Get real with China on Tibet - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 19 March 2012

Get real with China on Tibet

A cellphone video grab of a self-immolation in Tibet, believed to be the sacrifice of Palden Choetso, a nun in China's Sichuan province

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th Mar 12

In Arunachal Pradesh, where I travelled over the last 10 days, there is little illusion about the brutal character of Beijing’s rule over Tibet. Even Itanagar’s politically aware youngsters, who angrily contrast infrastructure development across the McMahon Line with the slothfulness and corruption in their own state, know about the paranoia that makes Beijing perceive in every Tibetan shadow a threat to the core interests of the Middle Kingdom.

Which was why I was startled, on my return to Delhi, to find an illustrious group of Indian thinkers recommending that Sino-Indian tensions be eased by “persuading China to seek reconciliation with the Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan community”. Their policy paper, entitled “Nonalignment 2.0: A foreign and strategic policy for India in the twenty-first century”, declares, “The Dalai Lama’s popular legitimacy among his own people is a fact that the Chinese government must acknowledge.”

The authors of this quixotic proposal – Sunil Khilnani; Rajiv Kumar; Pratap Bhanu Mehta; Lt Gen (Retd) Prakash Menon; Nandan Nilekani; Srinath Raghavan; Shyam Saran and Siddharth Varadarajan – do not represent the Indian government. But the preface notes that National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon and his two deputies, Alok Prasad and Latha Reddy, also provided inputs.

The notion that New Delhi can talk Beijing into engaging the hated “Dalai clique” is entirely fanciful. Tibet, alongside Taiwan, remains the deepest of China’s many insecurities. Beijing considers India the biggest potential external threat to its brutal stranglehold over Tibet, just like America is its bugaboo on Taiwan. India provides life support to the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration even as global leaders co-operate with Beijing in spurning His Holiness. Tibet’s historic monasteries – Ganden, Sera and Drebung amongst them (traditional power centres that China has desecrated and emasculated in Tibet) – now radiate influence from mirror-image establishments in southern India. And India’s 100,000-strong Tibetan refugee community is a potent reservoir for fomenting a major uprising in Tibet whenever New Delhi chooses. For Beijing, the idea of taking advice on Tibet from such a key potential adversary would be anathema.

Compounding Beijing’s misgivings would be its failure to extinguish simmering opposition within Tibet. Since March 1989, when martial law was imposed in Lhasa (three months before the PLA’s massacre of protesters in Tiananmen Square), Tibet has been subjugated by a security establishment so repressive that self-immolation has emerged as the only feasible expression of protest. Given the paranoia that drives Beijing’s militarised control, even self-immolation is treated as a challenge to the regime. Many Chinese security personnel in Tibet’s cities now tote small fire extinguishers alongside their intimidating array of weaponry. Last week Premier Wen Jiabao blamed self-immolations on “disaffection” spread by the Dalai Lama, intended to split Tibet from China. Wen declared that Beijing has a “firm position” on this.

Wen’s “firm position” has taken the form of a two-pronged strategy of “stability” and “development”. The former is the euphemism for essentially handing over Tibet to a multitude of security agencies that range from the feared People’s Armed Police to a growing rash of outfits that are given to black, commando-style uniforms and heavy truncheons. “Development” has involved resettling rural Tibetans into depressing cinder block communities from where they must pursue professions that are alien to the Tibetan tradition.

This has served only to deepen resentment. In 2008, riots broke out outside the Tibet Autonomous Region, across the Tibetan-inhabited areas of Amdo and Kham, which are now in the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai. That outbreak of rebellion continues in various forms even today.

In these poisoned circumstances, bumbling Indian do-gooders who seek to encourage dialogue would hardly be welcomed. How would Delhi have reacted to Pakistani suggestions to engage with Syed Ali Shah Geelani during Kashmir’s summers of rioting from 2008 to 2010? Remember, Beijing’s visceral hostility towards the Dalai Lama far exceeds Delhi’s animus to Geelani.

Nor should “Nonalignment 2.0” forget Beijing’s going-nowhere talks with the Dalai Lama’s representatives, which have sputtered along since the 1990s. This has allowed China to appear reasonable while conceding nothing. Beijing indicates that the only things to be decided are: when the Dalai Lama would resume his position as vice-chairman of the National People’s Congress; and in which part of Beijing he would like to reside after returning to the motherland. Qu Xing, director of the officially affiliated China Institute of International Studies, indicated Beijing’s approach last year. Referring to Tibet as a Chinese core interest, Qu said: “An important criterion of core interests is that they are not allowed to be negotiated and no compromise can be made on [them].”

For decades, New Delhi has danced to the Chinese tune, shrinking from even mentioning Tibet for fear of angering Beijing. This has allowed China to keep the spotlight on Arunachal Pradesh and, therefore, off its deepening vulnerabilities in Tibet. New Delhi must now strategically reposition the Sino-Indian dialogue, turning the spotlight squarely onto Tibet and asserting our legitimate interests there. These include border trade; religious linkages; people-to-people contacts; and the reopening of India’s consulate in Lhasa that was shut down in the 1950s. India’s regrettable abandonment of Tibet in 1950 and the abject surrender of the 1954 Panchsheel Agreement are now unchangeable history. But self-interest now demands a more realistic and assertive stance on Tibet.


  1. "group of Indian thinkers"....That is a misleading statement...For example Mr. Nandan Nilekani is a corporate drop-out on his way to become Congress politician!(Remember how Mr. Shashi Tharoor became politician?) Since when did Nandan become geo-political expert? O yaar ye Indiyah hai! Sab chalta hai...Light lene ka...

    These are hand-picked 'yes-mam' folks picked by NAC chairperson herself! (Ajai ji, let this comment go live PLEASE!)

  2. @ Ajai sir

    I will not post any comment this time as you have refused to acknowledge or publish some of my comments in the past few weeks which relate to China.
    Dont know why are you scared or what?

    BTW let me tell you in India we have close to 1.5 lakh Tibetans (inclusive of those born here) and their have been over 30 self immolations by monks and nuns.


    Joydeep Ghosh

  3. It is the time for India to get tough on China over the issue of Tibet.

  4. Frankly Sir, how do you expect a government which wants to vote against Sri Lanka in the upcoming UNHRC meeting and thereby is actually voting against our own interests, to actually have the guts to 'incite an uprising' in Tibet 'anytime it wants' ? There is no way any Indian government is going to actually thumb its nose in China's face by raising Tibet as one of our 'concerns'. As history demonstrates, we've always quarrelled amongst ourselves, or been supremely naive and in the process, handed the advantage to an outside power.

  5. Non-Alignment = Isolation. The Congress Party foreign policy strategy seems to be to avoid conflict at all costs, while keeping the deterrence muscle strong. After all when the democratic super-power and rest of the World remains silent to the plight of Tibetans under Chinese, how can India be expected to make any difference. When Obama refused to accord Dalai Lama the formal reception at White-House, what can Tibetans get from India. The problem is, everyone has become selfish, Indians are merely following lessons learnt from history. Only Tibetans and Dalai Lama can decide whether to fight the Chinese for liberation or seek peace and compromise. Same statement goes to Kashmiri Hindus rotting in refugee camps, 'if you cannot fight your own fight, don't expect others or God to lend you a helping hand. Buddhists are the easiest of scape goats, they lost Afghanistan and now Tibet. No glorious victory is achieved without sacrifices. In India cowardly Gandhi snatched credit for independence from the sacrifices given by Subhas's INA. Such has since become India's destiny. Hence Ajai sir, understand our own History first and ask yourself, why didn't our parents and grand-parents not support Subash's INA. Why was Gandhi allowed to bargain for India's freedom by back-stabbing Subhas. Answer to these questions will realize the motivations and mindset which governs the longest ruling dynasty in India.

  6. I am of the firm opinion that the so called Indian leaders do not have the marbles to take up legitimate national interests and expecting them to be pro-active is far fetched. May be if some individual or an organization (unrelated to government) does something the government cohorts to grab it and claim it to the dynasty or somebody who did nothing. Example: Anti-corruption movement started/popularized by Anna and later all and sundry politicians claimed that they are also with them and eventually hijacked it to suit them vested interests.
    The best way to improve the nation is to improve self.

  7. Hi Ajai! So what do you suggest? Should we start supporting an armed insurgency in Tibet? It would dfinitely tie down large junks of the PLA

  8. The problem is Indians are not agressive, They are not aggressive anywhere, Its in the genetics.

    They just want to stay out of controversies and problem and have a peaceful life, be it at the cost of slavery. They forget to remember "Freedom is not Free". Hence you have to fight and be aggressive rather than being responsive.

  9. Col. Shukla-
    Very nice article. That report is another wannabe idealistic and non-realistic look at not only China, but also other things.

    I also agree with Akhil Shastry's crisp comments.

    Please see

    for some analysis, which sums up the report for me in the following sentences: "Dhume posited that the report’s analysis was very theoretical and divorced from the reality of India’s domestic politics. He wondered whether the report could provide a useful path forward for India if its prescriptions fly in the face of conditions on the ground."

  10. Int64, you are correct in your assessment that Indians have become non-aggressive. They only tend to retaliate after a few punishing knocks.

    Ahimsa and panchsheel are anachronisms in this barbaric world where it has become might is right.

    Our policy makers have to learn to play the chanakyan game where one says everything necessary to placate and mollify a bellicose adversary and at the same time plan and execute his downfall and demise.

    The Chinese have "The Art of War" and that is not only a prescribed text for all the Chinese but it is also a book that is commonly used in workshops in the the corporate world.

    We Indians need to wake up to the realities in our world. We can't be the proverbial ostrich. Aggression is not a panacea per se but submission too is not the answer.

  11. Even as the neighborhood burns, India's home problems do not allow it to be a powerful state.

    corruption and self centered interest of politicians B****** are first served, leaving no way for national interest.

    an uprising is needed, anna has cooled down, people, lets make new annas, and get things right at home, then only we can think about helping others or being human with others.

    lets fix our home first

  12. Perhaps right time for the resurrection for Force22 again.But then who in India remembers her history and her armed forces.

  13. Kali Paltan tomorrow.

    This time we win.

    Need to get the 'Core' out of where it does not belong.

    Jai Mata ki.


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