-fingers Himalayan regions.

Today, China is actively encroaching in the Himalayan borders of Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh for further encircling India to boost “China’s Strategy of Encirclement India”, which aims to encircle India through different fronts.

Professor Ashok Kapur rightly illustrated “China’s Strategy of Encirclement India” in his book entitled “India and the South Asian Strategic Triangle”, where he writes “China’s India war of 1962 created a military front in the Himalayan regions. The PRC-Pakistan strategic partnership has created a diplomatic with security and defence fronts against India. The encirclement of the Chinese port facilities in Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Pakistan has created commercial and trade fronts against India”. All these geostrategic tensions are strategic ramifications of China’s aggressive policy towards India.

Strategically, the Tibetans were the first line of the defence for India. They ultimately safeguarded the 3,488 kilometres long border from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh.

Since the disappearance of Tibet as a traditional buffer state between India and China in 1950, the two Asian giants faced military escalations along the Indo-Tibetan border. The shifting of Indo-Tibetan border into Sino-Indian border itself has created unprecedented geopolitical enigma in the Himalayas

The centrality of Tibet issue in the Sino-Indian geostrategic relations is an ultimate resolution for resolving the Sino-Indian dispute over the Indo-Tibetan border. The renowned international scholars on China study such as Mohan Malik, Professor Dawa Norbu and Brahma Chellaney argue that Tibet lies at the heart of the Sino-Indian relations.

Professor Dawa Norbu explicitly stated that “The crux of the Sino-Indian strategic rivalry is this: if the Chinese power elite considers Tibet to be strategically important to China, the Indian counterparts think it is equally vital to Indian national security”.

The present Chinese leadership has recognized the Tibet issue as a core issue of China’s national security and strategic engagement in South Asia. Thus, this is the right time for India to craft India’s new Tibet policy, because China’s strategizing Tibet as China’s palm and Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh as the five-fingers of Tibet is not rhetoric. It is happening in the Himalayas.

(Tsewang Dorji, is a Visiting Fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of C3S)

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