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

Tibet's shadow over India, China, Russia meet

November 4, 2009

M D Nalapat
Pakistan Observer
October 30, 2009

This week,the foreign ministers of India,China
and Russia met for two days of discussions in
Bangalore. The location was selected by External
Affairs Minister S M Krishna,who had previously
been the Chief Minister of Karnataka,the state of
which Bangalore is the capital. Most politicians
in India have deep roots in their states,even if
they have spent most of their official life in
the national capital. Ministers make it a point
to visit their states on weekends, accepting even
minor invitations such as the opening of a photo
studio to justify the travel cost of themselves and their entourage.

By holding the India-China-Russia trilateral in
Bangalore, the soft-spoken and always courteous
Krishna was gently conveying to the people of the
state his newfound importance as the public face
of India’s foreign policy. In contrast to most of
India, foreign policy matters a great deal to
Bangaloreans,because so much of the prosperity of
the city is tied up to outsourcing. While the
meeting generated the usual "Feel Good"
photographs, there was no breakthrough in
relations, no solution found to the thorny issues
that especially bedevil links between India and
China. And this is no surprise. For on November
8, the Dalai Lama of Tibet will pay a two week
visit to Arunachal Pradesh,the location of
Tawang,the Buddhist pilgrimage site that he
entered when crossing over from Tibet in 1959.
The PRC has thus far refused to acknowledge the
state as a part of India,considering it Chinese
territory. As for the Dalai Lama, Beijing
considers him to be a “splittist”,whose intention
is to delink Tibet from the PRC,and hence is wary
of the undoubted expansion in the influence of
the Dalai Lama within a state it claims as its
own. The visit is expected to make a significant
section of the population of the state loyal to
the Dalai Lama,the way much of the 120,000-strong
Tibetan community in exile already is. Since
1959, when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru hugged
the Dalai Lama and gave him and his supporters a
home in India, the Tibetan “Government-in-exile”
headquartered in Dharamshala ( relatively close
to the border with Tibet) has functioned as an
agency autonomous of the Government of India,
with even its vehicles having license plates
separate from that of others. During his nearly
two decades in office,both foreign as well as
economic policy in India was monopolised by
Jawaharlal Nehru. After his welcome to the Dalai
Lama, relations cooled with China, although Prime
Minister Zhou Enlai twice came to Delhi to seek
to persuade Nehru to agree to a settlement of the
boundary dispute on the basis of the status quo.
This was rejected by Nehru,who ordered Indian
troops to adopt a “forward policy” of advancing
beyond current pickets, a course of action that
led to the 1962 war and the Indian army’s
comprehensive defeat. After that,it was Nehru’s
grandson Rajiv Gandhi who as Prime Minister
offered the hand of friendship to Beijing,and
indicated that the Zhou Enlai formula was now
acceptable. This was reiterated by Prime Minister
P V Narasimha Rao in 1995 in Beijing, but thus
far,has not been accepted by the Chinese side.
The reason is probably that they would like the
settlement of the border issue to be part of a
comprehensive Sino-Indian settlement,one that
will include the status of the Tibetan community in India.

Since 1959, the Dalai Lama has been treated with
the protocol given to a Cabinet Minister,being
provided security at all times and using the VVIP
track at airports on arrival and departure.
Tibetans coming into India are speedily given the
requisite papers,and are free to travel to any
part of the globe (except of course that they
avoid China,where they would most probably come
to the attention of the Public Security Bureau).
Although the US,Canada,Australia and the EU make
much of their "moral support" for the Dalai
Lama,the fact is that India – a country that
shares a long border with China and has a huge
security stake in better relations with the
Communist giant - has done a hundred times more
for the Dalai Lama and his followers than the
rest of the world combined.The cost of this has
been immense,in the form of objective
manifestations of PRC displeasure,including the
close strategic relationship between China and
Pakistan. In line with Nehruvian foreign policy,
nobody within the policy establishment in India
computes the cost of such hospitality. Ensuring
asylum to the Dalai Lama is regarded by
policymakers as a spiritual plus that will ensure
good karma for those responsible.

Although the then envoy of India to China, K M
Panikkar,had warned Nehru in 1948 that an
independent Tibet was in India’s best
interests,rather than that the territory falling
into Beijing’s control,Nehru took the advice of
friends in London and - in the interests of good
relations with China - sacrificed all of India’s
historical rights in Tibet,including access to
the pilgrimage centers of Kailash Mansarovar,the
location that many Indians believe to be the home
of Lord Shiva. However, the welcome given to the
Dalai Lama nullified the effects of this policy
of accomodating China, and relations between the
two giants of Asia have never been warm
subsequently. With the 2008 unrest in Tibet, and
the emergence within India of a growing number of
young Tibetans impatient with the non-violent
policy of the Dalai Lama, the stage may be set
for fresh confrontations between China and
India,with Tibet as the core.Hopefully,these will
all be verbal and not military. Both India as
well as China have too much to lose from a second
border war, the only such conflict in the four
millenia of contact between the two nations.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a man of
peace,whose preference has always been to look
for an amicable resolution of disputes,including
with China and Pakistan. However, in deference to
the tenets of Nehruvian foreign policy (which
regards the Tibetan issue as “religious and
spiritual” rather than political), Singh has been
very firm on the issue of the Dalai
Lama,sanctioning his visit to Arunachal Pradesh
despite being aware that it would enrage Beijing.
The fact is that the Dalai Lama has immense moral support in the US and the EU.

Although neither place will ever place at risk
their financial ties. with China by providing a
home for a "Government-in-Exile" and 120,000
Tibetans the way India has done,yet they are very
pleased that Singh is “standing up to the
Chinese”. Something US President Barack Obama (
not to mention Gordon Brown,Angela Merkel and
Nicholas Sarkozy) have consistently failed to
do.Indeed,Obama refused to meet the Dalai Lama
during the Buddhist monk’s most recent visit to
Washington, for fear of offending the Chinese.And
with good reason,as over two trillion dollars of
US money assets are in PRC hands Many,especially
in the US and the EU,praise the leaders of India
for standing by moral and spiritual
principles,even though at huge cost to the
country’s vital interests? After all, Beijing is
in firm control of Tibet,a situation that is
unlikely to change.And Tibet is the source of
much of the river water of North india,Pakistan
and Bangladesh. An Indus Waters-style treaty is
vital between the lower riparian states of
India,Pakistan and Bangla esh and the upper
riparian state of China,but this is unlikely so
long as India continues its moral and spiritual
support to the Dalai Lama and his followers.
Given that India is a land where the spiritual
gets prized above the material,what seems likely
is that the Dalai Lama will continue to enjoy a
warm welcome within the country, even if the
price for this is frosty relations with China.

Hence,India will be alone in South Asia in
putting the interests of the Tibetan community in
exile above the necessity of better relations
with China.It is only in India that Tibetans in
exile are warmly welcomed,and given an honoured
status such that they enjoy nowhere
else.Certainly,much good karma must be flowing
from this situation into several spiritual
accounts, a flow that hopefully will compensate
for the earthly costs of Sino-Indian tension, not
only to India and China,but to Asia as a whole.
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