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Mainstream, Vol XLVI, No 16

Hollowness of China’s Claims over Tibet

Monday 7 April 2008, by Nitish Sengupta


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s retort to the Chinese saying that the Dalai Lama stands for non-violence must be considered as one right reaction among so many reactions emanating from New Delhi regarding the recent happenings in Tibet. There is indeed a need for overall reappraisal of India’s traditional policy. One need not go into the question of whether it was correct on the part of India to acquiesce in China’s brutal occupation of Tibet in 1950, and even more brutal suppression of the Tibetan uprising in 1959, leading to the Dalai Lama’s flight to India. One has to note the reality that even after nearly half-a-century of Chinese brainwashing or brainstorming of the Tibetans who still live in Tibet, there is still strong support among them for their spiritual-political leader, the Dalai Lama.

An objective reading of history will convince anyone about the hollowness of China’s claim of sovereignty over Tibet. It is true that on certain occasions in history China militarily occupied Tibet, but it is equally true that there were occasions when the Tibetans, under the Dalai Lama, claimed some kind of loose sovereignty over major portions of China. One should also recall that, thanks to the Younghusband mission of 1904 and the subsequent Shimla Agreement between China/Tibet and the then Government of India, India recognised Tibet’s complete autonomy and Indian garrisons were stationed at both Lhasa and Gyantse in order to underpin Tibet’s autonomy from China. In our misplaced idealism over the so-called “Hindi-Chini bhai bhai” philosophy, we not only persuaded the Dalai Lama to accept the Chinese claim of sovereignty when China attacked Tibet in 1950 but even withdrew Indian garrisons from several points in Tibet. Not only that, in 1959, when there was an uprising in Tibet, after a great deal of suppression by the Chinese, and when the Dalai Lama, accompanied by some of his followers, had to flee to India, we did not try to put some sense in the heads of our Chinese friends and blindly supported whatever they did. In our excessive idealism we sacrificed our national interest. If we had the prudence to allow the Shimla Agreement to continue, there would have been no military presence of China in Tibet. There would have been no 1962. It is common knowledge that the border between Tibet and India was never treated as a firm international border, and that Indians had the right to freely move into Tibet and similarly Tibetans had their right to move into India. Indian pilgrims could freely travel to Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar without ever regarding those places as foreign territory. It was the advent of China’s soldiers in the border areas between Tibet and India which started creating a border problem as China insisted on passports and visas from Indian pilgrims for travelling to pilgrim centres in Tibet. At one stage the Chinese even claimed Badrinath, not to speak of Tawang. It is true that some of the areas in Arunachal Pradesh have a very close affinity with Tibet, but that was the Tibet under the Dalai Lama. By no stretch of imagination can Beijing claim sovereignty over those areas, thereby putting themselves in the shoes of the Dalai Lama after they have replaced the Dalai Lama in Lhasa.

CHINA has never forgiven India for giving shelter to the Dalai Lama in 1959 and allowing him to carry on a Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamshala all these years. But the Chinese Communists do not understand India’s susceptibility on this point, or the fact that many people of Tibetan origin in India in areas like Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh regard the Dalai Lama as their spiritual head. The Dalai Lama has all these years scrupulously avoided any activity that can be regarded as a provocation by the Chinese. He has been treated as a sincere man of peace by the whole world. It is very unfair on the part of Beijing to accuse him of leading the present uprising in Tibet and the surrounding provinces of China where Tibetans live in large numbers. In that context it is in China’s interest to enter into talks with the Dalai Lama to find out a lasting solution to the Tibetan issue. The Dalai Lama himself had made considerable compromises when, some time ago, he said that he is no longer interested in Tibetan independence but only in autonomy so that Tibetans can live their own lives and not under Chinese diktats. It is well known that Beijing settled a large number of Han Chinese in Tibetan areas and that they are today on the point of out-numbering the original Tibetans. This is a point which the whole world must appreciate.

There is need for strong international pressure on the Chinese to enter into discussions with the Dalai Lama so that he can return to Lhasa in his lifetime and take charge of the spiritual and day-to-day matters of Tibetans in their own homeland. That will be a proper resolution of 50 years of uncertainty and blatant suppression of the rights of Tibetans by the Chinese. India should advise Beijing to talk to the Dalai Lama on the issue of autonomy and arrange his return to the Potala Palace. Otherwise younger Tibetans may well defy the Dalai Lama’s pacifist influence and enter into a phase of armed insurrection. That will be unfortunate for both China and India.

(Courtesy : The Asian Age)

Dr Nitish Sengupta, a former Member of Parliament and a former Secretary to the Government of India, is the Chairman of the Board for Reconstruction of Public Sector Enterprises.

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