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Indian Seminar Says China's Tibet Militarization Causes Ecological Disaster

[WTN-L World Tibet Network News. Published by The Canada Tibet Committee. Issue ID: 00/04/22; April 22, 2000.]

Source: PTI news agency, New Delhi

April 21, 2000

Sinologists and environmentalists have expressed deep concern over what they see as "militarization" of Tibet saying it posed a grave threat to environment and could become an irritant in India-China relations.

"Demilitarization" of Tibet is thus necessary not only to reduce possible tension between the two giant Asian neighbors and but also an ecological necessity which the two countries must bilaterally negotiate, they say.

Tibet has become victim of destruction of the region's natural resources to the detriment of the environment, Tsultrim Palden, a Tibetan who is a well known campaigner for restoration of Tibetan ecology, said at a seminar here recently.

As the forest cover decreases, heating mechanism of the plateau diminishes resulting in alteration of pressure systems, which either delay or reduce the Indian monsoon. This lingering snow cover disrupting the Indian monsoon has the potential to foster disasters for Indian agriculture, he warned. He described Tibet as, a dumping-pit for China's nuclear waste, which can result in a catastrophe affecting several generations.

The demilitarization of the Tibetan plateau has now become an ecological imperative, which does not brook further delay. Militarization of the Tibetan Plateau, and the attendant militarization of the eastern Himalayas as a direct consequence thereof, would not only affect the indigenous Tibetan population, but entire communities all the way from river Indus in the West to the Yellow River in the East, says Maj-Gen (retd) Vinod Saighal of the Ecology Monitoring Society.

According to Swaran Singh, senior fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), militarization of the Tibetan Plateau and troops deployability should be a cause for great concern to strategic planners in New Delhi.

It increases India's vulnerability, and does not augur well for the bilateral relations of the two countries, he notes.

Palden revealed that environmental degradation was compounded with the military concentration of the Chinese on the plateau. He said, there are about three to five lakh [300,000-500,000] Chinese troops permanently settled in Tibet. There are 17 secret radar stations and 14 military airfields, eight missile bases, at least eight ICBMs and 20 intermediate range missiles.

Apart from this, massive deforestation is taking place in Tibet where at least 500 truckloads of logs are carried to mainland China everyday. It has resulted in loss of precious flora and fauna in the region.

Sunderlal Bahuguna, noted Indian environmental crusader, also said at the seminar that China is increasing its grip on Tibet because of Tibet's vast water resources. Burgeoning population of China needs water, which is scarcely available while the Tibetan Plateau is source to several rivers.

Bahuguna warned that, the previous world wars were fought for control over land, but the next will be over water. Once these rivers are diverted toward China the probability of confrontation between the neighbors would get very intense.

Against this backdrop Palden suggests that, India should support creation of Tibet as a buffer state acting as a "zone of peace", which is not only a geo-political requirement but an ecological necessity whose importance can be undermined at India's own peril.

Similarly Tsering Sakya [author of "The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet"] of the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, opined that Tibet becoming a "zone of peace" is to India's benefit as Sino-Indian relations are guided more by geo-political considerations than economic, and large-scale Chinese presence in Tibet is a constant threat to India's territorial integrity.

He said that Indian concern gains greater magnitude in the light of alleged Chinese support to subversive activities in the India's northeast. The Chinese, he said, have all along disputed Indian sovereignty over the area. Laldenga's secessionist activities depended on the extensive Chinese support, Tsering alleged.

He said that even from a purely economic point of view, a free Tibet would result in India gaining greater and closer access to the central Asian republics which are supposed to be "floating on oil and gas reserves".

Prof Dawa Norbu [author of "Red Star Over Tibet"] of Jawaharlal Nehru University notes that China is presently at the pinnacle of its power looking for absolute security, where it can overstep its role in South Asia. He sees it as emergence of a "great game" on the patterns of the 19th century rivalry between Britain and tsarist Russia.

One must understand the strategic contradiction for peace where any attempt to intervene in Tibet from South Asia particularly from India gives rise to apprehension in China. This has resulted in China supporting Pakistan against India, says dorbu.

Tsering Sakya also notes that India has strategic, economic and moral interest in raising Tibetan issue with the Chinese.

But ground realities suggest otherwise, French scholar (?Claude Arpi) observes that with the growing Chinese might it is difficult for India to use Tibet as a bargaining chip while talking with the Chinese.

Maj-Gen Saighal said that China might narrow the gap with the United States, but the contradictions and pressures are building up internally. Therefore they must first realize the importance of resolving them particularly with Dalai Lama which would ease pressure on all fronts.

He, however, differs on the question of Tibet being a buffer state between India and China: in a new era of enlightenment, Tibet can be deemed to have shed its role of a buffer state. Instead, it could become a bridge:

- Between China and India

- Between China and the West

- Between peace-loving people around the world.

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