Where Do We Go From Here?
For an external observer, it appears that despite numerous ’rounds of talks’ during the past thirty years (since Gyalo Thondup met with Chinese officials in Hong Kong in 1978), no serious progress has been made on the Tibet issue. During the visit of the delegation led by Juchen Thubten Namgyal to Beijing in 1982, the Chinese officials had given the parameters of the ‘talks’.
First, no question of discussing the status of Tibet which had been settled once ans for all in 1951 when Tibetan delegates signed the 17-Point agreement for the peaceful liberation of Tibet.
Then, Beijing was only ready to discuss the status of that Dalai Lama and his return to the Motherland.
Further, the Chinese Government would never grant to Tibet a special status (such as the ‘One country, Two systems’ scheme for Hong Kong) or even something like the status offered to Taiwan in the 1980’s.
For Beijing, the administrative divisions of traditional Tibet were permanent, there was no question of discussing them again.
For the Dalai Lama, his Strasbourg Proposal was a continuation of the first contacts between Gyalo Thondup and the Chinese officials at the end of the 1970’s. As “everything excepts independence could be discussed”, the logical next steps for the Tibetan leader was to renounce independence in exchange for a ‘genuine’ regional autonomy.
Self-determination or full-fledged independence had been rejected from the start by the Chinese leadership. This greatly limited the scope for the Dalai Lama to move forward and find a ‘middle-path’ solution.
A majority of the Tibetans in exile (even today) do not fully realize all the implications of the Middle Path approach. For example, they would thereafter be Chinese nationals with Chinese passports. It is only over the years, that the younger generation has begun to understand that their cherished dream for ‘Rangzem’ (or independence) was fading away. However, many believe that there is no harm to continue to dream, that the most improbable dreams sometimes come true, as the fallen Berlin Wall.
In 2006, after the 6th round of talks with Beijing, Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama’s Special Envoy stated that though discussions “were candid and frank”, both sides had expressed in strong terms their divergent positions and views on a number of issues.
He added “Our dialogue process has reached a critical stage. We conveyed our serious concerns in the strongest possible manner on the overall Tibetan issue and made some concrete proposals for implementation if our dialogue process is to go forward.”
Two years later and after the Chinese show of strength during the Summer Olympic Games and with an exacerbated nationalism reaching new heights all over China, the situation appeared to be even more critical.
The fact that the Chinese position had not moved an inch during the past three decades is rather disturbing for the Tibetans. It should also be so for India who is trying to sort out its border issues with China. The same delay tactics (or moving the posts) are used in both cases. Whether for the Sino-Indian border or Tibet, Beijing is quite happy with the status quo and can continue this way for decades, if not centuries.
This is the reason why, when addressing a large audience at the annual Foundation Day of the Tibetan Children Village in Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama declared that his faith in the Chinese government was ‘thinning’ and that he could not anymore hold the responsibility of the negotiations with Beijing.
He reminded the guests and especially the children assembled about the March/April riots in Tibet: “In the recent past, a crisis has occurred in Tibet. From all over the three regions, individual Tibetans have shown their deep resentment and despair with great courage—not only monks and nuns, but government workers, students and especially those from the Central Nationalities University in Beijing.” He then added: “[At that time], I hoped that the Chinese government would investigate the reality and come up with a realistic solution, but unfortunately it didn’t happen. Reality cannot be erased.”
His office later clarified that the main issue was that there was no positive response from Beijing, despite “sincerely pursuing the mutually beneficial Middle-Way policy… [The Dalai Lama] lost hope in trying to reach a solution with the present Chinese leadership which is simply not willing to address the issues.”
As we saw, this was the background of his decision to call for the special emergency meeting to decide the future course of action for the Tibetan political struggle.
The Great Han Chauvinism
An apparently insignificant sign demonstrates the degree of contempt that the Chinese officials have for the Tibetans; they won’t even allow the delegation to have a Chinese-speaking member. As a result, none of the four or five member Tibetan team speaks Chinese. Mr Tsegyam, a Tibetan official fluent in Chinese was ‘permitted’ to attend the 4th round of talks in Bern in June 2005, but since then the Chinese have arbitrarily refused his participation on one pretext or another (each time a different one).
The shy (or compassionate) Tibetans had decided not to make it a public issue, though it shows the way the Chinese Hans have always treated their vassals. In Mao’s time, this attitude was known as the Great Han Chauvisnism.
In July 2008, Lodi Gyari had to state: “In the course of our discussions we were compelled to candidly convey to our counterparts that in the absence of serious of serious and sincere commitment on their part the continuation of the present dialogue process would serve no purpose.”
Already in May that year, Lodi Gyari had gone to Shenzhen, near Hong Kong for informal talks with some Chinese officials. At that time, The People’s Daily had scornfully stated: “The meeting, arranged at the repeated requests made by the Dalai side for resuming talks, was held between central government officials Zhu Weiqun and Sitar and the Dalai Lama’s two private representatives.” The Chinese communiqué added: “Zhu and Sitar answered patiently the questions raised by the two representatives.”
The Tibetans always seem to be in the position of beggars holding out
their bowls for meager alms which are refused anyway.
What is more shocking is the constant stream of insults poured out by Beijing against the ‘Dalai and his clique.’
Qin Yizhi, Lhasa party secretary stated: “Encouraged by the Olympic spirits of faster, higher, stronger, Lhasa people of all nationalities will… resolutely smash the Dalai clique’s scheme to destabilize Tibet.” Indeed a great understanding of the Spirit of the Games!
His boss and Tibet Party Chief, Zhang Qingli made it more explicit: “Tibet’s sky will never change and the red flag with five stars will forever flutter high above it… we will certainly be able to totally smash the splittist schemes of the Dalai clique.”
Dong Yunhu of the State Council even said: “I don’t think (the Dalai Lama) is qualified to represent Tibet.” It appears that the more the Tibetans go out of their way to appease the Chinese, the more Beijing rebuffs them.
Level of Dialogue
Another issue is the low hierarchical level of the dialogue. In 1954-55, when the Dalai Lama first visited Beijing, he used to have regular formal and informal meeting with Mao Zedong and others senior Communist leaders. When he arrived in the Chinese capital, he was received him with great pomp at the railway station by the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping and other senior dignitaries.
Later in 1957, when the Tibetan leader came to India for the 2,500th anniversary of the Buddha Jayanti, he met the Chinese Premier several times and had in-depth discussions about Tibet and the welfare of his people.
At the end of the 70’s and the 80’s Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama’s elder brother mer Deng Xiaoping, then China’s leader maximo to discuss Tibetan affairs. He also met Hu Yaobang in 1981.
Lodi Gyari’s interlocutors are not senior Party leaders (Zhu Weiqun is a Vice-Minister which is equivalent to a Secretary rank official) with no real power of decision.
During an interview, Samdhong Rinpoche was quite pessimistic: “The PRC has full control over Tibet and can do whatever they wish. Today in the world, nobody has the power to stop them.”
On the positive side, the Tibetan delegates say that today they are able to speak frankly to their Chinese counterparts who are ready to listen to them. It is certainly a plus, though as we have seen earlier in this research, the first Tibetans envoys (in 1982 and 1984) conveyed in no uncertain terns their expectations, especially for a unified Tibet.
Many young Tibetans think like Tsoltim N. Shakabpa, who in an article entitled “The Case Against Autonomy for Tibet”, wrote:
…why do we want to get into an official autonomous situation which will be a thousand times worse than the present situation?
Shakapba added: “By asking the Communist Chinese for an official agreement to have autonomous status for Tibet, we will be surrendering many of the rights we are now entitled to and locking ourselves into a constricted and precarious situation forever from which we cannot withdraw.”
It is a fact that it is difficult for the younger generation of Tibetans to dreams about a ‘genuine autonomy’ under a totalitarian People’s Republic. ‘Freedom’ or ‘Rangzem’ (Independence) is a more exciting and idealistic dream.
Why Can’t the Dalai Lama Meet President Hu?
The tragedy is that when there are different views or currents of thought in the Communist Party of China, it is usually the most conservative one which prevails. It also holds true for the negotiations between India and China on the boundary. The latter case is compounded by the fact that India often has to go to polls and leaders are unable to take a bolder stand. For example, it is said that during the Third Round of talks on the boundary in October 1983, the officials were close to an acceptable solution. Unfortunately Indira Gandhi refused to take the jump due to the elections coming a year later.
In the Tibetan case, one of the solutions to come out of the impasse would be to have a meeting between the Dalai Lama and President Hu or Premier Wen Jiabao. As mentioned earlier, Mao Zedong, the Great Helmsman himself used to meet the Dalai Lama in his guest house in 1954, when the Tibetan leader spent several months in Beijing. They often
discussed different issues threadbare, ranging from the benefits of Marxism to the future of Tibet. It would certainly help to smooth out the hurdles if the Dalai Lama himself could meet senior Party leaders. It appears to be the only way to come out of the stalemate.
For Beijing, the Tibetan issue has sullied the image of the People’s Republic for more than 50 years. The time has come for Beijing and Dharamsala to find a durable solution agreeable to all.
The Dalai Lama is a good man, a sincere leader. Beijing could not get a better interlocutor to bring about a radical change in the relations between Hans and Tibetans. As we have seen in the previous chapters, several intellectual, scholars and thinkers in China concur with this view.
In fact, one could go a step further: the Dalai Lama is today the only leader who can unite China. He is the only person who can convince the Tibetans to work for the harmonious society promoted by President Hu. This in turn, could be an example for other nationalities.
A Role for Delhi
As mentioned earlier, in April 1986, the Dalai Lama wrote a memorandum to Rajiv Gandhi. He made an interesting historic point: Indian had taken a certain stand vis-à-vis Tibet and adopted a policy, but the situation had now changed. Was it not time to readjust this policy to the present circumstances? The Dalai Lama wrote: “When the Government of India officially recognized Tibet as being a part of China, the Government must have done so because of the reality of the situation then prevailing. For example, there was the 17-Point Agreement between Tibet and China. During my several meetings with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1956, he stressed the need to execute and implement the terms of this Agreement with China. He advised me to return to Tibet and said that it would be better to deal with the Chinese directly from within Tibet on basis of the Agreement. Therefore, it is clear that at the time the Government of India recognized Tibet as being a part of China, its assumption or understanding was that Tibet, though nominally a part of China, would hane minimal Chinese interference and military presence. By signing the 17-Point Agreement with the Tibetan Government, the Chinese recognized the existence of a separate government, although they referred to it as the local government of Tibet. In clause 4 of the Agreement, it is stated, the central authorities will not alter the existing political system in Tibet.
“I Consider Myself A Simple Buddhist Monk ” —Dalai Lama
“If the present situation regarding Tibet remains the same, I will be born outside Tibet away from the control of the Chinese authorities. This is logical,” said His Holiness the Dalai Lama in an interview posted on the website www.dalailama.com. He further said “The very purpose of a reincarnation is to continue the unfinished work of the previous incarnation. Thus if the Tibetan situation still remains unsolved it is logical I will be born in exile to continue my unfinished work.” Reproduced below are the excerpts of the interview.
How do you view yourself?
I always consider myself as a simple Buddhist monk. I feel that is the real me. I feel that the Dalai Lama as a temporal ruler is a man-made institution. As long as the people accept the Dalai Lama, they will accept me. But being a monk is something which belongs to me. No one can change that. Deep down inside, I always consider myself a monk, even in my dreams. So naturally I feel myself as more of a religious person. Even in my daily life, I can say that I spend 80% of my time on spiritual activities and 20% on Tibet as a whole. The spiritual or religious life is something I know and have great interest in. I have some kind of confidence in it, and thus I want to study it more. Regarding politics, I have no modern education except for a little experience. It is a big responsibility for someone not so well equipped. This is not voluntary work but something that I feel I must pursue because of the hope and trust that the Tibetan people place on me.
Will you be the last Dalai Lama?
Whether the institution of the Dalai Lama remains or not depends entirely on the wishes of the Tibetan people. It is for them to decide. I made this clear as early as in 1969. Even in 1963, after four years in exile, we made a draft constitution for a future Tibet which is based on the democratic system. The constitution clearly mentions that the power of the Dalai Lama can be removed by a two-thirds majority vote of the members of the Assembly. At the present moment, the Dalai Lama’s institution is useful to the Tibetan culture and the Tibetan people. Thus, if I were to die today, I think the Tibetan people would choose to have another Dalai Lama. In the future, if the Dalai Lama’s institution is no longer relevant or useful and our present situation changes, then the Dalai Lama’s institution will cease to exist.Personally, I feel the institution of the Dalai Lama has served its purpose. More recently, since 2001 we now have a democratically elected head of our administration, the Kalon Tripa. The Kalon Tripa runs the daily affairs of our administration and is in charge of our political establishment. Half jokingly and half seriously, I state that I am now in semi-retirement.
Do you think you will ever be able to return to Tibet?
Yes, I remain optimistic that I will be able to return to Tibet. China is in the process of changing. If you compare China today to ten or twenty years
ago, there is tremendous change. China is no longer isolated. It is part of the world community. Global interdependence, especially in terms of economics and environment make it impossible for nations to remain isolated. Besides, I am not seeking separation from China. I am committed to my middle-way approach whereby Tibet remains within the People’s Republic of China enjoying a high degree of self-rule or autonomy. I firmly believe that this is of mutual benefit both to the Tibetans as well as to the Chinese. We Tibetans will be able to develop Tibet with China’s assistance, while at the same time preserving our own unique culture, including spirituality, and our delicate environment. By amicably resolving the Tibetan issue, China will be able to contribute to her own unity and stability.
The Chinese have recently stated that the next Dalai Lama will be born in Tibet and chosen by them. What do you have to say about this?
If the present situation regarding Tibet remains the same, I will be born outside Tibet away from the control of the Chinese authorities. This is logical. The very purpose of a reincarnation is to continue the unfinished work of the previous incarnation. Thus if the Tibetan situation still remains unsolved it is logical I will be born in exile to continue my unfinished work. Of course the Chinese will still choose their own Dalai Lama and we Tibetans will choose our own according to tradition. It will be similar to the present situation of the Panchen Lama. There is a Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama and there is the Panchen Lama chosen by me. One is paraded to serve its master’s purposes and the other is the Panchen Lama accepted in the hearts of all the Tibetans.
What are your commitments?
In general, I always state that I have three commitments in life. Firstly, on the level of a human being, my first commitment is the promotion of human values such as compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment and self-discipline. All human beings are the same. We all want happiness and do not want suffering. Even people who do not believe in religion recognize the importance of these human values in making their lives happier. I remain committed to talk about the importance of these human values and share them with everyone I meet. Secondly, on the level of a religious practitioner, my second commitment is the promotion of religious harmony and understanding amongst different religious traditions. Despite philosophical differences, all major world religions have the same potential to create better human beings. It is therefore important for all religious traditions to respect one another and recognize the value of each other’s respective traditions. Thirdly, I am a Tibetan and carry the name of the Dalai Lama. Tibetans place their trust in me. Therefore, my third commitment is to the Tibetan issue. I have a responsibility to act the free spokesperson of the Tibetans in their struggle for justice. As far as this third commitment, it will cease to exist once a mutually beneficial solution is reached between the Tibetans and Chinese. However, my first two commitments I will carry on till my last breath.
Are there any of your predecessors in whom you have a special interest or with whom you have a particular affinity?
The Thirteenth Dalai Lama. He brought a lot of improvement to the standards of study in the monastic colleges. He gave great encouragement to the real scholars. He made it impossible for people to go up in the religious hierarchy, becoming an abbot and so forth, without being totally qualified. He was very strict in this respect. He also gave tens of thousands of monks’ ordinations. There were his two main religious achievements. He didn’t give many initiations, or many lectures. Now, with respect to the country, he had great thought and consideration for statecraft. The outlying districts in particular. How they should be governed and so forth. He cared very much how to run the government more efficiently. He had great concern about our borders and that type of thing.
During the course of your life, what have been your greatest personal lessons or internal challenges? Which realizations and experiences have had the most effect on your growth as an individual?
Regarding religious experience, some understanding of shunya (emptiness: lack of independent self nature) some feeling, some experience and mostly bodhichitta, altruism. It has helped a lot. In some ways, you could say that it has made me into a new person, a new man. I am still progressing. Trying. It gives you inner strength, courage, and it is easier to accept situations. That’s one of the greatest experiences.
When you became a refugee, what helped you gain this strength? Was it the loss of your position and country, the fact of everyone suffering around you. Were you called on to lead your people in a different way than you had been accustomed to?
Being a refugee is really a desperate, dangerous situation. At that time, everyone deals with reality. It is not the time to pretend things are beautiful. That’s something. You feel involved with reality. In peace time, everything goes smoothly. Even if there is a problem, people pretend that things are good. During a dangerous period, when there’s a dramatic change, then there’s no scope to pretend that everything is fine. You must accept that bad is bad. Now when I left the Norbulinka, there was danger. We were passing very near the Chinese military barracks. It was just on the other side of the river, the Chinese check post there. You see, we had definite information two or three weeks before I left, that the Chinese were fully prepared to attack us. It was only a question of the day and hour.
The central authorities also will not alter the established status, functions and powers of the Dalai Lama. The Chinese have violated all the important terms of the Agreement.”
Nehru had asked the Dalai Lama to work with the Chinese on the base of
the 17-Point Agreement. By violating the Agreement and changing the political set up on the Tibetan Plateau, the conditions under which Nehru decided his Tibet Policy have changed.
In his letter to Rajiv Gandhi, the Dalai Lama elucidated further: “Moreover, the treaty which the Government of India signed with China on Tibet in 1954 lapsed in 1962. Since then the treaty has not been renewed. Therefore, now that the conditions under which the Government of India recognized Tibet being a part of China have completely changed and are non-existent, I feel it would be appropriate for the Government of India to adopt a new policy in accordance with the changed circumstances.
Dalai Lama At Critical Crossroad
Five decades in exile and years of denigration by Beijing have failed to weaken the Dalai Lama’s influence over Tibetans in his homeland and beyond.
The Tibetan spiritual leader’s unwavering commitment to non-violence has also earned the world’s respect. But the long conflict over the status of Tibet has hit a critical juncture.
The Dalai Lama has, so far, met with failure in his negotiations with the Chinese, and he is facing growing criticism from supporters, frustrated by this political impotence.
Many Tibetans have long felt unease over the “Middle Way Approach” – offering to accept Chinese sovereignty in Tibet in return for genuine autonomy – which he has advocated since 1988.
At the latest round of stop-start talks with Beijing last November, China seemed to harden its position, and condemned the Tibetans’ proposals as a bid for “disguised independence”.
THE TIBET DIVIDE
China says Tibet was always part of its territory
Tibet enjoyed long periods of autonomy before 20th century
In 1950, China launched a military assault
Opposition to Chinese rule led to a bloody uprising in 1959
Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama fled to India
Dalai Lama now advocates a “middle way” with Beijing, seeking autonomy but not independence
China says its troops freed Tibetans from effective slavery in a feudal society. It says it has developed Tibet’s economy and improved both human rights and living conditions.
It accuses the Dalai Lama of plotting to separate Tibet from the motherland, and of fomenting unrest.
Beijing’s intransigence has led the Dalai Lama to declare his conciliation efforts a failure.
Although most Tibetans approve of his leadership, this public acknowledgement seems to have galvanised some exiles – of whom there are an estimated 150,000 – to call for a tougher line.
“There are no options left for the Dalai Lama – he should revert to what the Tibetans were originally calling for which was the struggle for independence,” says veteran Tibetan activist and blogger Jamyang Norbu.
He blames the Dalai Lama’s “political naivety” for his failure to extract a single concession from China.
“All these overtures made by the Chinese for Tibetans to come and sit at the negotiating table were essentially a Chinese trap – they were playing the Dalai Lama the whole way.
“If His Holiness sticks to the idea that he can resurrect some kind of discussion with China, I think his legacy is going to be considered a failure by Tibetans.”
Many of the younger generation – who have never known a free Tibet – believe the Dalai Lama’s policy of low-key diplomacy has failed.
The Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), an independence-seeking group of some 30,000 members, says there is growing frustration among its ranks.
Vice-President Dhondup Dorjee points to last year’s deadly anti-Chinese protests in Tibet and other ethnic Tibetan regions of China – the worst unrest there for 20 years.
He says the uprising was proof that
Tibetan youths are willing to sacrifice their lives for the “Tibetan cause”.
The TYC does not state violence as an option for achieving its aims, rather young Tibetans at home and abroad are continuing a campaign of civil disobedience, says Mr Dorjee.
But despite their different political goals, the Dalai Lama still commands huge respect as their spiritual leader, he says.
“In a democratic set-up he encourages people and organisations to have a difference of opinion.
“He’s never questioned the right of the Tibetan people to fight for independence,” says the youth leader, adding that the Dalai Lama is simply trying to find the best solution given the circumstances.
Fifty years on, the exiled spiritual leader finds himself on the sidelines unable to halt the changes in his homeland which are making the situation in Tibet dangerously volatile.
The Dalai Lama has accused China of “cultural genocide”, by seeking to change the ethnic mix of Tibet and erode Tibetan culture, language and religion with a massive influx of ethnic Han Chinese and a system of “patriotic re-education”.
Tibet-born historian Tsering Shakya says the problem of Tibet in China concerns the identity and dignity of a people, and the issue will persist until the Tibetans have some satisfaction.
Chinese policy is alienating Tibetans and storing up trouble for the future, he says, but Beijing feels no need to reconsider its stance.
Even if every Tibetan were to take to the streets, China knows it has the military might to crush any uprising, says Mr Shakya, of the University of British Columbia.
The Communist Party also fears any compromise could lead to a domino effect inside China – with disturbances in other ethnic minority areas such as Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and Gansu.
Meanwhile, Tibet is slipping down the international agenda because leaders do not want to jeopardise economic ties with China, Mr Shakya adds.
Tibetans impatient for change face another difficulty: there is no alternative in place to succeed the 73-year-old Dalai Lama, who has been troubled by ill health.
In a speech marking the 50th anniversary of the failed revolt against Chinese rule, the Dalai Lama said it was the responsibility of every Tibetan to “work for the just cause”.
“As long as I live I will uphold this responsibility,” he said from his seat in exile in India’s Dharamsala.
The Dalai Lama says he has entered semi-retirement. He has speculated on whether a successor may be re-incarnated outside Tibet, chosen by referendum or whether, as the 14th Dalai Lama, he will be the last.
China has refused to recognise the boy identified by the Dalai Lama as the Panchen Lama – Tibetan Buddhism’s second-highest figure – keeping him hidden and appointing its own candidate.
Beijing says it reserves the right to approve incarnations.
What seems certain is that the Tibetan “problem” will not go away – in fact, it is likely to become more acute.
For all China’s accusations against the “wolf in monk’s clothing”, the Dalai Lama has always maintained that his followers pursue their goals peacefully.
Analysts say China may come to rue the day it declined to co-operate with the Dalai Lama.
“The Dalai Lama has the authority to sell any deal to the Tibetans as the best possible solution. He would also lend international legitimacy to the agreement,” says Tsering Shakya.
“Without the Dalai Lama’s guidance, Tibetans may take matters into their own hands.”
The Dalai Lama has provided the Tibetans with strength and unity, and international exposure of their cause, and many fear his absence.
But veteran activist Jamyang Norbu says: “The Tibetans have far more vitality than given credit for. They will still come out to defy the authorities and pay the price.
“Times are changing, now it’s the young people’s struggle. We may well see a symbol emerge from a new generation – as long as they are there we’re not finished yet.”
By Zoe Murphy
…I am convinced that there is scope for the Government of India to review and change its policy in regard to Tibet on the basis of this new and changed situation. In consideration of the reasons given above, the issue of Tibet is still alive. The Government of India must publicly recognize existence of the Tibetan issue and its international character and take advantage of it. Consequently every opportunity to voice its concern on this issue must be made. I feel this is important.”
This was written at a time when tensions were high between Delhi and Beijing.
Today, with its relatively good relations with Beijing, Delhi could be a discreet mediator between the two parties. It would be fair to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans if South Block could be the intermediary between Dharamsala and Beijing. In the long term, this could help to consolidate the bases of a durable friendship between China and India. For Beijing, it would finally remove the Tibetan thorn which has become increasingly infected with the passing years. For Delhi, it is important to have a dependable friendly neighbor at its gate. It is so unreasonable to think that one day, Delhi could tell Beijing, “We are ready to organize a meeting between the Tibetan leader and any visiting Chinese high dignitaty, it is in everybody’s interest.”
If one thinks ling-term—and nobody better than the Chinese are able to think decades ahead—if the Tibetan issue is satisfactorily solved, it will be good for China, good for India and for Asia (and of course for the Tibetans themselves). Tensions will be reduced, energies thus liberated could be used for development and reducing poverty in the two giant nations.
Dalai Lama Is India’s Boon, Not Bane
Is the Dalai Lama’s presence in India a major impediment to the growth of normal relations between India and China? To put the question differently, would growing tensions between Asia’s two most powerful countries ease considerably and their vexing boundary dispute be solved amicably if the Dalai Lama were asked by India to leave the country?
The question is highly relevant in light of the Dalai Lama’s weeklong visit to India’s Arunachal Pradesh state in November, which included three days at the world-famous Tawang monastery.
China, which claims the region as its territory, predictably used the occasion to generate heat in Sino-Indian relations. It condemned the visit, saying the Dalai Lama was “sabotaging” China’s relations with India.
The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s highest spiritual and political leader who has been living in exile in India since 1959, is a “separatist” for China but an “honored guest” of India, which has provided him asylum to carry on his “spiritual” activities in the country. Although his “government-in-exile” in Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh state is permitted, he and his followers are not allowed to indulge in political activities.
China has never liked the Dalai Lama’s presence in India and has always accused India of allowing him to promote his “separatist” agenda. His trip to Tawang, his fifth since 1959, upset the Chinese because his very presence there made it clear that Tawang and the rest of Arunachal Pradesh belong to India. In fact, China had exerted pressure on India to disallow the Dalai Lama to visit Tawang, but India consented to the visit, explaining it was for religious purposes.
Coming back to the question raised at the outset, there is now a powerful school of thought in India that it is time for the Dalai Lama to leave India. In an opinion poll carried out last year by the influential Outlook weekly magazine, as high as 71 percent of the nearly 600 respondents said that hosting the Tibetan leader had adversely impacted India-China relations and almost half believed Beijing could retaliate by giving sanctuary to Indian militants in its territory.
Along with powerful politicians from India’s two communist parties, the likes of former Minister of External Affairs Kunwar Natwar Singh, former Commerce Minister Subramaniam Swamy, media baron N. Ram and influential columnist Prem Shankar Jha have systematically argued that China has not been able to solve its Tibet problem because of India, which has given the Dalai Lama shelter and kept the Tibetan political and cultural identity alive.
Swamy has argued in his book “India’s China Perspective” that Sino-Indian relations can never become close and friendly unless India’s blind spot on Tibet and the Dalai Lama is removed. He advocates that India has to “digest and internalize” the view that the “shortest political route to Lhasa is via Beijing, and not across the Himalayas.”
In any case, Swamy says, when Tibet was autonomous or independent from China between 1890 and 1950, it was never friendly with India and had laid
claims to the Indian states of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh as well as Bhutan.
This school of thought argues that Tibet is strictly China’s domestic matter and India should not directly or indirectly raise Chinese suspicions. It views China as a peace-loving country, having solved boundary disputes with all its neighbors except India, and predicts that if the Dalai Lama leaves India or his activities there are curtailed, China will be flexible in border negotiations. In fact, the logic is, a “grateful” China will rethink its blind support to Pakistan, which is India’s most problematic neighbor.
Indian friends of China point out that continued support of the Dalai Lama could boomerang against India. They ask, is China not capable of promoting Kashmiri, Assamese, Naga and Punjabi secession from India? According to these China supporters, it is worth sacrificing the Dalai Lama to avoid a future conflict and possible joint attack by Pakistan and China.
These arguments are based on two unstated premises. First, China is much more powerful than India and so it is better to buy peace with Beijing and leave the Dalai Lama to face his own fate. Second, in this bipolar world, China is best suited to challenge U.S. “hegemony” and make the world truly multipolar. So India must be friendly to China. Of course, the overwhelming majority of Indians wanting to befriend China hate the United States.
However, neither of these premises is convincing. To argue that India is militarily weak and should surrender to China is insulting the country, its armed forces and strength, which many unbiased security analysts argue to be as good as, if not better than, China’s. It is no longer 1962, when China went to war with India.
The pro-China lobby in India downplays the fact that while China promotes a multipolar world, it is not interested in a bipolar Asia. True to its theory of being the Middle Kingdom, it will not allow another pole, whether India or Japan, in Asia. Historically speaking, China has done everything possible to halt the growth of Indian influence and dent India’s eminence. This policy toward India will continue whether or not New Delhi appeases Beijing on the Dalai Lama issue.
On the other hand, by continuing to shelter the Dalai Lama and his followers, India stands to gain more. First, his presence adds to India’s standing in the global community as a democratic country, given the Dalai Lama’s innumerable powerful supporters around the world. It strengthens India’s credentials for offering political asylum to democratic leaders escaping and fighting oppressive authoritarian regimes.
The nearly 200,000 Tibetan refugees in India are not a burden on the country, unlike the more than 20 million illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and thousands of refugees from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.
In fact, economically, the Tibetan refugees are self sufficient due to their many entrepreneurial activities. Unlike other refugees, they have not created a law-and-order problem in the country and none have aspired for Indian citizenship, making it clear that they would return to their land if China guaranteed them genuine autonomy and stopped suppressing their culture and way of life.
India cannot just sever its historical and cultural links with Tibet to please the Chinese. India is bound with Tibet, as two of the holiest Hindu shrines, Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar, are located there. Tibet is also the source of four great rivers that flow into India.
The Dalai Lama has also periodically pointed out that the Tibetans are descendants of Rupati, king of a south Indian kingdom who escaped to Tibet with his subjects after the epic Mahabharata War. As for the king of Tibet, it is believed that around 150 BC a prince of the Magadha Kingdom (present-day Bihar state) escaped to Tibet after being exiled from his kingdom. Tibetans named him Nyatri Tsenpo and made him their king, and so began the Tibetan royal lineage. A closer look at geography, ancestry and royal dynasties reveals close ties between India and Tibet.
In fact, whether it was Britain until 1947 or the former Soviet Union until 1990, the recent history of international relations suggests that other countries have always considered Tibet as belonging to “India’s sphere of influence.”
Finally, and most importantly, the presence of the Dalai Lama and his innumerable assertions supporting India on the boundary disputes strengthens India’s claims of territorial rights during negotiations with China.
By Prakash Nanda
All this still seems a dream, as the will to act decisively does not yet exist in the present fractured Indian political context. But only bold and audacious leaders could play a more important role in the world concert.
The Dalai Lama’s Dream
The Tibetan leader dreams of universal responsibility and world peace. It is still a far-away dream. A few years ago in an interview, he told us: “I have dedicated the rest of my life to demilitarization on a global level. As a first step, Tibet should be a zone of peace and completely demilitarized, so that in the future we can help not only China and India but also the world community. This is my vision and hope for the future.”
How long will it take to materialize? It is anybody’s guess.
The human species is superior to the animal because it can smile and dream. In the same interview the Tibetan leader explained the importance of the culture of the Roof of the World: “I feel that Tibetan culture with its unique heritage—born of the effort of many human beings of good spirit, of its contacts with Chinese, Indian, Nepalese and Persian culture, and due to its natural environment—has developed some kind of energy which is useful, and very helpful, towards cultivating peace of mind and a joyful life. I feel that there is a potential for Tibet to help humanity, and particularly our Eastern neighbor, where millions of young Chinese hace lost their spiritual values.” This is why Tibet is not just an issue between the Dalai Lama and Beijing. Like global warming, the financial crisis, terrorism, it is a global issue. Tibet has something special to bring to the planet, something which will be more and more needed to solve apparently unsolvable problems.
However it is certain that a solution has to emerge from drastic changes in China. History is patient, the time will come.
Excerps from to book “Dharmasala and Beijing: The negotiations that never were” (Lancer Publisher, 2009)
By Claude Arpi