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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Editorial: Vexing Tibet Thorn

November 8, 2009

Kangla OnLine
November 4, 2009

Even any lay observer could not have missed that
there is a definite pattern in the waxing and
waning of diplomatic relations between India and
China, the two giant neighbours who have grown
phenomenally in the past few decades that many
predict the 21st Century may actually belong to
them. As director of the Asian Centre for Human
Rights, New Delhi, Suhash Chakma pointed out in a
recent interview to the Kathmandu Post, the
health of diplomacy between the two neighbours is
important for the entire Asia, but in a more
specific context, for the stability of the border
Indian states including the northeast and
Kashmir, as well as small and weak Asian nations,
in particular Nepal and Bhutan. Those of us in
insurgency torn states of the northeast are aware
what the impact of the state of diplomacy between
the two countries would be on them. If it is
instigation on the one hand, it would be
suspicion, often unwarranted, on the other -- an
atmosphere none will doubt is far from healthy
for those caught in the crossfire.

Would the two Asian giants ever go to war again?
Very unlikely, for both would be acutely aware
how expensive this would be in both human and
economic terms. Both are armed to the teeth, even
with extensive nuclear arsenals, and this itself
should be a deterrent for both. Economically the
two are on a path to the very summit of economic
wellbeing and this happy predicament would be the
biggest casualty if they ever go to war. But if a
full scale war is ruled out, there is nothing to
prevent the two from indulging in periodic shadow
boxing with each aiming to provoke and annoy the
other. And this is what all of us have been
witnessing all along. The rise and drop of
temperature on this front is where a pattern has
now become unmistakable, for the alteration in
the moods in either country revolves around the
movement of the Dalai Lama, the Buddhist
spiritual leaders of the Tibetans and the
temporal head of the Tibetan Government in Exile
based in Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh. Although
not approving, this is understandable. India
probably would not have been happy if Kashmiri or
Assam or Nagaland or Manipur were to be allowed
to open a government in exile in China or any other country.

In other words, Tibet remains a major pivot in
the relationship between India and China, as
indeed it always has been. Every time the Dalai
Lama announces a visit to the Buddhist monastery
in Tawang in the border area of Arunachal
Pradesh, China would respond either with
statements to the effect that much of Arunachal
Pradesh and Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir are South
Tibet and hence legitimately its territory. India
would hit back with moves that resembled a de
facto recognition of the Tibetan Government in
Exile. China then would begin issuing separate
visas (not against the Indian passport) to
visitors to China from Kashmir and Arunachal
Pradesh. Even the 1962 hostilities between the
two countries was to a large extent, fallout of a
politics that revolved around Tibet, in
particular the 1914 Shimla Accord signed between
the British India and British plenipotentiary in
Tibet which resulted in the Mac Mohan Line
running across the southern length of what was
once Greater Tibet. China walked out of the
Shimla meet, saying Tibet was part of China and
thus had no authority to sign an international
treaty of its own accord. It never acknowledged
the Mac Mohan Line either. There can be no easy
answer to this vexing question for either
country, but what is obvious is that resolving
the Tibet question is where the answer to this
persistent itch in the relationship between the
two countries lies. On India’s part, it surely
cannot disown the Dalai Lama and his government
in exile after half a century of playing host to
it, and also keeping in minds its moral
obligation to the cause of the spiritual leader
who fled his country in 1959 in the wake of a
crackdown by Communist China. But a new brand of
diplomacy which did not use Tibet as the handle
to annoy each other is definitely what is called
for if both are interested in improving
relationship, and despite rabid hate mongers on
either side, there must be plenty who would like
both to prosper independently, if not in
partnership. Many border provinces in India (and
probably China too) would also obviously envy
such a diplomatic denouement. At least they do
not have to worry about instigated hostilities
from across the border and reciprocal but
unfairly generalised suspicions of disloyalty from within.
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