Geopolitics

Tibet and The Next Dalai Lama
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 15 Aug , 2019

All media in China is government-controlled. Every journalist must be member of the All-China Journalists Association (ACJA) which conducts periodic training capsules for all journalists; psychological treatment to keep tethered to the Communist Party of China (CPC). Anyone crossing the line can face fiscal fine, job loss, disappearance, even organ-harvesting; because of which, journalists and scholars go to any length to please the dispensation. So Zha Luo,  Director, Institute of Social and Economic Studies, China Tibetology Research Centre says  relations India-China can be potentially affected if India doesn’t recognize next Dalai Lama “approved by Chinese government”, and if Indian leaders make “frequent visits” to Arunachal Pradesh, which China regards as its part and refers  as “South Tibet”,  “young people” in China would “put pressure” on Chinese government. Luo’s knowledge of Tibet is CPC-fed; he must acknowledge Tibet today is China occupied Tibet (CoT). Another senior Chinese government functionary (name not disclosed in media) says Chinese Government would play a “leading role” in the identification of the next Dalai Lama. Sure, Beijing can fake selection, like it did in selecting the Panchen Lama, but how many would accept that?  

Above Chinese statement coincides with: Donald Trump planning additional 10% tariffs on Chinese goods; China’s economic slowdown; repercussions of Tiananmen-type action in Hong Kong are ambiguous; tensions are mounting in South China Sea; Xi jinping faces internal dissent with failing BRI; Xi seeks  leverages for his next informal summit with Prime Minister Modi, and; 2019 denotes 60 years from when Dalai Lama crossed over to India. China’s atheist regime is quite capable of also claiming in future that appointment of  next Pope must have Beijing’s approval, and Xi Jinping / successor who owns an apartment atop Mount Kailash and  swims in Lake Mansarovar to purify it, is also incarnation of Dalai Lama and The Prophet.  

China invaded Tibet, Xinjiang and Aksai Chin not only for territorial gains but also for minerals and oil in these regions. However, killing the culture and heritage of locals is no less than war crimes. China unleashed continuous war against Tibetan culture, heritage and Buddhism.  Buddhist monasteries were been shut down and monks  forced to vacate – all under garb of CCP’s “patriotic re-education” campaign. Tibetan protestors have been fired upon. Youth, women and children have self immolated protesting against killing of Tibetan culture and heritage. Between February 2009 and June 2017, there were 148 confirmed and two disputed self-immolations reported in Tibet. Some monasteries have been turned into prisons. News cannot filter out because Chinese government has enforced total clampdown on media and communications in TAR. This is not much different from the so-called re-education camps for Uighurs in Xinjiang. Ironically, Xinjiang has been in the news, but Tibet hardly is.

China’s genocide in Tibet is actually China’s War on Buddhism. Happenings in TAR and clampdown on Buddhists elsewhere, like in Nepal need to be viewed in this context. China seeks conflict with Japan that has large Buddhist presence and has militarily propped up North Korea because majority South Korean citizens practice Buddhism. Estimates of global Buddhist population vary from 550 million to one billion  because the number includes confluence of Buddhism with related faiths like Confucianism (China), Taoism (China), Shintoism (Japan), Shamanism (Korean), Tengism (Mongolia), Hinduism (India) etc. Incredibly some 184 countries have Buddhists; aside from China, other countries with large Buddhist population include Thailand, Japan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, South Korea, India, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Nepal, USA, Indonesia, Singapore, Mongolia, Hong Kong, Russia, Bangladesh and France. It is in these 550 million to one billion Buddhists in 184 countries that the strategic depth of Tibet lies. Conversely these countries must join hands against China’s War on Buddhism.

History shows in the 7th Century Tibet was an empire, spanning the high heartland and deserts of the north-west, reaching from the borders of Uzbekistan to Central China, from halfway across Xinjiang, an area larger than the Chinese heartland. Indeed in 763, the Tibetan Army briefly captured the Chinese capital Chang-an (today’s Xian). Later, in the 12th Century, China was conquered by Genghis Khan heading Mongols, who took in many Chinese women, laying the foundation of the Yuan dynasty, and then occupied Tibet. So should Mongolia claim Tibet? Historically until the early 13th Century, China had no claims on Tibet. Indeed the opposite applied: Tibet ruled half of present day China, but looked up to India for its most significant influence – Buddhism. So on what basis does China claim authority? What is the justification for what happened in the 1950’s, the invasion by Mao’s army, when 30,000 battle hardened communist troops crushed 4000 Tibetans?

Selection and nurturing of next Dalai Lama is a complex process based on the concept of reincarnation. By becoming the ‘approving authority’ for selecting the next Dalai Lama, China aims to completely takeover Buddhism, and promote its illegal claims over Arunachal Pradesh under euphuism of ‘South Tibet’. China has been actively engaged in creating a narrative through social media, writings of historians and brainwashed Tibetologists like Zha Luo in projecting that Arunachal Pradesh was part of China. This is similar to China’s illegal claims like the nine dash line in SCS, under Chinese concept of ‘legal warfare’.

Tibetans had many expectations from the US from the meeting between President Obama and Dalai Lama in June 2016, but the meeting was more of a face saver for Obama, as was the appointment of Sarah Sewall as a Special Coordinator for Tibetan issues by the US. The US State Department report to Congress in 2017 detailed steps taken by the Trump Administration to encourage dialogue between envoys of Dalai Lama and representatives of Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan issue in accordance with the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002, saying, “The US Government remains concerned by the lack of meaningful autonomy for Tibetans within China, ongoing violations and abuses of human rights of Tibetans, and efforts for Chinese authorities to eliminate the distinct religious, linguistic, and cultural identity of Tibetans. The United States believes the Chinese government must address these concerns to create conditions for sustainable settlement, which is essential to the long-term stability of the region.” The report does mention US officials maintaining contact with Tibetan religious, cultural and political leaders. But there is no mention of any Special Coordinator for Tibetan issues in the Trump Administration and conspicuous absence of any reference to senior Trump Administration leadership raising the Tibetan issue during interactions with the Chinese leadership.

In August 2019, a six member US Congressional delegation from the House Democracy Partnership led by Chair Congressman David Price and Vice-chair Congressman Vern Buchanan along with Congresswomen Susan Davis, Congressman Neal Dunn, and Congressman John Rutherford met the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile at Dharamsala, India. However, China bothers little for such meetings unless confronted directly at senior political level. India needs to take a stand on the issue even though its policy on Tibet has been lackadaisical. India did provide asylum to HH Dalai Lama but Prime Minister Nehru and Defence Minister Krishna Menon, both devoid of strategic sense and looking askance at military advice, botched up the Tibetan cause.

Former ambassador RS Kalha wrote in his book ‘The Dynamics of Preventive Diplomacy’, “During the period of the Korean conflict, several ‘neutral’ countries were active in trying to promote peace on the Korean peninsula. One of the countries that was most active was India. Indian diplomats were active both sides, often travelling to Beijing, Moscow, Washington and New York, in order to promote a peaceful settlement. It is said that India did not take the Chinese intervention in Tibet seriously and refused to take up the Tibetan cause in the UN, since it wished to play a greater role on the world stage, particularly in defusing the tension on the Korean peninsula.” Ironically, Nehru was not only supplying rice to PLA invaders in Tibet, but asked UN, US and UK to ignore Tibetans petitions against Chinese occupation.

China had objected to the President of India attending the World Buddhist Conference in Kolkata some years back. The NDA II government also issued a note to senior officials, asking them not to attend events organized by the Tibetan government-in-exile. Beijing made the ‘One-China’ policy a prerequisite for countries to establish diplomatic ties with it and India’s extreme cautious approach resulted in siding up with that policy. But China itself never adheres to its statements in the past. For example, what China said when Pakistan illegally ceded Shaksgam valley to China in 1963 is quite different from China’s stand today. Besides, impressions at any one point of time cannot change recorded history that Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia were ‘never’ part of China, and were invaded.  

Inauguration of the first government led by PM Modi in May 2014 saw presence of members of the Tibetan Government in exile. However, they were conspicuously absent during swearing in of the second successive government under Modi in May 2019. Where China considers CoT its internal matter, China has been very seriously interfering in India’s internal matters illegally occupying Indian Territories of Aksai Chin and Shaksgam. Home Minister Amit Shah recently told Parliament illegal occupation of parts of J&K by Pakistan and China is India’s unfinished agenda. Successor of Dalai Lama must be chosen by the Dalai Lama alone and China needs to be told in clear terms that the Dalai Lama issue cannot be linked to border settlement, which doesn’t appear to be China’s intention anyway, considering its policy of ambiguity, deception and deceit.

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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

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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