After the 1959 rebellion, tens of thousands of Tibetans went into exile, following the Dalai Lama, and lived as refugees in India, Nepal, and other countries. Since then, the number of exiled Tibetans in each country has varied in accordance with the political atmosphere.
As the only great power that borders China's Tibet Autonomous Region, India has always been the largest host of exiled Tibetans. India's policy toward the 100,000 or so Tibetans on its territory, both the separatist political group led by the Dalai Lama and ordinary Tibetans focusing on their daily lives, has played a large role in Sino-Indian relations.
China and India had no problem related to the issue of sovereignty in history before UK's two invasions of Tibet in 1888 and 1904. By the end of 1947, India had achieved independence and inherited British government's privilege in Tibet.
In 1951, after the PLA drove out imperialist forces from Tibet, India didn't want to give up, which negatively influenced the Sino-Indian relationship.
The first issue that was raised between China and India was Tibet. Therefore the issue is not only a territorial problem, but also reflects more widely on relations. Indian policies toward the Dalai Lama group have changed from comprehensive support to selective support.
At first, India fully supported the establishment of the "Tibetan government in exile." Then Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru visited the Dalai Lama as soon as he arrived in India.
India and China restored ambassadorial relations in 1976. But later after that, India carried out a two-track policy on the Tibetan issue.
On one hand, publicly, India didn't recognize the "Tibetan government in exile" and opposed Tibetan separatist forces. Former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited China in this period. According the talks between the two sides, India has recognized that the area known as the Tibetan Autonomous Region is part of the People's Republic of China. India will not allow anti-China political activities by Tibetan exiles.
But on the other hand, India still secretly supports or indulges separatist activities.
In 1988, then Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi visited China. The resumption of dialogue between the leaders of the two countries marked the normalization of bilateral ties. Since then, India has changed its policies toward the Dalai Lama.
A joint declaration was released after a meeting between Vajpayee and former Chinese president Jiang Zemin in 2003, in which India expressed its official position in black and white for the first time.
The Indian government exerts pressure on ordinary exiled Tibetans and uses them as a political tool. Exiled Tibetans who came to India or were born in India prior to 1979 can receive Indian residence permits. However, the residence permits must be renewed yearly.
India reserves the right to politicize the issue of exiled Tibetans, and takes ambiguous policies toward this group. For instance, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs views exiled Tibetans as stateless persons in the immigration registration form.
Generally, Indian policies toward exiled Tibetans are in keeping with India's strategic considerations about the "Tibetan government in exile." There is contradiction between India's official "one-China" stance and actual indulgence of some Tibetans' separatist activities.
Compared to the US and Europe's interference in China's domestic affairs over the Tibetan issue, India makes fewer accusations about the internal problems of Tibet.
Because India reserves the card of exiled Tibetans for future use, it needn't take risks to interfere in China's domestic affairs.
India can already exert pressure on China merely through indulging the activities of exiled Tibetans. However, exiled Tibetans may in the longer term be a heavy burden to Indian society.
Exiled Tibetans require residence permits to find work, rent an apartment, open a bank account, and obtain identity documents.
But most of the time, these exiled Tibetans can just be hired by small business and little workshops. Compared to local people, they lack opportunities of education and employment.
Exiled Tibetans may even become a hidden danger to India's own stability in future. The separatist activities of exiled Tibetans will threaten regional security and the whole China-India relations.
The "diplomatic bonus" brought by exiled Tibetans is decreasing, whereas the benefits of cooperation between China and India is growing.
Under these circumstances, the Indian government should reconsider its policies toward exiled Tibetans. Only then will India take a responsible stance for exiled Tibetans in a real sense.
The author is an assistant researcher at the China Tibetology Research Center. firstname.lastname@example.org