Tibet-China's Military Base

When we say Tibet is a part of China we have never asked the Chinese to demarcate Tibet. This is important, so long as China shows Arunachal Pradesh as part of South or Lower Tibet. And till that is done we should consider Tibet's position as unsettled.

Tibet-China's Military Base

Editor's Note

This piece by Maj Gen. VK Madhok of 1st course JSW/ NDA is based on his letter dt 1 Jan 2023 addressed to the PM, RM ,CDS, COAS, CAS, CNS and others concerned with the subject and  linked issues. We hope the article is well received for all its worth. Responses are welcome.

Editor, MVI

What is our Government's policy towards Tibet because the goings on in Lhasa and China's current and long term strategic ambitions affect India.

When China annexed Tibet in 1951, Mao Ze Dong, while enunciating his stand on liberation of Tibet had included Nepal, Bhutan, Ladakh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh "Five Fingers" as the larger strategy in this orbit. And all indications in the last 69 years or so fully support this doctrine which is being successfully implemented.

Today, Lhasa, they say, has been turned into a sex city for China's military. That Monks are being expelled from monasteries on refusal to being politically indoctrinated. That there have been continuous group clashes between Hans Chinese and Tibetans That it is difficult to get news from Tibet because of the vice like grip on the people.

And that, we have been in a fix over Tibet for more than half a century: Whether to dare use Tibet as a trump card against China-an old adversary? Or to go along with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), who think That Tibet is a liability. That our to grant asylum to the Dalai Lama led to China attacking us in 1962. Besides, for the unrest which erupted in Lhasa on March 14, 2008 China blamed the Dalai Lama for inciting Tibetans and confusing public opinion. While on the other hand, in spite of pouring a lot of money in Tibet, China has been unable to win the hearts and minds of Tibetans.

As such there are a number of questions to which the Government advisors and Think Tanks have to answer!

Is Tibet really a liability? Was this the reason for China attacking India in 1962?

Can Shangri La become a breeding ground for future terrorism after Dalai Lama to support secessionist movements in India's Northeast?

What inferences can be drawn from the Mar 2008 uprising in Lhasa - China's worst intelligence failure? Dalai Lama's and China's views and India's options?

Is the US in a position to play the Tibetan card?

Finally possible solutions and what India should and must do ?

But before that, a few facts.

There is a view that we in India committed a momentous blunder at the time of independence in voluntarily surrendering all those rights on Tibet which had been inherited from the British. When the Chinese representative approached New Delhi in 1948 to enquire whether the Indian Government was contemplating retaining these rights, Nehru's reply was in the negative.

Accordingly. Tibet was handed over on a plate and the "Buffer Zone" disappeared forever.

Today, Tibetans with nearly 1,30,000 settlers, spread over 50 settlements all over India, with 46 educational institutions and a government in exile at Dharamshala, continue to make news intermittently. The latest one being Karmapa Lama in India-third in line after Dalai Lama and the railway line which China is contemplating to build up to Sikkim in the Chumbi Valley from Tibet.

Last time, in Sep 1991, prior to the visit of the then Prime Minister Li Peng to Delhi, a big demonstration was staged by Tibetans. It was put down by Indian authorities on a complaint by the Chinese envoy who made it clear that Beijing will not tolerate any encouragement to anti Chinese demonstrations in India. Thus, successfully administering a snub to the democratic tradition. Besides, a rumour has been doing rounds in Delhi's corridors of power that the Chinese might bargain by recognising the Macmohan Line in the Eastern sector while retaining what they already have in Ladakh, provided all Tibetan activities are stopped from the Indian side.

China is quite clear on Tibet while New Delhi's policy is ambivalently vague and depends on the likely reaction from Beijing. India does not recognise the Tibetan Government in exile and yet has given all necessary facilities to this "government" to function effectively. We have accepted Tibet as an autonomous region of China but according to Chinese view, this applies only to Central Tibet and not to two other regions (Indo and Khasun). Thus keeping these two regions out. But the Dalai Lama does not want a truncated Tibet.

We, I think have been afraid to express our views clearly fearing that China would then talk about Kashmir or pay back in the same coin in India's northeast. What leads me to this inference is, that we did not speak up in 1949 when the Chinese invaded Tibet. Nor did we lift a finger when Beijing set out to consolidate its hold 1954 onwards. As a result, the Tibetan issue stands relegated to the dustbin of history. But today, the nuclear threat from Tibet is real. Besides,300,000 troops, 17 radar stations. 14 airfields and 8 missile bases, several dozens from, Chinese 30 strong nuclear warhead arsenal and medium-range missiles including DF missiles are deployed in Tibet with all seven NE states and nearly all Indian cities within range The danger is that as the NE states realise the potential nuclear threats from China, they might be more inclined to deal with Beijing than New Delhi unless of course India comes out with an articulate nuclear policy that it is in a position to hit back when necessary.

The Dalai Lama, now nearing 88 yrs of age fled to India in 1959, and like a true Buddhist he follows a Middle Path. He wants demilitarisation of Tibet. But is that possible? He has been sending representatives to Beijing for talks since 2000. After nearly 8 rounds of talks in the last 13 years, nothing has emerged. In May 2008 while on a visit to UK he said, that he would like to return to Tibet as a Chinese citizen. And had set four conditions for his return: That is open Tibet to foreign media and give them free reign to observe and write; accept medical assistance from outside as many Tibetans were suffering from diseases; release all political prisoners and have fair trials and conduct substantive talks. He does not want total independence but would be happy with an autonomous Tibet within China. He has been asking for US help and wants India to act as a mediator between Tibet and China.

The US, on the other hand, has taken various initiatives, most of which were discussed during the Dalai Lama's visit to Washington in 1993, 1994, 1995 and later on during his visits there. He was always given red carpet treatment.

Further, though officially it does not recognise the Tibetan government in exile in India, according to a Foreign Relations Act it sanctioned setting up Radio Freedom Asia in May 94, (primarily meant for propaganda), Tibet has been listed as a sovereign country under occupation of foreign powers.

The Dalai Lama addressed US Parliamentarians during his visit there in Sep 2003. The US did condemn that there were major Human Rights Violations in Tibet in the Mar 2008 uprising. But the US has far too many economic and strategic interests in China and at the moment would be foolish to support Tibet in anything except for Human Rights Violations.

But China, the main player, has been accusing the Dalai Lama of trying to drive a wedge between US and China and split China. It has criticised India for discussions concerning Tibet which took place at the world Parliamentarians conference held at New Delhi in May 94. Further, it has accused the US of trying to play the Taiwan and Tibet cards, Beijing has been conveying to various countries not to receive Dalai Lama. President Hu Jin Tao scrutinized every address of Dalai Lama. Because of various changes taking place in Tibet he had been visiting Lhasa quite often.

The 365 year old Potala palace now overlooks glitzy 5 star hotels, night clubs and numerous brothels. China is supposed to be spending more than 3.2 billion dollars a year on modernisation of Tibet. All villages are to be connected with roads. Qinghai-Lhasa railway is already a reality with a railway station at 5000 meters in Lhasa. The train from Beijing-Lhasa is supposedly running in 48 hours, costing 48 US dollars per ticket-at least thrice a week. The same train will be extended to Natu La (Sikkim from Lhasa). Strategy being to force a change with its super economy, money and settling of Hans Chinese dividing cities like Lhasa into two worlds: Chinese and Tibetans.

The Mar 2008 uprising in Lhasa which led to the largest protests in Tibet in the last 25 years. had rattled Beijing. They accused the Dalai Lama for it. His reaction was that the violence was staged by Chinese troops dressed as monks and that lies cant work. While Beijing has become fearful of possible Tibetan suicide attacks.

Tibet is valuable to China for its natural resources like Uranium, copper, Lithium, Chrome and so on All major rivers of South and SE Asia originate in Tibet. A point to note and emphasised by the Dalai Lama is that India had borders with Tibet and not China.

It is only in 1951 when China occupied Tibet that India and China became neighbours and then began the Sino-Indian border dispute. China is not prepared to allow any political role for the Dalai Lama. Nor is it therefore prepared to recognise any successor to him in whose selection the Chinese Government and the Communist administration in Lhasa do not play a leading role.

Various rounds of talks which have taken place so far are merely to mark time till the Dalai Lama passes away Concurrently, Beijing always says that the Dalai Lama is welcome to return but must reflect on his mistake and adopt an appropriate patriotic stance.

The brutal crackdown on Tibetan peaceful uprising in Mar 2008 found New Delhi in a bind India, as mentioned before, recognises Tibet as an autonomous region of China and has assured that there won't be any anti Chinese activity from its soil. Yet, India is a democracy and cannot keep quiet as Tibetans follow a Gandhian philosophy. New Delhi has refrained from criticising China. Instead, the MEA said that it supports a "One China" policy. And India does not recognise the Dalai Lama as the head of a government in exile.

I think we have had an ambiguous and confused attitude towards the Dalai Lama. Our original agreement with the Dalai Lama was that he will not be permitted to conduct political activities, yet we allowed him to have a government in exile and a Parliament of deputies in Dharamshala.

When we say Tibet is a part of China we have never asked the Chinese to demarcate Tibet. This is important, so long as China shows Arunachal Pradesh as part of South or Lower Tibet. And till that is done we should consider Tibet's position as unsettled. It is of interest to note that the Tibetan youth in India took a stand against Dalai Lama for not speaking up against China.

There is a Free Tibet Movement about which the Chinese know. And during the peaceful revolt in Lhasa in Mar 2008 all news from Lhasa was available in Dharamshala due to the technical facilities we have today. There is a view that after the Dalai Lama is gone there will definitely be violent resistance as impatience spreads amongst young Tibetans.

We could perhaps see an equivalent of IRA or Hamas in Lhasa. The gulf between the Hans Chinese and Tibetans has never been greater than it is today. During a visit to Japan in Nov 2008, Dalai Lama A said, the Chinese rule is handing down a death sentence to Tibetans. That they are totally obliterating an ancient culture. It is of interest to note that the Dalai Lama's original move was for independence. When he realised, it was no longer possible he modified it to the Middle Path an autonomous region on the lines of status given to Hongkong.

At a conclave of 600 community leaders held at Dharamshala in Nov 2008 Dalai Lama directly asked New Delhi to help resolve the crisis between India and China by rescuing Tibet from trouble. The Conclave was discussing the Dalai Lama's Middle Path approach, his succession, negotiations with China and all topics of independence or Autonomy.

Beijing had asked India to stop the Conclave thus putting India in a spot. While ked to India for help Concurrently, Tibetan youth is at cross roads. They feft, Conclave was a waste of time. They wanted to know as to who should lead the movement for independence?That there has been far too much lip service. That time was running out and soon, with Hans population in majority, Tibetans will be refugees in their own land. The Conclave decided to break off all relations with China, put the Dalai Lama's Middle Path on notice and voted that total independence will be their option or self determination as per UNO charter. Though they will watch the Middle Path for some more time. The Dalai Lama termed India's attitude as cautious rejected the Independence option and stuck to the Middle Path. Though the Conclave did declare Dalai Lama as their unanimous leader.

As regards India's security, the Chinese are now capable of transporting troops and ammunition from hinterland to the Indian borders within 20-25 days as against 3-6 months required earlier So, India's security stands threatened.

The revolt in Tibet was a big security threat. India's hands off and timid reaction to it sent wrong signals to Beijing. There is no reason why New Delhi should not have censored it. There is a view that India has given a lot of foothold in one country after another. In Bangladesh we shield away after facing accusations of hegemonic intentions. In Myanmar, we gave undue importance to pro-democracy sentiments. While in Nepal we let the Maoists have a free run. And now we risk whatever legitimacy we have in the eyes of Tibetan people. We, meanwhile, have been busy establishing confidence-building measures on the 4,053 KM long Sino-India border with China.

But the bottom line is that Beijing is most advantageously placed. It does not recognise Sikkim or Arunachal Pradesh as parts of India. It has kept its boundary dispute alive with Bhutan and has more or less militarised Myanmar on India's eastern flank whose border runs along the sensitive states of Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram. Beijing is now preparing to use the Naval ports at Hangyi, Coco Islands and Sittwe in Southern Myanmar which will give it unhindered access to the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. Thus: with Chinese nuclear weapons deployed in Tibet; Lhasa's status entirely dependent on its discretion; flat refusal to talk to the Dalai Lama; no time schedule fixed for settling the border dispute; and a militarised Myanmar, various secessionist movements gain momentum.

India has high stakes in Tibet. Add to this, the appointment of the Panchen Lama in Jan 1990 by the Chinese government, which has totally usurped the Dalai Lama's position. The question is, what happens after the Dalai Lama? The US, already has appointed a coordinator for Tibetan affairs. Besides, Dalai Lama had opened an office at Taipei in Taiwan in 1997 where 500,000 citizens practice Tibetan Buddhism of different types. Beijing considers it a threat. It had warned the Dalai Lama at one time against his intended visits to Taiwan.

The US has been thinking of more initiatives which provide a leverage to India to take some positive action concerning Lhasa. Where the Chinese population outnumbers Tibetans in their own homeland. And it is only a matter of time before the Chinese give Tibet a new Chinese name and it disappears as Tibet from the maps.

What inferences can be drawn from the above scenario? China will not loosen its grip on Tibet. come what may. Because, it is from Tibet that Beijing's larger strategy to create proxy satellites and to use their markets while keeping their competitor India engaged can be implemented most effectively. Accordingly, it has been and is developing connectivity with Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh whose markets can or will be at its disposal in the future. Further, there is no reason as to why China would not sign fresh treaties for defence cooperation, development and even to train their armies with these satellites And to do that :Beijing has to keep India unsettled; delay resolution of the Sino-Indian border dispute; and claim Arunachal Pradesh. Most important, support secessionist movements which could, ultimately even take the shape of a second Proxy War in India's Northeast. And once the Dalai Lama passes away, dispose of the Tibetan issue to the dustbin of history.

What are India's options? New Delhi must decide once for all, whether Tibet is a liability or an opportunity? If it is a liability, then we might as well carry on at the existing slow pace and leave the resolution of various disputes and issues in the Northeast to future generations. However, if we want to look at Tibet as an opportunity, then India will have to stand up and get out of the present attitude and tendency of "Reactive Policies".

The Parliament will have to find time to debate the goings-on in Tibet and the arming of Pakistan by China. New Delhi must speak up against human rights violations. And must question deployment of such a vast arsenal of nuclear weapons in Tibet which target most Indian cities. Besides, India must outline the framework of a second strike nuclear capability and take out Agni and Prithvi missiles from hibernation. New Delhi will have to refashion a new bold foreign policy to deal with China and Tibet which has to be supported by a strong military. It will have to dilute Chinese influence on our neighbours and support Tibetans. We have already lost 25-30 years in the Northeast and are far behind in creating the necessary logistic infrastructure to support our armed forces. Without whom, no foreign policy will succeed. Further, we should consider the following for a change, to tell Beijing that India means business -

(a) Recognise Dalai Lama as the head of a government in exile.

(b)Be aware of the Human Rights Violations in Lhasa and censor these.

(c) Do not stop peaceful protests by Tibetans against Chinese atrocities in Lhasa, in keeping with the democratic tradition.

(d) Redraw treaties with the neighbouring countries to suit India's permanent interests. But first define these interests.

(e) We must find solutions to the separatist problems in the Northeast in accordance with a time

bound schedule. We have been dilly-dallying on these for far too long.

(f) Involve the citizens of Northeast by raising more TA battalions, Ecological and Infrastructure

development task forces.

(9)The entire security structure in the Northeast needs to be reviewed keeping in view the emerging threats. Start with consolidation of Para Military forces into a BSF or ASSAM Rifles instead of the 10-12 Para Military forces that we have there. We can and must ensure that the Maoists do not have a free run in Nepal.

(h) Improve connectivity with Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh on a priority basis.

It is certain that Tibet will be in the news in future because of Chinese actions, US initiatives and resurgence of interest in that region. We have still some time to redraw our policies concerning China and Tibet. And therefore, in the light of emerging scenarios, the NSA, NSAB NSC, RAW and our service headquarters examine, analyse the contingencies arising in the Northeast as a result of Chinese intentions and let the Government know the options open to India.

Maj Gen. VK Madhok is a product of the 1st Course JSW/NDA and was commissioned into the 3 GR. He was the BGS HQ Southern Command and the COS at HQ 4 Corps. He retired as the ADG (TA). He lives in Pune. The author can be reached on Email: [email protected].

Views expressed are the authors own and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India'

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