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Tibetan Dichotomy and the Chinese Dilemma

The Tibetan Uprising Day is commemorated by the Tibetans all over the world on March 10 every year since 1959 when events in Lhasa forced the Dalai Lama to flee Tibet and seek asylum in India. But this year it has taken a magnitude and proportion beyond the expectation of every one thereby causing considerable embarrassment and law and order problem to the Chinese government not only in Lhasa (TAR) but also in neighbouring provinces. The Tibetan Diaspora has embarked on protest demonstrations in many other countries like UK, USA, Australia and Nepal besides India and China.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has likened the recent violence in Tibet to the atmosphere surrounding the recognition of Kosovo’s independence and said that the violence was not happening by chance. While the Dalai Lama has accused China of ‘cultural repression’ and use of ‘brute force’ to suppress the Tibetan movement, the Chinese have denied such charges, alleging that the unrest was the creation of the ‘Dalai clique’ to split the nation. The dissatisfaction of the Tibetans that was simmering for several years has surfaced this year because the Chinese are about the hold the much coveted summer Olympics – an international event that will add a feather in the cap of China – in May this year. In fact the Tibetan diaspora in general and the youth in particular have been projecting the following demands for quite some time, articulating especially on occasions like Tibetan Independence March of December last year:

  1. Independence for Tibet

  2. Withdrawal of Order No 5- China’s new regulatory measures for recognition of reincarnations of Living Buddha in Tibetan Buddhism.

  3. Immediate stopping of all human rights violations in Tibet

  4. Holding of no Olympics in China until Tibet is Free

  5. Release of all political prisoners including Gedun Choekyi Nyima ( the Dalai Lama appointed Panchen Lama), Tulku Tenzin Delek and Ronggye A’drak

But these have not been taken seriously by the International Community or the Chinese administration, which was rather complacent that the material and economic progress of the ethnic Tibetans in the TAR would overshadow their emotional factor and cultural hunger.

While the Tibetans have immense respect for the Dalai Lama and treat him as their religious and political leader, they do not necessarily agree with him on his “middle path” approach to the Tibetan issue. While the view of the Dalai Lama and that of his “Kashag” on Tibet issue is in favour of China’s granting of ‘genuine autonomy’ to Tibet within China, with no demand for ‘ Tibet independence’, the Tibetan youth do not seem to agree with the ‘autonomy’ theory, insisting instead on getting total freedom from China. Some elders in the community apparently agree with the official demand for autonomy in the hope that this will pave way for freeing Tibet from the Chinese clutch eventually.

The Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration in India should remove this dichotomy of views and persuade Tibetans in India and elsewhere to focus on the ‘autonomy’ demand in order for the Indian government to come out in open and extend support to the exiled spiritual leader. As for New Delhi’s current approach to Tibet issue, the same appears to be both pragmatic and principled , considering the fact that the Tibetans have been given asylum in India and that they could pursue their cultural , but not political activities. The Dalai Lama should understand why India is ‘over cautious’ in handling the Tibet issue.

China appears to be in a dilemma as to how to handle the situation in Tibet. It is already facing international pressure to improve its human-rights record . If the protests escalate into a Tiananmen-like scenario, China will come under further scrutiny and censure worldwide. And if Beijing takes a softer approach, it will risk broader unrest encompassing adjacent areas and spreading to other regions leading to erosion of authority.

There are reports that Chinese intellectuals, like Hu Shisheng, in government-sponsored think tanks are looking for India’s advice to the Dalai Lama by the way of appealing to the Tibetans in TAR to calm down and not to escalate the situation. There are also indications that Chinese authorities might be willing to resume the dialogue with the Dalai Lama even before the start of the Olympic Games if necessary. It is significant that Premier Wen Jiabao, who got elected for a second term by the recently concluded National People’s Congress has applauded the steps taken by India to curtail the protest march of the Tibetans in India and has also added that the door of dialogue was still open to the Dalai Lama, so long as he gives up the position for “Tibet Independence” and so long as he recognizes Tibet and Taiwan as ‘inalienable’ parts of the Chinese territory. His acknowledgement that Tibet is a “very sensitive issue” in China-India relations, should not be missed by New Delhi.

India should handle the issue deftly and diplomatically neither hurting the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans nor the Chinese leadership that appears to be realizing now of the importance of India and seeking, perhaps for the first time, the latter’s role – however minor it may be – in defusing tension in the region. India may also well capitalize such a situation to bargain with China for some ‘quid pro quo’ to solve the territorial question including that of Arunachal Pradesh.

(The writer, Mr.N.Raghupathy, is a former Director in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. Email:

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