Thursday, June 21, 2018

3 new Tibet airports near border pose threat

An airport in Purang
My article 3 new Tibet airports near border pose threat appeared in The Asian Age 
 
Here is the link...

On June 9, the Civil Aviation Administration of China and the Tibetan Autonomous Region’s (TAR) government announced that Tibet will soon have three new airports. A communiqué said: “Construction of the three airports, all above the altitude of 3,900 meters, should begin in 2019.”
Xinhua gave the rationale: “Tourist travel will be more convenient, and economic development in Tibet's agricultural and pastoral areas will also be assisted.”
The announcement came during Conference Civil Aviation System Supporting Tibet Airport Construction Development held in Lhasa on June 8.
The Chinese-language press gave more information about the location of the three airports; one will be located in Lhuntse in Lhoka (called Shannan by the Chinese) area, north of the Upper Subansiri and Tawang districts of Arunachal Pradesh, the second will be between Tingri and Lhatse counties of Shigatse City, north of Zangmu, the border post with Nepal, and the last in Purang, near the trijunction Nepal-Tibet-India, north of Pittoragarh district of Uttarakhand (on the yatris’ route to Mt Kailash).
While Tingri airport is near the Nepali border, the two other (Lhuntse and Purang) are at a short distance from the Indian border.
Xinhua said that Capital Airport Holding Company will be the contractor of the Lhoka, while Shanghai Airport Authority will be responsible for the airport in Shigatse and the West Airport Group will take care of Purang: “The three companies are scheduled to transfer the airports to local operators after one or two years' operation.” The airports should be completed in 2021; by then, there will be eight airports in the TAR (plus three close to the Indian border in Xinjiang, i.e. Kashgar, Hotan and Yarkand).
The news agency added: “At present, the preparatory work for the three airports is underway. The preferred sites have been determined, and the construction of temporary weather stations at each site is completed.”
The three airports will be high altitude airports; they will be operated by companies including Air China, China Eastern Airlines or Sichuan Airlines already involved in Tibet.
Let us not forget an important element; by law, these new airports will be for ‘dual use’; in other words, they will have to be built to suit both the civilian and military standards. The People’s Liberation Army may use them when required.
The Conference was a very-high level affair. Apart from Wu Yingjie, the TAR’s Party secretary, it was attended by Feng Zhenglin, China’s Civil Aviation Administration’s secretary, Che Dalha, the TAR Governor (as well as director of the TAR Border Defense Committee), Ding Yexian, Zhuang Yan, two powerful deputy secretaries, but perhaps more importantly, by Lt Gen Xu Yong, the commander of the Tibet Military District. Three other PLA officers were on the dais.
The level of the participants shows the importance of these three new airports for Beijing, particularly after the post-Doklam ‘reset’ of the bilateral relations with India.
One has to understand Xi’s plans for Tibet. The ‘core’ leader had declared: “Govern the nation by governing the borders; govern the borders by first stabilizing Tibet; ensure social harmony and stability in Tibet and strengthen the development of border regions.”
Since a few months, the authorities in Tibet have started implementing the boss’ theory, while the Party’s propaganda is doing its best to entice the local Tibetan population to side with the Communist Party. This is a serious development, unfortunately largely ignored in India.
A new formula is mentioned in every speech of the local satraps - the inhabitants of China’s borders (with India) should be “the protectors of the sacred homeland and the builders of happy homes.”
It has taken a concrete shape with the mushrooming of new ‘model’ villages and towns on the Tibetan side of the Indian border, mainly north of Arunachal Pradesh; officially, this is linked with ‘poverty alleviation’ and the ‘defence of the borders’.
Development of China’s borders with India is indeed going on full swing; the construction of three new airports has to be seen in this context.
Several senior Communist leaders have visited the new villages, either north of Kibithu in the Lohit valley; in Metok, north of Upper Siang district; in Yume (also written Yumai), north of Takshing in Upper Subansari or in Lepo, Marmang and Tsona, north of Khenzimane and Tawang.
The Lhuntse airport will serve the Tsona and Yume areas.
Wu Yingjie recently gave an interview to The People’s Daily on the happenings in the border areas; he spoke of the significance of implementing the new strategy of “rejuvenating villages under the banner of the protectors of sacred homeland and the builders of happy homes”.
The new scheme started soon after the conclusion of the 19th Congress, when Xi Jinping sent a reply to two young Tibetan herders who had written to him introducing their village, Yume. According to Xinhua, Xi “encouraged a herding family in Lhuntse County to set down roots in the border area, safeguard the Chinese territory and develop their hometown.” Xi acknowledged “the family’s efforts to safeguard China’s territory, and thanked them for the loyalty and contributions they have made in the border area. Without the peace in the territory, there will be no peaceful lives for the millions of families,” he wrote.
The two Tibetan girls, Choekar and Yangzom had told the CCP’s Secretary General about their “experiences in safeguarding the border area and the development of their township over the years.”
The girls’ village, Yume is located in Lhuntse county, not far from the remote Indian village of Takshing, which incidentally has got for the first time a motorable road this month. Xi further hoped that the girls’ family could “motivate more herders to set down roots in the border area like kalsang flowers,” blooming in hard conditions.
China is ready to invest 110 million yuan in the Yume Well-Off Rural Construction Project; to start with, 56 sets of light-steel prefabricated residential houses are being built, linked by two new municipal roads, a central park and six squares. Electricity and water have already reached the border village.
The rationale of the these post-Doklam measures is “to consolidate the border and to promote the deep integration of the military and the people.” Tourism and ‘cultural’ industries remain the pillars of the scheme; it is supposed to help the population to get rid of poverty through participation in tourism while promoting ‘ethnic exchanges’ …with Han tourists. Yume is the model for the entire scheme.
Another pet project of Xi Jinping is the Military Civilian Integration (or ‘Fusion’); this too applies to the border. Consider Zhayul County located north of Anjaw district of Arunachal Pradesh in the Lohit valley. According to China Tibet News, the villages of the county have started implementing the ‘double-support model city’ which translates into full military and civilian integration.
India should not fall back into a Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai mood, even if a ‘reset’ of the bilateral relations was necessary, Delhi should realize that Beijing is working hard to be prepared if a new Doklam erupts anywhere on the 4,000km long border.
It is not the time for complacency.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Is China Changing? Religious practices in Tibet

My article Is China Changing? Religious practices in Tibet has been published by the Asia Research Institute of the University of Nottingham


Here is the link...

In October 1950, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) entered Eastern Tibet with the objective of ‘liberating’ the region. The Tibetans, who for centuries had lived in beatific seclusion, could not really understand from what they needed to be ‘liberated’; a large percentage of the population lived as Buddhist monks and nuns in thousands of monasteries, seeking the Great Liberation. It soon turned out that the Communist ‘liberation’ was very different from the one advocated by Gautama Buddha in the plains of North India some 2500 years earlier. Mao and his colleagues wanted to ‘reform’ a so-called feudal society.
When the Communist leadership tried to force their ‘reforms’ on the Khampas, the inhabitants of Eastern Tibet, the latter immediately revolted. It resulted in tens of thousands of them being killed. Monasteries were bombed, ‘rebels’ machine-gunned: religion was a ‘poison’, as per Mao’s words, it had to be eradicated. One question is often asked, has China changed over the last 60 years or has it remained the same? China is indeed today a different nation; it has laws, rules and regulations, even for religious practices.

A new set of regulations
In November 2017, the Chinese State Administration for Religious Affairs published a set of updated regulations dealing with religious issues (they have come into force in February 2018). Some of the directives are aimed at monitoring the over-commercialization of Buddhism and Taoism. The South China Morning Post said that China had decided to ban commercialization of Buddhist and Taoist activities to tighten its grip on religion: “local cadres have been specifically barred from promoting and profiting from religious activities in the name of fostering economic development. Temples in scenic spots cannot overcharge tourists for entry, while they are banned from building any new large outdoor religious statues.” The stated objective of these regulations was to ‘protect citizens’ freedom of religious belief’.
But some religious leaders in China, such as Pastor Wang Yi of Early Rain Church in Sichuan saw a deeper scheme: “the government has no authority to direct or examine religious groups and religious activities in their doctrinal teaching and governing or to limit citizens religious activity to the time and location it decides,” he stated. Indeed, under the revised Regulations, religious affairs are controlled in minutest details by the State (read the Communist Party).

How does this translate in Tibet?
 In the recent months and years, there has been in a tightening of State control over religious institutions. Further, most of the monasteries have now become tourist attractions under the control of local administration. Monks are mostly in place as a showcase for the millions of Han tourists visiting the Roof of the World (26 million in 2017). Another dichotomy is reflected in the case of the Serthar Buddhist Institute in Larung Gar in Sichuan’s Kardzi prefecture. The Institute was founded by a charismatic Lama, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok in 1980 to help revive Buddhist scholarship and meditation. In the early 2000s, it housed the largest concentration of monks and nuns in Tibetan areas …including nearly 1,000 Han Chinese students. In 2016, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that Beijing had decided to destroy large sections of a monastery: “Massive cuts are being planned for the number of monks and nuns allowed to live at a large Buddhist study centre.”
It had perhaps become too dangerous for the Communist Party that the monastery enjoyed a great popularity among Chinese; between 20,000 and 30,000 monks and nuns, (a large proportion from the mainland) had joined the institute over the years. The Diplomat described the situation: “In June 2016, the Chinese government in Beijing issued an order that stated the site had become overcrowded and its population had to be reduced to a maximum of 5,000 by October 2017. Within weeks, work teams descended on the peaceful community and began tearing down people’s homes, reducing cabins to nothing more than splintered wood and shattered glass. The owners were forced to sign documents agreeing not to return to the area again and to ‘uphold the unity of the nation’.”
China seems stuck between the ‘normality’, i.e. the rule of law on one side and the imposition of the Party’s diktats, on the other. Already in 2001, a similar process had occurred; The South China Morning Post then wrote: “Tibetan support groups and Chinese residents of a nearby town said the dismantling of homes at Serthar had started in June [2001] and many of the residents — once estimated at 6,000 to 7,000 — had been forced to leave.” But as a sphinx, Sethar had emerged again.

Examinations in Beijing
A sign that all is not well in the field of religion in the Middle Kingdom is the fact that China does not hold the examination for the highest degree in Buddhist philosophy, the Geshe Larampa, in Tibet itself. On May 19, You Quan, minister of the United Front Work Department, a high functionary in the Party, distributed the certificates to the new graduates. During the function, You Quan emphasized that the Tibetan Buddhist community, the Sangha, “should thoroughly study and understand the Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, unswervingly adhere to correct political positions; firmly uphold national unity; positively adapt to developing trends of the current times; vigorously promote interpretations of Buddhist doctrines and make new contributions to the future inheritance and development of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.”
The function took in the premises of the High-level Tibetan Buddhism College …in Beijing. For hundreds of years, the examinations were held in the Great Monasteries of Ganden, Drepung and Sera in the outskirts of Lhasa, why should they take now place in the Chinese capital? Simply because Beijing is nervous about the rise of religion in Tibet …and the Middle Kingdom. Another sign that religious freedom is not blooming, political training is regularly held for religious leaders. The Global Times mentioned, “Extensive training for religious priests is being launched at the local and central levels on core socialist values, patriotism and religious signification.” According to the tabloid, training is being organized by the Central Institute of Socialism, the Party Schools for non-Party members. The Global Times admitted: “The sinification of religions was highlighted in China’s newly revised regulation on religious affairs, which took effect in February.” The Institute has been holding this type of course for all major ‘Chinese’ religions including Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam.
In the meantime, in Tibet, the Chinese authorities are closely monitoring the religious observances during the holy month of Saga Dawa, forbidding government workers and students from participating in traditional gatherings. Radio Free Asia reported: “The Chinese authorities in Lhasa are ordering Tibetan government employees, schoolchildren, and their parents to avoid group religious activities during the holy month.… Even government retirees are being targeted by this ban on religious worship,” RFA’s source said. China may have greatly changed in the recent decades, but the freedom to practice one’s own religion still exist on paper only.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Legend of Zoru

My article The Legend of Zoru appeared in Rediff.com

Here is the link...
 
Claude Arpi salutes Lieutenant General Zorawar Chand Bakshi, India's most decorated general, who passed into the ages recently.

Last month, India lost its most decorated general; Lt Gen Zorawar Chand Bakshi, known as Zoru to his officers and friends, passed away at the age of age of 97.
Very few noticed. No tweets from the Prime Minister or the Defence Minister.
General Bakshi was born in 1921 in Gulyana town, Rawalpindi district, of today’s Pakistan. Like several soldiers of his generation, he served in the British Army; in this, he followed the footsteps of his father, Bahadur Bakshi Lal Chand Lau.
During World War-II, Zoru fought with the Baloch Regiment against the Japanese in Burma; he covered himself with glory and his name was mentioned in dispatches for conducting successful ambushes against the enemy.
Following the Partition of India, the family moved to India, and after briefly serving in the Punjab Boundary Force, a military force set up to restore peace on the Punjab border, he was commissioned into the 5th Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force). During the 1947-48 operations in Kashmir, he was already noticed as a great soldier; he was awarded the Vir Chakra.
Later, he would fight two more wars against Pakistan and get more decorations, including the Maha Vir Chakra.
It is because of the military mission he undertook to Tibet in 1949 that I got to know Gen Bakshi. At the end of the 1990s, while working on my book The Fate of Tibet, I had a burning question, “why did India not militarily intervene in Tibet in 1950?”
I was told by one of his colleagues from the Burma World War II days, “why don’t you meet Zoru Bakshi, he went there”. Not only did he go to Lhasa but he was awarded the MacGregor Memorial Medal, a decoration instituted in 1888 in memory of Sir Charles MacGregor, the founder of India’s original secret service, the ‘Khufiya Bureau’, for his visit to Tibet. This most-prestigious decoration is given to army personnel for exceptional feats of reconnaissance. Gen Bakshi was the first recipient (only 15 have received it so far).
Here is Zoru’s Tibet’s adventure.
In the summer of 1949, the Government of India, though not ready to get involved in a full-fledged military operation in Tibet, was still studying different options. But in order to have a proper assessment Delhi decided to send someone to survey the eventual routes. The information thus collected could be used to send troops and ammunition in the event of a ‘political’ decision to defend Tibet. The officer was also asked to check on the military preparedness of the Tibetan Army.
After some tussle with the Army HQ, which was keen to send its own Military Intelligence officer (one Capt Kovil), the Ministry of External Affairs (and probably Nehru himself as a minister), Maj Bakshi was selected.
The reason why Lt Govil was not sent was probably a note from Lt Gen Nathu Singh, the Eastern Command commander who was in favour of an armed intervention in Tibet: “[China’s] recent activities, their declared policy towards liberation of Tibet, clearly indicate the writing on the wall. The Communist menace is gradually spreading towards the very borders of India,” wrote Nathu Singh.
But the Prime Minister believed in non-violence.
The independence of mind of Gen Nathu Singh and his desire to send its own man (Lt Govil) to scout Tibet, prompted the MEA to select someone who would directly report to the Ministry.
On September 3, 1949, Harishwar Dayal, the Political Officer still thought that a ‘party’ would be sent for the purpose: “this party should be as UNOBTRUSIVE as possible and should go as TREKKERS or as officers visiting Gyantse escorts.” He did not want the ‘party’ to have an armed escort.
The fact that this covert mission took place under the direction of KPS Menon, the Foreign Secretary, is proof that in the summer of 1949, the Government of India was still keeping all its options open. Gen Bakshi who was a man of a few words, explained to me: “My mission was very simple. It was to see the routes in these areas. In the army, we always prepared for eventualities. The Army does not decide to go anywhere, but should we be asked to go anywhere, we must know where the routes are. In fact the Army does not make any recommendation at all [that we should go for war or not]. Nothing like we should go to Tibet.”
On his return, Zoru made his recommendations: “Nothing was impossible, after all Younghusband had done it 45 years earlier under much more compelling conditions. But it was a ‘political’ choice.”
One of the questions Bakshi had to study was ‘should India send arms and ammunition to Tibet?’
On July 4, 1949, KPS Menon, the Foreign Secretary had emphasized the need for the Indian Mission to continue to supply arms and ammunition supply to Lhasa. He also suggested finding out ‘other ways’ to ‘give our moral support to Tibet’ and the strengthening of India's northern frontiers.
Nehru himself wrote: “We should certainly try to maintain and continue our friendly relations with the Tibetan Government and give them such aid as we have been giving them in the past.”
One year later, when the PLA troops crossed the Yangtze and invaded the Land of Snows, Nehru’s determination would disappear, but this is another story. It is more than a decade after meeting Gen Bakshi, that I came across his report, a fascinating document.
The young major first looked at the ‘strength, composition and location’ of the Tibetan Army: “The Tibetan army is about 8,000 strong. There are approximately 10 battalions in it.”
Bakshi explained that these battalions do not have a fixed strength, though ‘normally’ battalions have approximately 900 strong soldiers; further the battalions have ‘no fixed scale of weapons and equipment’. They are equipped with rifles, brens and sten guns and a few 2-inches mortars.
The report confirmed that some of the Tibetan soldiers and officers had been trained in firing by Indian Army instructors. Bakshi also mentioned the state of training and discipline: “I have had a few opportunities of seeing the men of Kusung and Trapchi Regiments on parade in Lhasa. The standard of drill, with and without arms, is very poor. I have no hesitation in saying that an IA [Indian Army] recruit, after two weeks training, is much smarter than the soldiers of the Tibetan Body Guard Regiment.”
He added: “The Tibetan soldier shows no pride in being a soldier. The standard of turn out and discipline is shocking. The soldier does not seem to wash himself and his clothes.”
But Delhi was not ready to get involved in a conflict on the Tibetan plateau. The rest is history, a few months later India abandoned a weak and unprepared Tibet to its fate. It would then become clear for other ‘non-aligned’ nations that India was not in a position to play the high-moral role she pretended to play in world affairs.
It remains sad that India did not pay officially homage to one of its greater soldiers.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

New Airports on India’s Borders

On June 9, the Civil Aviation Administration of China and the Tibetan Autonomous Region’s (TAR) government announced that Tibet will soon have three new airports. A communiqué said: “Construction of the three airports, all above the altitude of 3,900 meters, should begin in 2019.”
Xinhua gave the rationale: “Tourist travel will be more convenient, and economic development in Tibet's agricultural and pastoral areas will also be assisted.”
The announcement came during Conference Civil Aviation System Supporting Tibet Airport Construction Development held in Lhasa on June 8.
The entire project is called '3+1' because the Lhasa Gongkar airport will get a second runaway. the scheme comes under Tibet's 13th Five-year Plan (2016-20) with a planned investment of 16.7 billion yuan ($ 2.6 billion).
The Chinese-language press gave more information about the location of the three airports; one will be located in Lhuntse in Lhoka (called Shannan by the Chinese) area, north of the Upper Subansiri and Tawang districts of Arunachal Pradesh, the second will be between Tingri and Lhatse counties of Shigatse City, north of Zangmu, the border post with Nepal, and the last in Purang, near the trijunction Nepal-Tibet-India, north of Pittoragarh district of Uttarakhand (on the yatris’ route to Mt Kailash).
While Tingri airport is near the Nepali border, the two other (Lhuntse and Purang) are at a short distance from the Indian border.
Xinhua said that Capital Airport Holding Company will be the contractor of the Lhoka, while Shanghai Airport Authority will be responsible for the airport in Shigatse and the West Airport Group will take care of Purang: “The three companies are scheduled to transfer the airports to local operators after one or two years' operation.” The airports should be completed in 2021; by then, there will be eight airports in the TAR (plus three close to the Indian border in Xinjiang, i.e. Kashgar, Hotan and Yarkand).
The news agency added: “At present, the preparatory work for the three airports is underway. The preferred sites have been determined, and the construction of temporary weather stations at each site is completed.”
The three airports will be high altitude airports; they will be operated by companies including Air China, China Eastern Airlines or Sichuan Airlines already involved in Tibet.
Let us not forget an important element; by law, these new airports will be for ‘dual use’; in other words, they will have to be built to suit both the civilian and military standards. The People’s Liberation Army may use them when required.
The Conference was a very-high level affair. Apart from Wu Yingjie, the TAR’s Party secretary, it was attended by Feng Zhenglin, China’s Civil Aviation Administration’s secretary, Che Dalha, the TAR Governor (as well as director of the TAR Border Defense Committee), Ding Yexian, Zhuang Yan, two powerful deputy secretaries, but perhaps more importantly, by Lt Gen Xu Yong, the commander of the Tibet Military District. Three other PLA officers were on the dais (see picture above).
The level of the participants shows the importance of these three new airports for Beijing, particularly after the post-Doklam ‘reset’ of the bilateral relations with India.
India should not fall back into a Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai mood, even if a ‘reset’ of the bilateral relations was necessary, Delhi should realize that Beijing is working hard to be prepared if a new Doklam erupts anywhere on the 4,000km long border.
It is not the time for complacency.
Though as a way to really 'reset' the bilateral relations, Prime Minister Modi should ask President Xi Jinping during their next meeting to open a regular flight  between Dehra Dun and Purang. It will allow thousand of elderly Indians to do the Kailash Yatra.
Dual use of airport at Shigatse



Monday, June 11, 2018

India and the Shangri-La Dialogue

My article India and the Shangri-La Dialogue appeared last week in the Edit Page of The Pioneer.


Here is the link...

The Modi Government has time and again showed adherence to the rules-based order in international forums. What Modi said at the Dialogue was the reiteration of this principle without directly pointing a finger at China

Shangri-La is usually associated with a place in the Himalaya immortalised by James Hilton in his 1933 novel, the Lost Horizon; a mystical valley where people live in harmony under the compassionate direction of a lamasery: In other words, a paradise on earth, a high-altitude utopian retreat, a permanently happy land.
The Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD) or Asia Security Summit annually organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), an independent think-tank based in London, is not about a perfect word, it deals with today’s chaotic real world. But the Track One inter-governmental security forum attended by heads of Government, defence ministers or military chiefs of the Asia-Pacific States, happens to be held in a hotel called Shangri-La in Singapore since 2002.
According to the organisers, “the Dialogue has (helped) built confidence and fostered practical security cooperation, by facilitating easy communication and fruitful contact among the region’s most important defence and security policymakers.” It is not an easy proposition, to ‘cultivate a sense of community’ in the region.
This year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave the keynote address: “I am pleased to return to a region, known to India since ancient times as Swarnabhoomi, (the Land of Gold),” he told the delegates, adding: “For thousands of years, Indians have turned to the East. Not just to see the Sun rise, but also to pray for its light to spread over the entire world. The human-kind now looks to the Rising East, with the hope to see the promise that this 21st century beholds for the whole world, because the destiny of the world will be deeply influenced by the course of developments in the Indo-Pacific region.”
For decades, we were told that the pinnacle of diplomacy was ‘non-alignment’. Though it did not lead India anywhere, it became almost a religious dogma which often translated into an alignment with Moscow and a rejection of the West (except in November 1962, when Nehru ran to the United States for support).
Today, the situation is more healthy; Delhi, keeping India’s interests in mind, ‘aligns’ with the world’s major shareholders; it has perhaps been the greatest foreign policy’s achievement of the four-year rule of the Modi Sarkar.
US Defence Secretary James Mattis was not the last to praise the Prime Minister for his warning on the debts incurred by some countries; Modi had spoken about the dangers of accepting loans that were ‘too good to be true’.
Mattis told reporters: “(Modi) made a really good point there about the dangers of accepting loans that are ‘too good to be true’, and being forced into another agenda.”
The message was obviously targeting some of China’s practices through the Belt and Road Initiative; countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Nepal, all India’s neighbours, are at the wrong end of these ‘loans’.
This year China sent a lower-than-usual delegation “in stark contrast to previous events, none of its members will give a keynote speech,” wrote The South China Morning Post before the event. When asked to explain, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying remained blissfully vague, it had ‘to do with work arrangements’.
But according to the South China Morning Post’s sources: “The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had scaled down its presence at the Shangri-La Dialogue to focus on domestic reforms.” The Chinese delegation to the 17th Shangri-La Dialogue was headed by Lt Gen He Lei, deputy head of the PLA’s Academy of Military Sciences.
But it is not that China was not listening, despite the remarks on ‘debts’, China was pleased with India, especially after Modi declared: “No other relationship of India has as many layers as our relations with China. Our trade is growing. I firmly believe that Asia and the world will have a better future if India and China work together with trust and confidence, keeping in mind each other's interests.”
During a press conference, He Lei praised these words as a friendly and positive gesture; he also explained: “The mission of the Chinese delegation is to elaborate China's foreign diplomacy and its defensive defense strategy, as well as to show the confident image of China’s military.”
The South China Sea issue was of course the ‘hot topic’ of the Dialogue, Here Hilton’s harmonious paradise was still far-away and China’s image has recently taken a beating.
However, the Chinese representative strongly defended his country’s interests and  affirmed: “The Chinese government and the Chinese people will never allow any person, any organization and any political party to separate any piece of Chinese territory from China at any time and in any form.” He also added that the PLA “has the determination, confidence and ability to safeguard the security of China’s sovereignty, unity and development interest.”
At the same time, China’s tone remained surprisingly soft vis-à-vis India. Zhao Xiaozhuo, a research fellow at the PLA Academy of Military Sciences, told The Global Times: “The India factor is what makes this year’s SLD different from previous ones,” perhaps because Beijing saw in Modi’s speech that, “the quasi-alliance between the US, Japan, India and Australia will not last long.”
Lt Gen He Lei, however, justified China’s deployment of ‘defensive’ facilities on the artificial islands as legitimate and necessary.
By now, China probably realised that its unilateral occupation of the South China Sea may not be accepted as a permanent fact by the rest of the Indo-Pacific community.
Take France and Britain, their defence ministers announced that their warships would sail through the South China Sea “to challenge Beijing’s expanding military presence in the disputed waters.”
Florence Parly, the French Armed Forces Minister told the forum that a French naval task group, together with British helicopters and ships, would soon be visiting Singapore “and then sail ‘into certain areas’ of the South China Sea.”
The French and British warships may cross into ‘territorial waters claimed by Beijing’; Parly even envisioned a potential encounter with China’s military: “At some point a stern voice intrudes into the transponder and tells us to sail away from supposedly ‘territorial waters’. But our commander then calmly replies that he will sail forth, because these, under international law, are indeed international waters.”
Mattis also spoke of the US plan to ramp up its freedom of navigation operations to counter Beijing’s militarisation in the region. The US does not accept Beijing’s contention that these territorial disputes are a matter between China and its Asian neighbours only.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi conluded by mentioning ‘Five S’, Samman (respect); Samvad (dialogue); Sahayog (cooperation), Shanti (peace), and Samriddhi (prosperity). He promised that “India will engage with the world in peace, with respect, through dialogue and absolute commitment to international law,” while adding: “We will work with others to keep our seas, space and airways free and open.”
But Delhi so far has managed to keep a balanced foreign policy; and India does not need to be non-aligned for that.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

China's Secret Story

My article China's Secret Story appeared in Mail Today and DailyO

Every year during the first week of June, the thoughts of millions turn towards China and more particularly the Tiananmen Square, where 29 years ago thousands of young students lost their lives …while China lost a chance to become a ‘normal’ State.
Today the Middle Kingdom, under an ‘Emperor for life’, has become so powerful that very few dare to officially talk about ‘human rights’ and even less about the massacre of youngsters dreaming of freedom and democracy.
A publication dealing with China, Global Voice recently explained: “At the time, the Chinese Red Cross estimated that 2,700 civilians were killed, but other sources point to a much higher toll. A confidential US government document, revealed in 2014, reported that a Chinese internal assessment estimated that 10,454 civilians had died. Recently, a different report written by the then-British ambassador to China was declassified; it quotes a source from China's State Council who said that the minimum estimation of civilians killed is 10,000.”
What is amazing is that we still know very little about what really happened during those fateful weeks of 1989. Nearly 30 years later, the Chinese State pretends to have no knowledge of the events which changed the face of China which took a radical turn towards authoritarism.

Right to Kill
Even less known is the fact that a ‘rehearsal’ took place in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital three months earlier.
More than a year after the events, The Observer in London mentioned the massacre on the Bakhor, the circumambulation road around the Jokhang Cathedral in Lhasa: “On 5 March [1989], the People's Armed Police [PAP] had been given the right to kill. China's paramilitary force was marching into the centre of Tibet's capital, Lhasa, to begin a massacre that continued for days, leaving more than 450 monks, nuns and civilians dead.”
Tang Daxian, then a Chinese reporter working for a Mainland organization, told the British paper: “They knew the Tibetans were not armed and they knew they were free to kill them;” Tang had in his possession secret reports, proving that a massacre took place in Lhasa
According to Tang, the tragic events were provoked by members of the PAP dressed as Tibetans: “The disguised police - whose purpose is to crush civil disorder - attacked and burned shops, offices, and stores, providing the authorities with the excuse.” ‘Hooligans’ had threatened the civil order; martial law would subsequently be declared. At that time, a young cadre had recently taken over as Tibet's Communist Party Secretary; his name was Hu Jintao. The carnage would greatly benefit his career.
Qiao Shi, then China's security boss and one of the five-member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, had in 1988 warned Tibetan dissidents of ‘merciless repression’.
It was probably the death of the Panchen Lama under mysterious circumstances in his Tashilhunpo monastery in January which triggered the March events: “the atmosphere in Tibet had become extremely tense; with disturbance throughout the region,” observed Tang.
The events leading to the massacre began early on February 7, when “the people of Lhasa woke up to see fluttering above the Jokhang the flag of the snow lions and the snow mountains, the forbidden symbol of Tibetan nationalism.”
Apparently, this act of defiance was brought to the attention of supreme leader Deng Xiaoping, the Party boss Zhao Ziyang and other leaders in Beijing; the same persons would play the leading roles three months later in Beijing.

Temple Siege
During the next two days, the PAP occupied the Jokhang temple, where the flag had already disappeared; 20 monks were arrested.
The situation worsened on March 2 when a crowd began to circumambulate the Jokhang, chanting slogans, ‘Dalai Lama back to Tibet’ or ‘Power back to the Tibetans’; the number of the protesters rapidly increased. Soon, a scuffle broke out between the crowd and 200 plainclothes police; but it ended up without violence.
Tang’s documents said that from dawn on March 3 to midnight the next day, party cadres and military leaders discussed the deteriorating situation. For many, the worsening was due to the PPA’s ‘lack of discipline’ while no officials “had heeded to the complaints of the people.”
The PAP sat quietly throughout the meeting; it had received instructions from Qiao Shi to “avoid discussions and debate over details...your function in Tibet cannot be performed by others.”
On March 5 in the morning, the PAP commander, General Li Lianxiu ordered to create the excuse: "The Special Task force should immediately produce 300 people dressed as ordinary citizens and monks. They are to co-operate with the plainclothes police to complete the task of creating a provocative atmosphere along the Bakhor.”
The orders were to be “kept secret from other co-operating units involved. Anyone violating these orders is to be severely punished.”

Grisly Episode
On March 6, with most of the foreigners parked in the Holiday Inn and with no witness around, the PAP struck: “The trap was sprung. Police appeared on the roofs overlooking the narrow Xuanjing alley with automatic weapons and blazed away. Within 10 minutes, 300 people had been shot," said Tang. During the next hours 450 people were killed and more than 3,000 arrested.
The next evening, Hu Jintao proclaimed that “the Armed Police, following the instructions of the Central Committee had maintained the unity of the motherland.” Hu warned that the majority of Tibetans who had joined the disturbance...must be made to feel guilt and promise they would never do so again. As a result of his strong action, Hu Jintao would soon be promoted to the Politburo.
One can only hope that Beijing will one day have to explain the Tiananmen and Bakhor episodes. It would be good for China too, if it wants exorcise its past.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

'Red Flag River’ diversion project

Can the Hu Huanyong Line be changed?
A few weeks ago, I mentioned a new scheme for diverting part of the waters of the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) towards the north and northwest of China.
The project was spearheaded by Prof Wang Hua of Tsinghua University.
It appears that many have started raising issues on the feasibility of such mega project.
A scientific paper has come out in The Journal of Natural Resources in China.
It makes interesting points.
It is titled The Query: The Feasibility of the Water Diversion Function of 'Hongqi River' and written by Yang Qin-ye and Jing Ke1 of the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Science and, Xu Jian-hui of the China Science Daily in Beijing.

A new element
A relatively new element in the debate on the subject is the recent declaration of the Bangladesh High Commissioner to India Syed Muazzem Ali.
Responding to a question on China building dams on the Yarlung Tsangpo, Ali said: "On the Brahmaputra basin, we are very concerned about diversion of water and Bangladesh is prepared to join a joint basin management concept where we will discuss the points of water as it flows from the point of origin to the point of exit in the sea."
He added: "And naturally, we will be very happy to fully cooperate with all regional joint agencies."
He said that Bangladesh believes in joint river basin management both in the Ganges and the Brahmaputra.
It would be good if India and Bangladesh could align their position on the subjet.

The original Hongqi Project 
The Red Flag Canal (‘Hongqi’) is an irrigation canal located 80 km northwest of Anyang in the northern extremity of Henan province.
In China, it is a mythic project because the canal was initiated during the Great Leap Forward and dug entirely by hand labour in the 1960s. The main canal is 71 kilometers long.  It begins close to the border of Henan and Shanxi province, diverting water from the Zhang River which flows from Shanxi. A dam is located near the junction of the three provinces. The canal winds around the side of a cliff, through 42 tunnels and along the side of the Taihang Mountains.
The Red Flag Canal was the subject of several movies. It has been used by Chinese propaganda as an example of what workers can achieve under local mass initiative.

The new Hongqi project 
According to those who conceived it, the basic objective of the present ‘Hongqi River’ Project (also known as ‘Red Flag River’ Project) is to improve the ecological and environmental conditions of dry areas in the Northwest China.
It could be done, they believe, by transferring water from the following rivers to Xinjiang and other arid areas in Northwest China:
  • the Yarlung Zangbo (later Brahmaputra)
  • the Salween
  • the Mekong
  • the Yangtze
  • the Yalong 
  • and the Dadu River
All these rivers flow from the Tibetan plateau.
The objective is to develop some 200 million mu (around 13.33×104 km2) of farmland and an oasis (green corridor) in these desert areas.
The above mentioned paper notes that the ‘Hongqi River’ Project is a grand 'idea' of water diversion across river basins, which has attracted wide attention at home and abroad.

Many difficulties/impossibilities
This ‘grand idea’ faces multiple severe challenges in the fields of geology, technology, economy, society and ecology, and there is a great uncertainty, admits the scientists.
First issues: can 60 billion m3 of 'diverted' water cannot meet the needs of the development of 200 million mu of farmland?
Then, can it meet the needs of the ecological green belt of 15×104 km2?
Some Chinese scientists would like to realize both at the same time.
The authors of the paper do not agree: “From the perspective of physical geography, natural resources and environment and regional development”, the answer is ‘No’, they assert.

How much water will reach Xinjiang?
Another question is how much water can reach the areas to be developed in Xinjiang “when there is strong leakage and evaporation along the river?”
According to those who planned the project, it should be built in 10 years, with investment of 4 trillion yuan (US $ 650 billion). Knowing that the normal investment for farmland irrigation per mu is about 2,00,00 yuan, the cost of 'diverted' water per cubic meter will be around 66 yuan.
The paper rightly asked: “Who will pay for the expensive water bill when the project is completed and running?”

The Environmental Impact
Yet another issue is the environmental impact and ecological consequences triggered by the water diversion. There is a great uncertainty; the authors admit that they are highly concerned.
The paper further explains that the water diversion project is not only a complex water conservancy project, but also a very complex ecosystem engineering, and a very complicated social and economic project.
Have the engineers who conceived it studied this in detail?
Apparently not.

Other issues
The list of issues to be tackled is long: “Environmental effects, ecological consequences and socioeconomic effects involve complex geophysical, chemical and biological processes, as well as the complex process of harmonious balance between human and earth relations.”
Interestingly, the paper also notes that that is an international angle to ‘diversion’: “The ‘Hongqi River’ Project involves international rivers. The potential geopolitical risks need to be drawn attention.”
India and Bangladesh and the countries of the Indo-Chinese peninsula have certainly not been informed.

Conclusions
The conclusions of the authors are: “At the existing level of understanding, it is necessary to make a thorough and systematic study of these problems.”
The noted that there are also misunderstandings in the public about the ‘Hongqi River’ project: “there are still several views that are contrary to scientific cognition, such as ‘changing the climate pattern of China’ [by diverting the water], ‘forest causing precipitation’, and breaking the ‘Hu Huanyong Line’.
The paper goes in detail and clarifies some of these misunderstandings.
This paper shows that there is no unanimity among Chinese scientists for the mega project.
Let us hope that sanity will prevail at the end, but a lot of money is involved. It makes many lobbies greedy.