It is time for India to rework its One China Policy (OCP) and give it a strategic direction, say foreign policy experts.
Opening a discussion on, ‘Rethinking India's 'One China Policy: Tragedy of Tibet,’ organized by think tank Usanas Foundation, Srikanth Kondapalli from the Centre for East Asia Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the OCP was initiated between December 1949 and April 1950 but was confined only to Taiwan. After the Communist Party won the war, India switched diplomatic relations from the Republic of China (ROC) to the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
With the advent of the PRC, all diplomatic missions and relations were abolished and new relations established. Unfortunately, India was among the first nations to use the ‘One China’ term and recognize China, along with Burma and Pakistan. At that time, India said that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China and in about four years, India also developed a nuanced position on Tibet and began considering it as a part of China from a trade perspective.
This policy changed after China began issuing stapled visas to people from Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh. However, in 2013 then prime minister Manmohan Singh went to China and, under the Chinese pressure, reiterated OCP.
Kondapalli said, “In 1965, Tibet was divided into Tibet Autonomous Region and Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. Unfortunately, we did not even comment on this… Finally, in May 2014 the then foreign minister Sushma Swaraj in a meeting with her Chinese counterpart asked about China’s stand on the One India Policy. We should start putting pressure over China to make them agree to One India Policy in reciprocation to OCP.”
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On how to tackle China, Kondapalli suggested that India can learn from North Korea—a $50 Billion GDP nation that brought an $18 trillion GDP nation, the US—to Singapore to talk on its terms. India should seek reciprocity from China on the One India Policy, and also coordinate activities with the Tibetans, Taiwanese, Uighurs, and other communities, he suggested.
Kondapalli expressed concern about Tibet where a demographic transition is underway with 7.5 million Chinese settling down against the six million local Tibetans. He suggested that the Tibetans will have to unite to fight a long war. He added that reverence for the Dalai Lama is huge and when he had asked the Tibetans to boycott the Shahtoosh shawl, which is manufactured by killing antelopes, around 98 per cent of people followed the movement. This is a thing that needs to be further consolidated among the Tibetans.
Krishan Varma, former special secretary, government of India, said that India has failed in its strategic understanding of China. “I believe personally that the Chinese were able to lull us in a sense of comfort. They effectively used shrewd and skewed diplomacy. They have taken us away from the main point of confrontation—the boundary. Nevertheless, it is time to rephrase the OCP,” he said.
Varma said that India is at an inflection point and added that the civilized nations of the world will need to challenge nations with uncivilized behavior. He emphasized that India should have a new Tibet policy, a new Taiwan policy, a new Xinjiang policy, and even a New Mongolia policy. He said: “I would see a commonality of behavior with the civilized Western countries to go against China.”
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He said that the world is lucky to have a towering figure like the Dalai Lama and we need to look up to him. But importantly, we need to ask ourselves—are we willing to cross the limit that we consider as our border?
Abhijeet Iyer-Mitra, senior fellow, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, said that recognizing Tibet as a part of China was a big blunder: “The UN never accepted the annexation of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia as a part of the USSR. This should form the cornerstone of our policy on Tibet from now on,” he said, adding that there is an air of terror in Tibet as the communist country has placed people under machine guns everywhere. Communists are wiping out the native culture.
Talking about covert ways of denouncing the OCP, he argued that you just can’t trust a treaty that you signed with China. You violate the treaty in principle, but not in letter. Treat OCP like it treats nuclear non-proliferation. You swear to it absolutely and act against it on the ground. Use your diplomatic resources to treat Tibet as an independent country.
He expressed concern that China remains a threat to India. “Are the Chinese planning to hit us? I suspect that yes, they are. If not in conventional ways, but they are preparing to hit us,” Iyer-Mitra warned.
Tibetan activist and writer Tenzin Tsundue said that it was only in 1912 that the idea of China began to come up, which was under foreign occupation for around 300 years. “Now they are trying to rule over their rulers. There is no real China. The China, Xi Jinping is talking about only came into existence in 1949. Till then, Tibet was an independent country,” Tsundue added.
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When the Dalai Lama came in exile to India, we repudiated the 17-point agreement with China that we would continue to fight for an independent Tibet. There was much pressure exerted by the government of India on Tibet as well. The Tibetan people, with a great sense of resilience, have survived and maintained their fight for freedom. Now we have come to a point where India realizes that Tibet cannot be left out. Tibet means a 2.5 million sq-km territory.
He added that now that India has awakened, it needs to recognize Tibet as a free and independent country and rework OCP. Even though India has recognized territories occupied by China, the latter questions territorial integration of India and refuses to recognize Kashmir as a part of it.
Talking about global alliances against China, he said that there is an entire alliance of people fighting to get freedom from China including East Turkestan, Mongolia, Hong Kong, Tibet and Manchuria, and this is a growing movement. Three years ago, we had a conference in Dharamshala where Dolkun Isa—a Uighur leader—was denied a visa in India. “What kind of diplomacy is this? If you are willing, freedom will happen. Freedom firstly needs to happen here.”
Tsundue asked the participants to ponder over a quote by Aurobindo Ghosh, “India can be free and India must be free”. He also quoted Rabindranath Tagore’s poem, “Where the mind is without fear.” Tsundue ended on an optimistic note saying that for Tibetan people, freedom is always a matter of political decision and that will happen at some point of time, inevitably..