India and Japan and the Future of Tibet: Need for a Coordinated Approach

M.L. Sondhi

Tibetan Review, July 1990

In his recent policy speech in New Delhi, Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu discussed the theme “Japan and South Asia: In Pursuit of Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace and Prosperity” and emphasised the following overview:

“The world now is undergoing drastic political and economic changes. The thrust of these changes is in acceptance by a increasing number of people around the world of the ideas of freedom, democracy and market economy. In other words, conditions for realising a world in which humans will be respected as humans are now being fulfilled. And, as a result, the idea that we should search for a new international order through dialogue and cooperation is gaining ground.”

Mr. Kaifu also referred to the importance of culture in the mutual intercourse of nations in the following words:

“There is an endless stream of Japanese young people discontented with material civilisation, who travel to South Asia in search of the satisfaction of their souls, values of life, and a source of spiritual inspiration. They want to get away from the din and tension of material civilisation, seek the peace of mind, and immerse themselves in the age-old history and traditions of India. Pilgrims from Japan who visit sacred sites of Buddhism cut across all age groups. It must be mentioned, however, that this adoration for India is nothing new. In fact, South Asia has always been an object of adoration for the Japanese people ever since Buddhism arrived in Japan in the sixth century. I should like to point out to the fact that this happened much more than one thousand years before the Occident a wakened to the greatness of Indian civilisation.”

The Japanese Prime Minister’s speech while containing much thoughtful analysis, fails to achieve a serious understanding of the real processes which have affected political relationships in South Asia. Any reconstruction of policies intended to promote “peace and prosperity” in South Asia cannot avoid taking stock of the changing circumstances and new options for bringing peace and prosperity to Tibet. The public statements by Japanese and South Asian leaders will remain tied down to narrow parameters unless the entire spectrum relating to the historical, geographical, legal and cultural contexts of the Tibetan issue is included in Japanese and south Asian diplomacy and the old myths propagated by Peking and its supporters are broken down.

A cursory examination of the various facets of the situation in Tibet would show that conditions for realising a world in which humans will be respected as humans remain anathema to the Chinese occupying forces in Tibet despite the occasional conciliatory rhetoric. Similarly the Chinese concept of culture in the mutual intercourse of nations differs significantly from that of the Japanese Prime Minister. The Chinese coercive paradigm in Tibet has been and remains anti-Buddhist and Peking’s actions constitute the most serious infringement of the right to religion and culture on the part of the Tibetans who are confronted with the surviving Maoist dogmas against cultural freedom.

The propensity of world leaders to avoid focusing on the genuine demands for political independence and cultural autonomy on the part of the Tibetans and their appeasement of Communist Chinese political campaigns has led to paralysis of decision-making which has not only aggravated the specific bilateral problems for the Tibetans but also militated against the development of a stable peace order in South Asia. This appeasement has encouraged the Chinese to pursue a maximalist posture in three areas: (1) in Tibet; (2) in the trans-Himalayan region and in south Asia, where the building of the Karakoram Highway and the Chinese exploitation of Indo-Pakistan difference have formed a pattern inconsistent with the spirit of regional détente; and (3) in Asia, where the Chinese are opposing the trend of world history by rejecting a peace design. The combination of repression in Tibet and in Tiananmen Square reintroduces confrontational features in Asian domestic and foreign policy at a time when demilitarisation of global conflict could promote peaceful evolution in Asia. By presenting ideas of peaceful coexistence grounded in Buddhist weltanchauung. His Holiness the Dalai Lama had not only placed Tibet in a broader political context: he has also helped to provide a new conception of international relations where human goals are given pre-eminence. His Holiness has also developed new patterns of intellectual communication with the foreign policy elites in different countries throughout the world. Meanwhile domestic exigencies and popular pressures have compelled the decision-makers in Peking to intensify their resistance to the very logic of interdependence towards which the world is moving.

Asian politics cannot evolve on the basis of geopolitical and coercive diplomacy practised by the Chinese for its basis is imperialism and aggression which is contrary to the social and normative milieus of the present-day world. The Dalai Lama’s conceptualisations based on Buddhist wisdom can help to widen the vision of Asian statesmen. At the same time the Dalai Lama has provided the future Tibet with a contextual predisposition (as a Zone of Ahimsa) for dialogue and cooperation for world peace and prosperity. His vision and definition of international relations commits Tibet to give up coercive power at a time when Peking still refuses to believe that the days of “gunboat diplomacy” are over. It is the thesis of this short study that the foreign policy priorities of Japan and India can complement each other if instead of preserving the status quo in Tibet, both these countries can help China resolve its Tibetan dilemma by accepting the major historical trends which the Dalai Lama has taken into account in his projection of the future of Sino-Tibetan relations.

Policy making for regional conflicts: priority for Tibet

The official Indian and Japanese positions on Tibet need substantial modification, since it is too late in the day to deny the evidence of Chinese imperialism in Tibet. Not only has Tibetan resistance proved its moral superiority to Chinese hegemonic force, the Dalai Lama’s international diplomacy since after the visits of the delegations to Tibet sent by the Tibetan government-in-exile has successfully reversed the marginalisation of the Tibetan identity which the Chinese had attempted. Tokyo and New Delhi need to skilfully adapt their policies and make them consonant with the aspirations of the Tibetans. The events in Eastern Europe have galvanised the attention of the world to Tibet and there is general expectation that Chinese political and cultural dominance will sooner or later pass away in the same way as the soviets had to release their grip on their satellites. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Dalai Lama has inexorably intertwined the Tibetan cause with the widest sections of the international community who wish to strengthen the prospects of stable peace in the world. The stabilisation of the position in Europe and the considerable evolution of European unity serve to give greater emphasis to the thorny problem of Tibet in Chinese policy. As the Russian case has shown, strategic power does not translate automatically into political influence. The time is ripe and propitious for Japan and India as major Asian powers to find ways to reduce tensions and dangers in Tibet and providing understanding and constructive support to the Dalai Lama in his efforts to make progress towards a permanent Sino-Tibetan peace.

A new Asian negotiating forum: Tibet can provide a guiding concept for long-term policy preferences

It is only within the context of the Helsinki (CSCE) process that one can comprehend the role of stable relations which have developed in Europe. If Asia is not to be the focus of new hostilities, the worsening regional climate should be reversed by guiding concepts similar to those employed in stabilising détente in Europe. Japan and India can serve their own respective interests by providing Asia with a versatile negotiating forum by consultations on a long-term strategy for Tibet. These conversations should accommodate Chinese interests without placating China at the cost of Tibet. Japan may have to modify some of its support of China and provide its policy with a foundation for eventually supporting a post-imperial order in Tibet. The Indian leadership would have to recognise its shortcomings in having failed to honour Britain’s treaty obligations with Tibet. It would have to set in motion a process by which the legal character of Tibet’s status prior to the Chinese aggression in 1950 would come to be generally accepted. The revitalisation of the Tibetan government-in-exile need not cause undue embarrassment to the Chinese if it is part of the moral dimensions of a negotiating process to strengthen political and security cooperation in Asia. An Asian “Helsinki process” could one day be appropriately named as the “Lhasa process” and the de-imperialisation of Tibet could be achieved through collaborative peace postures of Japan, India and China within an overall framework of moderation.

Refugees and human rights issues

Most observers agree that India has made a sustained effort to help the Tibetan refugees and provided them incentives and opportunities to maintain the Tibetan cultural identity in the face of Chinese genocidal actions. It is arguable, however, that India should have provided more elbow room to the Tibetans for their political activity to win back their freedom. The capacity for autonomous action of the Tibetan exiles would be enhanced if Japan would re-examine the Tibetan refugee phenomenon in its historical perspective and aggress to perform its internationalist duties in accordance with its economic potential. The Tibetans have been deprived of their human rights in their homeland, but the international community’s response has been only symbolic. Both Japan and India have moral commitment to uphold human rights, if Hiroshima and Gandhian ideals have any continuing significance for their respective national outlooks. In the case of the Tibetan human rights issue, the intolerable abuses by the Chinese cannot be checked unless Asian countries come together to constrain Peking. To develop a stable human rights order in Asia, Japan and India have to cooperatively strengthen the expectations of the Asian community. Both Tokyo and New Delhi have major roles to play in making a fundamental contribution for the advancement of Human Rights in Tibet and to formulate new standards for the whole of Asia. The protection of human rights by the rule of law can hardly be achieved overnight but the movement towards a high profile human rights regime in Asia can make rapid gains if the Indians and the Japanese work energetically to provide adequate forms of redress to their Tibetan brothers and sisters.

The new Tibet agenda for Japan and India

  1. The status quo in Tibet bodes ill for the Tibetans and for all Asians. Before new options can be developed by the international community, and creative alternatives developed, there is an urgent need to remove the impediments imposed by the Chinese on the free flow of information on Tibet. It is technically feasible for Japan and India, who are both committed to freedom of media, to coordinate their efforts to let the world know the truth about current and future developments in Tibet. The role of Radio Free Europe in providing information flow and feedback to the East Europeans is well documented. In the present context of global détente, Japanese and Indian efforts should not be on the lines of cold-war campaigns. Instead the media campaigns on Tibet should help to develop an interest in conciliation between Tibetans and Chinese and promote avenues of negotiation on the basis of reality-testing in both Tibet and China.

  2. The Chinese annexation of Tibet led to the deterioration of relations between India and China. On the diplomatic front, in spite of serious efforts to improve Sino-Indian relations, the overall structure of hostility between these two Asian giants has not been dismantled. Japan, which is trying to help the economies of both China and India, has an important role to play in bringing the long-term priorities of Sino-Indian reconciliation to the forefront of political debate.
    A confrontation format between India and China and the removal of poverty in these two countries cannot go together. Conversely, the implementation of the Zone of Ahimsa arrangements in Tibet as envisaged by the Dalai Lama will positively catalyse relations between India and China onto a course of reconciliation. A practical commitment by Japan to the solution of the Tibetan issue will enable Tokyo to help reduce the Sino-Indian confrontation and pave the way for Asian security arrangements meaningful in the new era of the 1990s.

  3. In assessing the new options in its Tibet policy, Japan should take account the intimate connection of Tibet with the Chinese nuclear testing, and deployment. This in turn feeds India’s fears. Any serious attempt at creating a nuclear-free zone in South Asia is necessarily connected with the denuclearisation of Tibet, since India perceives its nuclear defensive and deterrent concerns more in the context of China and only secondarily in relation to Pakistan. The drift towards a nuclear catastrophe in South Asia can only be countered by a complete break with China’s existing nuclear plans in Tibet. From Japan’s own nuclear security standpoint and its decisive attitude to the need for a comprehensive solution in the light of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki experience, Tokyo cannot afford its traditional inward-looking attitude and has to pursue a foreign policy in which the denuclearisation of Tibet is given a sharp focus.

  4. Both India and Japan have a clear interest in encouraging the emergence of moderate forces in China and public opinion in both countries remains overwhelmingly supportive of the Chinese students’ call for democracy. The Federation of Democratic China located in exile in Paris has declared itself openly for solving the Tibetan problem and has promoted Sino-Tibetan dialogue on the basis of Tibetan human rights and the Dalai Lama’s proposals. Developing new options on the Tibetan issue can hopefully provide Tokyo and New Delhi with reasonable avenues for dealing with Chinese moderate elements who are working for greater civil rights and are not opposed to genuine self-rule for Tibetans.

  5. The discussion on the future of Tibet has a clear implication for the important question of Japan’s re-engagement in international affairs. Tibet is not a small country which Japan can afford to ignore. Japan’s success in obtaining even partial de-militarisation of Tibet will send an important signal to the world community. The new political entity which will come up in the Roof the World after the withdrawal of Chinese military power could become a symbol of inter-Asian cooperation. If Japan helps in achieving a durable settlement on Tibet, this would provide a more equivalence to the benign changes in global relationships produced by the improvement in East-West relations and the withdrawal of Soviet power from East Europe and Afghanistan. Japan has hitherto been primarily concerned which North East Asian security and India with south Asian security, and neither country has devoted itself to tackling the risks to Asian security as a whole. To the extent that both countries seriously devote themselves to the implementation of security and peace arrangements for Tibet as envisaged in the Dalai Lama’s proposals, India and Japan will be developing a promising course of action for improving the Asian security environment.

  6. Finally, both India and Japan face the task of developing humanistic world views on the basis of which alone Asian Civilisation will survive. Japan has to find a workable alternative to its excessive dependence on the American Paradigm. India has to get over the psychological traumas which led it to develop over-reliance on the soviet paradigm. Contrary to the wisdom of their foreign policy establishments Japan’s predicament cannot be solved by aligning itself to the Western club, nor can India relate itself adequately to the macro-environment by competing with Pakistan for acceptance in West Asia (Islamic Middle East). Both countries, however, can broaden and balance their global and regional roles through promoting plurality an d democratisation in Asia. If Japanese leadership shows breadth of vision and confidence it can help other Asians to transcend the bitter memories of co-prosperity scheme days by utilising the opportunities for political and economic cooperation which will emerge as a result of the new international role of Tibet. Our analysis points to the urgent need for Japan’s political elite to understand the geopolitical concerns of Central Asia and to encourage meaningful changes in the interest of restoring the Tibetan Identity. By working constructively with the Tibetan government-in-exile Japan will help to finally exorcise the chauvinistic image which it projected during the Second war and which still creates problems when it seeks to develop a political role commensurate with its economic super power status. Both from the cultural-historical perspective and from the political-military perspective Tibet is crucial to India’s international role. The growth of Indian military in recent years has been impressive, but it cannot make a positive contribution to the history of South Asia unless and until the Chinese withdraw from Tibet. India cannot fulfil its destiny by a powerful military machine and flexing its muscles. India should take a warning from the collapse of Soviet power in Eastern Europe and recognise the interrelatedness of global and regional interests. By extending its hegemony over South Asia, India will only find itself in a syndrome of conflict and competition which will ultimately prove meaningless in terms of its real concerns. India’s credibility and strength will gain recognition if it takes a principled stand on Tibet and synthesises its global, and Asian, concerns by ensuring a satisfying peace role for Tibet in the global system. The advice in this study to both Japanese and Indian policy makers is by no means heroic; on the contrary it represents an optimum choice of strategies which can be implemented with reasonable hope ad confidence.
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