Amidst the confrontation at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and India working towards rethinking its China policy, intelligentsia and academia came together to discuss the policy options for India to rethink its ‘One China Policy’ with a focus on Tibet. Dozens of intellectuals came together at one platform to brainstorm on the same in a talk organised by the Usanas foundation on "Rethinking India's 'One China Policy’: Tragedy of Tibet".
The esteemed list of speakers included Former Special Secretary, Government of India, Krishan Varma; Prof. Srikanth Kondapalli from Centre for East Asia Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University; Senior Fellow, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, Abhijeet Iyer-Mitra; and Tibetan Activist and Writer Tenzin Tsundue.
Beginning the talk, Srikanth Kondapalli said that the policy was initiated between December 1949 and April 1950. However, it was only related to Taiwan in the initial period, as the Communist Party won the civil war and the Kuomintang was pushed back to Taiwan. India had an embassy in Chongqing in the Republic of China. We also had Consul Generals in Lhasa, Xinjiang, and other areas.
Within two years, the Communist Party won the war and we had to switch over from diplomatic relations with ROC (Republic of China) to PRC (Peoples Republic of China). With the advent of the PRC, the Communist party started setting up a different kitchen. All the diplomatic missions and relations were abolished and new relations were established.
Unfortunately, India was among the first nations to use this world ‘One China’ and recognise China, along with Burma and Pakistan. India simply stated that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China. In about four years, we also had the Panchseel Principle sign and we started to have a nuanced position that Tibet - we began to consider it as China’s part in trade perspective. Every joint statement reiterated that position till the 2010 joint statement. We started deviating a bit from it after staple visas were issued to Kashmiris and Arunachalis.
Talking about possible solutions, he suggested three policy options. He first argued that it is also a matter of power when we talk about reciprocity. We need to learn from North Korea, which is a 50 Billion GDP nation that brought an 18 Trillion+ GDP nation - the USA to Singapore, largely on its own terms. We should start seeking reciprocity from China based on the deliverance of recognising the One India Policy.
Secondly, he said that in conjunction with the Tibetans, Taiwanese, Uighurs, and others, we also need to coordinate activities. Third, many countries have signed One China Policy - around 200 odd countries except for 15 or so… However, none of these got a reciprocal arrangement from China. India has to seek reciprocity with China as well as work together with all those countries.
Krishan Varma began by highlighting that China said it is time to rephrase the One China Policy”, highlighting the importance of practicality, he said that look at the way Chinese have done to annex neighbouring areas. It is not easy to roll back. Even in the current context, are we going to allow them to run away from what they have done in the South China sea? They have thrown away all the international norms. Are we legitimising everything that China has annexed? India needs to have a new One Tibet policy, a new Taiwan policy, a new Xinjiang policy, and even a New Mongolia policy.
Abhijit Iyer Mitra began by putting forward two major points. He said that the first issue is the serial blunders that we did in recognising Tibet as a part of China. Second is the internal point of view regarding Tibet. What you will see in Tibet is the kind of an air of error everywhere. You can see people with machine guns and security scanning everywhere by the communist country - who are very good at wiping out the native culture. What is amazing about Tibet is that despite all the brutality, it has continued to preserve its culture, unlike other Central Asian countries.
Talking about the strategic importance of Tibet, he said that as we move from a ground centric combat paradigm to an air centric warfare paradigm, Tibet becomes a huge liability for us. These are interception points. We have to adjust a whole set of things. Fighting Tibet on the ground is a nightmare, and fighting in the air is a dream.
Tenzin Tsundue talked about global alliances fighting against China and said that there is an entire alliance of people fighting to get freedom from China including East Turkestan, Mongolia, Hong Kong, Tibet, Manchuria, etc. this is a growing movement. Three years ago, we had a conference in Dharamshala where Dolkun Isa - 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.
He also asked the participants to ponder on the quote of Aurobindo Ghosh, “India can be free and India must be free”. He also quoted Rabindranath Tagore’s quote - “Where the mind is without fear… in to that heaven of freedom..” For Tibetan people, freedom is always a matter of political decision and that will happen at some point of time, inevitably.