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Home > India > News > Columnists > Claude Arpi

10 positive things about the recent events in Tibet

April 07, 2008

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An event which may look negative at first sight can also trigger positive collaterals. We have listed 10 encouraging aspects of the recent unrest in Tibet and the subsequent Chinese muscled clampdown.

 

1. Increased awareness about Tibet

 

Perhaps one of the most positive aspects of the recent events in Lhasa and other parts of Tibet has been the tremendous increase in awareness about the Tibetan issue in India and abroad.

 

The Tibet question was buried on November 24, 1950, when the Indian representative to the United Nations told his colleagues that India would directly take up the question of the invasion of Tibet with the Chinese Communist authorities. It would be solved amicably, he said.

 

Nothing was done, though a few weeks later Nehru declared in Parliament. 'Since Tibet is not the same as China, it should ultimately be the wishes of the people of Tibet that should prevail and not any legal or constitutional arguments.'

 

But he had already written in a secret note, 'We can not save Tibet.'

 

During the following years, not only did Delhi continue to remain silent, but in 1954, it signed the Panchsheel Agreement (or 'Agreement between The Republic of India and The People's Republic of China on Trade and Intercourse between Tibet Region of China and India'). For the first time in history, India accepted China's claim that Tibet was part of China.

 

Today everyone in India and around the world can see that the 'wishes of the people' in Tibet have been completely crushed, while the fate of Tibet remains crucial for India's security. More awareness about the issue is therefore most welcome.

 

2. Shift from Pakistan-centric politics

 

Another positive fall-out is that the Indian establishment (politicians, bureaucrats, intelligence agencies, think-tanks and the army) are slowly losing their perennial obsession with our Western neighbour.

 

Since Independence, India has had only one enemy, Pakistan. Apart from the periodical declarations of George Fernandes or Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's letter to President Clinton: 'We have an overt nuclear weapon state on our borders, a state which committed armed aggression against India in 1962,' the deciders in Delhi have lived and acted with an  Islamabad fixation.

 

Army exercises such as the recent Brazier Chariots are another sign of this Pakistan-centric attitude.

 

The intensive coverage of the Tibetan riots and the hundreds of in-depth analysis may bring a new awareness and a paradigm shift in the strategic scenario in Asia.

 

3. Phenomenal Intelligence failure

 

It was good news (for India at least) to discover that China is no better at collecting intelligence! Indian spies must have felt rotten about the Kargil episode as they were not able to detect the Pakistani infiltrations in time. But it was nothing compared to the colossal failure of the Chinese spies on the Roof of the World who did not see anything brewing, not only in Lhasa, but also in the other two traditional provinces of Tibet, Kham and Amdo.

 

Already between 1979 and 1982, when the first fact-finding delegations sent by the Dalai Lama visited different parts of Tibet, the party cadre had thought that the Tibetan leaders' envoys would be received with stones and insults. To their great stupefaction, the delegations were triumphantly welcomed by the local population.

 

It is strange that the intelligence services of the People's Republic of China are unable to catch the mood of the people! Soon heads will probably roll. Already Danzeng Langjie, a top official and director of Tibet's Ethnic Minority and Religious Affairs Commission has been 'removed' from his post, but how can anything change as long as the intelligence inputs are based on ideology and not on facts? China has a big problem here.

 

4. China has shown another face

 

During the last few weeks, Beijing has shown another face. One of the main objectives of Hu Jintao's government had been to project the Peaceful Rise of China. Beijing has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to polish and project its new image. The culmination was to be the Olympics Games, aimed at showing a strong, powerful, harmonious and stable China.

 

China watchers knew that behind the 'peaceful' show, the tiger (not a paper one) was dozing; ready to jump on its prey should the time come. The megalomaniac investment in the defence sector was an indication of what the tiger China is up to.

 

The immediate and brutal repression on the Roof of the World as well as the cutting of the telecom lines in Tibet or the censuring of internet all over China has shown the totalitarian face of the regime. And we don't even have information on what has happened in Xinjiang.

 

5. Strategic importance of the Tibetan plateau

 

There has been a tendency to forget the geostrategic importance of the Tibetan plateau. The first train reached Lhasa in July 2006. In 2007 alone, 3.8 million Chinese used the railway line to 'visit' Tibet. Before the riots, very few in India were ready to look at the demographic changes on the plateau and its consequences for India's security. Also, who cared for the fact that all the majors rivers of Asia had their source in Tibet and that the flow of these rivers could be diverted to arid regions of China?

 

The present focus on Tibet is bound to trigger more research into the importance of the plateau as a geostrategic and environmental link between India and China. It will be realised that it is impossible to solve an issue such as the border dispute with China until and unless the Tibetan issue is solved to the satisfaction of all. This is good!

 

6. Definition of Tibet

 

The Dalai Lama has been insisting that Tibet consists of the three provinces of U-Tsang (Central Tibet), Kham and Amdo.

 

Today different parts of Amdo are administratively attached to the provinces of Qinghai, Gansu & Sichuan, while most of Kham is incorporated into the provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan and Qinghai.

 

Central and Western Tibet, together with western Kham, is today known as the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). It represents less than half of pre-1950 Tibet. When the Chinese government speaks about Tibet, it only refers to the TAR.

 

The riots have shown that traditional Tibet remains only one entity as far as discontent and demonstrations are concerned. The unrest occurred equally in the three different provinces. Awareness of this historic fact is encouraging.

 

7. Opening a debate within the Chinese Communist Party

 

Another positive aspect! The Chinese Communist Party does not know the meaning of Glasnost, 'this policy of maximal publicity, openness, and transparency in the activities of all government institutions in the Soviet Union, together with freedom of information, introduced by Mikhail Gorbachev.'

 

However, the Tibet events may force a serious debate among the Chinese apparatchiks. The web site, Intelligence Online, speaks of 'A War Room to Keep Down Tibet' and adds, 'Formed last week by President Hu Jintao to prevent uprisings in Tibet and neighboring provinces, the 'special working group on Tibet' has a second objective: to counter conservative elements in government and the Chinese Communist Party who feel that too much flexibility in the run-up to the Olympic Games could trigger unrest that would undermine the status of the one-party state.'

 

Whether the above report is true or not, an in-depth debate has probably started within the Politburo. It is a healthy (though not spontaneous) outcome.

 

8. Sleepless nights

 

One can hope that many world leaders will spend sleepless nights in the weeks and months to come. It will give them time to eventually rethink their respective policies. One can mention President Hu Jintao and his comrades of the Politburo's standing committee who will face the music before (and after) the Olympics. If the Games becomes a propaganda failure (they already are), their nights might even be longer.

 

In India, the prime minister (a regular member of the sleepless nights club), his foreign minister (let us hope that Taslima will also haunt him) and others in South Block will have to constantly walk on a tightrope between the pressures coming from Beijing and political decency. (Needless of course to mention the Indian Ambassador to Beijing who will probably be called again in the dark of Beijing night to meet Chinese officials.)

 

Nicolas Sarkozy, the President of France who assumes the EU presidency on July 1, will probably have to spend some nights pondering how to give a moral and ethical lead to his 26 EU colleagues.

 

Unfortunately, the Dalai Lama also will not sleep well (though I believe he prays for the Chinese during his nights). He will have to find the balance between his restive youth and his Buddhist precepts.

 

9. Olympics in their true context

 

We often forget that an Olympic year is always a special year for humanity. In reviving the ancient tradition of the Olympic Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin's first and foremost objective was to 'build men' and not merely exhibit sporting prowess. The argument that the Olympics are purely a sports event is historically and ethically wrong.

 

For Coubertin, Olympism was a religion which would 'adhere to an ideal of superior life and aspire for perfection.' He spoke of a quadrennial Human Spring. If events in Tibet could trigger a rediscovery of this 'religion of humanity' across the world, it would be a boon.

 

10. The Games

 

In 2001, the IOC's President, Jacques Rogge told the Press: 'We are convinced that the Olympic Games will improve human rights in China.' Well, he certainly did not have the present scenario in mind; he probably thought that it would be (good) business as usual.

 

Since then, the wretched of the earth have stood up and invited themselves to the Great Game.

 

The French Baron selected this beautiful creed: 'The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.'

 

Let us pray that it resounds again and again in Beijing and the Flame of the Human Spirit will shine forth in the months to come.


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