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Tibetans Voice Preferences on Future Policy Towards China

November 26, 2008

Journal of Turkish Weekly
November 25, 2008

In an auditorium at a Tibetan school nestled among pine trees in an
Indian village, prominent exiles of the Tibetan community are
debating their future.

The unprecedented six-day conference was called by the Dalai Lama.
The Tibetan spiritual leader asked members of the self-proclaimed
government in exile and other community leaders to speak frankly
about whether Tibetans should take a different path than his Middle
Way approach towards China. The Buddhist figure has said his strategy
of repeatedly negotiating with Beijing to ask for meaningful
autonomy, rather than independence, has failed.

The conference is drafting a declaration based on input from elders,
as well as younger voices. Many youth have expressed impatience with
the cautious approach towards the Chinese, who invaded Tibet in 1950.

A member of the Parliament-in-exile, Youdon Aukatsang, during a break
in the discussions, sought to play down media expectations that the
meeting is going to mean a sudden and dramatic shift in policy.

"Its a very, very significant meeting, although it is only a
deliberative meeting. Its not like they're going to decide on the
future of Tibet. The policy change, if it ever happens, its going to
be at the level of the Parliament. If there's a lot of pressure from
here it'll definitely have an impact on the policies that the [exile]
government is going to take," she said.

China has made it clear that it considers whatever results here
irrelevant. Talks last month between Tibetan and Chinese government
representatives produced no progress. Chinese officials and newspaper
editorials in China equate the autonomy request with pursuit of
independence. China contends Tibet is an integral part of the country.

The Tibetans here, where the government-in-exile is headquartered,
said they are in daily contact with their compatriots back home to
make sure their voices are part of the discussions at the historic
meeting in India.

A recent survey, clandestinely conducted inside Tibet, found nearly
half of the 18,000 Tibetans who responded would follow whatever path
the Dalai Lama advocates. Another 5,000 expressed a desire to pursue

A 32-year-old Tibetan barley farmer, who has made an illegal
pilgrimage from Tibet to Dharamsala, expresses the torn feelings of many.

The farmer, who did not want his name used as he plans to return
home, said he supported the Middle Way because it was advocated by
the Dalai Lama. But his personal preference is for independence
because it would free Tibetans of Chinese control.

Some younger Tibetans in exile expressed caution about making a hasty decision.

Tsering Kyi, a 25-year-old writer was Miss Tibet 2003. She said many
Tibetans are still confused and would have liked more time to discuss
the issue between the Dalai Lama's pronouncements about it and the
special conference.

But the young woman, who trekked out of Tibet as a 16-year-old
without her parents, also said regardless of whether autonomy or
independence is pursued violence cannot be used to oppose Chinese rule.

Saying that India's occupation of 'Southern Tibet' (China's name to
Arunachal Pradesh) is a security threat to China, it suggests that in
counter, the PRC may adopt a strategy aimed at weakening the control
of the Indian central government through steps like 'splitting' and
'dismembering' India. In that way, India, which is inferior to China
in terms of comprehensive national strength, cannot challenge the PRC
in future.

The subject of another war with India is also figuring in
contributions of Chinese analysts, most of them from military, to the
Bulletin boards of several strategic research and military websites,
all apparently receiving supervision of the government. It is true
that by their very nature, they cannot be said to reflect official
opinion, but what could be important is that their publication would
not have been possible without some sort of patronage from the
authorities. Worth mentioning are four such articles. One raises
(Global Times net, by a Tibetan cadre, 19 October 2008) a key
question as to why some Chinese experts are making references to
'disputed border ' with India, whereas the entire Southern Tibet, now
under Indian occupation, is a Chinese territory without any dispute
(the same theme was discussed in C3S Paper No. 104 of 4 February
2008). It demands that the Central Government should tell the public
clearly about its position – whether it would recover Southern Tibet
or maintain status quo. A second report alleges (, 27
October 2008) that India is building in large-scale, new airports and
military installations in the border, for 'defeating China in a war'.
According to a third comment (, 15 November 2008), if a
war breaks out again with India, the Chinese aim should be to recover
Southern Tibet; as such that war would be basically a 'partial' one,
without affecting other border fronts. In this war, China should make
Pakistan as its ally and help the latter in recovering Kashmir.

Catching attention is also a fourth Bulletin Board report authored by
a possible high level military analyst, entitled "Tibet Military
District is fully prepared to deal with a possible Sino-Indian border
clash" (, 17.November 2008). Alleging that
discordant notes regarding the Sino-Indian border have very recently
emanated from a 'certain big power' in South Asia (unmistakable
reference to India, though not by name), it focuses on China's
military preparedness in Tibet in response. Revealing that the 52 and
53 Mountain Brigades and the 149th Mobile Division of the 13th Group
Army, act as mainstay in China's defence of Tibet, it, in an unusual
manner, gives out enormous data on the Orbat in Tibet Military
District, particularly on the formation of various Brigades. The
article further points out that in recent years, facilities for
communications and transport could be improved in Tibet; through the
newly built Qinghai-Tibet Railway, troops and material can be quickly
transported. New highways have been established in the Ali region and
the latest building of airports like Linzhi, have contributed to
mobility of troops, including that of Second artillery. At the same
time a negative factor is that the Air Force is not permanently
stationed in Tibet.

Why there is a talk in China now on the possibility of a limited
Sino-Indian war? It definitely looks like a scenario building
exercise undertaken by the Chinese strategists. However, there seems
to be a hidden sense of urgency on the subject among them; explaining
this is their rationale that India's new border infrastructure
initiatives are in the nature of provoking China. While it cannot be
denied that if another war breaks out, even partial, Sino-Indian
relations would undoubtedly suffer much, the question arises - can
such a war really erupt? The answer could be no, considering the
present comfort level in Sino-Indian ties.

It would be pertinent to note in this connection that latest views of
Chinese specialists are not in tune with the official line of the
PRC, which considers that each country is not a threat to the other
and that bilateral relations can be developed looking beyond the
complex border dispute, which may take time to solve. India is in
agreement with this line. Also, their sentiments run counter to the
excellent atmospherics now surrounding the bilateral relations at the
moment-- mutual economic dependence level has increased, trade volume
is going up, joint military exercises have started and the ties are
said to have assumed a global character.

At the same time, one does not fail to notice that China is speaking
in two voices on Sino-Indian ties. It would, however, be wrong to
take them as contradictory to each other; they only go to distinguish
the different policy priorities of key agencies in China. To explain,
a border war, as conceived by Chinese strategists, may reflect the
calculations of the military and security establishment in China for
which no compromise is possible on the issue of national sovereignty
(for e.g Taiwan and Tibet). On the other hand, in the diplomatic
front, Beijing needs to show a benign face, hence its soft line
towards India under the 'harmonious world' foreign policy concept.
But even here, Beijing does not hesitate to admit the existence of
'cold peace' with India (PRC Ambassador to New Delhi, Zhang Yan,
Ifeng journal, 21 June 2008). In any case, it should be borne in mind
that the Chinese policy making mechanism at top levels provides space
to integrate such differing priorities.

As far as India is concerned, such talks of war in China, to say the
least, may have an 'unsettling' effect on it. A partial war with
China may look illogical for India at the moment; but prudence
demands New Delhi to keep an eye on any surprise Chinese move along
the border. In a larger perspective, however, it would be important
for India not to over react to signals, howsoever conflicting they
may look, emanating from China, taking into account the long term
benefits that may accrue to it from a policy of 'engaging' China.
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