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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."
<-Back to WTN Archives Tiny Tibet feels squeeze from giant neighbors
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World Tibet Network News

Published by the Canada Tibet Committee

Thursday, August 25, 2005

1. Tiny Tibet feels squeeze from giant neighbors

By Lindsay Beck

LHASA, China, Aug 24 (Reuters) - Tibet is one of the most isolated regions in the world, a mass of
mountains and plateaus so high they are better suited to yaks than humans.

With its tiny economy and a population of fewer than 3 million, the region may seem insignificant
in the foreign affairs of the Chinese government that has ruled it since the People's Liberation
Army invaded in 1950.

But as China forges a new relationship with India, home to Tibet's government-in-exile, Tibet is
finding its cause for independence squeezed by the growing friendship between its giant ruler and
giant southern neighbor.

The Dalai Lama, Tibet's god-king, fled to India on horseback in 1959 after a failed uprising
against Chinese rule and set up camp in the northern hill-station of Dharamsala.

But with his shadow government and huge concentration of Tibetan refugees there dependent on the
goodwill of the Indian government, analysts say Tibetans will be watching the warming ties between
Beijing and Delhi with caution.

"Tibet has been a major source of discomfort for India's relations with China for very many
years," said Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, a research fellow at the London-based International Institute
for Strategic Studies.


Trade between China and India, the world's two most populous nations, soared to more than $13
billion in 2004 from $100 million a decade ago. This was despite China's close relationship with
India's rival Pakistan, to whom it supplies weapons and hundreds of millions of dollars in
development financing.

In 2003, the two countries held their first joint naval exercises with a handful of ships off
China's eastern seaboard. Last year, India's army chief made a first trip to China in a decade.

On a visit to India in April, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao called the two countries, who fought a
border war in 1962, "brothers" and China formally recognized the remote Himalayan region of Sikkim
as part of India.

"This would be very worrying to the Tibetans -- what happens to them in a period of burgeoning
India-China relations?" Roy-Chaudhury said.

Tibet's government-in-exile says it is confident of its security in India and that of the
approximately 80,000 Tibetan refugees who live there, but spokesman Thubten Samphel acknowledges
the Tibetans' dependence on India's benevolence.

"His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan refugees' stay in India is granted on a humanitarian
basis. Because of the respect His Holiness enjoys from the Indian public, we are not at all
worried about our status in India," he said.

Tibetans, he said, could benefit from the improvement in relations between the Asian giants which
might help convince the Chinese leadership that resolving the question of Tibet's sovereignty
could be in its interest.

The Dalai Lama has said he is seeking greater autonomy for Tibet, not independence. His
representatives and Chinese government envoys have held four rounds of dialogue, but analysts say
an agreement on Tibet's status is still a long way off.

"We feel that improved relations between India and China will in a way be the basis for a proper
solution to the Tibet issue," Thubten Samphel said by telephone from Dharamsala.


But a country's warm ties with China also have the potential to have a less benign impact on
Tibetans living there. The impoverished Himalayan kingdom of Nepal is an example.

With Beijing a key aid donor and major trading partner, Nepal does not allow Tibetan refugees to
organize any political activities that could jeopardize its ties with China.

This year, Nepal, home to an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Tibetans, ordered the closure of the Dalai
Lama's local offices, saying they had no license to operate. Tibetans there said the action came
under pressure from Beijing.

There has since been a crackdown on Tibetan refugees entering Nepal and increased deportation of
Tibetans from border areas, Saunders said.

Kathmandu's relationship with Beijing has become all the more crucial since ties with India --
Nepal's biggest trading partner -- have wavered following King Gyanendra's seizure of absolute
power in February.

"Nepal uses its strengthening relationship with China to offset its dependence on India. Tibet is
of crucial importance in all of that dynamic," said Kate Saunders, of the International Campaign
for Tibet.

But Tibet official Bian Ba Ci Ren said the border crossings of Tibetans into Nepal were illegal
and "hurt the interests of the region."

"There are certain kinds of forces being instigated by the Dalai Lama and some anti-Chinese
forces," he told reporters.

"The people come out but soon they find the outside world is not a paradise so they come back," he

While not going as far as Nepal on the Tibetan issue, India too, analysts say, is unlikely to rock
the boat with China.

"My sense is that India ... does not want Tibet to become a spoiler in any sense in relations
between the two countries," Roy-Chaudhury said.

"Delhi won't necessarily give up on Tibetans, but the signal is clear that the relationship with
China is paramount."

Articles in this Issue:
  1. Tiny Tibet feels squeeze from giant neighbors
  2. 1962 Sino-Indian War (HT)
  3. China: A maverick dares to challenge the Party line
  4. China lines up Tibet takeover show (TT)
  5. Guess Hu's coming to town?

Other articles this month - WTN Index - Mail the WTN-Editors

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