Geopolitics

China’s War on Buddhism – Tibetan’s strategic depth
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 21 Mar , 2014

The release of the Hollywood movie ‘The Monument Men’ has been a huge hit. Not merely because of its celebrated cast but more because of the singular effort made by these men to recover and preserve their cultural relics whose total destruction was part of the genocide by Nazi Germany. What found no mention was the contribution of the Indian Army battalion (1/5 Maratha Light Infantry – then part of 8th Indian Division of 8th British Army) that discovered and rescued over 261 exquisite pieces of Florentine art at the height of World War II in Italy. Among the many other priceless paintings saved by the Marathas were the great Madonnas of Duccio, Giotto and Cimabue (works by Uccello, Lippi, Massacio and Andreas del Sarto), and Botticelli’s Coronation of the Virgin.

Historically until the early 13th Century, China had no claims on Tibet.

Trust the British, of Jalianwala Bagh massacre fame, to wipe out records of the Indian contribution, so no wonder the Hollywood movie made no mention either. So David Cameron, the serving British Prime Minister, regretted the “shameful” massacre in February 2013 (94 years after the ghastly event), describing it as a “deeply shameful event in British history, hopefully at some future date the British conscience will awaken to give due credit to 1/5 Maratha Light Infantry as well for the abovementioned contribution. But talking of preservation of ancient art and culture, where do the hapless Tibetans go from the sustained cultural genocide that the Chinese have unleashed on them for decades, scores of Buddhist monks perforce having immolated themselves (an astounding 125 from 27 February 2009) in a bid to save their culture and religion, and Chinese security forces shooting peaceful Tibetan protesters in cold blood.

n July 2013, human rights advocates had reported that Chinese police officers even opened fire on crowd of Tibetans celebrating Dalai Lama’s birthday in Sichuan Province, injuring nine people, two of them critically. While self-immolation protests have occurred in India and Nepal too, outside world perhaps thinks that these self immolations in China are confined to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) but that is hardly the case. Tibetan self-immolators in China include teenagers, nuns and monks, majority in China’s Sichuan province, especially around the Kirti Monastery in Ngawa City, Ngawa County, Sichuan, Labran Monastry in Xiahe, and some in Gnasu and Qinghai provinces, besides TAR.

China is systematically attacking the Tibetan language, literature, heritage and culture in a bid to destroy it into extinction.

In laying claim to and usurping Tibet, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has used its favored penchant of going back in history to a convenient era that suits its geopolitical ambitions. The facts of history are that 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 and his 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 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 liberation by Mao’s army, when 30,000 battle hardened communist troops crushed 4000 Tibetans?

Over the last six decades plus, China has unleashed a systematic cultural genocide in Tibet. The six million Tibetans have been overwhelmed by the 7.5 million Han Chinese that are part of a well planned demographic invasion – something the CCP is finding difficult to succeed against the 20 million plus Uighurs in Xinjiang. In Tibet, China is systematically attacking the Tibetan language, literature, heritage and culture in a bid to destroy it into extinction. Tibetan language has been replaced by Chinese in TAR. Once China succeeds in destroying the Tibetan language, the ancient treasure scripted over centuries will automatically come to naught. Deliberate and systematic disappearance of bilingual billboards, license plates, road signs, name plates, official banners and storefronts in TAR are part of the same cultural genocide. All these blatant measures despite the Chinese Constitution guarantees ethnic groups the right to give priority to their own language in education and daily use.

In recent years, the CCP’s policy has become harsh against Tibetan monasteries. In January 2014 alone, there has been news of three Buddhist monasteries (Dron-na, Tarmoe and Rabten) being forced to shut down in Driru County, Kham Region of eastern Tibet in TAR, where monks have been forced to vacate – all under the garb of CCP’ “patriotic re-education” campaign, even issuing orders for the Chinese flag to be put atop private homes. There have also been reports of closed monasteries being turned into prisons. These are but some news items that have filtered out because the Chinese government has enforced a total clampdown on media and communications in TAR least full details of the cultural genocide gets revealed. What else could be happening could well be similar to Chinese clampdown in Xinjiang where Chinese have forced transfer of teenage Uighur women to China’s Eastern cities like Tianjin, Jiangsu, Qingdao, Shandong, Zhejiang etc in the guise of providing employment opportunities.

It is well understood that China invaded and invaded Tibet, Xinjiang and Aksai Chin not only for territorial gains but also because of the minerals and oil wealth in these regions.

In 2006 alone there had been 240,000 cases of Uighur girls being forced to shift from the Kashgar Region. The plight of these girls is reportedly miserable and they are also not allowed to return freely to their hometowns. This policy, aggressively pursued to bridge the economic gap by the authorities has raised pent-up anxieties among the Uighurs as these girls are often used as slave labor and sex workers in Chinese cities. Cultural assimilation was another motive apart from the sinister design to obliterate the size of the Uighur population, as reported by former ambassador Phunchok Stopden. It is well understood that China invaded and invaded Tibet, Xinjiang and Aksai Chin not only for territorial gains but also because of the minerals and oil wealth in these regions. However, killing the culture, heritage of the locals is no less than war crimes. As for human rights, nothing should be expected from the CCP that bulldozes her own citizen’s homes in the heart of the Chinese mainland without recourse, ignoring their suicides in stark desperation. Late last year, a dozen Chinese citizens consumed pesticide in Beijing to protest against the demolition of their homes, having travelled 1,070 kms from Wuhan in Hubei province after local authorities showed indifference to an earlier threat of mass suicide. Ironically, they had been protesting since 2010 when local authorities razed their homes and gave little or no compensation in return. Such barbarianism is commonplace in China and so why would they spare Tibetans whom they want to subjugate totally.

The nemesis to China’s aggression, brutality and genocide against minorities in TAR, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia could well be a combined front by these regions but then Tibetans have always been peaceful under HH the Dalai Lama. However, it is not that the Chinese genocide in TAR is not being looked upon by other regions subjected to the same fate. Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer wrote in April 2008, “The world has watched in horror recently as Tibetan monks, nuns and laypeople engaged in peaceful demonstrations have been met with brutality by the Chinese People’s Armed Police. Tibet’s descent into chaos and violence is heartbreaking. As has been made clear by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who has dedicated his life to peacefully promoting the Tibetan people’s legitimate aspirations for cultural autonomy and survival, lasting peace and meaningful change must be achieved through nonviolent means…”

China, that follows a policy of ambiguity, deception and deceit has artfully prevented the Tibetans from projecting that the genocide in Tibet is not actually China’s war on Tibet, but actually is China’s War on Buddhism. Had the latter been showcased in the correct perspective, the world would look at the happenings in TAR and clampdown on Buddhists elsewhere, like in Nepal differently.

China’s genocide against Tibetans is China’s War on Buddhism.

While Buddhism originated in India, its roots are much stronger in Tibet from where it spread to East and Southeast Asia. China’s genocide against Tibetans is China’s War on Buddhism. China objected to the President of India attending the World Buddhist Conference in Kolkata, seeks conflict with Japan that has large Buddhist presence and has militarily propped up North Korea because large number of South Korean citizens practice Buddhism. Why estimates of the Buddhist population varies significantly from 550 million to one billion is because the number includes the confluence of Buddhism with related faiths like Confucianism (China), Taoism (China), Shintoism (Japan), Shamanism (Korean), Tengism (Mongolia), Hinduism (India) etc. However, even if you consider those practicing exclusive Buddhism that number 400 to 550 million, this makes Buddhism the fourth-largest religion after Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. Incredibly some 184 countries have Buddhists, the top 20 countries having maximum number of Buddhists in descending order being China, Thailand, Japan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, South Korea, India, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Nepal, United States of America, Indonesia, Singapore, Mongolia, Hong Kong, Russia, Bangladesh and France. It is in these 550 million to one billion Buddhists in 184 countries that Tibetans need to discover and seek their strategic depth. A cue could be taken from Spain, where only 300,000 practicing Buddhists form part of the 47,370,542 Spanish population. Yet Spain’s national court has approved the indictment of Hu Jintao, former Chinese President, in investigation whether the Chinese government tortured and repressed the people of Tibet as part of an attempted genocide.

A cue could be taken from Spain, where only 300,000 practicing Buddhists form part of the 47,370,542 Spanish population. Yet Spain’s national court has approved the indictment of Hu Jintao, former Chinese President, in investigation whether the Chinese government tortured and repressed the people of Tibet as part of an attempted genocide.

USWA (Deadlier than LTTE)

Buddhism preaches non-violence but this is the 21st Century and Tibetans need to look around how there compatriot Buddhist are able to preserve their heritage, culture and language. Tibetans also need to pause and look around in their immediate neighbourhood. Myanmar ranks fourth globally in Buddhist population and over the years China has developed strong military and economic relations with Myanmar for her own geopolitical ambitions. Yet China has lethally armed the United State Wa Army (USWA) headquartered in Shan State and controlling the drug triangle with assault rifles, machine guns, rocket launchers, shoulder fired missiles, mechanized vehicles and even missile fitted helicopters, developing USWA as Chinese proxy. The Wa’s are primarily Buddhists. Should they not be part of Tibetan’s strategic depth –to help alleviate sufferings of Tibetans?

China has lethally armed the United State Wa Army (USWA) headquartered in Shan State and controlling the drug triangle with assault rifles, machine guns, rocket launchers, shoulder fired missiles, mechanized vehicles and even missile fitted helicopters, developing USWA as Chinese proxy.

Tibetans had many expectations from the US from the meeting between President Obama and HH Dalai Lama 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, vehemently opposed by China and issue rested thereafter. Ironically, in the present era of irregular forces having demonstrated greater strategic value over conventional and even nuclear forces, even powerful nations like China and the US are using proxy forces and in doing so, human rights get sidelined. Besides, look at the civilian casualties wherever the US-NATO forces have operated with scant regard to collateral damage, besides the state of these countries and regions once these forces vacated. Where ‘boots on ground’ have been replaced with ‘boots by proxy’ presently is all too apparent. Economic ties apart, learning from Spain, the US and the West should do much more for the Tibetan cause.

As for India, India did provide asylum to HH Dalai Lama and many followers but the combination of Pandit Nehru and Krishna Menon, his Defence Minister (both devoid of strategic sense and looking askance at military advice) botched up the Tibetan cause from the very beginning. Former ambassador RS Kalha writes in his recent book ‘The Dynamics of Preventive Diplomacy’ thus, “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 and 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. On November 18, 1950, the US Ambassador at Delhi reported to the US Secretary of State that the then Secretary General of the External Affairs Ministry Sir Girija Shankar Bajpai told him that India wished to delay “action” on the Tibetan demarches to the UN due to its “efforts” in achieving a ceasefire in Korea.

Similarly, the British were informed that the “Timing of the Tibetan appeal needed careful consideration. Korea was obviously first importance ….” Apparently, Nehru’s vision was coloured not only with the Chinese hoodwinking him with the Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai syndrome but also his ambition for a Nobel Peace Prize that looked closer by giving preference to the Korean Peninsula over the Chinese invasion in Tibet. To top this India also started supplying rice to the PLA terrorizing the Tibetans in TAR. Not that India does not continue to suffer with this legacy of lack of  strategic vision and the military continuously sidelined from strategic and security related decision making; kowtowing to China’s belligerence and losing chunks of territory. This is unlikely to change till India has a strong government.

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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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2 thoughts on “China’s War on Buddhism – Tibetan’s strategic depth

  1. The Chinese empire has reached its peak-From henceforth,it has to go the downhill way..All Empires reach their peak at some time or the other & ultimately decline,decay,implode & finally disintegrate-like the Erstwhile Soviet Union did in a span of less than 80 years.[ All the ” Kings Horses & men {like Putin } have not been able to put the Humpty Dumpty Empire together again.].. History is a harsh Judge & Historians & Posterity are unlikely to rate the Achievements of the Chinese empire on Par with other Great Empires like The Ancient Greeks & British Empire !!..India & All Asia needs to be on Guard against this Evil Chinese empire-They have mastered the art & Science of Ambiguity,Double speak,Deception & Aggressiveness in the pursuit of their Ends.

  2. this is not fair that china grab the tibet. it is independent state so china has no right
    to press tibet . USA, Russia ,uk ,france, germany ,india ,japan and power of world has to take responsilbility to make effort to free tibet from china rule and china is threat to whole Asia and the world so it should be prevent ed and closely watch all activity. and india should be prepare for next war with china, because china not trustable nabour.

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