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Thoughts on Tibet

Not since 1959, have events in Tibet attracted so much international attention. This is as much a reflection of the advanced technologies for communications now as it is that a so-called rising China can no longer hide skeletons in its cupboards. Equally the August Olympics lend a poignancy as the timing of the protests and the brutality of inevitable suppression point up to all that the Chinese have done wrong in Tibetan areas of China. My comments on the developments are as follows:

1. As on previous occasions, Tibetans have shown the ability to mount protests in Lhasa and elsewhere in spite of the heavy hand of security forces and awareness of the negative results.The real or perceived threat to the conduct of the grandest Olympics to date explains the disproportionate reactions even to extent of invoking harsh Prime Ministerial statements, perhaps for first time since the fifties. That speaks of the paranoid atmosphere surrounding the conduct of the games and all that goes with it. The fact that protests spread to parts of old Tibet hived off to other Chinese Provinces brings with it a profound message.

2. For some time now, Chinese have painted themselves into a corner by their frequent accusations against the Dalai Lama. This shows how insensitive they are to all the frequent interventions they have made to the monastic religious order, hallowed by tradition over centuries from the Yuan Dynasty, on the choice of high lamas, reincarnations and the methods and form of monastic life, lama education etc. Worse still the easy assumption that infrastructure development, access to modern education, higher living standards would cumulatively remove feelings of alienation of Tibetans has been belied. The Han emigrants into parts of Tibet (Lhasa and other cities) and other adjoining areas have highlighted for all Tibetan communities in China, the yawning gulf separating the communities and the wide inequalities which have come into being.If there was a greater attempt to truly spread the benefits to all, then there was little impact on feelings of deprivation and alienation on part of Tibetans, whose regional chauvinistic feelings have been worsened.

3. The astute handling of matters by the Dalai Lama has strengthened his moral stature, certainly internationally and the Chinese need to come to terms with this. The offer to step down if methods other than non-violent protests are used combined with the offer to continue dialogue over mutually acceptable autonomy puts him in a good position. This is being reinforced by USA,UK, EU etal. To ignore all this and work towards the status quo ante, which may be the Chinese ploy, will only jeopardize the sort of Olympics which the Chinese are hoping for.

4. And what of India? Events in Tibet and other areas should erode Chinese claims to Tawang and its adjacent areas. A Chinese military adventurism can not be foreseen, but of course India cannot let down its guard. New Delhi should press ahead with the various projects promised for border areas with due regard to the environment,rehabilitation etc. In the longer haul, a key question would be whether the protests can put an end to massive extractive and exploitative projects vis a vis Tibet’s natural water and other resources.

We, in India, are in a better position to articulate as well as pursue our well known ingredients of policy. This could be better appreciated by the world at large- and we should try and make the Chinese understand.Elements of this are: (a) No support to India being made a base for political activities aimed at the independence of Tibet.The threshold of our definitions and tolerance would be constantly tested, (b) Continued support for the Dalai Lama and Tibetans’ stay in India on humanitarian grounds, but numbers of refugees are bound to increase for no fault of ours and (c) Encouragement to direct dialogue between the Chinese and the Dalai Lama , combined with hopes that both parties would be moderate in their demands so as to work towards an acceptable framework of autonomy. While the Chinese in their statements so far appear to be inclined to see that India-China relations are not affected by events in Tibet, there is no clear inkling yet that they would wish for a role for India in facilitating the substance of the dialogue between the two parties. India could use its influence with the Dalai Lama camp to see if pragmatic, moderate, approaches by their side are possible. On the other hand , India could allow the Chinese to stew in their own juice! I am not sure of the merits and demerits of either option.

(The writer, Mr.C.V.Ranganathan, IFS (Retd), is former Ambassador of India to China.)

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