China wants Tibet but not Tibetans; India needs both

Photo: A posse of Chinese soldiers patrol Lhasa in Tibet, as a Buddhist monk looks on.

(Editor’s Note: The views are that of the author’s. The writer is a Defence.Capital reader. For her other interests, read the credit line at the end of the article.)

By Uma Sudhindra

“Wherever I live, I shall feel homesick for Tibet. I often think I can still hear the cries of wild geese and cranes and the beating of their wings as they fly over Lhasa in the clear, cold moonlight. My heartfelt wish is that my story may create some understanding for a people, whose will to live in peace and freedom has won so little sympathy from an indifferent world.” — Heinrich Harrer, Seven Years in Tibet.

Sardar Vallabhai Patel wrote a prophetic letter to the then Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru on Nov. 7, 1950, and here is an excerpt from the same:

“I have been anxiously thinking over the problem of Tibet and I thought I should share with you what is passing through my mind. We had a friendly Tibet, which gave us no trouble. The Chinese were divided. They had their own domestic problems and never bothered us about our frontier.

“I have carefully gone through the correspondence between the External Affairs Ministry and our Ambassador in Peking and through him the Chinese government. I have tried to peruse this correspondence as favourably to our Ambassador and the Chinese government as possible, but, I regret to say that neither of them comes out well as a result of this study.

“The Chinese government have tried to delude us by professions of peaceful intentions. My own feeling is that at a crucial period they managed to instill into our Ambassador a false sense of confidence in their so-called desire to settle the Tibetan problem by peaceful means. There can be no doubt that, during the period covered by this correspondence, the Chinese must have been concentrating for an onslaught on Tibet. The final action of the Chinese, in my judgement, is little short of perfidy.

“The tragedy of it is that the Tibetans put faith in us; they chose to be guided by us; and we have been unable to get them out of the meshes of Chinese diplomacy or Chinese malevolence. From the latest position, it appears that we shall not be able to rescue the Dalai Lama.”

Raison d’etre of India-China Conflict

At the core of India-China conflict are two reasons:

  1. China considering India as an enemy.
  2. Tibet.

Historically, India and China never shared a common border till the 1950s and China’s annexation of Tibet. Chinese Prof. Hon-Shiang Lau in his analysis of historical documents has clearly stated that Tibet was never a part of China till 1950. By the end of that decade, Chinese occupation of Tibet was complete.

Throughout the 1950s, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) executed its well-designed mission of eliminating India’s presence and influence in Tibet with a high degree of finesse. India set itself three objectives as PLA moved into Tibet.

  1. PLA’s entry into Tibet should not cast a shadow on India’s security and India’s territorial integrity should remain inviolate.
  2. Sino-Indian friendship should be sustained.
  3. Tibet should enjoy real autonomy.

The Chinese objectives on the other hand were:

  1. Enforce its authority over Tibet.
  2. Maintain the facade of Tibetan autonomy but in actual bring it effectively under its administrative control and to overwhelm it by a massive migration of the Han Chinese.
  3. Undermine the authority of the Dalai Lama and to gain sufficient time to alter the status quo on Tibet’s border with India to suit China’s strategic needs.

The PLA, with its guns pointed at the Tibetans in Lhasa, imposed an agreement on them on May 23, 1951. The infamous ‘17-Point Agreement‘ under which the Tibetans were made to accept Tibet as a region of China and not just Chinese suzerainty over it but absolute control.

Their strangle-hold completed, they imposed a colonial situation on Tibet. The Dalai Lama was forced to flee. India raised the question of recognition of its well-established borders with Tibet. A conflict with India was inherent in China’s policy regarding Tibet as subsequent events proved.

Tibet Has Lost Enough

The world has ignored 70 years of relentless pillage and rape of Tibet under ruthless China. The country was cut into pieces and parts of it incorporated in China’s neighbouring provinces. A large part of Tibet’s Kham province was incorporated into China’s Sichuan province and another portion into Yunnan.

A new Chinese province called Qinghai was also created with the bulk of Tibet’s Amdo province and part of Kham. The remaining part of Amdo was incorporated into the Gansu Province. With only a little part of Kham and the central province of U-Tsang left, Tibet was reduced to a shadow of its former self. With Mao Zedong‘s government working on changing the demography of Tibet, the cleansing of Tibet had begun.

The harsh reality of Tibet’s past and the harsher reality of continued Chinese occupation has many lessons for India. Some which we have learnt and some which we have ignored. The lessons we have ignored, at our own peril I must confess, are the ones where peaceful existence with China never happened as envisaged and the future of Tibetans. It is high time we realign and rework our Tibet policy.

“Tibet is not the same as China, it should ultimately be the wishes of the people of Tibet that should prevail and not any legal or constitutional arguments – the last voice in regard to Tibet should be the voice of the people of Tibet and of nobody else.” These were the words by Jawaharlal Nehru in the Parliament of India. We still have not given the confidence to Tibetans that their voice will be heard.

In the last seven decades, many countries have become independent and many communities have returned to their homeland, including the Jews, who carved out Israel and built it into a successful and prospering nation. Why not the Tibetans?

Two reasons why India and the world must take action to help Tibetans regain their homeland:

  1. No ethnic culture or community can survive for long if it does not have a place to call home. The Tibetan culture and history has been eroded slowly in the last 70 years and we are in danger of losing the Tibetan race.
  2. China has contributed to the steady disintegration and disappearance of the Tibetan culture and race by placing the Han Chinese in occupied Tibet. Simultaneously, they continue torturing Tibetans, enforce disappearances and destroy monasteries to completely subjugate the remaining Tibetan population.

Today, we are in danger of losing Tibetans as a community, as a race. The younger generation in most countries think of Tibet as an integral part of China. They must be told the truth. The truth about China’s annexation and occupation, of Tibet’s age old legacy, of India’s historic association with Tibet, which is based on Dharma (Buddhism) and Sharan (Refuge).

The implications of losing Tibet and Tibetans completely to China are enormous. If Tibet does not get its freedom, we will forever be tending to wounds inflicted by China from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh, not to mention battling Chinese influence on our other neighbours like Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. I am not even including Pakistan in the equation here.

The entire Himalayan range will be in danger because of China’s greed and expansionist policy and I need not elaborate on the far-reaching implications of such wounds, which will forever eat into India like a deadly cancer. Fifty eight years is a long time to suffer and we must decide how this cancer has to be treated.

The need to defend India’s long and difficult borders with Tibet is a major burden on India’s economy and an obstacle to socio-economic development in the Himalayan states of the country. Continued Chinese occupation of Tibet costs dearly to Indian tax-payers.

The Roadmap

In conversation with my Tibetan friends on numerous occasions, I have been asked, “why doesn’t India claim Tibet as it’s own? China says, “China’s Tibet”.

In fact there is a Chinese propaganda magazine called “China’s Tibet”. According to my friends, between China, which seeks to exterminate the Tibetan people and to wipe out Tibetan religion and culture, and India, which gave Tibet Buddha Dharma and has helped save Tibetan religion and culture, there is no doubt, India has the greater claim.

The world today is looking to see what India is going to do in the wake of the Galwan Valley conflict. The time is ripe to bring up the issue of Tibet’s freedom and rightfully restore the dignity of the Tibetan nation. For this, we should focus on the following:

  1. Enable and empower the Tibetan government-in-exile and the Tibetans to make a clear and committed decision about their goal and struggle.
  2. We, as a country, must have clarity and decide on our long-term interest regarding Tibet and act accordingly.
  3. Both, India and Tibet must actively partner with each other to fructify the struggle of the Tibetans. There has to be acceptance on both sides that in the short term, we will pay a price. The long term rewards will be worth it.
  4. Take a vocal stand on all infrastructure projects built in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir by China using the Tibet route as part of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The message should be loud and clear that these are illegal projects and appropriate action can be taken when required.
  5. Exploit China’s weaknesses with regard to human rights violations. Call out on how they have treated the Tibetans, Uighurs, Mongols, and deprived them of living a dignified life.

In 1971, India had done right by the Bengalis suffering in erstwhile East Pakistan and helped them create Bangladesh. Fifty years down the line can we help in re-establishing Tibet as an independent nation and allow Tibetans from all over the world to settle in their homeland peacefully?

It will be a fitting gift to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who has led his people for 70 years in the true path of Dharma and kept the flame of Tibet alive. The year 2022 marks 60 years of Sino-India war, and India helping free Tibet will also wipe out the ignominy suffered by our armed forces and work like salve on our earlier wounds.

(The writer is a Bengaluru-based entrepreneur and a member of the Mumbai-based think-tank Forum for Integrated National Security)

4 replies »

  1. Article is beautifully written .My observation is
    Is india in a position to fight and accept this challenge certain mistakes made by previous Govts entail heavy price to get corrected pl

  2. A few things – Tibet has the support of the world especially after the nefarious intentions of china has been revealed. India can very easily and clearly state a change to its historical position. The position was assuming that the Chinese will respect British boundary and there will be peace everywhere i.e Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai. Unfortunately the Chinese misunderstood. Moreover Dalai Lama has publicly not asked for support from India. I am sure he was privately rejected by Nehru, but that doesnt count. If Dalai Lama states clearly that China should vacate Tibet, it will be carried out by the international community. China has no treaties with Tibet while India does.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.