President Trump last week signed legislation termed as the Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020. This determines the official United States policy on succession of Tibetan Buddhist leaders, including the Dalai Lama. It states that determining the successor of the Dalai Lama is solely for Tibetan Buddhists to decide, without interference from the Chinese government. Chinese officials who interfere in the process of selecting Tibetan Buddhist leaders would be subject to sanctions.
The Act also calls for the setting up of a US consulate in Lhasa, which China is unwilling to concede, as it could be the first step in recognizing Tibet as an occupied territory. Indian media, considering Chinese offensive actions in Ladakh, bullying tactics against its smaller neighbours and being the host of the Tibetan government in exile, supported the legislation wholeheartedly. It was also praised by the common Indian on social media sites.
The Chinese spokesperson at its embassy in Delhi, Ji Rong, issued a statement to say: ‘We hope Indian media take an objective and fair stance on issues concerning China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, grasp the highly sensitive nature of Xizang (Tibet)-related issues, look at Xizang’s economic and social progress objectively, do more to help ChinaIndia bilateral relations move forward instead of advocating playing Tibet card to meddle in China’s internal affairs and further damage the bilateral relations.”
This statement was undesirable and unwarranted. China is aware that the determination of the next Dalai Lama is crucial to its hold on Tibet.
In this context the spokesperson added, “the next Dalai Lama will be chosen within Tibet in compliance with Chinese laws and regulations and through a process that will have to be ratified by authorities in Beijing.”
The Chinese have also insisted that the current Dalai Lama and India cannot have any role in this process. The fear of a Tibetan uprising runs high within Beijing.
Hence, Ji Rong added, “China firmly opposes any country, organisation or individual supporting the anti-China separatist activities of the ‘Tibetan independence’ forces in any form and under any pretext.”
The Chinese claims were torn apart by the representative of the Dalai Lama, Ngodup Dongchung. He stated in an article in The Week, “the institution of the Dalai Lama lineage, which dates back to 1391, has all the potential to outlive the present Chinese communist regime which came into existence in 1949.”
He concluded by stating, “the Chinese embassy in India is entitled to its own views on how to salvage its beleaguered relations with India… the growing popular clamour in India to revisit its Tibet policy is so deafening that one simply cannot sweep it under the carpet by berating the Indian media.”
In October, after Indians had supported Taiwan on its national day, the Chinese embassy issued a letter, mentioning, “we hope Indian media can stick to Indian government’s position on Taiwan question and do not violate the One-China principle. In particular, Taiwan shall not be referred to as a ‘country (nation)’ or ‘Republic of China’ or the leader of China’s Taiwan region as ‘President’, so as not to send the wrong signals to the general public.”
The Indian government responded by stating, ‘there is a free media in India and reports as it sees fit.’ Indian media had interviewed the Chinese ambassador on multiple occasions since the standoff commenced. His comments, toeing the Chinese line and placing the onus of talks and reconciliation on the Indian government were always published. But when the Indian ambassador to China issued a counter to an interview of the Pakistani ambassador on Kashmir in the Global Times, it refused to publish the same.
The embassy was compelled to publish it on its website. What China fears post its misadventure in Ladakh, where it is pushed into a stalemate with no chance of success, is India abandoning its OneChina policy. It is aware that India holds the cards with the Tibetan government in exile located here.
Removing restrictions on the Dalai Lama and his government could push Tibet into anarchy which China will find difficult to control. World pressure would mount, forcing China to the backfoot. The growing anti-China sentiment within India is hurting the Chinese economically and diplomatically. The Global Times stated in an article on 29 December, “hatred against China is multidimensional, not only originating just from geopolitical conflicts, but also the Covid-19 pandemic, affairs related to India’s neighbours like Nepal and Pakistan, as well as China’s normal business activities in the country.”
The Chinese, by their actions, are responsible for this growing anger. It is unlikely to subside anytime soon, as every Indian continues to view China as an enemy, as against a competitor from earlier days. The fact being missed by China is that it was accepted as a friend despite trade imbalances, its anti-India policies, backing Pakistan and even preventing India from joining organizations like the NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group).
Though Indian military leaders had raised threats of a two-front war, the government believed otherwise. Its perception was that diplomacy would keep the Chinese at bay.
The government, seeking to avoid confrontation and trusting China, had reduced defence budgets to the lowest levels since 1962. All this changed with the Chinese incursion and worsened after Galwan.
India, grabbing heights on the southern bank of Pangong Tso gained the much-needed confidence that it could hold the Chinese PLA at bay.
It also understood the chinks within the Chinese armour. Chinese manoeuvres in Ladakh were the last straw. It misjudged Indian nationalism and is paying for it. To add to anger are the childish, illogical and unwarranted comments by its media head in Delhi.
The more its spokesperson seeks to counter Indian media and thought process, the greater alienation it faces. Trust in China is at an all-time low. Rebuilding it is in Chinese hands. These are not being helped by the current Chinese approach and attitude of its embassy. Comments by Chinese spokespersons should be ignored, and China treated with disdain.
The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.