The ‘Not So Neighbourly’ Indo-Tibet-China Relationship

China reportedly started a large-scale mining operation, on 23rd May, along the border of the Indian state Arunachal Pradesh. The former has been mining for gold, silver, and other precious metals in the Lhunze County in southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. Since Tibet is a disputed territory and India being a supporter of free Tibet, China’s actions in the area are seen as hostile.

Moreover, a couple of years ago a tiff broke out between India and China over the territorial claims of Arunachal Pradesh. The latter claimed that since majority population of AP is historically Chinese immigrants, the state should secede to China. The dispute was settled then, but discord remained between both countries.

With Chinese invasion into the Ladakh border, occasional firings at the LAC, and India’s support to Dalai Lama, the relationship between the three countries has remained tense. Time and again, China and India have reminded each other about the possibility of war if either side interfered in the other’s land. Today’s mining activities are feared to increased this friction and possibly spill into Tibet.

Let’s Click Rewind!

Meet Tibet – A free country, going about its activities in absolute peace. Meanwhile, its neighbour China is in the midst of a fierce civil war between the incumbent Kuomintang (KMT) – led government and the Communist Party of China. The civil war ends with the Community Party of China emerging victorious, and its leader Mao Zedong, at the helm of the newly formed People’s Republic of China. Mao decides that China’s new borders will include everything that was part of the Qing Empire, that is, restore China to the way it was before 1912. Unfortunately for Tibet, this meant that it would no longer be a free country but a part of the People’s Republic of China.

So, in 1951, under pressure, the 14th Dalai Lama signed the “Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet” that allowed China to station its troops in Tibet and handle international affairs. In exchange, the Chinese would not affect the status and authority of the Dalai Lama and Panchen Ngoerhtehni (Tibet’s spiritual heads). When the people of Tibet opposed this Chinese interference and the communism that came with it, they were heavily repressed by the Chinese. To lessen the resentment, the Chinese utilized propaganda techniques, but the Tibetans saw this as a threat to their way of life and culture.

Things escalated and in 1959 Dalai Lama went missing in Tibet. 2 weeks later, he resurfaced in the village of Towang, just across the Indian border. The Indian government, taken by surprise, granted him asylum. He has since maintained his residence in Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh, India, and more than 90,000 Tibetans followed.

In the absence of the Dalai Lama, China enforced its policies in Tibet and with an aim to assimilate Tibetans into China; they destroyed many of Tibet’s religious symbols, monasteries and temples in a kind of ‘cultural genocide’. Violence in Tibet continued as the locals continued to protest the Dalai Lama’s exile and demanded democracy.

Come 2008, riots erupt across Tibet, speaking volumes about China’s failing efforts to subjugate the region and destroy its identity. Beijing responds by imposing stricter restrictions – on travel inside Tibet and on the remaining monasteries, forcing more Tibetans (including many monks) to leave the country. The protests have gotten so intense that more than 130 Tibetans have set themselves on fire as an act of protest since 2011.

India too faced the side-effects of China’s wrath. India had a peaceful neighbor in Tibet until it was taken over by China. Now, India, Nepal and Bhutan were sharing their border with this aggressive, communist country. Plus, when India opened its doors to the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan refugees, China took this as India’s support of Tibet, therefore putting India on China’s hit list too.

The ‘Here’ and the ‘Now’

An unhappy China has termed the Dalai Lama as a ‘splittist’ and ‘separatist’ owing to his views that Tibet is meant to be independent from China. Recently, Dalai Lama accepted an invitation to visit Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. But here’s where the plot thickens further! Beijing considers Arunachal Pradesh as a part of China, ‘South Tibet’ to be precise, on the grounds that Dalai Lama was born there in the 17th century. Any such visit is seen by China as an activity in the disputed area. The Chinese Foreign Minister Lu Kang responded to this visit with a warning to India, clearly indicating that if such a request was accepted it might lead to disturbance of the peace between India and China.

An Ambiguous Future

In 2007, the Chinese Government announced a law which states that Buddhists cannot reincarnate without the permission of the state. Sounds ridiculous, right? Well, not if you consider what’s in it for China. This law serves 2 purposes. Now, China can make sure that the current Dalai Lama will be the last one by not recognizing a successor after his death or they can use this law to recognize and prop up a 15th Dalai Lama who will co-operate with the state of China and help assimilate the Tibetan culture with China. Either way, after the death of the 14th Dalai Lama, his holiness, the Tibetan freedom movement will lack a legitimate central command and risk fading out.

It’s unlikely that this conflict will accelerate to a full-blown war between India and China again like it did in 1962, but China will continue opposing the Dalai Lama or any act that legitimizes him. His presence in India, and the freedom he receives here will continue to be a thorn in any form of negotiations between the two countries. But India wouldn’t banish the Tibetans that have settled in their land or curtail their freedom of expression.

So for now, it seems the Tibetan Diaspora will be free to voice their opposition to Chinese rule over their homeland, while China waits to gain an upper hand on the situation. All this while Indian remains stuck between China and a diplomatic hard place.

The ‘Not So Neighbourly’ Indo-Tibet-China Relationship was last modified: by
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