Letter from Indian UN Undersecretary on Tibet Issue

India and China are Asian neighbours that have been in existent for thousand of years. However relationship between the Asian giants during modern times has been an uneasy one. There was a brief border war in 1962 which resulted in sounding defeat of the Indians. I do hope that China and India can be great friend and neighbour. This letter to editor by a former Indian UN Undersecretary illustrate that there is hope in the relationship:
Two recent articles on the subject of Tibet by N. Ram, Editor of Frontline, and a scholarly study on Sino-Indian relations, viewed through the Tibetan prism, by Dr. Subramanian Swamy, are very timely ("Tibet – A Reality Check" and "Sino-Indian rel ations through the Tibet prism," September 15; "Educational take-off in Tibet", September 29). The first of the two articles by Ram is an exhaustive overview of the present situation in Tibet in its historical context, and the report is of Pulitzer Prize quality. The second article deals with the present state of education in Tibet, which is at the "take-off" point.

When His Holiness the Dalai Lama sought political asylum in India as a refugee, in the wake of the armed revolt against China in 1959, it used to be said, jokingly, that Prime Minister Nehru was caught on the horns of a "Dalai Lama". The dilemma arose fr om the fact that the official position of India was that Tibet was considered a part of China, a point that was reaffirmed in the India-China Treaty on Tibet of 1954.

For his part, the Dalai Lama has been waging a political campaign for the "independence" of Tibet from a secure base in Dharmasala, where a large number of his adherents have joined him. This campaign seems to be well-financed. The Dalai Lama has made se veral claims which seem to be highly exaggerated. One claim relates to his stand on Greater Tibet with a population of six million people. Another relates to the Chinese authorities’ attempt to "Han-ise" Tibet by the induction of a large number of ethnic Chinese, with a view to their forming a majority in the total population of Tibet. The third relates to a "holocaust" of some one million Tibetans put to death by the Chinese authorities between 1951 and 1979. These statements have been made by the Dala i Lama in such forums as the U.S. Congress in 1987. The Dalai Lama’s charismatic personality and his appearance of total sincerity have lent additional credence to his claims and charges. However, all his efforts to internationalise the issue and place i t on the agenda of the United Nations have failed. On the other hand, the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Dalai Lama in 1989 has helped him in his political campaign for the independence of Tibet.

What are the facts? The Tibet of the Dalai Lama days was no Shangrila for the Tibetans. It was a theocracy ruling over a poor country, with the agrarian population, mostly serfs, eking out a precarious living from the arid soil. The standard of living wa s very low. Illiteracy was the rule: 95 per cent of the population was illiterate.

The situation in Tibet today is by no means ideal, but it does represent a great improvement. Politically, Tibet is an "autonomous region" of China. Its total population, according to the most recent Census (1990), is 2.196 million. These figures are no doubt the official figures provided by the Government, but I see no reason to question them. They are a far cry from the figure of six million claimed by the Dalai Lama. 95.5 per cent of the population consists of ethnic Tibetans; only 3.7 percent are Ha n Chinese. The agrarian economy is still poor by any standard, but represents a considerable improvement over the last four decades. Education is taking off, although Tibet has still a long way to go. Religious freedom has been guaranteed, as indeed over all of China. The Cultural Revolution of 1966-76 was of course a setback, but this was the case over all of China; thankfully it is well behind us. Today there are some 46,000 resident monks and nuns, and Buddhism "is a strong all-pervasive presence in Tibet."

I began by saying that these articles are timely, giving – as they do – a more reliable picture than has been painted by propagandists of Dharmasala. Among our top leaders, especially the Hindu Right, there is an ambivalent attitude on the subject. Lip service is paid to the indisputable fact that the Tibet Autonomous Region is a part of China. But there is also a great deal of sympathy for the Dalai Lama and his claims. This ambivalence can cost us dearly if it leads to any impairment of our friendly r elations with China.

India is in a very vulnerable position in this regard. We have major ethnic problems in the north-eastern region. In the North-West, we have the longstanding problem of Kashmir. We must recognise that, in spite of its friendship with Pakistan, China has not taken a public position in favour of Pakistan. It has also kept aloof from the separatist politics in the north-eastern region.

Dr. Swamy has made two important points. First, India should not risk giving rise to a situation when a joint China-Pakistan attack may be launched against India. Second, India should do its best to settle all outstanding issues with China, including the border issue. Dr. Swamy has stated that "China has borders with 14 nations and, except for India, it has resolved its disputes with all, including Russia. India has borders with six countries and excluding Bhutan, it has disputes with all five." In fact , "in India that is Bharat", there are border disputes among the constituent States forming the Union of India – vide a recent report about a border dispute between Karnataka and Maharashtra.

It should be clear that India’s interests are best served by a policy that lends no support to the political activities of the Dalai Lama and his entourage. We cannot support the claim of the Dalai Lama to an independent Tibet, since by Treaty we recogni se that Tibet is an integral part of China. The pretence of a government-in-exile is also unworthy of support. The Chinese authorities have invited the Dalai Lama to come back to Lhasa, solely in his capacity as a religious leader. If the Dalai Lama acce pts this invitation, that would be a "consummation devoutly to be wished." I doubt if he would, or should, although Dr. Swamy recommends that the Dalai Lama return to Lhasa.

Let the Dalai Lama remain on Indian soil as long as he wishes, or lives. But let us make it clear that he is not heading "a government in exile". Let us take steps to prevent him and his entourage from engaging in anti-Chinese political activities. Let t he Vajpayee government speak with one voice on the subject in all public statements, whatever private views individual Ministers may have. Let us also start on a new round of talks with China, to mend our fences and solve all outstanding problems, includ ing the border issue.

C.V. Narasimhan
(former Under-Secretary General of the U.N.) Chennai



About kchew

an occasional culturalist
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