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Report of 1-day conference “Tibet: A Global Common or a Bone of Contention” at Dharamsala, 24th Octo

C3S Report No: 0018/2017

The inaugural Tibetan Policy Institute (TPI) – Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S) conference was held in Dharamshala on the 24th of October 2017. A formal Memorandum of Understanding (M0U) was signed between the Director of C3S and the Director of the TPI to engage in academic research in areas of mutual interest and to promote better understanding amongst researchers in both the think tanks.

The inaugural address by the President of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), Sikyong Dr Lobsong Sangay set the tone for the next five panels that discussed a diverse set of issue that was unified by the theme of the conference. Emphasising the need to discuss the current scenario in Tibet with respect to securitization and China’s strategy in Tibet, environmental degradation of Tibet, soft power policies and their impact on Tibet, Xi Jinping and the powerful development narrative and the Tibetan identity, the President of the CTA, marked the broad outlines of the conference.

Prof. Ramu Manivannan, Head of Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Madras delivered the keynote address to the gathering. He raised pertinent questions about India losing a neighbour in Tibet and the geostrategic importance of Tibet to India.

The inaugural session concluded with the launch of a monograph titled “Island on The Rocks” by Mr Rahul Karan Reddy who wrote it during his internship tenure with C3S during 2017 summer. The President of the CTA, Sikyong Dr Lobsong Sangay received the first copy of the monograph.

The opening panel was initiated by Dr Ashik Bonofer, Asst. Professor at the Madras Christian College (MCC) in Chennai who illustrated China’s grand strategy employed to project China as the dominant regional power. The paper included economic investments made in various South-east Asian countries, now in China’s sphere of influence and discussed bilateral relations that China forged to maintain supremacy in the region. Contrasting this strategy, India’s strategy has a shorter life cycle and Dr Bonofer evaluated what measures India can take to check China’s growing influence in the region. The second speaker of the panel was Dr Tenzin Tsultrim, Research Fellow at TPI, who carried out a broad survey of military exercises taking place in Tibet. The presentation studied logistical infrastructure and industrial investment in Tibet to facilitate a quick deployment of troops. The militarization of the Tibetan plateau, in Dr Tenzin’s opinion, has to do with China’s insecurity of its Western and South-Western borders.

The second panel was initiated by Dr Alagu Perumal Ramasamy, Assoc. Professor at Loyola Institute of Business Administration (LIBA), whose presentation focused on the Xi Jinping brand of leadership which brought economic development to Tibet in the face of political estrangement and uncertainty. The economic development and infrastructure of Tibet reflect a growing Chinese influence on Tibet and the Tibetan question. Dr Permal put forth the contours of this development strategy under the current Chinese president and offered an explanation for its increasing influence on the Tibetan question. The second speaker, Dr Tenzin Tsetan, Research Fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute, was able to bring out the mismanagement and misrepresentation of Tibetan Buddhism that China engaged in. The presentation analysed and evaluated Chinese policies co-opt Tibetan Buddhism and alter its historical and contemporary practice.

The last session for the morning was initiated by Sundeep Kumar S, Research Officer at C3S, whose presentation on the Tibetan identity constituted a study of Tibetan ethnicity, language, cultural practices and Buddhism. The social and cultural values have been the driving feature of the Tibetan identity which is closely wound with Buddhist principles. The Tibetan identity has become a powerful symbol of freedom that China has to confront. The second presentation by Mr Tempa Gyaltsen Zamlha whose study on the environmental disasters in Tibet, explained the causes of sudden and drastic environmental effects. Supplemented by climate change and poor practices on the ground, Mr Tempa argues that the condition in Tibet is likely to witness environmental shifts and crisis more frequently.

The session after lunch was initiated by Mr Rahul Karan, a former intern at C3S whose presentation focused on the issue of water security in Asia and the role of Tibet in mitigating insecurity. The presentation also included a survey of Chinese dam projects that imposed detrimental economic and environmental externalities and fuelled ethnic and resource conflict. The second speaker, Mrs Denchen Palmo, Research Fellow at TPI, took up the issue of power asymmetry in the India-China relationship to explain the lack of institutional arrangements surrounding the Yarlung Tsangpo. Mrs Palmo argues that despite diverging perceptions and interests regarding Transboundary Rivers, India and China are capable of avoiding conflict over the river.

The concluding panel of the conference was initiated by Ms Asma Masood, Research Officer at C3S and the presentation dealt with the significance of Chinese soft power strategies in Tibet. She argues that Tibetans can find ways to use China’s soft power tactics to their advantage and retain their cultural legacy. The final speaker for the conference was Dr Tenzin Desal, Research Fellow at TPI. The presentation surrounded the Chinese political strategy developed under Mao to subvert and co-opt broad political interests of China. Dr Tenzin outlined the application of the same strategy in Tibet and its current form.

Commodore RS Vasan IN Retd, the Director of C3S delivered the concluding remarks and expressed his happiness at the proceedings of great importance to Asian security and Stability. He observed that with all the major river systems of Asia originating in Tibet, there is a need for greater transparency in the projects in which Chinese are investing to divert the rivers are build mega-dams. The mega-dams and interference with the natural flow of rivers from Tibet have the potential to alter the fragile ecological balance and affect all the nations including China.

The vote of thanks was given by Mr Tenzin Lekshay, Deputy Director of TPI. He noted the success of the seminar and assured more such academic cooperation with C3S in future in line with the MoU. He thanked C3S and other participants of the conference for making it a success.

Following the seminar, the delegation visited the office of the President of the CTA where the President handed over a memento for C3S.

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