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China’s Tibet claims are a little hollow

March 28, 2008

By Nitish Sengupta
The Deccan Chronicle
Thursday March 27 2008


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s retort to the Chinese saying that the
Dalai Lama stands for non-violence must be considered as one right
reaction among so many reactions emanating from New Delhi regarding the
recent happenings in Tibet. There is indeed a need for overall
reappraisal of India’s traditional policy. One need not go into the
question of whether it was correct on the part of India to acquiesce in
China’s brutal occupation of Tibet in 1950, and even more brutal
suppression of the Tibetan uprising in 1959, leading to the Dalai Lama’s
flight to India. One has to note the reality that even after nearly half
a century of Chinese brainwashing or brainstorming of the Tibetans who
still live in Tibet, there is still strong support among them for their
spiritual-political leader, the Dalai Lama.

An objective reading of history will convince anyone about the
hollowness of China’s claim of sovereignty over Tibet. It is true that
on certain occasions in history China militarily occupied Tibet, but it
is equally true that there were occasions when the Tibetans, under the
Dalai Lama, claimed some kind of loose sovereignty over major portions
of China. One should also recall that, thanks to the Younghusband
mission of 1904 and the subsequent Shimla Agreement between China/Tibet
and the then Government of India, India recognised Tibet’s complete
autonomy and Indian garrisons were stationed at both Lhasa and Gyantse
in order to underpin Tibet’s autonomy from China. In our misplaced
idealism over the so-called "Hindi-Chini bhai bhai" philosophy, we not
only persuaded the Dalai Lama to accept the Chinese claim of sovereignty
when China attacked Tibet in 1950 but even withdrew Indian garrisons
from several points in Tibet.

Not only that, in 1959, when there was an uprising in Tibet, after a
great deal of suppression by the Chinese, and when the Dalai Lama,
accompanied by some of his followers, had to flee to India, we did not
try to put some sense in the heads of our Chinese friends and blindly
supported whatever they did. In our excessive idealism we sacrificed our
national interest. If we had the prudence to allow the Shimla Agreement
to continue, there would have been no military presence of China in
Tibet. There would have been no 1962. It is common knowledge that the
border between Tibet and India was never treated as a firm international
border, and that Indians had the right to freely move into Tibet and
similarly Tibetans had their right to move into India. Indian pilgrims
could freely travel to Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar without ever
regarding those places as foreign territory. It was the advent of
China’s soldiers in the border areas between Tibet and India which
started creating a border problem as China insisted on passports and
visas from Indian pilgrims for travelling to pilgrim centres in Tibet.
At one stage the Chinese even claimed Badrinath, not to speak of Tawang.
It is true that some of the areas in Arunachal Pradesh have a very close
affinity with Tibet, but that was the Tibet under the Dalai Lama. In no
stretch of imagination can Beijing claim sovereignty over those areas,
thereby putting themselves in the shoes of the Dalai Lama after they
have replaced the Dalai Lama in Lhasa.

China has never forgiven India for giving shelter to the Dalai Lama in
1959 and allowing him to carry on a Tibetan government-in-exile in
Dharamsala all these years. But the Chinese Communists do not understand
India’s susceptibility on this point, or the fact that many people of
Tibetan origin in India in areas like Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh
regard the Dalai Lama as their spiritual head. The Dalai Lama has all
these years scrupulously avoided any activity that can be regarded as a
provocation by the Chinese. He has been treated as a sincere man of
peace by the whole world. It is very unfair on the part of Beijing to
accuse him of leading the present uprising in Tibet and the surrounding
provinces of China where Tibetans live in large numbers. In that context
it is in China’s interest to enter into talks with the Dalai Lama to
find out a lasting solution to the Tibetan issue. The Dalai Lama himself
had made considerable compromises when, some time ago, he said that he
is no longer interested in Tibetan independence but only in autonomy so
that Tibetans can live their own lives and not under Chinese diktats. It
is well known that Beijing settled a large number of Han Chinese in
Tibetan areas and that they are today on the point of outnumbering the
original Tibetans. This is a point which the whole world must appreciate.

There is need for strong international pressure on the Chinese to enter
into discussions with the Dalai Lama so that he can return to Lhasa in
his lifetime and take charge of the spiritual and day-to-day matters of
Tibetans in their own homeland. That will be a proper resolution of 50
years of uncertainty and blatant suppression of the rights of Tibetans
by the Chinese. India should advise Beijing to talk to the Dalai Lama on
the issue of autonomy and arrange his return to the Potala Palace.
Otherwise younger Tibetans may well defy the Dalai Lama’s pacifist
influence and enter into a phase of armed insurrection. That will be
unfortunate for both China and India.

Dr Nitish Sengupta, a former Member of Parliament and a former secretary
to the Government of India, is chairman of the Board for Reconstruction
of Public Sector Enterprises
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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