The Spirit of Modern Tibet in Neighborhood Diplomacy

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(This paper presented at the International Conference on ‘The Development of Modern Tibet’, organized by the Institute of South Asian Studies, Sichuan University, China, 20th July 2016)



Connectivity and capabilities of Modern Tibet

Innovations in technology, communication and transportation have directed uncontrollable globalization in the 21st Century. Classical geopolitics has been fretted by globalization and has expanded global economic integration and interdependency by converging nation states into a common goal of peaceful and mutual development.

Historical Tibetan plateau was vulnerable to incessant western and eastern foreign attacks due to its location and strategic richness in natural resources. Foreign powers endeavored to detach Tibet from foreign affairs in order to protect their hegemonic power. Natural location of the plateau made the goal. However after the unification of Tibetan Autonomous Region in 1965, Tibet returned to international affairs with Chinese characteristics. China’s liberal market economy and Deng Xiaoping’s ‘Go Global policy’ heavily manipulated the lifeline of Tibet, stimulated to go beyond Tibetan borders and engage in global economy. Apart from Xinjiang autonomous region, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, Tibet has the capabilities to link up the Southwest slowly developing areas of China to the South Asian global market. Since India, Nepal, Bhutan Burma and Kashmir share national borders with Tibet, these borders facilitate the development of Tibet and entire China.

China’s ‘Go Global Policy’ has been developed by the norm of ‘One Belt One Route’ in the 21st century. This norm is laid upon the ancient Chinese silk route which exchanges unity, mutual trust, equality, inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual beneficial cooperation. Countries of different races, beliefs and cultural background are fully capable of sharing peace and development under the valuable inspiration of the Silk Route.[1] In this backdrop, China promotes neighborhood diplomacy; firstly, to achieve sound regional space for her own development, secondly, to apply national development for the development of neighboring countries and thirdly, to achieve common development with all states.


                             China’s basic policy of diplomacy with neighboring countries is to treat them

as friends and partners to make them as feel secure and to support their

development. This policy is characterized by friendship, sincerity,

reciprocity and inclusiveness…. We should advocate inclusiveness,

stressing that there is enough room in the Asia-Pacific region for all

countries to develop and promoting regional cooperation with an

open mind and enthusiasm. We must embrace and practice these

ideas, so that they will become the shared beliefs and norms

of conduct for the whole region.

-Xi Jinping, President of People’s Republic of China[2]


This is the spirit of modern China’s Tibet practices neighborhood diplomacy essentially with India, Nepal, Bhutan, Burma and Kashmir. Tibet is the best practitioner of neighborhood diplomacy of China because Tibet was the reason for China to detach from Nepal in 1855, India in 1962 and originate protracted mutual suspicion. Currently, the spirit of Tibet in neighborhood diplomacy stands for mutual development and peaceful coexistence. The Tibetan spirit lying on globalization is robust than classical geopolitics in the 21st century.


Connectivity through infrastructure developments

Infrastructure development projects-railroads are the core of enhancing connectivity between China’s Tibet and neighboring countries. Qinghai-Tibet Railway which provides a major access route to South Asian countries such as Nepal and India. Qinghai-Tibet Railway provides strong support for Tibet to enlarge the border trade with Nepal and India, which could help Tibet to become a new frontier of economic communication with South Asia.[3] This Railway has already extended to Shigatze. China plans to build two lines from Shigatze which would lead to Kerung, the nearest town from Nepal and other line to Yadong on the India-Bhutan border.[4]

Infrastructure development projects have originated a new pathway to India to develop her northern roads and railroads which are the way as same after the independence. However the memories of 1962 conflict still influence policy makers of India. Although there is no military instrument in current India-China relations, writings, statements of decision makers and ancient defense mentality obstruct the spirit of China’s Tibet. Remote relations improve misunderstanding and closer relations lend a hand to understanding actual challenges and opportunities. The five principles of peaceful co-existence have never been broken by China in its economic relations with other countries. This is the green light to increase economic cooperation between India and China’s Tibet. The one route heavily depends on Asia’s rising India to make tide the economic belt. It benefits and protects 67% of population of Asia who represent one third of global economy.


China’s Tibet as a role model

Neighboring region of China’s Tibet- South Asia has ethnicity based development issues. Ethnicity based demarcation develops egoism rather than patriotism. Unstable conflicting ethnic societies face inequalities and delay their own economic development, national development and security. Multi-ethnic South Asia is exercising this common reality. The rapid expansion of Terrorist, separatist and extremist movements question the sustainability of national as well as regional development and security.

China’s Tibet faced a lot what South Asian countries are facing today. Even though there are many ethnic Tibetans who practice different customs and cultures, they have patriotic voice today. Tibetans are culturally distant but economically contiguous because of the economic policies of the Chinese government. Strategic economic policies ran up entire region without rely on the ethnical differences. This inclusiveness has increased the per capita income, national economic development and peaceful co-existence in Tibet.

China’s Tibet has resolved problems which were occurred by the multi-ethnicities. Its inclusive economic policies peacefully addressed inequalities and protected sovereignty and territorial integrity. This is why South Asian countries can get China’s Tibet as a role model of solving ethnic issues and achieving national and regional economic development.

by Shalika Dias






End Notes


(1989) China’s Foreign Relations: A chronology of events (1949-1988), Beijing: Foreign Language Press.

(2014) Xi Jinping: The Governance of China, Beijing: Foreign Language Press.

Atul Aneja, All is not smooth on the Silk Road 11 July 2016

Chen Tiejun, The Development of Transportation Infrastructure and International Links in China’s southwest Region (2010), ERIA Research Project Report 2009-7-5, Jakarta, 12 July 2016

China Seminar Report, Tibet- Connectivity, Capabilities and Consequences, No. 190 (2006), 11 July 2016.

David S.G. Goodman and Gerald Segal (1997), China Rising, London: Rutledge.

John W. Garver (2001), Protracted Contest: Sino-Indian Rivalry in the 20th Century, USA: University of Washington Press.

Kennet Christie (1998), Ethnic Conflict Tribal Politics: A Global Perspective, Britain, Curzon Press.

Monika Chansoria, China’s Infrastructure Development in Tibet: Evaluating Trendiness, No 32 (2011), New Delhi: Centre for Land Warfare Studies, 12 July 2016

Nie Xiaoyang (2012), Tibet: Fast and Furious, the Commercial Press.

Ram Rahul (1992), Modern Tibet, New Delhi, Munshiram Manoharal.

Ramakant (1988), China and South Asia, Jaipur: university of Rajastan.


[1] Xi Jinping (2014), Xi Jinping: The Governance of China, Beijing: Foreign Language Press.


[2] Ibid.

[3] Chen Tiejun, The Development of Transportation Infrastructure and International Links in China’s southwest Region (2010), ERIA Research Project Report 2009-7-5, Jakarta, 12 July 2016

[4] Ibid.


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Urban Massacres: Lessons for Asia in the 21st Century

paris attack

The horrific terrorist attack in Paris was likely modeled on an earlier terrorist horror, the November 26-29, 2008 attack in Mumbai, India, in which ten terrorists killed 164 and wounded more than 300.

wrote former CIA analyst Bruce Reidel in the immediate wake of deadly multi-pronged attacks on Paris last Friday. The massacre was yet another gruesome episode in a trend that has taken the world of national security by storm over the last decade – the “Fidayeen” model of assault, where disparate but coordinated attackers simultaneously unleash an onslaught on civilian, predominantly urban targets. Many of the world’s major cities have found themselves on the receiving end of this brutal tactic which is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.

In a previous article for The Diplomat, I had highlighted India’s recognition of this as one of their seminal security threats. However, it would be a mistake to assume that other Asian nations need not be as cautious as their giant neighbour. As analysts project into the future, it becomes clear that many of the ingredients that allow for a successful urban assault thrive in the region. The United Nations estimates that by the middle of the century, the world’s population will touch the 9 billion mark, with over 6 billion of them in urban areas. Asia in particular will see a growth of nearly 2 billion people by 2050, with a steep rise in interconnected, littoral communities. Within just the next five years, it is estimated that 13 of the world’s 25 megacities will be located in Asia and the Pacific. In essence, what this means is that the entire coastline of the giant continent will become susceptible to attacks like what was seen in Paris and Mumbai.

So what are these ingredients that help facilitate such ‘Fidayeen’ offensives by terrorists? A crowded theatre of operations to spread panic and maximise casualties, vulnerable borders (either terrestrial or maritime) which allow trained operatives to infiltrate their target state, ethnic or religious tensions that can be exploited for recruitment, and law enforcement agencies with unsophisticated rapid-response mechanisms. It would be useful to analyse these factors on an individual basis, looking at how they might impede Asia’s urban security in the future.

Firstly, Asia’s waters are becoming notoriously difficult to control, with the Strait of Malacca now the biggest hotspot for international piracy in the world. Pirates have often been able to hide themselves among fishing boats, disguised as civilians and preying on the vulnerable only when it suits them. One must remember that Mumbai’s assailants entered Indian territory amphibiously, using tactics that are virtually identical to the modus operandi of modern pirates. The terrorists are alleged to have departed from Pakistan on a boat, after which they hijacked the MV Kuber, an Indian fishing vessel. It was through this that they managed to get into Indian nautical waters undetected. In 2015, South East Asian waters have seen at least one hijacking of a tanker every fortnight by pirates, let alone mere fishing vessels.  If a Mumbai-style attack was planned on a South East Asian littoral city, any competent group of armed fighters would be able to replicate this method of infiltration easily, given the staggering amount of hijackings in the region.

Land borders are not significantly more secure either, with human trafficking and illegal immigration raging from one end of the continent to the other. Asia’s conception of ethnicity and identity is far different from what one sees in the West. Most of its borders today are the results of colonial rule, with indigenous groups in several countries simply unwilling or unable to recognize what they see as poorly conceived colonial boundaries.

Pertinent to the issue of porous borders is the uncomfortable truth that ethnic diversity has become an extra tool that has played into the hands of transnational outfits like ISIS. Though the perpetrators of urban terrorism can be foreign operatives like the Lashkar-e-Toiba in Mumbai, they are just as likely to be home grown insurgents as well. The Kouachi brothers from the Charlie Hebdo attacks for example, were both born in Paris. With the question of ethnicity already so volatile in the region – numerous insurgencies have been waged in the name of language, religion, race and ideology in Asia – the increasing number of urban attacks is only likely to fuel tensions between communities and in turn, feed from it. For policymakers in Asia, it is now more vital than ever before that the continent’s young demographic is engaged with on a regular basis to prevent radicalization while maintaining the inclusive tradition of the region.

Aside from the diversity of the population, the sheer size of it presents security challenges as well. It is home to some enormous urban populations, which are the ideal targets for such attacks. Out of the fifteen most populous cities in the entire world, ten are from Asia. High-density populations are often vulnerable to panic and terror, especially with coordinated gunmen or bomb blasts ravaging the city. The larger the population, the larger the hunting ground for an armed insurgent. Crowded cities in the region often have “no-go” areas where law enforcement does not exercise absolute power, sprawling slums or ghettos which would allow assailants to virtually vanish once their objectives are complete, and independent power centres like criminal gangs and political figures -all of which would complicate even basic counter-terrorism measures during such an attack.

Finally, rapid-response is presently a huge challenge in Asia, most of whose cities are not economically comparable their Western counterparts, and unable to invest in the sophisticated law enforcement resources and mechanisms which would ideally help repel a Fidayeen assault.  During last week’s attacks in Paris for example, the response from local enforcement was virtually immediate. When the Charlie Hebdo murders took place, 88000 personnel were deployed in various capacities over the three-day manhunt. During the Westgate Mall attack in Kenya and the Mumbai attacks in India, it was impossible to respond with the same sort of urgency or firepower, given the lack of similar resources and training. Even if such cities are better prepared today, the strain which such requirements put on a city’s security apparatus will inevitably become an enormous burden to bear.

The threat of urban terrorism is thus a stark one that Asian law enforcers and strategic analysts would do well to give a lot of thought to. As modern technology makes it increasingly easier for transnational terrorist organizations to capture the world’s attention by holding its cities hostage, States no longer enjoy a considerable margin of error in planning their preparation and response. The balancing act required while protecting urban civilians without militarizing urban spaces outright will be a tricky one. And none will have to collectively walk this tightrope more delicately than the nations of Asia.

By Nilan Niruthan



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