From all accounts, China seems to have virtually a revolt on its hands in Tibet. The violence — the worst since 1989 — apparently erupted on the fifth day of largely peaceful protests by monks that began on the anniversary of the 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. The police tried to prevent the protest marches by using batons and tear-gas shells, which led to large sections of the general population joining in the protests. This is not unlike what happened in Myanmar last September, where Buddhist monks initially led the protests before attracting large crowds of ordinary people. A big question is, how long can China depend on militarily crushing these uprisings and prevent them from snowballing into something bigger. There are already signs of unrest in the Xinjiang region where security forces have been put on high alert.
With the Beijing Olympics just months away, China’s political masters are obviously desperate to avoid the violence from becoming China’s defining image on the world stage. Not that the ruthless suppression of dissent in Tibet, which has killed some 1.4 million Tibetans, is any secret. Beijing is forever trying to bring in immigrants from the Chinese Han majority ethnic group to Tibet, to make Tibetans a minority in Lhasa.
For India, however, Tibet represents more than just a human rights issue, and it’s unfortunate that New Delhi should waffle on its Tibet policy — if indeed it has one. Tibet is evidently central to Beijing’s India strategy, as making Tibet an integral part would give China more elbow room to claim Indian territories. In other words, Beijing could try to settle the Sino-Indian border dispute with the help of Tibetan documents. New Delhi must find ways to resolve this without getting tangled in a war of diplomacy against China over Tibet. At the very least, India can be more supportive of the Dalai Lama’s call for Tibetan autonomy within China’s borders. After all, even the Chinese secretly admit that any decision on the political future of Tibet will have to acknowledge the Dalai Lama’s absolute leadership of Tibetans — spiritually and politically.