Nathu La Pass reopening, a crushing blow to the Tibetan cause

by Prakash Dubey, AsiaNews.IT, July 7, 2006

The Sino-Indian deal to reopen the “Gateway to the Silk Road” will bring economic advantages to the region and to both governments, but it will deal a fatal blow to any hope Tibetan exiles loyal to the Dalai Lama have of going home.

Gangtok, Sikkim (India) -- The reopening of Nathu La Pass, the “Gateway to the Silk Road” marks the end of the Sino-Indian conflict. It also means China’s formal recognition of Sikkim’s status as an Indian state and the end of the last hopes of Tibetans loyal to the Dalai Lama of going home.

The pass, which joins India and China at about 4,000 metres (14,000 feet) above sea level, was reopened yesterday in a solemn ceremony attended by Sikkim and Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) leaders as well as top military and diplomatic officials from the two countries.

Sikkim’s Chief Minister, Pawan Kumar Chamling, said he was elated by the reopening after 44 years of conflict and confrontation, hopeful that the decision would breathe new life in the centuries-old economic and cultural relations between the India and China. The pass had been closed since the 1962 India-China war.

Gajendra Mishra, a scholar working on his doctoral thesis on Sino-Indian relations, told AsiaNews that the reopening was “a watershed event for Sikkim which had remained a disputed territory after its merger with India.” With the opening of the border crossing, China relinquished its claim over Sikkim and formally recognised the merger of the old independent Buddhist Kingdom with India.

“The reopening of the Pass has formally cemented the Chinese recognition of Sikkim as an inalienable part of India,” the Indian scholar added. “So it is a matter of great solace and jubilation for over half a million Sikkimese people because they would no longer be vulnerable to the spectre of war that used to haunt them in the past”.

“But the tragic aspect of this landmark event,” Mishra stressed, “is that the reopening has exposed the Indian betrayal of the Tibetan cause and the Tibetan refugees and their leader Dalai Lama. No doubt India has to be concerned about its national interests. But as a great country, it should have simultaneously ensured a dignified resolution of the Tibetan crisis”.

Raghav Shrestha, a local Buddhist, said that dignitaries from the Chinese side at the inaugural ceremony were mainly Han Chinese officials posted in Tibet.

“It obviously sent the message that the idea of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) was a myth. It is barely a Chinese colony subjugated with the mighty military power of China's Peoples' Liberation Army”.

For Shrestha, “it would have been wonderful if the ceremony had been blessed by some senior Tibetan Lama, even some puppet installed by the Chinese government. At least this would have shown that Tibetan culture and way of life were still alive in Tibet”.
To add insult to injury, Beijing chose July 6, the Dalai Lama’s birthday, as the day for reopening the same pass across which he fled to India in 1959.

“I don't know if India has been beguiled or bullied to swallow this Chinese design,” the scholar concluded. “But it is crystal clear that Tibetans can no longer bank upon India for any help in getting back their motherland. If they want to return to Tibet they’ll have to accept China’s rules and perhaps cross the Nathu La Pass”.