China's policy towards India has been covertly hostile. For years India has been encircled by South Asian neighbors that are either unstable or hostile. The government's inept diplomacy was only partly responsible. China's role in creating these conditions was no less the cause. Evidence of this needs no reiteration. But recent gestures suggest China may change course eventually. China's latest utterances on Nepal coincided with India's stated interests. Recently Begum Khaleda Zia visited Delhi to confer with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Both leaders resolved to fight terrorism. Would Begum Khaleda have defied Beijing to do this?
Only Pakistan struck a sour note. Peeved over the Indo-US nuclear deal President Musharraf said if America would not sign a similar deal with Pakistan he had the Chinese option. Pakistan's foreign minister added: 'The NPT will be finished. The US should be conscious of the sentiments of this country. People compare US to China and feel it has not been a constant friend the way China has.' Did these words reflect a Chinese assurance? Or was it whistling in the dark? Is China changing or is it still following the Maoist dictum: 'Fight, fight, talk, talk?'
Thanks to the Dalai Lama we may soon find out.
Tibet was an independent nation forcibly annexed by China while India watched impotently. The voluminous historical and legal data that exists to vindicate this does not bear repetition. Currently China draws its legal claim from the Agreement signed between China and Tibet in 1951. That Agreement lacks legal validity. It was signed by Tibet under duress while Chinese forces occupied Tibet and China threatened a further advance to Lhasa if the Treaty was not signed. A treaty imposed by force is illegal unless force is used against an unlawful aggressor, or force is used to implement a UN resolution. Neither condition was fulfilled. China 'peacefully liberated' Tibet which it claimed had always been part of China. So from whom was it liberated? From the Tibetans themselves?
However all this is water under the bridge. The Dalai Lama made a huge compromise in search of a settlement. Young Tibetans would call it surrender. In a press conference in Israel last February 15 Dalai Lama said he was seeking only genuine autonomy for Tibet, not independence or separation from China. Perhaps wisdom dictated him to say this. In a changing world sovereignty is rapidly diluting while human rights and open societies are becoming global imperatives. Whatever the reason, Dalai Lama has moved more than half-way to address China's concerns. So how will President Hu Jintao react?
By the time this appears in print President Bush and President Hu will be meeting in Washington. America and China have a symbiotic relationship going back decades. It is sealed by a 200 billion dollar trade surplus for China which has accumulated foreign exchange reserves of 853 billion US dollars by 2006. Both nations have been described as Siamese twins joined at the hip. Discussions between both Presidents will doubtless revolve on trade and energy needs. But they may also touch on human rights and the future of Tibet. Despite Beijing's protests Washington will host a meeting between President Bush and Dalai Lama shortly after the Hu visit. Dalai Lama is expected to visit Beijing in May ' after nearly 40 years ' to confer with Chinese leaders. That might well be the culmination of the dialogue process between Chinese and Tibetan leaders which started in 2002.
So, will China reasonably settle the Tibetan question? There are powerful reasons for it to do so. Behind the glitter of China's economic miracle there lurk critical problems. To fulfill WTO commitments China must open its banking sector to unrestricted foreign investment by this year end. Chinese banks are a mess. Damage control measures are already under way. Their failure could result in economic catastrophe.
With a monopoly on deposits China's state owned banks have accumulated huge capital. Substantial amounts never to be returned were lent to losing State Owned Enterprises (SOEs). This was necessary to keep 60 percent of China's urban population employed. If Chinese banks collapse and SOEs close down massive urban unemployment could ignite an uprising. This economic strategy was initiated by Deng Xiaoping and pursued by Jiang Zemin. They unleashed unrestricted growth and rapid urbanization to make China a major economic power. They believed continuous rapid economic growth could hold social instability at bay. This strategy suited the Shanghai bankers and South China's prosperous coastal region. But it resulted in huge disparity, corruption and rebellions in the interior.
Last year there were 84000 demonstrations against the government. Two were particularly serious. In one the villagers of Huaxi in the Zhejiang region protested against a corrupt official constructing a chemical plant; 20,000 villagers seized control of the town and burnt state property. Last December protests erupted against another corrupt official in Shanwei who pocketed money meant for displaced farmers. Government forces opened fire in the worst confrontation since the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident.
Unlike their predecessors, President Hu and Premier Wen do not belong to the Shanghai group. They hail from peasant regions in the interior. They are attempting to reverse economic strategy. To do so they must curb the country's local and regional leaderships. Local leaders will not easily discard the status quo. They are so well entrenched they can often ignore the central government. At the same time rich businessmen of the prosperous coastal regions are alienated. The central government attempts to squeeze money out of them to pay for reconstructing the interior.
It is during this domestic tight-rope walk that President Hu confers with President Bush. This is a time when America also attempts a nuclear deal with India. In the latest National Security Strategy paper in March 2006, President Bush said: "India is a great democracy, and our shared values are the foundation of our good relations. India, a major power, shares our commitment to freedom, democracy, and rule of law."
In the same paper President Bush said: 'China's transition remains incomplete. China has gone from poverty and isolation to growing integration into the international economic system' China's leaders must realize, however, that they cannot stay on this peaceful path while holding on to old ways of thinking and acting that exacerbate concerns throughout the region and the world.' So, will China change its ways?
Dalai Lama and Tibet will provide a litmus test.