Updated: Mar 7
Image Courtesy: The Diplomat
(The following article is republished from C3S archives dated March 20, 2008)
The events in Tibet following the March 10th demonstrations on the 49th anniversary of Dalai Lama’s historic flight from Lhasa to India in 1959 will continue to have reverberations internationally for some time to come. Despite restoring public order and peace by using brute force, the Chinese government has failed miserably to quell the suppressed feelings of Tibetans. It is likely that Tibetan resistance will continue unabated albeit it may take more novel forms of protest. The Beijing Olympics will definitely fuel the fire of Tibetan cries for self-determination and independence as from a Tibetan perspective it would be now or never kind of strategic opportunity. Although the six million Tibetans are ill-equipped militarily to take on the most powerful Communist Chinese empire, the timing of these protests is “historically correct” and has the potential to fundamentally alter the future geopolitical events in the whole of Central Asia. The governor of TAR in China has already declared “peoples’ war” on the Tibetan protesters. Chinese premier Wen Jiabao has declared these protests as a life and death issue for China. He squarely blamed Dalai Lama for organizing these “premeditated, well-orchestrated and well-planned violent protests” to sour the Olympics. Wen Jiabao has expressed appreciation of the “correct” steps taken by the Indian Friends in New Delhi. Dalai Lama has lamented the Indian government’s tendency to genuflect to Chinese interests as supreme while offering to resign if violence spreads.
The situation on the ground in Tibet is changing very fast. A critical and decisive moment has been reached in the six decades-long Tibetan struggle for self-determination. The future roadmap for Tibetan independence will be predicated on the level of discontent in Tibet as well as on the response of the international community in further preventing cultural genocide. This paper will not serve as a factual news report or as an updated latest bulletin but will analyze the geo-political events in Tibet from a multi-dimensional strategic perspective. Some of the ground realities and facts may have changed by the time this paper goes into press since the pace of change is fast indeed.
Since the Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet in 1951, there has been ongoing repression sponsored by the PLA and the Chinese Communist Party. According to a Chinese military document between March 1959 and September 1960, 87,000 Tibetan people were killed. Despite recent attempts to improve the physical infrastructure and economic conditions in Tibet and linking Lhasa with Beijing by railroad, Tibetans’ genuine grievances remain unresolved. There has been increase in the level of repression and arrests leading to recurrent demands for independence and self-determination among the Tibetan youth living in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). Truly, the designation of any “autonomous region” in China is a sham because the Chinese Communist Party wants total control, uniformity, and centralization of power.
The simmering tensions have been exacerbated further by the Chinese policy of demographic invasion of Tibet by the Han Chinese. Not the Han Chinese now outnumber the ethnic Tibetans in TAR and are in positions of power in the TAR administrative setup. Han Chinese have a patronizing, paternalistic, and racist view of the Tibetans. Racial discrimination against Tibetans has been alleged from time to time. China does have a history of colonialism that is not acknowledged by the Chinese Communist Party. Communist China has not formally repudiated the history of colonialism by its imperialistic predecessors. The problems in Tibet and in southwest China are linked to the west-ward expansion of the Han Chinese nation into areas originally inhabited by other nationalities (ethnic minorities) that refuse to see themselves as Chinese. Like independent Tibet, the province of Xinjiang (Sinkiang) was briefly independent as East Turkistan, or Uighurstan, in 1933. A part of it was under Soviet control from 1945 to 1949. Its population is still roughly 55 percent Uighurs and Kazakhs who are Turkic-speaking. Some Tibetan majority areas were also transferred to Han-majority provinces – Qinghai, Sichuan, and Gansu where the current Tibetan uprising has spread.
Last year, the Chinese Communist Party-led government introduced a ridiculous law interfering with Buddhist religious practices on the reincarnation of living Buddha. The PRC attempt was to pave the way for a Chinese Communist party “approved and sanctioned” kosher reincarnation of Dalai Lama when the current incumbent on Living Buddha seat dies. They have a time-tested strategy, which is to wait for the death of Dalai Lama and anoint his successor – like their earlier selection of the Panchen Lama.
The Chinese government was very poor in predicting the level of possible unrest related to PRC’s hosting of the Olympics in Beijing from August 8-24th 2008. Hu Jintao who had lorded over Tibet during the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre had firmly and brutely crushed down any semblance of rebellion in Tibet at that time earning him praise in the upper echelons of the Chinese Communist Party enabling his future ascension to the supreme party leadership. Hu Jintao’s theories of harmonious society, peaceful and scientific development were predicated upon increased economic prosperity to be shared not only amongst the Han Chinese but also with the ethnic minorities including Tibetans. Prosperity, however, does not inoculate against nationalist sentiments. Relative prosperity sometimes forces the masses to focus on other cultural, civilizational, nationalistic, and socio-spiritual issues besides the mundane bread and butter issues. The ferocity of the spontaneous uprising was not appreciated and understood correctly by the PRC government leading to a clumsy military police response with the loss of more than 100 lives by unofficial accounts. Hu Jintao and his ruling clique felt supremely confidant that the economic prosperity will tone down any negative response on part of Tibetans and merely sealing the approach routes to Everest during the Olympic torch ceremony will prevent any ethnic Tibetan from raising the Tibetan flag during that ceremony.
BEIJING OLYMPICS AND THE ORIGINAL SCRIPT:
In the eyes of human rights observers, China never had a legitimate right to host the Olympics in Beijing because of the poor human rights record of the Chinese government, particularly since the 1989 bloody crackdown on Tiananmen Square. In July 2001, when Beijing was awarded the Games, many human rights campaigners expressed their utter surprise since Beijing is regularly credited with the worst human rights violations. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) authorities including the IOC President Jacques Rogge had hoped that hosting the Olympic Games would serve to improve China’s human rights record. This was perhaps the logical culmination of the “constructive engagement” policy of the West towards China since the 1970s. French Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who resurrected the ancient Olympic Games in 1896, firmly believed that sports and the Games could help create better human beings. For some Olympic watchers, the violent demonstrations in Tibet come as no surprise and are something the IOC can’t be expected to resolve.
For China, the opportunity to host the Olympics was a way of pronouncing to the world that China has arrived on the scene as an economic giant. It was supposed to be the inaugural ball for the dame China to be presented and introduced to high and mighty in the international elite society. It was to be national honor, glory, and splendor which supposedly would have blindsided the world that would be so mesmerized by the dazzling royal celebrations of the newest Chinese emperor of the Communist caucus. PRC should have realized that the Olympics are more than a commercial, industrial or mercantile venture. Recent actions of police brutality in Tibet only serve to undermine the reputation of both China and the IOC. China cannot be allowed to gamble with the life and liberty of the occupied people of Tibet so close to the Olympics although the Chinese government would very much like to silence any further dissent in Tibet.
TIBET REVOLT AND OLYMPIC BOYCOTT:
Prince Charles had announced his personal boycott of the Beijing Olympics on grounds of principles long ago before the current wave of protests started. Film director Steven Spielberg also withdrew in February as an artistic adviser to the opening and closing ceremonies on grounds of China’s tacit support for the Sudanese government’s bloodshed in Darfur. European calls for a boycott of the opening ceremony predate the current wave of protests in Tibet. The violent protests in Tibet are forcing governments and human rights campaigners to re-examine their approach to the Beijing Olympic Games. Moves to punish China over its handling of violence in Tibet have regained momentum with a novel suggestion for a mini-boycott of the grand opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. Human Rights Watch, which has not advocated a total boycott, is likely to urge heads of state not to attend the opening ceremony. Such a novel protest by world leaders and dignitaries would be a huge slap in the face for the Chinese Communist Party.
French foreign minister and the founder of ‘Medicine Sans Frontiere’ Bernard Kouchner is spearheading the possible opening ceremony boycott with other European Union foreign ministers. IOC President Jacques Rogge expects many heads of state — including President Bush, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy — to attend the opening ceremony. China will desperately try to stop any boycott movement from gathering further steam. Premier Wen Jiabao openly accused the “Dalai clique” of orchestrating the violence against the Han Chinese and Hui Muslims in order to taint the Beijing Olympics. Tibetan protestors chanted a prayer and waved Tibetan flags at a protest near the IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. The IOC is under pressure to clearly denounce the killings in Lhasa and force China to stop further repression.
TAIWAN REFERENDUM AND TIBET:
China has adroitly tied the twin issues of Tibet and Taiwan together. Owing to skillful Chinese diplomatic histrionics, all countries having diplomatic relations with China are supposed to ritually sing songs about their “One China Policy” and Tibet being an inalienable part of China. In the same vein, the Chinese communist government has refused to have an open and direct dialogue with Dalai Lama on the grounds that he should first renounce independence for Tibet and admit that Taiwan is a province of China as a precondition for talks on genuine autonomy.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao indirectly threatened the Taiwanese voters to reject the ballot question on membership of the United Nations as the Republic of Taiwan, warning that cross-straits tensions would rise if the referendum succeeds, destabilizing the whole Asia-pacific region. It is likely that Taiwanese elections will be won by Pro-Beijing KMT candidate Ma who advocates fostering closer cross-straits relations between Beijing and Taipei and rejects the need for a referendum. In the final days of campaigning before Taiwan’s presidential elections, both major political parties in Taiwan have condemned Beijing’s suppression of protests in Tibet. The uprising and the use of military police in Tibet will bring a wave of fear among Taiwanese voters and will definitely undermine China’s efforts to encourage self-governing Taiwan to move toward reunification with the mainland. Though the March 23rd referendum in Taiwan may not be successful in declaring de facto independence, strong results in the referendum will further hasten the demise of the future possibility of communist authoritarian rule.
LIKELY TIBETAN GOALS AND EXPECTATIONS:
Like it happens in any liberation movement, the Tibetan polity is now divided owing to geographic reasons, lack of adequate communications, and continued repression. The rift among the leadership is very apparent from the statements released over the last few days. Though for very obvious reasons, there may be confusion about the actual goals, genuine aspirations and the ultimate demands of Tibetan people can not be trivialized anymore. Geo-political events generate mass expectations. These expectations and hopes alter the course of future events initiating a chain reaction that can not be stopped. That critical threshold has already been achieved in Tibet.
A) Response from India-based Tibetan Refugees: There is definitely a generational divide among the India-based Tibetan refugees. Tibetan Youth Congress is no longer satisfied with the talk of genuine autonomy and the “middle way”. Their goal is total independence from China. There are a large number of young passionate Tibetans who advocate complete independence as opposed to “meaningful autonomy” as suggested by the Dalai Lama. This younger generation is very restive and possibly can not be silenced anymore as they believe Dalai Lama’s non-violent struggle has led them nowhere and has increased Chinese repression and cultural subjugation of Tibet. For these young Tibetan activists, “non-violence” is not a sacred creed but independence from China is. China’s investment of $ 6 billion in the Beijing-Lhasa railroad has increased the level of suspicion in this segment of Tibetan refugees in India.
B) Response from West-based Tibetans: Tibetan refugees based in the West are unlikely to be satisfied with “autonomy- only solutions”. These people have witnessed the liberation of former Warsaw pact countries (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, etc), Baltic Republics (Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania), and Balkan states (Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia) in Europe under their very eyes with very sympathetic treatment from the international community. West-based Tibetan diaspora is more educated, more economically resourceful, and more connected with international events and community. These diasporas aspire to the same levels of liberty, democracy, and equality for their compatriots back home as they enjoy in their adoptive homes in Europe and the US. A second-class citizenship status under the over-lordship of the Han Chinese under an authoritarian communist regime shall no longer be acceptable to Western-based Tibetan diaspora who mingle with the likes of Richard Gere and Uma Therman and the other Hollywood glitterati.
C) Response from Dalai Lama:
For tactical and pragmatic reasons Dalai Lama and others in Dharamshala had scaled back their demands for total independence and were willing to accept genuine autonomy and a healthy respect for Tibetan culture. Advocating for a comprehensive approach to resolve this problem that takes into account the benefits to all parties involved, Dalai Lama has been firm in commitment to a mutually beneficial policy, the ‘Middle-Way’ approach. Since 2002, talks were going on between the envoys of Dalai Lama and the Chinese government with no solution in sight owing to the duplicitous attitude of the PRC. He has expressed his solidarity with those Tibetans presently undergoing repression and ill-treatment. The Dalai Lama has acknowledged his helplessness in the face of such widespread protests as does not and can not control the events on the ground in Tibet. He has also threatened to quit as the head of the government-in-exile if the violence continues. He understands that the attitude inside Tibet has hardened and there has been significant criticism of his “failed” non-violent approach. Dalai Lama has implicitly admitted that Tibetans are no longer willing to follow his “middle way” approach. He does reiterate that Tibetans have had to live in a state of constant fear, intimidation, and suspicion under Chinese repression. However, in spite of the current wave of killings of Tibetans, he is prepared to pursue the ‘Middle-Way’ policy and continue the dialogue with the Chinese Government. He, however, very pragmatically has not foreclosed the option of total independence if the Tibetan people wanted that.
D) Response from Dharamshala based Government of Tibet in At this juncture, the leadership for the movement seems to be coming from inside Tibet. The government-in-exile with or without Dalai Lama may be forced to react passively to the events happening in Tibet. Clearly, they did not initiate the demonstration by the Buddhist monks on March 10th in Lhasa. For sake of unity, they will have to harmonize their future course of action in sync with the aspirations of resident Tibetans who are braving the Chinese repressive machinery. This may mean formally and openly accepting the demands for total independence of Tibet.
E) Future escalation of protests by Tibetans in ATR: Though temporarily, China will be able to suppress the uprising by use of brute force analogous to the situation in Myanmar, the Beijing Olympics have opened a strategic window for the so-far frozen issue of Tibetan independence. Recent reports suggest the movement of PLA units with tanks and heavy armored divisions into Tibet. The Tibetan protests will neither stop nor cease. There will be more and more novel ways to attract attention to the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the cultural genocide. PRC is fighting a losing battle of wits against the Tibetan freedom fighters as the world has transformed. Despite mounting loss of life of resident Tibetans, Chinese repressive machinery would not be able to quell the bug of Tibetan independence as it has under-estimated the Tibetan nationalistic sentiment.
WHAT WOULD CHINA DO?
China currently does not have very many options dealing with the Tibetan uprising. Either it can negotiate autonomy with Dalai Lama soon enough or it can continue with the repressive policies of total control on TAR. China has ruled out the first option. Tibet’s Communist Party secretary, Zhang Qingli, lashed out at the Dalai Lama warning “we are engaged in a fierce battle of blood and fire with the Dalai clique, a life-and-death struggle between the foe and us.” The same sentiments have been expressed by the Premier Wen Jiabao.
Demonization of Dalai Lama:
Pursuing the policy of total Sinification of TAR, China will continue to demonize Dalai Lama at every given opportunity. Secretary Zhang Qingli recently commented that “the Dalai is a jackal in Buddhist monk’s robes, an evil spirit with a human face and the heart of a beast.” Premier Wen Jiabao claims that the Chinese government has evidence linking the “Dalai Clique” to the deadly unrest against Chinese rule in Tibet. Labeling Dalai Lama’s actions as “hypocritical” Wen accused him of trying to sabotage the Beijing Olympics by organizing these violent incidents in TAR in a premeditated and conspiratorial manner.
Positive Media Management and Counter-offensive:
The Chinese Government will try to “spin” the international media in three directions:
1. Chinese government will try to discourage any analogies between the suppression of the current Tibetan protests and the bloody crackdown on 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square. The role of the PLA in restoring peace and order will be camouflaged. The Chinese officials will claim that the Tibetan police and the military police are dealing with the protests, not the PLA. The number of deaths will be minimized and the use of tanks and heavily armored vehicles will be denied.
2. The government authorities will make exhaustive efforts to ensure that as few people as possible, inside or outside China, hear anything but the official version. Independent international media will be discredited.
3. Efforts will be made to portray the Han Chinese and the Hui Muslims living in TAR as innocent victims of brutalities by Tibetan hooligans. Media reports, videos, and the internet will be effectively utilized to put the Tibetan demonstrators in a negative light.
Total Information Control and Management:
The Chinese government will take steps further steps to control the outflow of information from Tibet using physical and virtual controls on international media.
1. The visas of foreign correspondents will be canceled or restricted. Physical access to TAR will be limited and reporters will be kept confined to their hotels. Under the garb of providing security, government minders and translators will prevent foreign correspondents from interviewing Tibetans.
2. Access to electronic media support will be denied. Non-functional fax machines and slowed down internet will become access will become the means. The authorities will block all Internet sites relating to Tibet.
Domestic newspapers, TV programs, and Internet sites will carry only articles produced by the official Xinhua news agency. Chinese censors will block out international media.
Security Lockdown on Tibet:
The Chinese government forces including the Tibetan police, military police, and the PLA will blanket Tibet and the areas inhabited by Tibetans in provinces neighboring Tibet, such as Gansu, Qinghai, and Sichuan. The repressive state machinery including the PLA would be hyperactive and crush any signs of dissent over the next few months. The mounting civilian casualties will not deter the Government machinery from exercising lethal means for restoring “peace and order” in Tibet.
Continued Focus on Economic Prosperity:
The Chinese government will keep its focus on the need to keep the economy growing. The government will try to keep unemployment low and inflation low so as to prevent the escalation of domestic unrest in other areas. Shortage of food has led to increased prices of pork. The consumer price index has shot up to more than 8%. The Chinese government will try to boost economy in Tibet as a means of pacifying the Tibetan masses while preventing the spread of unrest in other provinces.
Contingency Plan for Olympics:
Though staging the Olympics peacefully is an important goal for the Chinese government, if push comes to shove, China will choose its continued control and hegemony over Tibet in preference over hosting Olympics successfully. Since the Chinese government considers control of Tibet as a life or death issue, it would not hesitate to sacrifice the Olympics if things get too hot in Tibet leading to a total boycott of the Games.
WHAT SHOULD THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY DO?
Tibet had declared unilateral independence from the Chinese empire in 1911 following the fall of the Manchu dynasty. Tibet was de facto an independent nation from 1911 till 1951 when it was invaded by the expansionist and hegemonistic Communist regime under the leadership of Mao. There were failed opportunities in 1945-1951 when Tibet could have been offered membership of UN as an independent sovereign nation. Thereafter, the international community including the UN, USA, and USSR have a background of serial non-actions following the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1951, in 1959, in 1962, and more recently in 1989.
Western nations are reluctant to take action against China’s crackdown on protests in Tibet, fearing Beijing’s growing economic and diplomatic clout and for their place in its huge consumer market. The main reaction, so far, in Europe and America has been to express concern over the reported deaths in the Himalayan region and call for restraint by China. The European Commission said it was worried about the violence. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged China to engage in a dialogue with the Dalai Lama. The West this as an internal affair of China having conceded Chinese sovereignty over Tibet. The lure of economic opportunities in China for Western nations will outweigh any concerns about human rights.
It is unlikely that the UN will do anything on the Tibetan issue as China is one of the members of the Security Council’s P5 and is robustly supported by an equally authoritarian Russia led by Putin and Medvedev. Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon dare not antagonize China as he is trying to use Chinese influence in the Darfur crisis.
The US will officially take a middle road and will continue to exhort China to improve its human rights record while asking for restoration of peace in Tibet. There will be increased transmission from Radio Free Asia to Tibet. The CIA may increase its contact with the Tibetan diaspora based in the US and Europe and may increase funding for resistance. The current lame duck US administration will not make Tibet a defining issue in the Sino-US relationship as China seems to be bankrolling the US government deficit that runs now into trillions of dollars. George W. Bush will go to attend the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony as planned earlier. The speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi is currently on a five-day tour of India and will be visiting Dharamshala. Nancy Pelosi was instrumental in getting the Dalai Lama honored recently by the Congressional Medal of Freedom despite Chinese protests. However, the direction of a new US administration in 2009 can not be anticipated at this juncture.
US civil society will have a different perspective governed more by moralistic considerations contrasted with the mercantilist instincts of the US government. Already, Stephen Speilberg has resigned from his Beijing Olympics responsibilities. Richard Gere is spearheading American Buddhists solidarity with Tibetan cause. The US civil society will continue to extend its support for Tibetan independence as the Dalai Lama is a highly revered figure in the US and has many Americans followers who have converted to Buddhism. These US converts to Buddhism have economic clout and will continue to bankroll the Tibetan resistance based in the West.
The IOC has been forced to lobby against boycott calls and the possibility of the games turning into a political demonstration. The IOC’s basic contention is that as a sporting organization it is unable to pressure China or any other country on political matters. The IOC believes that a total boycott would only hurt the athletes, as shown by the political boycotts of 1976, 1980, and 1984 Olympics. The IOC will not link the issue of Tibetan independence or human rights record of China with the successful completion of the Olympic Games under any scenario. Admitting that kind of linkage will be akin to IOC eating a crow because IOC should not have awarded the Olympic Games to Beijing in the first place when it did in July 2001 on the human rights record of China.
Concerned about its own separatist problems in Chechnya, Russia will denounce any movement for censor of the Chinese government in the UN for its brutal handling of Tibetan uprisings. Furthermore, Russia has linked unrest in Tibet with a unilateral declaration of independence in Kosovo. Russia will continue to support China in maintaining its control over TAR and will lend moral, diplomatic, and logistic support to China on this issue as Russia feels encircled by the NATO in Eastern Europe and will not budge on this issue. Russia will actively work for further consolidation and enlargement of SCO in conjunction with China to keep US influence from spreading further in Central Asia.
There will be stray calls for boycott of Olympics coming from former East European countries that were under Soviet domination during the cold war era.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch should intervene and asked the Chinese authorities to allow an independent investigation into the situation in Tibet. The response from the international community will be, largely, determined by the events unfolding on the ground. If the Tibetan revolt is successfully contained by China, the international community will keep quiet and continue to do business as usual with China. If the events on ground turn tectonic, international community will adopt “holier than thou” attitude and sing paeans in the praise of cause of human rights violations and the valiant struggle of Tibetans.
The international community has a responsibility to prevent any further physical and cultural genocide of Tibet under Chinese occupation. International community should leave aside short-term economic, mercantile interests and focus on the nationalistic aspirations of six million Tibetans who have been subjugated and dispossessed since 1951 having attained their freedom from the imperialistic power in 1911. If a tiny Kosovo or Macedonia can achieve independence why not six million Tibetans?
WHAT SHOULD INDIA DO?
India’s response to the current revolt in Tibet against Chinese occupation would depend upon the kind of perspective one takes. What should be deemed as the optimal response shall be determined by a complex array of competing interests within the pluralistic, corrupt and chaotic Indian society that is somewhat fractured currently. The overall Indian response needs to be distinguished from the response of the party in power (Congress) or the current lame duck UPA government of India that is on its last legs and is unable to come out with a coherent response. The overall response has to be multi-dimensional, finely tuned and pro-active instead of being reactive, taking into consideration our historical people-to-people relations with both Tibetan people and Chinese people. Indian response should also consider the historical facts including the Chinese Aggression against India in 1962 and subsequent Chinese hostility towards India’s interests in South Asia and in international fora. China’s transfer of nuclear technology and ballistic missile technology to Pakistan and China’s “Pearl of Strings” strategy to contain India should be factored into any decision-making process. Any Indian response must take into account previous Indian attempts to appease the Chinese under Jawahar Lal Nehru’s failed policies in the 1950s and 1960s and perpetual Chinese recourse to the ultimate “victim-hood” role. Indian response needs to take into account the vigorous but unnecessary jubilation expressed by India in 1971 at the time of Communist China getting its permanent seat in the Security Council of the United Nations and India under Jawahar Lal Nehru forgoing the American offer of a permanent seat in Security Council in the 1950s in favor of communist Chinese claim.
A) Response from Indian civilizational and spiritual leadership:
India had been the civilizational guru of China as Buddhism spread to China from India. Chinese pilgrims came to India during ancient times, attended universities and monasteries, and took back a wealth of spiritual knowledge from India. The spiritual leaders from India should exert their moral pressure on the Chinese government expressing concern for the welfare of our Buddhist brethren. The Indian spiritual leaders should express their solidarity with the Dalai Lama for early resolution of the Tibetan grievances be it autonomy or complete independence. A memorandum to the Chinese embassy in New Delhi or a press release from various spiritual leaders expressing their regret at the loss of life under a repressive crackdown by the Chinese government would be useful for the Tibetan cause. The spiritual leaders should exhort the Chinese government to engage in substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama directly and through his representatives so that long-standing issues with regard to Tibet may be resolved. The spiritual leaders of Indic religions should send a strong message to the Chinese Government that what is happening inside Tibet and what the Chinese government is doing to the Tibetans is not justified ethically, morally and spiritually.
B) Response from Indian Civil society institutions: India has a large array of civil society institutions and a historic tradition to help the needy and the down-trodden that dates back from ancient times. Jawahar Lal Nehru sent Dr. Dwarka Nath Kotnis medical mission to China to help the Chinese civil society during the time of their need. There are a number of Non-governmental organizations that can channelize Indian peoples’ help to their Buddhist Tibetan brothers during the time of their need. This may include humanitarian help, e.g. sending medical missions to Lhasa, sending care packages, life-saving medications and of course money to the families of the Tibetan’s killed in the PLA atrocities. Such help should be sent privately by Indian citizens, residents or non-resident irrespective of the Government of India’s official and diplomatic response. These helpful altruistic gestures towards fellow Buddhists will gain us respect and trust from fellow civilizational allies. The NGOs have a significant role in mobilizing public opinion, issuing press statements, sending emails to IOC, Chinese government officials, UN secretary-general etc. The NGOs can also arrange seminars and discussion groups in conjunction with other Human rights organizations on the plight of oppressed Tibetan people living under occupation.
C) Response from Indian media: The print and electronic media in India are free of government control as the Indian constitution allows freedom of speech. This sets a stage where the media’s response to this crisis is divorced from the government’s response. The Indian media does have the rights and luxury of not toeing to the government response and should continue to adopt an independent viewpoint without getting bullied by Chinese government pronouncements threatening dire consequences for Indo-Chinese relations in the future. The Indian media should also disregard the calls for non-interference in China’s internal affairs notably by Indian communist lackeys. The Indian media can rise to the occasion and document the atrocities on the Tibetan population without the fear of strained relations with China.
D) Response from Indian Communists Parties: The leaders of the Indian left, especially the CPM have so far refused to condemn the violence in Tibet, described by the Dalai Lama as “ by the Chinese government. Addressing a press conference in New Delhi, Sitaram Yechury said the clashes were an internal affair of China. SR Yechury rhetorically asked how the Indian nation would react if any other nation were to raise the issue of what is happening in Kashmir. Indian left especially the CPM will refuse to acknowledge Chinese repression in Tibet. Indian Communists will continue to justify Chinese atrocities despite mounting evidence.
E) Response from non-communist political parties: There will be hardly any worthwhile response from the Congress party organization. The right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party will denounce Chinese actions and will exhort the Government to take stronger measures, adopt a strict policy and join hands with other nations and raise the matter at international fora. They will continue to highlight the communist betrayal in 1962; when China attacked India, the united CPI did not condemn the Chinese aggression. The socialists will predictably take a stronger line against China.
Response from current Government of India
Tactical response: The Government of India has come out with a two-pronged response. On one hand, the government of India has arrested Tibetan Youth and demonstrators from staging a March from Dharamshala to Lhasa and has prevented any damage to the Chinese embassy. The government has also issued a cautious appeal to initiate dialogue so as to resolve the grievance without indulging in violence. This is a politically and diplomatically correct initial tactical response. However, this Tibetan issue is not going to disappear and as events are unfolding the response needs to be carefully calibrated taking Indian interests into consideration. Unfortunately, successive governments have not enunciated a long-term Tibet policy.
Long-term Strategic Response and Tibet Policy:
It is not, it was not, and it will be not in the long-term strategic interests of India that Tibet was occupied by expansionist and hegemonistic China in 1951. It remains our long-term strategic interest for a free and independent Tibet to remain as a buffer state between China and India. The strategic blunders of Himalayan proportions committed by Jawahar Lal Nehru despite ample written warnings by Sardar Patel need to be corrected eventually albeit after a thoughtful consideration leveraging on the events and ground realities.
Whether the current communist, dictatorial regime in China will last long is debatable. Despite economic growth and prosperity in China, there are thousands of instances of social unrest. With inflation of 8% currently, shortage of food, rampant corruption, a popular revolt against communist rule can not be excluded at a future date. Any policy planning needs to take into consideration a scenario where popular events akin to 1989 Tiananmen Square events may take over the Chinese regime leading to the break-up of the communist empire with secession by the Inner Mongolia, Tibet, East Turkistan and unilateral declaration of independence by Taiwan. If the mighty British, French, Spanish and Soviet communist empires could be broken down under the might of popular uprisings, so could be the Communist Chinese Empire. The international community failed to take strategic advantage of 1989 Tiananmen Square uprisings. India also failed to do the same. In the future, in order to have some leverage to settle the border dispute with China, India will have to play hard with China as there is no other option. We have to remember that China considers entire Arunachal Pradesh as “Outer Tibet” and has reasserted its claim on the whole province. Furthermore, besides Tibet, the greater China concept incorporates Sikkim, Bhutan, Nepal and Myanmar to be the five fingers of the Chinese sphere of strategic influence and hegemony.
China unfortunately is not a cute, cuddly poodle that has to be hugged unconditionally all the time. Rather it is a complex, Communist, and Confucian Chimera that could come to gnaw into your body flesh. China has refused to resolve the border issue and continues to strike at India’s interests world-wide in a skillful manner. Bottom-line is that India will have to adopt a tough long-term China policy predicated upon re-emergence of Tibet as an independent and free buffer state between the two Asian giants. It may sound a pipe dream but any geopolitical scenario is possible. India should be ready with any plan B that is contrary to the popular notions of strategic thinking on Tibet.
Undue genuflection to China on Tibet issue has proved counterproductive since 1951 onwards. Perhaps, the time has come when India should grant Tibetan refugees the right to organize and indulge in political activities under close watch. We have to acknowledge that Dalai Lama is not only a spiritual leader but also the political head of the Tibetan government-in-exile and needs to be accorded treatment and protocol reserved for heads of states. India should consider negotiating a treaty with any future government in free Tibet or with the Tibetan government-in-exile about return to Indian sovereignty of Hindu sacred sites of Mount Kailash and Mansarover lakes. From ancient times and certainly prior to 1951 Hindus from India have made pilgrimages to these Hindu Holy-lands without needing any visa or other formalities as there was not issue of Chinese or Tibetan sovereignty over these holy sites.
WHAT WOULD INDIA DO?
The Indian government is notorious for dragging its feet in a reactive manner without ever planning for contingencies that are unforeseen. After waiting for a whole week, the Indian government that survives on support from the CPM expressed vague noises and distress about use of force out of proportion in “Tibet that is autonomous region of China”. India, under current UPA dispension may not be able to boldly articulate its Tibet policy advantage or play its Tibet card boldly during the Beijing Olympics.
LONG-TERM IMPLICATIONS FOR INDIA:
The window of opportunity for India is great till August 24th 2008 for using her Tibet card skillfully in the international power games. Besides the moral, civilizational, religious and spiritual dimensions, there are important strategic and security implications for India. Tibetan issue will no longer die down. Free and independent Tibet’s is not necessarily a dream from past. The future political and administrative dispensions in Tibet may not be under the control of Communist China. India should not put all her eggs into the Chinese basket. Previous Indian policies on Tibet have failed and have proved counterproductive strategically. Considering the persistent and ongoing Chinese congagement activities of India, India needs to develop her spine and have a bold, changed strategic perspective on Tibet and on China.
(The writer, Dr. Adityanjee, is the President of the Council for Strategic Affairs, New Delhi, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed are personal and do not reflect the views of C3S)