by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 25th Jan 11
China has unquestionably boxed India into a corner in their boundary dispute. Hardening its position on the status of J&K, Beijing now treats that state as a part of Pakistan until determined otherwise. It is time for India to recalibrate its Tibet policy based on a harder-nosed appreciation of happenings in the Land of the Snows.
That New Delhi is already willing to play the Tibet card was signalled by foreign minister SM Krishna on a visit to Beijing last November, when he compared India’s sensitivities over Kashmir with China’s over Tibet and Taiwan. The foreign ministry also claims to have been blunt while raising the issue with Wen Jiabao during the Chinese premier’s visit to Delhi last month.
While a tactical Beijing may proffer cosmetic concessions, India’s key concern --- the boundary dispute --- will probably remain ignored. China simply has no incentive to settle that problem. Indian policymakers ascribe Beijing’s indifference to its calculation that a better border deal lies further down the superpower road, but more sophisticated China watchers discern another reason. With China’s leaders obsessively aware of their failure in suppressing Tibetan nationalism, they fear that delineating the border might see Indian influencing radiating into Tibet.
The Chinese logic is simple and elegant: keep New Delhi’s attention on Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh to prevent it from focusing on Tibet.
New Delhi must counter that strategy with a fundamental shift in the way it views the border dispute: as an India-Tibet-China issue, rather than as a purely Sino-Indian one. Tibet has long been the elephant in the room when New Delhi talks to Beijing; that presence must be unambiguously placed on the table. Beijing’s road to Lhasa, it must be made clear, runs through New Delhi.
This will harmonise many of the dissonances that afflict India’s China policy. The first of these is the uncomfortable political paradox of pretending that the Tibet issue does not exist, even while providing asylum to a hundred thousand Tibetan refugees, an entire eco-system of Tibetan Buddhism, the Tibetan government-in-exile and the Dalai Lama himself.
New Delhi also faces an ethical disconnect between its morality in providing that sanctuary on the one hand; and its grubby realism in neutering Tibetan interests for fear of offending Beijing on the other. In emphasising the latter, India unwisely relinquishes the opportunity to generate and coalesce around itself global moral opinion on Tibet. This is especially surprising, given that India’s conciliation on Tibet has only emboldened China further.
Finally, the greatest inconsistency in New Delhi’s approach is the deep divide between its placatory, softly-softly approach towards China --- itself born of the harsh lesson of 1962 --- and the Indian citizen’s more robust suspicion of China’s motives and actions on the other. This gulf will ensure that any back-room settlement that is hammered out with China --- in the unlikely event that one is --- will simply not fly in this country. Indian officials must frankly reflect the national belief that China, after illegitimately occupying Tibet, occupies and covets Indian soil.
Zhongnanhai (the Beijing headquarters of the communist party and the executive government) can be expected to react with anger, given its deep insecurities about Tibet. But it will then have a motive to talk seriously about the boundary question.
New Delhi must note that top Chinese administrators in Lhasa already accuse India of malevolence in Tibet. Lao Daku, the chief of the feared Tibet Autonomous Region Public Security Bureau (TARPSB), declares in a Tibetan language internet article published in his name after his ground tour of Tibetan areas from July to September 2010: “The collusion between the Dalai Clique, splittist forces, internal and external, and hostile foreign forces is stronger than before…. India, our large neighbour and a developing country, is getting closer to the West day by day, and poses a new threat to our country’s security. India’s indulgence and harbouring of the Dalai Clique is undermining Tibet’s stability and development.”
As the common Indian would put it: “Munni to vaise bhi badnaam ho gayi.”
Even considering that Lao, a regional security chief, might paint a bleak picture of security in order to extract more resources from Beijing, his article vividly illustrates the historical Chinese paranoia about the empire crumbling from the fringes. Railing against the melding of separatism in Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan, Lao warns, “We can see how, with Western support, the [supporters of] Tibet independence, Xinjiang independence and Taiwan independence are acting crazy. If it is like that, there is a danger that these three causes will be combined.”
While Taiwan encompasses a different set of dynamics, Beijing regards Tibet as a far bigger problem than Xinjiang. This belief was reinforced by the 2008 uprising that sprang from Amdo, one of traditional Tibet’s three provinces that now lies outside the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), mainly in Qinghai province, and which demographic transfers have converted into a Han-majority area. If even a “pacified” Amdo could erupt in rebellion, argue the mandarins in Zhongnanhai, how do we deal with the remote reaches of Tibet that border on India? In contrast, the borders of Xinjiang have been effectively sealed through agreements with Pakistan and the Central Asian Republics, all of who function as Rottweilers for Beijing.
And so Beijing heaps greater repression upon Tibet, increasing Tibetan hostility. This is overlooked in New Delhi, where border policy is guided by the assumption of perpetual weakness. Beijing realises that its dramatic infrastructure development programme in Tibet, and the lightening march of People’s Liberation Army divisions to the Indian border all rest on very shaky foundations. It is time for Indian diplomats to treat Tibet as an asset, rather than as an embarrassment.