Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Consequences of the British Policy Shift on Tibet and Its Implications for India

I do not know if any of you have been following the recent events on the Tibetan issue. Following Beijing's hardening of its stand on the question of Tibetan autonomy, the talks collapsed leaving the Dalai Lama and Tibetan exiles with few good options to pursue their agenda.

So what prompted Beijing's sudden shift? While there has always been speculation that China is simply using these talks as a ruse in order to buy enough time to allow the Dalai Lama to pass away and the movement to peter out, an important event that has caught the attention of observers and is thought to have been a prime motivation are the recent statements of the British foreign secretary David Miliband.

Britain, as the former imperial power most closely associated with the political issues concerning Tibet has long adopted a position not unlike what India has taken insisting that Tibet is an autonomous part of China. But the recent statements recognizing direct Chinese rule in Tibet indicates a marked shift in that position.

Read the op-ed by Robert Barnett, a professor of Tibetan studies at Columbia University in today's NYT on the consequences of this British move. One point he makes that is not only true but disturbing is this:

Britain’s change of heart risks tearing up a historical record that frames the international order and could provide the basis for resolving China’s dispute with Tibet. The British government may have thought the issue of no significance to Britain’s current national interests and so did not submit it to public debate. But the decision has wider implications. India’s claim to a part of its northeast territories, for example, is largely based on the same agreements — notes exchanged during the Simla convention of 1914, which set the boundary between India and Tibet — that the British appear to have just discarded. That may seem minor to London, but it was over those same documents that a major war between India and China was fought in 1962, as well as a smaller conflict in 1987.

With the Chinese economy and its military strength both growing at a dizzying pace and the emergence of a dominant China in this part of the world, the consequences of these facts could prove to be ominous for India which has a still unsettled border dispute with that country. As the Dalai Lama pointed out recently, India has so far been overcautious on this matter. As for The Hindu, it has restricted itself to reporting news items without taking any position on the implications of these important developments vis-a-vis India. I would lay any wager that N.Ram is fully aware of these facts but has chosen to remain silent about them perhaps owing to his fealty to the Dragon.


Raghav said...

Have you noticed that whenever Chindu interviews a Chinese diplomat, it consciously avoids the issues of contention like Chinese controlled Kashmir or Northeast?

Pilid said...


The paper is anxious to stress the 'positive' side of China. Highlighting contentious issues detracts from the benevolent image it is seeking to project.