China: Tibet Standoff

The People’s Liberation Army of China invaded Tibet in 1949. Since then each Tibetan has a many a tale of oppression, forced occupancy and violation of fundamental rights to narrate. Tibet is now home of several hundred thousands of troops who forcefully manages the daily affairs of a once free nation.

The Chinese government claims that it has the right to ownership of Tibet neither because of the military conquest nor because of the so-called “Seventeen Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet” which it forced upon Tibet in 1951. Their claim is based on historical relationships primarily between Mongol or Manchu rulers with Tibetan Lamas and Chinese rulers and Tibetan Lamas. The claimed relation existed in the 18th century at the prime period of Mongol imperial expansion when the Mongol emperors extended their political supremacy throughout most of Asia and large parts of Eastern Europe and when Manchu Emperors ruled China and expanded their influence throughout East and Central Asia including Tibet.

Tibet has been under foreign influence at different times of its history which includes the Mongols, the Gorkhas of Nepal, the Manchu Emperors of China and the British rulers. Tibet also have exercised power and influence on its neighbours including China. Comparing to the other states in the world the degree and the length of the foreign influence was quite limited in the case of Tibet. However there is no history of a union or integration of the Tibetan state with any of the rulers associated with Tibet.

China’s territorial claims are highly unacceptable in accordance to international laws and practices.

The International Commission of Jurists” Legal Enquiry Committee on Tibet reported in its study on Tibet”s legal status:

Tibet demonstrated from 1913 to 1950 the conditions of statehood as generally accepted under international law. In 1950, there was a people and a territory, and a government which functioned in that territory, conducting its own domestic affairs free from any outside authority. From 1913-1950, foreign relations of Tibet were conducted exclusively by the Government of Tibet, and countries with whom Tibet had foreign relations are shown by official documents to have treated Tibet in practice as an independent State. [Tibet and Chinese People”s Republic, Geneva, 1960, pp. 5, 6]

Tibet has enjoyed forty years of independence which is in itself a valid reason to give independent status for any country in the international community. It’s an ironical fact that many members of the United Nations have enjoyed a similar or even shorter period of independence.

The Dalai Lama on the 46th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against the Chinese occupation made his stand clear that Tibet does not seek independence from China. Although the spiritual and temporal head of Tibet “The Dalai Lama” follows a middle path the local Tibetans seeks for a free Tibet. The Tibetans feel that the cultural and religious autonomy of Tibet is under threat due to the increasing presence of Han Chinese. The Han nationals occupy a wide range of administrative territory within and outside Tibet. They have taken away the opportunities of small-time Tibetan traders in the streets of Lhasa and have affected their livelihoods.

Since 1989 after some negotiations were on for granting some autonomy to Tibet the Chinese have not given any till date. The people of Tibet are more worried about the diplomacy the Chinese is following to change the demography of the region. China have pumped in infrastructural investments worth 50 billion yuan in developing road, railways, airfields, hydroelectric and geothermal stations which in turn has demanded huge inflow of labor ie the Han Chinese. Though the Chinese terms this as the steps taken for the overall development of Tibet, the Tibetans see this as a danger to their cultural autonomy. According to rough estimates of the Tibetan government in exile there are five lakh Chinese police and army personnel in Tibet.

The government in exile of Tibet starkly objects the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). They want Amdo and Kham to be an integral part of TAR which is not acceptable to the Chinese. The Chinese government always kept the stand of offering Dalai Lama an important position in the government and the condition they are demanding is that he should stay in Beijing which is not acceptable to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans.

It is during the height of tensions between Tibet and China during the March 1959 Kampa rebellion after which the Dalai Lama fled to India. Since then China has harshly brought down all protests. Though Dalai Lama was given a warm welcome in India the government in exile is not very happy with India approach in Tibet’s case.

In 1954, Jawaharlal Nehru said Tibet was part of China. In 1988, Rajiv Gandhi claimed that Tibet was an autonomous part of China. In 2003, A B Vajpayee said the Tibetan Autonomous Region was part of China. At the same time, China has always been apprehensive of India”s sympathy for the Tibetan cause, ever since in 1957 when the Dalai Lama shared the dais with Nehru. But since India shares a 3,600-km border with China, it is not expected to overtly question the latter”s control over the TAR.

India pays for the welfare of over two lakh refugees and believes that autonomy in TAR with the Dalai Lama as the head of Tibetan affairs ease the tensions and make it possible for the Tibetans to return.

The Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) has been seen as one the major threats by the Chinese administration as it is categorized as a terrorist outfit. China seeks global support in the worldwide “global war on terror” by giving declaring it a terrorist outfit.

Tibetans lack global support and the US is not keen in the Tibetan cause. The uncompromising attitude of the China has made the Dalai Lama travel extensively to internationalize the Tibetan cause.

The well wishers of Tibet hope that China might over time have to provide a measure of autonomy and freedom to five regions – Tibet, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Han China and Greater China consisting of Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong and the prosperous coastal regions.

Lalith Ninan

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