The links between the 2 nations have not only been very ancient, but extremely deep too.
Though China has recently acquired a great prominence on the world stage, often by bullying smaller (or bigger) counties, India’s cultural relations with Tibet have remained as steady as the Himalaya.
I publish today a letter addressed thirty years ago, by the Dalai Lama to the Prime Minister of India and a Memorandum attached to the letter.
Amongst several other things, the Dalai Lama tells Rajiv Gandhi: “A strong stand on Tibet will obviously strain Indo-Chinese relations temporarily. And for a moment it may also appear odd that India should take a hard position against China when the latter is becoming more moderate and practically everyone else is rushing to establish relations with her. However, the gains in the long run will be enormous. A stand must now be taken or it may be too late.”
It was true 30 years ago, it is still true now, though today India has no alternative but to ‘engage’ China and work with China.
To manage the 2 seemingly irreconcilable positions is a difficult proposition.
A Letter from The Dalai Lama
To: His Excellency Rajiv Gandhi
The Prime Minister of India
Prime Minister’s House
I am submitting here the memorandum that I mentioned about during my last meeting with Your Excellency on March 28, 1985.
Tibet today is passing through one of the most difficult times in her history of over 2000 years. Tibetan culture and her very race are in danger of disappearing. Yet on the other hand we are presently in an age where the happenings even in the most remote areas are not totally unrelated or without any consequences to the rest of the world. Moreover, the tremendous progress that India has made since independence, in spite of her many problems, is also of great significance to us Tibetans. For India is deeply revered by the Tibetans as the sacred land of the Buddha and as a teacher to Tibet for many centuries. In view of these, although the Tibetan situation is extremely unfortunate, sad and terrible, there is equally great hope.
During the past 26 years, since our exile, we have been more successful than any other refugee community in the world. This has been possible mainly because of the support and assistance that the Government of India has extended to us. When one of the world’s oldest and richest cultures was on the verge of death India provided the facilities for it to be revived. This timely and life-saving humanitarian help as well as India’s basic support for the Tibetan people’s aspiration will be recorded in our history. And I would like to take this opportunity today to express on my behalf and on behalf of, all the Tibetan people our special gratitude to the people and the Government of India.
Today what I essentially want to say is that although the Chinese have occupied Tibet for the past over three decades and have physically subjugated the Tibetans, the Chinese have utterly failed to dominate the spirit of the Tibetan people. The success in overcoming the most difficult problems or the failure even in the simplest of tasks depends on whether or not one has the will. The Tibetans, even today, look towards India with much hope.
They also place tremendous faith in me. But I am now fifty years old. In another ten or twenty years I may not be as active as I am now. This is definitely going to have an adverse effect on the great hope and determination the people of Tibet have at present. It does not seem appropriate for me to have said this, but this is what will happen if the question of Tibet is shelved away. I can only give the Tibetan people encouragement and moral support. And I can appeal to the Government of India on their behalf. Whether or not the Government will consider the appeal or are able to do anything is a different matter. My responsibility is to appeal to you. I had therefore requested Your Excellency to review your Government’s policy on Tibet and for that purpose I am submitting here the memorandum to which I have given very careful thought and which I hope will prove helpful.
As I had the occasion to state during my last meeting with Your Excellency, I strongly feel that while the Government of India must attend to her pressing and immediate problems it would be most unfortunate, if not tragic, to ignore or neglect the larger issues. India and Tibet not only have an extraordinary cultural and religious relationship but a relationship that spans over several centuries. Thus India has a special moral responsibility towards Tibet. Even in terms of immediate practical benefits the interests of India and Tibet are interlinked. Nations are often creating issues out of nothing when it serves, their interests. Yet in the Tibetan case we have a living issue – a capital to be used for maximum profit instead of discarding it.
The Tibetan issue should be highlighted so that a solution to it becomes compelling. It is my hope that Your Excellency will give your careful consideration to the matter.
With the assurances of my highest esteem and regards,
Memorandum from his Holiness The Dalai Lama to The Prime Minister of India
Tibet, with an area of 2.5 million sq. km. and with an average altitude of over 4000 meters, is aptly known as the roof of the world. And because of its distinctive geographical features Tibet has produced a unique culture and way of life. According to our needs and climatic conditions we have acquired clothing habits from Mongolia, certain eating habits from China, and adopted the medical sciences of Iran and Afghanistan. Most important of ail, the Buddha dharma and various traditions of arts and sciences came from India and deeply influenced the growth of Tibet’s unique civilization. This is evident from the constant references made by Tibetan scholars to Indian scholarship and even to the mentioning of famous mountains and rivers of India in our literature.
Tibet as a neighbour provided security for India’s long northern border and because of our special geographic features became a safe haven for the preservation of Indian culture during the major upheavals on the subcontinent.
As a nation that practised the Buddhist tenets of non-violence and peaceful existence, Tibet did not indulge in acts of aggression and, until this situation changed recently, Tibet served as an ideal buffer State between India and China, two ancient and populous nations of the world.
Recent changes, however, have thrust the Tibetans, who are by nature calm, gentle and kind, into an atmosphere of suspicion, fear and terror. Suicides almost unheard of in the past, are common today. Our profound culture, which has developed over the centuries, has been destroyed completely and Tibet has been turned into a military base. As a result six million Tibetans have lost their peace and their fundamental human rights, and Tibet now poses a new threat to its neighbouring countries, specially to India, which previously did not require a single armed, person at her northern borders. Today huge numbers of troops are stationed throughout the year in uninhabitable, difficult terrain high in the Himalayas. These new circumstances have caused an unnecessary financial burden for India, and disturbed the peace of Asia and the world at large. If one were to ask whether this most unfortunate and sad situation in Tibet can be changed and whether a solution to it can be found, the answer is definitely ‘yes’.
The relationship between Tibet and China is not a recent happening, it spans a period of over thirteen centuries during which there have been times when we lived as friendly, neighbours and times when we fought one another.
The only times when China had any influence over Tibet was when the Mongols and the Manchus were Emperors of China – and they were looked upon as foreigners by the Chinese. Recently the Chinese (Communist China) forcefully occupied Tibet. Although they may have succeeded in the physical subjugation of the Tibetans for over 35 years, they have utterly failed to destroy the spirit of the Tibetan people.
In the initial period (1949/50) of the Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet, the Tibetans looked at the issue as a purely political and military issue and there was no strong evidence of racial confrontation or racial animosity against the Chinese in the minds of the Tibetans. However, because of what has now transpired in Tibet the Chinese are always seen in a negative light by the Tibetans and vice versa. In short, the Tibetans have now developed a strong racial animosity towards the Chinese and their detestation is manifested at every level: from prisoners to students to government employees, and even up to authorities in the highest circles.
The Chinese, on the other hand, because of their past experiences, are now compelled to explore new ideas and widen their relations with the outside world. In the process, they are becoming more responsive to world opinion which they cannot afford to ignore. As for the Tibetans, unlike in the early sixties, there is now, widespread interest in the Tibetans because of our religion and culture. There is a growing number who are becoming aware of and sympathetic to the Tibetan people.
Although Tibet has extremely good natural resources and the Chinese have made great efforts to develop its economy the dividends have been low compared to the substantial investment. The reasons for this are: (a) the Chinese are still technologically backward, (b) transportation is extremely difficult inside Tibet and (c) the Tibetan people strongly resent the Chinese presence. And since in China itself there are short-comings in the efficiency and quality of work there is no question about the difficulties being faced in developing Tibet’s economy. Militarily, too, there are tremendous problems, of logistics, transportation and lack of various facilities for the Chinese to maintain troops inside Tibet. Politically, the Tibetan issue is very sensitive and an irritant to the Chinese. They are often criticized for it and have always to take a defensive stand. If the Chinese were to act sensibly and not be unreasonably arrogant and stubbornly persistent they would naturally think of ‘means to minimize these problems.
These are favourable factors. In view, of these the Government of India must study the issue of Tibet thoroughly and from a wider perspective, failing which India will be faced with a new and grave danger.
Because if the present situation continues, for India, the problems are only going to multiply. And I particularly see several new dangers with the issue of Tibet being erased for the time being:
- Over a thousand years ago the Buddha dharma came to Tibet from India. It has taken deep roots in the minds of the Tibetan people. The Chinese today say, outwardly, there is religious freedom. But in essence they view religion as something unproductive and useless, if not harmful. It is therefore obvious that the practice of dharma in Tibet will decline and eventually be eradicated. There are two more compelling reasons why the Chinese are intent on destroying our faith: (a) As the source of the Buddha dharma the Tibetan people have a very strong sense of affinity with India. The Chinese claim that the Buddhism which flourished in Tibet is a branch of Chinese Buddhism is ridiculous, (b) Like in Poland, religion has become synonymous with nationalism. If the Chinese pursue their true intentions effectively India may one day have across her Himalayan borders a Tibetan population owing full allegiance to the Chinese. This will have serious consequences to India.
- Right now no matter how large the Chinese military presence in Tibet is they are looked upon as an alien force and strongly resented by the Tibetan people. Therefore, the Chinese troops inside Tibet have a dual responsibility: they not only have to guard the Himalayan borders against India but they are also compelled to pay attention to the Tibetan people. However, if eventually the Tibetan attitude changes, the Chinese forces stationed in Tibet can then concentrate solely on the borders with India.
- I do not mean to be critical of the Chinese, but when we look at the past 2000 years or so the expansion of the Chinese race has been quite incredible. At the beginning of this century itself, there were the Manchurians with their own distinctive race, culture and traditions. The Chinese have completely assimilated them. Today in Manchuria there are 2 to 3 million Manchurians and 75 million Chinese. In 1949 the Chinese population in East Turkestan was 200,000. Today there are about 7 million Chinese in a total population of 13 million. Take Mongolia (Inner) for another example. There are 8.5 million Chinese to 2.5 million Mongolians. In the north-eastern part of Tibet, the Kokonor area, where I was born, according to a recent Chinese newspaper report there are 700,000 Tibetans to a Chinese population of 2.5 million. While the Chinese are widely publicizing the special care and attention they are giving to the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region, which only forms the western and central part of Tibet, they are sending large numbers of young Chinese into the eastern and north-eastern parts of Tibet. This reminds me of a meeting I once had with Liu Shao-chi when he said that Tibet has a vast, empty land and China a huge population and that it would be in our common interest to exchange their population for our land.
- From these events we can clearly see the danger of Tibet being engulfed one day by a huge Chinese population. This will certainly happen if the world neglects the question of Tibet and the Chinese are not compelled to heed to outside opinion. Should this happen it will cause tremendous and fundamental changes. The Chinese are basically extremely proud and perpetually hold the view that the Middle Kingdom is second to none. Temporarily, for practical reasons the Chinese are being friendly to her neighbours. But as long as they do not abandon their sense of superiority they will ultimately persist in their attempts to expand and conquer.
- If the Government of India takes a stronger stand on the issue of Tibet she will be able to eliminate the danger of the present Chinese threat from Tibet. This will also help to diminish the dangers being posed by India’s neighbours on the west and the east, two nations who cannot be a threat without the support of China. In the final analysis, it is the threat from China that India must seriously pay attention to. In the 1950s and early 1960s China tried to settle her border issue with India according to the McMahon Line. It was not simple and could not be resolved immediately, China then held talks with Burma and resolved her border issue with that country. She did a similar thing with Nepal. China is now holding border talks with Bhutan and is hoping to come to some agreement; and she is giving the impression that India is unreasonable and uncompromising and that elsewhere they do not have any problems regarding the border issue. But if India basically took a clear and firm stand on the issue of Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal will have new reservations and there will be reasons for them to reconsider their relations with China. Bhutan and Nepal most definitely do not trust the Chinese, but they are in no position to stand up to China. India is the only one who is in a position to do this. When India thinks only of resolving the border issue, Bhutan and Nepal are compelled to adopt an amiable attitude towards the Chinese. Similarly, ASEAN members are establishing contact with the Chinese and are being very friendly, but beneath the pragmatic diplomacy there is fear and suspicion. Should India, on moral grounds, take a firm stand on the issue of Tibet India’s prestige among the Non-Aligned and the neighbouring nations of China will be greatly enhanced.
A strong stand on Tibet will obviously strain Indo-Chinese relations temporarily. And for a moment it may also appear odd that India should take a hard position against China when the latter is becoming more moderate and practically everyone else is rushing to establish relations with her. However, the gains in the long run will be enormous. A stand must now be taken or it may be too late. Economically, India need not suffer much. For one thing, there is no substantial trade between India and China and, for another even if the overall relations become strained trade relations could continue. Militarily, it is quite certain there will be no danger of a war being waged on India by China. In the 1962 Indo-Chinese war the Chinese, in spite of their initial successes, unilaterally ceased fire and withdrew.
They were compelled to do these because apart from having to transport men and material over hundreds of miles of hostile territory they were fully aware that ultimately they had no hopes of being victorious over India. The situation today, if it has not become more difficult for the Chinese, remains unchanged.
These days to show concern and to condemn the violation of the fundamental rights of a people anywhere is not considered as interference in the internal affairs of another country. Even if the Government of India presently accepts Tibet to be a nominal part of the People’s Republic of China, India has a natural and moral responsibility for the Tibetan people because of India’s unique relationship with Tibet. And as I have stated earlier, China has physically dominated the Tibetans but the Tibetans look towards India with great hope and faith. Even purely in practical terms the issue of Tibet is of extreme importance to India. However, if the Tibetans gradually leave their spiritual nature and become more Communist, China’s grip on Tibet will be further strengthened. In view of these, it is only pragmatic for India to take full advantage of the situation, specially since the border issue between India and China still remain unresolved. If the border issue becomes the only focal point in Indo-Chinese relations India will have no leverage except to react to Chinese moves. There will be little basis for bargaining and the Government’s position will be extremely weak.
It is, therefore, in the interest of India, as well as in the interest of world peace, to support the rights of the Tibetan people. And I do not think it is too late even at this stage for the Government of India to review its past policy and reconsider the issue of Tibet. I would, therefore, like to submit the following points for your consideration:
- The minimum that we must strive for is genuine autonomy for the entire area of Tibet, an autonomy according to international law and not according to the Chinese version. As Tibet is generally considered a peaceful country it would be fitting, to designate it as a ‘zone of peace’ or ‘zone of ahimsa’ and ensure the absence of any military presence there. There is no reason why the Chinese must station such a large number of troops inside Tibet. India has the longest border with Chinese-occupied-Tibet and she (India) is genuinely working towards world peace. Ideally, all Chinese troops must be withdrawn from Tibet, or else a limit must be set on the number of troops to be stationed there. An attempt towards this must be made, because unless this is achieved even if the border issue is resolved there will be only superficial benefits and nothing in substance. Indian troops will have to continue patrolling the borders. And as long as there are armed personnel face to face across the borders the dangers of a conflict will always remain. For India there will be no end to the problems.
- The right to self-determination of a people is widely accepted by an enlightened world today, and we believe we have this right too. The Government of India has voted in favour of the U.N. General Assembly’s resolution on Tibet in 1965 which reaffirmed two earlier resolutions of 1959 and 1961. The second resolution passed in 1961 called “…for the cessation of practices which deprive’ the Tibetan people of the Fundamental Human Rights and freedoms including their right to self-determination”. Thereby, I believe, that the Government of India supported the Tibetan people’s right to Self-‘ determination. Moreover, Pandit Nehru categorically stated in his address to the Lok Sabha on December 7, 1950 that “…according to any principles, the principles they proclaim and the principles I uphold, the last voice in regard to Tibet should be the voice of the people of Tibet and of nobody else”. Therefore active support by the Government of India for the Tibetan people’s right to self-determination will not be a departure from such stated policies.
- Ultimately we must strive for the independence of Tibet. Historically, culturally, geographically, racially and in many other ways Tibet and China are different. Because of these differences, Tibet remained independent in the past and even today 95% of the Tibetan people aspire for complete independence. The struggle for our independence is a just cause and the status of Tibet Is of real importance to her neighbours.
Some people may hold the view that support for the Tibetan people’s right to self determination will put the Government of India in a difficult position in dealing with the Kashmir issue. However, the vast differences between these two issues according to international law can be easily and clearly explained.
The aim for Tibet’s independence cannot be ignored or neglected, because according to international law it is still an independent nation under illegal Chinese occupation. We therefore believe that according to international law, the Tibetan Government-in-exile is the rightful and legitimate Government of the Tibetan people and nation.
In considering the above proposals I would like to stress upon the Government of India the paramount importance of creating a new awareness and interest in the Tibetan issue on an international level. References to the issue of Tibet must be made from time to time in the U.N. General Assembly as well as in the Commission of Human Rights. Issues related to culture and religion should be raised in the UNESCO. An appropriate opportunity must be seized to have a resolution on Tibet adopted in the Non-Aligned Movement. If that is not possible the question of Tibet must at least be raised in that forum.
Today throughout the world many Tibetan dharma centres have been established. It is possible to create a new interest in the issue of Tibet through these centres. We also have our Tibetan offices in New York, Tokyo, London and Winterthur (Switzerland). It is my hope to be able to establish a few more offices abroad. The establishment of these new offices will further facilitate the work we are doing.
Apart from all these I feel that it is of the utmost importance to hold seminars on Tibet, its religion, its culture and its age-old relations with India in the various academic institutions of this country in order to arouse interest in the issue of Tibet.
May 29, 1985
THE DALAI LAMA