Tibet makes us uncomfortable. As Hu Jintao is welcomed with fluttering red flags and buzzwords like ‘sensitivity’ and ‘tranquillity’ are scattered all around in lieu of ticker tape, the niggling matter of Tibet remains. But does the matter of Tibet actually niggle us? The Dalai Lama, along with about 100,000 Tibetan refugees in our country, may have been given sanctuary by the Indian government, but the Tibetan leader is no latter-day de Gaulle strategising against a latter-day Vichy regime from foreign soil. With the signing of the Panchsheel Agreement in 1954, India became one of the first countries to recognise Tibet as an integral part of the People’s Republic of China. So if India recognised Tibet as a Chinese province a mere five years after its occupation, and ever since, New Delhi hardly needs to comfort Beijing on that front anymore.
To talk about the immorality, not to mention the illegality, of occupying a recognised nation by an overwhelmingly more powerful nation is fashionable these days only in the context of the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. And yet, the same lack of legality applies to the case of Tibet. But then, arguing in terms of morality and legality seems naive, and more importantly, has borne no results. Perhaps, the approach that could be sought for a ‘rapprochement’ lies not in ‘Free Tibet’ campaigns (that look increasingly ineffectual) or in tightening economic-trade screws on Beijing (which no one cares or dares to do), but in convincing the Chinese authorities that providing Tibet real autonomy is not the beginning of the end of Tibet’s inclusion in the People’s Republic.
The sixth round of talks between the representatives of the Dalai Lama and the People’s Republic of China are to be held this winter. Whether there are talks about ‘real’ autonomy for Lhasa or not, Beijing would like to avoid any embarrassment before the 2008 Olympics. Whatever be the outcome, granting proper autonomy, instead of conducting a Stalinist programme of demographical experiments and ‘imperial’ economics, may actually help China win Tibetan hearts and minds. The issue, as it stands (admittedly in the corner) today, is really about indigenous Tibetans, as citizens of China, not getting their fair share of the growing wealth of a rich and powerful nation. In any case, Beijing has nothing to lose or fear by granting their non-Han citizens what they want: real autonomy.