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Digging our head deeper in the sand

April 8, 2009

Arun Shourie
Indian Express
April 7, 2009

Everyone seems to agree on five facts:

- Tibet’s cause is just;

- Tibetans have given no cause for offence;

- China has already reduced Tibetans to a
minority, even in Lhasa. It is systematically
obliterating the Tibetan culture and the identity of the Tibetan people;

- It has not succeeded as yet, but nor has it loosened its vice;

- People across the world feel intensely about
this injustice and oppression, but governments are silent.

India’s policy towards Tibet has to be assessed
on the touchstone: how does it address the danger
that these facts pose for India?

The policy has moved from viewing the Government
of Tibet as the government of an independent
country; to viewing Tibet as an autonomous
country or region under the overall “suzerainty”
of China; to viewing Tibet as an autonomous
region under the “sovereignty” of China; to
viewing Tibet as a region that is an integral
part of China and one in which China can do as it
pleases — what happens to Tibet and Tibetans
being an internal affair of China; to not merely
viewing Tibet as such, but to accepting what the
Chinese say is “Tibet”(as is well known, China
has hacked off half the area of Tibet that
encompasses half the population of Tibetans and submerged it in Han provinces).

 From the time of Pandit Nehru, India’s policy
has been to shut its eyes to what is happening in
Tibet. In particular, what the Chinese are doing
to the culture and people of Tibet; and to the
military buildup. This was evident in the way in
which, under Pandit Nehru’s firm hand, the Indian
government shut its eyes to the roads and other
infrastructure being built in Tibet.

Indeed, the "policy" was carried further. The
view was taken, and enforced, that we should not
only not ourselves raise, we should oppose
efforts by others to raise in fora like the
United Nations, what was being done to Tibetans.
This, Panditji laid down, is what would be in the
best interests of the Tibetans themselves!

Along with this shutting of eyes to Chinese
buildup is a turning away from the fact that
India’s security is inextricably intertwined with
the existence and survival of Tibet as a buffer
state and to the survival and strengthening of
Tibetan culture and religion. One reason of this,
of course, is that it is the representative of
the government of Tibet who signed the Simla
Agreement and not the representative of the
government of China — though, it must be
remembered, that the objection of the Chinese
representative was not to the border between
Tibet and India but to the border between Tibet
and China. The second reason is that unless there
is an area of peace between China and India, an
area in which there is no great Chinese military
presence, our northern borders are directly
exposed. The ecology of India is just as closely
interlinked with what happens across the Tibetan
plateau. The deforestation of eastern Tibet that
has already taken place; mining and other
activities that China is pursuing with vigour
across Tibet; the diversion of Tibetan waters to
the north by China engineering works for which
have already begun — all these are bound to
affect the entire plain of north and east India,
as, indeed, they are bound to affect the countries all along the Mekong.

And this shutting of eyes is typical: we shut our
eyes to the Talibanisation of Pakistan; to the
Talibanisation of Bangladesh; to the ingress of
Bangladeshis into the Northeast; to the
consequences for us of China encircling India —
Myanmar as a colony, a military pact with
Bangladesh, a fully militarised and nuclearised
Tibet, a willing and dependent instrument in Pakistan.

In the case of China and Tibet, as the years have
gone by, we have shut our eyes tighter and
tighter. In the last few years, in particular up
to 2007, the Chinese attitude towards Tibet has
hardened; the buildup of infrastructure in Tibet
— an infrastructure that can be used for military
purposes as much as for anything else — has
become more intense; and the incursions and other
hostile acts towards India have become much more
frequent, and much broader in range. To take just
two examples, recall how China has striven to
prevent closer relations between ASEAN and India
and how it has striven to snuff out any chance
that there might have been of India, along with
countries like Japan, joining the Security Council.

It was only when, during the build-up to the
Olympic Games, China felt it necessary to show a
benign face to the world, that these hostile acts
were tempered. But, the Olympics over, China has
resumed its oppression in Tibet just as it has
resumed its hard stance towards India in general
and on the border issue in particular.

In India, on the other hand, we continue to shut
our eyes to both -- what the Chinese are doing in
Tibet and to what they are doing towards India.

The net result is that the Chinese, having
already swallowed Tibet, are now making
systematic inroads onto the southern slopes of
the Himalayas. The pace at which they are
extending their presence and influence in Nepal
since the Maoist Government took over are to be
seen to be believed — and yet to this also India
continues to shut its eyes. Nor should any of it
surprise us. After all, a China that is spreading
its influence in Latin America, Central Asia,
Africa is not going to overlook these countries
along its southern rim. Had not Mao declared,
“Tibet is the palm of China, the Himalayan kingdoms are its fingers”?

The writer is a BJP MP in the Rajya Sabha

* The views expressed in this piece are that of
the author and the publication of the piece on
this website does not necessarily reflect their endorsement by the website.
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