Why Tibet Matters

This is a wonderful eye opening article, very well reasoned out for creating a much more radical Tibet policy by the Indian government – for reasons much beyond politics alone – and covering matters of India’s integrity and Spirituality.

http://www.indianexpress.com/story/296828.html : by Sonia Jabbar for the Indian Express.

—————–

To sacrifice Tibet’s interests would be to sacrifice our own.

Sonia Jabbar

Is Tibet a nuisance for India, and when it negotiates with China on the border issue, should India unhesitatingly sacrifice Tibetan interests to secure our own? While there has been much talk about the burden of hosting the Dalai Lama and 1,85,000 Tibetan refugees for 50 years, few have acknowledged India’s debt to them and why repaying that debt is not only a moral imperative but a strategically self-interested one.

The first is a civilisational debt. When the Dalai Lama teaches from the works of the Vikramshila or Nalanda masters, he always prefaces his teachings with, “these are Indian treasures. We have only been its guardians in Tibet for a thousand years, and now that the teachings have faded in India we have brought them back intact. This is the gift we return to India.” It is no small gift.

Few will recall the sacking of Nalanda, the destruction of thousands of birch-bark books or the fact that Buddhism itself disappeared from Indian soil after the 13th century. Ask an educated Indian whether Shantideva, Atisha, Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, or Vasubandhu mean anything to them and chances are you’ll draw a blank. Ask a Tibetan teenager and you’re likely to hear the history of the Indian Buddhist masters and the journey of their teachings to Tibet from 7th-11th century AD.

Nalanda, once the greatest centre of Buddhist learning from the 5th to 12th centuries, today lives in spirit not amongst its archaeological remains in Bihar, but in the vibrant Tibetan colleges of Sera, Drepung and Ganden, relocated in Karnataka after the Tibetan exodus of 1959. These are modeled on the Nalanda tradition, transmitting India’s ancient treasures to meritorious students, many of whom are poor Indian Buddhists from the Himalayan belt.

The second debt is strategic and vital to India’s future. The Government of India has been at pains to ‘reiterate’ that they have ‘always’ considered Tibet an integral part of China; our Communists have insisted that the ‘disturbances’ are China’s ‘internal matter.’ The fact is that the ‘always’ is only five years old, and the ‘internal matter’ a crumbling fantasy.

In November 1950, Nehru informed the chief ministers, ‘When news came to us that the Chinese Government had formally announced military operations against Tibet, we were surprised and distressed. Immediately we sent a note of protest [to Chou En Lai on 26/10/50] and requested the Chinese Government not to proceed… To use coercion and armed force, when a way to peaceful settlement is open, is always wrong. To do so against a country like Tibet, which is obviously not in a position to offer much resistance and which could not injure China, seemed to us to add to the wrongness of this behaviour.’

India unilaterally ‘recognised’ the ‘Tibet Autonomous Region,’ as ‘a territory of China,’ for the first time during Vajpayee’s China visit in 2003. Before this, India’s terminology in official documents was deliberately left ambiguous. In 1954 India described Tibet as a geographic location: ‘the Tibet region of China.’ In 1988, the Rajiv Gandhi government brought it closer to China’s position, but still kept it vague enough with, ‘Tibet is an autonomous region of China.’ The 2003 declaration toes the Chinese line word-for-word.

What are the implications of accepting Tibet as an ‘integral part of China’? First, leaving aside the distortion of Tibet’s long history of independence, the declaration contravenes the treaty obligations between British India and Tibet, which we have inherited under the Indian Independence Act of 1947. Two treaties directly affect our territorial integrity: the 1904 Convention Between Great Britain and Tibet, which recognises the boundary between Tibet and Sikkim, and the Anglo-Tibet Treaty of 1914, in which India recognised Tibet as an independent nation under the suzerainty (as opposed to sovereignty) of China. In return, Tibet was to respect the Mc Mahon Line, the eastern boundary between Tibet and Arunachal. Until the Chinese invasion of Tibet, both agreements held and the border was peaceful.

China has never accepted Sikkim and Arunachal as parts of India, even today claiming the latter as its own. But when two countries have concluded an agreement between them, China has no locus standi as a third country. A sovereign state is one that negotiates and sign treaties with other states. Once a state exists it cannot simply be wished away simply because another nation has invaded it.

That the world does not wish to challenge China’s illegal occupation of Tibet thus rendering it a de facto (not de jure) part of China is another matter. However, it is pertinent to ask why the Government of India is so solicitous of China’s national interests at the expense of our own. If China refuses to recognise the treaties signed by India and Tibet, there is no reason for India to recognise the 17-point 1951 agreement, thrust upon Tibet under Chinese gunpoint. China possesses no other legal documents to prove its claims over Tibet.

We have learned few lessons in foreign policy. India unilaterally surrendered its influence in Tibet in the 1954 trade agreement with China by removing its military personnel from the Tibetan trading towns of Yatung and Gyantse, giving up Indian rest houses, land, and Tibet’s communications including the postal, telegraph and public telephone services operated by the Government of India. The agreement had a validity of eight years, and it is no coincidence that its expiry coincided with the 1962 war. If those who parrot the ‘Tibet is an integral part of China’ line paused to think, they would realise that they are unwittingly conceding China’s claim over 83,743 sq km of Arunachal territory.

The Dalai Lama’s ‘middle way’ position has been clear since the mid-’80s: autonomy and not independence. It begs the question why, if China is willing to pursue a ‘one country, two systems’ policy in the Han-majority areas of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, is it so hysterically opposed to the Tibetan proposals. In 1999 Wang Lixion, a prominent Chinese intellectual, pointed out that an independent or autonomous Tibet under the influence of the Dalai Lama, ‘would naturally orient it towards India,’ taking 2.5 million sq km or 26 per cent of China’s land mass away from China’s sphere of influence into India’s. To lose this vast swathe of land would be to ‘expose [China’s] fatal underbelly.’ It should be understood that it is not on its demerits that the Dalai Lama’s proposals are being rejected, but because of India’s potential influence.

While one is not advocating India’s lebensraum or hostilities with China, one should be aware that China controls the headwaters of many Indian rivers that originate in the Tibetan plateau. India is already facing acute water shortages. China has already anticipated its future water problems by damming the headwaters of the Sutlej and Brahmaputra. While the ‘thirsty’ provinces of Xingjian and Gansu will undoubtedly benefit by China’s plans to divert the waters of the Brahmaputra, India needs to wake up well before our rivers begin drying up.

It is time we recognised that Tibet and India’s destinies are entwined. To sacrifice Tibet’s interests would mean to sacrifice our own. There is no need to go down that road again.

The writer is a journalist who has studied Buddhism for the last 20 years

One response

  1. HI Great Post I really found it Interesting. Looking forward for similar posts from you.If Indian Government is not Listening How we Indians can support the cause of tibet.should we believe in mere prapogation of message. or should we act someway

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: