The United States Congress has passed a Tibet Policy and Support Act that says the choice of the next Dalai Lama is the prerogative only of Tibetans. In addition, any attempt by the Chinese to interfere in the Dalai Lama’s succession would result in sanctions against that country. Lobsang Sangay, the Prime Minister of the Tibetan-government-inexile has already made his first visit to Washington D.C. It is almost certain that China will not sit quiet on the American action. But then controversy is the spice of politics. It is likely that sanctions lead to counter action and so on.
India need not do anything publicly but at the same time respect the seniority and holiness of the Dalai Lama if he declares his successor. He may address his country’s young men and women to tell them to come to India if they not happy where they are. He knows there will be employment for them. Let us face it. Until 1951, China had no ongoing suzerainty over Tibet. During the rule of the Manchus over China, Sino-Tibetans relations were cordial. So much so that in 1728, Chinese imperial troops helped to quell a civil war in Tibet. When Tibet had to face wars with Ladakh in 1842 and with the Gurkhas in 1858 however, the Manchus could not help. What kind of suzerainty was that?
To clear all and any claims of Manchus to overlordship, Tibet in 1912 expelled all Chinese from their land and declared Tibetan independence as a republic. It was only in October 1950 that the Chinese invaded eastern Tibet. In 1951 Peking (now Beijing) dictated a treaty with Lhasa. It was an open act of aggression and it was unfortunate that India recognized it out of ignorance as well as leftist sympathies for Communist China. If the matter goes to the International Court of Justice at the Hague the only piece of paper that China can produce before the court is a treaty with Britain in 1904 which recognized Chinese suzerainty over Tibet without Lhasa being a participant at all. Who was Britain to sell out Tibetan sovereignty? Encyclopedia Britannica confirms this fact.
‘Power grows out of the barrel of a gun’, so said Chairman Mao Zedong decades ago. Thus he declared to the world how dear the gun was to him. One would however have presumed that as a responsible statesman, he did not mean to announce that China was a big bully. Nevertheless, the yellow giant has hardly any friend or ally beyond North Korea and Pakistan. Mao Zedong did not spare even the superpower Soviet Union; in 1960 he began the quarrel with Moscow, according to Neville Maxwell, a former South Asia correspondent of The Times, London. Peking (now Beijing) began by accusing Nikita Khrushchev, the General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party of being a revisionist soon after the 1959 revolt in Tibet. Peking felt that ideologically the correct thing to do was for the Soviets to support it rather than New Delhi.
Soon thereafter tension began on the banks of the Ussuri river which traditionally marked the frontier of Russia in Asia. The tension escalated by the year until in March 1969, it exploded into the Battle of Zhenbao Island on the river. Across is the Xinjiang province of China where are concentrated the Muslim Uyghurs. Although the Soviet Union was loaded with a nuclear arsenal, Mao Zedong was confident that a large number of men can overwhelm a weaponized enemy. Human power, at its best and largest, would be decisive over economic power plus armaments. Reportedly, the Politburo in Moscow was apprehensive of a mass invasion into Soviet territory; there is still very much a possibility that it may take place. China has people without space while Russia has land space without people. What an extraordinary contrast between neighbours. Each can fit into the other.
Yet in 1968, the Soviet Union had nearly 400,000 soldiers and 1,200 aircraft on its border while China reportedly had deployed a million and a half troops on its frontier. In the 1969 Battle of Zhenbao, about a hundred soldiers were killed and approximately 300 were wounded. One has to imagine the Chinese gumption to be aggressive against a nuclear power who could then have wiped out a large part of the yellow giant. Russia and India are not the only countries with whom China has or has had border disputes. It is fair to say that if you think of disputes, do not forget China, which has claims on 16 neighbours and near neighbours. We have seen how large to giant countries like India and Russia have been targets. At the other hand, even small to tiny nations like Brunei, Kyrgyzstan and Laos are also not outside China’s fishing net of disputes. As a wag put it, in the event China intrudes eastern Russia, say even Vladivostok, Beijing will lay claim on Alaska because once upon a time it belonged to the Czarist empire.
Believe it not, from time to time, China has claimed that North Korea is a part of the yellow giant. However, until it exercises its claim, the neighbour continues to be a faithful ally. Taiwan was earlier called Formosa island which, upon its defeat, Japan was made to hand over to the locals. On the Maoists taking over mainland China, Chiang Kaishek’s Kuomintang party members and other followers sailed across and took refuge on the island. Historically, it was first visited by the Portuguese, then the Dutch and later by the Spaniards. Later came some Chinese refugees from the Ming dynasty on the mainland and similarly came some Manchus. In 1895, after the Sino-Japanese war, the island was ceded to Japan. Yet today’s China claims Taiwan’s ownership. Fortunately, because of its own development as well as its armed forces plus underwriting by the USA, Taiwan has remained independent.
China shares a land border of 1,300 km with Vietnam. China claims large parts of Vietnam on historical grounds. Both countries are also at loggerheads over Macclesfield Bank Paracel Islands, parts of the South China Sea and the Spratly Islands. China claims parts of the East China Sea, particularly the Senkaku Islands in Japanese territory.
China and Kazakhstan share a border of some 1,700 kilometres in China’s vast northwestern province of Xinjiang, where mostly the Muslim Uyghurs live. There are unilateral claims by China on Kazakhstan territory. China claims Kyrgyzstan on the grounds that it had unfairly itself surrendered the territory to Russia in the 19th century. Tajikistan is claimed by China again on historical grounds.
China and Burma share a long border of over 2,000 kilometres; they signed a border agreement in 1960. Yet the Burmese feel threatened from time to time. Laos has the same problem despite a border treaty signed in 1991. Mongolia has a long frontier with China of over 4,500 kilometres and China claims the whole country on the basis of its theory of history. Over and above these claims, there are several more against Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore over parts of the South China Sea.