How Tibet Plays A Major Role In Sino-Indian Relations

Posted by Abhilash Arora in GlobeScope
March 23, 2017

Despite a booming two-way trade, the strategic discord and rivalry between China and India are sharpening. Tibet is a key factor in Sino-Indian relations. It is only after the 1950 Chinese occupation of Tibet that India and China came to share the disputed common border. Even during the 1962 conflict, Chinese leaders, including Mao, acknowledged that the conflict was not about the boundary or territory but Tibet.

The revolt in Tibet leading to the flight of the Dalai Lama to India in 1959, came as a rude shock to the Indian leadership. After the 1962 conflict, the issue of Tibet was kept on the back burner. The revival of negotiations in 1981 brought the issue back into focus. The Chinese consistently tried to obtain reassurances from India that the Indian position on Tibet be reverted to before, and that India would stop “meddling” in Tibetan affairs and would control the activities of the Dalai Lama in India.

Recently, China’s military build-up and infrastructural development in Tibet and reported plans to divert rivers flowing into India and constructing dams on them (like Brahmaputra etc.), have been concerning India. On the other hand, China is insecure that the presence of Dalai Lama and Tibetan refugee population in India will create issues for China in Tibet. The presence of Dalai Lama and Tibetan refugees in India keeps the “Tibetan Question” alive.

The Dalai Lama flees from Tibet in the year 1959.

India has an open democratic system and has been providing asylum to persecuted people for ages. Taking this into consideration, India finds it difficult to meet China’s expectation on Tibet without a quid pro quo (a favour or advantage granted in return for something) and destroying the very fabric of the Republic. Lately, China’s aggressive territorial claims on India, the deepening of the China-Pakistan alliance and a shift in China’s position on Kashmir has led to India hardening its position on Tibet. This shifts Indian foreign and defence policies from being Pak-centric to becoming Sino-centric.

Tibet occupies the central position in Sino-India relations, so much so that, it will not be an exaggeration to say that Sino-Indian relations have been taken hostage by the Tibet Imbroglio. Without resolving the Tibet issue, Sino-Indian ties cannot be stabilised. Therefore, resolution of Tibet issue to the satisfaction of Tibetan people, China and India, is a pre-condition for better Sino-Indian relations.

This suggests that international relations are too complex to be viewed in simple bilateral ties; there are hosts of intervening factors that modify or reshape policies, which in turn are mediated by domestic politics and transnational political structures. India is now seeking satisfaction on what it considers to be a core issue to its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Sino-India relations are unlikely to be on an even keel until this tangled knot is unravelled.