Tibetan dilemmas

On Shashi Tharoor, ‘India’s balancing act’, Guardian Comment, April 17, 2008

Deepak Tripathi

Mr Tharoor explains India’s dilemma over Tibet eloquently. However, the nature of such dilemmas is wider.

At times, I would prefer the country of my birth to be a little more outspoken on the behaviour of its neighbours, China and Burma in particular. Tibet has hit the headlines because of the coming Olympics in Beijing. The events in Burma and the treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi are no less disturbing.

In my view, Suu Kyi is the bravest human being living today. However, the Indian leadership has to think of the consequences of rhetoric which cannot be followed through. It is uncomfortable, but India would justify its caution as necessary.

We have seen how short-lived Britain’s ‘ethical foreign policy’ under the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, was in the late 1990s. And the consequences of the encouragement President Bush Sr appeared to offer the Iraqis as America defeated Saddam Hussain in the Gulf War to liberate Kuwait in early 1991.
Bush told the Iraqis ‘to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussain, the dictator, out’. That one sentence ignited a series of rebellions by the Iraqi Shi’a community in the south and the Kurds in the north. They were brutally suppressed, with appalling human loss.
There is a lesson to be learned from episodes like these. World leaders should think carefully before making statements that could provoke bigger crises, which they have no ability or willingness to deal with.

Dilemmas before neighbours of China and Burma are far more serious than those faced by the West. India has to weigh the risks of making statements that might provoke more protests in Tibet, leading to yet more brutal suppression by China, with a possible refugee crisis and consequences for the carefully balanced relationship with Beijing.

These realities prevail over moral considerations in the neighbourhood just as they do in Europe and the United States, where people’s lifestyles are enriched by cheap goods made in China and the Chinese keep their billions of dollars invested in government bonds and on the stock markets. Otherwise, the American economy would be in deeper trouble.