China ’s activities in Tibet since its occupation of that country sixty years ago will inevitably lead to a reopening of the Tibetan question sooner or later. Even during the earlier period, in the first forty or fifty years, well before it joined the WTO, when China was struggling to get its economy into shape and was, therefore, dependent on the advanced nations to give it a technological leg up, Western leaders were unable to prevent the genocide in Tibet. After accession to the WTO and the staggering rise in China ’s economic power the world finds it difficult to confront China on the harshness of its rule in Tibet . For China and the world at large Tibet is a settled question, the final nail in the coffin of Tibet having been driven after Prime Minister Vajpayee’s visit to China in 2003, where he granted China its final wish, in that India agreed to China ’s sovereignty over Tibet , specifically TAR. Earlier it had merely agreed to suzerainty. Many people in India were aghast at what Mr. Vajpayee had done. The Tibetans felt that another body blow had been delivered to them by the Government of India, continuing in the tradition set by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India in the 1950s. More recently, the United Kingdom government reeling under the global recession followed suit. It too recognized China ’s sovereignty over Tibet . These two countries India and United Kingdom were perhaps the only countries that had a definite locus-standi in the matter. From the very beginning the rest of the world’s response to Tibet was to a large extent fashioned in conformity with the Indian position, India being the nation most affected by the Chinese occupation of Tibet .
Therefore, if Tibet has become a closed question for the whole world, how can it possibly lead to its reopening for a world faced with a China that has become so powerful that it can influence the attitude of practically every nation in the world? What can dramatically alter the situation in the coming years is the frenzied pace of China’s build up in Tibet in the military sphere as well as due to the environmental impact of its infra-structural push, followed by large influx of the Han population. While in the short-term, for a decade or two, China may succeed in bedazzling the world by trying to replicate its economic miracle in Tibet , the fact remains that the rapid infrastructural push has marginalized the local Tibetan population even further and played havoc with Tibet ’s environment. The optimum level of the Tibetan Plateau’s ability to sustain a limited number of people has already been exceeded and the fragile ecology has been irreversibly degraded beyond redemption.
Not satisfied with its ravaging of the Tibetan Plateau and the sustained drive for destroying Tibet ’s culture and its sacred spaces the Chinese government is now rapidly moving to divert the natural flow of Tibetan rivers towards mainland China , to mitigate to an extent the ecological ravages caused in the mainland by its policies. This diversion of the main waterways of the Tibetan Plateau which flow into South Asia and South-East Asia from the Indus in the west to the Yellow River in the east has already affected the populations of the lower riparian states on the Indian subcontinent and South-East Asia . The future consequences of continued diversion of these waterways towards China thus depriving the populations of the lower riparian states could lead to a collision, with these states coming together to challenge the very basis of China’s occupation of Tibet. For several decades the Chinese have been constructing large number of dams on the rivers that flow into the countries of South and South-East Asia; changing the ecology and sustenance of downstream colonies, spanning a very large continental-sized swath of population and territory from Pakistan all the way to Vietnam. Till date most of the countries thus affected have kept silent, meekly submitting to the Chinese actions upstream in Tibet .
In the latest reports coming out of Tibet from people who live there as well as from satellite imagery it becomes evident that China is pushing its infrastructure right up to its borders with Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan and India to put in place military build up of a size that threatens its big neighbour to the South, perhaps other countries as well. It is also a prelude to the massive diversion of the waters of Tsangpo, known as the Brahamaputra River in India . Should the Chinese go ahead with constructing the largest dam ever at the Great Bend on the Tsangpo, where its takes a sharp turn towards India, the consequences of such an action could be far-reaching; for not only would a massive dam at the Great Bend offend the religious sentiments of the Tibetans who consider it sacred, it would seriously devastate the ecology of one of the most treasured ecological habitats of the world. Furthermore, it could lead to great hardship and suffering for the peoples of India ’s northeastern states, notably Assam , as well as Bangladesh . For all practical purposes it would have the potential for becoming a casus belli.
India would then have to take recourse to a massive rearmament drive to deter China from exercising an option for which nuclear demolitions might have to be used. India would be left with no choice but to reopen the entire Tibetan question. Additionally, it would go all out to mobilize the rest of the South-East Asian countries to collectively oppose China . Other East Asian nations, not directly affected by Chinese activities in Tibet , could be counted on to whole-heartedly support India and ASEAN in their opposition to China ’s unilateralism and belligerence. Regardless of its present military inferiority compared to China the Government of India must take it upon itself to announce to China and the world that any Chinese activity at the Great Bend on the Tsangpo would definitely oblige it to reopen the question of Chinese sovereignty, even suzerainty over Tibet, the acceptance having resulted from the fait accompli of China’s military occupation of that hapless country. That is not all. It would use every resource available to it to mobilize the whole world to oppose Chinese occupation of Tibet and demand freedom for the people of Tibet .
October 18, 2010