Comrades in the Middle Kingdom must learn from their history and be prepared. New Delhi can be ‘neutral’ but also side with the Tibetans, especially if Beijing continues to side with Pakistan’s terrorist activities
In April 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping paid his first state visit to Pakistan. The friendship between the two nations was “Higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, sweeter than honey, and stronger than steel,” said the billboards in Chinese and English in Islamabad.
The Washington Post remarked: “Xi arrived in Islamabad bearing real gifts: An eye-popping $46 billion worth of planned energy and infrastructure investment to boost Pakistan’s flagging economy.” It sounded like a Chinese Dream for Islamabad!
Beijing had decided to open a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which would link up Xi’s pet project, the two New Silks Roads (also known as ‘One Belt, One Road’); through the Karakoram Highway, the Chinese-sponsored port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea would connect to the Xinjiang Province in China’s Far West and Central Asia …and later Middle East, Africa and Europe.
The ‘corridor’ would have railways, roads, optical fiber cables, dams (to produce required electricity), pipelines! Pakistan was China’s perfect docile ‘partner’; it was geographically ideally positioned with an access to the sea in the South and to Central Asia in the North.
It was of course before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s August 15 Independence Day speech. From the ramparts of the Red Fort, he asserted: “The people of Balochistan, the people of Gilgit, the people of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) have thanked me in such a manner, from places that I have never been and never had a chance to meet, they have sent wishes to the people of India and thanked us… I am grateful to them.”
During past weeks, Pakistan had been trying hard to bring the Kashmir issue on the world scene, by sponsoring an uprising in the valley. Now China realises that the CPEC project might not go as smoothly as planned.
In less than a week, Beijing twice denied Islamabad’s claim that it backed Pakistan’s views on Kashmir. Beijing asked India and Pakistan “to engage in dialogue to properly resolve disputes, including the Kashmir left over from history.”
The Pakistani Press had earlier reported that Yu Boren, the Chinese Consul General in Lahore had said: “In case of any (foreign) aggression, our country will extend its full support to Pakistan.” Yu had apparently stated that “the aspirations of the Kashmiris’ should be taken into account in resolving the Kashmir issue”.
Clearly, Beijing does not know how to react to the new situation. Several Chinese experts claimed there was “no evidence to prove Pakistan is behind the Uri attack” and that “irrational decisions (from Delhi’s side) would complicate India’s relations with Pakistan.”
When Home Minister Rajnath Singh announced that the 3,323 km India-Pakistan border would be completely sealed by December 2018, Hu Zhiyong, a scholar at the Institute of International Relations of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences told India Today: “(India’s) decision reflects its Cold War mentality, and would only cause deeper hatred among residents living in Indian and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.”
Meanwhile, Beijing remains opposed to India’s entry to the Nuclear Supplier Group and is not moving an inch towards supporting Delhi on the listing of Masood Azhar, the Jaish-e-Mohammed chief as a ‘terrorist’ in the UN.
In these circumstances, it would be good to remind China of the case of Tibet. While Beijing regularly threatens Delhi that if the activities of the Tibetan refugees are not roped in by Delhi, despite its declared ‘neutral’ stance, China itself fully sides with Pakistan on Kashmir. Delhi could also be ‘neutral’ but side with the Tibetans.
In 2012, when Beijing was issuing stapled visas for Kashmiri residents, China wanted to make a point: Beijing does not recognise Jammu & Kashmir as an integral part of India. Visa was denied to Lt Gen BS Jaswal, Northern Command boss, to attend a preplanned defence meeting in Beijing. The Chinese Embassy said that the General was serving in the ‘sensitive location of Jammu & Kashmir’ and ‘people from this part of the world come with a different visa’.
If Beijing continues to play with the ‘Kashmir’ issue, Delhi could easily play the Tibet card. Four years ago, BJP leader Yashwant Sinha stated during the Zero Hour in the Lok Sabha that China has been carrying out the ‘grossest’ violations of human rights in Tibet over the last 60 years. The former External Affairs Minister said that Tibetans were disturbed by “excessive use of military force, religious restrictions, disappearances and detentions, removal of nomads and degradation of ecological system in the region under Chinese rule.”
Take Article 370 of the Constitution; India could ask for a similar clause to be applied to Tibet; the Tibetan issue, according to the aspiration of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people, would be solved. Article 370 mentions that except for Defence, Foreign Affairs, Finance and Communications, the Indian Parliament needs the State Government’s concurrence for applying most of the other laws.
Today, a citizen of Jammu & Kashmir lives under a separate set of laws, including those related to citizenship, ownership of property, and fundamental rights. When the Dalai Lama asks for ‘genuine’ autonomy for Tibet, he does not ask for more than that. Can you imagine Tibet with its own Constitution?
Jammu & Kashmir has its own flag, Tibet had its own flag too. Dharamsala would be delighted. Further in Jammu & Kashmir, Indian citizens from other States cannot purchase land or property, can you imagine the consequences of a similar clause for Tibet?
If people from Han nationality were not allowed to acquire properties on the Roof of the World or start business ventures in Lhasa or other large cities (in Nyingchi prefecture, north of the McMahon Line in particular), tensions and resentment would diminish greatly.
People of Jammu & Kashmir have their own ‘citizenship’ in the form of a State-subjectship with its own privileges; for example, a non-State-subject can’t study in a university in Kashmir. Imagine Tibet with its own Legislative Assembly or local Parliament (not a fake one as today in Tibet, but an elected one) …and federal laws from Beijing would have to be ratified by elected legislators in Lhasa!
One need to remember, however, that there are basic differences between Tibet and Kashmir. Tibet has for centuries managed its own affairs; Tibet was an independent State before 1950 with Representatives of India, Nepal, Bhutan and China operating from Lhasa. Kashmir has always been part of the Indian subcontinent and kashmiriyat remains an important aspect of Indian civilisation. It is not the case of Tibet, where the language, script, religion and culture have their own identity, entirely different from the Chinese.
The comrades in Beijing should learn their history and be prepared for Delhi raising sooner or later the Tibetan issue, especially if Beijing continues to side with the terrorist activities of its ‘all-weather friend’.
(The writer is a commentator and author on India-China relations)