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History substantiates that better livelihood forced long movements during the evolution of mankind. There were no boundaries to restrict free movement until more ravenousness made this huge planet so small that it started drawing borders and finally ended up with formal treaties like the one of Westphalia1. No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.  There are approximately 15 million Indians in other countries and 5.2 million immigrants of other countries in India which is about 0.4% of its own population. Comparatively, China being a moderately more populous country but with a comfortable per capita, land area has 9.7 million Chinese in other countries but only 0.07% immigrants in China2. The US has the highest numbers of immigrants in their country3. Immigrants and refugees, the conspicuous verticals of displacement were believed to be shadowed by a silver lining because western countries welcomed them to supplement their economic success.

This phenomenon is not new to the Indian state. Historically these movements into India took place generally along the Hindu Kush in the west and Patkoi range in the East. In the 12th and 16th century, Parsis, a Zoroastrian community4 moved to what is now called Gujarat in India, thereafter movement into India took place in 1947 due to partition, movement from Tibet happened since 1959, Chakma refugees crossed over in 1964, people of East Pakistan barged into India in 1971 due to persecution by Pakistani Army and Ugandan’s of Indian origin migrated to India in 1972.  India then, only a 24 years young republic could not afford such a vast influx. Immigrants continued to pour in during the Afghanistan crises in 1979, Sri Lankan civil war from 1983-1987 and recently the Rohingya Muslims5. Bureau for Refugees Programs acknowledged in July 1993 that India hosted great numbers of refugees in 1992.  The global scenario on immigrants has now mutated into more complexities where the new wave of immigrants is being ostracized and has ipso-facto become diabolic.  

In the instant milieu, the great game failed to draw a Tibetan map, it failed to demarcate the boundaries of inner and outer Tibet due to the Chinese greed for more territory and finally, it failed to negotiate on the text and the map which was initialled by government representatives of British India, China and Tibet better referred to as

Simla convention or McMahon treaty6.  However, China’s mischievous reluctance to sign the international commitment later unveiled its intent of annexing Tibet by the tailor-made PLA. During and after annexation India became a predictable choice for immigration due to contiguous borders with Tibet and a major source of Tibetan Buddhism. Politico- religious situation coerced by CCP and the fear of being persecuted by PLA, Dalai Lama and some Tibetans escaped to India.

Tibetan Diaspora in India  

Tibetans could not retain their Independence and have been labelled as stateless Diaspora. India accepted Tibetan immigration in spite of the tense environment with China because CCP conveniently evaded Tibetan freedom promised to them. It would not be wrong to assume that the problems of international borders today go well beyond traditional delineation and delimitation7 because this displacement was construed as diverse from others and later became one of the reasons for the Sino-Indian conflict. These glitches necessitate credible acumen to manage such human mobility and interdependence. Activities of the Tibetan diaspora and Dalai Lama in India are still an irreconcilable issue with CCP which habitually played the offensive defence tactics and constrained India to confine Tibetan movements. India also has been overcautious on any deliberations on Tibetan freedom in spite of having established a major chunk of their diaspora outside Tibet.

Tibetan Diaspora is spread across the continents of Asia, America, Europe and Australia in very insignificant numbers, but in India, it comprises the largest in the world. Tibet has an estimated population of about 6 million Tibetans besides 7.5 million Han Chinese. The estimated population within TAR is 2.62 million, of which 93% are Tibetans and 6% are Han Chinese, whilst the rest live in areas outside TAR. Based on a CTA survey, data of Tibetan diaspora available worldwide is India 94203, Nepal 13514, US 11205, Canada 4640, Switzerland 1540, UK 650, Europe 640, Australia 533, Taiwan 485, New Zealand 66 and Japan 608.  Many of these countries have taken up the Tibetan cause by accusing China and passing resolutions in their parliaments calling China to respect the human rights of the Tibetan people; West Germany on 15th October 1987, Italy on 1st April 1989, Australia on 6th December 1990, Belgium on 29th March 1994 and Canada on 14th June 1995.  India the most affected country has not yet passed any resolution but established a Tibetan government in exile. This arrangement gives them autonomous powers and allows them to manage their affairs with a certain degree of restrictions.  In India, almost half of the Tibetan population embraced agriculture, one-third of agro-industry and some handicraft business. They receive financial and moral assistance from India and other countries.  

Immigrant Tibetans in India have the status of a foreigner and not a refugee. Defined statute about the rights of the refugees and their protection cannot be advocated in India because India is neither a party to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of refugees nor to the 1967 Protocol. Tibetans in India are issued with a registration certificate9 which delimits vast opportunities and privileges available on a refugee card.

Unlike many other refugee-hosting countries India facilitated the preservation and promotion of their distinctive culture, tradition and identity by setting up separate Tibetan settlements in various parts of India under the Central Tibetan Schools Administration (CTSA) with a seat in New Delhi established in 1961.10 

Dalai Lama Institute for Higher Education was the first Tibetan higher college in exile established by Lugsum Samdupling in Bylakuppe, Bengaluru, with subjects like Tibetan language, culture, science, arts and information technology.11 By 2009 the administration had 61 schools in the areas of concentration of Tibetan population.12 Three generations of Tibetans in India after the initial success of rehabilitation and resettlement started facing vague challenges like education, unemployment, studying abroad, visiting relatives, other social engagements and most importantly getting Indian citizenship13. Difficulty in acquiring documents squeezed their fundamental rights including various prestigious scholarships despite their qualifications and educational eligibilities. Moreover, in recent years, variations in the legal and administrative status granted to people who arrived in 1959 and those who came later have further compounded the issue especially after the enactment of the Indian Citizenship (Amendment) Act of 1986. This allows acquiring Indian citizenship by anyone born in India between 26 January 1950 and 1 July 1987 and has made a large section of the second and third generations of Tibetans eligible for Indian citizenship.

In 2010 Delhi High Court ruled in favour of an Indian-born Tibetan woman when she challenged India’s Ministry of External Affairs for denying her an Indian passport. Indian Government’s reluctance to abide by the court ruling invited another case by a Tibetan man in September 2016 on which the court directed MEA to treat all Tibetans who meet the criteria for citizenship by birth as Indians and issue them Indian passports. The Government of India was forced to amend its policy in March 2017 but soon added riders to this policy in June 2017 by listing four conditions for Tibetans seeking Indian citizenship. Firstly, they should surrender their registration certificate (RC) and identity certificate, secondly, they should not be staying in designated Tibetan refugee settlements, thirdly they must submit an undertaking that they no longer enjoy the benefits offered by the Tibetan government-in-exile and fourthly they should submit a declaration that they no longer enjoy any privileges, including subsidies provided to RC holders14. So far Indian position towards Tibetans in India has been prejudiced due to fear of aggravating relations with China.  This half-hearted Indian support prompted some young Tibetans spread over 44 residential settlements across 10 states to look for greener pastures outside India.

Their political and socio-religious structure has undergone a major transformation beginning from prototype old Tibetan monarchy to active participation in the contemporary world. Three generations differ in their approach towards the traditional way of life and the modern facilities. The joint family system in the modern Tibetan community is fast eroding triggering a change from traditional forms of marriages to mainly monogamy and preference of love marriages over arranged marriages.

Increased emphasis on the educational and career pursuits among the exiled men and women have introduced a system of late marriages which are now usually viewed as non-religious except for Muslim Tibetans where marriage is a religious affair. Small numbers of Muslim Tibetans living in Kashmir consider themselves as old residents of Kashmir dating back to 400 years when their ancestors were part of the old silk route. Dr Adfer Rashid Shah of Jamia Millia Islamia University expresses that this community has integrated with the Kashmiri society culturally but not “psychologically15.”

It is desirable that a policy akin to the one in 1971 (Bangladesh crises) of sending the immigrants back when the situation permits, can be implemented in this scenario also. However, the Nangpala Pass shooting incident16 of 2005 and a strategic shift in the Chinese and its latest ally Nepal has compelled Tibet not to foster nationalistic and patriotic feelings to their diaspora outside Tibet. An apprehensive China would never allow Tibetans living for the last six decades in India to return back to Tibet. China’s economic rise and resultant intimidating behaviour have made it improbable for even powerful countries to control Chinese expansionist designs unassisted let alone autonomous regions seeking freedom from it all by themselves. Initiating a peaceful immigration policy in the present global scenario has become a challenge for governments. Incessant restrictions on the government in exile and the diaspora who have little authority to manipulate the decisions of New Delhi may not last long. The 14th Dalai Lama moderates all controversial issues to avoid confrontation. Tibetan polity has so far been docile. However, after his demise, it is anticipated that there is likely to be a revolutionary change in the notions of charity and the notion of rights due to the void created by his absence.  

Suspicious mishandling of the Wuhan Virus by China and its simultaneous military coercion has raised the issue of Tibet’s freedom and occupation of Aksai Chin (two faces of the same coin) once again. The present situation has anchored every Chinese dream and altered the global geopolitics overnight only to give an opportunity to those seeking it. A reprise of such a situation may not be possible in this century. It is therefore time for India to embrace realism and exploit this Chinese Achilles heel in partnership with other like-minded countries. The recent statement of the Home Minister of India in the Parliament that J&K including Aksai Chin was an inalienable part of India is a welcome step. It is time India prepares to take it back along with Tibetan freedom to uphold status quo of British India. The recently democratically elected President of the Tibetan Government in Exile Mr Penpa Tsering has also committed that he stands by the Tibetan cause and would like interaction with Xi Jinping on this issue.

Status of Tibetans in Tibet  

Tibet had its own currency, passport, a well-developed telegraph and telephone system. There were innumerable historical records of Tibet being a separate country but the Chinese do not believe in old treaties and the world had also almost forgotten the Tibetan cause. On one hand, the initial fire shown by India and the US to fight for the Tibetan cause slowly died down and on the other hand, the Chinese consolidated their position and altered their weakness into their strength. The condition of Tibetans in their own land which was illegally occupied by China in 1950 is an example of territorial terrorism, expansionism and Human Rights violation. China has over the past six decades changed the demography of Tibet, wiped out Tibetan Buddhism, forced Tibetans to pursue Mandarin, patronised and indoctrinated the young generation towards Han way of living and eroded the Tibetan culture.  The natural resources of Tibet have been exploited for the personal gains of the elite Hans. Some important monks especially those sympathetic to Dalai Lama or identified by him are either missing or in Chinese custody. Chinese State Administration for Religious Affairs issued a decree that all the reincarnations of Tulkus of Tibetan Buddhism will be “illegal or invalid” if not approved by the Chinese government.

To avoid criticism China has created an optical illusion by developing Tibet in a manner that it lures the young generation and provides them lustrous necessities. It has simultaneously put in place a very comprehensive digital security and military apparatus to incapacitate any design of religious or freedom movement. By the next generation, the Tibetans will be forced to forget their history and will be compelled to adopt the Han way of living. This undemocratic Chinese behaviour is prevalent in Inner Mongolia, Manchuria and Xinjiang as well since these were merged under the middle kingdom concept and promised the so-called autonomy to offer solace. Today in spite of the facilities and infrastructure provided by CCP, Tibetans are still disposed towards freedom.

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Panchen Lama and Karmapa conundrum

Panchen Lama is the second-highest authority after Dalai Lama. Gedhun Choeki Nyima in Tibet was identified by Dalai Lama in 1995 to take this seat. However, he has been missing since then and referred to as the youngest political prisoner in Chinese custody. Chinese have forcibly enthroned their own antagonist Panchen Lama Gyaltsen Norbu who was born in Tibet in 1990, to parents who were members of the Communist Party. He has lived and trained in Beijing, reportedly under “protective Chinese guard”, after being enthroned in 1995. He is “tailor-made” pro-Chinese and is likely to be marked as the next Dalai Lama by the CCP on the demise of the 14th Dalai Lama. Although he is hated, Tibetans in Tibet will have to accept him under compulsion.

Karmapa is the third-highest Lama in the Tibetan hierarchy. Trinley Thaye Dorje born in India in May 1983 was formally enthroned as Karmapa in the International Buddhist Institute in New Delhi at the age of 11 years.  To counter this the Chinese in Sep 1992 enthroned their own seven years old Tibetan born Ogyen Trinley Dorje as the 17th Karmapa at Tsurpho Monastery. Ambiguity as to the genuine Lama ensued in Chinese Karmapa escaping to India via Nepal in 1999. He reached India on 5 Jan 2000 and divulged that the Chinese were using him as a political weapon for detaching the Tibetans from Dalai Lama.

The Chinese media however responded by issuing a statement that Ogyen Trinley Dorje fled to India to procure the “sacred black hat”, lying in Rumtek in Sikkim and his desire to meet his competitor in India. However, the recovery of the huge amount of cash including the Chinese Yuan from his custody created a mistrust of his being a Chinese agent. His suspicious activities discouraged the Indian Government to allow him as much freedom of movement and other facilities as Dalai Lama. However, he was allowed to visit some countries including the USA to preach Dharma. The restrictions placed on his movement were eased by the Modi government in 2015.

In May 2017 the Chinese Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje was permitted to visit Europe on a three months visa. While in Europe he acquired Dominican citizenship, passport and invested in the Jungle Bay real estate without apprising the Indian government with an alibi that it was easier to travel with this passport rather than on Indian Yellow Book or identity certificate requiring Indian permission every time. In the bargain, he lost the legitimacy of being part of the Tibetan Government in exile, yellow book facilities and inherent amenities enjoyed by other Tibetans in India. As per Indian conditions, he would be allowed to travel back to India only on a visa after he deposits his registration certificate. The Central Tibetan Administration and Dalai Lama who was awaiting his return to discuss a successor to Dalai Lama could not do so due to his failure to return as also the sudden demise of Kathok Getse Rinpoche, the supreme head of the Nyingma tradition in Nepal under unusual circumstances17.

Subsequently, both these Karmapas managed to meet in rural France discreetly and give a joint statement that they can have institutions of two Karmapas at the same time and agreed to fight for a common Tibetan cause. Meanwhile Xi Jinping who is anti-Dalai Lama proclaimed himself as a lifetime president and the Indian Karmapa Thaye Dorje announced abandoning of his monkhood. This became a matter of concern for the Tibetan diaspora. Under these circumstances, it is speculated that since the Chinese Karmapa has been recognised by the 14th Dalai Lama he may either seek asylum in the US, obtain a Green card and set up a seat of the Karmapa in exile in the US, or since he has been recognised by the CCP, return to Tsurphu monastery which has been renovated by the Chinese government recently to lure him back to gain the support of the local Tibetans or else if allowed by India then return to Rumtek, the seat of Karmapa in Sikkim. Tibetans in India have already resorted to peaceful protests to enthrone him as the Karmapa. It is learnt that Dawa Sangpo Dorje from Damthang Monastery in south Sikkim has also made a claim for this position. In this conundrum, both India and China would eventually exercise their choice of Panchen Lama and Karmapa in respective countries since they can leverage this position to exert tremendous influence over Tibetans on either side of the border.

Succession of Dalai Lama and its Impact

 The tradition of a succession of Dalai Lama has been in practice since 1391. He is the traditional religious and temporal head of Tibetan Buddhists ‘chosen rather than elected’. He has the authority to choose the body into which he will reincarnate, meaning that the current Dalai Lama is a reincarnation of the last. The search for the reborn Dalai Lama is the responsibility of the High Lamas of the Gelugpa tradition and the Tibetan government. Over the years, the Dalai Lama has continued to lobby for self-rule and advocates autonomy that would allow the Tibetans to maintain their religion. He has reiterated that only the Tibetan people have the right to choose the Dalai Lama and not someone from outside. He has already stated that if the present situation in Tibet continues he will either not reincarnate or be born outside Tibet away from the control of the Chinese authorities since the very purpose of a reincarnation is to continue the unfinished work of the previous incarnation18. There are also anecdotes that the reincarnation could be found in India, where the Dalai Lama has lived in exile for 60 years after fleeing Tibet. Corresponding with the 60th commemoration of the Dalai Lama’s escape the Indian government underplayed the event whereas the Chinese intensified the CCP’s ideological reach by showcasing aggressive military drills and a “Devil’s Week” near monasteries and elsewhere to highlight the political battle against “separatism” targeting Dalai Lama. To make it more prominent the Chinese released a ‘White Paper’ underlining the appointment of Tibetan reincarnated lamas at China’s will to eradicate loyalty to the 14th Dalai Lama, replace it with allegiance to the CCP and “Sinicize” Tibetan Buddhism.

 The White Paper reflected the deepening institutionalization of the current policy model in Tibet and Xinjiang, combining coercive securitization and militarization to accelerate political and cultural transformation. White Paper released 10 years earlier, had stressed that the “central government will always keep its door open for the 14th Dalai Lama to return to a patriotic stand.” However, the 2019 White Paper did not mention any dialogue with the Dalai Lama19. Tenzen Lekshay, Director of the Tibet Policy Institute has commented that it is actually a black paper which is politically motivated because it does not accommodate religious, cultural and spiritual faith of the Tibetans.

Recipient of the Nobel peace prize in 1989 and has fought for the Tibetan cause from its inception, Tibetans around the world admire 14th Dalai Lama as their spiritual leader and cultural icon. He is central to any peace process in Tibet and outside. It is evident that people identify with him being the epitome of peaceful practices, due to which he enjoys a predominant lineage over them across the world.  However, after his demise, the behavioural pattern of the Tibetan diaspora is likely to be influenced not only by Chinese enticements and indulgence but also by more aggressive and demanding behaviour of Tibetan diaspora due to lack of belongingness either in absence of a leader of the repute of 14th Dalai Lama or in the current circumstances high possibility of a “double reincarnation”, one from a free country and the other chosen by the Chinese government. Institutions of two Dalai Lamas, two Panchen Lamas and two Karmapas will destroy the age-old original Tibetan fabric and may lead to a difficult situation for India. Socio-cultural changes have witnessed the world immigration scene drastically change in the recent past. Equality, citizenship, job, food security and other democratic rights are a natural part of human life. Not providing any of these will certainly create trouble for the government. Dual control of Tibet or Tibetans and contiguous land area with China will become an untenable issue and a security threat for India in future.  

US Position

US is opposed to any move by China to impose its own Dalai Lama and opines that religious decisions should be made by the religious organisations and not by political regimes20. It has a chequered history of supporting the Tibetan cause openly and pressurise China. In October 1997 the members of Congress during a breakfast interaction had a tough exchange with President Jiang Zemin on the Chinese government’s policies on Tibet and nuclear arms proliferation21. While the Chinese President was still in the US, the Secretary of State appointed Mr Gregory B. Craig as the first Special Coordinator for Tibetan Affairs22. The US had always provided covert and overt help to the Tibetan diaspora. It clarified its intent by allowing a government-funded programme of radio transmission into Tibet and honouring Dalai Lama with a Congressional gold medal in Oct 2007. There are hosts of institutions and committees in the US to look after the economic, democratic as well as political interests of the Tibetans. The US at times also hinted that the UN seat and the recognition of the Chinese government were agreed by the US solely on the democratic ideology of the Chiang Kai-shek government. On April 25, 2018, the US Senate unanimously approved Senate Resolution 429 to change and upgrade some previous policies on Tibet which included the selection of the Dalai Lama. In October 2018, the Karmapa was invited by the House of Representatives to a function at the Capitol Visitor Centre and also allowed to make a special message telecast from the US. In December 2018 President Donald Trump signed the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, pressurising China not to refuse visas to US officials in this highly restricted region.

On 19 May 2020, the US secretary of State voiced his concern that China should make public the whereabouts of the Panchen Lama Gedhun Choeki Nyima identified by Dalai Lama in 1995 after which he went missing23. In Jan 2020 the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Tibetan Policy and Support Act (HR 4331) the most comprehensive policy bill on Tibet since the Tibet Policy Act- 2002. This landmark support by the US Congress on the Middle Way Policy and genuine autonomy for Tibetans, religious freedom, environmental protection of Tibetan plateau and restoration of freedom in Tibet24 were overwhelmingly supported by US Commission on International Religious Freedom.  Republican senator Scott Perry introduced a bill in May 2020 to recognize the Tibetan province of Utsang (TAR) as an independent nation25.

Relations between the US and China were already heating up due to the South China Sea, trade war, suppression of democratic movement in Hong Kong, the Korean peninsula, religious and democratic suppression in Tibet and threat to democracy in Taiwan. As if this was not enough, the spread of the Wuhan Virus throughout the world and the deaths caused specifically in the US was articulated as a Chinese attack on the US. Indian and US democratic ethics on Tibetan issue converge on a common platform26. US besides taking other actions has highlighted the Tibetan issue and associated Chinese incursions in India as a threat to the sovereignty of India and offered to arbitrate. With the Indian initiative, western countries led by the United States can physically intervene in Tibet. However, the nature and intensity of US intervention in Tibet will predominantly depend on the state of India-US relations and the seriousness of commitment that India exhibits27. Albeit a different environment, the government in exile prefers US citizenship to Indian. What if the next Dalai Lama reincarnates in the US? The US has all the wherewithal and the will to confront China on this issue. They can not only leverage the Tibetan diaspora outside but even inside Tibet to meet its ends.    A quid pro quo arrangement will strengthen the Indian position vis-a-vis China, and counter Chinese influence in Asia Pacific vis-à-vis the US.

Indian Options

China has made India unequivocally clear that “One mountain cannot contain two tigers”. Stabbed in the back, India needs to change its policy on China. It is therefore essential to understand Chinese character build over centuries especially its embryonic history where Zhong Guo the “middle kingdom” and “the “mandate of heaven” perception are pervasive in their mind. Subjugation was always central in the Chinese view of international affairs. The emperor legally was the universal ruler and any territory not under direct control was unilaterally considered either a tributary or rebellious. Tibet was invaded and captured. However the same strategy would not work for Aksai Chin because of India’s size and stature, it therefore resorted to salami-slicing of Indian Territory during a moment of weakness.

The 1962 war was thrust during the Cuban missile crises when neither US nor Russia was in a position to help India when it had just begun to develop as a nation without any comparable armed forces in line with Nehruvian policy. Sumdorong Chu incursion in 1986 was carried out in the gap between Indira Gandhi’s assassination and the early prime ministership of Rajiv Gandhi. The Chip Chap Valley incursion took place during the Kargil war. The 2008 incursion into the Finger area of northern Sikkim surfaced at a time when the besieged Congress-led UPA government was on the verge of collapse during the nuclear pact with the US.  PLA’s incursion in Chumar Sector in Sep 2014 was carried out thinking that India would not react while hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping and show restraint in line with the Hindu code of conduct and its cultural values of “Atithi Devo bhava”. In May 2020 they surreptitiously occupied some Indian territory in Ladakh when the entire world including India was busy battling Wuhan Virus.

 Why is it that every time China occupies Indian Territory in the name of “difference of perception of the boundary”? Is it that in the last 58 years PLA has not been taught map reading and therefore is unable to identify the disputed area which was marked by both the parties till the final solution was arrived at or is it that the Chinese know that the Indian troops on the ground are difficult to handle but the higher leadership in New Delhi is indecisive and will take recourse to idealism. This behaviour over the past 50 years prompted China to settle its land borders with 12 countries out of 14 with an exception of India and Bhutan28.  A small piece of Indian land in Aksai Chin doesn’t matter for China which has the third-largest land area in the world, one-third of which lies uninhabited. This is only being used as a blackmail tool and strategic messaging.

The absence of a strategic culture in India has often eluded us to exercise our will in premeditated issues and made us miss the bus many times.  However, with the present dispensation, India has now started to make countries feel its unequivocal presence in the international order. Substantively powerful nations treat their diaspora and umbrella states as an extension to project power29. China has not hesitated to leverage its diaspora in the US, Russia, India and other countries to steal technology and collate data by unfair means, use its economic clout to coerce poor nations, influence various UN institutions against India and finance proxies to foment trouble in India. Tibetan diaspora is also our strength against China and should be leveraged as a dissimilar dimension of soft power30 because by showing generosity to Tibetans India had taken upon itself the unfinished mission of their freedom.

It is pertinent to understand the long-term security implications of an unsettled border along with Tibet and East Turkistan under Chinese control when seen through the prism of Buddhist and Muslim settlements along the Indian side of the border. In future, it will become almost impossible to articulate national interest versus humanitarian anguishes. This security dilemma is likely to become more complicated if border issue and rehabilitation of Tibetans is not done within Tibet as a free country. It is here that the relevance of the Tibetan diaspora in India gains importance, after all, it is concerning their freedom. Moreover, Indian trade routes to Central Asia were through Tibet and East Turkistan which were independent countries then. The Chinese very conveniently closed down all Indian trade centres and routes at these places and forced India to look for alternative routes which are financially unviable or challenging.

Democratic values of the US and India have bound them to be on the same platform on the Tibetan issue since its inception. Chinese occupation of the Tibetan plateau does not affect the immediate security interests of the United States and it also does not have geopolitical interests involved in Tibet in the manner India has. However, US intervention in Tibet will promote the oldest democracy in the world to champion the cause of freedom, democracy and promotion of human rights worldwide. Also if Tibet gets independence it is more likely to join a liberal democratic group of countries and a friendly country in the neighbourhood of China can be of great use to the United States. Even if Tibet is granted genuine autonomy, it is likely to emerge as a demilitarised and denuclearised “zone of peace”. It will be a win-win situation for both US and India but with a caveat that India takes the initiative.

India must preserve its diplomacy with Russia, détente with China notwithstanding. During the Tibetan revolt, the Russians did not support China’s accusations of India.

The same was the case when China illegally occupied the Aksai Chin area of Ladakh, there was no comment in favour of the Chinese as they had expected from a friendly communist bloc country31.

India needs to shift away from one-China policy, raise human rights issue in Tibet and Xinjiang, openly condemn Chinese disrespect to UNCLOS, strongly seek probe into leakage of Wuhan Virus and rally for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics to punish China for its unethical practices against humanity. As the Chinese “chequebook debt trap” unfolds, India must timely leverage its soft power strategy to give solace to the countries suffering Chinese coercion. It should garner support for strengthening the UN by influencing it to increase deserving permanent members like India in the Security Council and withdrawing China as a rarest of the rare case for its anti-UN activities including Wuhan Virus criminality. It is time China’s phoney of 1959 and other claim lines be challenged to focus on resumption of talks with Tibetans and CCP with respect to the McMahon line i.e. the agreement which all parties had initialled and left it to die its own death in 1914 because of the mischievous withdrawal of the Chinese. 

If it was prudent for China to retract from the McMahon treaty, invade Tibet, lure India to accept Tibet as part of China but mischievously deny freedom to Tibetans, occupy 5180 Sq. Km of Indian Territory in Shaksgam Valley illegally ceded by Pakistan, occupy 38000 Sq. Km Aksai Chin, construct CEPC on Indian Territory which is under Pakistan’s illegal occupation and carry out anti-India agendas, then it is equally prudent for India to pay back China in the same coin now.

China has become an eyesore and the world is waiting to teach China a lesson. Today’s world is of alliances. Standing alone will only increase asymmetry between India and China. Since extreme problems require extreme solutions India must accept any invitation to the forthcoming NATO Summit on 14 June 2021 and consider its option of joining it as a member to work on a grand strategy to pressurise China to follow unconditional norms of the UN because there can’t be a better time to incite the Tibetan issue to settle the border conclusively and achieve this objective of peace.  


British-India’s foreign and defence policy of the so-called ‘united India’ rested on independent Tibet as a ‘buffer state’. However, the British while drawing the boundary between China and Tibet did not pursue it with totality because China in spite of initialling on the text and the map of inner and outer Tibet during the Simla convention mischievously withdrew from this international commitment32 and forcibly occupied Tibet later. Moreover, the fleeing of Dalai Lama to take refuge in India during the Chinese occupation of Tibet was erroneously perceived in China as a long term expansionist design of India. These two events seem to be responsible for the homeless Tibetan diaspora today. Indecisiveness by the political masters led to a lifelong untenable compromise and trust deficit, embarking both the nations on a collision course then— collision course now.

History confirms that all postcolonial countries have the right to interpret the borders within which they achieved independence as legally theirs. India had the right to proclaim the British territorial claims and therefore legally inherited all the maps from the British which included the Aksai Chin territory as well as the line demarcated by McMahon as the boundary line. India had borders with Tibet, it’s time to maintain the status quo.

The Chinese leadership has always claimed military pre-emption as a strategically defensive act. Few instances include the 1950 Tibet invasion, followed immediately by entry into Korean War, 1962 war with India, 1969 border conflict with the Soviet Union, 1974 China’s seizure of the Paracel Islands from Vietnam, 1979 attack on Vietnam, regular incursions into Indian Territory post-1962 war including the present one in Ladakh, the incursion into Bhutan, grabbing territory of Nepal, claiming Sankaku Islands of Japan and the entire South China Sea.  It also believes in grey zone warfare and wins without a fight. Salami slicing and the Wuhan virus is the by-product of this strategy.

India’s virtues and a glowing position in the international arena compelled China to follow a policy of constrained cooperation in economic, political, diplomatic and bilateral growth with India. However, in reality, this was a mirage effect because their reluctance or for that matter refusal to recognise the Indian portion of the McMahon line and delay the boundary dispute indicated towards a larger ploy of progressively building up a case to claim and occupy strategic Himalayan heights along the Indian border which included Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh. Chinese deployment of heavy military equipment in Tibet towards the border with India, when there was no threat from across was clear writing on the wall.

China’s peaceful rise is inconsistent in reality because actions speak more than words. The world has realised that a strong China is dangerous for the world. Asymmetrical options have changed the face of contemporary warfare where military and non-military factors converge in the conduct of war designed to secure peace. Unceasing human sufferings and impatience for a better life have changed the concept of immigrants and their expectations globally. They are no longer individualized or obedient prospective citizens. Instead, they may retain dual citizenship, agitate for special trade deals with their homelands, demand aid in exchange for electoral support, seek to protect family immigration quota and in the bargain influence both domestic and foreign policy33 not always amicable to the government. Our strength, Dalai Lama and Tibetan diaspora in India should have been used to compel China to free Tibet and withdraw from Aksai Chin and other areas illegally occupied by it. However, over the years this strength has only been battered. Surely after the demise of the Dalai Lama, this will indubitably turn into our weakness, exactly in sync with Chinese long term strategy.  India must use all its abilities to exploit this opportunity to clear this historical thorn conclusively. China became belligerent because it was always appeased and never challenged. Jai Hind.

Title image courtesy:

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of India and Defence Research and Studies


  1. The Treaty of Westphalia History Today › archive › months-past › treaty. (Accessed on June 7, 2020).
  2. (Accessed on 07June 2020). Also read Pison Gilles World Economic Forum 13 Mar 2019.
  3., (assessed on 13 June2020).
  4. Parsi Communities Early History (accessed on 13 June 2020).  
  5. India’s refugee saga, from 1947 to 2017 – › Sunday app › Indias-refugee-saga- (accessed on June 7 2020).
  6. For the final draft read Appendix XV11 of   Lamb Alastair, (1966), The McMahon Line, A Study in the Relations between India, China and Tibet, 1904 to 1914, Vol-2; pp 620-625 (Pushpita Das (Ed.), India’s Border Management: Select Documents, p. 40) For more reading refer Kissinger Henry, “On China,” Penguin Group, 2011, Usurp 186 also read the Geneva Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969, article 12(2).
  7.  Beth A. Simmons,  Borders Rules University of Pennsylvania 3501 Sansom St, Philadelphia, PA 19104, pg. 1
  8. (Accessed on 8 June 2020).
  9. Amchok, Jamyang Tashi. 2010. “In Exile, It’s Not Home.” Tibetan Review: The Monthly Magazine on all Aspects of Tibet, p, 25-26.
  10. Adams, W.F. 2005. “Tibetan Refugees in India: Integration Opportunities through Development of Social, Cultural and Spiritual Traditions.” Community Development Journal 40 (2): 216-219.   
  11. › News › Politics and Nation) (
  12. (accessed on 8 June 2020). Also read Baker, Jessica Susanne. 2005. The Dynamics of Education and Nationalism in the Tibetan Refugee School System in India. M.A. Thesis, Department of Religious Studies, the University of Colorado, Boulder.
  13. Yeshi Choedon,IDSA policy brief, the unintended consequences of Indias policy on citizenship for Tibetan refugees, Feb 23, 2018 also available on (accessed on 8 June 2020).
  14. Sundaravalli, The Tibetan Parliament in Exile, Research Paper International journal of Research & Analytical Reviews, volume 6 issue 1, Jan- Mar 2019 EISSN 234-1269, PRINT issn234-5138. (accessed on 8 June 2020).  
  15. Safwat Zargar a mostly forgotten population has been living as refugees in the Kashmir Valley for 60 years. July 31, 2019 (accessed on 8 June 2020).
  16. Human Rights Watch. 2006. “India-China: Tibetans’ Human Rights Are Not Negotiable.” Available online: not-negotiable
  17. Tricycle, the Buddhist review, Joan Duncan Oliver Dec 05, 2018
  18. (accessed on 13 June 2020.)
  19. Catherine Wong, South China Morning Post,  Beijing ‘signals shift’ on Dalai Lama with new white paper on Tibet, 28 Mar 2019,, (accessed on 9 June 2020.)
  20. National Defence University Press, 1992, p. 236.
  21. Tibet Press Watch, December 1997, p. I.
  22. Wall street Journal, 28 March 2008.
  23. AFP, Washington, MAY 19 2020 Deccan Herald and Kirti Joshi 19 May 2020.
  24. 29 Jan 2020.
  25. 28 May 2020.
  26. Kux Dennis, “India and the United States: Estranged Democracies-1941-1991”,
  27. Das Jyoti Prasad, “Gauging the Sino-Indian Border Rows” in Foreign Policy Journal, May 2013. Also available at (assessed on 1 Aug 2013).
  28. China and its Neighbours: troubled relations – eu asia › pub details ( accessed on 11 June 2020).for more reading Belt and Road News Logo Belt & Road News ( accessed on 11 June 2020)
  29. The New Indian express, 29th September 2019, (accessed on 11 June 2020).
  30. India’s soft power push: just following a fad? A democratic India’s approach to soft power projection should be very different from that of an authoritarian China (accessed on 11 June 2020)
  31. Stein Arthur, “India and the Soviet Union: the Nehru Era”, USA, University of Chicago, 1969, p. 213
  32. Kissinger Henry, “On China,” Penguin Group, 2011, Usurp 186 also read the Geneva Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969, article 12(2).
  33. Robin Cohen in his book “Diasporas and the State: From Victims to Challengers”.

By Kamakshi Chhibber

Kamakshi Chhibber is a Graduate in Political Science (Hons) from Delhi University and a Post Graduate in International Studies from Christ University, Bengaluru. Currently pursuing her Psychology from IGNOU and Mandarin from open source. She is a keen learner of Foreign Policy and Strategic Issues.