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India, Tibet and the world: The saga of convenient oblivion

NewsIndia, Tibet and the world: The saga of convenient oblivion

In 1949, the Communist Chinese booted out a system perceived as corrupt, unjust, exploitative. The prevailing fantasy was that together India and China would shape the contours of the emerging world order. Since Pakistan had tried to snatch Kashmir, and was supported by the West, Jawaharlal Nehru preferred to be friendly with China despite his misgivings about Chinese intentions.

The French say it so eloquently: The more it changes, the more it is the same.
In 1948, after the National Party came to power in South Africa, its all-white government immediately enforced the most pernicious form of governance in modern history—racial segregation of non-white South Africans, who were forced to live in separate areas. This vicious system of human degradation remained in force for almost a half century, with Western tacit connivance.
Communist China, itself born a year later, was one of its most vociferous opponents. Present day China has reintroduced the same system for Tibetans and Uyghurs and Kazakhs.
2020 (meant to signify perfect vision) was a very difficult year for the world, to put it mildly. I do believe that it was the year the world was spoiled. 2021 is unlikely to be much better. Those who believe the worst is behind us, represent the triumph of hope over experience.
The economic disruptions caused by the Chinese-origin pandemic are giving countries an opportunity to pursue “greener, smarter, more equitable” development paths (such as no overdependence on any one country), but onerous debt burdens remain a major obstacle for poorer nations struggling to rebuild, the World Bank said in January 2021. “Left unaddressed, the problem of unsustainable debt, and restructurings that do too little, will delay vital recoveries, especially in the poorest countries,” World Bank president David Malpass warned.
Is the wannabe Master of the Universe listening or is this another sinister western plot to destabilize his communist paradise?
In this piece on Tibet, I shall not go into its hoary past, nor recapitulate the events that led to its occupation by Communist China, the Dalai Lama’s flight to India and the ongoing attempt by Beijing to erase Tibetan identity and culture. Wikipedia will tell you that. I only look at key events since the Second World War when the West was focused on the revival of Europe and the East on decolonization.
1947-1950 was a period of idealism and excitement. India had humbled the mightiest empire in world at the time. In 1949, the Communist Chinese booted out a system perceived as corrupt, repressive, unjust, unequal, exploitative. The prevailing fantasy was that together India and China would shape the contours of the emerging world order. Since Pakistan had tried to snatch Kashmir in 1947-1948, and was supported by the West, Jawaharlal Nehru preferred to be friendly with China despite his misgivings about Chinese intentions. In October 1950, China invaded Tibet. According to declassified records, and recollections of some, Lhasa asked us for military help. The UN condemned the invasion then got busy with other issues. We cried, but could not do much.
In 1951, to give a veneer of legality to the occupied country, a 17-point Agreement between Tibet and China was forced on Tibetans and promised to protect their culture, value, religion, language, structures. It was violated almost immediately.
In the 1950s, both India and China focused on development. We got busy screaming and shouting against colonialism and imperialism. The Tibet question was all but forgotten, as so often happens when “bigger” global issues hide country-specific challenges. The 1954 Panchsheel agreement between India/Tibet territory of China was about mutual relations and trade.
From 1956-1972, Tibetans rebelled against the Chinese government in eastern Tibet (Sichuan Province). The CIA trained Tibetans from 1957 in the United States, parachuted them back into Tibet, but stopped when China and US got into bed in 1972.
According to a 2018 book by statesman G. Parthasarathi’s son, Nehru told his father who was going as Ambassador to China in 1958, that he did not trust the Chinese one bit. He suggested that they were an arrogant, hegemonistic and imperialist nation, which had, throughout its long history, been characterised by perfidy towards all external powers. So, he advised G. Parthasarathi that eternal vigilance should be his watchword. Nehru also talked about how Defence Minister V.K. Krishna Menon was wrong in believing that Communist China would not attack a non-aligned country such as India.
The American President sent a message to Nehru in 1949 that the United States wanted to ensure that democratic India, and not communist China, emerged as the dominant power in Asia. Nehru replied that the United States President should recognise and appreciate the fact that India had won independence barely two years ago, after a long struggle to throw the British out. So, the people of India were very wary of exchanging any other country for Britain. However, he readily agreed to a top-secret India-US agreement on sharing intelligence that related to China.
Following the 1959 Tibetan uprising, martial law remained in Lhasa till 1990. The UN General Assembly condemned China’s disrespect for human rights in Tibet then looked elsewhere.
Between 1958 and 1962, an estimated half million Tibetans were among the 50 million who died during famines caused by Mao Zedong’s disastrous Great Leap Forward. In 1959, the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee circulated a Xinhua News Agency internal report on how “the revolts in the Tibetan region have gathered pace and developed into a nearly full-scale rebellion”.
Mao cynically responded: “More chaotic Tibet becomes the better; for it will help train our troops and toughen the masses… (it) will provide a sufficient reason to crush the rebellion and carry out reforms in the future”.
Tibetans were to be cannon fodder.
In the 1960s, we formally fell out with China; the illusion of bhai bhai was shattered. India was preoccupied with the Naxal movement (encouraged by China), and insurgencies in the Northeast. Some tormented, semi-literate Indians started shouting Lal Salaam and Chairman Mao is our Chairman (I wonder where they are hiding, now that there is clear evidence of Mao being the greatest mass murderer in human history). The world had little time for Tibet.
In the 1970s China opened up, and the world was fascinated. Tibet remained forgotten.
From the 1980-2010s, China’s “repeating rifle” explosive growth mesmerized everybody. Tibet remained off the radar, sacrificed at the altar of economic expediency, except for a few solitary voices. In 1996, European Union (EU) Parliament condemned China for its repression of Tibetans. In 1989, when the Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize, China fumed. In 2003, India recognised the Tibetan Autonomous Region as part of China (as quid pro quo for China’s acceptance of Sikkim’s reality) and promised that we would not allow Tibetans to engage in anti-China political activities in India. China laughed all the way to the bank. 2008 witnessed a resurgence of Tibetan unrest, riots, protests, and demonstrations.
From 2009, drunk with power and arrogance, China started issuing stapled visas to residents of Jammu and Kashmir. We rejected it strongly. Not many are aware, that India began rebuffing China on the One China Policy, when Beijing denied a visa to the Indian military commander based in Kashmir. We demanded that China follow a “One India Policy”—acknowledging Indian sovereignty over Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh. Beijing relented on the visa question, but not on Kashmir and Arunachal. To date, Delhi’s refusal to pledge respect for the One China Policy in joint statements has generated no discernible backlash.
From 2010, China began to reveal its true face in the South China Sea—aggressive, manipulative, arrogant, power-obsessed. All that nonsense about the “peaceful rise” of China was firmly exposed as a dumb charade. And then came the climacteric in 2020. China overplayed its hand. India stood up to China and the world came together against China’s aggression.
Of course, an interesting sideshow was the investment agreement that the EU signed in December 2020 with China. While a demonstration of Europe’s ability to make independent decisions, it is also true that many European countries, especially Germany, export huge amounts to China and would not wish to sever that revenue stream. Under global pressure, China caved in in several key roadblocks in the agreement. Still, many countries (developed and developing), despite their hearts being on the side of liberal democracy and freedom, are sitting on the fence, waiting to see the fallout of the US-China clash. As an African proverb says: when the elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.
No one is under any illusion that the US is going to take a radically different approach to China—Donald Trump has permanently changed that narrative. The new team in the White House will demand that Chinese companies be banned, or that Western countries speak out against human rights abuses.
Thanks to China’s conceit, Tibet is back in focus, an example of Robert Merton’s famous law of unintended consequences. A Bill was introduced in the US Congress to recognise Tibet as an independent country.
China is frightened, as it always sees its territorial integrity as fragile. Children in Chinese schools are still taught that China’s borders are somewhere “out there”, and will be reclaimed in due course. The infamous (and imaginary) nine-dash line, accepted by no one, is the latest manifestation of this quest for territorial delimitation.

For 70 years China has tried to Sinicize Tibet and failed. With its aggressiveness against the world, the Tibet question is at the forefront again, an unintended outcome of China’s quest for global supremacy. So, in August 2020, Xi PingPong told senior party leaders that China must build an “impregnable fortress” to maintain stability in Tibet by strengthening political and ideological education. So, they must plant seeds of loving China in hearts of every Tibetan youth to build a “united, civilized and beautiful new, modern, socialist Tibet”.
Tibet is “uncivilized”! He added that Tibetan Buddhism must adapt to socialism and to Chinese conditions. We call this cultural genocide. Han Chinese men are being encouraged (with several state-sponsored benefits thrown in) to marry Tibetan women. Is this megalomania or dementia? Perhaps both.
Experts tell us that China has overtaken India in every sphere. Perhaps. But India has an inherent strength. It celebrates diversity and encourages its minorities. China has an inherent flaw. It seeks to impose uniformity by suppressing its minorities.1.3 bn Indians speak 22 official languages and practise the world’s six major religions. 1.4 bn Chinese are being compelled to speak Mandarin and practise the Communist religion in which Xi Jinping is today’s God.
Autocracy may be more efficient, democracy is more just.
In October 2020, the Pew Research Centre said that of over 14,000 people surveyed in 14 industrialized countries, ¾ had a negative view of China, that country’s lowest score since the survey began. Europe was and is witnessing a surge in cases of senior citizens being damaged by the Chinese virus. To put it bluntly, repression in Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang (Uyghurs) were distant issues for most of us, but the Chinese virus has attacked us on our home soil.
The USA’s year-end gift to Tibet is the law (with bi-partisan support) which calls for establishing a US consulate in Tibet and building an international coalition to ensure that the next Dalai Lama is appointed solely by the Tibetan Buddhist community without China’s interference. The Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020 modifies and re-authorizes various programmes and provisions related to Tibet.
Expressing concern over the exploitation of natural resources of Tibet, water in particular, the new law seeks to pursue collaborative efforts with international scientific institutions to monitor the environment on the Tibetan plateau, including glacial retreat, temperature rise, and carbon levels, to promote a greater understanding of the effects on permafrost, river flows, grasslands, and the monsoon cycle. As expected, China reacted with impotent rage and abuse.
The convergence of international forces is evident. China has fallen plumb into the Thucydides Trap, of an emerging power seeking to upend the established system. Beijing is a pariah, isolated and bewildered. PingPong keeps telling his military to be ready for war in a split second and has assumed all power for himself. If he finds himself threatened at home, he will attack Taiwan to divert attention (China did this with India in 1962, USSR in 1969 and Vietnam in 1979).
The world must emasculate China, militarily, politically, economically, if it is to prevent another cataclysm like those of 1914-1919 and 1939-1945. If Tibet goes its own way, China will either break up or dump Communism, and the world will be a safer place. So, the move for Tibet’s independence is being made. It is the need of the hour—an idea whose time has come. No power on earth can stop it.
The world is making China realise the eternal wisdom of Kautilya (Chanakya) in his 2,200-year-old Arthashastra: No ruler should embark on a military campaign just to satisfy his whim (because) direct administration of conquered territory could require more effort, money or even blood than it was worth.
Ambassador Dr Deepak Vohra is Special Advisor to Prime Minister, Lesotho, South Sudan and Guinea-Bissau; and Special Advisor to Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Councils, Leh and Kargil.

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