Taiwan must not go the Tibet way

Identical arguments that were used by the CCP to justify its occupation of Tibet are being used by the CCP leadership to claim the “right” to take Taiwan by force, writes Prof. Madhav Das Nalapat

In its takeover of Manchuria, Inner Mongolia and Tibet, the logic of the CCP was that all territories seized by Emperors of China in times past were ipso facto Chinese territory and therefore formed part of the PRC. Going by that definition of territorial rights, the British could claim vast tracts of land in Africa and Asia that were once part of its empire, as would the Spanish and the Portuguese be able to claim almost the whole of South America. Just like the State of Israel which came into being in 1948 or the Republic of India which won its freedom in 1947, the PRC is a new state that was created in 1949 by the CCP led by Mao Zedong.

It is true that the State of Israel expanded its size in 1967, but this was as a consequence of winning a war that was launched by the armies of several nearby countries against the new state. Millennia ago, the Jewish people were settled in a much larger area of land that post-1967 Israel, but even the most hard-line “Greater Israel” backers in that country do not lay claim to all that land, although some hanker after the taking over of the West Bank and Gaza.

Many Israelis have been allowed to settle in the West Bank during the latest Prime Ministership of Binyamin Netanyahu, although none in Gaza. He was the same Head of Government who in 2005 withdrew all security forces and settlements from Gaza, paving the way for Hamas to overcome the legitimate government there that was led by the Palestinian Authority, several members of which were subsequently imprisoned and executed. Where the West Bank was concerned, not all as in Gaza but only four Israeli settlements were withdrawn in 2005, while the Israeli security presence remained ubiquitous.

Given that the Palestinian Authority had agreed in 1993 to the legitimate right of Israel to exist, whereas Hamas has not done so to this date, why Netanyahu left Gaza alone but added to an already substantial security presence in the West Bank is not clear. As for the Republic of India, never has it sought to make the claim that as it is the successor to the British Indian Empire, it has the right to regain control over the entire territory that was conquered and occupied by the British Indian empire previously.

et it is on similar historical grounds that the PRC has claimed Tibet, Xinjiang and other lands as part of its territory. In the case of East Turkestan, which has been renamed Xinjiang, Stalin facilitated the takeover of that territory by the CCP. In the case of Tibet, it was Britain, the US and India that stood aside even as that ancient land was taken over by the PRC.

Tibet was taken over by force from the Tibetan administration in Lhasa from 1950 to 1953. Absorbed in his belief in the practicality of living in peace with the PRC, Prime Minister Nehru failed to factor in the stark difference between the political systems and the objectives of the two powers, and why such a systemic disconnect made it impossible for him to ever reach a peaceful understanding with a newly expansionist China unless he gave each concession that were serially asked for by Beijing, something that would have not just weakened but destroyed India.

Losing access to a hostile entity of much of the water sources of India, besides changing what until 1950 was the Indo-Tibetan border into a Sino-Indian border, was a strategic disaster. As it turned out, it was not strategic interest but unrealistic notions of fostering brotherliness that drove Nehru’s policy towards China. Absorbed as they were in protecting Hong Kong from assault by the PRC or choking it by denying the colony water, the British were as compliant, indeed complicit, as Nehru was in throwing the Tibetans under the PLA bus. However, it was neither Britain nor India that was the most complicit in standing by as the CCP gained control of China in 1949. That responsibility belongs to the US under President Harry S. Truman.

While Mankekar wrote “The Guilty Men of 1962” about the failures of Nehru, Krishna Menon, General Kaul and others during the border war with China that year, less attention than is called for has been given to the record of President Truman in doing almost nothing while the CCP took over power in Beijing in 1949, and extended its rule to Tibet the following year. The US had the airpower and India the landpower to roll back the PLA from the Tibetan plateau. Such a collaborative effort does not seem even to have been considered.

Perhaps it was because the Europe-fixated Truman believed that China under CCP rule was unlikely to pose a challenge to the US in the way the Soviet Union, which after all, occupied half of Europe, was under the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. US lack of actions other than symbolic was also partly because the Government of India welcomed rather than opposed the PRC takeover of Tibet. Whatever, a walkover was given to the PLA by Truman when it occupied Tibet, an error not reversed by his successor Dwight D Eisenhower, despite the repression that was inflicted on the Tibetan people.

Identical arguments that were used by the CCP to justify its occupation of Tibet are being used by the CCP leadership to claim the right to take Taiwan by force, should that country not willingly submit to its own destruction. What happened to Tibet after its takeover by the PRC would make clear why the same policy of standing by while Tibet was occupied should not be followed were an attempt made by the CCP to repeat a Tibet in Taiwan.

It helps the cause of freedom that the Tibetan military was rudimentary and a shambles, whereas Taiwan has far better defences. The 2020s are not the 1940s. Romanticism about the intentions of the PRC is fast ebbing away, but these need to lead to measures getting taken to ensure immediate and effective countermeasures, were the PLA to blockade and subsequently invade and occupy Taiwan as Xi Jinping and his subordinates have been publicly threatening.

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