On the eve of October 1st, when China was celebrating its National day, commemorating 71years of Communist Party rule, Indian security and strategic affairs think tank Usanas Foundation had organized a Webinar to bring the global attention to the lost and forgotten Tibetan cause, also pertinent to the current turn of events in the global arena. The focus of the Webinar was on the ‘Tibet Policy and Support Act of 2019’, its impact on the future course of the United States of America’s policy directives towards Tibet, and the possible spillover effect on New Delhi’s ‘One China policy’ and the Tibetan resistance movement.
Dr. Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director, Asia Program, Woodrow Wilson Center, made the opening remarks reflecting on the profound impact the Tibet cause had on Hollywood and Popular pop culture in the United States. He said that the Trump Administration’s China strategy is not directed at the Chinese people or their culture but the Communist Party of China. According to Mr. Kugelman, the downward spiral of the US-Sina relations started with Beijing’s failure in mediating the ‘North Korea Nuclear and Peace Negotiations,’ and Beijing’s pursuit of a muscular foreign policy which not well received in Washington D.C. He asserted that if Democrats’ presidential Candidate Joe Biden ascends to power, the USA’s strategy towards China might explore avenues of cooperation and tone down on the tough stand but overall, there is a consensus about disciplining China as opposed to complete reversal of existing China Policy. China’s abusive behavior of border spat with India, Taiwan, the South China Sea, and the unilateral imposition of New National Security law in Hong Kong, coupled with the wolf warrior style of diplomacy, could impact the U.S’s national security strategy with robust support to Tibet. Push back the wolf warrior diplomacy, which flags strength.
Dr. Kugelman further added that the two important documents defining and guiding the U.S.’s foreign policy objects are the 2017 ‘National Security Strategy’ and the May 2020’s document titled ‘United States Strategic Approach to the people’s Republic of China.’ In these two essential documents, the emphasis is laid on ‘countering the China threat’ and not ‘containing.’ It is also argued that the U.S has a moral responsibility to ‘counter’ China’s continued threat. He also brought attention to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement calling the Chinese claims in the South China Sea are ‘Unlawful’ which indicates the policy shift. In his concluding remarks, Dr. Michael Kugelman said, ‘although the U.S and China are partners in counter-terrorism and infrastructure building, he believes that the U.S’s interests are better served in ‘countering China’ and cant go soft; Joe Biden might not soften the U.S strategy but soften diplomacy. Policymakers view the belt and road initiative as a military expansionist trojan horse.
The second speaker of the Webinar, Dr. Rajeswari Rajgopalan, Distinguished Fellow, ORF and Head, Nuclear and Space Policy Initiative-The U.S Bill will certainly impact India. Post Galwan conflict, India has become more antagonistic towards China. She alluded to the elite public opinion makers in India who call for a strong response and support to Tibet, Dalai Lama, and not merely use Tibet as a ‘card’ when needed to antagonize China. She demanded the Indian Government to stand a stand on Tibet and Taiwan and review of the One China Policy. There is a wave of public anger with the policy proposal to rename the Indo-China border to the ‘Indo-Tibet border,’ highlighted by Arunachal Pradesh’s Chief Minister Pema Khandu calling the Line of Actual Control as Indo-Tibet border during his interaction with Jawans at the border. Referring to a Hindustan Times article on Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s proposal to recalibrate the ties with China and reappraisal of Tibet policy, re-examine and challenge the legitimacy of ‘Tibet claims’ of China.
Dr. Rajeswari citing the article noted that Tibet’s independence is intertwined with the values of India and whether the growing sentiment will be gratified as a policy is to be seen. Dr. Rajgopalan drew attention to conferring India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna, to His Highness Dalai Lama and the people of Tibet for the remarkable and longest peaceful resistance of our times. She also pointed out the consensus among the Indian diplomatic community to acknowledge the failure of the two informal summits between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping. In referring to China’s consistent irritation and opposition to the Indian ministerial and His Holiness Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, she remarked that New Delhi had been soft and downplayed the Tibet issue. She called for a consistent, serious, and carefully curated Tibet policy than merely activate ‘Tibet cause’ as a ‘card’ to irk the Chinese.
The third speaker was a Tibetan Writer and activist who was jailed by the Indian Government several times for peaceful assembly and protesting against China Mr. Tenzin Tsundue. Mr. Tsundue and the co-panelist Tenzin Dorjee(Tendor), a Senior Researcher at Tibet Action Institute, expressed their transcending gratitude to the Indian Government and the people of India for welcoming and hosting Tibetan refuges. As the repression under Xi’s new ‘Tibet Sinicization’ is the cause of greater concern for the Tibetan community living in the Tibet Autonomous region, occupied by China in 1950, the two activists jointly placed a request for the Government of India to allow and accept the new Tibetan refugees who are fleeing the cultural genocide.
Mr. Tsundue’s views are that of a Tibetan activist expressed the collective Tibetan yearning for liberation from the cultural genocide. Referring to President Nixon’s trip to China in 1972, he said, ‘the U.S.’s support for Tibetan liberation, CIA’s assistance in aiding and training armed rebellion was to contain the ideological opponent Communist China, the support to the guerilla rebellion diminished after the Sino-American rapprochement,.’ He said India went into a ‘freeze mode,’ i.e., ‘let us not talk about Tibet’ mode, after recognizing the Tibet Autonomous Region as part of China. Mr. Tsunde alluded to the recent Chinese aggressions at Galwan as Xi backstabbing PM Modi, and unmasking of Beijing’s ‘façade relationship.’ He made some recommendations for the Indian Government, such as to use the nomenclature ‘Indo-Tibetan Border’ replacing Indo-China Border, to add Tibetan history and cultural links with India in schools&colleges textbooks, and perceive the Tibetan cause as ‘India’s civilizational responsibility’ and in toto India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Both the Tibetan activists noted that Tibetans accepted the ‘Middle way approach’ of His Holiness Lama, only to sustain the movement for a while, and believe that now the time has come for ‘Tibet’s independence.’
The fourth and last speaker of the Webinar, Mr. Tenzin Dorjee, made some insightful commentary on China’s deep-seated paranoia, emanating from the Covid19 crisis’s test of the CCP’s performance legitimacy( economic prosperity) which the party has been boasting for years, propagating a Chinese governance model. He added that for Tibetans to rekindle the liberation movement, they need political backing from India and the U.S. He said Tibetans regard highly of India’s independence movement and feel that ‘Swaraj’ is their birth-right and ape for the support of the civilizational big brother. He said China’s aggressions at Ladhak, Arunachal, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, occupation villages in Nepal, and the cultural genocide in TAR would persist as long as Tibet is under China. The speaker also emphasized preventing genocide is inclusive of the nomenclature, evoking ‘responsibility to protect’ to stop the cultural genocide in Tibet(TAR), East Turkestan( Xinjiang autonomous region), and Inner Mongolia. He said China is a surveillance state, and it is a threat to the global community and liberty across the globe.
The academic community, even in the U.S, is becoming more and more closed and cautious of airing opinions even in classrooms due to Chinese snooping and possible repercussions. He also said China uses visas as bait for Tibetans living outside of TAR, and open entry, the immigration officers, collect all the contact details (relationship/personal /official) and use it for intimation, torture, and blackmail. China has held many Tibetans in TAR as hostages for the actions of those relatives living in exile as refugees. Most importantly, Mr. Doorje reinstated China’s mendacity towards multilateralism; and that China pushes Bilateral dialogue to resolve any squabble /conflict to weaken the international institutional liberal world order by employing a ‘ divide and rule’ strategy of divide the international community and preventing a consensus against China; as it did so in averting a global consensus against it on Covid19 outbreak.
It appears that India’s biggest challenge is handling paranoid Chinese leadership, which is obsessed with flagging military strength and diplomatic intimation. China is posing a threat to Tibetans’ ethnic and linguistic identities of Uyghurs, and Inner Mongolians. China is the only country sitting on occupied land, accounting for more than 60 percent of its total landmass. The Tibetan activists made concluding remarks with their profound gratitude to the host countries India and the U.S and reiterated that ‘India is a country they can trust.’ China will not cease to niggling India as India is the only Asian country that challenges the Chinese governance model, economy, and military might.