Er… by the way, Tibet! - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 24 January 2011

Er… by the way, Tibet!

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.


  1. Loved the article Ajay sir, just the kind of stuff we expect from you, please keep them coming!

  2. Bravo, Col. Shukla. I admire your clear thoughts and straight talk, which can rarely be found in the MEA and our Foreign policy officials. Your candor about Tibet brings the Indian Govt into shame. Bravo. I don't know which dim-witted and matric fail idiots manage and formulate our FP vis-a-vis China. My only hope is that PRC realizes it's own weakness and does not get carried away by self praising rehetorics and it's "ceramic age" glory as being peddled by it's premier and ruling class. China has formed an Axis-of-Evil with Pakistan and North Korea, the consequences of which will only be decided by the victors of WW4.

  3. I am reminded of smart arse comment by Mr Shiv Shankar Menon, who a few years ago when asked about China's encirclement of india by building strategic ports in Burma, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan called String of Pearls replied " A Pearl Necklace is a pretty ineffecive murder weapon".

    Colonial style condescending answers may help Mr. Menon and his clique pat themselves on the back but they dont change strategic reality. We pay in blood for their arrogance and incompetence, clipped British accents not withstanding.

  4. I think China is pushing the envelope because it feels in India at the decision making level there is complete absence of spine. And this is with all governments that were elected. While India has been speaking of cold start warfare the chinese are actually beginning to implement it with infrastructure right upto the border. India needs to first shore up her armed forces with proper materials and infrastructure. Otherwise the chinese will see through any weak link and call India's bluff. It will be 1962 again with the Chinese just advancing, and a dreamer of a prime minister asking his poorly armed brave men to push them out.

    I genuinely believe that it would be in India's Interest if the chinese accept the current LAC as is. This would free up a huge chunk of our armed forces and freak the hell out of Pakistan thereby forcing it to make rational decisions with respect to India .

    This is not to say I do not agree with you, India should up the stakes accordingly as you have pointed out to force some closure. But she first must prepare herself for any eventuality. The dragon will only respect an equal adversary. We can't have another rezangla or worse a bomdi-la.

  5. The question is Ajai when should we choose to do so.

    Also, is the Indian Govt ready for it, busy is avenging embarrassments to itself by people in the Govt.

    This point is we will have to do this sometime and soon...

    Are we ready.

  6. Indian diplomats are the worst we can see among the diplomats community. They knew that China can't be trusted but still they did things that would acknowledge that Tibet is part of China. They are afraid that China may do the same, if they treat Tibet as independent. Hell with that idea, China already thinks so.

    Over the time, India has to do the following.
    1. Recognise Tibetan Govt-in-exile as the official administrator of Tibet
    2. For visiting Tibet, first apply for visa to Tibetan Govt-in-exile and then apply for visa to Chinese consulate.
    3. Arrange Border talks with Tibetan Govt-in-exile and declare that as Indo-Tibet border.
    4. For Tibetan's visiting India, staple visas in paper.
    5. Capture PLA men trespassing into Indo Tibet border and pass them to Tibetan Govt-in-exile as trespasser.
    6. Serve Tibetan food in all Indian flights that go to China.
    7. Change all maps to show Tibet as a country.
    8. Talk to China, as if India is willing mediate on border talks between China & Tibet. Call China as an observer for Indo-Tibet border talks, to show how border talks happens.
    9. For goods that are transported from China to India, collect token tax and deposit that in Tibetan Govt-in-exile's account.

  7. Interesting analysis. Foreign Policy is a blackhole in most countries, and more so in India. You can expect a response from the MoD regarding its policies etc., however, the MoEF is simply unaccountable to a democratic process. Same in the US, as we can see from the wikileaks brouhaha. Glad that someone is asking hard questions in the public sphere.

  8. Great article!!
    but unfortunately just the way our ministers cant see an elephant in a room,similarly they cant hear the deafening sound of crackers,for they are too busy minting money and dont really give a damn about geopolitics or the country's borders as the barren Aksai chin cant possibly add to their loot

  9. Best way is a social boycott of all Chinese goods....i have done it at a price of course....if the western countries can also do it...

  10. Very good article Ajay Sir.
    But I suspect the political class doesn't have the guts to do what should have done way back. I don't see a single national politician who might deliver.

  11. @Avenger
    Don't say that the diplomats are matric fail and dim-witted. They have worked hard to pass IFS. Problem lies with the selection criteria. You can be read books in two subjects, read current events and write excellent essays for the exam and get selected. But do they have the strategic thought ? No, they won't have. Now, it is some thing like an MMBS gold medallist shaping India's foreign policy at MEA. New IAS examination rules have made some changes to the prelim exams but still the mains examinations have the same issue (mug up 2 subjects and vomit at the exam). I am not denying that some Civil Servants have proved they are good but not all esp the ones at MEA.

    We talk much about the politicians but forget about the bureaucracy.

  12. The above points are valid, but Isnt this shoul be a common sense for someone who is in to diplomacy?

    It doesnt take rocket science to understand what has been happening. I seriously think Indian govt can grow some guts.

  13. Col. Shukla - Well thought and written sir. A few others have written abut this in almost exactly the same vein earlier..

    The question is, is anyone listening, and is anyone even thinking of doing whats needed?

  14. Ajai,
    I don't blame the PLA for trying to discover our red lines. It is a reflection on our shameful foreign policy that our enemies think there are none.

    But really, do we have any red lines? ChiPak seem to be able to get away with anything.

  15. Nice article! Thhanks.
    But the question is whether Indian Govt has the balls to go tit-for-tat against China, especially when a Congress Govt is in power. Some of our people and Indian Military may be ready to go for a tit-for-tat against China, but the babus and Ministers who take the decision do not have balls.

    I am very disappointed with our IFS guys. Most of them have neither capability nor credibility, even though many scored high in Indian Civil Service. The reason could be, most of these IFS/IAS/IPS guys come JNU campus, a Commie breeder institute, where one hardly sees any Indian-supporter on the campus. Many of the Indian Ambassadors are left minded, if not China-Lover. One best example is Mr. Badhrakumar, who projects the attack by US is more imminent than the threat by China on our country.

    Also a lot of MEA guys come from Mallu Land, which is also my home. From Krishna Menon to Sivasankar Menon, many of these guys do not have balls to make a strong hard decision on China.

    So it is high time GoI to disband the civil service (I know it is not possible; may be sun will rise on west, but Indian babus will not allow to dismantle the civil service in India). I do not see any benefit for India from the people who come out after getting IAS, IFS, IPS. The main aim of these guys is to enlarge their pockets and the result is high corruption by babus in defense and external affairs departments or any other departments from A to Z.

  16. India theoretically does not have any border problem with Red Dragon China, because all that Indian border is practically with Tibet, and Tibet is theoretically not a part of China.

    Similarly Kashmir and Tibet can be equated only in one term that Chinese are intruders in Tibet and Paki are intruders in Kashmir notwithstanding that Pak is an ad-hoc and temporary arrangement.

  17. @NotAnAnon: I wish we had somebody like you to draft FP vis-a-vis PRC. Empty rhetoric by India in support of Tibet is nothing but bluffing. India has to add muscle to its talks with PRC. I would like to make a distinction here, we should not call PRC as China in general. It is akin to calling Soviet Union as Russia. Hence every effort should be made to correctly refer to the communist state as PRC "Peoples Republic of China". People should know there is another Democratic China called Taiwan.

  18. Col. Shukla, your article is well researched and though-provoking. It concisely defines the Tibetan issue and its complexities affecting the relations amongst all the protagonists.

    Although, Indian govt's track record in dealing with Chinese diplomatic and tactical actions has been reactive and apparently short-sighted. However, I think China realises that India has the only trump card in the game i.e. it is host to Tibetan govt-in-exile. Whoever had the brain-wave in Indian govt to influence Nehru to overlook the Panchsheel treaty of 1954 and agree to Tibetan govt's appeal in 1959 to give them refuge, was very far-sighted/Chanakiyan/Sun Tsu. It is far easier for India to antagonise PRC by boosting Tibetan issue and play to China's insecurities on multiple levels - ethnic, geographic integrity, global diplomacy, cultural and political. The proof of it is how aggressively PRC reacts to even the most minor transgressions in their opinion. However, that does not give license to Indian govt to squander their advantage as PRC is attempting all tricks in the books and then some more to blunt this advantage e.g. hacking Gmail to get intelligence into Tibetan govt. It will be criminal of the Indian govt to ricochet their way to a strategic policy on PRC based on reactions to PRC's strategic jabs & tactical pokes.
    Thanks for your stimulating article.

  19. Utopia by other names such as Tibet when we cannot stand up to Chinese shooing us off from Demchok!!

  20. Ajai sir

    It has been Chinese practise to bully its neighbors into accepting its dominance. You are right that Xinjiang is not an issue anymore for China since its got land issues with Central Asian countries sorted out. Recently it acquired over 1000 of area in a deal with Tajikistan, that effectively gives CXhina the leverage to bully seperatist forces in Xinjiang.

    Its facing the only problem with India and because India is home to the HH The Dalai Lama, Tibetan Govt-in-Exile and the largest population of Tibetans outside Tibet.

    China is creating problems for India to subdue us into accepting its point, wherein the entire Tibet, Arunachal Pradesh, nortjhern Himachal Pradesh, Aksai Chin and upper reaches of Uttarakhand is Chinese territory and accepting that rest of J&K is part of Pakistan, its gateway to the oil rich gulf.


  21. India needs to stand up and look for steps that will similarly create irritations for China and force it accepting Indias point.

    China it seems is happy maintaining status cuo on the border and continue to prick India. How India does it depends on how is the approach, like using carrot and stick policy or any other.

    However we must remember as Commodore C Uday Bhaskar once said "Chinas policy is whatever area is under its control i\s not negotiable, negotiations can happen only on the area it China can grab more". Lets see what approach Indian government takes on the issue.

    PS. glad to get your views on this


    Joydeep Ghosh

  22. An insightful article Col. Shukla. The Indian diplomatic service and the Foreign Ministry are incompetent and live in a world of make belief to say the least. They have shown consistently that they are unrealistic in their approach towards world issues and are dense to make pragmatic rationalizations in favour of Indian interests.

    Mr Shiv Shankar Menon may trivialize 'String of Pearls' as an ineffective strategy to contain India but has he or his babooos and netas in the Foreign Ministry consulted military intelligence or the serving generals as to their input. Such short-sightedness in the past has done untold damage to India's territorial sovereignty and image. No wonder Indians are looked down upon by even small countries like Malaysia.

    As an ex-army officer you seem to have a better understanding of what is happening along our borders as well as in Afghanistan.

    Before our ill-informed guys in GOI make any decision regarding our borders it would serve them well if they do serious research and consultations with experts in the country before selling our interest to the belligerent and thuggish diplomats of a nation like China out of sheer fright and cowardice.

    Hope people in the GOI and relevant ministries do read well-meaning articles such as yours so as not to make fools of themselves when dealing with the bellicose Chinese and the prostituting Pakistanis.

  23. India did a big mistake by recognising Tibet as part of PRC. Now china is playing with kashmir and arunachal but our govt is a sitting duck.

    We need to move on Tibet.

  24. Excellent analysis. It must be read by those who think they are super, as people of India has elected them to decide their future.Depth and analytical mind of col sukla is commendable.MEA must use this asset.

  25. India should recognize the sovereignty of Formosa government over China exclusive of whole Tibet and while doing this India should keep ready for executing all kinds of first strikes including the long distances.

  26. Our diplomats are taught Gandhis philosophy. If someone grabs your land offer him more land to grab.

  27. When some one shits on your face you shit back at him - guess our foreign policy maker should keep this in mind.
    For god sake gave the guts to say what you think or else let some one else do it. All that money you have minted cannot be carried to your grave so at least do something for your country.

  28. When even Srilanka doesn't respect India, how do we expect it from a giant like China?

  29. Anon 07.31, you have made a very precise and cogent point. Not only Sri Lanka but also countries like Bangladesh. The Sri Lankan navy has been shooting Indian fishermen and the Bangla border patrols have been killing our jawans and getting with murder and yet all that our 'great' leaders in the country can do is come up with stupid rhetoric.

    When India cannot show such small upstarts their place by at least smacking on their hands once in a while, why expect cowards to come up with any proactive strategy towards China.

    The Indian Foreign Service needs to be indoctrinated in the ways of the Chanakya before they are recruited to hold important positions of power. They need to be brain washed that no matter what they have to have India's interest at all times even if it goes against logic. China, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh (to name just a few) are devoid of logical reasoning and diplomacy.

    They only understand and realize their position among the international community if you talk aggressive diplomacy with a big enough stick in hand to clobber if they do not see to your point of view. For that to happen India needs to be strong with a bunch of leaders with the strong will to go on the offensive if the situations mandates it.

  30. Lets fee Tibet and make Dalai Lama as its King, Whoo Hooo,.

  31. Lets start a Free Tibet moment and train Dalai Lama and his followers in mountain war fare!.

    It will be nice to see Dalai Lama press the Button (Nuke button) to makes Budha Smile at China.

    Dont you think US, Russia & Japan will all be more than happy to see a 300 Megaton Thermo Nuclear umbrella over Beijing?.

    Jai Ho to Free Tibet!! Long live Dalai Lama...

  32. Is it possible to form a South Asian Union on the same lines as European Union along with Bangladesh and SriLanka and Maldives. The goal should be to have a common Education standard, currency, free-trade, common regional security agenda. I chose these 3 nations, since they do not have any border disputes with India and have stable governance. In order to have a union, we need to show respect towards these nations and treat them equally. By bringing them closer together, we will avoid the mutual risk of foreign intervention in South Asian subcontinent, as that exploited by British and Europeans. Now by China. It is tendency of small states to flirt with Big Super Powers to claim regional balance. Once we feel united as subcontinental asians, we will find ways to compliment each other. Once the border is resolved with Pakistan and Nepal chooses Democracy over Maoism, we can integrate these nations into the union, just like NATO.

  33. @Anon22:28
    I think you forgot the bengalis from Soviet Republic of Waste Bengal-the biggest commie lovers and china lovers.


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