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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Will the next nation please stand up

November 18, 2009

Lhadon Tethong and Tenzin Choeying
November 16, 2009

Tibetans across India and around the world this
week applauded the Indian government’s decision
to allow the Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal
Pradesh in the face of Chinese opposition. But
contrary to what people may believe, we did so
not just because Tibetan interests are at stake,
but because we know the security of India itself
rests on standing up to the Chinese government.

Make no mistake, Beijing is playing a long-term
game in pushing its claims to Arunachal and other
areas along the border with India. Less known is
that China’s geographical ambitions extend beyond
the sub-continent. Extraordinarily, their claims
on a part of South Korea are based on almost
mythological past events. Chinese historians have
been commissioned to write articles and books on
the area, which at some point in the future will
undoubtedly be used by Chinese leaders as evidence to back their claims.

Tibet stands as a contemporary case in point.
Over the past 60 years Beijing has effectively
rewritten the history of Tibet and its relations
with China and the world. And in a rush to secure
their economic interests the world has
acquiesced. Only last year the British government
quietly sold out to China by formally recognizing
their sovereignty over Tibet—a move achieved by
describing Britain’s former recognition of
China’s “suzerainty” of Tibet under the 1914
Simla Convention as an “outdated concept.”

But simply rewriting history neither reflects the
reality nor does it do enough to legitimize the
occupation of Tibet. The 2008 protests in Tibet
awakened the Chinese leadership to the fragility
of their hold over the region. This, alongside
the leverage of their perceived economic
advantage in the global financial crisis, put
Beijing on an even more determined mission to
weaken once and for all global support for the
Tibet issue. Only last month they achieved a
clear victory when President Obama declined to
meet the Dalai Lama on his visit to the United
States—the first time since 1991 that an
incumbent U.S. President has failed to meet him
even informally. Australian Prime Minister Kevin
Rudd soon followed, saying he also would not meet
the Dalai Lama during his visit to Australia next month.

Tibetans have long looked on in horror as the
international community has bent over backwards
to appease the Chinese government. This
shortsighted and naïve policy to promote their
economic interests is only emboldening and
sanctioning Beijing’s bullying, as well as its
geo-strategic ambitions. This is the debate the
world should focus on. China’s aggressive
response to the Dalai Lama’s trip to
Arunachal—indeed, to his trips anywhere in the
world—is above all a reflection of its imperialist and expansionist nature.

Now is the time for India to recognize that a
free Tibet is its best insurance against Chinese
aggression. If Tibet remains a part of China,
Beijing will continue to strengthen its Himalayan
military advantage over India and control the
increasingly valuable water resources that much
of Asia depends upon. Tibetans know China perhaps
better than any other people. In our long history
as neighbors we have been both the conquerors
and, as most know us now, the conquered. But most
relevant to India and the world today are the
terrible lessons we have learned through our
first hand experience over 50 years of
occupation—of what lies underneath the veil
Beijing draws over its true ambitions.

In standing up to China, India has charted a
course that the rest of the world should follow.
Meaningful engagement with China should not
depend upon compromising on integrity or national
interests. As long as China wants to play a
leadership role on the global stage it needs to
be a responsible actor. For this, the world needs
to hold China to account, and Tibet is a critical place to start.

* Tenzin Choeying is the National Director for
Students for a Free Tibet India and Lhadon
Tethong is the Director of Tibet Action Institute.
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