March 27, 2008

How India Can Help Tibet, While Helping Itself.

Rajiv Sikri writes in Rediff India on the ways in which Indian diplomacy could help to resolve the Indian border dispute with Tibet (China)—without undermining the Tibetan uprising:

While formulating its policy on Tibet, India has to keep in mind that it is uniquely placed vis-a-vis Tibet, and therefore must have a unique policy that conforms to its national interests, irrespective of what the rest of the world says or does. No other country has as important stakes in peace and stability in Tibet as India does. A Tibet in ferment makes India's Himalayan frontiers unstable and insecure. As a democratic country that is hosting such a large number of Tibetans, India has a legitimate interest in what happens in Tibet. Since developments in Tibet have direct consequences for India, Tibet cannot be, as the Left parties in India make out, just an internal matter of China.

If there is a severe crackdown on the Tibetans, it is likely to lead to an increased Chinese military presence in regions close to India's borders, which would have implications for India's own defence planning. It will also inevitably trigger off a fresh influx into India of Tibetan refugees, whom India would find it difficult to turn away on practical and humanitarian grounds.

In subsequent official statements and/or through authoritative but deniable unofficial channels, India could emphasise that while it firmly upholds the principles of supporting the territorial integrity of duly constituted states and non-interference in other states' internal affairs, its own experience shows that the peace and stability of multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-cultural societies requires dialogue and accommodation within a democratic framework.

Ethnic and separatist problems require political solutions that give every citizen the confidence of being an equal stakeholder in the state. India expects that China would put in place policies that would stabilize Tibet and give the Tibetan Diaspora in India the confidence that they can return to their homeland.

India needs to take full advantage of an important nuance, perhaps unintended, in India's acceptance of Tibet as a part of China: India has merely conceded that the "territory of the Tibetan Autonomous Region is a part of the People's Republic of China;" it has not accepted that Tibet (whose borders historically and in the minds of the Tibetans extend beyond the Tibetan Autonomous Region) was always a part of China. As a matter of fact, Tibet was quite independent of Chinese rule and had all the attributes of a sovereign state between 1913 and 1950.

Traditionally, thousands of Indian pilgrims have made pilgrimages to Mount Kailash and Mansarovar lakes in Tibet without needing any permission from the Chinese authorities. If China can lay claim to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh on the grounds of its cultural, historical and spiritual links with Tibet, the case for India's claim to Kailash-Mansarovar region on similar reasoning is probably more substantive. Secondly, if at any time in the future the People's Republic of China were to give way to another entity India could well argue that it is not obliged to recognize Tibet as a part of any new political entity of China. Of course, this is a hypothetical scenario, but the Chinese would not miss such nuances and subtleties.

India needs to take a leaf out of China's book in the matter of observance of solemn bilateral commitments. Just as China, contrary to the agreements with India in 2003 and 2005, has re-opened very aggressively its claim to Arunachal Pradesh, has still not fully accepted Sikkim as a part of India, and does not want an early settlement of the boundary question, India too should subtly reopen the whole question of the legitimacy of China's claim to Tibet, which is the basic foundation for China to make any territorial claim on India.

There could be many ways in which India could introduce some nuances in its traditional policy. For example, India could state that it considers Tibet, as an autonomous region, to be a part of the territory of the People's Republic of China -- the implication being that it is only if Tibet is a truly autonomous region that India recognises it as a part of China.

Ironically, China, in welcoming the Indian approach during the recent uprising, has given legitimacy to India's unofficial policy shift. The Chinese should be made aware that subtle shifts in India's Tibet policy will continue, and that India will remove the ambiguities in its Tibet policy only under the following conditions: firstly, if the situation on the ground permits it (very unlikely if China persists with its present repressive policies); secondly, if there is a definitive settlement of the boundary issue; and, finally, only as a quid pro quo for China recognising all of Jammu & Kashmir as an integral part of India.

Posted by Attila Girl at March 27, 2008 02:09 PM | TrackBack

It looks like China is going to pull a Ministry of Truth operation on Tibet, and do their utmost to erase all signs of a non-Chinese Tibet from Tibet.

And shoot any Tibetan who objects, of course.

Posted by: John at March 28, 2008 06:21 AM

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