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April 20, 2008
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April 20, 2008

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Home > 2008 Issues > April 20, 2008

The Moving Finger Writes

The Tibetan Dilemma

By M.V. Kamath

According to the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, ?if freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China?s oppression in Tibet, we have lost moral authority to speak on Human Rights anywhere in the world?.

There are some things that India can do in the international sphere and some things that India cannot do and should not, and it should know the difference especially in the case of Tibet. China claims that Tibet has always been part of its territory, a claim that is debatable. In pre-industrial times when communication was difficult and China itself was fragmented Tibet had largely been left to itself. But when the Communists finally came to power in Beijing, one of the first things that the People?s Liberation Army did in 1950 was to occupy Tibet. India had become independent just three years earlier and its government was new to the job.

Nehru had claims to be an expert in international affairs?there was hardly any one in the Congress Party anyway, with any grounding in formation of foreign policy?and Nehru was beguiled. Despite Sardar Vallabbhai Patel?s stern warnings about China?s possible reneging on promises to his Prime Minister on November 7, 1950, India signed a Border Trade Agreement with the euphemestically called ?The Tibet Region of China? on April 29, 1954 which conceded Chinese sovereignty over Tibet. Nehru?s understanding of China was idealistic, not based on realism. He was too na?ve. He permitted himself to be misguided by his own Ambassador to China, Sardar K.M.Panicker who was sold on the new government in Beijing. Under the Agreement, India agreed to clear out of Lhasa, lock, stock and barrel and to hand over its infrastructure in the Tibetan capital to the new overlords. The argument then was that if it did not do so, it would have been forced to quit anyway. India took the easy way out.

Earlier, in 1951, the Tibetans, poor and unarmed had been forced to sign a seventeen point agreement that conceded Chinese sovereignty over their territory. If China had indeed been sovereign, surely no such agreement was needed. But China wanted to legalise its invasion. It got away with it. As far as international affairs were concerned, Nehru was a novice and his Adviser Panicker was better known as China?s ambassador to India than India?s then India?s ambassador to Beijing. And yet another ill-informed adviser to Nehru was V.K.Krishna Menon. China, as we now know, betrayed their faith in it by invading India to ?teach Delhi a lesson? and thereby making a mockery of Nehru?s pro-Beijing policy. He was to die a broken-hearted man. China has thus shown that it cannot be trusted.

Under the 17-point Agreement China had given explicit assurance to Tibet?s leadership that it would not alter the political system under which Lhasa ruled. A pledge was also made that the political status, functions and powers of the Dalai Lama would not be tampered with. Furthermore, Beijing also promised not only to promote the development of Tibetan language and culture, but protect the income of monasteries and the freedom of religious beliefs as well. Words, words, words. Everyone of these pledges were to be broken in subsequent years. Beijing encouraged large-scale migration of Hun Chinese to Tibet to reduce Tibetans into a minority in their own land. The Tibetan language was given short shrift. Ethnic Chinese hold most of government jobs and worse, Tibetan civil servants got the message that they could be dismissed if, in their homes, they worshipped Buddha?s icon.

According to informed sources the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1973 saw widespread destruction of monasteries and it is claimed that monks have been forced to undergo what is described as ?patriotic education? by listening to Communist anti-religious propaganda. Currently, between 70 to 80 per cent of Lhasa?s approximately 27,000 population is Chinese. Tibetans have been reduced to a minority and resentment has been growing. In the circumstances, what can we do? The realistic answer is: Nothing. The United States and a few European powers have been making loud noises about restoration of Human Rights and Tibetans? right for autonomy, but when it comes to dealing with their own interests, loud words are not translated into action. When it suited the United States, it has supported China. During the Bangladesh War, Washington even tried to persuade China to attack India; Beijing wisely declined to play America?s game.

On the Tibetan issue, India has to walk warily. It is sixty years since India willingly accepted China?s suzeraignty over Tibet and it cannot go back on the Agreement it signed. As long as China does not make any demands on Indian territory, we can keep our distance from the current scene in Tibet much as it hurts our sensibilities. India is not the United States. According to the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, ?if freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China?s oppression in Tibet, we have lost moral authority to speak on Human Rights anywhere in the world?. Oh, really? The best way for the US to respond to Chinese oppression is for Washington to cut off trade relations with China, freeze American investment and warn Pakistan not to have any dealings with Beijing. Will the US do that? As for India, it must know its strengths and weaknesses. China has shown over the years that it is incapable of keeping its word. It is behaving exactly as the British and the French did in the nineteenth century, trying to enlarge and expand its sphere of influence beyond its natural borders.

Of course, some day it will get its come-uppance and meanwhile India has to be patient. History has its own way of punishing recalcitrant nations as life has its own way of dealing with recalcitrant individuals. The Tibetans cannot be indefinitely cowed down whether there is a Dalai Lama to lead them or not. Time will take its own course. Tibetans have rebelled in the past and one can rest assured that they will continue to rebel in the future and some day China will have to give in. But let us not have any illusions of Chinese friendship or about America?s professed dedication to moral values. Where were these values when the US started the Korean War in the 1950s, the Vietnam War in the 1970s and where are they now as American troops hold fort in Iraq? We do not need either to take on China or even trust it.

The naivettes and intellectual arrogance shown by Nehru and Krishna Menon placed India in great jeopardy. We don?t need to repeat their folly. Our philosophy should be: Trust no nation, remain wary and keep the powder dry. There are ways to send signals to Beijing as to where we stand without seeming offensive or accommodative. If we haven?t learnt that by now, we have learnt nothing. And the Dalai Lama would be wise to work with India than to be led by Washington, or any European nation. And India would be wise to fashion its own rules of the game to emerge the winner. It must work out plans of its own to put China in its place.

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