Tawang in Indo-China relations

March 8, 2017 at 3:41 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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The Tawang Tangle

A prickly issue that must not escalate to bedevil Delhi and Beijing dialogue

[This article needs updating. It was written in March, 2017.]

The Dalsai Lama is scheduled to visit the Tawang Monastery in early April. This has irked China to such an extent that it has warned India of grave consequences for bilateral relations, if the visit is not called off.

For the last couple of months, both countries are actively engaged in discussions to resolve bilateral issues. Only a few days ago, India’s Foreign Secretary Mr. Jayshanker was in Beijing to conduct parleys with his  counterpart. In such an atmosphere, China’s unduly strong reaction to the proposed visit of Dalai Lama is undoubtedly an uncalled for over-reaction.

It would be interesting to go into the genesis of the Arunanchal problem. In 1914, almost a century ago, in a tripartite conference in Shimla, Tibet ceded Arunanchal Pradesh to India. China was a party to this meeting, although its representative only put his initials on the accord, not the full signature. The accord, however, had the signatures of the Tibetan and Indian representatives.

Tibet was in ferment when the Chinese army came marching in to crack down on the Buddhist monasteries there. Resistance from the monks was stiff and often violent. The invading Chinese army dealt with the dissenting Buddhist monks with unimaginable savagery.  The whole world looked on passively. India did protest, but the pitch was muted because Nehru didn’t like to antagonize China. But, China was annoyed with India’s stand and expressed its displeasure through some bellicose rhetoric.The dispute simmered slowly till the crossing over of Dalali Lama to India from his abode in Tibet.

Why the Dalai Lama fled Tibet …China under strict communist rule, had long wanted o annex Tibet. In early 1959, it sent its army to take control of Tibet which was then a backward state under the feudal administration of the spiritual leader Dalai Lama. Communism and orthodox Buddhism couldn’t co-exist. This was the motivation of the Chinese to take control of Tibet.

In March 1959, the ferocious Chinese onslaught on Tibet’s freedom-aspiring Buddhist monks posed a real threat to Dalai Lama’s life. Braving heavy odds, he escaped with a band of loyal followers and entered the host country India through a mountainous pass leading to Tawang. This daredevil escape of the Daai Lama piqued the Chinese greatly, because the Chinese military personnel in Tibet had made great attempts to arrest him, and possibly kill him. India, then under Nehru’s leadership, was perceived to have abated the fleeing of Dalai Lama. From then on, the Dalai Lama issue added a new dimension to the already simmering Indo-China misunderstanding.

In 2009, the Dalai Lama visited Tawang and retraced his flight to freedom. This was his last visit to Tawang that has one of the oldest and biggest monasteries of Buddhism. China did cry foul over the visit, but the misgiving seemed to melt away with time. Given these facts and the background of the conflict, it is difficult to fathom the belligerence of the Chinese protest over the Dalasi Lama’s proposed visit.

The Chinese haven’t shunned contacts with the Dalai Lama altogether. The two sides had had as many as 10 rounds of discussions over Tibet’s status, though these were futile exercises.

The two giant neighbors have a host of more important issues to resolve. Both sides are painstakingly trying to bring the border issue to some resolution, and have made some incremental progress too. There are issues related to trade imbalance, stamping of visas, facilitation of bilateral investment etc. Compared to such daunting issues in hand, the Dalai Lama issue pales into insignificance. China should, therefore, not do anything to make agreements on other issues difficult. Rhetoric seldom helps reconciliation.

Restraint is also imperative for the Indian side too. As much as possible, pinpricks of this type must be avoided. China took umbrage at the recent visit of the American ambassador to Arunanchal Pradesh. Later, a representative of Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile attended a dinner in the American embassy. China was obviously annoyed. The visit of a Taiwanese trade delegation to India was also frowned upon by China, as it perceives Taiwan to be its renegade province, and not a separate country.

India, too has its grievances against China. The latter’s blocking of India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and refusal to let Masood Azhar’s name enter the United Nations Terrorist List are two issues where Chinese stance has exasperated India.

It would however be unwise to lose sight of the woods for the sake of a tree. In a recent statement, the previous Chinese Special envoy, Dai Bingguo has hinted that if India is flexible in the eastern side, China would be flexible in the western side. India should seize the opportunity of such overtures and proceed assiduously to bring the long-drawn border demarcation problem to a conclusion. That would be a sagacious move.

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