In recent years, there has been consider able interest among the scholar, human right activist, strategic thinkers and the wider public about Tibet. The present volume focuses on different aspects of the Tibetan problem. Some noted experts and professional with long experience have contributed to this work. The articles cover a wide range of issues providing comprehensive perspectives as also an analysis of contemporary developments.
The book reflects the view s of an institution, and individuals, who are deeply concerned about Tibet. This concern ranges from the past, especially the recent tragic past, to the future. As to the past, there is a sense of concern that India and, before 1947, British India did not play fair by that unfortunate country. More specifically, the contributions reflect the anguish felt by a growing number of people around the world that the history of Tibet is not adequately known, and hence the tragedy continues-away from the glare of publicity.
Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) is a non-partisan institute for dialogue and conflict resolution from a nationalist perspective. Some of India’s leading experts in the fields of security, military, diplomacy, governance, etc. have got together under the institutes’ aegis to generate ideas and stimulate action for great ideas and stimulate action or greater national security and prosperity. Independently funded, VIF is not aligned to any political party or business house. Focused on the country’s long term strategic , developmental and civilization interests, it aims to channelize fresh insights and decades of experience into developing actionable ideas for the nations’ stakeholders. VIF works under the guidance of a registered trust with eminent people in public life is as its trustees.
Amb. Prabhat Prakash Shukla is the Joint Director, Vivekananda International Foundational (VIC). He was born on 29 March 1951 in New Delhi, where he also went to school and university. A good academic student, he finished his school and college education with honours, and finished his masters at the well-known Delhi School of Economics. Following his Masters, he joined the Indian Foreign Service in Moscow, Brussels, London and Kathmandu, among other places. He served in Delhi twice, including as the Diplomatic Adviser to the Prime Minister from 1996 to 2000. He has recently retired as Ambassador of India to Moscow and has settled in New Delhi.
Is Tibet a closed chapter of history? Many who take a short-term view of history and mistake the present for perpetuity think so. For them, what exists is final. History in its march has, however, always proved the status quoists wrong—from the expansion and subsequent disintegration of the Roman Empire to the balkanisation of the USSR. The old Tibetan saying that "The clouds of summer float by but the sky stays where it is forever", underlines the ancient wisdom of the East, that anything that has changed in the past will change in the future as well. The long-term strategic view of history often gets obfuscated in the dissonance of the immediate— the marching troops, political melodrama, shrill cacophony of the media, and the silence of expediency. Muted but unmistakable changes in Tibet are discernible, and that makes revisiting the issue in the contemporary context relevant.
There was an air of melancholy in the Dalai Lama's lament that, When Tibet was free, we took our freedom for granted. Our physical isolation lulled us into a sense of complacency. In former times, Tibetans were a war-like nation whose influence spread far and wide. With the advent of Buddhism our military prowess declined.
But more than the melancholy, it was reiteration of the harsh reality of human experience that goodness, unless fortified by strength to assert it, is meaningless and the verdict of the world is always in favour of the strong and not the right.
The developments that took place from the invasion of Tibet's eastern province of Kham by the Chinese army in 1949 to its total subjugation in 1959, leading to the exodus of over one hundred thousand Tibetans led by the Dalai Lama is a sordid chapter of history. It was all the more so as it came close on the heels of the post-War UN Charter that asserted that the world was determined to uphold, "The dignity and worth of the human persons, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained." It appeared that the world was ushering in a new era—but in reality it was not. The tragedy was not only what the Chinese army did but more so what the rest of the world failed to do.
For centuries, these distinct people inhabiting the roof of the world had a common civilisation, a unique priestly governmental system, flag, currency and the sovereign right to enter into treaties. There is a long and continuous recorded history of Tibet from the time of King Songtsen Gompo from the sixth century AD till date, underlining its separate identity. However, as is true of most ancient states, Tibet too had its ups and downs during its long history and there were times when its freedom in varying degrees was buried under some Chinese empires. It is, however, also true that there had been periods when strong Tibetan regimes exercised control over Chinese territories. One of the landmark treaties was signed between Tibetans and the Chinese as early as 821 AD evident by the text on the stone pillar close to Jokhang temple in Lhasa which states that "Great Tibet" and "Great China" would "act towards each other with respect, friendship and equality." As an independent nation, Tibet entered into treaties with Bushair (1681), Laddakh (1683 and 1842), Nepal (1856), Mongolia (1913), etc. Signing of the Simla treaty in 1914 with the British where it delineated its frontier with India is a historic landmark.
In recent history, Tibet enjoyed all the characteristics of a sovereign nation following the expulsion of the Chinese forces from the Tibetan territory by the 13th Dalai Lama in 1911. All pre-1950 maps, globes and atlases show Tibet as an independent nation. There was an independently functioning government in Tibet when on the dawn of October 6, 1950, the 52nd, 53rd and 54th divisions of the 18th Army of the Chinese military attacked the Tibetan frontier, guarded by 3,500 soldiers and by 2,000 Khampa militiamen. Though heavily outnumbered, the Tibetean forces fought to the last man on the banks of Drichu River and at the river crossing near Markham in the South.
The fact that Tibet was an independent country that was invaded by China was upheld by the Legal Enquiry Committee of the International Commission of Jurists. It asserted in its report that,
Tibet demonstrated from 1913 to 1950 the conditions of statehood as generally accepted under international law. In 1950, there was a people and a territory, and a government that functioned in that territory, conducting its own domestic affairs free from any outside authority. From 1913-1950, foreign relations of Tibet were conducted exclusively by the Government of Tibet, and countries with whom Tibet had foreign relations are shown by official documents to have treated Tibet as an independent State.
Historical realities are hard to wish away and like the buried seeds assert themselves when the time is ripe.
The relevance of the Tibet issue is, however, not only political. Much beyond politics, there lies a threatened civilisation, cultural heritage, spiritual order and way of life nurtured over the centuries. The struggle in Tibet is more than political; it is for its cultural and spiritual survival. In the march of history the identities rooted in these enduring human attainments prove to be indissoluble; often unfolding the future in most unpredictable ways.
As often misconstrued, the civilisational identity of Tibet is not limited to the geographical confines of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), drawn up by the Chinese. It extends far beyond and includes areas inhabited by the people who identify themselves as 'Bodpas' and consider the Dalai Lama as their temporal and spiritual head. Often referred as 'historical' or 'cultural' Tibet, besides TAR, includes the provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan; together accounting for roughly one fourth the area of present-day China. These areas, with an average altitude of 3,000 metres, are topographically clearly distinguishable with non-Tibetan low lands and are marked by a sparse density of population, ethnically different from people of mainland China.
The other aspect that lends the Tibetan issue a sense of urgency is its human rights dimension. The deeply religious people, unable to defend themselves, have fallen victim to rapacious expansionism and religious suppression of a power, that subscribes to the Marxian prototype that, "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature." The post-2008 spate of protests and suicides that have rocked Tibet are as much against Sinification and cultural degradation as for political freedom. The gruesome trail of self-immolations over the years has become more intense, widespread and frequent; the year 2012 alone recording over 82 incidents. Significantly, the incidents were not only confined to Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) but also to historical Tibet; which includes several areas that have now been declared as non-Tibetan provinces of China. For the last six decades, the people of Tibet have been facing grave violations of human rights, denial of religious freedom and restrictions to pursue their way of life. Ample evidence of gross human rights violations have been placed before the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and other international bodies by the Tibetans living in exile and their supporters. In March 2012, four international NGOs deposed before the UNHRC on gross violation of human rights, abuse of power and denial of religious freedom. Faith in the pacifist philosophy of Buddhism, small and scattered population, economic poverty and lack of international support make the hapless population an easy target for the Chinese army to suppress and subjugate. Dubbing the Dalai Lama a conspirator, the Chinese consider these self-immolations as part of his crafty machinations. The Chinese Embassy in New Delhi in its website reproduced a December 11, 2012, report from the People's Daily insinuating that self-immolations in China's ethnic Tibetan areas were "among the latest tactics that the Dalai clique has taken in recent years to achieve their political purposes". This, however, has failed to obfuscate the harsh reality that the resentment in Tibet against repression and violation of human rights is assuming serious proportions. There is a need for realistic and meaningful initiatives by all stakeholders, including the international community to establish peace and normalcy in Tibet. It is unfortunate that the talks between Dalai Lama and the Chinese did not yield any fruitful results. There exists a sort of stalemate which needs to be broken through bold political initiatives.
The problem of over one million Tibetan exiles, living in different parts of the world, is another important dimension of the Tibetan issue. These exiles, most of them living in India, in terms of their legal status, being neither citizens of any country, nor refugees, illegal immigrants or stateless persons are non-existent. Uprooted from their homeland for over half a century, their economic and social life is in shambles. The only hope that sustains them is their abiding faith in the Dalai Lama's leadership, their religious and temporal head, who heads the Tibetan government in exile and takes care of their basic survival needs. This, however, is undergoing a change following the Dalai Lama's historic step to give up his political power.
The Dalai Lama's voluntary abdication of his political power in March 2011 and its devolution to an elected democratic leadership is a watershed. In April 2011, Dr. Lobsang Sangay was elected to the high office of Kalon Tripa (Prime Minister) of the government in exile. This step has long term implications. First, of course, is that hereafter the political and administrative powers which were earlier vested in the Dalai Lama would be exercised by a democratically elected body. Secondly, it brings about a separation of religious authority from the political authority which had been the hallmark of the priestly arrangement in Tibet for centuries. Lastly, and most importantly, this brings to an end the reliance of the movement on the life of an individual. It will prove those wrong who thought that the life of the Tibetan movement was co-terminus with that of the Dalai Lama. Through this transfer of political power, the Dalai Lama has made every Tibetan—in and out of Tibet—a stakeholder in the Tibetan struggle.
From the Indian perspective, Tibet has a special security import. India shares nearly a 4,000 kms. of border with Tibet, which is now the Sino-Indian border. Despite India's best efforts and sixteen rounds of talks to settle the border dispute, little progress has been made in this direction. China's development of military infrastructure in Tibet, assistance to Pakistan in developing strategic weapon systems, new assertions in the Indian Ocean, claiming Tawang in ArunachaJ Pradesh as 'Southern Tibet', etc. have raised security concerns in India. Seen in the backdrop of China's rise as a major military and economic power and its comprehensive military modernisation programme, that is more aggressive than defensive, serious security concerns have been raised in India. India's security interests are thus intricately linked to developments in Tibet and need detailed study and analysis.
In recent years, there has been considerable interest among the scholars, human right activists, strategic thinkers and the wider public about Tibet. I am happy that the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) is bringing out a publication focussing on different aspects of the Tibet imbroglio. Some noted experts and professionals with long experience have contributed to this work. The articles cover a wide range of issues providing comprehensive perspectives as also an analysis of contemporary developments.
I am grateful to Ambassador Prabhat Shukla for his painstaking efforts to bring out this book. I am sure the readers will find the publication useful.
This book reflects the views of an institution, and individuals, who are deeply concerned about Tibet. This concern ranges from the past, especially the recent tragic past, to the future. As to the past, there is a sense of concern that India and, before 1947, British India, did not play fair by that unfortunate country. More specifically, the contributions reflect the anguish felt by a growing number of people around the world that the history and the current reality of Tibet are not adequately known, and hence the tragedy continues—away from the glare of publicity.
For starters, it is important for Indians to understand, and internalize, that Tibet was an independent country at least by the first half of the twentieth century. Without this, the McMahon Line, which so many of our soldiers died defending, is illegal, as the Chinese claim it is. For, if Tibet was not competent to sign the Simla Conference documents, the McMahon Line which resulted from the discussions, has no legal validity. This, the question of whether Tibet was independent prior to its occupation in 1950, is also one of the main issues that is holding up forward movement in the dialogue between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Government of the People's Republic of China. They want the former to acknowledge that Tibet was always part of China, whereas His Holiness says that such an acceptance would be contrary to historical fact. He is willing, under clear duress, to accept that Tibet is part of China today, but it was not in the past.
While the British had their reasons for treating Tibet the way they did, and imposing the suzerainty of China on the country, independent India had no such reasons. The oddity here is that independent India did, in fact, treat Tibet as an independent country at the very beginning—in the 1947 Asian Relations Conference, which Nehru called on the eve of the formal independence of India. The Chinese delegation—then representing the Nationalist [Kuomintang] Government of Chiang Kai-shek— there had objected to the participation of Tibet and to its flag being displayed. However, these objections were ignored by India and Tibet did participate as an independent country. For some inexplicable reason, Nehru changed his position when the Communist Party seized power and proclaimed the People's Republic. What made this doubly odd was that the Nationalists had been staunch supporters of Indian independence at a time when the Chinese Communist Party had been dismissive and derogatory towards the freedom movement. Chiang was personally known to Nehru, and had spoken publicly in support of Indian independence.
Nehru's noting in 1949 on the absence of any possibility of a military threat to India from Tibet is a classic of why leaders must possess intellectual humility. It was, in a way, this error of judgement that was to prove fatal to him, for the rude awakening in 1962 did really hasten his death in 1964. Unfortunately, it also burdened Indian thinking, planning, as well as diplomatic and military action for decades afterwards. It continues to be a burden on the country even today.
The other aspect that bears emphasising is the role that India played after the Chinese forces occupied Tibet. The country that had willingly, if with more enthusiasm than good sense, referred the Jammu & Kashmir dispute to the UN, effectively blocked any discussion of Tibet in the UN. After many twists and turns, when the issue finally came before the Security Council in November 1950, it was the Indian Permanent Representative who assured the Council that a peaceful settlement was being worked out, and therefore the Council need not consider the matter for now. This complete lack of statecraft informs all subsequent developments relating to Tibet and to India-China relations more broadly. Why this was so—and remains so—is an enduring mystery that the historical record does not clear up.
Given this history, it is clear that there is a very serious challenge facing Tibet and the international community in addressing it. Fortunately, there are some issues that do admit of international involvement. These have also been dealt with at some length in the book. There is, first, the environmental question. The way the waters of Tibet have been diverted and dams built, or plans to that effect, are a clear environmental threat to Tibet itself; they are also a serious threat to the lower riparian states, including India, Bangladesh, and several of the South-East Asian countries. It is to be hoped that these countries, and their partners, will be able to work together to persuade the Beijing authorities of the need to re-examine these projects.
There is, secondly, the issue of Human Rights. The violation of the human and other rights of the Tibetans rank among the worst and most egregious. They do not get the attention in the media that they deserve, but the situation there is nothing short of what His Holiness has called it—cultural genocide. Self-immolations are also a continuing part of the tragic narrative. To their credit, some of the Human Rights agencies have called it correctly, and some countries, like the US, have appointed Special Envoys for Tibet, but the results have not been encouraging. Further efforts are called for, and India, above all, has to stop being so apologetic in respect of what it does with, and for, His Holiness.
Third, and perhaps most important, there are the UNGA Resolutions on self-determination for Tibet. The first of these was adopted in 1961 —the first explicitly to call for self-determination— and repeated, in modified form, in 1965. The latter becomes important because India voted in favour for the first time. It can surely not be a coincidence that this was after Nehru was no more. There are those who argue that a UNGA Resolution does not have the legal backing that a Security Council Resolution has. They are right, of course, but the vote on the partition of Palestine, and hence the establishment of the state of Israel, was held in the UNGA. Similarly, many other actions—in Korea, in Afghanistan—were sanctioned by the UNGA because the Security Council would not approve certain resolutions because the interests of a Veto Power were involved.
Of course, it is only realistic to acknowledge that movement in any of these directions will require a Government in Beijing that will pay heed to these concerns of the Tibetans and the international community. It must be clear beyond peradventure that the present regime will not countenance any such change. However, there are winds of change blowing in China too. Whether one looks at the politics of the country, or its economy, or societal movements, this fact cannot be denied. The kind of disclosures on the wealth amassed by the relatives and friends of leaders like Xi Jinping [disclosed in Bloomberg] or Wen Jiabao [disclosed by the New York Times] or the story of Bo Xilai are all indicative of divisions in the political elite in China. Equally, the economy is showing signs not just of slowing down, though that would be bad enough; structural issues are emerging that could seriously impact the future growth of the economy, and the prospects of a soft landing. There is the overreliance on investments and exports, both of which are nearing the end of their utility. There is also the large monetary overhang, reflected in the fact that money supply [M2J in the economy is close to 200 per cent of the GDP.
All of this, in turn, is feeding social unrest on an ever-increasing scale. Most students of Chinese politics are familiar with Wukan, where popular pressure forced policy and personnel changes. A similar process has also taken place in Ningbo, where the driver of popular concern was the environment. From all accounts, this is a pervasive problem—social unrest, that is—and is only getting aggravated with the passing years. Collectively, these instances of unrest are calling into question the legitimacy of the system that has ruled China for the last six decades. The system has tun on a complex social contract, consisting of high growth delivered by the government, in return for the people's acquiescence in the rigid system they are compelled to live under.
In fine, the saga of Tibet is still ongoing. It is a negative reflection on the policies of India—British and post-Independence—that Mongolia and Tibet both started from the same spot historically in 1912-13. Today, Mongolia is an independent country, thanks to the hard-headed stewardship of the Russians. For it was they who demanded, both from the Nationalists and later from the Communists, an unequivocal recognition of the independence of Mongolia. India did less well in the statecraft involving Tibet, and we are all witness to the trauma of the people of that country. There was a fear, at the dawn of the twentieth century, that the 13th Dalai Lama was too close to the Russians, and favoured taking Tibet under their tutelage. Perhaps he simply showed good sense, and was the loser for having failed to do what he wished to do.
With these remarks, the book is commended to the reader. It is a collection of articles contributed by individuals with their own views and analyses. The idea of the book emerged from a seminar that was held some time back, at which the new Kalon Tripa of Tibet, Dr. Lobsang Sangay, and other leaders, participated. Their remarks have been presented in the form in which they were delivered—as speeches. The others have been adapted as essays. The book makes no attempt to harmonise these views, except insofar as the factual accuracy of the references is concerned. The alert reader will notice the individual variations, and is free to pursue the facts further.
What the Vivekananda International Foundation stands by is the right of these views to be heard and publicised, and debated, where required. It is also my pleasant task to express my thanks to my junior colleagues, Neha Mehta and Arka Biswas, for helping me with the editing of the book.
In this spirit the book is commended to the reader.
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