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Tibet, not LAC, is the real issue

Tibet, not LAC, is the real issue

America’s Tibet policy under several presidents has been ridden with flip-flops. Trade and commerce with Beijing dominated the decision-making process, which was at the cost of security perils for countries in China’s proximity, especially India.

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eshadri Chari
Last Updated : 06 July 2024, 20:16 IST
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The official US State Department X/Twitter account of the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs put out a tweet wishing His Holiness The Dalai Lama, “Happy 85th birthday to His Holiness @DalaiLama, who has inspired the world through his peace & kindness, and as a symbol of the struggle for Tibetans and their heritage. We thank India for hosting His Holiness and Tibetans in freedom since 1959 & wish His Holiness happiness”, it read. In Beijing, officials were crowding over the tweet and discussing ways of damage control. The Xi Jinping dispensation has every reason to be worried.

America’s Tibet policy under several presidents has been ridden with flip-flops. Trade and commerce with Beijing dominated the decision-making process, which was at the cost of security perils for countries in China’s proximity, especially India. The human rights violations, mass killings of Tibetan Buddhist monks, self-immolations by senior monks and wanton destruction of holy relics and other historical records did not seem to draw the attention of the White House resident at crucial times. But in recent times, pro-Tibet voices and organisations have succeeded in highlighting the plight of Tibetans living in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and other areas annexed by China using brute force since the late 1940s.

Former US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with Dalai Lama in Dharamshala and strongly reaffirmed congressional support for the people of Tibet and spoke out against the China’s oppressive human rights record. Her comment aimed at Xi Jinping -- “Dalai Lama’s legacy will live, you’ll be gone” -- has drawn sharp criticism from Beijing.

China’s occupation of Tibet has not only made it our immediate neighbour but has seriously impacted our security on the western border, too, with Pakistan having gifted a big chunk of occupied land to China, thus severing our link with Central Asia. It is strategically imperative for New Delhi to not only regain Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir but also to re-establish our ancient trade route through Central Asia.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has outlined his government’s priorities in the region and emphasised resolving the vexed India-China ‘border issue’ through dialogue and diplomacy. But seven decades of dialogue and diplomatic engagements have not made any difference to the hegemonic objectives and actions of Beijing. It is time to face this reality and amplify efforts to add ourselves as a force multiplier in the dynamics of regional geopolitics. That Prime Minister Narendra Modi skipped the SCO summit in Astana not only signals a downgrading of the forum in India’s calculus, but also his proposed visit to Moscow adds a new dimension to India’s policies and strategy for regional stability.

External Affairs Ministry officials would be well aware of a new Tibet-related bill introduced by prominent Republican and Democratic lawmakers and passed recently by the US House of Representatives. The ‘Resolve Tibet Act’, awaiting presidential assent, calls for enhancing US support for Tibet and “pushing for negotiations without preconditions between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama or his representatives or the democratically elected leaders of the Tibetan community.” Besides empowering State Department officials to counter Beijing’s disinformation on Tibet, the US will work with likeminded governments and multilateral efforts to reject false claims of Tibet being a part of China since “ancient times”.

The real issue between India and China is not the so-called Line of Actual Control and the settlement of the border dispute as much as it is about Tibet’s freedom and its sovereignty. A large section of people in India would like to have a friendly relationship with China and conduct trade under normal conditions. But this can be best done with an independent Tibet as a buffer between the two countries. Beijing is not serious about resolving any of the several issues with India, perhaps because resolving them would then bring the Tibet issue between them front and centre. New Delhi should impress upon the international community that a free and independent Tibet is the only solution to many of the global and regional China-induced flashpoints that could emerge as major conflict zones.

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