Xi Jinping's China is casting a keen eye on Tibet and its spiritual leader Dalai Lama. Photo: Reuters and Wikimedia Commons
Xi Jinping's China is casting a keen eye on Tibet and its spiritual leader Dalai Lama. Photo: Reuters and Wikimedia Commons

China holding a million Uighurs in re-education camps, awareness of these torture facilities, and horrors like China’s organ-harvesting trade have diminished the global focus on Tibet, where 7 million Han Chinese have overwhelmed 6 million Tibetans. With a complete blackout of the systemic throttling of Tibetan culture coupled with modern development, the general feeling is that the Tibetans are a lost cause.

But Tibet watchers must read the fascinating book Will Tibet Ever Find Her Soul Again? by Claude Arpi. He vividly describes China’s invasion, subterfuge and python-like assimilation of Tibet, with India foolishly supplying rice to the People’s Liberation Army. It highlights little-known facts such as the closure of Indian missions in Kashgar in Xinjiang and Lhasa in Tibet without informing Parliament, which resulted in India’s meek submission to China’s program of annexation.

Arpi further brings out that despite flourishing India-China trade across the Himalayas, China at that time never claimed Tawang and North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA), which proves that China’s later claims to Arunachal Pradesh (90,000 square kilometers of Indian territory) under the euphemism “South Tibet” is an afterthought.

The book covers the period up to 1954, but Arpi plans to add two more volumes in continuation. The title Will Tibet Find Her Soul Again? was part of a report by an Indian trade agent in Gyantse who witnessed China taking over Tibet with little resistance.

Erstwhile actions of Britain and the US contributed to the present-day aggressiveness of China. On the Partition of India in 1947, the entire state of Jammu & Kashmir acceded to India, giving India a border with Tibet and Afghanistan. But Pakistani forces accompanied by British officers invaded India. The British viceroy persuaded the Indian prime minister to stop Indian forces from pursuing fleeing Pakistanis in 1948 and instead approach the United Nations. The British believed Pakistan would help check Soviet influence. This gave China a border with Pakistan. With Pakistan virtually subsumed by China today, the latter has access to the Indian Ocean.

During World War II, the British Indian Army was 2.5 million strong, fighting for Britain, but the bulk of them were disbanded after the war. Instead of demobilizing these troops, India could have helped the Tibetans remain independent. Even when China invaded Tibet, the British could have re-mobilized adequate Indian troops. Similarly, the Americans played a major part in China’s economic rise, which they now are trying to check through the current trade war.

In the 7th century AD, Tibet was an empire reaching from the borders of Uzbekistan to central China, from halfway across Xinjiang, an area larger than the Chinese heartland. In 763, the Tibetan army briefly captured the Chinese capital Chang-an (today’s Xian) and much later it was the Mongols who ruled China, who also occupied Tibet.

Mao Zedong annexed Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia to provide depth to mainland China, calling Tibet the Palm of China and Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and NEFA its five fingers. India failed to recognize the strategic importance of Tibet as a buffer between itself and China. The warnings of India’s first home minister Sardar Patel of Chinese irredentism and imperialism were also ignored.

China has ravaged Tibetan culture, while extracting the best from it. But China is worried about the Dalai Lama’s optimism and belief in democracy, that political reforms must happen in China, albeit gradually, starting with legal reform and an end to internal censorship.

On a visit to Washington in 2011, the Dalai Lama said, “They [the Chinese] always say, ‘We have no intention to expand.’ I tell my Chinese friends, if everything is transparent and policy is open, there is no need to keep saying that. And if everything is a state secret, then you can 1,000 times deny such intentions, and still no one will believe you. Now the free world has a responsibility to bring China into the mainstream of world democracy.”

China says it has the right to decide the successor of the Dalai Lama despite criticism from Tibetan spiritual leaders abroad, but China choosing the successor means accepting the concept of reincarnation.

China stands accused of kidnapping Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the Panchen Lama recognized by the Tibetan Government in Exile, and installing Chokyi Gyalpo as acting 11th Panchen Lama, not recognized outside China. Appointing the Panchen Lama is part of the process by which each new Dalai Lama is chosen. China fears that the current Dalai Lama may declare his successor some day, which would be difficult to contest.

China’s biggest concern is internal instability, to the extent that it banned the Falun Gong movement – simple exercises practiced by groups. Despite its outward display of infallibility and the iron hand that itself breeds discontent, the Communist Party of China remains insecure within.

Having gained influence over Nepalese politics, China virtually made the life of Tibetans in Nepal hell, with many handed over to China.  Behind China signing internal security agreements with India, one obvious aim is to gain intelligence on Tibetans in India, and work on distancing the government from them.

Will Tibet Ever Find Her Soul Again? is the title of Claude Arpi’s book. It would be naïve to think China is not concerned about the “Soul of Tibet”; it is anathema to China’s atheist regime, as the soul never dies. Moreover, history is a great leveler, no matter how many decades or centuries it takes.

Prakash Katoch

The author retired as lieutenant general from the Indian Army's Special Forces.

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