India, Tibet and China : The Way Forward . Part 3 – A ‘Needles in Haystacks’ Policy for India by Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)

Before you read further I would recommend that you read the background to this article which is available in the links below  


A very  crucial message is highlighted in this picture. If focussed upon systematically , China will be auto contained. So far the world has chosen to overlook them. We fell for ‘One China’ when there was none. We fell for ‘One China Two Systems’ when it was promised and violated. Time to change equations



Tibet, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and Manchuria were never part of China. They were usurped.

Occupation of Tibet, Manchuria, Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang gives depth and protection to core Han China and enable territorial expansion.

Tibet was never sovereign to China as claimed by PRC. Chinese Occupation of Tibet is illegal.

Chinese claim on Arunachal Pradesh as South Tibet started after 2003. It violates their commitments of 2003. Aggression  in Eastern Ladakh violates all Sino Indian agreements. It is therefore perfectly legal that India does not recognise Tibet as part of China. The Tibet recognised by India in  2003 is disputable due to additional claims by the Chinese.  Tibet is not part of China till such time it is defined as to what is Tibet!

In July 2013 China started propagating the six inevitable wars it must fight – unification of Taiwan, recovery of South China Sea Islands , recovery of southern Tibet, recovery of  Diaoyutai and the Ryukyus, unification of Outer Mongolia and recovery  of territory seized by Russia. It also indicates its expansionist mentality.

Mao considered Tibet to be China’s right-hand palm, with five fingers—Nepal, Bhutan and the three Indian territories of Ladakh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh—that China had to  ‘liberate’.

Tibet, is the “Water Tower of Asia,”. It is the headwaters of the Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong, Brahmaputra, Salween, Indus and Sutlej Rivers, flowing into 11 countries – China, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Burma, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Pakistan. Occupation of Tibet enables China to control the hydrological future of Asia.

Building dams on Brahmaputra meets China’s water and energy security requirements. However  it will destabilise NE India and Bangladesh environmentally.

Tibetan Buddhism and culture is still rooted in people. However, Buddhism is weaker than it used to be. In parts due to modernization and Chinese attempts to suppress it.

The  Dalai Lama is still revered as the political and temporal head for all Tibetan Buddhists.

The 17 point agreement by which Tibet was usurped admits China did not enjoy any effective control over Tibet for “over the last hundred years and more”. If this is correct,  it is a legal loophole – lying unexploited.

In  1988,  the Dalai Lama put forth his ‘Middle Path’ policy when addressing the EU parliament in Strasbourg. It was rejected by the Chinese.

Han inward migration has taken place with development projects.  ‘Population invasion’ is visible only in the major cities and towns. Tibetans are discriminated in economic opportunities. PRC does not trust Tibetans.

The Tibetans diaspora in India has reduced considerably. Tibetans also reside in Nepal, Bhutan, the US, Canada, and Switzerland. The Tibetan Government in exile functions from Dharmshala. The annual inflow of refugees has also reduced from 3000.

In 1979, Deng  said  “except independence, all other issues can be resolved through negotiations.” Communist Party Secretary Hu Yaobang  offered a public apology when he visited Lhasa in 1980.

Just prior to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, China wanted to settle the Tibet issue since it feared a major boycott.

In Aug 20, Xi Jinping announced Solidification of Tibet program to – “solidify border defences and ensure frontier security”,  “impregnable fortress for national security and enduring peace and stability” and “Tibetan Buddhism should adapt to socialism and to the Chinese way of life” It is reported that 50000 Tibetans have been put in labour camps as part of Tibet Solidification.

The future course of the Sino Tibet India relations will largely be dictated by what the people of Tibet want.

Tibetans have not fully accepted Chinese rule and an underlying sentiment for independence is still alive. Buddhist monks have mostly led revolts and dissent. Equally, many monasteries have been penetrated by the CCP.

Some Tibetans are not reconciled to Chinese occupation of Tibet – the diaspora, the Government in exile in India and the hard core followers of Dalai Lama. Some have been won over or are aligned with the CCP and are themselves communists. These could be within the walls of monasteries also. Then there will be many who prefer the relative prosperity of Chinese rule. Will they face danger, death and privation of separatism or dissent?

China will tamper with Dalai Lama succession when the time comes.

China is vulnerable to ‘losing face’  as was feared prior to Beijing Olympics. Such  political leverages can be used

The Chinese have made inroads in seven decades. The potential for victory against the CCP is thin. The Chinese response to dissent is either repression or development. The Chinese state is excessively focused on territorial unity and separatism

Any change is a long haul and  feasible if only there is full support from India, USA and Europe.

When Indian and Tibetan flags were waved at the funeral of Company Leader Nyima Tenzin of Special Frontier Force who  died during the Kailash Range operations , there was widespread belief that ‘Tibet’ issue will be leveraged. It was short-lived due to haziness in Indian thinking, absolute clarity in China and a return to resigned helplessness amongst Tibetans worldwide. The issue has morphed significantly from the last century and needs deep understanding of new issues and must be played with finesse. Undue military action or rebellious violence will end any action being snuffed out like the Khampa Rebellion in the 50s. Relevant issues pertaining to India, China and Tibet need to be brought into focus for India to chart out a future course of action. In the first part we examined the legality of Tibet being part of China and Chinese designs in Tibet. In the second part various facets of Tibet were examined.  In this third and concluding part we will see what India needs to do.  


China poses the most potent threat to India since Independence due to many reasons. China wants to settle the Border by force on its terms. It is ramping up PLA to put India in its place and show ‘Who is the Boss’. It wants to strangulate India by ‘Insidious and Indirect’ moves through our  neighbourhood and interfering in our local affairs. It is playing a high stake expansionist game for global domination by ambushing USA from the top and hammering down Indian rise. Lastly it is now posing a major environmental and ecological threat to India through Dams on Brahmaputra in Tibet. Solidification of Tibet is now a stated program which will have a spill over effect in India. Indian Sovereignty is under multiple threat. Can it get worse?  


It is no brainer that China has to be made to look inward to rein it in. It is also well known that Tibet can tie up PRC and the PLA in knots. To do that India must take the lead. India has not done so for many reasons. Initially it was weak. Later – the post 62 trauma. Further down we made a peace from a position of weakness of with China to fend off Pakistan. Then we fooled ourselves like the rest of the world that China will play fair and square. We have now reached a stage that unless we show China its place; we are in very deep trouble. As a nation we need to stop dithering. We also need to realise that our armed forces need greater leverage to keep China at bay. The normal holier than thou supine Indian approach will not work anymore.   


Sensible idiocy indicates that if  we have to stand up to China as a nation our political class has to get its act together. That is primary. The  Prime Minister must exhibit statesmanship to  build a political consensus to take on China through Tibet. While many political parties might not agree on other reforms or the Farm laws with the government, they do not have a choice in not going together to fight a national enemy at a time of dire crisis. Political parties cannot throw India’s ace of spades to the wolves anymore. Conversely, if we are to play this deck smart – now is the opportune time when the world opinion is against China. If our political leadership cannot get together, and grasp the moment, they will have failed India. 


Fundamentally we need to do a double bluff on China as China has done to the world. When China was growing economically,  everyone expected it to change and adhere to international norms. It repeatedly kept saying that it will not change. It has expected everyone to play by its rules. Everyone thought China was bluffing. How wrong were we! It is time to let China know that there are red cards. If it does not heed the signal, serve the red cards and force it to back off. All this will require a slow build up. It will not happen overnight. Everything need not be done immediately. It will be a long haul for India. It should be a slow bleed for China.   


Strength respects strength. China respects strength. China has tested Indian strength in Doklam and in Eastern Ladakh. Despite its initial, bluster and threats, it has been militarily stymied. Our military pushback  has been followed by economic and digital strikes  with more stonewalling in the offing. The message  that India will not back off is unambiguous. Very importantly India has made some significant diplomatic moves regionally and globally. We have also said No Thank You to BRI and RCEP despite an open invitation to join the bandwagon at any time of our choosing. This is much more than anyone else has said or did to China. We just need to remember that Obama’s USA blinked and looked the other way when China was building artificial islands in the South China Sea. Incidentally, China recognises that India is cocking a snook at it. An antagonistic rising power along its border is not in China’s best interest just as an aggressive one is not in ours. The  Chinese diplomatic, media, political and military responses to India are far more subdued and  different from earlier days. Even Global Time has toned down! Their article ‘India changes attitude toward multilateral mechanisms for its global ambition’ conveys a lot. 


It is the political, diplomatic and socio cultural issues which will make  China look inward in Tibet and elsewhere. Economic issues come later and military issues last. The spear head of any action against China is to show political intent. Tibet opens the path to many Chinese sensitivities –  “One China’, ‘One China Two Systems’, Illegal usurpation, human rights, Religious matters, Democracy, water, environmental issues, and labour camps to mention a few. Other political issues which create cacophony are the Wuhan virus, prestigious events (like the Olympic games), negating Chinese high ticket initiatives and so on. When all these issues are questioned and suitable narratives built, the legitimacy of CCP gets questioned. It will have serious ramifications to the hyper ambitious leadership of Xi Jinping and his cohorts. They will react insensibly, make mistakes and give openings. Mutatis mutandis, the tip of the spear head will be Influence Operations. If Influence Operations commence, issues like untrustworthiness, corruption and et al will add to the weight. Alongside Influence Operations, there is a need for a good feedback system and intelligence operations. It can be done.  


The Dalai Lama, the Central Tibet Authority (CTA), Tibetans and, their diaspora – all  together form the centre of gravity. Together they have to dominate the hearts and minds of each other,  the cities and the country side to make the Han and PRC unwelcome. They are the foci to enable networking with other instabilities and fissures in China. There are many methods and avenues to do so and not many of them have to be violent. In fact the spiritual strength of religion gives Tibetans the same power of ahimsa and satyagraha. Mobilisation of people will be the key factor. Their role in building public and world-wide opinion will be critical. They have the potential of flying under the PRC censorship radar. In the recent past India has  side-lined Tibetans due to strange and myopic geopolitical calculations. Those have been proven to be false. The CTA will be the main pathway to take the  issue into the guts of Tibet and beyond. A major issue of political consequence in future will be the Dalai lama succession which needs to be pre-empted with a plan.


India must adopt  a ‘Needles in Haystacks’ policy. Build needles in the haystack called Tibet. Roll this haystack with other haystacks – Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and Manchuria. Team up with like-minded countries to build  more needles into other haystacks. Ensure these needles move between haystacks. China can keep searching for all the needles in all the haystacks while getting a continuous acupuncture. India has good access to three critical haystacks – Tibet, Taiwan and Xinjiang. Some needles can be sent into the mainland through religion. Others through democracy and other means. However, India cannot play this game alone. Tibet alone cannot deliver. It will take a collective effort through all instabilities to contain China. At the same time, without India and Tibet nothing can be achieved. The collective effort could be based along with USA, Australia, Japan, the QUAD or the EU. It is not a grand coalition against China that is needed but simple coordinated action such that all vulnerabilities are poked in the eye simultaneously.  


The standard thinking is that anything related to Tibet is military action. While there will be an undeniable  necessity of military action, it is not needed to be overt all the time. Gray zone hybrid actions should be considered. These activities must be in depth. Care should be taken to ensure that border areas destabilisation is avoided. If Afghanistan was the ‘Bear Trap’ for USSR, Tibet and other instabilities must be the ‘Dragon Trap’ for China. At the same time there needs to be shift in conventional thinking from being defensive in own territory to being defensive in PLA held territory. The battle field needs to be deepened into the PLA rear. A very important part of keeping India’s adversaries in check is targeting CPEC. I have always been of the opinion that CPEC is the third front of Pakistan. It should be targeted unequivocally in POK and elsewhere. After all whatever China and Pakistan are doing in Gilgit and Baltistan and the rest of POK is being done in our territory. Legally we are at full liberty to drive out intruders. We must also do everything in our capacity to stop China from undertaking environmentally destabilising projects.


USA has already appointed a Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues to protect the unique religious, cultural, and linguistic identity of Tibetans; and to press for their human rights to be respected. He is to engage Tibetan leaders and international partners and experts to address these issues. USA has enacted the Tibetan Policy and Support Act to reaffirm the right of Tibetans to choose a successor to their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. This should be built upon. India should start coordination with USA on Tibet and other issues regarding PRC as part of Indo-US strategic partnership. In my opinion, India and USA should be the leads in the ‘Needles in Haystacks’ policy outlined earlier. The outcomes will be significant.


Very specifically what should India do to set the ball rolling? Just give more ‘Bhaav’ to Dalai Lama and the entire Tibetan Diaspora. Things will get rolling from there. Add a dash of cartography by publishing maps which exclude Tibet from PRC. If  PRC can claim Arunachal Pradesh as south Tibet, based on religious issues, India must claim entire Mansarovar Lake area as Western Uttarakhand. In addition international and national conferences,  dialogues, academic discussions and papers questioning PRC occupation of Tibet and Mansarovar Lakes being Indian in respected national and international platforms, even if it is in an individual capacity will also help in spurring the government. India has not used the power of Bodh Gaya and the world Buddhist community.  A major part of signalling will be building up ‘Tibet Specific’ conventional and non-conventional military capability. Overall, actions should speak louder than words. It will not be India which will tame the PRC and CCP but Indians who can do it. In the same breadth it should not be the Chinese people who are the target but the diabolic Chinese system which is proving to be a threat beyond imagination to humanity.  Just for information, China’s Combative Nationalists see a World turning Their Way as per a New York Times article. So let us not be blinkered. It will be a tough and long haul. So be it. 


Lastly, issues highlighted in this article are not the be all and end all of thinking. In fact they are only the beginning. The methods out lined are only indicative. One can get more imaginative. The major issue is that we need to girdle up and start looking at a national reality. India should not be a chicken with closed eyes to wish the fox away.           


3 responses to “India, Tibet and China : The Way Forward . Part 3 – A ‘Needles in Haystacks’ Policy for India by Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)”

  1. Very logical recommendations, but would need not just actions targeting Tibet, but also other peripheral regions through a synergistic approach along with other global players. To be able to leverage Tibet it needs a political will to do so which as,aptly put , would need to be backed by ensuring total security of the Northern borders against any adventurism by China to sideline the Tibet issue.

  2. Very well analysed.Gen Rajagopal

  3. My compliments. We have to get moving against the Chinese…

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