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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Shaping a 'New Forward Policy': Tibet and India's Options

May 21, 2008

Jabin T Jacob, Research Fellow
Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, India
IPCS Issue Brief No. 63
April 2008

DESCRIPTION: This paper discusses the March 2008 uprising in Tibet
and considers India's policy options in the process. The author
states that the way ahead for India lies in converting Tibet's
political centrality into an economic centrality in the bilateral
relationship with China. The paper states that India remains the key
to any sustainable peace in Tibet.

The expression, 'forward policy' is still considered rather impolitic
in the modern Indian context, but the reference here is not so much to the
Jawaharlal Nehru government's ill-planned military endeavour as to a
still earlier period of history. Francis Younghusband, the leader of the
Lhasa Mission of 1904, wrote years later:

"I am for a forward policy in Tibet as elsewhere, though by forward I
do not mean an aggressive and meddlesome policy. I mean rather one
which looks forward into the future, and shows both foresight and
forethought -- a policy which is active, mobile, adaptive, and
initiative. This is the forward policy I would urge for Tibet, as for
the frontier generally -- farseeing initiative to control events,
instead of the passivity which lets events control us"

The historical context to Younghusband's words is important. He had
seen the gains of the Mission slowly conceded or lost by his
government in London in an attempt not to displease either the
Russians or the Chinese. Nevertheless, he retained the optimism that
the situation was not completely lost.

With due consideration for the changed historical and political
circumstances, India too finds itself in a similar position today,
with respect to Tibet.

Successive Indian governments have been perceived as squandering
opportunities and leverages in this regard, in order to build ties
with and not antagonize China. India's acceptance of Chinese
occupation of Tibet in 1950, its official policy of treating the
Dalai Lama as only a religious leader rather than also as a political
leader and its acceptance of Chinese sovereignty over the Tibet
Autonomous Region (TAR) in 2003, among other things have all been
roundly and variously condemned as mistakes, by the Tibetans, Indian
political parties, and by the Indian strategic community. Yet, India
cannot now simply reverse its acceptance of Chinese sovereignty over
Tibet, either, for a whole host of reasons. What it can do, however,
is on the one hand to ask China for cooperation in the renewal of the
traditional relationship India has enjoyed with Tibet since time
immemorial, and on the other hand, offer to cooperate with China in
spurring economic development in Tibet. The current unrest in Tibet
provides a window for both governments, to implement this cooperation.


The protests that have convulsed China since early March this year
have occurred not just in the TAR but also in Tibetan areas in the
eighbouring provinces of Qinghai, Sichuan, and Gansu. The timing of
the protests obviously had a great deal to do with the Olympics being
held in Beijing in August, but 10 March, when the protests are
supposed to have started, is also the anniversary of the failed
Tibetan uprising of 1959. Between then and now, 1989 was the last
occasion of major Tibetan protests against China.

Clearly, the scale and spread of the latest protests caught Beijing
by surprise but, conscious of the international sensitivity over
Tibet, it did not crackdown on the protests immediately.
Nevertheless, once they started getting out of hand, Chinese
authorities followed a familiar script by clamping down with troops
and blaming the "Dalai clique" for the unrest.

While, international attention on the protests in Tibet has focused
more for issues such as 'cultural genocide' or matters of
geopolitics, increasing economic discontent is also fuelling Tibetan
grievances. China's Tibet policy in recent years has hinged a lot on
ensuring greater economic development in the region to provide an
alternative discourse to that of 'splittism.' However while the TAR
has been posting double-digit growth over several years now, Tibetans
believe that such growth has been largely cornered by Han migrants.

The Chinese think-tanks fact that Han have suggested that New Delhi
xan play role facilitating dialogue not quite between Beijing and the
Dalai Lama

Chinese  establishments were specifically targeted press the Dalai
Lama during the protests, into moderating his anti-show just what
Tibetans themselves China activity think of the kind of Indian
commentators economic also believe New Delhi development that they
are witnessing. Beijing has therefore, not quite succeeded in selling
to the Tibetans different path towards happiness by means of economic


In its first official reaction to the Lhasa protests, New Delhi
declared itself to be "distressed" at the violence and was bold
enough to say that it hoped "that all those involved will work to
improve the situation and remove the causes of such trouble," even as
it reiterated Tibet was "an autonomous region of China." It is
doubtful, however, if New Delhi considers itself as one of "those
involved" that have a responsibility to "work to improve the
situation." India needs to do just this and adopt a 'new forward
policy' in Tibet that while not military in nature is not any less
the bold for that.

Should India push for dialogue between China and the Dalai Lama?

Unnamed Chinese officials in Beijing and experts in Chinese
think-tanks have suggested that New Delhi might be able to press the
Dalai Lama into moderating his anti-China activity. Indian
commentators too have suggested that New Delhi can play a role in
facilitating dialogue between Beijing and the Dalai Lama. Such
facilitation might seem like a good CBM for Sino-Indian relations.
However, other advantages to India of being merely a facilitator --
when India has expended resources in the upkeep of the Tibetan
refugee population and when the Sino-Indian boundary dispute remains
an open sore -- are not clear. Such informal talks have been carried
out over several decades and it is doubtful they have ever needed any
substantial Indian facilitation.

 From China's point of view, meanwhile, despite public statements
about their willingness to engage the Dalai Lama in talks, its
leaders have very little room for manoeuvre among their own people
after having vilified the Buddhist leader for years, and continuing
to upbraid him for the latest protests.

And if India would wish to move beyond and sit at the negotiating
table along with the Tibetans and the Chinese, it is just as unclear
why the Chinese would want New Delhi involved in what it considers an
internal affair. Further, if three-way negotiations were to be
pursued, the most likely option appears to be of bringing the
Tibetans on board in the Sino-Indian boundary talks, as Tibetan
activists in India have themselves demanded. No doubt, the Chinese
will see in this, echoes of the Simla Convention of 1914. Besides the
Chinese objections, what are the advantages for India?

There are several loose ends that need to be tied up first,
particularly in India's relations with its Tibetan community and
their government-in-exile, before India takes on the role of a
facilitator or mediator between the Chinese and the Tibetans.

Can three-way negotiations be the bold step that would provide the
breakthroughs for all concerned -- for India and China on their
boundary dispute, for China in its relations with ethnic Tibetans,
and for Tibetans themselves in finding 'autonomy' under China more acceptable?

Three-way talks would address the question of the place of Tibet in
the larger rubric of Sino-Indian relations and the broad parameters
for such an exercise are already available in the Dalai Lama's
substituting his demand for 'independence' from China with the demand
for "genuine autonomy" and in India's acceptance of Chinese
sovereignty over Tibet and the one-China principle.

Naturally, this is an exercise that will have implications elsewhere,
for the parties concerned. In India, for example, the Kashmiris would
renew their demand to be a part of the Indo-Pak peace process while
for Beijing, its relations with the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, too would
come up for immediate reexamination. For the Tibetan community,
meanwhile, being pitch-forked to the high-table could lead to
pressures and differences of opinion that might fracture the unity
that it has maintained so far under the influence of the Dalai Lama.

For China, three-cornered talks in the Tibetan case, and for India,
in the case of Kashmir, would be difficult choices to accept,
appearing to affect as they do treasured notions of sovereignty and
national self-esteem. Nevertheless, perhaps, these are strategies
that China and India would need to make to ensure that the Asian
century does not remain mired in the problems of the previous century.

Resolving the Status of the Dalai Lama

New Delhi has just as much cause to open a dialogue with its Tibetan
refugees on their aspirations, whether political or economic, as it
has in pushing China and the Dalai Lama to come to the negotiating
table. Nobody in India seems to have suggested the former. If as some
say that India made a mistake in 1959 by asking the Dalai Lama to
refrain from political activities and advocate that India ought to
now give up this position and acknowledge the Dalai Lama's temporal
leadership as well, then the first step is for New Delhi itself to
open a political dialogue with the Tibetan government-in-exile. The
difficulty of the undertaking would be immediately obvious.

Not only is the Indian government several decades too late in
starting the process, it has now to contend with an increased
diversity of Tibetan opinion within the country, the possible impact
of such talks on relations with China, and some uncomfortable
questions that will need to be discussed such as the import of the
increased Tibetanization of the various Buddhist monasteries along
the Himalayan frontier, the impact of legalizing the informal trade
along the LAC and the consequences of increased economic linkages
between Chinese Tibet and India.

Further, the Dalai Lama's announcement in October 2007 of the
possibility of his successor being chosen before his death, gives
India another thorny issue to consider. What for example, happens if
the chosen successor is a non-Tibetan Buddhist of Indian origin?
There is perhaps, also a case for India to take a more proactive
position on the continuous Chinese denigration of the Dalai Lama.
India has a substantial Buddhist population of its own that greatly
revere the Dalai Lama and New Delhi must surely object to the kind of
language the Chinese have used against the Tibetan spiritual leader.
By making its feelings clear, India also ensures that Beijing does
not continue to portray the spiritual authority of the Dalai Lama
over Tibetans and other Buddhists who worship him as a subset of its
own authority.

Trade or Tibet?

This is a false dilemma and India needs to get its priorities right,
here. Bilateral trade with China and the Tibet issue are not
necessarily connected except in that there are possibilities to
improve the trading relationship through increased border
trade. India cannot just yet, as China itself will not, allow its
position on Tibet to be dictated by the nature of the bilateral
economic relationship. Tibet is far too central to the Sino-Indian
relationship, for both countries, even if it is not always openly
acknowledged and while the economic

The way ahead lies in relationship has gained prominence converting
Tibet's in recent years, it political centrality into has also run
into a an economic centrality rough patch given India's increasing in
the bilateral trade deficit with relationship...India

China and the remains the key, as it has mismatched basket of goods
being always been, to any traded. And while sustainable peace in
voices in China pointed to the Tibet. This is not a 'card' promising
bilateral that India holds, but economic rather, a responsibility
relationship as reason enough for India not to interfere in Tibet,
Chinese interest in bilateral trade was not sufficient enough to
prevent them from delivering an obvious snub to India by not inviting
its envoy on a trip arranged for foreign diplomats to Lhasa.

Nevertheless, the way ahead lies in converting Tibet's political
centrality into an economic centrality in the bilateral relationship.
Where once, the Tibetan economy was far more integrated economically
to the Indian plains than other developing an alternative framework
for peace and security in the region economies to its east, today it
survives largely on doles handed out from Beijing. And despite,
greater population movements and infrastructure development
encouraged by the central government, the Tibetan economy's level of
integration with the larger Chinese economy is still quite poor.
Against this background, it is important for India to engage China in
the opening up of Tibet. Markets to its south provide Tibet with
additional options besides those that lie eastwards in the Chinese
heartland while Tibet's shortest access routes to warm waters and the
outside world also lie in the southern direction.


India can start its 'new forward policy' in Sikkim through which
Younghusband entered Tibet and Ladakh - where over 50 years later
Nehru's policy met disaster. New Delhi should improve and build up
physical connectivity infrastructure on its side of the border to
facilitate easier access into and out of Tibet. Reopening of Nathu La
in Sikkim was a first step that needs to be backed up by better
infrastructure and an end to what is currently a short-sighted Indian
policy of deliberate obstruction. Among the immediate connections
that Ladakh and Tibet can reestablish is the Leh-Manasarovar
pilgrimage route via Demchok that can be expanded to accommodate
trade as well.

India could be given renewed access to access to Yadong (Yatung) and
Gyangze (Gyangtse) to reestablish trading posts, and also new ones at
Rutog (Rudok) in Western Tibet, close to the Ladakh border. Indeed,
China and India already have a starting point for exchanges involving
Tibet in their 1954 Agreement on Trade and Intercourse between Tibet
Region of China and India, which provides a list of trading towns on
either side, which could be opened to each other.

Meanwhile, India should also welcome and cooperate in the extension
of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway into Nepal as part of this process, and
eventually in linking up its provincial economies bordering Nepal to
the Tibetan economy.

With parliamentary democracy taking roots in both Nepal and Bhutan,
Myanmar is the only non-democratic state bordering Tibet and it too,
was witness to popular opposition against the junta in September
2007. China will thus, increasingly need to consider the impact of
developments in these countries on Tibet. Meanwhile, India should not
shy away from making clear its interests in Tibet, since it has
already acknowledged Chinese sovereignty there.

No doubt, China has worries about Indian influence in Tibet, but the
targeting and destruction of ethnic Han property in the recent
protests in Tibet indicate that there is only so far that Beijing can
go pushing an economic line in a volatile political environment. With
many Chinese businesses in the TAR thinking of shutting shop and
tourism, a major contributor to the Lhasa economy, also likely to be
affected, it is obvious that ethnic relations will continue to remain
fraught, especially if Chinese nationalism also continues to be
stoked. In this context, one positive way of allaying both Tibetan
and Han fears is to use the intermediary of people-topeople contact
from across the Himalayas. China must court businesses and tourists
from India not just for economic reasons but also for cultural
reasons and social stability in Tibet. An Indian consulate in Lhasa
and easier access for Indian visitors to Tibet are imperative for
this process to take off.

Tying Tibet's economic growth also to the Indian economy in addition
to that of the rest of the Chinese economy, might alleviate the
Tibetan fear of being under siege, whether religious, cultural or
political. This calls for China to accept that its domestic ideal of
a 'harmonious society' - like its external version of a 'harmonious
world' – cannot be achieved without external cooperation. India
remains the key, as it has always been, to any sustainable peace in
Tibet. This is not a 'card' that India holds, but rather, a responsibility.

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