Dharamshala — The most recent India Prime episode from India’s World is One News featured a debate between scholars over the impact of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh this week and territorial claims on the region.
Indian scholars, Mr. Vijay Kranti, senior journalist and expert on Tibet and China relations and Mr. Swaran Singh, professor of international studies at JNU, delved into the issues with Beijing political and economic commentator, Einar Tangen on the show hosted by Sana Khan. Below is the full transcript.
Host, Sana Khan: India is officially rejected Chinese criticism of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal in a statement by the Ministry of External Affairs, and India has said that the Tibetan spiritual leader has visited the state six times as well and there is no reason that China has no right to criticize. The official statement reads and I quote, ‘the government urges that no artificial controversy should be created around the Dalia Lama’s current visit. The Dalai Lama is a revered religious leader; no additional color should be ascribed to his religious and spiritual activities and visits to various states of India.
[shown in previously recorded video] Kiren Rijiju, Minister of Home Affairs: He is not there with any political motive, so unnecessary should not direct up due to the visit of the Dalai Lama to the state of Arunachal Pradesh. We don’t intend to have any kind of damage in the relationship between India and China. We respect Chinese sovereignty; and that is what we expect from China. That the visit of the Dalai Lama is purely religious, no extra motives. So there should be no extra reading to this visit and I hope that the relationship between India and China, which is very friendly, should not bear any adverse impact from this visit.
Khan: The Dalai Lama has reached Bombdila in Arunachal, after latest reports say his visit to Tawang has been put off two days due to bad weather. This comes eight years after his previous visit. Now, Lobsang Sangay, who is the Prime Minister of the Tibetan government in exile, he spoke to me earlier on on Arunachal and Indian ties with China. Lets play out some excerpts.
Lobsang Sangay: They make this kind of noise and have these grand strategies, but Arunach and Tawang is a settled issue in the Shimla Agreement in 1914, which was signed between Tibet and British India. So at the side they demarcated a border, it’s called the MacMohan line. And at that time, China did not object on the border between India and Tibet. They objected more on the border line between Tibet and China, so those historical documents clearly show that Arunachal Pradesh or Tawang was not an issue for the Chinese government. We have been saying, if you want to understand China you need to understand Tibet. Once you understand what happened to Tibet, you will truly understand China. So when Tibet was occupied, when we said we are occupied, please help us. And all the neighboring countries, the countries of the world, they said well you are an exception. Good luck to you, it will not happen to us. So with that belief they kept quiet. But now what you see happening in the South China sea, border incursions in India or Nepal, anywhere. All the neighboring countries are saying how come China is on our doorstep. We have been telling you for fifty-some years, it happened to us, it could happen to you.
Khan: Okay, joining me now I have Einar Tangen, political and economic commentator as well, thanks all. Let me start Mr. Tangen. There is a complicated history with Arunachal Pradesh between India and China. The Dalai Lama has visited the state previously, but do you see this time the visit being any different?
Mr. Einar Tangen: Yes, I think it is political, I cant see it any other way. He has in the past asked to go to Arunachal and been denied and this time he was allowed. I’m still trying to figure out what exactly is the game for India on this matter. Its clear that he is trying to get some sort of reaction but its not clear what the end game would be.
Khan: When you say India is looking for some sort of reaction, what specifics are you referring to?
Tangen: The immediate call that this is an internal matter and all this, why was he not allowed to go when he requested before? Why now at this juncture? There are clearly issues between India and China, especially over territory each is claiming different parts of the others that are being held. The question is, how can this be resolved. I don’t know, having the Dalai Lama visit a disputed part is part of a settlement, it seems to me more juvenile. Let’s throw sticks and stones at eachother rather than sit down and try to settle the matter.
Khan: Interesting to get that perspective of China here, I’m going to move on to Mr Kranti and Mr Singh who I have here in studio. Mr Vijay Kranti, the view from Beijing is that this visit is more political, seems a bolder move by India. What is India’s game plan here?
Mr Vijay Kranti: Yeah, if someone wants to see a game plan, one will see one. But, if somebody is there to see it through history, what has happened, I would say that I have been watching Tibet for the last 44 plus years, and this is the first time that New Delhi, the Indian government, has decided to stand on its own, vis a vis China on the issues of Tibet. I remember when the Dalai Lama was given the highest civilian award by America in 2007; that is the Congressional Gold Medal. We had a government in New Delhi, which when the Dalai Lama came to India, there were people who loved him and wanted to give him a civic reception. And We had this government in Delhi, which unfortunately could not stand on its own, hardly knew it had a spine. The government issued an order that no government official, no political leaders, office holders would attend the civic reception. And so, nobody from Ministry of External Affairs, nobody from even the chief minister… so you see, when Mr. Modi comes to power in the oath ceremony, he invited every single state head from around India. He did not invite anybody from China. He also invited the Tibetan Prime Minister. So that was the first indication that we have a new government.
Khan: So, you’re saying a lot has changed with the Modi government. So, Professor Singh, it is important for us to understand why there is so much exchange between China and China over Tawang, Explain to our viewers the importance, why Tawang is a flashpoint in the issues between India and China.
Prof. Swaran Singh: There are multiple interpretations and there will continue to be multiple interpretations, especially interpretations of Beijing and New Delhi will never meet. Both on what are the motivations, outcomes and implications. About Tawang, there used to be an interpretation that it is a strategically located plateau where India is in position and in situations of war or surveillance it could be useful. But that is no loner important, because countries are no longer fighting wars that way, wars in the future are going to be very different in cyberspace in outer space, psychological warfare, so on. What is more important today, I think, is that there are about 50,000 Indians living in the town and it is the responsibility of India to make sure they feel safe, that their welfare is looked after. So if you look at what is happening, Beijing is not helping itself either. There are constituencies in India, there are experts who believe the Dalai Lama alone is equal to several mountain divisions, in terms of a psychological warfare. The overreactions that you see in China over his visit they are only enforcing the document that India has a tool against Chinese. By raising such human cry over this visit, I think they are reinforcing that constituencies in our country, which believes that the Dalai Lama is and instrument and the government of India is using that. There are others who don’t believe that who think it is an innocent visit by a religious leader and he has already separated himself from the political domain for a long time now. He has created a parallel political domain and segregated himself from that. He is seen simply as a religious guru and I don’t think the government of India has any reason to interfere with where religious gurus are going and what they are doing especially if they are only doing the courses of their own religion.
Kranti: See, why China is making noise on Arunachal Pradesh is because there is a sense of sin. China occupied Tibet illegally. The whole world knows it but nobody wants to speak it. So now, China wants to divert attention of India, rather than India challenging Chinas occupation of Tibet, China wants to divert the issue. Rather than keeping Tibet as an issue, now they are declaring that Arunachal is South Tibet so it belongs to us.
Khan: Lets see what the view in Beijing is of that, so Mr. Tangen, what do you have to say about what the experts in the studio are saying to that.
Tangen: Well I’m afraid I’d have to disagree with them on a number of points. I still have not heard what the game plan is. I’ve heard the historical analysis, it says we are growing a spine; I don’t know where that spine is taking you. I think this was kicked off by the various announcements by Beijing that they wanted to do a land swap and since that time there has been a dithering within India. Most people have said simply no, we don’t want to compromise, we just want everything back. I don’t think that is very practical. If India indeed wants a hostile relationship with China, that is their right. Does Beijing overreact in terms of the Dalai Lama? I would say so, but if in fact India is using the Dalai Lama, and as I said before they have refused him a number of occasions to go to this region before.
Khan: But let us say that maybe India is not using the Dalai Lama and it is as they are saying that he is free to go wherever he wants, and if he chooses go to Arunachal, that is it. Let’s talk about specifics, do you think back to reports that say that one of India’s ministers, Mr. Kiren Rijiju is going to personally escort the Dalai Lama when he is in Tawang. Do you see moves like these as what China is irked about? Something that makes it political rather than a religious event?
Tangen: Yes, I don’t think that other religious visitors are given that kind of state welcome. This is exactly what Beijing is concerned about and I really think there needs to be a pause and there needs to be a whitepaper strategy coming from Delhi saying exactly how he wants to deal with regional issues. We are living in a world where we have Brexit, we have the uncertainty of Donald Trump. Multilateralism is on the retreat. These are all things that could potentially hurt India. The question is where will India land on the broad spectrum. It seems more and more countries are moving away from the US and moving towards grouping together for multilateral goods, but its not clear where India stands at this point. These kinds of issues bring up these questions.
Khan: Right sir, I could hear one of the guests sitting here in the studio I could hear him say wishful thinking. Mr Kranti, if you could just give both of yours reaction on this and move on.
Kranti: Our friend from Beijing thinks the world is moving as China wants it. For example, about Donald Trump he wants to say that the world is moving away from America. Why cant you see that now the whole world is focusing on China. All the kinds of aggression China is trying toc ommit on so many neighbors, China is I’m afraid, digging its grave here by opening so many fronts. I don’t think they should open another front in the name of the Dalai Lama. As my friend here said, the Dalai Lama is more than all Chinese leaders put together.
Singh: I don’t think the world is moving away from the US or Donald Trump, President Xi Jinping is meeting him this Thursday, and we know the efforts the Chinese are making to propitiate the whole team of Donald Trump before the meeting. As far as the Dalai Lama, its important to understand that instead of China complaining to us, they should be talking to the Dalai Lama, he is their citizen. Why are you complaining to India, you should be talking to him and telling him where he should go and not go. India has always supported there there should be direct dialogue between Beijing and the Dalai Lama and it has been stalled now for about seven years and I think its time to revive that. That is perhaps a better channel for Beijing to influence where he should be traveling.
Khan: Right, also I want to move this a bit further talking about the context. We cant talk about the visit of the Dalai Lama without giving it proper context. A lot has been happening over the border. India has been pumping in millions of dollars to shore up infrastructure. Mr Tangen, give us a sense of whats happening. Why is India shoring up this region, investing so much money. You would know better what sort of money or infrastructure China has built up over the past few years. If there is nothing then why raise objections on what India is trying to do because there have been reports earlier as well raising objections to Indias plans for the region.
Tangen: I think there are a number of issues. China’s relationship with Pakistan has always been a sore point with India, there is also the issue of expanding spheres. Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, all these areas are now falling between Delhi and Beijing. There seems to be this sense from Delhi that China is encroaching. China sees itself as trying to spread prosperity, so the real issue here is that we have two interests colliding. The question is what does each side want out of it and can there be a win win situation of are we stuck in this negative triangle where people quote history or they talk about people moving about or talking to somebody. We all know what the issues are. Hiding behind a bunch of words or pretending things aren’t political is pointless, let’s just get to the issue. There is no answer to your question about why a government minister is accompanying him if he is simply a religious man.
Khan: The BRIC summit is approaching where Narendra Modi will also be present so perhaps the real sense of the mood that is prevalent in Beijing and New Delhi can be ascertained over there. Let me pose a question to both of you, India has not taken on China directly, it seems to be making a quiet assertion, would you agree by making it clear that Chinese are not welcome in Arunachal Pradesh? How do you see China’s stance from here on, do you think the recent developments are going to further sour ties?
Kranti: You know India had another responsibility which it has been shying since 1951, rather 1949. In 1949 China occupied eastern Turkestan, which was a free country, an independent country, and thy named it Xinjiang. In 1951 they occupied Tibet and today these two countries, Tibet and east Turkestan they make more than half of the land mass and resources of China. 2/3 of resources and half of land mass. So China wants to number one, its own expansionist imperialist policies, it wants to continue that. So to hide that guilty conscience, it is rather than to shift the focus of this discourse, it is creating new issues. So Arunachal Pradesh is an artificial issue which China has created. So that the world, rather than telling China to vacate their aggression and colonialism, we should be confused about Arunachal Pradesh. So this is what the Indian government is suddenly realizing, that India has to follow the right policy on Tibet—
Khan: --not suddenly, you could say since the new government you have –
Kranti: --yes, you have awareness there.
Singh: I think definitely the new government is far more conscious of India’s cultural and religious moorings and it definitely has an influence on how foreign policy is both conceived and operationalized. But are we really pushing relations to the negative? I don’t think so. Already for about one and a half years, if you know, China has been really reluctant to supper India’s case, either case of membership in NSG or putting Hazer Masood’s name in the sanctions list. So there is already negativity in the relationship and given the fact that India’s secularism is distinct from European secularism, not just separating state and religion but actually supporting and protecting religious minorities. In that sense India has been working to evolve. I call India the museum of Tibetan history, so in that sense, India has been supporting sustenance of culture and religion of Tibetans in India. India has been keeping this at least 100,000 plus, actually numbers are much more, Chinese citizens on our soil. I think we have been really generous in this case and then being accused of trying to push the relationship to the negative. Perhaps China needs to understand the positive side as well where they have been really indulgent with Chinese citizens on our soil and I think it is time that they should start negotiations with these people.
Khan: Alright, Mr. Einad Tangen, give us a sense of what is going to happen next. We know there have been these warnings from China before the Dalai Lama’s visit over the past few weeks but what sort of an impact do you see this having on ties?
Tangen: Well I think there will be a cold shoulder on a number of issues of trade. There is not a tremendous amount of trade, and what there is, is actually inbound trade, less expensive services for India than importing from the US or Europe. I don’t think China is looking to punish India, I think they are just upset that somebody wants to get involved in internal politics by supporting separatists. As your guest is obviously doing. He’s both raising the issue of Tibet and Xinjiang, I don’t know what India has to do with Xinjiang, it is as I recall, and I think he will agree, an issue of Muslim separatists, a very small minority who are pushing this. I don’t know that India is in a position where it is supporting radical Islamic separatists so I find it odd he is citing these kinds of examples. I think if there’s going to be a constructive way of handling this, you’d have to put aside these petty issues, stop looking at history and start looking into the future. What does India want? Where is India going?
Khan: Alright, we will take a quick closing reaction, ten seconds each of you, about the impact of the Dalai Lama’s visit and what India and China can do, taking a lesson from the past, to make things better.
Kranti: So if I believe our friend from Beijing that Indian government is making a statement by allowing the Dalai Lama to go to Arunachal, yes, let us look at it from this angle. Number one, India is asserting that Arunachal is an integral part of India. Number two, the Dalai Lama is a respected guest of India. Number three, he has freedom to travel to any part of India. And then, now I think the next step for India is to tell the world how much we respect the Dalai Lama and to give him Bharat Ratna; to honor him.
Tangen: One word; it is just constant confusion. There is no clear direction of what is going on.
Singh: I think it is important to understand acrimonious responses are not going to help anybody. These are Chinese citizens, it is their responsibility. I think it is an opportune time now that His Holiness is already 81 years old and he may not be with us forever. Once he is no longer with us it is going to be far more difficult for India, but much more difficult for Chinese because if you see the government hat Sangay is leading today, it has a large number of what is called Tibetan Youth Congress leaders in it today and their orientation and attitude is very different and will be difficult for China.
Khan: So time is running out. Acrimonious attitudes will not help, perhaps now is the time, and the government too, it seems is ready to China. Will China also come to the table? A lot obviously also depends on how things move on from here. Come September at the BRIC Summit where perhaps Xi Jinping will come face to face with the Indian Prime Minister after the Dalai Lama’s visit perhaps for the first time. We are going to finish now, thank you all for joining me.
The full episode can be viewed here.