Mission to Lasha

Before departure from political scenario Donald Trump took a decision that will leave his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping muffed. On December 27, 2020, he signed into law a Bill that allows the establishment of a US consulate in Tibet's historic city and capital Lasha. America's tactical move at a time when geo-political permutations and combinations are changing globally, China reaffirms its oft-repeated stand that Tibet is an integral part of its territory. In truth, China since its 'red' revolution in 1949, has been consistently working that major powers don't recognise Tibet as a separate entity and allow Tibetans in exile, particularly in India, to campaign for right to self-determination to the point of cessation from mainland. The new US law scripted by the out-going Trump administration permits non-government organisations supporting Tibetan communities in Tibet. It is unlikely for the Mandarins in Beijing to oblige the Uncle Sam to pursue their Tibet policy without being confronted, both nationally and internationally. Unless America is granted permission to open a consulate in Lasha, no new Chinese consulate can be set up in the US. The Law also gave new responsibilities to the office of the US Special Coordinator for Tibetan issues.

The crux of the matter, however, lies elsewhere. It is the question of continuation of the institution of Dalai Lama after the demise of 14th Dalai Lama, now living in Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh. He has been continually trying to convince the world for long that Tibetans have valid grounds to agitate against illegal Chinese occupation of Tibet. No doubt America is all set to change its policy on Tibet, only to strengthen its strategy of Cold War with China. For all practical purposes Cold War is back but Russia is still absent in the game. America's Support Act 2020 radically modifies and reauthorises programmes and provisions related to Tibet. What is more America's Senate also unanimously passed the Bill despite China's protest. The Chinese bosses in the government and 'communist party' were furious. But Tibetans living as refugees across the world were happy because they saw in the changing American stance 'Winds of Change'. As per the new American Law the next Dalai Lama should be appointed solely by the Tibetan Buddhist community. If China refuses to honour age-old tradition the institution of Dalai Lama is finished. The American Act underlines that sanctions must be put on Chinese officials who interfere in the Lama succession process.

For one thing to what extent America is ready to tolerate China's interference in matters related to Tibetan Buddhist Community remains to be seen. In May 1955 China allegedly abducted Gedhun Choekyi Nyima who was recognised as the Panchen Lama. But America din't say a word or two. In Tibetan Lama hierarchy he is only second to the Dalai Lama. In reality China has already prepared ground for blocking the Dalai succession issue. The Dalai and the officials in the Tibetan government in exile are worried about the future of their spiritual institution. Not for nothing the Dalai Lama was in America just before the announcement of Trump's new law.

Beijing views the 14th Dalai Lama as a 'separatist 'working to split Tibet from China. But today's Dalai Lama is a mellowed person. He is now more interested in settling the Tibetan question through his much publicised and yet less understood Middle Way Approach which seeks genuine autonomy, not separation from China, for the six million Tibetans in Tibet.

Washington has been warned by the Beijing government, not to go any further in respect of Tibet. They dub it as an act of naked interference in China's internal affairs on the part of America. The fact is that most Tibetans don't think so---they think they have every right to demand self-determination. The Chinese may not oppose the idea of shelving the law without going for its actual implementation at the moment. Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry only the other day told the US administration not to put into effect the sections of the law which target China. It's one way to tell the world that there is a scope for evolving a compromise formula. The verbal exchanges between the two sides are likely to intensify in the coming days as trade war between Washington and Beijing is hotting up with every passing day. The change of guard in the White House doesn't matter, what matters is America's business, albeit China hopes Joe Biden who is going to assume power this month will end Trump's Cold War, 'follow sensible approach to restore ties'. China-US relations have come to a new crossroads and the so-called international community is now busy to readjust their policies in the changing environment. So does China as the Chinese, of late, are racing to improve their business transactions with the European Union. Recently China concluded crucial talks with the EU on a landmark investment treaty ending a long-drawn out negotiations. Come what may one thing is certain that the plight of Tibetan refugees living in difficult conditions in India and elsewhere cannot be ignored anymore.


Vol. 53, No. 29, Jan 17 - 23, 2021