Politics and International Affairs and the quest for the ulterior motive.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Tibetan Trouble - What India should do
Protests have erupted around the world against the ‘occupation’ of Tibet by China including in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, where anywhere from 30 to a 100 protestors have been killed by Chinese forces. This year marks the 49th year of Chinese occupation of Tibet, which is currently designated as an ‘autonomous region’ of China. India, due to geographical proximity and as host to the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has always been seen as a player in the ongoing struggle between the exiled Tibetan authority and the Chinese government. This latest flare up is seen as the most severe in decades and will certainly see the pressure on China increase. As the exiled home of the Dalai Lama, there is increased domestic and international pressure on India to take a more proactive role on the issue that has now snowballed into a major crisis for China.

The media coverage and user generated content on the internet has given a graphic visual on what exactly is going on in the ‘roof of the world’. Armored vehicles and heavily armed Chinese army and security forces conducting door to door checks are reminiscent of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 where hundreds, some say even thousands of activists, students and labor union groups were killed, the memories of which have become hardwired into Chinese history. China has for long laid claim on Tibet and has considered the region as integral to Chinese territory. However, the indigenous Tibetans see themselves as a separate genealogy from the Han Chinese that forms most of Chinese population. The Tibetans consider the Dalai Lama as their spiritual head and he along with thousands of Tibetans were forced into exile in 1959 after the Chinese invaded and ‘reclaimed’ Tibet. Then Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru, offered moral and political support for the Dalai Lama and ever since he has set-up bases at Dharamshala and McCleodganj in Himachal Pradesh. The Tibetan community have periodically raised there voice on the occupation of Tibet and their message has been accentuated through Hollywood movie stars and western politicians that have raised the stature of the Tibetan struggle to an international level and appeal. However, pragmatic politics from India has ensured that in order to settle the decades long Indo-China border dispute a quid pro quo now exists where in, we recognize Tibet as an “autonomous yet integral region of China” while the Chinese recognize Arunachal Pradesh as an integral part of India. It is another thing that the Chinese have not lived up to their side of this understanding; nevertheless, we have maintained our side of this tacit understanding. With the Tibetan crisis now brewing India has taken a moderate approach on the crackdown. Much like our nuanced reaction to the violent crackdown by monks in Myanmar, India is wary of not wanting to be seen as muddling in China’s internal affairs.

Whatever be the merits of a hands off approach on the Tibet issue, there is no denying the fact that India will be a stakeholder in the outcome of any move to find a solution to the Tibet issue. India must accept that though, Tibet is an integral and autonomous part of China, the protests and uprisings by Tibetans in India is an issue of concern. The proposed march by Tibetans and monks to Lhasa could lead to a dramatic showdown if the marching troop reaches the Indo-Tibetan border and presses to cross the Line of Actual Control. India must come out strongly in support of the Dalai Lama and his claim that China is indulging in ‘cultural genocide’ in Tibet. The world over countries that have offered asylum to refugee populations either ensure that the migrants ultimately return to their homeland or offer open support for their plight. Palestinian refugees that had to flee the Palestinian territories in the aftermath of the 1967 war were given asylum in Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, all countries that recognize the need for a Palestinian state and fully support their right to return in any solution that comes out the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. A similar offer has to be professed by India, as we do offer asylum to the Tibetan community on Indian soil. While we remain gracious hosts, our opinion on the issue of a free Tibet has slowly waned to accept the Chinese stand on the issue. The cordial relations we share with China may get strained if we do take a strong approach vis-à-vis Tibet, but then this is a step that we must take for the Tibetan community that accepts as much from the Indian government. The other alternative mentioned is direct face to face talks between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese authorities, an idea which remains fanciful given China’s rigidity on the issue.

The Tibet issue is bound to remain in the headlines given the scrutiny the world has thrown on every aspect of Chinese existence. From levels of pollution, to dealing with dictators in Africa, to poisoned toys being exported, the lack of free speech and media and their crackdown on religious freedoms are all issues that have gained increased space in the public domain in the past year. The Chinese have been quick to dismiss all such claims as Western propaganda and biased international press coverage. The Olympics in August this year will only ensure that the Chinese have to adopt a twin pronged approach. On the one hand they would want to welcome the world and the international press to showcase the economic might that China has become, with its fantastic stadiums and breathtaking architecture and infrastructure while at the same time black out questions on the freedom of speech and religious freedoms in the country. Given this dilemma the Chinese will find questions on Tibet even tougher to answer. China will have to realize that globalization and the fruits that come with it, have also an important caveat. The more one opens to the world the more the world will scrutinize your systems. The dissent that China sees is the result of that sobering lesson that globalization has to offer.



  • At 10:51 PM, Blogger Divya Kumar said…

    Very well written article.

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