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70 yrs on, India’s Tibet dilemma remains. But 4 ways Modi can achieve what Nehru couldn’t

Xi Jinping's China wants to annex the 'five fingers' — Ladakh, Sikkim, Bhutan, Nepal and Arunachal Pradesh — of its 'right palm', which Mao Zedong had referred to Tibet as.

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The Covid-19 crisis is opening up some windows of opportunities for India to effect strategic course correction and reset its relationship with China. Besides the military capability, China’s ability to leverage its economic prowess to ‘win friends and fend off enemies’ is likely to come under severe strain in the post-Covid world. There are signs of an anti-China global platform emerging but New Delhi would be advised to wait and watch its progress before committing to be part of it.

And the Tibet card is only one of them.

The anatomy of a dispute

As reports of de-escalation of the border standoff in Ladakh trickle in, New Delhi seems to have conveyed to Beijing that the onus of restoring normality lies lie with China.

The Ladakh stand-off could be the result of China’s stiff opposition to India laying a key road near the Pangong Tso and another connecting the 255-km-long Darbuk-Shayok-Daulat Beg Oldi road in Galwan River valley that will allow the Indian Army easy access to its post in the Karakoram Pass, which oversees Chip Chap River, Trig Heights and Depsang plains.

China’s calculation is that once this area is cleared of Indian Army, it can build its proposed road connecting Tibet with Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan, weakening India’s position in Siachen Glacier. Considering the military asymmetry between India and Pakistan, Beijing will go to any extent to protect its entry point to China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which ensures it a base in Gwadar, Indian Ocean.

Beijing’s aggressive posturing at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is in consonance with its overall geopolitical objectives of regional geographic expansion through aggrandisement and gaining global salience through its hegemonic moves in the region. To that end, Chinese President Xi Jinping, like Mao Zedong, is also using the extremely organised and powerful People’s Liberation Army (PLA) as a tool to achieve his goal. Currently, the PLA is firmly under the grip of Xi Jinping who is arguably stronger than Chairman Mao.

Also read: China’s military adventurism is meant to distract from origins of Covid: Tibetan President

The Tibet question

Ironically, the original China established by the Qing Dynasty in 1644 collapsed in the uprising of 1911, paving the way for a new republic. The disintegration of the imperial China and unification of modern China could be traced to a span of about 50 years beginning from the Yihequan unrest (The Boxer Rebellion) against foreign powers, Christian missionaries, local converts (blaming them for disease and poverty), and the Long March culminating in the establishment of Mao’s People’s Republic of China (PRC) in October 1949 after just 15 years of struggle and violent battles.

On top of Chairman Mao Zedong’s agenda was annexing (and punishing) Tibet, which he referred to as the ‘right palm of China’ while Ladakh, Sikkim, Bhutan, Nepal and Arunachal Pradesh are the ‘five fingers’. China confronted India with its invasion of Tibet on 7 October 1950, seriously endangering the stability of not just Tibet and India but the whole of Asia. Then-Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was advised to consult the British, who suggested that ‘India should do what it can for Tibet … short of military assistance,’ and that ‘recognising Tibetan independence must be ruled out’.

Realising that Tibet is incapable of doing anything more than nominal resistance, Nehru accepted the British government’s advice and, as revealed in a note on 18 November 1950, concluded that ‘neither India nor any external power could prevent the Chinese takeover of Tibet.’ Having taken this position and considering the military asymmetry, Nehru limited India’s concerns to ensuring the safety and security of India, acceptance of Chinese claim over Tibet, and advancing friendship with China.

Also read: Ladakh shows Modi is risking relations with China by getting too close to Trump

Four things Modi can do

Seventy years later, recognising Tibet as part of China has not ensured safety and security, India’s defence spending has not reduced, we have no peace and tranquillity in the borders, China is not content with just having Tibet and is looking to “annex the five fingers of its right palm” and there is no lasting friendship. Even the Wuhan spirit is evaporating.

So this is what the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi can do to alter things in India’s favour and also tackle the ‘Tibet question’.

Tibetans world over have a legitimate right to go back to the land of their forefathers and experience their culture and traditions as a free nation. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has guided the Tibetans for over 70 years now, kept the flame of Tibet alive and, above all, traversed the path of satyagraha, non-violence and peaceful resistance in a truly Gandhian way. He richly deserves to be honoured with Bharat Ratna.

The domestic anti-China sentiment and boycott of Chinese goods will have immediate effect in the short run but may not be easy to sustain for long. But New Delhi is certainly in a vantage position to demonstrate its economic clout and also pull new leverages out of its hat.

While Pakistan is using the occupied Kashmir (PoK) as a terror launch pad against India, China has built infrastructure projects, using Tibet as an entry point, as part of the CPEC. New Delhi should inform Beijing that all these projects are illegal and India reserves the right to take appropriate action at a suitable time.

China’s vulnerabilities have increased. The crass environmental degradation of water resources in Tibet through dams and diversions is causing grave concerns for the lower riparian countries from India down to geographies in the Indo-Pacific sphere. A new Indo-Pacific architecture can include these countries along with financial hubs like Hong Kong and Taiwan, which will necessarily call for revision of ‘One China’ policy.

The author is a member of the National Executive Committee of the BJP and former editor of Organiser. Views are personal.

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  1. My country india and Or government do not do anything for tibet. But what we have to do war with China otherwise China will do much thing

  2. It is stupid to have “One-China” Policy without extracting a guarantee of “One-India” Policy. How can India offer a “one-china” policy on a platter when fingers are being cut off the palm? If the enemy slaps us on one side of the face do we show the other side too. Is that the bottom line behind this policy? Successive government have struggled with it in the last 70 years and only avoided difficult decisions by kicking the can down the road. At some point even the most weakest among us will retaliate irrespective of consequences. Time has come. We are weak, but do we want to appear imbecile doing nothing for 70 years. China does not take India seriously because of this ambivalent non-alignment which makes no sense. Align based on India’s interests and evolve the alignment on the go. We cannot know everything to make a strategic decision and we cannot wait to know everything. If QUAD makes sense for the next 10 years to manage this then we should do QUAD. Way too much debates lead to nothing. Countries have to draw red lines firmly and the time has come for India as many red-lines have been crossed by China with impunity. We act now if we want to save the nation India as we know it or else generations that come behind us will never forgive us for being so weak. All of this talk of non-alignment with any one is nonsense. It is clearly muddling our position and only exposes our vulnerabilities and indecisiveness. Now or Never.

  3. It is high time for India to reverse the decade old policy on Tibet.China has never honoured any international treaty. The latest one is to scrap the spirit of Hongkong .We are approaching right time in post covid 19 conspricy by china ,causing enormous human/economic loss to most G7 countries .The world is getting united to punish china,but it is not easy as nothing stops china to complicate matters in democracies with free media .The recent civic troubles in US is testimony of Islamic ,leftists & media goofing by china .Next 2-3 months are important & India must wait for right opportunity to teach China & its allies Pak /Nepal a befitting lesson .The civilised world must recognise the Government of Tibet in Exile .

  4. Nepal ,a silent colony of India in the last 1200 years under a communist agenda and under the dictacs of China has raised a new spat on border.India willgive a brutal reply

  5. Indian policy position is quite muddied and confused right from Nehru days. This bhai-bhai stuff and gifting UN seat to China looks so juvenile for common man on the street leave alone policy experts. I cannot see how any nation can bungle like the way we did while building a nation like India. It is easy to manage a diverse country like India by painting a ambiguous confused high level vision which does not clearly articulate what the end game for India is. It suits both politicians and bureaucrats to manage people perceptions and reactions. Congress managed for decades to exploit this ambiguity and raise the India Pakistan enmity and play down the Chinese threat to India. China is the truly formidable enemy of India and clear non-ambiguous policy positions with options should be made transparent in broad terms so the political-bureaucratic spins and games that compromises India’s military establishment. It is time to articulate a cogent policy position that is a bit muscular, non-ambiguous. Even China knows India is weak in this regard and how can negotiators work with this type of policy support from the top levels. A lot has improved since Modi came to power but we have room to do more and should be more clear over time. Stating our positions clearly is not being overly nationalistic as the left leaning liberals and communists would want the whole India to believe.

  6. Most of BJP leaders have little knowledge of history. They are exploiting Nehrujis error of judgement to play poltics in foreign affairs.

  7. Why doesn’t Hindutva India talk about letting Kashmir have a plebiscite instead of freeing Tibet? If you believe in freedoms you’d also allow Muslims to eat beef and marry whenever you want. How India can condemn China when its so fascistic and intolerant is both laughable and pathetic!

    • Ah! Ignorance is bliss., GS, ain’t it?
      But in your case, you wear your ignorance with pride.

  8. This article was incoherent rambling after a point.

    To the commenter above, having had a close look at and having met Nepali politicians from both the Congress, Himalaya and others, I am convinced they are venal, and corrupt and would happily sell their country to the Chinese. All the best! This is unfortunate as is how badly India has treated Nepal in the past. An outcome such as that for Sikkim is probably in Nepal’s best interest, but the Kathmandu Bahaun Chettri elite (10% of population) would then lose all their privileges and the ability to extract every single aid dollar through corruption.

  9. India must take stand as Tibet independent to China and ideally it should be under indian supervision to safeguard evasion from China again once it out of China’s clutch….

  10. Seshadri Chari, unlike other BJP/RSS functionaries comments and argues very rationally and sensibly,never insults past freedom fighters including bete noire pt.Jawaharla Nehru .
    His opinion must be taken seriously.

  11. If the world was unable to prevent China’s invasion and annexation of Tibet in 1950, seventy years later, with so much gymming and protein shakes, the dragon is a more muscular beast. In purely historical terms, President Xi is not in the league of Chairman Mao. However, he now controls material resources that eclipse anything his country had in its early years. India needs to deal with China with the utmost sagacity, caution, protect its core interests, explore the possibility of a deeper long term economic engagement that can reduce strategic mistrust. However, it would not be wise to sign on to a containment enterprise that could end in wide ranging conflict. As much as India, even more so, the United States has to learn to live with the reality of an overarching Asian power.

    • No matter what the details of today’s news, China is and will everbe relentless in capturing Tibet and Ladakh, even more so than the other four fingers of Tibet (Bhutan, Nepal, Sikkim and AP). Ladakh is the escape route for China into the Indian Ocean.

      If India is ready to fight back militarily in Ladakh, China will NOT attack, and might even retreat. Particularly, if India has carefully constructed an international web of understandings, in particular with the US. China has always won through stealth and deceit and PsyOps and a blitzkrieg approach (as in Tibet; as in 1962), not through actual confrontational military fighting. Mr. Modi has understood this. It is too late for China now. India should actively but covertly pursue a free Pushtunistan, which will allow all the pieces to fall into place, including, a free Baluchistan, folding Pok and Pak occupied Ladakh (Gilgit-Baltistan) back into Mother India and boxing-in China.

  12. We must ensure that trade deficit with China is reduced to a minimal in the immediate future by implementing fundamental economic reforms and making our industry competitive. This will itself put China under great pressure. We must beef up our defenses along Chinese border to ensure that this the last time China is able to do any such mischief. We should now seriously move to take over POK and GB areas by soft or hard means. We should instigate Pak to start skirmishes with us on POK border but our aim should be to attack GB area across Siachin and put Pak in trouble.
    We should not hurry to settle the current dispute with China so that anti China sentiments build up and we develop a strong social movement to boycott Chinese goods. Unless Indian economy grows to a bigger size, we can not really take China head on and hence, Modi must address economic reforms as his immediate priority.

  13. The author writes regarding the projects in Gilgit baltistan that “New Delhi should inform Beijing that all these projects are illegal and India reserves the right to take appropriate action at a suitable time.”
    SInce when did China hesitate to take actions that are illegal or mala fide ? The word “illegal” won’t scare them in the least.

    As for India’s taking “appropriate action”, with many times India’s military strength, China will just laugh it off.
    And how will a Bharat Ratna for the Dalai enable Tibetans to go back to their homeland ?
    For such an experienced politician, the author has shown amazing naivete.

    • Absolutely spot on. But how is this author an experienced politician? Has he ever held any post? Won any election? Or even fought an election?

    • Exactly.

      And even more crazy is this line “A new Indo-Pacific architecture can include these countries along with financial hubs like Hong Kong…..” !

      Hong Kong, you idiot, is part of China already !

  14. Nepal? How did Nepal come into this. Nepal’s history predates Buddha and was never part of Indian, Chinese or any other kings influence. So how come the author and Yogi Adityanath are peddling this “Usurping of Nepal by the Chinese” theory?

    • That is because the Nepal Government, egged on by the Chinese, have started raising the border dispute with India. This also suits the ruling establishment to stoke anti India sentiment by invoking Nepali Nationalism.

      The Chinese Government wants to pressurise India by make things very difficult in the Northern and Eastern borders by activating the LAC.

    • Tibet also existed before China as she now is. Yet, Tibet was overrun by China. Nepal is now a poor country which won’t be able to resist a Chinese invasion, particularly if the Nepalese Communist Party is bought over by China.

      • Tibet was a huge country with precious resources and the source of water flows to many rivers into South Asia / South East Asia and China therefore a strategic asset worth invading. Nepal wouldn’t make any sense for China to invade and would be more of a headache.

    • It’s normal to write a biased article and make it seem like you’re right China building a road on its side to Pakistan becomes pressuring India plus Tibet has apparently always been part of China. Just another outlet for fake news and biased free rhetoric.

    • How come you who is of recent birth date know for certain that Nepal had nothing to with India forget China? You appear to be somebody peddling your ignorance to a world that knows you far better than you know anything about the subcontinent’s history, and geography.

    • Nepal was clearly a part of the Maurya empire. Read history.

      Nepal was always a part of Bharatvarsha. Bharatvarsha is often mentioned in scriptures since thousands of years. Read the scriptures.

      There has never been a hard land border between Nepal and Bharat — people have always moved freely.

      Nepal is culturally, spiritually, geographically, and economically a part of Bharat.

      In sum, your argument that ‘Nepal’ was never a part of Bharat is nonsense.

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