New Delhi: With an expansionist People’s Republic of China (PRC) nibbling at India‘s borders, a group of experts have said that India should have a ‘One Tibet‘ policy and reject the unrealistic ‘One China‘ idea that the Communist Party of China (CCP) keeps floating.
At a webinar organised by Usanas Foundation and Law and Society Alliance, in collaboration with Defence.Capital magazine, the experts also said that apart from Tibet, India’s policy on ties with Taiwan (Republic of China), the status of Hong Kong and the East Turkestan (Xinjiang, in People’s Republic of China terminology) need a reset immediately.
The experts were discussing the topic “Rethinking India’s ‘One China Policy’: Tragedy of Tibet” at the webinar moderated by Usanas Foundation’s Abhinav Pandya. The experts who participated in the discussion were Government of India‘s former Special Secretary Krishan Varma; Jawaharlal Nehu University Centre for East Asia Studies Prof. Srikanth Kondapalli; Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies Senior Fellow Abhijit Iyer-Mitra; and Tibetan activist and writer Tenzin Tsundue.
Opening the discussion, Srikanth Kondapalli said India, along with then Myanmar (erstwhile Burma) and Pakistan, was among the first few nations that recognised ‘One China’ policy between 1949 and 1950, even as the CCP was expanding its territory by annexing Tibet and East Turkestan (later renamed as Xinjiang).
Though originally, the idea of ‘One China’ from India’s perspective was inclusive of Taiwan, the policy perforce extended to the annexed territories of Tibet and Xinjiang too, by default, he said.
India had an embassy in Chongqing in Taiwan and consul generals in Lhasa and East Turkestan, but within two years of the CCP storming to power after a civil war in which it pushed Kuomintang, the erstwhile rulers of mainland China after the 1911 Chinese ‘Xinhai’ revolution in which the Qing dynasty monarchy was overthrown and pro-democracy forces took over power, to Taiwan.
But in those two years after the CCP won the civil war with Kuomintang and Mao Zedong declared the establishment of the PRC, the nature of India’s diplomatic missions in these locations changed and the ties between India and PRC grew stronger, while the relationship with Republic of China based in Taiwan suffered, he said.
“All diplomatic missions and relations were abolished and new relations were established by the PRC under the CCP. Unfortunately, India, along with Myanmar (erstwhile Burma) and Pakistan, was among the first nations to use this term ‘One China’ and recognised PRC. India simply stated that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China,” Kondapalli said.
With the signing of the ‘Panchseel Pact‘ four years hence India’s position on Tibet too turned nuanced and considered the annexed territory as part of China from a trade perspective, he said.
“Every India-China joint statement reiterated that position till the 2010. We started deviating a bit from that position only after CCP-ruled PRC begin issuing stapled visas to the constituents of the erstwhile province of Jammu and Kashmir (which is an Indian union territory since Aug. 2019 parliamentary resolution) and Arunachal Pradesh.”
In 2013, the then Indian prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh went to China and under the Chinese pressure, he reiterated the ‘One China’ policy in an opaque manner, Kondapalli said, adding that that reiteration meant that both the countries will jointly oppose anyone who did not agree with the ‘One China’ idea.
“When Tibet was divided into Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), Sichuan and Yunnan provinces in 1965, unfortunately, India did not comment on this. In 1988, the then Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi visited China and inserted the word ‘autonomous’ regarding Tibet. In 2003, India mentioned TAR as part of China. Thus, we tied down our legs on ‘One China’ policy and have never expressed our opposition to the idea.”
The only time India sought reciprocity from China was when in 2014, during her meeting with the Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, the then Indian external affairs minister late Sushma Swaraj asked him about China accepting the ‘One India’ policy. But no follow-up on that point raised by Sushma Swaraj has yet been done. “We should start putting pressure on China to make them agree to the ‘One India’ policy as a reciprocation to the ‘One China’ policy,” Kondapalli said.
The JNU professor suggested that it is a matter of power, when India seeks reciprocity and New Delhi needs to learn from the $50-billion economy North Korea that brought the $18-trillion economy United States to Singapore for talks, basically on its own terms. He said India needs to coordinate and collaborate on its diplomatic policies with the interests of Tibetans, Taiwanese, Uighurs and Hong Kongers, apart from several other nations that have not yet signed up on the ‘One China’ policy. “No nation in the world that accepted to the ‘One China’ policy has got reciprocation from the PRC or the CCP,” he said.
Referring to all the military and diplomatic confrontations that China has picked up with its neighbours and non-neighbours such as the army clashes along the Ladakh borders with India, the Hong Kong anti-democracy actions, the Taiwan conflict, South China Sea expansionist manoeuvres and the Senkaku Islands dispute with Japan, Kondapalli said these developments make China vulnerable and so India must be astute in putting its foot down on the ‘One India’ policy.
About Tibet, the professor expressed concerns, referring to the demographic change that was being forced in Tibet by tilting the population composition into an Han Chinese majority. “There are six million Tibetans only to 7.5 million Hans in Tibet today. There is a demographic change. China’s structural power within Tibet is rapidly increasing. It is difficult to dislodge China until all these six million Tibetans unite and agree to fight a long war.”
He noted that , “when the Dalai Lama went to the 1976 delegation meeting, the Tibetans started revering the dust that was left on his trail. The reverence of the Dalai Lama is huge in Tibet. When the Dalai Lama asked the Tibetans to boycott Shahtoosh shawl, which is manufactured by killing Antelopes, around 98 per cent of Tibetans joined the boycott. This strength of the reverence to the Dalai Lama needs to be further consolidated.”
Krishan Varma began by highlighting that PRC has chosen a very critical time of the COVID-19 pandemic to move forward its expansionist agenda. “The time has come for India to take a very bold step to stop this expansionism. We also have to look at them from a broader perspective. How do we bring along friendly nations together on this issue? What failed our strategic understanding of China?”
Varma said he believed the Chinese lulled India into a sense of comfort and effectively used shrewd and skewed diplomacy. “They have taken us away from the main point of confrontation – that is the boundary issue! Nevertheless, it is time to rephrase the ‘One China’ policy,” he said.
The PRC has a larger plan, Varma said, adding that India need to retrace its steps back to the ‘One Tibet’ policy. “Tibet is a national security issue for India and Tibet has got a pool of natural resources. Whoever controls Tibet dominates the Indian subcontinent, subsequently South Asia, and eventually Asia.”
Drawing attention to the manner in which China had annexed territory of its neighbours, the former Indian government Special Secretary said it is not going to be easy to roll back all those territory grabbing done by the PRC and the CCP.
“Even in the present, are we going to allow them to get away with what they have done on land reclamation in the South China Sea and the resultant claims on territorial waters? They have thrown away all international norms. Are we legitimising everything that China has annexed? Are we saying that it is all China’s property?”
What’s happening in Ladakh is an inflection point in the India-China ties that has been floundering in the last six decades, he said, asking why aren’t civilised nations around the world getting together to challenge China’s uncivilised behaviour?
“India needs to have new ‘One Tibet’, ‘One Taiwan’, ‘One East Turkestan’ (Xinjiang), and even a ‘One Mongolia‘ policy. India has to align with all global forces that question the ‘One China’ policy. India needs to do these things as a civilised society against the uncivilised one. I would see a commonality of behaviour with the civilised Western countries to go against China.”
Adding to idea on how the Dalai Lama is important to India, Varma argued that the world has been very lucky to have a towering figure like the Dalai Lama and the world needs to look up to him. “The time has come to recognise the reality of the Dalai Lama. We need to have greater respect and greater coordination with his Holiness and to work with like-minded people and like-minded countries. Most importantly, India needs to ask itself, are we willing to cross the limit that we consider as our border?”
Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, in his presentation, said the first issue is the serial blunders that India did in recognising Tibet as a part of China. “The UN never accepted the annexation of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia as a part of the erstwhile Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The USSR was never able to talk about something like Hawaii to the United States. This is the cornerstone of how India formulates its policies on Tibet from now on.”
The happenings in Tibet and the manner in which the PRC is holding on to Tibet using the barrel of a gun and how the CCP is changing the demography of Tibet and its native culture is something the world hasn’t seen before.”What is amazing about Tibet is that despite all the brutality, it has continued to preserve its culture, unlike other Central Asian countries,” Abhijit said.
Talking about the covert ways to denounce the ‘One China’ policy, the young scholar argued that one just can not trust a treaty that the PRC signed. “The CCP violates treaties in principle, not in letter. Treat ‘One China’ idea like how PRC treats nuclear non-proliferation. You swear to it absolutely and act against it on the ground. Use your diplomatic resources to treat Tibet as an independent country. Tibet is a cultural responsibility and strategic asset for India.”
On the strategic importance of Tibet, Abhijit said India moves from a ground-centric combat paradigm to an air-centric warfare paradigm, Tibet becomes a huge liability for China. “These are interception points. We have to adjust a whole set of things. Fighting in Tibet on the ground is a nightmare, and fighting in the air is a dream come true for India.”
He said India has not stood behind communities like the Balochs without wavering, and cited the Indian regimes of Morarji Desai and I. K. Gujral that compromised on India intelligence networks.”We need to cultivate our own intelligence assets. Are the Chinese planning to hit us? I suspect that yes, they are! If not in conventional ways, but they are preparing to hit us in unconventional ways,” he concluded.
Tenzin Tsundue said it was only in 1912 that the idea of China began to come up, which was under foreign occupation for around 300 years. “Now, they are trying to rule over their rulers. There is no real China! The China that Xi Jinping is talking about only came into existence in 1949. Till then, Tibet was an independent country.”
When Dalai Lama exiled to India, Tibetans repudiated the 17-point agreement with China and declared that they would be continuing to fight for an independent Tibet, Tsundue said. “There was so much pressure exerted by the Government of India on Tibet as well. In all these, it is the Tibetan people, with a great sense of resilience, who have survived and maintained their fight for freedom.”
The activist said the world has come to a point when India today realises that Tibet is not something to be left out. “Tibet means 2.5 million square kilometres of territory. It is not about a small landmass. Awakened India needs to have a strong position to recognise Tibet as a free and independent country, and rework its ‘One China’ policy. India has recognised numerous territories occupied by China, but China questions territorial integration of India and refuses to recognise Kashmir as a part of India. It is high time that India starts to work on rethinking its ‘One China’ policy.”
Talking about global alliances fighting against China, he said there was an entire alliance of people fighting to get freedom from China, including in East Turkestan, Mongolia, Hong Kong, Tibet, Manchuria, and this is a growing movement. “Three years ago, we had a conference in Dharamshala where Dolkun Isa, a Uighur leader, was denied visa to visit by India. What kind of diplomacy is this? If you are willing, freedom will happen. Freedom firstly needs to happen here in India.”
He also asked the participants to ponder over the quote of Aurobindo Ghosh, “India can be free and India must be free.” He also quoted Rabindranath Tagore‘s, “Where the mind is without fear… in to that heaven of freedom.” For the Tibetan people, freedom is always a matter of political decision and that will happen at some point of time, inevitably, Tsundue concluded.