M.L. Sondhi

Tibetan Review, July 1991

Our future in the post-Cold War era will depend upon our serious thinking about Tibet.  Circumstances and events have modified the bipolar world completely.  If we continue to think in a bipolar model we will drift into dangerous situations.  For a dynamic Indian future we need to develop a positive framework concerning Tibet and the Himalayan north, and that is provided by the concept of Tibetan swaraj (self rule).  We need to take an objective look at the 1951 framework which developed from the 17-Point Agreement and culminated in the 1954 treaty.  We also need to review the thinking style of the Indian foreign policy community.  This thinking style is not suited to a changing world.  In the present transition stage of world politics we need a thinking style which enables us to design ideas and actions which should enable India to become the cornerstone of a stable and peaceful world order.

Indians must express their profound grief and anxiety at the increasing severity of Chinese repression against Tibetans on the eve of the 40th anniversary of what Chinese disinformation projects as the “peaceful liberation” of Tibet.  The provocative action of Peking in sending a delegation headed by Li Tiyeng, the Communist Party political bureau member and state councillor, to attend the celebrations of its imperium over Tibet in Lhasa, the renewed efforts to involve the quisling Ngabo Ngawang Jigme in propaganda to turn the international attention away from the catastrophe which China has caused to Tibet and the aggressive and arrogant statement of Chinese Premier Li Peng, dismissing the Dalai Lama’s diplomacy of peace and goodwill as “raising hue and cry over Tibetan independence” are all negative moves which come at a time when there is a prevailing mood in the world for ensuring the independence and integrity of all nations through international co-operation.  The unfortunate memory of 1962 had not been forgotten by us in India and we cannot forget that the Chinese military occupation of Tibet has given us a neighbour who has adverse possession of our territory and who harassed us when we were engaged in the task of peace building.  The summit level assurance of the Soviet Union that it will resume the supply of military aircrafts and other lethal equipment to China attracts our attention because such an arms agreement reminds us of Soviet help to Mao Tse-tung’s military expansionism of which India was a victim.

In recent years although Peking has been proclaiming its commitment to build a peaceful relationship with India, this cannot be taken seriously by any competent analyst in India unless the peace process focuses on Tibet.  Conceptually the main obstacle to a Chinese-Tibetan settlement lies in the grave distortion in Chinese thinking which denies that Tibet was a country which exercised its own sovereignty and independence.  To a great extent Britain and India are responsible for encouraging China in its conceptual error which could easily be corrected if these two governments put the records straight by affirming the right of the Dalai Lama’s government to re-establish an independent national authority.  The paralysis in taking decision on Tibet could also be removed if the international community could take steps to recognise the Tibetan identity on the basis of the undisputed political independence of Tibetan kingdom going back to the 7th century.  India can also help to shape constructive change in China by providing the international community with opportunities to study harmful effects of Chinese rule in Tibet and raise relevant questions about Chinese occupation practices.

Of course such revelations are bound to damage Chinese self esteem but this may be the only way to provide promising opportunities to the Tibetans for developing leverage in eventual negotiations between Tibet and China.  The compulsive political scenario adopted by Peking is based on the explicit endorsement by the Chinese elite of the so-called benefits of the Chinese rule on the Tibetans.  The establishment of a Radio Free Tibet on Indian soil can be a catalyst to change attitudes and cause public debate inside both Tibet and China.

Since the Dalai Lama is committed to peaceful negotiation with China and is recognised as an international personality who is committed to a moratorium on violence, the government of India should not come in the way of his playing a leading role in the peace process in regional and international politics.  The notion held in some official sections that the right to asylum should not be transgressed by political activities is quite preposterous when it is remembered that the Dalai Lama’s political activities are grounded on a total commitment to build a peaceful relationship with China.  It is therefore necessary for Indian officialdom to change the lens of the spectacles it has been using during the Cold War period on Tibet-China relations and not do anything which would hinder the efforts of the Dalai Lama to help evolution towards a positive future.  There must be ever closer co-operation between India and the Dalai Lama for building democracy in tomorrow’s Free Tibet.  If and when the Chinese criticise us for interference in the internal affairs of China, New Delhi should not hesitate to provide an affirmative answer of its legitimate position on the Tibetan question, i.e. the last voice in regard to Tibet should be the voice of the people of Tibet and nobody else, and the Chinese must learn that the Dalai Lama is indispensable for peace and stability in Tibet.  The sooner the Chinese acknowledge this fact the sooner they will be able to work for the establishment of a viable framework for the peaceful settlement of the Tibetan question and the Sino-Indian conflict.

Outstanding questions between India and China cannot be solved without New Delhi living up to its responsibility for peace in Tibet, the Roof of the World.  Since December 1988, we have tried to develop a political process for achieving a settlement by ensuring a tranquil border.  The trouble here is that our bureaucrats have failed to develop adequate concepts for understanding the complicated situation which exists in China as its vision of socialist utopia recedes, and they have discouraged serious debate among specialists on just what is required to maintain India’s interests as China tries to cope with the striking new realities in the Chinese-Tibetan confrontation.  Confidence building measures and dealing at the level of local-military commanders don’t fully exhaust what is at stake in a serious political move towards the resolution of conflict between India and China.  Indian security is intertwined with the restoration of swaraj in Tibet and India simply cannot revert to old patterns of behaviour which resulted in the fiasco of 1962. Any premature reduction of troops on the Sino-Indian border by India or the appeasement of China by agreeing to ignore the Tibetan dimension of the Sino-Indian conflict will only hurt India’s long term interests.  The Chinese of course would like to promote discord between Indians and Tibetans and create instability and insecurity for the whole of the Himalayan region.  The proponents of this line have placed considerable attention on working out of compromises on the basis of give-and-take although the harsh reality is that India has scored no discernible success which would diminish China’s hold on Indian territory.

It is a strange scenario of confidence building which is designed by the Chinese to actually enhance fear and suspicion in Tibet and which offers no commitment to explore new and benign relationships between them and the Tibetans.  If we have to find a way out of this muddle the Sino-Indian talks must be widened into Sino-Indian Tibetan discussions designed to stabilise the strategic and political balance between India and China.  The central issues of the political rights of the Tibetans must be brought into the picture and the first and the most important conclusion must be drawn from history that peace and confidence between India and China can only be ensured by re-establishing the Tibetan buffer where the people can exercise their sovereign rights.  It is hardly possible for India and China to build a new and mutually acceptable relationship by interactions between well-meaning local military commanders when the central factor is the need to agree on the vision of an alternative future for Tibet, through a comprehensive scenario of innovative political steps.
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