The Tibetan Government In-Exile in India launched year-long “Thank You India” celebrations in March to mark the 60th year of Spiritual Leader Dalai Lama’s arrival in India. Two main events, originally scheduled to be held in New Delhi, were cancelled and instead shifted to Dharamsala, in Himachal Pradesh. Out of all the Indian ministers that were invited, only the cultural minister showed up.
According to the New York Times, the originally-planned events were canceled due to a directive from India’s Foreign Secretary that urged officials to skip the events, claiming that they coincided with a “sensitive time” for India’s relations with China.
The move caused great worry in India’s large Tibetan community, which feared that India was giving in to China’s controversial claim that Tibet is a part of China, a policy commonly referred to as “One China.”
India seems to have joined the increasing number of countries that are starting to honor this policy, which claims China’s ownership of territories like Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao.
Even big corporations are beginning to give in to China’s demands, fearing damage to their businesses because of China’s crucial role in international markets.
For instance, retail company Gap apologized for selling t-shirts with maps of China that failed to include the territories of Tibet and Taiwan earlier this year. Hotel-chain giant Marriott also apologized to China after its website suggested that Tibet and Taiwan were separate countries. Marriott went as far as firing a worker who liked a tweet about Tibetan independence.
Similarly, England’s Royal Court Theatre dropped the production of a play about Tibet after the British Council claimed that it coincided with “significant political meetings” with China.
Even tech-giant Google has faced heavy scrutiny by human rights groups for plans to design a new search engine for China that would censor all content blacklisted by the country.
This sudden acceptance of actions of a fast-developing nation in fear of provoking conflict is alarmingly reminiscent of the Appeasement policy leading up to World War II, whereby United Kingdom Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain took no action against Hitler’s expansionist pursuits of Austria in 1938, instead believing that Hitler would eventually stop if he was allowed to do what he wanted.
But when Hitler seized all of Czechoslovakia in 1939, it was evident that the policy intended to pacify Nazi Germany had failed and ultimately led to the tragedy we now refer to as the Holocaust.
The Holocaust is estimated to have cost the lives of 6 million Jews, accounting for two-thirds of the entire Jewish population at the time. It almost succeeded in wiping out an entire culture off the planet.
A similar fate lies ahead for Tibetan culture if India gives in to “One China.”
China has been waging cultural genocide in Tibet for decades, and with the recent support of other nations, its measures to diminish Tibetan culture are only escalating.
For instance, most schools in Tibet are forced to use Mandarin as the language of instruction to gradually erase the Tibetan language altogether. And when Tibetan activist Tashi Wangchuk set out to find a Tibetan language school for his niece, he was sentenced to five years in prison for “inciting separatism.”
Additionally, China has also been trying to suppress Tibetan Buddhism.
Since the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1950, 1.2 million Tibetans have been killed at the hands of the Chinese.
In protest to this brutal treatment of Tibet by the Chinese, over 150 Tibetans have self-immolated since February 2009.
It is estimated that there are currently 150,000 Tibetans living in exile in India. And with the increasing sinicization of Tibet, it almost appears as if the Tibetan communities in India are more culturally Tibetan than the place itself.
Even here in Mussoorie, Tibetan culture is omnipresent. From the Tibetan food at Doma’s and Momos to the Buddhist monastery right at the start of the bazaar, the impact of Tibetan culture on our community is significant.
Tibetan Homes School, situated in Happy Valley, even provides education for the large Tibetan community in Mussoorie, which is estimated to consist of more than 5,000 people.
Thus, India accepting “One China” can have further implications not only for the already-suppressed communities in Tibet but the communities right here in India as well.
It should be acknowledged, however, that rejecting the “One China” policy would come at a great cost to India, considering the nation’s rocky relations with China. India has to keep in mind its’s economic dependence on China. Diplomatic issues between the two nations could be of catastrophic damage to the Indian economy.
It can also be argued that comparing the Appeasement policy during WWII to the international acceptance of “One China” is logically flawed as countries in the present often have no choice but to give in to China, which has much more economic and military influence over the rest of the world than what Germany had during the 30s, when the Appeasement policy was put to practice.
For instance, in the ongoing South China Sea dispute, whereby China claims offshore territories of Brunei, Vietnam, Philippines, and Malaysia, countries like Vietnam and the Philippines have already given in and signed agreements with China as they are unable to match the nation’s powerful economic and military weapons. On the other hand, during WWII, countries like the United Kingdom practiced Appeasement as they didn’t initially think Germany was a significant threat.
Moreover, one incident of India leaning away from Tibet should not overlook all the other countless times India has come to the aid of the nation. From granting thousands of Tibetans asylum, to letting the Tibetan Government In-Exile operate from Dharamsala, India has done whatever possible to allow Tibetan culture to flourish for more than 60 years.
One should also take into consideration China’s reasons for claiming Tibet. China argues that Tibet was absorbed by China 800 years ago during the Yuan Dynasty, becoming an inseparable part of China ever since. To this, Tibetans argue that since the Yuan rulers were ethnically Manchus, both Tibetans and Chinese were, in fact, under the rule of foreign forces. China also justifies its suppression of Tibetan Buddhism by claiming that the religion often takes an extremely violent form, risking the safety and security of the area. Furthermore, China claims that it has hugely contributed towards the development of Tibet, where China made taxes virtually nonexistent and established more than 4,000 public schools with extremely low tuition.
Nonetheless, these reasons still do not change the fact that China is wiping out the Tibetan culture. Nor does it justify India turning its back on Tibet at a time it needs us more than ever.
History has taught us that succumbing to a country’s nationalist pursuits almost always does more harm than good. And for a nation that prides itself on its rich, diverse culture, protecting another’s shouldn’t be a question at all.
Edited by Joanna Victor.