Dragon, Dalai Lama and Mongolia: What Diplomatic Role Delhi Needs to Reciprocate?

01 March, 2017

Foreign Policy of China and India


Dragon, Dalai Lama and Mongolia: What Diplomatic Role Delhi Needs to Reciprocate?

Voilencee, bloodshed, and controversies are the major characteristics of the bilateral relations between China and Dalai Lama at the bilateral relations. Thesame has been fraught by China as a geopolitical concerns at the regional and global levels. For the given these facts, Dalai Lama has become one the most significant irritants for China vis-à-vis Mongolia and India. The recent four days visit (23-27 November, 2016) of Dalai Lama to Mongolia, has invited the ire and blockade of essential goods by China that has been creating a humanitarian crisis for the former. To come out of this crisis, Mongolia has urged India to bail out it from this crisis by providing diplomatic and financial supports. For this geopolitical faultline of China vis-à-vis Mongolia and Dalai Lama, there are two questions: what are the dynamics of this geopolitical crisis and how India should take up this diplomatic call of Mongolia?


In the international relations, it is believed that foreign policy is one of the mechanisms by which any country could achieve its national goal. According to Kautilya’s Mandla Theory, there are three concentric rings that are believed to be the basis of the foreign policy of any country to achieve its national interests/goals: neighborhood, extended neighborhood and the global level. The Chinese foreign policy moorings also revolve around these three rings. The neighborhood policy is one of them and could be one of the dynamics, responsible for the whole Asian geopolitical dynamics.


Mongolia-China relations have been suffering for the given of Chinese claims to historically ‘lost territory,' that had been conquered in 1279, by Kublai Khan (1215-94), a grandson of Mongol leader Genghis Khan (1162-1227). In the modern times, China had established diplomatic relations with Mongolia on October 16, 1949. To normalize and improvise relations, both the countries had signed a border treaty in 1962. However, this crescendo of cordiality between China and Mongolia lost its tempo very shortly due to the Sino-Soviet split (1960-1989). No sooner than later, Mongolia had aligned per se with the Soviet Union. It had also urged the Soviet Union for the deployment of Soviet forces, which raised security concerns for China. On the other hand, the Chinese assertive and expansionist policy, had kept Mongolia under apprehension and tension until 1984. Later on, both China and Mongolia have made several efforts to improve the bilateral relations. A series of agreements have been signed to boost trade, land or air connectivity (1986), a treaty on border control (1988). Since then, Mongolia has been pursuing a friendly ties with China.


Chinese policy vis-à-vis Mongolia have been shaped and determined by many factors such as political, economic, security, ethnic people, regional geopolitics in general and Dalai Lama in particular. He is the spiritual leader of Tibet, who has become a bête noire of China’s Mongolia policy. He is believed as a significant challenge to Chinese sovereignty, unity, and integrity. Meeting/receiving or visits of Dalai Lama to any neighbouring countries has been inviting the Chinese ire. The recent visit of Dalai Lama to Mongolia has created a lot of ripples in the Asian geopolitics.


On the other hand, history and geography have remained important factors for honing and toning the Mongolia's Chinese policy. Mongolia, a landlocked country, has been located in the Northeast Asia between the two neighbours, China the densely populated to the South and thinly populated Russia to the North. China had been remained under Kublai Khan in the 13th Century. Later on,  Mongolia was brought under Chinese Manchu Dynasty for 200 years. In order to remove Chinese yokes, Mongolia fought back with it and got independence on March 18, 1921. In the present context, the primary concern of Mongolia is stemming being flooded by the Chinese immigrants, an existential threat has been haunting Mongolia. Mongolia has 52 percent Tibetan Buddhism and therefore, the Dalai Lama has been revered by the Mongolian government in general and the people in particular.


In this backdrop, given of Tibetan Buddhism legacy, and the largest Buddhist population, the Chinese subjugation of  Tibet and dishonouring the Dalai Lama, have not been received well by Mongolia. On the other hand, China perceived him as a traitor and rebel, working against its unity, integrity, and sovereignty.  The Dalai Lama has been escaped to India since Tibet rebellion (1959). China has been completely cornered and isolated by comity of nations in general and Buddhist countries in particular on the Tibet issue.  The major powers such as the US, Russia and even India have been supporting the Dalai Lama on the issue of Tibet autonomy. For the given leadership of the Dalai Lama to Tibet autonomy, his meetings and visits to any country have been taken an attack on unity, integrity, and Sovereignty of China. 


Chinese Neighbourhood Policy and Dalai Lama

Peace and stability have been perceived as critical requirements for any economically emerging country. Since the introduction of a market economy in 1979, China has been emerging as political, economic and military power. Though, it has achieved two-digit growth rate during the last two decades, but still believes it has to go a long way. For that, it is required peace and stability in its neighbourhood and extended neighbourhood. To assure its neighbours, its peaceful emergence, China has conceived the ‘Neighbourhood Policy’ in 2007. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang issued a statement of the eight-point diplomatic philosophy. Seeking no hegemony, play power politics, interfere in internal affairs and imposition its ideology on other countries are the important objectives of this policy.  The neighbour countries are treating equally and respect each other’s unity, and sovereignty is the spirit and substance of this policy. However, seeing the reaction of China on the Dalai Lama’s visit to Magnolia, it seems that China has not pursued its neighborhood policy in spirit and substance in the context of Mongolia.  


Tibet has been remained one the most crucial issues of the Chinese foreign policy in general and the neighborhood policy in particular. In 1949, Tibet was taken over by China. The Tibetan leaders have been compelled to sign a treaty known as "Seventeen Point Agreement," dictated by China in 1951. The agreement guaranteed the Tibetan autonomy and respect of the Buddhist religion along with the establishment of Chinese civil and military headquarters at Lhasa. China controlled the freedom of religion, speech, and press. The Dalai Lama had visited the Chairman of the People's Republic of China Mao Tse Tung (1949 – 1959) in 1954 to sort out these issues. He had urged him to honor the Seventeen Point Agreement. Against these overindulgences, the Dalai Lama has been consistently fighting for Tibet autonomy.  China has taken a tough stand on him. Consequently, he fled to India in 1959 and currently has been living in India with 100,000 Tibetan refugees and their government in exile. Dalai Lama has been perceived as a separatist leader. Therefore, Chinese leadership wanted that the neighboring countries should/must follow the ‘China One Policy’ as well as not to host/entertain the Dalai Lama. 


Dalai Lama Visit to Mongolia- China’s Chaos   

For the given of highest percentage of Tibetan Buddhism followers in Mongolia, the Dalai Lama has been held in high esteem as a spiritual leader. He paid his first visit to Mongolia in 1979, and completed seven  visit was till 2002. In November 2016, once again he was invited by the Mongolia-based Gadan Thekchen Ling Monastery, the largest Buddhist monastery and the center of Buddhist learning to give his teachings.  He has given his teachings in the Buddhist congregations and participated in a conference on Buddhism and science followed by a public talk on 23-24 November. In the next two days, he has conferred the Bhikshuka ordination and the Hayagriva initiation. On 28 November, the High Holiness flew back to India via Japan. He had openly complained and criticized the Chinese disruptions of his travel arrangements.


Hosting/meeting the Dalai Lama has been perceived as a challenge to its ‘One China Policy.'  Considering the Dalai Lama as a problem for unity and sovereignty, China has asked Mongolia to forbid his planned visit.  In this regard, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a press briefing, “Do not allow the Dalai Lama to visit. Do not support or facilitate the separatist activities of the Dalai clique.”  In Chinese perception, the Dalai Lama is a separatist, not a religious figure. The Chinese government and public discourses have been disapproving his separatist deeds. Hosting him by any country also implies the endorsement of his separatist acts which is not acceptable to the Chinese leadership. China has expressed its anger over those countries that used to host the Tibetan spiritual leader. On the other hand, the Tibetan rights groups and exiles, have always been accusing China of trampling the religious and cultural rights of the Tibetan people. However, on the other hand, the visit of the Dalai Lama has been put it as a purely religious visit by Mongolia. There was nothing to do with any political strings attached to it.


China’s Reciprocations to the Dalai Lama’s Visit

China has asked Mongolia not to allow the Dalai Lama visit. Not toeing its official line regarding the Dalai Lama’s visit, China has severely punished Mongolia with imposing new tariffs on commodity shipments between China and Mongolia. The transportation blockade has been forcing the truck drivers to wait for long on the border in minus 20 degrees temperature. In this backdrop, there is the possibility of a humanitarian crisis due to blockage of essential commodities as well. The most serious concern is the cancellation of the meeting regarding the loan negotiation related to a coalfield railway line, copper plant, and coal gasification. The incident has also cast a dark shadow on the PM Erdenebat Jargaltulga next year’s planned visit to China. However, it has been argued that the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang did not confirm the imposition of new border fees due to Dalai Lama's visit, rather he pretended as unaware of the situation. For the give of land connectivity, Mongolia has been hoping that the proposed the New Silk Road under the ‘One Belt One Road’ would pass through its territory. Now, it is also expected that this project may be aborted/hampered due to the suddenly emerged hostile relations. Mongolia’s economic dependence on China, due to the above cited “enforcement measures” could result in grave consequences not only for Mongolia rather for the regional geopolitical game.


Dragon’s Geopolitical Faultline

Due to the sensitivities of China, Mongolia could hardly expect diplomatic or economic assistance from any quarter. Against these concerns on the part of China, Mongolia has been pursuing the ‘Third Neighbour Policy.’ Under this policy, Mongolia has been reaching out to friendly European countries in general and the US, Japan, Korea and India in particular. In this critical situation, the Mongolian Ambassador to India has urged, “India should come out with clear support against the difficulties that have been imposed on Mongolia by China.” He has also pointed out that it is just a “kind of blockade-like situation” imposed by China. It was “an over-reaction” to the by the Dalai Lama’s religious visit, despite its assurance of ‘One China Policy.' 


In the backdrop of such hegemonic, monopolistic and countermoves, Mongolia has urged India’s to support it against the China’s blockade moves.  China has reacted to this step in very jaundiced language as expected by the Indian establishments. Seeking help from India by Mongolia, the Chinese Official mouthpiece- the Global Post, dubbed it as "politically harebrained.” Mongolia was also warned and alerted to avoid the dangerous geopolitical games, otherwise ready for the dire consequences.


What India’s Diplomatic Role Should Be? 

India as a regional power, has given a very fitting reply to this emerging geopolitical great game. In this critical condition, it is worth to mention here the India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) support, “As a close friend of Mongolia, which regards India as its ‘third neighbour’ and ‘spiritual neighbor,' we are ready to work with Mongolian people in this time of their difficulty.” India has also given a given signal of being sympathetic to Mongolian people in the difficult time. It has expressed its desire to allow Mongolia to make use of the billion financial assistance offered during the PM Modi’s visit 2015 to come over the economic sanctions imposed by China. 


Buddhism is a major factor among the Dalai Lama, Mongolia and India. The Dalai Lama has also connection with Arunachal Pradesh, which has been an integral part of India. Therefore, the Dalai Lama has the right to visit Arunachal Pradesh. India should strongly support Mongolia for the given historical, geo-cultural and geopolitical interests.  It seems that the current incident has implications for Arunachal Pradesh, as time and again this issue is being raked up by China. 


China cannot stop the Dalai Lama to visit to any part of the world including Arunachal Pradesh, and of course except Tibet which has been illegally acceded to China. The case of the US Ambassador October’s visit to the Arunachal Pradesh has also not gone well with China. It has warned India and the US over the visit of US’s ambassador to Arunachal Pradesh, claiming it as a disputed territory between it and India.  China has perceived it as intervention by the US in the Sino-India boundary dispute which make it more complicated and disturb the hard-won peace at the border. 


If China raises these issues time and again, then it has to give reply of some questions.  Why China is not following the same principles, as preached by it? What is the status of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), where the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is going on? From where, it got the right to station ten thousand military personnel in PoK to protect its CPEC project?  Why the military modernization has been going in the South China Sea, where the seven countries are claiming territorial jurisdiction? How it can stop India to explore energy in the same, where it has been asked by Vietnam to do so? 


India is also not less than any other country in terms of economy, political stability, military modernization, science and technology development, large pool of human resources development, therefore, only thing which will make difference is strong urge for translating the diplomatic will into practice. But to prove its worth in the comity of nations, the strong decisions have to be taken by it. India should not support only Mongolia, rather the Dalai Lama and  Tibet issue as well, as China has been changing it Kashmir policy.