With the completion of the Qinghai-Tibet railway line, China will be able to overcome this obstacle in increasing its military deployment near the India-Tibet border region. This indeed will have serious security implications for India. It is believed that it will reduce the travel time from Gormo to Lhasa from 72 hours to 16 hours. In military terms, the rail link gives China the capability to mobilize up to 12 division (12,000 men make a division) a month. Though China may not pose a direct military threat to India, its strategic infrastructure in Tibet will enhance its military capability and enable Chinese coercive diplomacy with respect to the border dispute with India.
Its strategic infrastructure in Tibet will enhance its military capability and enable Chinese coercive diplomacy with respect to the border dispute with India.
China also has a listening post in occupied Aksai Chin. Sources say the listening stations will monitor Indian deployments in the region, eavesdrop on forward and intelligence communications of the army, and even intercept US radio signals pertaining to anti-terrorism activities in Afghanistan.
- Problems Encountered by the People’s Liberation Army in Tibet.
- Long axes of maintenance and disruption due to weather and high altitude conditions.
- Need for extensive winter stocking.
- Requirement of regular turnover of troops and low shelf life items in high altitude.
- Acclimatization of troops and adverse effects on men, animals and material.
- A sullen population not reconciled to Chinese occupation.
- Long axes of maintenance and periodic disruption due to climatic conditions.
- Need for extensive winter stocking.
- Requirement for regular turnover of items for proper maintenance and due to limited shelf life.
- Reduced airlift capability due to high altitude conditions.
- Absence of railway link with the mainland, which is now being addressed.
- Adverse effects of high altitude on men and material.
China’s Tibet Policy
On 7th October 1950, the Chinese PLA invaded Tibet and forced the Tibetans to sign the Seventeen-Point Agreement. The agreement was contradictory in nature. On one hand it stated the ‘Tibetans’ right of exercising national regional autonomy’, on the other it said that the ‘Central Authorities will not alter the existing political system in Tibet’. The subsequent developments revealed that the Chinese instead would determine ‘Tibetan autonomy’ and ‘Tibet’s future’. The Country Report on Human Rights Practice – 2000 released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, the US State Department, February 2001, enumerated the impact of China’s Tibet policy and the gross Chinese violation of human rights in Tibet by pointing out the fact that,
…if the Chinese agree to the Mc Mahon Line as the boundary, it will amount to a tacit admission that in 1914, Tibet was an independent country… This weakens the entire Chinese case that Tibet has always been a part of China.
- Large-scale transfer of Han population in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) has sidelined Tibet’s traditional dominance.
- Ethnic Han Chinese holds many positions of real power and they make most key decisions in Tibet.
- Discrimination in employment is rampant with ethnic Han hired preferentially for many jobs and receiving higher pay for the same work.
- Tibetan language is neglected and Chinese language is used in most commercial and official communications.
- Severe restrictions have been imposed on many traditional practices of the Tibetans and public manifestations of religious belief in the TAR’s urban areas have been restricted. The government has moved to curb the proliferation of monasteries – as it regards them as the den of subversive activities.
- Government commits serious human rights abuses by torture, arbitrary arrest, and detention without public trial and imposes lengthy detention of Tibetan nationalists for peacefully expressing their political or religious views.
- The government has turned Tibet into a dumping ground for radioactive waste from nuclear power stations. In addition, large-scale deforestation in Tibet to meet China’s increasing need of timber has caused widespread ecological damage.
In fact, from April 1996 Tibet is reeling under ’strike hard’ campaign, which mainly targets monks and nuns loyal to the Dalai Lama. Since the ’strike-hard’ campaign, almost 10,000 monks and nuns have been expelled from their monastic institutions. Thousands have been persecuted. The photos of the Dalai Lama were banned. Thus, China’s minority policy and regional autonomy practices has greatly affected Tibetan nationalism. ‘Han maj-oritarianism’ has been catastrophic for Tibet. It essentially implied that the Han being in the majority had the right to rule over the minority.
The logical corollary to this was that Han culture became the cultural model legitimizing national integration and assimilation of the minorities. Therefore, Han nationalism threatened the “cultural identity and political autonomy of the Tibetan people”. The denial of self-determination and adoption of regional autonomy in Tibet was meant to promote Han hegemonism and Han expansionism in non-Han regions.
Implications of China’s Tibet Policy for India
China’s Tibet policy impacts on Indian security interests in mainly two ways. One, it exposed the border problem between India and China which led to the 1962 Sino-Indian War. As mentioned earlier, the Chinese invasion of Tibet ended the buffer zone between the two countries. Till date, Sino-Indian relations remains dotted with several rounds of protracted talks on the border issue without achieving any major break through. At the same time it increased China’s reach into South Asia. In fact, Tibet has an 870 mile border with Nepal and China has been consolidating its relationships with the Nepal government. China reached an agreement with King Gyanendra in August 2002 to cease any ‘anti-China activities (unspecified) in Nepal.
The entire development strategy in Tibet is impelled by the crucial strategic location of Tibet, as well as it being a focal point of Sino-Indian rivalry.
Also, recently China asked Nepal to close down the Tibetan Refugee Welfare Office in January 2005. China’s growing influence in Nepal is thus at the expense of India and other key Western players, which has grave geo-political ramifications. The role of Nepal in linking Afghanistan’s membership to China’s quest for observer status in the SAARC cannot be missed.
Second, China’s Western Development Strategy, a product of China’s nationalism project, has deeper ramifications for India. A closer analysis of China’s Western Development Strategy indicates that more than removing economic backwardness from the region, gaining strategic capability is the primary objective. China’s ‘Go West’ Policy is aimed at consolidating its power over Tibet through persistent Hanization policy. Infrastructure development and Han migration forms the linchpin of the Hanization process.
The grand strategy of China’s nationalism project is predicated largely on the construction of the Qinghai-Tibet railway project. Through this railway project China aims at achieving strategic capability vis-à-vis India. The entire development strategy in Tibet is impelled by the crucial strategic location of Tibet, as well as it being a focal point of Sino-Indian rivalry. There are plans to extend the Qinghai-Tibet railway line to Kathmandu. This will indeed have geopolitical ramifications for India.
Another serious consequence of Chinese developmental strategy in Tibet could be in terms of environmental hazards. India’s major rivers originate from the Trans-Himalayan region. China’s Western Development programme is feared to cause major deforestation and ecological imbalance. This, in the long run, may have discernible effect on the climatic patterns of the region, including India. The recent threat of a lake burst in Tibet portending a catastrophic flood in Himachal Pradesh has exposed India’s vulnerability to environmental warfare. Some scientists point out that the denial of permission for Indians to visit the site, conflicting information from China about the lake parameters, and Chinse warning to India a month after the supposed ‘landslide’, heighten suspicion that the impending lake burst is being treated as an experiment in environmental warfare.
Areas of Discord Between India and China with Tibet as The Backdrop
Chinese policy towards India after its annexation of Tibet has been a mix of opportunistic mistrust. The shelving of the Tibetan plea at the UN due to India’s reluctance to support the motion did not win Chinese confidence. Grant of asylum to Dalai Lama and his followers after his flight to India in 1959 is seen as a hostile act by China. China feels that the Khampa rebellion of 1959 was aided and abetted by India in collusion with Western powers. Establishment of Tibetan government in exile in India only aggravated matters.
So long as China perceives that India, however tacitly, is supporting the Tibetan movement, it will always be suspicious of Indian motives and an uneasy peace will continue to prevail between these neighbours.
Efforts by the Dalai Lama to keep alive the issue of Tibetan independence/autonomy and seek world support further incensed the Chinese. Chinese must be aware of the existence of the Special Frontier Force. In the context of India going to war with Pakistan in 1971 due to the Bangladeshi refuge influx, Huang Hua’s address to the UN Security Council after 1971 war is relevant. Huang said, “At present in India, there are a large number of so called refugees from Tibet. The Indian govt is also grooming the Dalai Lama, the chieftain of Tibetan counter revolutionary rebellion. Are you going to use this for aggression against China?”
Chinese cannot accept Indian claims to Aksai Chin since the strategic Western Highway passes through it and captured area provides depth to the Western Highway. The point to note here is that after the 1962 War the Chinese withdrew from Eastern Sector, but, not from Ladakh. While China has settled its border problem with all countries except India, she is not prepared to negotiate with India except on her own terms. The case of the Western Sector has already been pointed out.
In the Eastern Sector, if the Chinese agree to the Mc Mahon Line as the boundary, it will amount to a tacit admission that in 1914, Tibet was an independent country which negotiated the Mc Mahon Line with the British. This weakens the entire Chinese case that Tibet has always been a part of China. China cannot afford to grant autonomy to Tibet since its Western provinces, especially the ones with Muslim majority may seek the same status. This may become the trigger for break up of China one day.
There has been, since the beginning, a wide gap in Indian and Chinese perceptions on the issue of Tibet. India was convinced that given its unique history and culture, Tibet was entitled to something close to independence-if not complete independence – and that the term ’suzerainty’, though an invention of the British, was a more accurate description of the China-Tibet relationship than the term ’sovereignty’. There was also the conviction that Buddhism provided a very special link between India and Tibet.
With this background, it was taken for granted that India had a right to speak about Tibet and that it was a measure of Indian friendship – some called naïve appeasement – that India acknowledged China’s ’suzerainty’ over Tibet. When it became clear that China was determined to impose its sovereign control over Tibet, India took upon itself to assure others that China would settle the issue through peaceful negotiations with Tibet and would grant it a great measure of autonomy.
China believed that it was not only going to ‘liberate’ Tibet from all vestiges of imperialist intrigue, but also lead it away gradually from its feudal past into a modern, progressive society.
When in subsequent years it appeared that China had not honoured its pledge to the Tibetan people – and let it be said that this perception was not merely India’s but widely shared in the non-communist world – Nehru spoke more in sorrow than in anger. India also believed that it deserved some credit for voluntarily surrendering all the privileges in Tibet which it had inherited from the British.
China had an entirely different perception. It was convinced that Tibet was an integral part of China and its control over the territory was loosened only by British imperialist machinations against the previous Chinese governments, which were weak. The term ’suzerainty’ as distinct from ’sovereignty’ was seen as part of the imperialist plot. Indian hesitation in the initial stages to recognize Chinese sovereignty over Tibet was seen as an attempt to inherit the imperialist mantle. China believed that it was not only going to ‘liberate’ Tibet from all vestiges of imperialist intrigue, but also lead it away gradually from its feudal past into a modern, progressive society. The autonomy which it had promised Tibet was strictly limited, and it maintained that for India, even to refer to it was a case of gross interference in the internal affairs of China.
Chinese problems in Tibet are basically of their own making. Tibetans are not reconciled to the Chinese occupation. Han chauvinism is another problem. They have scant regards for the Tibetan way of life, its religious beliefs, etc. Outwardly things may appear calm, but under the surface there is great resentment. After the 1962 war, India allowed Dalai Lama unrestrained freedom of activity. The Tibetan govt in exile was established in Dehradun. India encouraged Dalai Lama to open offices in New York and Geneva. China denounced Dalai Lama as a ‘traitor’ and removed him from the PCART. Dalai Lama should recognize that Tibet has entered a period of stability and economic change.
…like any other youth, the Tibetan youth is getting restless and is convinced that non-violent means are being seen as Tibetan weakness and would not lead to any tangible results.
Tibet, irrespective of China’s tight control remains volatile. Although the Dalai Lama has relinquished his demand for total independence, his continued stay in India and the large support he enjoys in the Western World will keep the pot boiling. How this issue is finally resolved will have a major bearing on Sino-India relations. The ultimate goal of Tibetan freedom movement would be to make the people of Tibet pursue their traditional way of life in Tibet. Fundamental characteristics of Tibet as a nation have been peace, compassion, non-violence, spirituality and democracy. Tibet has devoted the last 1300 years to inner exploitations. Political freedom is only a means and not the end.
The youth contends that the Tibetan struggle would neither be a political movement nor anti-Chinese. The Dalai Lama, his Government and Tibetans would endeavour to undo the obliteration of their country by peaceful means, according to Buddhist traditions. But like any other youth, the Tibetan youth is getting restless and is convinced that non-violent means are being seen as Tibetan weakness and would not lead to any tangible results. Tibetan youth may well adopt the Indian model – the combine of non-violent and violent movement. So long as China perceives that India, however tacitly, is supporting the Tibetan movement, it will always be suspicious of Indian motives and an uneasy peace will continue to prevail between these neighbours.