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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."

Jayadeva Ranade: Beijing’s stunt was ill-timed

December 4, 2011

Jayadeva Ranade | Friday, December 2, 2011


Beijing’s unwillingness to make serious efforts to settle the border
issue with India was clearly borne out by its petulance exhibited at
the convening of a four-day religious international conference of
Buddhists in Delhi.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao too, during his visit to Delhi last winter,
had indicated that the border issue would be put on the back-burner
explaining that it was complicated and should be sorted out by
successive generations. Beijing’s reaction to the Buddhist conference
in Delhi simultaneously highlights that Beijing is suspicious of the
nature of India-US relations, that its policy concerning the Dalai
Lama remains brittle, and that the Dalai Lama’s activities continue to
be a convenient excuse to try and pressurise nations.

On this occasion, however, China has succeeded only in denting its
international image. More importantly, its action is likely to have
domestic repercussions. It will be a setback to its efforts to use
Buddhism for promoting domestic harmony, appease the Tibetans inside
China, and reassure the other minority nationalities.

When Beijing’s insistence that the Indian government prohibit the
Dalai Lama from addressing a global Buddhist conference in Delhi was
rejected, it upped the ante and demanded that the conference itself be
scrapped. When Delhi declined, Beijing called off the scheduled
Special Representative-level talks to discuss the border issue.

Beijing’s actions triggered widespread resentment among the
‘Sangharajas’, ‘Mahanayakas’, Buddhist patriarchs and other religious
personages assembled in Delhi for the conference.A Eurasian Buddhist
delegate described China’s actions as ‘a slap not on the Indian
government’s face, but to Buddhists around the world.’ He asked ‘how
can Beijing tell us where and when to meet?’ These sentiments will
definitely get transmitted across the Tibetan community inside China.

Beijing’s action coincides with the simmering resentment among
Tibetans in China. This would have been heightened by the Dalai Lama’s
speech of September 24, as evidenced by the at least eleven instances
of self-immolation by Tibetan monks inside China since then. Outbreaks
of protests in monasteries, like the Kirti monastery, have been

The sentiment was reflected a few months ago in popular resistance to
Gyaincain Norbu, the Chinese-nominated Panchen Lama. On the occasion
of the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Tibet Autonomous Region
around May 2011, the Chinese authorities sought to garner legitimacy
for Gyaincain Norbu by positioning him in Labrang Tashi Khyil
Monastery in Tibet’s Amdo region. Plans had to be deferred, however,
due to opposition from local Tibetans.

There is restiveness across China too. The Uyghur-dominated
Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region has witnessed violent protests in
recent months and security forces in Xinjiang have been strengthened
over the past year. The increase in cost of living, rising food
prices, anger against corrupt cadres, etc have led to the mushrooming
of popular protests and demonstrations across China. A confidential
Tsinghua University survey estimated that 180,000 disturbances
occurred throughout China last year.

Anticipating increased popular unrest, China’s 11th National People’s
Congress, or its version of parliament, in March 2011, approved an
allocation of $ 95 billion for the internal security apparatus — even
higher than this year’s considerably boosted defence budget!

There can be little doubt that Beijing was aware of the dates for the
global Buddhist conference and could have sought deferment of the
talks earlier. It is known to have a good network within the Tibetan
Diaspora and effective cyber hacking capabilities.

Beijing’s actions appear really to reflect its irritation at its
foreign policy reversals on the South China Sea issue and in the
Asia-Pacific region consequent to US President Obama’s tour to
Australia and accompanying US diplomatic activity. China’s perception
about US motives was articulated on November 28, by Major General Luo
Yuan. Commenting on Obama’s visit to Asia in the authoritative Chinese
Communist Party paper, People’s Daily and reproduced by the official
Global Times, he declared: ‘The United States is making much of its
‘return to Asia,’ has been positioning pieces and forces on China’s
periphery, and the intent is very clear — this is aimed at China, to
contain China.’ This commentary has since gone viral on the net.

In the context of India-China relations, Beijing’s action was
ill-timed. Both countries were aware of the plans of the global
Buddhist conference. Delhi had apprised Beijing that, keeping in mind
its sensitivities, India’s political leadership would not attend the
conference. Beijing nevertheless called off the border talks, though
its response is tempered by the decision to go ahead with defence
secretary-level talks.

This suggests that the cancellation was motivated more by pique at the
reversal of its policy on the South China Sea issue and suspicion of
the nature of warmth in Indo-US relations, than with the Dalai Lama
addressing the conference. Delhi’s response though, signals to Beijing
that it will not yield on substantive issues of sovereignty or values.

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