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The Tibet Factor

November 20, 2007

Tibet continues to be a thorn on the side of an improving India-China 
relationship, shows a new book

The Tibetan Saga for National Liberation by Pranjali Bandhu, Odyssey, 
Rs. 350

 From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 4, Issue 45, Dated Nov 24, 2007
The Qinghai-Tibet railway line in Qinghai Province, western China

In the current scenario of the increasing thaw and growing economic 
relations between India and China, the Tibet factor in this 
relationship needs re-examination in clear perspective. The existence 
of a Tibetan government-in-exile in India, the continuing stream of a 
refugee population, active 'Free Tibet' campaigning-all these 
represent thorns between the two governments. The Tibet issue is 
closely linked to the border issue, which despite several sessions of 
talks in the last quarter of a century has remained intractable. The 
nature of India-China trade relations is also not entirely 
satisfactory from India's point of view. Last but not the least is 
India's dependency on the US, which has only deepened with time.

In fact, India's granting of asylum to the Dalai Lama in 1959 was 
done with the concurrence and support of the US government. 
Nevertheless, the Indian government has from the time of Chinese 
invasion and occupation of Tibet accepted Chinese suzerainty and 
sovereignty over Tibet. It has endorsed the 'one China' principle and 
has never publicly upheld Tibetan independence after its occupation 
by the Chinese. It is, however, pertinent to keep in mind that the 
border issue-delineating and demarcating the border between India and 
China-actually involves Tibet on the Chinese side. This is a fact 
that is being completely overlooked and sidelined at present, both at 
the political level and by the mainstream media because Tibet is held 
to be an inalienable part of China.

Can the right of Tibetans to determine their border with India be 
proclaimed without India simultaneously conceding the same rights to 
the nationalities inhabiting the Indian side of the border, namely, 
the Kashmiris, the Ladakhis, the Sikkimese, the Arunachalis 
(including many tribal groups), the Nepalis, the Lepchas and so on? 
This would involve acknowledging the right to self-determination up 
to the right to secession of the various peoples, which neither the 
Indian nor the Chinese government is prepared to do. It would mean 
that the Indian government would have to openly acknowledge its 
annexation of Sikkim; it would have to own up that a wide swathe of 
territory from Ladakh to Myanmar including Tawang was actually 
politically and culturally Tibetan or stood under Tibetan influence, 
and it was first the British and then Nehru, who followed a forward 
policy in this region.

The Tawang tract and other bordering areas that had been ceded by the 
Tibetan government in 1914 to the British (forming part of the so-
called McMahon Line) were occupied by the Indian government in 1951 
and incorporated into the Indian administration.
This was done despite the fact that in 1947 the Tibetan government 
had formally asked India to return these border territories and had 
even included Sikkim and Darjeeling district in their claim 
(Darjeeling had been annexed from Sikkim, a dependency of Tibet, by 
the British).

Now that Tibet is forcibly incorporated as a province [albeit part of 
it as the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)] into China, the central 
Chinese government is laying claim to such 'Tibetan' territories. In 
fact, it has already built townships in Arunachal Pradesh and does 
not officially recognize it as a part of India. In the Northwest 
region, it has occupied 43,180 sq km of the strategic and mineral 
rich Aksai Chin, besides 5180 sq km of Kashmir, ceded by the Pakistan 
government in its 1963 boundary agreement with China. Aksai Chin is 
an ancient trade route and the Chinese need it for forming a link 
between Tibet and Sinkiang (Eastern Turkestan) that was also 
similarly annexed in 1949.

The above facts are known and documented though little highlighted. A 
recent publication which using available documentation and research 
throws much light on the Tibetan issue is The Tibetan Saga for 
National Liberation by Pranjali Bandhu. It provides an excellent 
documentary background to deciphering the Tibet issue and the 
persisting demand for independence inside and outside Tibet.

Starting with history, it clearly establishes-false historiographical 
Chinese claims notwithstanding-the existence of Tibet as a state 
independent of mainland China for a couple of thousand years. It 
delineates in detail the historical evolution of the Tibetan nation 
and its relationship to the interventionist and dominating Chinese 
nation up to the eve of its outright annexation in 1949/1950 by a 
Chinese government under the leadership of the Chinese Communist 
Party. The Chinese Communist Party's approach to the national/ethnic 
question in China in general and to Tibet in particular from the time 
of its growing ascendancy in China is taken up for analysis and so 
also the events leading up to the famed 1959 uprising in Lhasa and 
the subsequent fleeing of the 14th Dalai Lama.

The Chinese establishment of control over the territories of not only 
Tibet, but also of Sinkiang (East Turkestan) and Inner Mongolia 
clearly had, in addition to strategic considerations an economic 
rationale of exploiting their vast mineral resources for 
industrialisation in mainland China, particularly in its eastern and 
southern coastal regions, in a typically colonial fashion. But the 
rapacious destruction of a self-reliant nomadic pastoral economy 
through imposed democratic reforms is camouflaged under a 
'developmental' jargon. The Chinese having taken upon themselves the 
Han man's burden of a transformation of Tibet claim that under their 
rule unprecedented high growth rates and material prosperity have come.

The book traces the 'development' trajectory of Tibet under Han 
Chinese aegis and concludes that the kind of 'growth' that has taken 
place has fuelled marginalisation and class polarisation within the 
TAR. It has benefited largely a migrant Chinese population, the 
Tibetan elite and middle class, while rural areas, populated largely 
by Tibetans, suffer from inadequate incomes, lack infrastructure, 
basic amenities and education and health provisions. The highly 
controversial Lhasa-Golmud railway has contributed to the inflow of 
migrants and tourists and of the outflow of wealth due to resource 
extraction apart from its dubious environmental impact. The 
degradation of Tibet, its people and environment, is multifarious. 
The aspects of religious, cultural and linguistic oppression, the 
'bastardisation' of a people, the environmental devastation are 
recorded as being the results of a market-driven Chinese economy that 
no longer has any relationship to the ideas and ideals of communism.

In its final chapter the book also takes a look at the Tibetan 
struggle for independence. By all internationally accepted criteria, 
the Tibetans constitute a nation. The Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) 
and the Tibetan regions of Kham and Amdo incorporated into the 
Chinese provinces of Gansu, Sichuan, Yunan and Qinghai, are occupied 
territory. Resistance to Chinese colonisation has been met with armed 
suppression. It is estimated that at least one million Tibetans have 
died as a result of the occupation, imprisonment, torture and 
starvation. In the prisons there is an attempt to remould the outlook 
of those who believe in Tibetan freedom. Basic civil, religious and 
democratic rights are denied.

The media, including the arts and literature, are conspicuously 
muzzled and the book presents many details in this regard. Foreign 
journalists too are kept under tight surveillance although Beijing 
did indicate that they would be allowed to travel freely throughout 
China in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics. Moreover, it is Beijing's 
policy to provide journalists free and comfortable trips to China and 
Tibet in order to solicit favourable ground-level reports. In this 
way a number of positive reports on the Lhasa-Golmud railway appeared 
in the Indian press after the line was commissioned in 2006. 
Similarly, now in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, the spotlight 
being on China and its human rights record, we have had glowing 
reports lauding Tibetan development after some more such sponsored 

The fact that Chinese-led 'development' in 'minority' areas like that 
of the TAR, Sinkiang and Inner Mongolia is leading to a growing 
alienation of the Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongols has been corroborated 
by a recent report of the London-based Minority Rights Group 
International. The Chinese imposed development, particularly of roads 
and railways, is leading to resource extraction and greater Han 
Chinese military and civilian presence in these areas. The result is 
a general dilution of local cultures and lifestyles increasing the 
levels of resentment among the local populations.

The Appendix provides a useful overview of the general trajectory of 
Communist Party politics from the time it came to power in 1949 to 
the present. With a couple of maps, Chronology, Index and 
Bibliography, The Tibetan Saga for National Liberation is recommended 
useful reference material for all those interested in national 
liberation movements in the current era taking the case of Tibet as 
it does for detailed examination.
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