By SUJAN DUTTA
Dharamshala, June 29 – Leaders of the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan government-in-exile spent an anxious 48 hours in the wake of reports from Beijing that India had recognised Tibet as a part of China.
In the Dalai Lama’s absence, the chief spokesman for the movement is Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, the Kalon Tripa, head of the Cabinet (Kashag). He says the Chinese have twisted statements from Indian leaders to score diplomatic points.
Rinpoche was the head of the Tibetan Studies Institute and is a Buddhist scholar. In September 2001, after the Dalai Lama decided to vest temporal powers in the Kalon Tripa, the scholar won an election with 84 per cent of the votes. Rinpoche spoke to The Telegraph. Excerpts follow:
Q: India has recognised Tibet as part of China. What does it mean for you?
A: What has happened in Beijing is nothing new. India has only reiterated its 54-year-old policy. Unfortunately, it was misinterpreted by Xinhua, the official news agency of the People’s Republic of China, which said India has for the first time accepted Tibet as an inalienable part of China. This false news was in circulation for about 10 hours and the misunderstanding was created that India had changed its policy. The next day, the authentic copies of the declaration were made available and there was nothing of the kind in it. Apart from that, the foreign minister (Yashwant Sinha) has declared explicitly that there is no change of policy.
Q: But border trade through Sikkim takes India, China forward in resolving the issue of Sikkim.
A: China has not explicitly said as yet that Sikkim is an inalienable part of India. It is the interpretation of the media. What stamps customs officials may affix on consignments through the Sikkim border is not yet clear. If we go back to the 1954 trade agreement, it talks of “the Chinese region of Tibet”. At the time, Nathu-la was open. My assumption is that the same process will be followed. I infer from the Indian government’s stand that it will say “Tibet Autonomous Region” and not “China”.
Q: Will resumption of active border trade and economic ties between India and China mean that the Tibet issue will be kept in abeyance?
A: As far as trade relations are concerned, many things can go ahead without touching the border or the Tibet issue. This happens everywhere — not only with India and China. For a genuine settlement, the Tibet issue cannot be bypassed.
Q: What do you mean by the “Tibet issue” today? Not independence?
A: Our policy is very clear. Since 1979, His Holiness (the Dalai Lama) is pursuing the middle-path approach, seeking genuine autonomy within the Chinese constitutional framework as the Chinese Constitution provides the right to autonomy to all minority nationalities. Alongside that, we are also seeking a democratic system like Hong Kong and Macau through peaceful dialogue.
Q: Has the Dalai Lama reacted to the Prime Minister’s visit?
A: He is now in Ladakh on a lecture tour. He is fully aware of the developments. I talked to him on the 24th. He was not surprised. He knew what would happen. The better the relations between India and China, the better the chances that Tibet will be resolved.
Q: Where is the movement headed?
A: The new leadership in China is more open now than earlier. They have accepted two delegations from us in September 2002 and in May-June this year. We are now talking about how to begin a dialogue. They have agreed to continue the dialogue. No dates have been fixed.