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Tibetan Diaspora And India – China Relations

( This is the text of a presentation made by me at a seminar on China at New Delhi on November 27,2008. This incorporates and updates some of my earlier views on the subject as expressed in articles written after the Tibetan uprising of March-April,2008, in China. The updating has been done in the light of subsequent developments —–B.Raman)

The Government of India adopted a two-pronged policy in relation to the outbreak of a revolt in Tibet and other Tibetan-inhabited areas of China in March,2008, in protest against the continued occupation of Tibet and other Tibetan-inhabited areas by China and the violation of the human rights of the Tibetans by the Chinese.

2. It prevented the Tibetan refugees in India from indulging in activities which might have resulted in acts of violence or disruption directed against Chinese nationals and interests in India and in dramatic acts such as their professed intention of crossing the border into Tibet. At the same time, it expressed its distress over the situation in Tibet and called for a dialogue so that the Tibetans didn’t feel the need to take to acts of violence in their desperation.

3.A spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs of the Government of India said on March 15, 2008: “We would hope that all those involved will work to improve the situation and remove the causes of such trouble in Tibet, which is an autonomous region of China, through dialogue and non-violent means.”

4. This was the right approach— expressing our moral support to the Tibetans in accordance with our national interests without identifying ourselves with the attempts of anti-China activists in the West—particularly the US— to exploit the continued alienation of the Tibetans and their desperation to create embarrassment for China.

5. Our aim should be not to embarrass and humiliate China, but to persuade it to change its policy on Tibet and reach a negotiated settlement with His Holiness through a sustained dialogue. India should play the role of a facilitator of such a dialogue. After the March-April ,2008, uprising in the Tibetan inhabited areas, India did well in expressing openly its distress over the turn of events in Tibet and in expressing its interest in a dialogue and not a street confrontation between the Chinese and the Tibetans.

6.India should consider one more step at this important point in the history of the Tibetan issue—– removing all informal restrictions on official and social interactions with the Dalai Lama and his advisers. Though not openly admitted, such informal restrictions exist. We saw it at the end of last year, when the Cabinet Secretary to the Government of India was reported to have advised all Ministers of the Cabinet of the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, not to attend a public reception for the Dalai Lama to felicitate him on the award of the Congressional Medal of Honour to him in the US. After the uprising, there were reports in sections of the media that His Holiness was to make a courtesy call on Dr.Hamid Ansari, the Vice-President. This was strongly denied by the Government, presumably because the news had leaked out. What was the need for secrecy in this matter? What was the need for canceling any meeting with His Holiness just because the media had come to know about it? Why the reluctance to interact with him publicly?

7. Till now, our policy has been to make a clear distinction between the religious and political dimensions of our stand with regard to the Dalai Lama. We have been saying that the courtesies and honour extended by us to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan refugees is because of his stature as a highly respected Buddhist leader in the land where Buddhism was born, but it has no political significance and does not imply our tacit support for his political views. We should now make it clear that we consider that the Dalai Lama is also an important political figure in the eyes of the Tibetans and hence, his political views have to be considered in determining our policy on Tibet.

8. Expressing our moral support to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans, without damaging our relations with the Chinese leadership and people —-that should be the objective of our policy.

9. There will be many landmines in the path of policy-making and implementation. As we fine-tune our policy and push it forward gradually, there could be misperceptions and misinterpretations in China with not only negative impact on our relations with China, but also with renewed tensions across the border, particularly in the Arunachal Pradesh sector. We are seeing a possible reversion back to the period between the 1960s and the 1980s when the Chinese military was in the driving seat of policy-making on Tibet. It was during that period that we saw the military confrontation of 1962 and the subsequent tensions in Sino-Indian relations.

10.The Advisers of His Holiness attribute the failure of their eighth round of talks with the Chinese held at Beijing from October 30 to November 5,2008, and the post—Olympics hardening of the Chinese stand on Tibet to the fact that hardliners are back in the driving seat of policy-making on Tibet. Recent writings by supposedly non-Governmental Chinese strategic analysts in the Chinese language press and Chinese blogs analysed by Shri D.S.Rajan, who had worked for over 30 years as a China analyst in our intelligence community, are disturbing. ( ).They indicate that the official hardening of the attitude on Tibet has been accompanied by a surge in non-governmental rhetoric on relations with India, in the light of the continuing border dispute and India’s refusal to concede their demand on Arunachal Pradesh.

11.Some of these so-called non-Governmental experts are even talking of the possibility or feasibility of what they describe as a partial war to restore what they project as Chinese sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh, which they call Southern Tibet. We should not dismiss such writings as non-governmental jingoism, which would have no impact on the cordial relations with China.

12.The post-Olympics hardening of the Chinese stand on Tibet has been reflected not only in their refusal to discuss the issue of autonomy with the advisers of His Holiness, but also in their repudiation of promises and commitments made in this regard by Deng Xiaoping on March 12,1979, during a meeting with Gyalo Thondup, the elder brother of the Dalai Lama, and reiterated subsequently by Li Peng, the then Prime Minister, on May 19, 1991. If they can so brazenly, without batting an eyelid, repudiate their solemn promises to discuss the issue of autonomy with the representatives of His Holiness, what is the guarantee that they will not similarly repudiate their commitments on Sikkim or their policy of peace and tranquility in the Arunachal Pradesh sector?

13. The confidence of the Chinese political leadership that they have pacified Tibet and its people once and for all has been badly shaken. The revolt of March-April, 2008,showed that there has been no emotional integration between the Tibetans and the Han settlers in Tibet. The fear of the masses could once again distort the Chinese military mindset in Tibet. They would not admit that their policies towards the Tibetan people are responsible for the continuing alienation. Instead, they would see with greater conviction than in the past that the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan refugees in India are the source of all their problems in Tibet and not their policies. The temptation to divert international attention away from Tibet to Arunachal Pradesh and Dharamsala by engaging in military moves in the Arunachal Pradesh area would be strong.

14. Renewed cross-border military tensions—-even Chinese incursions of a major nature— in the Arunachal Pradesh sector if the Tibetan issue keeps bothering the Chinese and if India remains firm in its stand that Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India are a possibility to be factored into in our scenario-building and policy-making exercise.

15.The debate on Tibet, which started after the violent incidents of March-April, 2008, in the Tibetan inhabited areas has failed to distinguish between the “Tibetan card” and the ‘Tibetan issue”. Many in India and the West look upon the post-March developments as providing a “Tibetan card”, which can be exploited against China for different strategic objectives.

16.Many in India want the Government to use the Tibetan card to correct the past policy mistakes relating to the totally unwise Indian action in recognising Tibet as an integral part of China without a quid pro quo from Beijing in the form of a recognition of Arunachal Pradesh as an integral part of India.

17. This will be an unsophisticated approach which could prove counter-productive. We should not give the impression that we are exploiting the spilling of Tibetan blood and the justified emotional outburst of Tibetan youth not for getting a better future for the Tibetans, but only to serve our own national interest. Nothing can be more unfortunate than such an impression among the Tibetans.

18. We need policies and an approach in India as well as the West based on the conviction that the long-neglected Tibetan issue—meaning the observance of human rights and giving the Tibetans a genuine voice and genuine political opportunities and religious freedom in their own homeland– has led to the present situation and that unless the grievances and anger of the Tibetan people are addressed in a satisfactory manner the problem is likely to continue. Our policies should be based on a genuine interest in the Tibetan people, their plight and their future and not on exploiting their uprising for serving our own national interest. We must keep the spotlight on the TIBETAN ISSUE and resist the temptation to use the Tibetan anger as a card for our national purposes.

19.Despite the widespread adverse reactions against China all over the world, the Chinese have not blinked and are unlikely to blink even if there are more violent incidents in Tibet. In their apprehension, any weakening of their stand on Tibet could mark the beginning of their losing control over China’s sensitive periphery consisting of Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia.

20. A message, which comes out loud and clear , is that despite being away from Tibet for nearly 50 years now, the Dalai Lama continues to command the respect of the Tibetan people inside China. Chinese attempts to demonise him and project him as the problem have not succeeded. A vast majority of the Tibetan people in China continue to look up to him with undiminished reverence as their political and spiritual leader.

21.By solely relying on their security forces and on the Han settlers for strengthening their hold on the Tibetan-inhabited areas, the Chinese have created for themselves a situation similar to what the Soviets had created for themselves in the Baltic States. They forcibly incorporated them into the USSR and tried to change the demographic complexion of the States by settling a large number of Russians—-many of them ex-servicemen– in the Baltic States. They got caught in a vicious circle. The more the suppression, the more the people’s anger. The more the people’s anger, the more the suppression. The more the Russian settlers, the more the hatred for them. The more the hatred for them, the more the Russian settlers. Ultimately, the Soviets had to watch helplessly as the Baltic States threw off the Soviet yoke and re-gained their independence. Can a similar situation develop in the Tibetan-inhabited areas and in Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia? If it does, what should be India’s options? These questions need careful consideration.

22. China is waiting for the Dalai Lama to die so that it could nominate his successor. It is hoping and calculating that the death of His Holiness would mark the beginning of the end of the Tibetan issue. There ought to be a convergence between Indian and Tibetan interests in ensuring that even after his death, the Tibetan issue would not disappear from the attention of the world till a settlement on their future acceptable to the Tibetans is reached. The Tibetan issue should not be allowed to die with His Holiness.

23.How to help the Tibetans in keeping alive their cause and ultimately securing their goal of autonomy without our help leading to a confrontational situation with China on our border with that country? How to prepare ourselves for such a confrontation if it materialises despite our best efforts to avoid it? These are questions which need careful consideration.

24.So long as the Tibetan issue is not resolved to the mutual satisfaction of the Chinese and the Tibetans and so long as the border dispute is not resolved to the mutual satisfaction of India and China, we cannot rule out another military confrontation imposed on us by China. The implementation of the projects already initiated by the Government for strengthening the infrastructure in the Arunachal Pradesh area and for giving our armed forces greater teeth to meet any Chinese miscalculation should be pushed ahead. Avoidance of unwise rhetoric, which may bring about a confrontation before we are ready for it, and a quiet determination and preparedness to face such a confrontation, if it is forced on us, should be the cornerstones of our policy. (27-11-08)

(The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies.E-mail: )

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