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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Border Tensions -- The Dalai Lama Sticks His Thumb in the Dragon's Eye

November 13, 2009

By Peter Lee
November 10, 2009

The Chinese themselves have said that the biggest
irritant to Sino-Indian relations is the
unresolved border dispute. To them, it’s more of
an issue than economic competition, India’s
growing integration into the U.S. South Asian
security regime, or Indian unease at Beijing’s
cozying up to Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka,
Bangladesh, and the Maldives at New Delhi’s
expense and raising the specter of maritime encirclement.

This would seem counterintuitive, since the
remote boondocks that have formed the basis of
the border dispute -- the desolate wasteland of
Aksai Chin (China’s share of the Kashmir dispute)
in the west and the multi-tribal mélange of
Arunachal Pradesh in the east at the Burmese
border -- are already occupied by the parties
that have the strongest claim. A simple swap --
the Indians recognize Chinese jurisdiction over
Aksai Chin and the Chinese acknowledge Indian
control of Arunachal Pradal -- has, indeed, been
on the table for a half century.

Perpetual tensions at the border reflect the
destabilizing potential of the "Tibet card" --
the possibility that India will abandon its “One
China” policy once the current Dalai Lama passes
on and overtly or covertly support Tibetan
independence activities along the border of the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

China wants to secure its borders and also
increase its ability to project power into
adjoining areas in order to deter potential
shenanigans by the Tibetans with Indian
connivance. India, on the other hand, wants
border conditions favorable to a possible play of the “Tibet Card”.

The slow-motion collapse of Pakistan, China’s
closest ally in the region and India’s major
military antagonist, has deprived Beijing of its
most important asset. The idea that, if India
messed with Tibet, Pakistan would unleash hell in
Kashmir with Chinese support, is a vain hope today.

With this geostrategic deterrent out of the
picture, the focus has shifted to securing the
physical space at the borders. Both China and
India are pouring money and troops into the
border region and arguing over the status of a
little town in Arunachal Pradesh called Tawang.

Tawang is in the news because the Dalai Lama
visited the town for the first time in six years,
on November 8 to visit old friends and
figuratively stick his thumb in the dragon’s eye.
The 14th Dalai Lama, stayed in the 300-year-old
Tawang monastery, and gave two lectures to the
local Buddhist community.  The visit marked the
50th anniversary of his arrival there in 1959
after a failed uprising in Tibet against China.
The Dalai Lama already made some serious waves
last year when he reportedly departed from his
usual apolitical stance and said that
Tawang—within the contested territory in
Arunachal Pradesh -- was part of India.

It might be noted that the Dalai Lama looks slightly out of line here.

In 1947, the Tibetan government (the Dalai Lama
was at that time a youth of twelve who had been
identified as the reincarnation and resided in
Lhasa but had not yet been enthroned) tried to
renegotiate its border deal with the British (the
famous Simla Accord of 1914 between Great Britain
and Tibet that generated the McMahon line but was
never accepted by China) to get acknowledgment of
its de facto control of the town.

In fact, the status of Tawang has been the key
factor in the contested Himalayan border for well over one hundred years.

However, the true focus of international
attention should be Nepal, which is careening
into a political crisis as pro-Indian and
pro-Chinese factions slug it out for dominance
(with the barely concealed political, diplomatic,
and financial support of their respective patrons).

At the same time that the Dalai Lama is visiting
Arunachal Pradesh, the pro-Chinese Nepalese
Maoists are threatening to bring the current,
pro-Indian government down through mass action.
The Nepalese Maoists, who abandoned their
insurgency to participate in the political
process, emerged from the 2008 elections as the
largest political party in parliament.

A Youtube clip of the Maoists' anti-government
rally in Kathmandu on November 1 gives an idea of
the intensity of the current political scene in Nepal.

If the Maoists succeed -- which appears very
likely -- India will face the unwelcome prospect
of Nepal edging into the Chinese camp.

Considering that, in the 1970s, India dealt with
its other unruly satellite state -- Sikkim -- by
orchestrating the overthrow of the monarchy,
dispatching Indian troops to Sikkim at the
request of local pro-Indian politicians, and
arranging a plebiscite that voted for union with
India and the extinction of Sikkimese
independence by a vote of 97.5 per cent --there
is no guarantee that the Nepalese imbroglio will end quickly or amicably.

Nobody, not even the Nepalese Maoists, seem
interested in having this thing boil over into a
regional crisis, and perhaps that’s why the whole
mess has been almost invisible from the standpoint of the international media.

Peter Lee is a business man who has spent thirty
years observing, analyzing, and writing on Asian
affairs. Lee can be reached at peterrlee-2000@yahoo.
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