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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."

FIFTY YEARS, AND STILL NOT HOME

December 24, 2008

The recent conclave of Tibetans in exile in Dharamsala was another reminder of China’s not-so-covert agendas, writes Ashok Ganguly
 
 
Calcutta Telegraph
Tuesday , December 23 , 2008
 
 
A prayer for the future
 
Tibetans in exile recently held a major get-together in Dharamsala in the run-up to the 50th anniversary of their flight from Chinese persecution. First, they had come to India and then many drifted to other parts of the world.
 
Nothing has changed in the fate of Tibet during the fifty years in between. Over the decades, the Dalai Lama has searched for a middle path through dialogue with Chinese authorities — to protect the Tibetan identity, their religion and way of life under Chinese rule. These talks have remained uniformly fruitless and will remain so. There have been signs of a growing impatience about the lack of any progress, especially amongst the second- and third-generation Tibetans who were born outside Tibet. They no longer wish to wait for the negotiations with the Chinese to bear fruit. But neither have they revealed any alternative.
 
There is a clamour amongst a section of Tibetans to fight for independence. But the realists seek the preservation of Tibetan identity within China. How, or if ever, Tibetans will achieve any of their goals, remains obscure. The Chinese have been persistent in their condemnation of the Dalai Lama and have even accused him of being a ‘splitist’. The Dalai Lama has never advocated Tibet’s independence from China but has consistently requested for dialogue with the Chinese rulers to preserve the Tibetan identity. But he has, so far, failed to elicit any response from Beijing.
 
Since 1959, India has walked the diplomatic tightrope by claiming to provide humanitarian succour to the Tibetan refugees. In spite of being sensitive and not wishing to upset the Chinese, India faced unprovoked Chinese aggression in 1962. China feels that India covertly supports the Dalai Lama’s ‘splitist’ movement.
 
The early Tibetan refugees and their second and third generations are now spread across several countries in the West and constitute vocal and visible promoters of the Tibetan cause. The Dalai Lama himself is a revered international figure, who is received with high honour in the capitals of the world, sometimes by heads of governments and leading public personalities. In the countries he visits, the Dalai Lama is revered as a religious rather than a political leader, so as not to hurt Chinese sensitivities.
 
Ever since the exodus of Tibetan refugees to India, the Chinese have actively ‘grown’ the Han population in Tibet to impart a ‘Chinese character’ to the land, undertaken various development projects, constructed high-speed railway and, in general, pushed for a closer integration of Tibet with the rest of China. From time to time, there are reports of Tibetan uprisings and revolts against the Chinese authorities. But they are all promptly suppressed. While no nation has argued against Tibet being a part of China, China has consistently suppressed the Tibetan desire to protect their identity and culture. Although the details of the Dharamsala conclave are yet to be published, the Dalai Lama, in his press conference, reiterated his desire to pursue the Tibetan cause with the Chinese authorities, though this time with less conviction and a frank expression of disappointment. For the first time, he appeared to be disillusioned and hinted that India could have helped him more in his efforts. The Dalai Lama, not surprisingly, once again ruled out confrontation with China in the pursuit of his cause.
 
Tibet has all along been of great strategic importance to China, militarily and economically. First, Tibet’s importance lies in being one of the prime global reservoirs of water. China controls several major water sources which are the lifeline of southern and south-eastern Asia. China’s longer-term master strategy is to divert some of these major sources to the water-starved parts of the country, via gigantic dams and cross-country canals, as well as to generate hydro-electricity. The Chinese mega strategy for Tibet poses a horrendous threat to India’s rivers, the Brahmaputra and the major tributaries of the Ganges. China’s claim to Arunachal Pradesh and other border areas in the Northeast needs to be seen in this larger context.
 
With or without the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan refugees, India would have faced the incipient threat of China converting the Tibetan problem into a fresh water and territorial challenge for India. While the Chinese intrusions into Indian territory since 1962 have been periodic reminders of China’s continuous conflict with India, the plan for the mega re-engineering of Tibet’s resources will far surpass, in its ecological and economical impact, all that has transpired in the last fifty years.
 
Besides the humanitarian element, China’s Tibet plan has global ramifications in terms of ecology, economy and security. It is a fit case for international institutional intervention. Treating China’s Tibetan and other geographical ambitions as its internal affair — as has been the case until now — will encourage China to exploit Tibet with devastating consequences for the rest of the sub-continent’s climate, livelihood and commerce.
 
The Dalai Lama and the Tibetan diaspora are no threat to China. But China will use the Tibetan bogey to reorder the hydrography of Tibet for its own benefit and at a huge cost to its neighbours and, eventually, the rest of the world. The countries in the neighbourhood and the global community must prepare to face the challenge before it is too late.
 
The recent Dharamsala conclave is just another reminder to the world of China’s not-so-covert agenda vis-à-vis Tibet.
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