Some years ago we wrote an article, ‘Why does China have such a short-sighted Tibet policy?’ This was at a time when the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang had started becoming restive and had launched attacks in buses in Beijing. The perpetrators were swiftly caught, tried and executed. Subsequently there have been further attacks from time to time, some taking place in Xinjiang province itself. Recently the Chinese authorities have put in place a series of strong measures with the stated objective of curbing what is perceived as rising religious extremism in the province, and the possibility that some sympathisers from there may have gone to Syria to join the ISIS.
The point we made was that in view of this new threat which had a larger dimension of terror given its international networking, perhaps it was time for China to reconsider its chronic antagonism to the Dalai Lama and use his goodwill to reinforce its security – as such a move would make the Tibetans less averse to Chinese Han presence in their region. We are fully aware that the China-Tibet relationship is much more complicated than that, as it is coloured profoundly by ethnic and religious factors that are superimposed on the history and geography of the situation. But it does help to have a larger view and vision of what ought to be for the sake of peace and stability.
With the phenomenal economic growth that it has attained today, China is in an even better position to act as ‘big brother’ but not in an Orwellian sense. For it has been years now since the Dalai Lama has been stating publicly that Tibet is an integral part of China and all it is seeking is more autonomy to run its affairs. During his visit to Arunachal Pradesh in the north-east of India, the Dalai Lama reiterated this position, adding that his visit there was of a purely religious nature and had nothing to do with politics. Despite that, China objected to the visit that was allowed by the Indian government, and warned that this would impact negatively on the territorial ‘dispute’ between the two countries.
Like all big powers, China is focused on economic growth, for which it needs resources that it is sourcing through its expanding engagements in Africa, the Middle East and South America. With an eye on a stronger presence in the Indian Ocean, it is developing the CPEC – China Pakistan Economic Corridor – in the contested region (between India and Pakistan) of Gilgit, which will give it access to the Gwadar port that it has built in Baluchistan. This is despite the track record of Pakistan in terrorism, to the extent that China has repeatedly blocked India’s attempt to have Masood Azhar declared a terrorist by the UN. On the other hand, there is restiveness in Hong Kong and Taiwan as well, not to speak of ongoing stand-offs in the South China Sea and East China Sea that are souring relations between China and the regional countries, including Japan.
Given all these realities, one would have thought that the obvious thing for China to do would be to rope in the Dalai Lama and make use of his wide appeal across the world and the region for mutual reinforcement against the threat of terrorism which looms there. This is what the Dalai Lama has said recently: ‘Now China needs another cultural revolution movement, under the leadership of the Communist Party. The previous cultural revolution motivated much hatred and anger. This cultural revolution should be a compassionate cultural revolution. That goes very close with Chinese cultural heritage, and also goes very closely with Buddhism.’
What are the chances of this happening?
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More than ever, strong institutions needed
From the BAI saga to the latest affairs and scandals that are rocking the country, the one thing that comes through is that only strong institutions can be the bulwark of the people against the abuse or misuse of power.
The strength of institutions comes from their strict adherence to the legal provisions within which they operate, and that must be seen to have been done if ever they have to answer to the public in the name of transparency and accountability. Unfortunately, in the series of events that have shaken the country over the past several months, institutional integrity appears to have suffered setbacks, whether it is at the level of the FSC, the SBM regarding a Euroloan, the Trust Fund for Cardiac Care, even the Presidency.
The common citizen is left to wonder what will happen of the county and what future it has for themselves and their children in terms of meritocracy, equal opportunities and justice. If people in high positions, who are looked up to, do not conduct themselves as the role models that they are supposed to be, what signal are they sending to the people about the institutions that they are associated with and are supposed to protect and defend?
More than ever, therefore, the country needs the proper people to man these institutions. Necessary as they are, skills, competencies and intelligence are not enough – the overriding ingredient that is required is integrity and rigorous professionalism. As well as an unwillingness to kowtow to those who would interfere in the functioning of the institutions by exerting inappropriate pressure.
Such people, alas, seem to be becoming more and more a rare breed.