Dealing with China
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 15 Dec , 2014

Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar already announced that his Ministry was working on a policy for fast-track green clearance for border roads and defence projects up to 100km from the LAC. A quicker environmental clearance would also give an appreciable boost to India’s newly-created Mountain Strike Corps at a time when several parts of the scheme are blocked. The Indian Express reported that, “close to 80 critical border roads have been stuck for many years due to environmental hurdles. These include crucial GS (General Staff) roads that link border outposts and camps to the main road head. In all, around 6,000km of critical road stretches which were stuck can now be expedited.”

It should not be difficult for India to eventually get logistic support from inside Tibet or even organise a civil disobedience movement there…

The launch of the Agni-V long range missile adds to the deterrence. It has already made Chinese policy makers ponder. The People’s Daily stated that it reflects India’s, “intention of seeking regional balance of power”. If Beijing wants again to ‘teach a lesson’ to India, it will indeed be a Himalayan task, and what will Beijing gain in the bargain?

The Relation Between Tibet And The Himalayan States

This relation, which for centuries has been vital to India, deteriorated at the end of the 1950s, with the uprising in Lhasa in March 1959 and the consequent flight of the Dalai Lama to India. Thereafter, the Chinese tightened their grip on the Tibetan plateau; this was a tragedy for India’s defence and the Himalayan economy. For centuries, the high passes have been the bridge between India and the Tibetan plateau; both shared a common spiritual search. All this changed in October 1950, when the Chinese troops entered Tibet.

Amongst other measures, the Modi Government should encourage civilian settlements in the border areas. The Indian State should reach each and every pass and bring the basic facilities to the border populations; for this purpose, the infrastructure should be strengthened, it will also enable a stronger defence of the Indian territory.

The Himalayan Populations

For this, it is crucial for India to have the support of the local population in Uttarakhand, Arunachal and Ladakh. In 1962, some villages fully supported the invading Chinese troops. How else could the PLA have built a road from Bumla, the border pass, to Tawang in 18 days? It is not difficult to imagine the staggering amount of accurate intelligence required for this feat. It is clear that China cannot militarily ‘take back’ Tawang. Today, the PLA could at the most occupy a few ‘disputed pockets’ like Samdorong Chu valley, North of Tawang or Demchok in Ladakh, but in the process, Beijing would lose India’s present goodwill and the international respect it earns with its ‘peaceful rise’ policy as well as its integration into the world scene as a responsible State.

In 1988, a Protocol for Resumption of Border Trade was signed between India and China…

Further, it should not be difficult for India to eventually get logistic support from inside Tibet or even in an extreme case, organise a civil disobedience movement in Tibet. Let us not forget that an alien PLA has already to deal with a resentful local population on the Tibetan plateau. The recent immolations of monks and nuns in Eastern Tibet are a proof of this.

Bhoti Language

One measure which could help reinforce the cohesion between Himalayan is the language, man’s best medium of communication and also a reflection of history, culture, religion and politics of a nation or a region. One of the richest and less known languages of India is the Bhoti language. It is widely used not only in Ladakh, Kinnaur, Lahul, Spiti, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh but also in Bhutan, Nepal and Baltistan. Using the same scripts, Bhoti language is closely linked with Tibetan.

Bhoti is the language of the Buddhists of the Himalayan belt. It is the language of the pundits, scholars and saints who criss-crossed the Himalayas generations after generations. It is also the language for the Himalayans people struggling to preserve their identity in a global world. In the same way that Himalayan medicine, Sowa Rigpa, has been acknowledged by the Government of India as one of the indigenous systems of medicine, Bhoti language should be recognised as one of the Indian languages. The time has come to introduce a bill for its inclusion in the Eighth Schedule of Indian constitution. It will go a long way to acknowledge the century-old link between the people of the Himalayan belt and Tibet.

In 2006, India and China signed a historic agreement to resume border trade through the strategic Nathu La…

Some Confidence Building Measures

While India is getting stronger and better prepared, some Confidence Building Measures can be discussed with Beijing.

Border Trade: Reopening the Tibet Border

One is reopening the passes, and thereafter, the trade between the Himalayas and Tibet. The process has started, though it is slow.

In 1988, a Protocol for Resumption of Border Trade was signed between India and China; in 1991, a Memorandum on Resumption of Border Trade was agreed by the two countries; it was followed in 1992 by a Protocol on Customs Regulation, Banking Arrangements and Related matters for Border Trade, and a Protocol on Entry and Exit Procedures for Border Trade and finally another for Extension of Border Trade across Shipki La Pass, 1993. The Memorandum between India and China on the Resumption of Border Trade, signed in 1991, stated that both sides have agreed to resume border trade on the basis of equality and mutual benefit.

In the first phase, the border trade referred to overland trade and the exchange of commodities by the residents along the border between the Tibet Autonomous Region of China and the (then) State of Uttar Pradesh; later the facilities were extended to Shipki-la in Himachal Pradesh (1994) and Nathu-la in Sikkim. In 2006, India and China signed a historic agreement to resume border trade through the strategic Nathu La. It had been closed for the past 44 years. The move had also a strategic implication as analysts believe that it signaled Beijing’s implicit recognition of Sikkim as part of India. This is debatable.

The agreement allows residents living on the border areas of the two countries to trade some 29 items mentioned in the border trade agreements of 1991 and 1992 as well as 2003. Border trade remains rather small in volume, but should considerably increase to play a significant role in enhancing bilateral trade and economic cooperation. If less restricted, in terms of items to be traded and licensees allowed to trade, it could contribute to generate opportunities for the export of the commodities across the bordering provinces/states of the two countries. In the future more land ports should be reopened, for example in Ladakh (Demchok), in Arunachal Pradesh (Kibithu) or Uttarakhand (Mana).

In August 2010, the Indian Parliament officially recognised the Tibetan system of medicine, known as Sowa Rigpa


The Panchsheel Agreement mentions that as both India and China were, “desirous of promoting trade and cultural intercourse between Tibet Region of China and India…pilgrims from India of Lamaist, Hindu and Buddhists faiths may visit the Kailash and Manasarovar Lakes while pilgrims from Tibet may visit Banaras, Sarnath, Gaya and Sanchi.” Today, the immediate need is to open a new route for the Kailash-Manasarovar yatra. Demchok should be easier than the present one through Uttarakhand. Unfortunately, the Chinese side seems overcautious about the project.

In a longer term, if the security risks can be sorted out, pilgrimage such as the old Tsari pilgrimage around the Dakpa Sheri, the Pure Crystal Mountain in Tsari region of Southern Tibet could be reopened for the Buddhist populations of Arunachal Pradesh and the Tibetan Autonomous Region. It would, of course, raise the problem of visas as the Chinese authorities still claim the Indian State as part of ‘Southern Tibet’. A special agreement would be required for this pilgrimage which occurs every 12 years, as part of it is located south of the LAC. However, if allowed, the sacred yatra could greatly help to ‘soften’ the border.

A Greater Trans-Himalayan Cooperation

There are different fields through which the Himalayans have a deeper and closer cooperation with the ‘Tibet world’. One of them is Tibetan medicine. In August 2010, the Indian Parliament officially recognised the Tibetan system of medicine, known as Sowa Rigpa. The Parliament adopted a bill to add the Sowa Rigpa system of medicine practiced in sub-Himalayan region, as one of the Indian systems. The Sowa-Rigpa system of medicine is practiced in Himalayan belt and other parts of the country besides Nepal, Tibet, Baltistan, Mongolia and Japan. The practice and research in this field should be further supported. Regular exchanges between the Sowa Rigpa practitioners in the Himalayan belt and Tibet could be one day organised.

India should continue to insist to reopen its Consulate General in Lhasa…

Diplomatic Contacts Between Dharamsala and Delhi

A few years ago, the diplomatic contacts between Dharamsala and Delhi were enhanced when the post of the Dalai Lama’s Liaison Officer (an officer of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs) was upgraded to the rank of Director and a post of Deputy Liaison Officer was created. In the recent years, successive Foreign Secretaries have visited Dharamsala and called not only on the Dalai Lama but also on the Kalon Tripa/Sikyong (Prime Minister) – the elected head of the Central Tibetan Administration.

However, there is still a feeling that ‘we should not upset the Chinese’ and often ministers are reticent to meet the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) officials. In step in the right direction is the invitation to the political head of the CTA for the swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Cabinet. The Chinese ambassador in India was not happy. He protested on the spot and later sent a demarche complaining about the invitation to Lobsang Sangay at the swearing-in function as a guest of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Incidentally, the Taiwan trade representative (read ambassador) was given a seat in the diplomatic enclosure further infuriating Ambassador Wei-Wei. The Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had to rush to get an assurance from Delhi that India continued adhering to her ‘One-China’ policy. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj eventually reiterated the Indian policy but the message had passed that India too had cards in her hands. Further, India should continue to insist to reopen its Consulate General in Lhasa. It would be an important step to restore the traditional relations. Why can Nepal have a Consulate in Lhasa and not India? Has Nepal had closer contacts with Tibet than India?

These are some of the measures which could be implemented without antagonising the Chinese. In fact, it could be a win-win situation for India, the Himalayan populations and Beijing too. Tensions on the border are good for nobody.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Claude Arpi

Writes regularly on Tibet, China, India and Indo-French relations. He is the author of 1962 and the McMahon Line Saga, Tibet: The Lost Frontier and Dharamshala and Beijing: the negotiations that never were.

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