Occupation of Tibet and its aftermath

Published in two parts in THE PIONEER, N.Delhi on July 18th & 19th , 2001


Editor's note : This two-part article is extracted from VIJAY KRANTI's lecture on "OCCUPATION OF TIBET AND ITS AFTERMATH", delivered by him on 23rd May,

2001 at India International Centre, New Delhi. The lecture was organised by Tibetan Parliamentary Policy And Research Centre (TPPRC) under its Special Lecture Series to mark the 50th Anniversary of Tibetan occupation. Those interested in the complete text of lecture may contact the author at :


(Summary: In this two-part analysis the author, a senior journalist and a Tibetologist, sums up how the occupation of Tibet in 1951 has affected the South Asian scene. As this event brought Chinese forces eye to eye with India for the first time in history, it has also made Himalayan states of Nepal and Bhutan highly vulnerable. On the Eastern front a vulnerable Myanmar has emerged as an ally of China offering Chinese troops a direct access to Indian Ocean. On the Western front an India-obsessed weak Pakistan has offered every thing that China needs to encircle India from the Arabian Sea side. China's nuclear help to Pakistan, multiplied by the latter's obsession with India has increased dangers of a nuclear clash between India with Pakistan which is bound to prove fatal to either or both the countries -- a situation that would make China the unchallenged king of Asia and a formidable superpower of the world.)



by : Vijay Kranti

Beijing is busy these days celebrating an anniversary of an unusual kind. It is the 50th anniversary of what China terms as the 'Liberation' of Tibet and the Tibetans call it as the 'Occupation' of Tibet. According to the official Chinese schedule these celebrations are going to last for a year. It was on 23rd May 1951 when China announced the signing of a treaty with Tibet. The purpose of this treaty was to assimilate Tibet into China. Better known as the ''17-Point Agreement'' because of the number of points included in this treaty, it was signed following the defeat of an ill equipped Tibetan army at the hands of Chairman Mao's mighty People's Liberation Army (PLA) in 1949. In that attack China occupied Kham and Amdo provinces of Tibet and declared that 'liberation' of complete Tibet was its goal. The 17-pt Agreement is basically a document announcing merger of Tibet into China. In return it offers respect for Tibetan culture and social system including the institutions of Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama and, of course, progress of Tibet. China invaded and occupied Tibet at a crucial moment of history when South Asia had just started on an independent path after a long spell of British colonial domination. This turned out to be the single most important development, which affected the fate and political culture of entire South Asia. It would be, therefore, interesting to see what happened to South Asia as a result of this development.

WHEN HIMALAYAS CEASED TO EXIST The impact of China's attack on Tibet and takeover of Kham in 1949 was best described by the Indian Representative in Lhasa in his historic telegraphic message to the Indian government. The opening sentence was, ''The Chinese have entered Tibet; the Himalayas have ceased to exist.'' What a prophetic assessment of a situation!

Earlier it was commonly believed that Himalayas were the protectors of India.

But when Chinese armed forced marched right up to the Northern doors of India following occupation of Tibet, it was first time realised that it was not the Himalayas that have been protecting India from China but it was a free Tibet that was standing as a security buffer between China and India. With just one stroke of Chinese action on Tibet the entire Indo-Tibetan border, which used to be among the most peaceful borders on the earth, changed into a red hot India-China border.

THE VULNERABLE KINGDOMS Fears were expressed by political observers that after occupying Tibet the Beijing rulers would also try to occupy smaller Himalayan states of Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim. But Chinese proved these fears wrong. There were many reasons behind this 'good conduct' of China. One reason was that unlike Tibet these countries, especially Nepal and Bhutan, were integral parts of the international community. Any attempt of occupying any of these countries would have invited tremendous international resistance. Secondly, Chinese leadership were confident that it wouldn't take much effort and time for PLA to overrun these countries in a situation demanding such an action.

But more that all these factors, it was the Chinese ability to peep into future that stopped them from occupying these Himalayan states. They understood well that right kind of handling of a free Nepal and Bhutan would make them more useful tools against India than as occupied regions of China. Recent events that led to burning of Indian property and arousing anti-India sentiments all over Nepal over an imaginary remark of Indian Film star Hritik Roshan should be enough to understand how deep rooted influence China holds in Nepal today.

However, the only point on which India scored over China in this region was Sikkim, traditionally a protectorate and a de-facto part of India. The assimilation of Sikkim into India took place under the rule of late Indira Gandhi, the only Indian Prime Minister who had a right understanding of the Chinese mind. Looking back at history it can be said today that had Mrs. Gandhi not acted smart at that time, Beijing would have made another Tibet out of Sikkim very soon.

BHUTAN: CHINA'S GAIN, INDIA'S LOSS Things have undergone a decisive change in Bhutan in the post-1950s period that has seen slow and steady increase of Chinese influence vis-a-vis India. Increasing Chinese influence in Thimpu and growing influence of anti-India forces in the little dragon kingdom don't speak much good for India which used to operate external affairs of Bhutan only until a few years ago. In contrast, today India's role in Bhutan has gone down to that of a sulking big brother that can't even shout loudly. There have been many occasions in the past when Bhutan made India realise that China has come to stay as an important element vis-a-vis India in matters of foreign policy.

First demonstration of Chinese decisive influence over Thimpu came in 1970s when Bhutan pushed out almost all of those five thousand Tibetan refugees who had been living there since 1959 with Indian economic assistance. Following threats that these refugees could be handed over to China, a shocked New Delhi had no option but to accept these refugees for second rehabilitation in India.

For past few years India has been worried over the training and back-up camps of anti-India terrorist organisation ULFA in Bhutan. Despite all requests from India Thimpu has done little to assure New Delhi that it cares more for India and less for ULFA. Recent reports suggest that Bhutan government machinery is providing protection and logistic support to this terrorist outfit. Bhutan government has also provided logistic support to shift these ULFA camps closer to the Tibetan borders to provide ULFA terrorists better safety from Indian army action. There are many more examples to show how the Chinese occupation of Tibet has changed the mindset of this vulnerable Himalayan State.

NEPAL: BECOMING A CHINESE SATELLITE? In the case of Nepal the increasing Chinese influence is far more serious and decisive than Bhutan. Unlike India, which has been sinking tons of money in the development of Nepal, China has been concentrating and spending more judiciously on individuals and organisations holding influence in the Himalayan Hindu kingdom.

China's main focus in Nepal has been the bureaucracy, media and political groups whom it has used time and again to promote its interests and fuel hatred against India. No wonder an orchestrated anti-India campaign springs up every few months on any imaginable issue be it non-existent remarks of an Indian film star, sharing of electricity from an Indian made Nepalese hydel project or the Royal family's murder. Emergence of Communists as the second ranking political force and spreading of the Maoist tentacles over rural Nepal has a common benefactor and beneficiary -- Beijing.

The influence of this red army and other pro-China elements in the Nepalese system has grown to such levels that, on occasions Kathmandu behaves more like a Chinese satellite than a self-respecting sovereign nation. It was therefore not surprising to see that all political activities of the Tibetan refugees living in Nepal have been banned. So much so that in December 2000 they were not even allowed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dalai Lama's coronation. Later on 23rd May they were completely barred from holding demonstrations on the 50th anniversary of Chinese occupation of Tibet. In mid 1970s the Royal Nepal Army had, on the behest of Beijing killed most of Tibetan guerillas or made them flee to India. Coming to developmental aid, all such aid given by China to Nepal has been mainly focused on construction of roads and such infrastructure facilities which would make Chinese army's movement upto India's heartland in U.P. and W. Bengal easier and faster across Nepal in a situation of India-China flare up. In the case of Bhutan too the Chinese forces will take just a few hours to overrun the tiny dragon land in order to cut off the entire North Eastern states of Indian union from mainland India. The presence of Maoists and other friends of China in Nepal and Bhutan would ensure any reverse movement of Indian Army. The latest news is that China is going to construct yet another road in Nepal linking Chinese occupied Tibet and the inner lands of Nepal.

It would be interesting to compare this situation with the Indian level of security preparations in the adjoining Indian area of Pithoragarh that divides the Indian heartland from Chinese occupied Tibet. Following the Chinese attack on India in 1962 the demoralised Indian defence planners of the day decided not to construct any link roads between the border and the mainland of Pithoragarh and surrounding areas. The philosophy behind this strategy was that they wanted to deny a winning and aggressive Chinese army any fast connection to the Indian mainland. It is the same area through which the Indian pilgrims of Kailash-Mansarover and Indian Army walk more than six days along the Kali Nadi River to reach Indian border post of Lipu-La at the India-Tibet-Nepal tri-junction.

In sharp contrast to this Indian situation the nearest road which links PLA it to its vast Tibetan road network across the border at Lipu-La is only a few minutes of walk away. In a situation of India-China flare up it will take Chinese army less than 24 hours to overrun Nepal in order to confront India head on in its heartland of Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Things would be still worse for India when China completes its proposed Qinghai (Amdo)-Lhasa railway network in next 4-5 years. What a defeatist and suicidal way of handling national defence by a demoralised set of policy makers of India? Unfortunately all this Indian helplessness, demoralisation and miserable self-assessment originates from one single event -- China's occupation of Tibet. A historic development of gigantic consequence which was left just uncontested by the Indian rulers of that fateful day.

(The concluding part, 'China's impact on Pakistan, Myanmar and India', will appear on Thursday, 19th July, 2001)


(OCCUPATION OF TIBET AND ITS IMPACT ON SOUTH ASIA - Part-2) By: Vijay Kranti The single most serious fall out of Chinese occupation of Tibet in South Asian politics is the military and political alliance between China and Pakistan who suddenly discovered in 1951 that Tibet's 'liberation' had made them next door neighbours. History has proved once and again in past 50 years to India that being a common adversary of the two and existence of common borders between all the three players has put India into a position of great disadvantage.

Pakistani rulers' one-point occupation with India has only made the situation worse for India. There is a common saying in Hindi and Urdu, which graphically portrays an envious neighbour's desire to see the other neighbour in an unhappy situation. It goes like this:"Meri Deewar Bhale Hi Gir Jaaye, Magar Padosi Ki Bakri Zaroor Marnee Chaahiye" (No problem even if a wall of my house collapses, provided it kills my neighbour's goat). It is unfortunate that during past 50 years all subsequent Pakistani governments, irrespective of their political ideology or the size of uniform, have been pushing down their home walls one after other just to see that India's Bakri (goat) is killed. Pakistan's overzealous relations with China are more guided by this 'Bakri Syndrome' than their genuine national interests. China too has made best out of this Pakistani mindset. In their eagerness to see India in trouble the Pakistani rulers also willingly handed over nearly 2000 sq. miles area of Aksai Chin and Pakistan Occupied Indian Kashmir to China and allowed Beijing to build Karakoram Highway through Pakistani controlled territory. Pakistan has also offered China direct physical access to its national road network. As a result China is now in a position to move its forces right up to the Arabian Sea, thereby gaining a new level of maneuverability against India. In a situation of crisis it would be possible for China to move its army and naval troops right up to the Arabian Sea. Latest developments show that China is going to develop a deep-sea port at Gwadar for Pakistan. Situated at the hub of Strait of Hormuz and the mouth of Persian Gulf, this project can be a potential threat for India if Pakistan offers China naval facilities at the new port. All this, no doubt, has increased India's vulnerability, especially in the coastal states of Gujarat and Maharashtra.
Keeping in view Pakistan's obsession with India, China has made a major strategic move by arming Pakistan with nuclear arsenal. Its main aim appears to be engaging India in a nuclear conflict with Pakistan and thereby inviting international scrutiny and pressures on India's nuclear plans. In a situation of real nuclear conflict between Pakistan and India the real winner is bound to be China. While Pakistan could damage some major cities of India including Delhi and Mumbai, but entire Pakistan would vanish into flames in a retaliatory move by India. Such a situation is bound to put the entire Muslim world and the Western block against India -- a situation that suits China's future goal of becoming the unchallenged boss of Asia and a super power of the world.

Nuclear conflict with India or no such conflict, Pakistanis of late have started feeling a new kind of problem arising out of Pakistan's love affair with China. Newspapers are openly referring to a danger that has, so far, been discussed only in the closed circles of cocktail parties of the Pakistani army. The top brass of the Pak Army appears to have divided itself between pro-China and pro-others camps. The nationalist Pakistani officers are shocked to discover that their country's obsession with India and the resulting blind faith in China is resulting into a new kind of threat to Pakistan's national interests. The kind of unchecked freedom that Chinese have been enjoying in mixing up with the Pakistani defence establishment has lead to a parallel network of pro-China officials at various levels. That there is an open discussion of the dangers of an armed coup against General Parvez Musharraf by his second in command in Pak Army is only an indicator of the seriousness of this problem. Only Allah knows what more problems Pakistan should expect from China which became Pakistan's neighbour overnight after occupying Tibet in 1951.

MYANMAR : PASSAGE TO INDIAN OCEAN In the case of Myanmar things are still better for the Chinese as compared to Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan. While the rest of world, including India, has been busy condemning and pushing the military rulers of Myanmar into a corner, the Chinese government found it the right kind of ally and tool for implementing their plans on South Asia. Unfortunately a confused India has ceased to be an influential or even a meaningful power in the neighbourhood. No wonder, today Myanmar is a virtual military ally of Beijing and a captive buyer of Chinese military hardware. It has turned out to be a perfect operation ground and sanctuary for China supported anti-India militant outfits. Moreover, Myanmar has offered a direct land link to the Chinese defence forces to register China's presence in Indian Ocean. One net result of this situation is that a China, which never have had any littoral borders at the Indian Ocean, has been able to establish its Naval basis just 40 km away from Indian bases at Andman and Nicobar islands. This is yet another example of how an occupied Tibet has helped China in spreading its tentacles in South Asia.

BLEEDING INDIA TO NOWHERE Shifting of Chinese borders and arrival of Chinese troops right up to the Indian borders for the first time in history has proved to be a highly expensive development for the Indian economy. India had the first taste of having China as its neighbour in 1962 when Beijing used occupied Tibet as its launching pad of armed agression against India. An unprepared India, swinging over the imaginary rainbow of 'Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai' came out defeated, mauled and humiliated in this attack. This shook India from its slumber and forced her to look after the national defence in a more practical manner.

Going by even the most conservative estimates this 'Indo-Tibet Border' turned 'Indo-China Border' takes away every 5-years almost as much money for maintaining peace as would be enough to provide clean drinking water, good education and dependable health services to every single Indian village that stands deprived even 54 years after independence. It is difficult to estimate how much more India is losing through various kinds of Chinese sabotage against India or how expensive a war would be with China.

HOW INDIA AND CHINA TREAT EACH OTHER It is unfortunate that despite all noise about improving relations between the two Asian giants nothing solid is visible on the ground. Rather, in almost all situations China has been consistently adopting an option which hurts India most. While Indian government has been consistently repeating in all kinds of forums that Tibet is an 'internal' matter of China, the Chinese have refused to recognise Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim as states of India. On Kashmir too China has been always seen on the side of Pakistan in one or other way. While India went out of its way to get Beijing admitted into the UN as a permanent member of the Security Council (at the cost of removing Taiwan), China has bluntly refused to support India's claim to Security Council. Besides actively helping Pakistan to aquire nuclear armaments China has been consistently promoting Pakistan against India in all possible ways. China is actively assisting and supporting a host of anti-India separatist groups in various parts of India.

Of late China has waged an open economic war against the Indian industry by dumping Indian markets with a host of consumer goods at below cost price. The situation is so serious that in capital Delhi alone, hundreds of industrial units have closed down in recent months simply because these units can not stand upto the Chinese price war. In this case too China is using Tibet-Nepal land route to dump goods through smuggling. This way we see how China is using every possible forum to hurt Indian interests whereas the Indian policy makers not only refuse to learn from the history of India-China relations but also are still busy in blindly chasing a mirage called 'India-China Friendship'. This way we see that the occupation of Tibet by China has hurt the national interests of other countries in South Asia more than that of Tibetan people. It is high time that India and other countries of South Asia understand the reality of Tibetan occupation and its fall out on the future of this region. The only way of undoing this damage and keeping China at a respectable distance is to restore the status of Tibet as a free buffer nation between China and the South Asian countries. Those, who refuse to learn from history, are condemned to live the same history again and again.

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