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Conference: Former Indian Army chief accuses China of rewriting free Tibet’s history

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(, Aug17’23) – India’s former Chief of the Army Staff General Manoj Mukund Naravane (retd) has on Aug 16 rubbished China’s assertion that Tibet has been a sovereign subject of it since ancient times, calling it “incorrect and an attempt to rewrite history”. He has made the remark at the inaugural event of the four-day, 6th International Rangzen Conference 2023 which opened at the India International Centre, New Delhi, that day.

He has said Tibetans world over had a legitimate right to return to the land of their forefathers and experience their culture and traditions.

He has recalled with fondness the long history of geniality that had prevailed between Tibet and India, until China invaded and occupied the Himalayan territory.

“It is indeed a historical fact that Tibet has been and is, the rightful neighbour of India and that the common border was open and peaceful, allowing not only free movement of trade and people, but also the flow of the finest thoughts of human civilization,” Aug 16 quoted Naravane as saying.

He has said the Panchsheel Agreement — a treaty of five principles of coexistence signed by India and China in 1954 — especially the mutual non-interference clause, had resulted in an ambivalent policy over the Chinese occupation of Tibet. “Over the decades, China has fully occupied Tibet and made territorial and administrative changes that would transform the identity and culture of the Tibetans.”

The former Indian Army chief has suggested a two-pronged approach — “vertical integration” and ‘horizontal stretch’ — for helping the Tibetan cause. “Vertical integration, he has said, entailed elevating these issues globally through multiple platforms, including the United Nations by engaging thought leaders and think tanks.

And “horizontal stretch”, he has said, involved uniting people worldwide to sustain the momentum of the movement. “This approach should focus on creating a collective voice across the borders, ensuring that the Rangzen movement remains dynamic and impactful.”

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Another speaker on the day’s event was reported to be member of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile (TPiE) and guest of honour Geshe Lharampa Gowo Lobsang Phende. He has maintained that the pursuit of Rangzen (Independence) did not contradict the Umay Lam (Middle Way Approach) formulated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and adopted by the TPiE.

Indeed, the TPiE said on the website of the Central Tibetan Administration Aug 16 that the monk “expressed his personal fondness and admiration for the slogan ‘Rangzen’ in general, especially his joy in attending the conference on behalf of the TPiE.”

The Middle Way Approach postulates that the formerly independent Tibet would accept Chinese sovereignty in return for internal autonomy for an ethnographically united Tibet. China has outrightly rejected it as a form of demand for independence.

Although the TPiE has endorsed the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way Approach for its stated mutually beneficial rationality, many of its members remain staunch in their support for the independence goal, as can be seen from the fact it that some of them are participating in the conference, including as organizer and key speakers. The Dalai Lama has called the independence demand unrealistic and impractical, given the reality of the current situation.

The focus of the conference was stated to be to discuss “strategies to collectively resist and counter the CCP’s (Chinese Communist Party) repressive measures while also seeking ways to strengthen the global Tibetan independence movement.”

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Another notable participant in the conference is Umit Hamit, an Uyghur activist.

Earlier, on Apr 25, 2016, India withdrew a visa it had already issued to Dolkun Isa, a Germany-based Uyghur activist, to attend a conference in Dharamshala, a day after China raised objections. Hamit’s participation is, therefore, seen as significant in terms of India’s policy towards China in the context of the current hostility and face-off between t two sides along occupied Tibet’s border.

“The Indian government must have given permission (for the event), people from abroad (Uyghur freedom fighters) must have applied for a visa in which purpose of the visit would have been given. I don’t think the Indian government was unaware,” Aug 17 quoted General Naravane as saying.

The report also noted that in Aug 2023, India sent its three former armed forces chiefs to Taiwan to participate in a seminar. Only former Indian Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh spoke at the conference. Former Indian Air Force (IAF) Chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria and Indian Army Chief General MM Naravane engaged with Taiwanese leadership and shared India’s point of view, it added.

India’s Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Anil Chauhan, was stated to have asked the three services to come up with suggestions and options for India if the Taiwan issue precipitates into a full-blown crisis.

The report also noted that earlier, on Aug 10, 2022, India flew the Dalai Lama in an Indian Air Force helicopter from Leh, the capital of Ladakh, to the remote Himalayan village of Lingshed. India’s Ministry of Defence shared photographs of the Tibetan spiritual leaders with IAF officers at the Leh air station and disembarking from the helicopter at a helipad at Lingshed, much to the Chinese chagrin, the report added.


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