Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Chinese occupation of Tibet and Impact on Indian security

Paper read by Mr. Vijay Kranti, Senior Journalist and Tibetologist at Supreme Court of India at the symposium organized by Federation of Human Rights Organizations of India on 28.3.2008 on the subject GENOCIDE IN TIBET- WHAT THE WORLD SHOULD DO ? Rajesh Gogna, Convenor. 2 April 2008


-Vijay Kranti

(Author is a senior journalist and Tibetologist)

China’s geographic interface with South Asia is as old as its occupation of Tibet. Before People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of Mao forced the Dalai Lama’s theocratic government of Tibet to merge Tibet into People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1951, China never had even an inch of common borders with India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sikkim or Bhutan. Since time immemorial, no section of Tibet with these countries was ever governed or even remotely controlled by the writ or men from Beijing. This is how a border, known for centuries as ‘India-Tibet’ border, suddenly became ‘India-China’ border.

In the recent history of many decades before China’s occupation of Tibet too Tibetan currency, Tibetan Post and Tibetan check posts on the Tibetan side of Himalayas defined an exclusively Tibetan and non-Chinese character of Tibet’s borders with its South Asian neighbors.

Soon after Chairman Mao’s ‘People’s Republic of China’ (PRC) came into being in 1949, the new communist government announced its intentions of liberating Tibet, Sinkiang (viz. East Turkistan), Hainan and Taiwan. It was a public expression of Mao’s dream of a larger China. In his plans for a dominant China in Asia, Mao had a special role for Tibet. He was already on record announcing that “Tibet is China’s palm and Ladakh, Sikkim, Nepal, Bhutan and NEFA are its fingers.” Tibet, with its original population of about 6 million (1959 estimates) occupies over 25 percent land mass of today’s PRC.

Thanks to two factors, Mao’s job of occupying Tibet turned out to be much simpler than he would have expected. One, the super powers and other major international players had just emerged from a devastating world war. So, they neither had enough energy nor desire or resources to get into a new mess with a rogue regime. Moreover, Tibet was too far away and geographically too secluded to occupy an important place on their political radars. The second factor was a total indifference on the parts of Indian government who, despite being the most seriously and directly affected state, was lost in a dreamland created by a leadership that utterly lacked vision on matters related to national security and long term geo-political concerns. Rather, overwhelmed by the smiles and assurances of erstwhile Chinese Premier Chou En-lie about China’s role in Tibet, the Indian Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru went to the extent of dissuading the United Nations from taking any action against China for her action on Tibet. This provided a much needed ‘moral’ ground to the community of nations to keep off the China-Tibet dispute.


What followed is a history of clear focus and smart action on the Chinese part in occupied Tibet and continuation of a policy dominated by suicidal indifference and confused vision on the part of India. Today China is far more entrenched inside occupied Tibet than India is along its own 4000 km long border region along this border. Today China’s defence machinery enjoys support of a massive network of roads, military establishments, logistic facilities, even nuclear facilities and communications network in occupied Tibet. For example, China’s Army along the Indian Himalayas is served by an end to end all weather roads along this border. These roads are further connected with the main Chinese highway network in Tibet at several points. In contrast, with the exception of Nathu-la in Sikkim, not a single Indian Army post along this entire border is supported by a pucca road. Linear road links along the border on Indian side don’t even exist as a concept. It was only after a barrage of Chinese claims and threats on Arunachal Pradesh that that the Indian government has suddenly woken up and has decided a few months ago (second part of 2007) to start work on such a few such roads.


On the demographic front too, China has been consistently busy in changing the Tibetan character of occupied Tibet through massive population transfer. The first step in this direction was taken when the Amdo and Kham provinces of Tibet were chopped off Tibet and their parts were distributed among the surrounding Chinese provinces of Yunnan, Sichuan, Gansu and Quinghai. It was the remaining Tibet, comprising of the third province of U-Tsang and some other left over parts of the two eastern provinces, which was baptized as ‘Tibet Autonomous Region of China’ (TAR).

A comparative study of population figures of Tibet vis-à-vis other occupied regions in the western China would show how Beijing government has already inundated the Amdo and Kham regions of Tibet which were assimilated into neighboring Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Sichuan, Yunnan and Gansu.8

Tibet (Original) 6,000,000 (1959 estimates)*

Tibet (Truncated) i.e. TAR 2,616,329

Sichuan 82,348,296

Yunnan 42,360,089

Qinghai 4,822,963

Gansu 25,124,282

Source : (China Statistical Year Book-2002, China Statistics Press, p-100)

* Based on claims of deposed Tibetan government, headed by Dalai Lama. (Not included in above official publication)


Establishment of a direct railway link between China and TAR through the newly constructed Gormo-Lhasa railway line has finally removed the last psycho-social barrier which has so far been holding the Chinese citizens from permanently migrating to Tibet. The new frantic economic development of this region and systematic pumping of large investments into Tibet by the Beijing regime has paved way for the last push towards turning the already small population of Tibet into a meaningless minority in its own country. During his two recent photo expeditions to Tibet, this author was surprised to note that a local Tibetan in Lhasa finds it impossible to shop if he can not speak Chinese. Almost all malls and taxis are manned by migrant Chinese and cater mostly to the Chinese settlers.

Fast emergence of large Chinese settlements along Indian border in Arunachal and Tibetan regions near India-Tibet-Nepal tri-junction have already changed the demographic character of these border lands from Tibetan to Chinese in recent years. No wonder the Chinese leaders have been terming this strategy as the ‘last solution’ to Tibetan problem.


It would be too simplistic, rather naïve, to believe that the impact of Chinese occupation of Tibet has been limited only to Tibet and the Tibetan people. Subsequent events in past 57 years have proved beyond doubt that no other development in Asia during 20th century had more impact on the geo-political character of South Asia than the fall of Tibet into China’s hands. Perhaps the best possible description of this development was expressed in the telegraphic message which the Indian Consulate General in Lhasa had sent to New Delhi following PLA’s attack on Tibet. It said, “Chinese have entered Tibet. Himalayas have ceased to exist”. Before Chinese occupation of Tibet it was a common belief in India that Himalayas were the protectors of India. But events after the fall of Tibet have shown that it was actually a free Tibet, which was standing as a security buffer between China and India.

When China fell to PLA, many political observers feared that Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim would be next on Beijing’s list. But Chinese proved such fears wrong. One reason was that the situation of these Himalayan countries was far different from that of Tibet. Unlike Tibet whose leaders had kept it fully insulated from the world community, they were reasonably well interlinked with the rest of world. Attempt at occupying any of these countries would have invited tremendous international resistance which China could hardly afford.


Instead, China adopted the policy of winning over countries of South Asia and using them as a lever to contain India. This tactics has yielded far more dividends than it could have hoped for by occupying one or more of them. Especially in the case of Nepal this policy has paid the best rewards. It is difficult to understand that despite consistent financial aid, close cultural and ethnic links, very favourable treaties and practically an open border policy with Nepal, the India diplomacy has proved an unparalleled disaster in Nepal. For all practical reasons Nepal has emerged a virtual ally, if not a satellite state, of China vis-à-vis India in recent decades. While anything Chinese is perceived as ‘friendly’ in Nepal, a slightest of provocation against India can lead to wide spread violent riots against Indian property and Indian traders in Nepal today. How effective is the influence of China over Nepalese political leadership, bureaucracy, army, police, intellectuals and media can be fathomed from the glairing example of Nepalese Maoists. Even though this extremist pro-China communist movement owes its existence to Chinese sponsorship in the form of training, funding and logistic support from across the border in occupied Tibet, ordinary Nepalese today has been made to believe that the Maoists draw their support from India.

China’s overwhelming influence and presence in Nepal has resulted into many serious problems for India. Nepal has emerged as a safe heaven for pro-China and other anti-Indian terrorist and separatist groups. India’s near open and porous border with Nepal has made the job of Chinese mentors of such groups very easy. Over past few decades the Chinese government has been able to ‘gift’ such a reliable network of highways to Nepal which are capable of taking the Chinese army with all ease to the Indian states of Uttarakhand, Bihar and West Bengal in the event of a direct clash with India.


It is equally shocking to note that Bangladesh has emerged as yet another reliable ally of China in the latter’s plans to encircle and contain India. A paradox of the story is that not only that Bangladesh owes its freedom to India but it was China who did its best to stop Bangladesh from getting international recognition after her birth in 1971. Today Bangladesh enjoys China’s security in the event of an attack from a ‘third country’. A nightmare of Indian security agencies is the link between anti-India forces of Bangladesh and Nepal. These agencies fear that Chinese government can use the links between such forces and Nepali Maoists in South-eastern Nepal to choke the 25 km wide corridor which offers the only land link between the seven North-Eastern Indian states and the rest of country.


Although Bhutan has close relations with India, the Chinese presence in neighboring Tibet has been keeping Thimpu rulers on tenterhooks. There have been many incidents of Chinese aggressive postures along Tibet-Bhutan border which keep Bhutan’s options limited in its relations with two giant neighbors. Presence of various anti-Indian terror groups in Bhutan which have direct or indirect support from Beijing have been using Bhutan as a safe heaven for anti-India activities. This too has been hampering Indian interests in the tiny Himalayan kingdom.


Thanks to Beijing’s material and political support to the Myanmar junta, China has emerged as the best and most reliable ally of the military dictators. China has cleverly used this advantage to liver its position in Asia, especially against India. No wonder, Myanmar has turned out to be a perfect operation ground for China supported anti-India militant outfits. Indian security agencies have expressed concern over China supported anti-Indian terror camps and China sponsored air strips in such Mayanmar areas near Indian border where the Yangoon government had no visible reasons to undertake such construction.

But worse has happened for India in the coastal regions of southern Myanmar where it has offered a direct land link to the Chinese Navy to register its presence in Indian Ocean. Although China never had any littoral access to the Indian Ocean, yet it has been able to establish its Naval basis in Coco islands of Myanmar which is just 40 km away from Indian naval bases at Andman and Nicobar islands.


One of the most serious fall outs of Chinese occupation of Tibet against India has come in the shape of a direct geo-link and military and political alliance between China and Pakistan. History of past six decades shows that this alliance has proved mutually suitable and profitable to both in their dealings with India. All subsequent Pakistani governments, irrespective of their political ideology or the size of uniform, have been surviving on a one-point political-military-social-cultural-economic national agenda --- going to any length to see India in trouble.

It is interesting to note that despite their alliance with the Western anti-communist block Pakistani rulers found no problem in joining hands with communist China after the Sino-Indian war of 1962. So much so that Pakistan has emerged as China’s most favoured ally, rather a proxy, in its attempts to contain India. China’s unparallel role in the nuclear arming of Pakistan; handing over of some strategic chunks of Aksai-Chin in Jammu and Kashmir territory by Pakistan to China; Pakistan’s permission to China to build Karakoram Road through Pakistani territory; and Islamabad’s recent decision to hand over Gwadar port in the Arabian Sea to Chinese Navy for the development of a naval base only underline the serious dimensions of Beijing-Islamabad strategic ties in this region.

All this has made it possible for China to move its army and Naval troops right upto Arabian Sea through Pakistan and to share the Pakistani naval base. This has posed very serious danger to India's security, especially along its Western coast. On the nuclear front too, any nuclear flare up between India and Pakistan is going to prove fruitful to China in every eventuality. While any serious damage or incapacitation of India by Pakistani nuclear strike will be a direct gain for Beijing, a lethal nuclear response from India to Pakistan too will be of no less political advantage to China vis-à-vis India -- the nuclear ‘aggressor’.


This way we see that the occupation of a free Tibet by China has not only hurt the national interests of Tibetan people but has also created many serious problems for other countries in South Asia too. In the case of India the occupation of Tibet has created more problems for her than any other country in the region.

The shifting of international borders and arrival of Chinese troops right up to the Indian borders for the first time in history has proved to be a highly expensive development for the Indian economy. Even going by moderate estimates, this single development across the Himalayas has forced a total change in the Indian priorities in spending its money. The Indo-Tibetan border, which used to be one of the most peaceful borders on earth, takes away almost as much money every five years for maintaining peace along on its newly designated 'India-China' borders as would be enough to provide clean drinking water, good education and dependable health services to every single village which stands deprived even 61 years after Indian independence.

Vijay Kranti

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