By Ravindra Kumar
India is home to more than 80,000 Tibetan refugees who fled the political and cultural repression that followed the invasion of their homeland by the People's Republic of China. As such, says Ravindra Kumar--former vice chancellor of Ch. Charan Singh University in Meerut, India and consultant to the U.N. University of Peace for Gandhian Studies--it is a matter of practical necessity for high-level Indian officials to consult with the refugees' spiritual leader and head of the Tibetan government-in-exile, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Unfortunately, leaders in Beijing have decried such contacts is a serious intrusion into the PRC's domestic affairs, appearing to view the elimination of even the slightest challenge to PRC sovereignty over Tibet as more important than developing fruitful relations with other nations. Kumar argues that this belligerent attitude, not only toward Tibetans but also toward the people of Taiwan, is ultimately counterproductive.
Several statements issued by news agencies and the foreign ministry of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in July are quite disturbing in view of Beijing's professed intention to improve relations with India and promote peace and understanding in the world.
In one statement, PRC foreign ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue sharply upbraided Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi, chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance, for meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama, she said, is no religious figure but "a political exile engaged in spilittist activities," stressing that the PRC government is therefore "opposed to any meeting with the Dalai Lama by officials of any country in any name or any form," and regards such meetings as a grievous interference in the PRC's internal affairs.
Zhang urged the Indian government not to hurt the "good momentum" toward improved relations mentioned in the Chinese foreign ministry's recently released report "China's Foreign Affairs, 2004 Edition." It should adhere to the political commitment it made in the "Declaration of Principles for Relations and Comprehensive Cooperation" signed in June of last year by former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, she said.
By that accord, India for the first time explicitly recognized Tibet as a part of Chinese territory, while also reiterating its acceptance of China's "one China" principle.
In a related statement emanating from Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, the local Chinese government urged other countries in general and the United States in particular to stay out of Tibetan affairs. Blaming them for using Tibet as a political card, it urged them to leave the Tibetans to their own fate.
At about the same time, Beijing announced that it would be conducting military exercises on a larger scale than ever before as a warning to Taiwan that its unification with China could not be long delayed. Without a clear explanation of why such forceful saber rattling was necessary, it could only create an atmosphere of confusion, fear and instability in the region.
Beijing also sent shivers through the Taiwanese business community by threatening to treat unfavorably investors who support the administration of ROC President Chen Shui-bian.
The political and cultural crises currently besetting Tibet--which in terms of race, culture, language, dress and customs has its own distinct identity, and whose civilization, according to archaeological findings, goes back as far as 4,000 years--started with the establishment of the PRC under the rule of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949. Late that year, the People's Liberation Army invaded and occupied the country and suppressed the local Buddhist culture. About 6,000 Buddhist temples were eventually looted and destroyed. When a popular uprising in March 1959 was brutally suppressed, with an estimated 87,000 Tibetans killed, the country's supreme religious leader, the Dalai Lama, along with nearly 100,000 other Tibetans were forced to take asylum in India, with more to follow.
Currently, more than 85,000 Tibetan refugees reside in India. For decades, many of them have been living in camps in Kolkata, Delhi, Darjeeling and other parts of the country. It is only to be expected that they face numerous economic and social problems. A large proportion are without gainful employment, and the young have only limited educational opportunities.
How can it be wrong, then, for the Indian prime minister or other officials to meet with the refugees' leaders to deal with their problems? By what logic can Beijing officials reasonably assert that any meeting with the Dalai Lama constitutes interference in its internal affairs when it is India's own internal affairs that are the subject of attention? Reports pertaining to the violation of human rights in Tibet have saddened people the world over. Governments, human-rights organizations and the United Nations have expressed universal dismay. According to available reports, between 1996 and 1999 more than 11,000 monks and nuns were expelled from their monasteries and nunneries for objecting to coercive "patriotic re-education." As of 1999, there were more than 600 known political prisoners in Tibet, and many others are believed to have died from torture and abuse while in prison.
There is widespread concern that, as the consequence of political repression combined with a huge influx of Han Chinese immigrants, Tibetan culture is in danger of extinction. As one indication of this, it is estimated that there remain only some 46,000 Buddhist monks and nuns in a population of 2.7 million Tibetans, as compared with 110,000 in a population of 1 million 40 years ago.
Under such circumstances, it is by no means improper for the Dalai Lama to meet with world leaders to make pleas for justice and freedom for Tibetans based on universally appreciated values. He has the responsibility to bring to the world's attention the violation of his fellow countrymen's rights as outlined in the 1986 U.N. Declaration on the Right to Development, which states: "The right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person, and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized.
"The human right to development also implies the full realization of the right of peoples to self-determination, which includes, subject to the relevant provisions of both International Covenants on Human Rights, the exercise of their inalienable right to full sovereignty over all their natural wealth and resources." Speaking out in support of the rights of the Tibetan people is a moral responsibility of world leaders. Their doing so must not automatically be construed by Beijing as playing politics and interfering in the PRC's internal affairs. After all, as an important member of the United Nations, the PRC is bound to respect the various U.N. declarations.
To demonstrate its commitment to the aims and principles upon which the United Nations is founded, the PRC should take to heart the pleas of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans. When they draw the attention of the Indian officials to miseries being faced by Tibetans in India, it is unwise for Beijing to turn it into a bone of contention that impedes the process of improvement of relations with India. In doing so, it is the PRC that politicizes the issue and interferes in the domestic affairs of India.
For the sake of peaceful development of relations in the world, the leaders in Beijing should also take a kindly approach in their dealings with Taiwan.
Taiwan has made wonderful strides economically and politically, particularly with regard to respect for human rights. The hardworking, forward-looking Taiwanese people have become renowned as suppliers of high-tech products, commanding a strong presence in global markets. Indeed, despite the diplomatic problems Taiwan has been confronted with in the international arena, it may be said that because of its people's technological prowess, the world economy has become dependent on it in some fields, most notably that of semiconductor products.
Moreover, despite being relatively small, Taiwanese society is blessed with a rich diversity of harmoniously interacting cultural elements. Such achievements are highly commendable and should be a source of pride and inspiration for every one in Asia.
While Taiwan has taken steps to maintain an adequate defensive capability, this poses no threat to the security of the PRC. The latter's spending on new armaments over the past several years far outstrips that of Taiwan. Hence, it is hard to see what acceptable reason Beijing might have for escalating its threat of military action against Taiwan.
Whatever the differences between the PRC and the ROC on Taiwan may consist in, their peaceful resolution is possible only in an atmosphere of trust. A process of trust building can be started at any time, any place as long as there is a willingness to communicate directly and openly in a rational manner free of intimidation. Through such an approach, there is no problem in the world that cannot be resolved.
Already, a mutually beneficial economic symbiosis has developed between China and Taiwan. Hence, a natural step toward trust-building would be for China to cease using economic relations as a tool to threaten Taiwan but instead pursue agreements that will further foster those relations.
Steps could also be taken to promote cultural exchanges. Success in these endeavors may then serve as a foundation for further discussion of political issues in a noncoercive manner.
The PRC is a powerful country. As history has demonstrated, powerful countries sometimes fool themselves into believing they can go their own way and settle affairs through the use or threat of force.
The realities of international politics are changing now, however. As recent events in Iraq have shown, it is no easy matter for even the world's mightiest power to do as it pleases oblivious to world opinion. These days, no responsible leader can resort to the use of brute military or economic force, for it is increasingly clear that dependence on violence or threats of violence to pursue national goals can rarely, if ever, bring about satisfactory results. Indeed, such aggressiveness is ultimately self-destructive and detrimental to global welfare.
All governments must keep this in mind. The moral imperative to do so is especially apparent in instances where a powerful country threatens to crush another much less powerful one.
Taiwan Journal is published by the Government Information Office of the Republic of China on Taiwan