Narendra Modi govt must note Dalai Lama's changed outlook towards China, realise irrelevance of Tibet card

Just days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi's trip to China to hold a paper-less informal summit at Wuhan with the Chinese president Xi Jinping, Tibetan spiritual guru Dalai Lama said that Tibet could stay with China if it promises to preserve its ethnic culture and autonomy. No one was surprised over his statement, not even those strategists who had so far believed that the ‘Tibet card’ was a potent diplomatic tool to exercise leverage over Beijing. While Tibet is bound to figure in the talks between the two leaders — along with the boundary dispute, trade, terror and the UN Security Council — it is clear that the Tibetan community wants to move on. It is much the same scenario for Dalai Lama, who had roared in Tezpur on 18 April, 1959 that Tibet always had a strong desire for independence. His comment was made on the same day that Chinese premier Chou En-Lai addressed the National People’s Congress. Chou En-Lai had accepted the right of India to grant asylum to Dalai Lama and said, “There is no reason why India and China should allow a handful of rebels to shake their friendship.”

Central Tibetan Administration (CAT) too is not surprised over Dalai Lama's recent comment. Dhardon Sharling, Secretary of CTA’s Information Department, told Firstpost that Tibetans have been echoing similar sentiments since the late 1990s.

“We are not surprised over His Holiness Dalai Lama’s comment because we have been saying for almost two decades that Tibet can be a part of China, but the Chinese regime needs to give us autonomy and preserve our culture,” Sharling said.

It is no more a secret that Tibetan leaders continue to hold informal meetings with officials from the Chinese embassy at New Delhi. Even Sharling has admitted that such meetings are routine affairs. However, there is no doubt that the India-China relationship has deteriorated consistently. The Doka La face-off explains what Madhu Bhaduri, Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs told her colleague GS Iyer on 28 July, 1981 : “I agree with you that Pakistan’s attitude is an important factor in India-China relations. However, you will recall that Chinese closeness to Pakistan grew almost simultaneously (and in inverse proportion) as India’s relations with China deteriorated. They started around 1960 and from 1962 onwards, relations between China and Pakistan became very friendly. The landmark is 1962 and after.”

 Narendra Modi govt must note Dalai Lamas changed outlook towards China, realise irrelevance of Tibet card

File image of Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama. Reuters

Flashback: Relationship on a downward spiral

The victory of the Communist Party in China led to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in October 1949. According to a secret report prepared by the Ministry of External Affairs —(MEA) –27/7/JS,DO1887, FIII.102/24 — India wanted the reality of the emergence of a new China to find international recognition, and thus supported its admission to the United Nations when that issue came before the Security Council in January 1950, and in the General Assembly in September the same year. China, however, to begin with, viewed independent India with suspicion because of its historic association and close economic relations with the western powers, and also its decision to remain in the British Commonwealth of Nations. Then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his colleagues were criticised as ‘running dogs of imperialism’ and as having sold out to British and American capitalism, thus betraying the Indian revolution. Side by side, relations between India and China began to cool because of developments in Tibet. China was apprehensive that the growing discontent in Tibet might find support from India and was determined to shut out Indian influence from Tibet. When India’s political officer visited Tibet in September 1957, Chinese authorities instructed the Lamas not to accord him any welcome. Towards the end of the same year, the Indian consul general at Lhasa was informed that the existing lease for the premises of the trade agency at Gyantse would not be recognized as it was concluded with the previous regime. A more serious matter was a suggestion that India was permitting anti-Chinese activities. In December 1956, Chou En-Lai told the Indian prime minister that a group in Lhasa had been in constant touch with some migrants. Prime Minister Nehru, however, replied that India would not allow anti-Chinese propaganda to be carried on in India.

In January 1958, the Indian Ambassador was told that that the United States was using Indian territory as a spring board for anti-Chinese activities. In July 1958, after fighting had broken out in Tibet, the Chinese government alleged that Tibetan migrants in collusion with the United States and the Chiang Kai-Shek faction were using India as a base for anti-Chinese activities. The Khampa revolt in Tibet and the subsequent flight of Dalai Lama into India created an atmosphere which further strained relations.

Another classified MEA note observed that the deterioration of India-China relations from 1960 onwards had a profound effect on the pattern of India’s relations with South East Asian countries. India had to contend with the determined Chinese bid to win over the non-aligned countries in her favour. The China-India conflict also had its repercussions on other countries in South East Asia. China was able to impress upon these countries its undoubted military superiority. After 1964, there was no significant development in India-China relations for quite some time. India, however, expressed its desire for normal relations in public statements and official exchanges with the Chinese leaders and representatives. Concrete steps taken in the direction took the form of upgrading the level of representation at the Chinese National Day reception in New Delhi, inviting official Chinese participation in exhibitions and sports tournaments held in India and relaxation of restrictions on travel between the two countries. China’s response generally remained hesitant and negative. A People’s Daily editorial was bitter on 31 January 1972, when it equated the creation of Bangladesh with India’s plan for an independent Tibet. It said: “ More than ten years ago, the Indian reactionaries organised a counter-revolutionary rebellion in China’s Tibet and created a so-called question of Tibetan refugees after coercing tens of thousands inhabitants of Tibet into going to India. They again used this as a pretext for carrying out subversive activities against China’s Tibet. The Indian reactionaries recently set loose Dalai Lama, Chieftain of the Tibet…its independence and freedom. This laid bare once again the ambitions of Indian expansionism to carve out Tibet from China.”

Days later, Chou En-Lai on 1 February, 1972 extended support to Pakistan for Kashmir's freedom (C 104 923)/72). “The Chinese government and people resolutely support the Pakistan government and people in their just struggle in defence of state sovereignty and territorial integrity and against foreign aggression and interference , and resolutely support the people of Kashmir in their just struggle for right to self determination.”

The first indication in China’s change of mood was in early 1976, when the vice-minister of China told the Indian Charge’d’Affaires at the Republic Day reception that China would immediately reciprocate should India decide to send an Ambassador to China. When in 1976, India announced the selection of KK Narayanan as its China Ambassador, the Chinese regime indicated its intention to reciprocate and Ambassador level relations between the two countries were restored after a period of 15 years.

In the 1980s, when China started supplying a huge cache of arms, India was livid. It was also closely watching the blossoming relationship between the United States and China when then US defence secretary Harold Brown made a trip to China on 5 January, 1980. It was the time Indira Gandhi regime realised that “India cannot take at face value what the China say to us and needs to make a sober assessment of the appropriate next stage in our dialogue with China in order to best promote our interests.”

India holds both Dalai Lama and subsequently Karmapa close to its heart, notwithstanding occasional suspicion raised from several quarters. Though Karmapa has been camping in the United States after making several trips to other countries since last year, the government recently cleared his visit to Sikkim. Government sources said they are not aware about his return to India. Last year, speculation was rife that Karmapa had sought political asylum in the United States, which was refuted by his office through a statement claiming that he had some health concerns and was advised by doctors to take rest. The statement had said: "His Holiness is also deeply grateful to the Government of India for the hospitality extended to Tibetan refugees in India, and especially to him personally after his arrival in India in January 2000. India has been his home for the past 17 years and His Holiness looks forward to returning to India and continue his dharma activities.”

But is he really unwell and taking rest? Kunzang Chungyalpa from Karmapa’s office in Delhi said: “His Holiness has not sought political asylum in the US. He is currently taking rest in the US as per medical advice, since his schedule in India is always busy with little time for rest.”

Kunzag further clarified during a telephone conversation that while in the United States, the Karmapa is staying mainly at his centre in New Jersey — Karma Thegsum Choeling — although he also visits Karma Triyana Dharma Chakra Center in New York.

However, Karmapa's official website contradicts Kunzag claiming: “He has a busy international schedule consisting of audiences, interviews, teachings and empowerments, and more.”
It has been almost a year since Karmapa left India. The issue of his return remains in the domain of speculation. But, in the present situation, the government must realise that there is no Tibet card left. It must ponder over a note drafted in 1981 by the MEA’s policy division that said: “ While the solution of the border problem was vital for bringing about normalisation of relations with China, real normalisation between the two countries could only come about when relations were established on the basis of the five principles with neither side working against the legitimate interests of the other.”

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Updated Date: Apr 27, 2018 20:00:32 IST