The Dalai Lama was invited to address the members of the Indian Chamber of Commerce at Kolkata recently. During the event, the spiritual leader said that Tibet is not seeking independence but wants to stay with China and wants more development. This statement comes against the backdrop of the Dalai Lama fleeing Lhasa in 1959 after a failed uprising against the Chinese rule.
Past is past
The Dalai Lama was at the forefront of Tibetan uprising. Upon his departure from Lhasa, a war ensued between the Chinese military and Tibet civilians. China dissolved the Tibetan governing body and formed the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Over the past 58 years, the spiritual leader’s perspective on seeking independence might have changed, but Tibet’s development and protection of its people, history, script and culture, continues to remain a major concern to him.
In the recent event, the spiritual monk said that past was past and they have to look into future. He said Tibetans do not want independence but more development. China must respect Tibetan culture and heritage. Tibet has its own culture and script and that they love their country. He said that China has joined the world and has changed over the years. Drawing attention to the economic development of the Tibetan plateau, he said that major rivers flow from there and billions of people live on the plateau.
Longest staying guest in India
The Dalai Lama had visited India from November 1956 to March 1957 to participate in the 2,500th Buddha Jayanthi celebrations. While he was here, he left a profound impression on the people. At that time the China had already acceded most of Tibet and was enforcing its rule and ideologies on the Tibetans. There was an uprising against Chinese rule and due to suspicion of being captured, the Dalai Lama fled Lhasa in 1959. After crossing the Himalayas, he requested India for asylum. The spiritual leader, who is seen as the living incarnation of the Buddha, was welcomed and extended respectful treatment.
The Indian government has played host to many Tibetan refugees over the years. The Nehru government extended support, infrastructure and facilities for settlement of the Dalai Lama along with other Tibetans. The Dalai Lama formed the Tibetan government-in-exile at Dharamsala. Only recently he gave up his role as the temporal head of the government. The subsequent governments have continued to extend the Nehruvian policy towards the Tibetans.
India-Sino Relations: Tibetan Effect
History tells us that India-Sino relationship has not always been smooth, owing to impending boundary disputes. Over the years, both the countries have emerged as economic powers in their own right in the Asian region. They are also touted to dominate the global economy by 2050. Despite the competition and disputes, the countries have managed to develop their economic, trade and commercial and cultural relations. In the past few years, the Indo-Sino trade relations has grown measurably and China has become India’s top trading partner. ‘Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai’ is even chanted to this day to indicate the friendship and close relationship shared by the countries. The relation has however suffered hiccups, largely because of boundary disputes.
India and Tibet share a historical, cultural and spiritual relationship that has lasted for centuries. Buddhism originated in India and reached China through Tibet. Owing to the British rule, even after independence, India inherited several rights in Tibet, including free access. They were subsequently given up to earn China’s trust. Even during the British rule, in order to avoid seizure by the Chinese government, the thirteenth Dalai Lama had fled to Darjeeling in 1934 and stayed there for a few years before returning to Tibet.
Giving refuge to the Dalai Lama: Contrary opinions
When the Dalai Lama sought refuge from India, a warm welcome was extended. During the period, the boundary dispute between India and China was ongoing. The Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai had also issued a warning against granting asylum to the Dalai Lama. Many countries, including America and European countries amongst others, had refused to extend help to Tibet. India, against all odds, decided to offer refuge and an official statement was issued in this regard. The then Chinese Ambassador to India was called to the Indian Foreign Office and handed over the official statement as well.
This historical event, though 58 years old, is often seen by many as the cornerstone of India-Sino disputes. Many experts believe that in order to resolve all its disputes with China, India should surrender the Dalai Lama. India having granted refuge and continuing to do so is seen as interfering with internal affairs of China and supporting separatism. Failure to establish good relations with China has resulted in it strengthening its relationship with Pakistan.
On the contrary, many are of the opinion that disputes between India and China are independent of it granting asylum to the Dalai Lama. India is a growing economy and has the potential to emerge as a top economic power, surpassing China. This is seen as a threat to China’s interests and dominance. Even before India provided asylum to the Dalai Lama, there were disputes ongoing between the countries. China continues to lay claim on Arunachal Pradesh, which it calls as ‘South Tibet’.
The Dalai Lama’s softened approach
This is not the first time that the Dalai Lama has stated that Tibetans are not seeking independence but development. Its been over a decade that the Dalai Lama has issued such a statement. Over these 58 years of fleeing Lhasa, he has softened his stance and has walked the ‘middle way’. He now continues to seek protection and development of the Tibetan plateau and its people. The change in approach has received mixed reviews from Tibetans across the world. People who saw him as a beacon of hope are left disappointed, whereas few others assert their efforts for freedom, irrespective of the Dalai Lama’s views.
China, however, continues to see the Dalai Lama with suspicion and treats him as a ‘separatist’, irrespective of his statements. In 2006, the China Daily had even mocked his ‘middle way’ approach as ‘old wine in new bottle’. At the time of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh earlier this year, the Chinese Foreign Ministry official stated that the Dalai Lama’s actions (visit) won’t change Beijing’s position on Tibet-related issues and boundary question.
China continues to see the spiritual leader as a separatist, while India views him as a revered guest and a religious leader. Not only did China criticize the spiritual leader’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, it also objects any other country or its official, from meeting or inviting him. China believes that Tibet-related issues concern its sovereignty and integrity.
The Dalai Lama has asserted over the years that the Tibetans do not seek independence from China but development. His statement, however, has not had a positive effect on China till date. China continues to see him under the cloud of suspicion. In such circumstances, it is highly unlikely that the Dalai Lama’s statement could cause any change in the current India’s foreign policy with China. India and China being neighbours, it is in their best interests to resolve disputes and continue their journey on a progressive path of development. At the recent event, The Dalai Lama also said that India and China should live peacefully as they need each other and there is no other way.
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