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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Book Review: Tibet: The Lost Frontier and Missed Opportunity

June 23, 2008

Claude Arpi
June 21 2008

Tibet: The Lost Frontier
By Claude Arpi
Lancer Publishers, New Delhi, 2008
Pages 338, Price Not Specified

French born writer, Claude Arpi, is a zealous student of the history
of Tibet, China, India, and their status in international politics.
He has been living in Auroville, India, where he is married to an
Indian. Today, he is well known for writing authoritative books and
articles about geopolitics, environment and Indo-French relations.
Tibet: The Lost Frontier unfolds the history of the Roof of the World
and her political contacts with two giant neighbors, India and China.
Arpi notes that history of these three nations demonstrate that Tibet
and China constantly had a relation on the basis of force and power
while Tibet and India had more of a cultural and religious
relationship based on shared spiritual values. From the emergence of
Buddhism during the reign of king Lha Thothori Nyatsen in the fifth
century (AD) to border issues over Arunachal Pradesh between India
and China in the 21st century, this book elaborates the importance of
the Tibetan plateau, which not only holds the key to the well-being
of Asia, but it also has a huge impact on the relationship between
India and China.

Moreover, Arpi attempts the major turning points in the history of
Tibet and its relation with rest of the Asia to re-clarify the claims
that China is making today to prove that Tibet was never an
independent country. For instance, "priest-patron" relationship with
the Mongol empire, when Goden, son of Ogedei, thought that despite
the power of Yuan dynasty in Asia, Mongols would need a religion to
prepare for next life. Khubilai Khan later adopted Buddhism as his
empire's state religion. Thus, the cornerstone relationship continued
as the lamas were given temporal power over Tibet while Tibet was
given protection against outside interference. This was called
"choeyon" relationship that was mainly to help relations between the
Yuan and Tibet. Unfortunately, China is using this to justify
sovereignty over Tibet.

The book, chronologically, contains gist of events, in which it is
fully established that Tibet had handled its own internal and
external affairs. For example, Arpi gives details about the Gurkha
War of 1788 with Tibet over currency exchange rate and use of
Nepalese coins in Tibet. Evidently, Tibetans had asked Manchus to
intervene because Tibetans regarded Manchu Ambans as ambassadors of
Chinese court in Lhasa. However, it is yet again unfortunate that
China today argues that such a request made by the Eighth Dalai Lama
to chase Gurkha troops out of Tibet makes Tibet a part of China. Like
the Gurkha War, many other events have occurred throughout the
history of Tibet, in which Tibet has entered into negotiations with
Nepal, India, British, etc, without legally having to inform or to
ask permission from the Chinese government.

Moreover, the core emphasis of the book is the crucial year of 1950,
when Arpi said that the current political status of all three nations
could have been different and smooth if they tried to have peaceful
negotiation with good intentions. Mao's People's Liberation Army
(PLA) attacked Korea and Tibet in 1950 and Tibet received no
attention from the outside world in saving its sovereignty from the
communist regime. Tibetan government began to realize that Tibet was
under threat and sent Tibetan people like Tsepon Shakabpa to Delhi to
urge Beijing to hold talks there. In the mean time, the young Dalai
Lama and Tibetan government appealed to the United Nations (UN),
India, Nepal, Britain, and U.S for immediate intervention, but the
door was closed for from all sides. Although there were long debates
in the Indian Parliament about India's policy on Tibet and tremendous
efforts from El Salvador to bring the Tibet issue on the UN General
Assembly agenda, no country had a strong sense of optimism over the
future of Tibet. Arpi emphasizes the role of Nehru, who believed that
it was more important for India to have "eternal friendship" with
China rather than attempting to understand the intention behind Mao's
mind. Such failure from Nehru's side had made India blind to the
goals of the communists.

Tibet: The Lost Frontier contains in-depth account of Indo-China
relations, exclusively obtained from the Indian government's
archives. Such diligent effort from the author's side makes this book
very interesting and different from others. More so, Arpi touches
hard on Indo-China border issue, which people tend to avoid because
of its sensitivity. Arpi suggested that the Indian government should
take appropriate steps in building constructive infrastructure in
Arunachal Pradesh to prevent any further claims by China. Most
importantly, I absolutely agree with Arpi that history and current
situation of the Roof of the World, India, and China would be very
different if the three nations had tried to settle the territorial
disputes in 1950 with good intentions. I truly believe he had made
this reasonable recommendation based on knowledge that he gained
throughout his career. Thus, I, without doubt, recommend everyone to
read this book, which unfolds the events that make up the current
political and territorial status of Asia's three richest civilizations.

(Tenzin Yangchen has been volunteering as an intern at the Department
of Information and International Relations, CTA. She is an undergrad
student in Government and International Relations at Smith College,
Massachusetts. The views expressed here are entirely personal.)
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