Monday, February 20, 2012

The meaning of Tibetan autonomy

The Aksai Chin Road
One wonders why, during a visit to Beijing in June 2003, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee decided to put the border talks on a ‘fast track’.
Were Vajpayee’s advisors dreaming that China would return Aksai Chin and drop their claims on Arunachal Pradesh in a matter of months?
Though two Special Representatives were nominated, no quick-fix solution should have been anticipated. The issue had earlier been discussed in 1960 and then in the 1980’s, but the ‘perception gap’ is far too large to disappear in a short time. However now, instead of admitting the hard facts, Beijing is trying to put the blame on India.
An Editorial in The People’s Daily stated that some contradictions existed between China and India which “are still severely disturbing the normal development of the China-India relations”.
But the article only speaks of the Indian ‘contradictions’.
The mouthpiece of the Communist Party says that the 15 meetings have resulted in “many positive achievements”, though “it is still far away from reaching a fair, just and reasonable agreement”.
What would be a ‘reasonable’ agreement for China? It would be two-fold.
First, India would have to acknowledge that the Aksai Chin belongs to China (with perhaps some minor adjustments). Nobody can deny that New Delhi was foolish, to say the least, in the 1950’s when it did not notice that Mao’s Liberation Army had built a road through Indian territory; but the government’s foolishness does not make ipso facto the territory A part of the People’s Republic of China.
The People’s Daily further affirms: “The Indian side believes that the border dispute between China and India covers not only the eastern region of 90,000 square kilometers but also the western region of 30,000 square kilometers and the western region is India's too. This wrong argument, which totally disregards the history, still has supporters in India.”
The 90,000 square kilometers correspond to the entire State of Arunachal Pradesh.
The People’s Daily asserts that the first and most important issue is the McMahon Line: “The main barrier still comes from the Indian side. First, many Indian media insist that the border line between China and India should be based on the ‘McMahon Line’ left by British colonists.”
The fundamental issue is that China has traditionally tried to grab land which does not belong to it and it has done this with all its neighbours.
With this in mind, the government of British India and the Tibetan government decided to fix their border in 1914.
After China had invaded Tibet for a short time in 1910-11, (forcing the Thirteenth Dalai Lama to take refuge in Kalimpong), the ‘fixation’ of the border between Tibet and India had become imperative.
This was done during the Simla Conference in March 1914 when the Plenipotentiaries of British India (Sir Henry McMahon) and Tibet exchanged maps. Ivan Chen, the Chinese Representative who for several months also participated in the Tripartite Conference was aware of this. There was also an understanding that the British Administration would ‘softly’ penetrate the tribal areas south of the Line, as there were a number of religious institutions closely connected with Tibetan monasteries there.
In Simla, the three representatives were seated at the Conference table on the same footing simply because Tibet was at that time an Independent State.
It is what the Chinese would like to change today.
On August 5, 1943, Antony Eden, then British Foreign Secretary, gave to Dr. T. V. Soong, China’s Foreign Minister, a Memorandum defining the Status of Tibet: “Since the Chinese Revolution of 1911, when Chinese forces were withdrawn from Tibet, Tibet has enjoyed de facto independence. She has ever since regarded herself as in practice completely autonomous and has opposed Chinese attempts to reassert control.”
It is why British India decided in the 1940’s to reassert its control over Tawang area (covering less than a tenth of NeFA) where Tibetans had had an influence in the past.
A secret note on the McMahon Line written a couple of years later states the objectives: “Government of India’s main consideration …was the possibility of the Chinese establishing effective sovereignty over Tibet at the end of the war [WW II]. It was felt that Tibetan encroachments [in the monasteries] at that time might, if they were allowed to remain, help to embitter relations between China and India after the war.”
It is interesting to note that around the same time, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek spoke of ‘independence of Tibet’. Chiang stated in the Chinese Parliament that he desired to allow the ‘frontier racial groups’ to attain independence, if capable of doing so. He also affirmed: “I solemnly declare that if the Tibetans should at this time express a wish for self-government our Government would, in conformity with our sincere traditions, accord it a very high degree of autonomy. If in the future, they fulfill economic requirement of independence, the nation’s Government will, as in the case of Outer Mongolia, help them to attain this status”.
However the Tibetans, who then ran their own Foreign Affairs and the Government of British India had some doubt about the Chinese sincerity. They knew their irredentist attitude: “there is a considerable difference between the British and the Chinese conceptions of the word autonomy,” concluded the same note.
Now according to The People’s Daily, the blame for the failure of the border talks has to be put on India’s multi-party political system. The article says: “India’s society is extremely complicated. Various Indian political parties have different understandings on the China-India border issue, and therefore, it is hard for them to reach an agreement on the issue.”
India’s society might be complicated, but there is no doubt that the Indian public is well-informed (thanks to the freedom of the press) and vigilant. So why should India accept to change acknowledged historical facts such the one-time independence of Tibet?
The last argument of the Chinese official newspaper is strange: “India believes it is not a ‘benefited side’ but is a victim, and therefore, it should not accept the principle of ‘solving the border issue in a mutual understanding and mutual accommodation way’ proposed by China”.
What does it mean? You give us Aksai Chin, we give you Arunachal?
In 1945, Sir Olaf Caroe, India’s Foreign Secretary had mentioned two factors which should govern the Tibetan question. First, Tibet had in practice regarded herself as autonomous and had maintained her autonomy for over 30 years; second, India’s attitude had always been to recognize China’s suzerainty, but on the understanding that Tibet was regarded as autonomous by China.
This policy has been followed by Delhi after Independence and it is on this basis that the Dalai Lama made his Strasbourg Proposal in 1988, dropping Independence for a ‘genuine autonomy’ (which is in fact guaranteed in the Chinese Constitution).
Worrying news comes now from China. Zhu Weiqun, the deputy director of the United Front Work Department which ‘talks’ with the Dalai Lama’s Envoys since 2002, argued in The Study Times (Xuexi Shibao) that China must change some aspects of its present political and educational system in order to achieve national cohesion. It would obliterate the uniqueness of minority nationalities such as the Tibetans, the Uyghurs and the Mongols in the name of ‘national cohesion’.
It would remove the last vestige proving that Tibet was once a separate country with a separate language, culture and religion.
And without Tibet and Tibetans, Zhu probably believes that there will be no McMahon Line and no border issue left to solve.

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