MCLEOD GANJ, India, 13 March 2018
While the Doklam issue was heating up in June 2017, the Indian media was kept busy, and that in turn kept the public busy. I also had many discussions over this issue. I remember one with two young Indian men who were saying that India is not the same 1962 India, that it has changed and become powerful. They boasted that in case of a war India could take on China easily. So I followed that thought to its logical conclusion, saying “sure, there should be a war between India and China, then we will know for sure who is more powerful.” When it came to walking the talk, the two retreated from their strong position and changed their tone, now making it seem that I was promoting war, and was against India.
The Doklam stand-off resulted from an attempt by China to extend a road into an area claimed by both China and Bhutan. I was expecting that India would stand up for itself and launch a “surgical strike”, putting an end to the confrontation. But after a military face-off and many diplomatic engagements, going on for close to three months, it all fizzled out without coming to a military conflict, as India and China agreed to withdraw their armies. (In the meantime, Indians learned what Doklam means in Tibetan — Path of the Nomads.)
China contains India
China’s road extension is a cause of concern for India because it would shorten the distance for the Chinese army to reach India’s strategically vulnerable ‘Chicken’s Neck’ area — the Siliguri Corridor, a narrow stretch of land located in the Indian state of West Bengal that connects India’s northeastern states to the rest of India.
After the situation cooled off, reports started to emerge that China had built military facilities in the very same area. But the Government of India said that the status quo at the site of last year’s face-off still held. It dismissed reports of any Chinese activities in the area.
In the competition for global player China has succeeded in containing India through diplomacy, economically, strategically, as well as outright bullying. China takes a contrary position to India wherever possible, and blocks India’s rightful places in UN councils. It is well known that China has invested heavily in the neighbouring countries of India. India’s neighbouring countries have more Chinese influence than Indian. China flexes its muscles without resistance in places such as the South China Sea, Doklam, and Aksai Chin. It complains whenever possible about anything perceived to be “anti-China”. It goes even to the extreme that due to China’s influence, Pakistan politicians have suggested that Mandarin be taught in the schools.
So China has always created problems for India, yet somehow India seems to feel that China is its friend, and that China will benefit and support India — will give business, recognition, and support. So far nothing of this has happened — in fact, the opposite.
India submits to China
Tibet is India’s best card against China, and India plays it but in a very confusing way. By volunteering the statement that Tibet is part of China, without even any pressure from China to do so, India has wasted this trump card, and received nothing in return. Yet the boundary issues have not been solved, and China doesn’t allow India to take its position on the global stage. China has made sure that all India’s neighbours are closer to it than to India.
India seems to be submitting to China more all the time. What is India trying to achieve by this? The latest sign of submission is India’s objection to the “Thank You India” event planned in Delhi by the Central Tibetan Administration. A series of events were to follow throughout the year. First the Government of India asked its officials not to attend it, and then apparently India objected to holding the opening event in Delhi at all.
Perhaps Sangay received a dressing-down from officials of MEA, when he interrupted his schedule to hurry to Delhi after India’s objection to the event. It is unclear if he was summoned by MEA or he went voluntarily to do some damage control.
This whole incident only shows a weak India, losing the contest of superiority with China, and lowering India’s image on the global stage. And on the flip side of the coin, it showed that the Government of India is not in favour of Sangay’s moves.
Why “Thank You India” now?
In 2009, Tibetans had their “Thank You India”, a sort of “Golden Jubilee”, when Tibetans marked 50 years of life in exile. The Dalai Lama, then as both the political and spiritual leader, in his “Thank You India” address said, “Overall India has given us the greatest moral and material support. Looking back over the past 50 years, we feel confident that we made the right choice when we sought refuge in India.”
Was that “Thank you” not enough? Did India ask for more? I am lost why are we doing it again. 50 years is a milestone — to do it again 10 years later seems gratuitous.
Also there is the expense. The Tibetan administration is asking for funds for their museum project. All the money that would go for (well, be wasted on) these “Thank you” events could be used for the museum project. Although, the effectiveness of this project is debatable: Whether a museum on the premises of CTA, at some distance from McLeod Ganj where most of the tourists are, would get near as many visitors as the current conveniently-located site. This is altogether another matter for discussion.
Grow up a little
One domino effect of Sangay’s superfluous actions is that now the CTA had to indefinitely postpone the World Parliamentarian’s Convention on Tibet, which had been planned to be held at the end of April in Delhi.
The Government of India has clearly signalled that they are not in favour of Sangay’s moves. The exile Cabinet led by Sangay needs to do a retrospection and learn from this experience — that some press coverage and flowery Facebook posts for a little hype don’t help anything. CTA is the hope and heart of six million Tibetans. We need to see some maturity in it.
Didn’t Sangay himself say not long ago, that an official always wants to do something big in their last term of office that people will remember him by?
About the author
Lobsang Wangyal lives in McLeod Ganj, and edits the Tibet Sun website.
More articles by Lobsang Wangyal on Tibet Sun.