China's Tibetan Tussle

Published: 17th September 2014 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th September 2014 10:35 PM   |  A+A-

China has raised the profile of the Tibet issue in the weeks leading up to Chinese president Xi Jinping’s visit (September 17-19) to India. There have been at least two direct propaganda initiatives and another is planned for September 19, when the Chinese ministry of defence will take dozens of Beijing-based defence attaches to witness the progress Tibet has made since the Chinese takeover. Incidentally, Chinese defence attaches based in India do not travel to Jammu and Kashmir on tours organised by India’s defence ministry as China considers the state “disputed”. Reliable reports earlier emanating from Beijing indicated China’s leadership was deliberating whether to insist that, in the joint statement to be issued after Xi Jinping’s visit, India should reiterate that Tibet is a part of China, a statement India has withheld making for the past four years.

The first propaganda initiative to get international endorsement of Tibet’s progress under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rule was when China organised its first ever international “2014 Forum on the Development of Tibet’” in Lhasa on August 12-13. Over 100 invitees including 40 foreign delegates attended. N Ram —chairman of Kasturi and Sons Limited and publisher of The Hindu and an invitee—was quoted as saying that “thanks to China, Tibet’s interaction and integration with the rest of China has deepened and its isolation from the rest of the world has decisively been ended”. The delegates were later taken on “field trips” in Lhasa and to Nyingchi prefecture, which includes Arunachal Pradesh within its administrative jurisdiction.

Article 7 of the “Lhasa Consensus” issued by the conference, explicitly attacked the Dalai Lama and international media coverage of Tibet, generating some controversy. It stated that: “Participants unanimously agree that what they have actually seen in Tibet differs radically from what the 14th Dalai [Lama] and the Dalai clique have said. The Dalai clique’s statements on Tibet are distorted and incorrect... Many Western media reports are biased and have led to much misunderstanding.” Sir Bob Parker, former mayor of Christchurch, New Zealand, while still in Tibet clarified: “I’m aware that the statement was made but I certainly haven’t signed up to it. I think a number of people who were there were a little surprised to hear about that statement.”

The second propaganda overture was in the third week of August, when a group of seven South Asian journalists, including four from India, were hosted by the State Council Information Office on a tour to showcase developments in Tibet. Deputy secretary of the TAR Party Committee Wu Yingjie remarked to the journalists in Lhasa on August 25 that talks were on with the Dalai Lama. He clarified these were being held through “personal envoys” and limited to discussing the possibility of his return to Tibet. He said, “All Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama and the people around him, can return if they accept Tibet and Taiwan as part of China, and give up ‘splittist’ efforts.” Lobsang Sangay, Sikyong of the Tibetan administration in exile, responded: “As we have always been transparent, right now there isn’t any official contact or dialogue taking place (with the Chinese leadership).”

In another development, China used a report in a German newspaper to restate its role in recognising “reincarnations” of “living Buddhas”. The German newspaper Welt am Sonntag quoted the Dalai Lama as saying on September 8 that “the institution of the Dalai Lama has served its purpose”. He said, “We had a Dalai Lama for almost five centuries. The 14th Dalai Lama now is very popular. Let us then finish with a popular Dalai Lama. If a weak Dalai Lama comes along, then it will just disgrace the Dalai Lama.”

Though Ganden Phodrang, the Dalai Lama’s office in Dharamsala, asserted the next day that the Dalai Lama’s comments had been misunderstood, nonetheless on September 10, the Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman announced that China had a “set religious procedure and historic custom” governing the reincarnation of “living Buddhas”, including the Dalai Lama. She said, “China follows a policy of freedom of religion and belief, and this naturally includes having to respect and protect the ways of passing on Tibetan Buddhism. The title of Dalai Lama is conferred by the central government, which has hundreds of years of history. The (present) 14th Dalai Lama has ulterior motives, and is seeking to distort and negate history, which is damaging to the normal order of Tibetan Buddhism.”

Also on September 9, a Shanghai-based Chinese news service described 2014 as an “unlucky year” for the Dalai Lama. It observed his visit to Mongolia was cancelled; he was denied a visa to visit South Africa; and the Russian foreign minister cancelled his invitation to visit Russia. It added the Indian government had proposed that some religious activities planned by the Dalai Lama’s Office be postponed because the dates clashed with Xi Jinping’s first visit to India.

Citing foreign media reports, the Chinese news service claimed the Dalai Lama had invited a number of religious leaders to participate in a religious gathering in New Delhi on September 18-19, thereby putting the Modi government in a dilemma because Modi would be busy with Xi Jinping’s India visit. Because of the Chinese government’s sensitivity on the issue of the Dalai Lama, the Modi government had “secretly” proposed that the event be postponed to September 20-21. The report added Modi’s invitation to the Dalai Lama’s political successor and leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile to attend his inauguration ceremony has “greatly dissatisfied” Beijing. It recalled that in November 2011, Beijing had delayed state councillor Dai Bingguo’s visit to India by nearly six weeks because India had declined China’s request to stop the Dalai Lama from attending the Global Buddhist Conference. It pointed out that while Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama of activities aimed at “splitting China”, New Delhi recognises the Dalai Lama as its “distinguished guest” and allows him to move freely throughout the territory of India and participate in religious gatherings.

In conclusion, the report disclosed that during the visit to India, Xi Jinping would discuss issues relating to the Tibetan government in exile. They include the adherence of Indian leaders to commitments such as the “one-China” policy and prohibition on Tibetans in India from carrying out anti-China activities. Mentioning he would request India to “close the door for the Tibetan government in exile in India”, it noted analysts as saying, however, that the Modi government is unlikely to succumb to Beijing’s pressure.

The writer is a member of the National Security Advisory Board and former additional secretary in the cabinet secretariat, Indian government.

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