JINPING’S SURPRISE VISIT TO TIBET: WAS IT EVEN THAT SURPRISING?
China has yet again got the world raising its eyebrows. Xinhua News, the Chinese state press agency, reported about the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Tibet. This was Xi’s first visit to the Tibet Autonomous Region as the President of the People’s Republic of China, the last being his visit to the region in 2011, ten years ago, as the Chinese Vice President.
This visit came as a surprise to most countries and international media. The fact that Xinhua News waited till Friday before reporting about the Chinese President’s arrival on Wednesday, raises serious doubts about this trip being a manipulative move for the world and indicates that Jinping had some rather serious business in the region.
Xi’s visit is suggested to be linked to the anniversary of the controversial ‘17-point agreement,’ which China claims marks the “peaceful liberation of Tibet.” The Dalai Lama later repudiated the agreement, saying it was made under duress. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the agreement. Ten years ago, in 2011, Jinping visited the region for the agreement’s 60th anniversary. One could definitely see a pattern in this, but it cannot be denied that Beijing would not have tried to push a nefarious agenda under the garbs of this symbolic visit. The following could be some of the unspoken reasons behind Jinping’s visit:
CHINA WANTS A DALAI LAMA OF ITS CHOICE
The Chinese foreign ministry in 2011 announced that only Beijing will have a say over who will become the next Dalai Lama and that no other figure will be given recognition for the title. But in 2019, US Sen. Cory Gardner said in a Senate Foreign Relation Asia Subcommittee hearing that the US Congress won’t recognize a China-appointed Dalai Lama. Even the present Dalai Lama made a series of statements that would make it difficult for Beijing to garner legitimacy for its own appointment. The suggestions included the abolition of the office of the top spiritual leader, or the next Dalai Lama being from India, among others.
Xi Jinping’s visit could be attributed to garnering the aforementioned legitimacy for the next Dalai Lama, from the Tibetan people, since the 14th Dalai Lama is now in his mid 80s and the time is right for China to scout for his successor. Jinping reiterated the need for Tibet to integrate with the mainstream ideology of “Communism with Chinese characteristics,” for better development in the region. This soft-spoken attitude could be coming from a place of need, a need for a soft place in the heart of Tibetan Buddhists. This soft corner will make it easier for the Chinese Communist Party to install its own Dalai Lama on the throne of the highest figure of Buddhism.
PIT BROTHERS AGAINST EACH OTHER
The People’s Liberation Army(PLA) is facing the mightily motivated Indian forces along the Line of Actual Control(LAC), in the ongoing Ladakh standoff. China saw the raw strength of India’s soldiers when the PLA lost many of its own in the Galwan Valley clash. India’s frontline deployment includes the secretive Special Frontier Force(SFF), which mainly recruits from among the Tibetan refugee population in India.
China, according to reports, has recently trained and recruited Tibetan militias into the PLA, to be stationed against the Indian forces in the disputed regions. Strategically, this can be due to the adeptness to high-altitude topography of the local Tibetans, that the average Chinese soldier from the plains lacks. But, China, being what it is, could even hope that pitting Tibetan militias against the Tibetan operatives of the SFF could lower the latter’s motivation to engage with their brothers and stop them from becoming the ferocious fighters they are known to be. The visit by Xi could be a calculated move by Beijing to earn unintended goodwill of the local populace, for this unholy endeavor.
SIGNIFICANCE FOR INDIA
India, as well as the international community, cannot solely rely on speculations to determine the surprise visit’s intended purpose, but India, more than any other country, needs access to solid intelligence to employ effective and timely interventions against China’s intentions. This is because it is the only country that is in direct conflict with China right now, and because it is the home of the 14th Dalai Lama in exile, and both of these have very much to do with Tibet. Hence, the timing of the visit could not have been guessed, but the Indian intelligence apparatus must have seen this coming.