India needs to rethink its ‘One China Policy’ with a focus on Tibet, say experts

As India steps up pressure on China following a violent face-off last month in which 20 soldiers laid down their lives for India, academics and intelligentsia came together to discuss the policy options for India to rethink its ‘One China Policy’ with a focus on Tibet.
Prof. Srikanth Kondapalli from Centre for East Asia Studies began by throwing light on the historical perspective of the ‘One China Policy’ of India.
He said that the policy was initiated between December 1949 and April 1950. “However, it was only related to Taiwan in the initial period, as the Communist Party won the civil war and the Kuomintang was pushed back to Taiwan.”
“India had an embassy in Chongqing in the Republic of China. We also had Consul Generals in Lhasa, Xinjiang, and other areas. Within two years, the Communist Party won the war and we had to switch over from diplomatic relations with ROC (Republic of China) to PRC (Peoples Republic of China). With the advent of the PRC, the Communist party started setting up a different kitchen. All the diplomatic missions and relations were abolished and new relations were established,” he said.
Unfortunately, he said, India was among the first nations to use this world ‘One China’ and recognize China, along with Burma and Pakistan.
“India simply stated that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China. In about four years, we also had the Panchsheel Principle sign and we started to have a nuanced position about Tibet; we began to consider it as China’s part in trade perspective. Every joint statement reiterated that position till the 2010 joint statement. We started deviating a bit from it after staple visas were issued to Kashmiris and Arunachalis,” Prof. Kondapalli added.
He was speaking at a webinar organized by the Usanas foundation on “Rethinking India’s ‘One China Policy’: Tragedy of Tibet”. Apart from Prof. Srikanth Kondapalli, Former Special Secretary, Government of India, Krishan Varma; Senior Fellow, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, Abhijeet Iyer-Mitra; and Tibetan Activist and writer Tenzin Tsundue were also present.
Talking about possible solutions, Prof. Kondapalli suggested three policy options. He first argued that it is a matter of power when India talks about reciprocity. “We need to learn from North Korea, which is a 50 Billion GDP nation that brought an 18 Trillion+ GDP nation – the USA to Singapore, largely on its own terms. We should start seeking reciprocity from China based on the deliverance of recognizing the One India Policy,” he said.
Secondly, he said, that in conjunction with the Tibetans, Taiwanese, Uighurs, and others, “we also need to coordinate activities”. “Third, many countries have signed One China Policy – around 200 odd countries except for 15 or so. However, none of these got a reciprocal arrangement from China. India has to seek reciprocity with China as well as work together with all those countries,” he added.
Former Special Secretary Krishan Varma began his argument by saying that China has chosen a very critical time of the pandemic to move forward with their expansionist agenda.
“I personally believe, that the Chinese were able to lull us in a sense of comfort. They effectively used shrewd and skewed diplomacy. They have taken us away from the main point of confrontation – that is the boundary. Nevertheless, it is time to rephrase the One China Policy”, he said.
He further argued that India needs to have a new “One Tibet policy, a new Taiwan policy, a new Xinjiang policy, and even a New Mongolia policy” in order to challenge the Xi Jinping government.
“Look at the way Chinese have annexed neighboring areas. It is not easy to roll back. Even in the current context, are we going to allow them to run away from what they have done in the South China Sea? They have thrown away all the international norms. Are we legitimizing everything that China has annexed? Are we saying that it is all China’s property that it has already annexed? Why can’t the civilized nations of the world get together to challenge the nation with uncivilized behaviour,” he added.
Senior Fellow of Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies Abhijit Iyer Mitra began by putting forward two major points – the serial blunders that India did in recognizing Tibet as a part of China and the internal point of view regarding Tibet.
“What you will see in Tibet is the kind of an air of error everywhere. You can see people with machine guns and security scanning everywhere by the communist country – who are very good at wiping out the native culture. What is amazing about Tibet is that despite all the brutality, it has continued to preserve its culture, unlike other Central Asian countries,” he said.
Talking about covert ways of denouncing the One China policy, Mitra argued that one just can’t trust a treaty signed with China. “You violate the treaty in principle, but not in letter. Treat One China like it treats nuclear non-proliferation. You swear to it absolutely and act against it on the ground. They are a cultural responsibility and strategic asset for us,” he said.
Talking about the strategic importance of Tibet, he said that as India moves from a ground centric combat paradigm to an air centric warfare paradigm, “Tibet becomes a huge liability for us”.
“These are interception points. We have to adjust a whole set of things. Fighting Tibet on the ground is a nightmare, and fighting in the air is a dream,” he added.
Meanwhile, Tibetan activist Tenzin Tsundue talked about global alliances fighting against China and said that there is an entire alliance of people fighting to get freedom from China including East Turkestan, Mongolia, Hong Kong, Tibet, and Manchuria.
“Three years ago, we had a conference in Dharamshala where Dolkun Isa – Uighur leader was denied a visa in India. What kind of diplomacy is this? If you are willing, freedom will happen. Freedom firstly needs to happen here,” he said.
He also asked the participants to ponder on the quote of Aurobindo Ghosh, “India can be free and India must be free”. He also quoted Rabindranath Tagore’s – “Where the mind is without fear… in to that heaven of freedom.”
“For Tibetan people, freedom is always a matter of political decision and that will happen at some point of time, inevitably,” he concluded.