Dharamshala: CTA President Dr Lobsang Sangay was invited to address the 6th Foreign Correspondents Club of South Asia on the issue of Tibet and its significance in the resolution of India-China border disputes as a renowned Tibetan scholar and CTA President.
S.Venkat Narayan, President of FCC South Asia, and Munish Gupta, FCC member welcomed the Tibetan political leader on their platform and thanked him for accepting their invitation. Sikyong spoke broadly on the Tibet issue for 15 minutes followed by Q& round with members who had submitted their questions to the hosts in advance.
The over an hour-long interview touched upon many aspects of the Tibet movement and studied how Tibet’s occupation history is tied to the current crisis at the LAC and impacts other South Asian countries.
Excerpts of the interview:
S.Venkat Narayan: This is a grim situation, the armies of China and India are eyeball to eyeball, along the 1000 km long Line of Actual Control, from Sikkim to Ladakh and situation appears to be pretty grim and Indians are saying Chinese have crossed the LAC and they are making claims which they never did in the past. There has never been a serious effort by the Chinese to have a fixed border between India and China as we never had a direct border with China until they forcefully occupied Tibet in 1950 and Mao Zedong and his other colleagues have been saying that Tibet is the palm and Ladakh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nepal and Bhutan are the fingers. Does that mean that they are hoping to occupy these places sometime in the future? Is that the idea? What is the status of negotiations between Tibet and China? The last thing one heard was 10 years ago that the delegation from His Holiness went to Beijing after that we have not heard anything. So how do you look at the tensions that exist between the armies of India and China, 2 nuclear-armed powers which are face to face there and the situation appears pretty grim. What are your views, Dr Sangay?
CTA President Dr Sangay: Thank you very much for hosting me. It’s good to be on your club even though we are doing it virtually. Ironically, 80,000 Tibetans or so escaped to exile far away from Beijing thinking we will be physically at least removed from China’s harm, even though 6 million Tibetans are suffering. The coronavirus originated in China and spread globally and Tibetans in exile have been infected with several who have died from it in New York and Europe. We can’t escape the clutches of Chinese influence, so to speak, anywhere in the world nowadays. So its a great privilege to be invited to the Foreign Correspondents Club of South Asia. I was given the title “Is Tibet responsible for China’s troubles with India?” I would like to make the argument that “No, Tibet is not responsible”, having said that, Tibet is the factor, why there is tension with China.
As you rightly said, Mr Venkat Narayan ji, India never had an inch of land border with China, Tibet always acted as the buffer zone between the two of the largest populated countries, India and China for 2000-plus years, there was a perpetual peace between India and Tibet mainly because Tibet was a zone of peace and even said that a minster of Tiber wrote a letter or petition to the Indian government that the Chinese army is invading and occupying Tibet, please support us if you don’t at the moment we have only about 75 to 100 policemen or soldiers providing the security at the border between India and Tibet. That’s’ from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh about 75-100 Sepoys from the Tibetan side, that’s all we have. If Tibet is occupied, India will be under pressure, the Chinese army will come to the border of India and will face all kinds of tensions. Unfortunately, Tibet was occupied and after 60 years border incursions continue to take place and it becomes more violent, unfortunately, 20 Indian jawans have been killed and many more injured so this is the tension now.
Instead of giving you so many factors and reasons, I will focus on one document and try to illustrate how the occupation of Tibet as led to all these tensions. The Panchsheel document Simla convention was signed between the Prime minister of Tibet, Lonchen Shatra and the British representative Sir McMahon. The Simla convention between India and Pakistan is very well known, but on Tibet is not well known. At that time, on the sidelines, a trade agreement was signed which was to be renewed every 10 years so the trade route and the pilgrimage route was in that agreement and that was renewed every 10 years, 24, 34, 1944 between Lhasa and Delhi, in 1954, it was renewed between Delhi and Beijing by then, India was an independent country. so if you look at the Panchsheel, it’s only the preamble that 5 points were included and its called Panchsheel, but if look at the body it’s still trade and pilgrimage. At the time, India wanted the Panchsheel to last for 25 years, China wanted it to last for 5 years then later agreed on 8 years. The Panchsheel, the document for trade and tranquillity between India and China had planted the seeds for betrayal or treachery. After 5 years, Tibet was occupied in 1959, after 8 years in 1962, the war between India and China happened. During that time even the China government used Shanghai to Calcutta route to ship lots of arms and ammunition supplies to be sent to Tibet. In short, 1962 war, supplies for Chinese army was provided through Shanghai and Calcutta seaport, through the Sikkim-Nathula Pass inside Tibet, After losing Tibet, even the Panchsheel agreement which was supposed to provide peace and tranquillity between India and China was betrayed and the war took place. So for thousands of years, the relationship between India and Tibet was very strong, religious-Buddhism came from India, the script from Sanskrit, culture and values have more influence from India than China. But when Tibet was occupied, unfortunately, at the time even many leaders like Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Deen Dayal Upadhyay, Kripalani all spoke for Tibet but the Indian government at the time felt that forming a closer diplomatic relationship with China will, in the end, benefit India more than supporting the cause of Tibet, even though all the humanitarian assistance were provided after His Holiness the Dalai Lama and 80,000 Tibetans came to India. But that belief was betrayed in 1962 war and 1967, 2017 in Dokhlam, and the recently in Galwan valley in Ladakh.
We have been trying to say that Tibet is very important for geopolitical reasons, historical reasons, and our experience is very important for India and South Asia. Now after the occupation of Tibet, the palm and 5 fingers they are coming after Ladakh, intruding including in Nepal, less so in Bhutan, and then in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. Not just these areas, but from the oceanfront, from the Maldives to Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and, with Pakistan, India is in some ways, surrounded from the top, bottom and other sides too. All this happened after Tibet was occupied, so it’s very important to have a solution for this issue, one must address the Tibet issue.
China says Tibet is a core issue, India must say the same and for all these reasons, Tibet is their core issue as well. When Panchsheel was signed and especially when His Holiness came to India to attend the 2500th anniversary of Buddha Poornima Chinese PM visited 3 times, asking India government to send His Holiness back to Tibet and at that time Indian government was assured genuine autonomy to the Tibetan people would be provided and no reforms would be implemented without seeking the approval of the Tibetan people and the status and authority of the Dalai Lama will remain the same and everything will be done peacefully. Now all these assurances were violated to the Indian government because it was violent repression and occupation was violent and then the genuine autonomy was never implemented. so what you see in Hong Kong is clearly a violation of one country two systems, exactly what happened in Tibet, because we were promised one country two systems, so to speak, with the 17 point agreement signed on May 23, 1951, so all these documents, promised to Indian government and Tibet were not implemented and we were betrayed and we lost our country right to the border of India, and surrounding countries, not just geopolitically, but environmentally, Tibet acts as the water tower of Asia. Unfortunately, China has not signed UN convention of water sharing so China is not bound to share water with its neighbours and China might divert rivers from Tibet towards to Chinese regions. This could be catastrophic to the whole region if it happens. Mining in Asia, Lithium comes from Tibet, used in mobile batteries, extraction is a very poisonous process and in return for poisoning Tibetan soil and environment, you pay them nothing. China similarly, extracts rare earth from Mongolia and that’s why China sells its gadgets for cheap while other countries’ cost more. For all these reasons, Tibet is very important for the whole of South Asia and India.
Munish Gupta: While India has kept a diplomatic fine line on Tibet in recent times after 1988 bilateral relations improved with Rajiv Gandhi’s 1988 visit to then PM of China. Where does Tibet issue stand between India and China today is it a forgotten issue now? What would happen if trilateral dialogue would take place today? Firstly, would it happen with the Tibetan government in exile and the Chinese government and India?
CTA President Dr Sangay: The Chinese strategy has always been to suppress the Tibetan issue and make it disappear. So they make it a violation of One-China policy to raise the Tibetan issue, but on the contrary, we follow Middle Way approach which seeks genuine autonomy within the framework of Chinese constitution so it does not violate One-China policy. American government agrees with that. because after 2011 meeting between Obama and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, White House issued a statement saying they follow One-China policy but also support Middle Way Approach. Based on which we want to resolve the issue of Tibet. India has the largest Tibetan population in exile and Tibetan administration, His Holiness calls himself the son of India and for all these reasons India can raise the issue of Tibet. As Xi Jinping himself has on the record said security and stability of China are dependent on security and stability of Tibet, thereby you have to beef up and secure the border of Tibet. Tibet is very important for China and it is equally important for India. So they have many bilateral talks and given all the tension, it is fair to say that the Indian government should raise the issue of Tibet.
The US government has a special coordinator of Tibetan issues within the State Department as per the mandate US government has to submit an annual report to the Congress on bilateral dialogue and situation in Tibet. India has an important role to play. Just 2 days ago,50 UN human rights experts issued a statement saying we must investigate the human rights violations in Tibet and other regions of China, including in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. These are UN experts; it’s unprecedented that they had come out with the statement. The whole world is talking about Tibet and India, for various reasons and lot at stake, should intervene and take the lead in solving the issue of Tibet.
Ashok Sharma: What is your position on the current standoff between India and China, we have heard from one of the webinars held on India- China situation, Dr Subramaniam Swamy said that there is a good likelihood of war and if there has to be war, we will have to go to war and win that war, we can’t let them take our territory. What is your position, Dr Sangay?
CTA President Dr Sangay: We follow Gandhian Ahimsa, His Holiness the Dalai Lama preaches Ahimsa, and nonviolence and He is not just a guru, but Mahaguru and Mahakaruna so constitutionally, we renounce war. We really do not wish on any country. Having said that with an international law background, right to defend is your right under international law. If you go by world history India has not been an aggressor so at the moment the border incursion is happening from the Chinese side. As I said in my opening statement, 3488 km long between so-called Indo China border was never there; it was between India and Tibet and not an inch between India and China.
After Rajiv Gandhi’s 1988 visit and Vajpayee’s 2008 visit, Nehru was the first one to visit China while Modi ji and other PMs have also visited. Through the visits and assurances given by the Chinese government, the Indian leaders thought they will somehow have peace at the border at least during the time when coronavirus is spreading. It has created a crisis globally and India, in particular, doesn’t need any other headache. So you must learn what the Chinese government is capable of. Xi Jinping visited Tamil Nadu and met with PM Modi in October 2019 and both signed many agreements and one agreement was that 2020 was the 70th year of diplomatic relations between the two nations to celebrate 70 different events and activities to celebrate the diplomatic relationship.
In a nutshell, when very few countries were willing to recognise China, India was among the few and early ones to do so and later on India supported China’s UN Council membership and this is the year where China should be thanking India and they promised to celebrate with 70 major activities and now on 70th anniversary of diplomatic relationship, India is repaid not with help with the coronavirus pandemic but with incursions and killing of jawans. That is the sad reality which is Deja vu to us. We learned it 60 years ago and it is time India should also learn from this.
Vinita Panday: It is believed that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been soft on China, he seems to be in a mood to compromise while some Tibetans remain aggressive. Is there rethinking among Tibetans to strike a compromise with China to get autonomy of Tibet while still being under China or Tibet wants to be only an independent country?
CTA President Dr Sangay: Now in the last 60 years, it has evolved for pragmatic reasons because China for decades demands one-China policy and they say sovereignty and territorial integrity of China can not be compromised and as per UN charter and article 2 section 4 also says member states, territory and sovereignty can not be challenged by another member state, based on which Tibetans demanding independence at least at the UN or other forums is if not shut down it’s very very narrow. His Holiness said look if Chinese government gives us genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people, this is a win-win proposition for China and us and that is called the Middle Way Approach which is to say, at the moment we do not accept the occupation of Tibet nor repression of Tibetan people, what we say is the repression of Tibetans must end, give them genuine autonomy then we will negotiate on the status of Tibet, this is the Middle way or the middle of one of repression and occupation. So this is what His Holiness proposed based on realpolitik, One-China is accepted by every country including India so that’s why Middle Way policy is where we stand. Yes, there are younger generation Tibetans, I also took the same stand when I was younger, they demand independence, they say it is our historical right, historically Tibet was independent which is true. On international law, Tibetans have the right to self-determination. The international court of justice will not accept the case of Tibet, mainly because, one UN member state has to; two, support the case or file the case and you don’t find any state doing so.
Munish Gupta: There is ever going to be the Middle Way acceptable to China? The kind of standoffs happening with India and their geopolitical interests and the Belt and Road initiative, do you think its ever going to come back to that?
CTA President Dr Sangay: Now, in the 1980s, Tibetan delegation went to Tibet to have talks. It didn’t lead to any breakthrough. During 2002-2010, 2 envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama did go to China and visited Tibetan places but it didn’t lead to any breakthrough per se. Our efforts have been to resolve the issue through dialogue, peacefully. That is our approach and belief. Now, the question is whether the Chinese government will reciprocate or not. we have had talks but no breakthrough. We would like to believe that dialogue and non-violence is the best way forward.
Watch the full interview here.