Behind China’s unbridled hegemonistic expansion plans lies its audacious ambition to dislodge the US as the world’s most powerful country. Will India be able to correct the Nehruvian blunder to see China’s global ambition?
Dr Satish Kumar
US President Donald Trump signed on the controversial law Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act. China has vehemently criticised the president for signing this act into a law. China considers Tibetan issues as its internal affair. Any attempt to meddle or interfere in its affairs is likely to harm the bilateral ties between the two countries.
Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru during his official visit to China, talking with his Chinese counterpart Zhou Enlai
This ‘controversial’ law seeks to promote access to Tibet for US diplomats, officials, journalists and other citizens while denying US entry for Chinese officials who are deemed responsible for restricting access to Tibet. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said that the law sent wrong signals to Tibetan separatists. The Chinese came out in 2015 with a White Paper called the ‘Golden Period’ for Tibetans. But the ground reality is different. Many of the journalists and rights groups said in 2018 the situation for ethnic Tibetans inside what China calls the Tibet Autonomous Region remains complicated.
The American policy of Tibet was an instrument for creating a larger space in world politics. Its concern was to dismantle the expansion of communist ideology from China. America realised that this could be done quickly with the help of India. President Eisenhower wrote, on a couple of occasions, to Prime Minister Nehru, warning the latter of the impending Communist threat to South Asia. The State Department approached India. It argued that the impending Communist takeover of Tibet would encircle the Himalayan states in its clutch. The common interest of India and America was meeting a common point. Nehru refused to cooperate with the American plan. Nehru had an impression that China and India can walk together on significant issues of the world. Then America had no other option. It took the support of Nepal and made 19 airdrops of trained Khampas with arms to liberate Tibet. The attempts did not sustain the onslaught of China.
US President Donald Trump signed on the controversial law Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act. China has vehemently criticised the president for signing this act into a law
China continued its grip on Tibet. It declared Dalai Lama as a separatist. It came out of the White Paper in 2015. It emphasises, “Tibet has been an integral part of China since ancient times, and has never been an independent nation”. It pushes China’s claim over Tibet back to the 7thcentury from the 12th century. Stating that there was a close connection between the Tibetan people and the Han and other ethnic groups, it says, “There has never been a break in economic, political and cultural exchanges between Tibet and the rest of China”. This statement has been rejected by the Tibetan Government in exile and the designated Prime Minister of Tibet at Dharamsala. “Tibet was an independent country, and Tibet is under occupation today,” said Lobsang Sangay.
The current political and diplomatic row between America and China will provide extra strategic mileage for India. The past experiences have shown the nervous symptoms of China whenever India and America work together
On the other hand, China claims that the Tibetan culture and people have been much better off since its occupation rule began in 1959. It argues: “Tibet’s traditional culture is well protected and promoted, and freedom of religious belief in the region is respected, while its ecological environment is protected, too”. The white paper also presents data to justify its rule over the last 50 years. It claims, “Earlier Tibet did not have a single school in the modern sense; its illiteracy rate was as high as 95 per cent among the young and the middle-aged; there was no modern medical service, and praying to the Buddha for succour was the main resort for most people if they fell ill; their average life expectancy was 35.5 year.”
The original name of Panchsheel Agreement was the 1954 agreement on trade and intercourse between the Tibet region of China and India which is seen by many as the sacrifice of Tibet by India
Even if the above data are correct, there are many aspects which are equally valid. The Tibetan community has been butchered and subjugated to reduce them to slavery. The communist regime forcefully destroyed their twin identities of faith and pastoral lives. Tibet has been strategically cut into two parts. One part of it, the Tibet Autonomous Regions, has been converted into a nuclear dustbin, spreading deadly diseases such as cancer. Thousands of Tibetans are behind bar. Their economic status is meagre. The policy of transferring Han Chinese into the TAR is reducing the Tibetans to a minority in their region. There was a further disappointment for Tibetans and supporters across the world at the beginning of 2015 when China announced plans to increase the Han-Chinese population of Tibet by 30 per cent by 2020 — a total of approximately 280,000 new arrivals.
Chinese Takeover of Tibet and Its Implications for India
The Chinese takeover of Tibet was a strategic move rather than for historical or ideological reasons, said Prof Dawa T Norbu. China has always been apprehensive of the influence of external powers in the territory of Tibet. That is why it purportedly shifted the area of a buffer zone from Tibet to the tiny Himalayan states like Nepal and Bhutan. China’s Tibet policy impacts on Indian security interests in two ways. One, it exposed the border problem between India and China which led to the 1962 Sino-Bharat war. The Chinese invasion of Tibet ended the buffer zone between the two countries. It also increased China’s reach into South Asia.
In the Northwest region, it has occupied 43,180 sq km of the strategic and mineral-rich Aksai Chin, besides 5180 sq km of Kashmir, ceded by the Pakistan government in its 1963 boundary agreement with China. Aksai Chin is an ancient trade route, and the Chinese need it for forming a link between Tibet and Sinkiang (Eastern Turkistan) that was also similarly annexed by them in 1949, advocated T. Jacob, a sinologist. Other severe consequences of Chinese developmental strategy in Tibet could be regarding environmental hazards. India’s major rivers originate from the trans-Himalayan region. China’s western development programme is causing significant deforestation and ecological imbalance. Tibet is endowed with the most magnificent river systems in the world. Its rivers supply fresh water to 85 per cent of Asia’s population.
China’s policies towards India have been characterised as a judicious combination of broad strategy and surface diplomacy. The in-depth approach consists of striving to gain a strategic edge over India in Inner Asia by courting India’s acceptance of the occupation of Tibet. At the same time, China seeks a strategic alliance with Pakistan to deny India regional supremacy in South Asia. The surface diplomacy aspect is characterised by frequent visits of all kinds to New Delhi since 1994. China plans to build a 540-kilometre strategic high-speed rail link between Tibet and Nepal, which could pass through a tunnel under Mt Everest. Such a move could raise the alarm in India about the Communist giant’s growing influence in its neighbourhood.
“A proposed extension of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway to the China-Nepal border through Tibet would boost bilateral trade and tourism as there is currently no rail line linking the two countries,” reported China’s state-run China Daily reported today (Sept 11. The rail line is expected to be completed by 2020. However, there was no word on the cost of the project. The 1,956-km long Qinghai-Tibet railway already links the rest of China with the Tibetan capital Lhasa and beyond. Two factors make Tibet important for India. First, is the religious and cultural factor, Tibet has an essential place in the Indian imagination. Kailash Mansarovar is situated in Tibet. It has spiritual connectivity not only with for the Tibetans but also for India. The second factor is ecological. If the Tibetan community refuses to accept the roadmap drawn up by the Communist Chinese regime during the period of the 14th Dalai Lama, it would be much more difficult after he is no more.
Tibet has been unfortunately part of the larger set up of the world politics for the American interests. But the Indian case is entirely different. It bore the direct consequences. Had Nehru accepted the American design in the 1950s when China was much weaker, Tibet would have been an independent country, but an ideological prejudice of Nehru did not allow it to happen. The US was prepared to provide nuclear arsenals to India. An independent Tibet would have created much different India altogether. The significant threats which India is facing from North and Northwest would not have been challenging Indian security. China-Pak nexus was possible to the extent of a threat. The Indian first neighbourhood policy would have been smoother and better integrated.
The current spat between America and China will provide extra strategic mileage for India. The past experiences have shown the nervous symptoms of China whenever India and America work together. This bill is directly related to Tibet. The Chinese overtures in South Asia will automatically slow down, and an attempt may be taken to placate India as a long-term friend. This is a bargaining and opportune moment for India to establish its One India Policy in China. Once it is acknowledged, it will have a broad range of ramifications for India’s strategic values in South Asia. There is no doubt that PM Modi is a hard bargainer and he will not lose the moment for making India an established power from a reluctant power.
(The writer is a professor at MMH, College CCSU, Uttar Pradesh)