Tuesday, February 27, 2018

'May Auroville serve as a beacon to the world'

My article 'May Auroville serve as a beacon to the world' apperead in Rediff.com


Here is the link...

'May it be the guardian which calls for breaking down narrow walls of the mind.'
'May it continue to invite everyone to celebrate the possibilities of humanity's one-ness.'
Claude Arpi salutes 50 years of Auroville, a Grand Experiment in Living.



Old timers will remember the famous journalist and editor Russi Karanjia who founded Blitz, a national weekly.
Started as early as 1941, India's first tabloid focused on investigative journalism and 'hot' news; sometime the frontier between 'investigative journalism' and fake news was tenuous.
Sometime at the end of the 1970s, Blitz published a double-page article entitled 'Auroville, the Snake Pit. It was full of 'news' about the bunch of forengi hippies living near Pondicherry (now Puducherry).
The reporter (I don't remember his name) spoke of drug addicts and peddlers who were trying to create a new sect, in the form of a city with Vatican-like status. It was the worst place on earth.
All of it was obviously absolute fake news.
Those of us who lived in rather rustic conditions on the arid plateau were understandably, deeply, upset, but we soon decided to continue doing our work and did not even contact the editor to make a fuss about the article.

The prime minister in Auroville
On Sunday, February 25, the prime minister of India arrived on the now afforested plateau to celebrate the golden jubilee of the project, the Blitz title flashed in my mind. The times had certainly changed.
Speaking in the Bharat Nivas auditorium, Narendra Modi declared: "Sri Aurobindo's vision of India's spiritual leadership continues to inspire us even today."
"Indeed, Auroville is a manifestation of that vision. Over the last five decades, it has emerged as a hub of social, cultural, educational, economic and spiritual innovation."
The prime minister described Sri Aurobindo, the Rishi of modern times, as "A man of action, a philosopher, a poet, there were so many facets to his character. And each of them was dedicated to the good of the nation and humanity."
He spoke of the five high principles for Auroville, beginning: "Auroville belongs to all humanity, a reflection of India's ancient credo of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam -- the world is one family."
"The very fact that Auroville has brought together such a huge diversity of people and ideas makes dialogue and debate natural," Mr Modi continued. "Auroville showcases the ancient Indian tradition to the world by bringing together global diversity."
He spoke of a "Yagna" for unity performed 50 years ago: "Men and Women brought soil from all parts of the world. In the mixing of the soil began the journey of one-ness."

The Ancient Yagna
On February 28, 1968, some 5,000 people gathered on a barren plateau of red laterite, north of the former French establishment in Pondicherry.

That day marked the birth of a 'Dream' which had rarely been attempted; to bring people from different countries, races, religions, backgrounds in one single place to build a city together, 'a Tower of Babel in reverse', in the Founder's words.
Perhaps the most astonishing part is that the 'dream' still exists; and nobody today thinks to call it a 'snake pit'.
On the contrary, the prime minister prayed, "May Auroville serve as a beacon to the world. May it be the guardian which calls for breaking down narrow walls of the mind. May it continue to invite everyone to celebrate the possibilities of humanity's one-ness."
What a journey it has been. Not always an easy one for the early settlers.

The First Years
In 1968, as the world was churning (it was three months before the May 1968 students revolution in Europe), the utopia of a universal city began to take shape.
Instead of destroying 'an old world', the idea was to construct a 'new' one; it was undoubtedly far more difficult, because it meant building new men and women.
Indeed, this apparently crazy 'lab' had all chances to explode under the pressure of human egos.
The person who had this 'strange' utopian idea was the French-born Mother, Sri Aurobindo's collaborator, who had set up the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1926.
Young couples -- representing 124 countries and 23 Indian states -- placed a handful of soil from their respective countries or states in a lotus bud-shaped foundation urn at the centre of the future city.
In the midst of this barren area, the banyan tree nearby would become the geographical centre of the city.
From her room in Pondicherry, the Mother announced: 'Greetings from Auroville to all men of goodwill; are invited to Auroville all those who thirst for Progress and aspire to a higher and truer life.' She later read the Charter of Auroville through an All India Radio broadcast, giving, in her frail voice, the first direction to the new project: 'Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But to live in Auroville, one must be a willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.'
The fact that it received the unanimous endorsement of the general assembly of UNESCO did not change the lives of the pioneers, who had to 'survive', often on millet, during the scorchingly hot summer of South India, living in rudimentary thatch huts.

In many ways, life is today easier than during the first years of the City of Dawn.
At first, only a couple of hundreds heard the call, to what the founder called a 'Great Adventure'.
However, after the Mother passed away in November 1973, life changed drastically. The Aurovilians were then left to stand on their own feet, materially and spiritually.
But they knew that they had to carry on the mission given to them by their mentor, to build the 'City the Earth Needs', a smart city before its time.
The task was immense, but the most immediate need was down-to-earth, to create shade from the scorching sun.
Aurovilians started to rejuvenate the arid land. They planted trees, built bunds and dams to stop the soil being washed away with the cyclonic monsoon rains and constructed the first primitive houses.
It is how the first pioneers became 'experts' in the environment, giving Auroville the reputed expertise it has today.
But the problems began accumulating and with recurrent shortage of funds, the Mother's words came back to everybody's mind: 'Auroville wants to be a self-supporting township.'
She had also said that in Auroville 'money would be no longer the Sovereign Lord, individual merit will have greater importance than the value due to material wealth and social position.' Money had nevertheless to be generated for the project to survive and develop.
It is JRD Tata -- a great supporter of the concept of Auroville since its early days -- who thought that Auroville crafts could become Auroville's best ambassadors.
In 1980, the Tata Group sponsored an exhibition Auroville Today which toured the major cities of India through the year. The exhibition was a tremendous success.
Nobody could have guessed then that just over three decades later, Auroville would be visited by thousands of people every day.
Auroville may not yet have succeeded in all its objectives, but the way of life chosen by the pioneers is today acknowledged by many, including the senior-most functionary of the Indian State.
The fact that Mr Modi was accompanied by the governor of Tamil Nadu, the lieutenant governor of Puducherry, as well as the Union Territory's chief minister and other dignitaries, was a homage to Auroville's founders and to the settlers, old and young, who have made the Dream the beginning of a reality.
For me, one of the best compliments Auroville received over the years came from an official at the Controller and Auditor General, which annually goes through Auroville's accounts. Having read too fast the Charter, he wrote in his report (later filed in Parliament), that Aurovilians are the 'living survivors of the Divine Consciousness'.
'Survivor' had replaced the original 'servitor'. An apt description indeed.
Let us hope that Auroville continues to survive, and the 'survivors' remain true to the Dream.

Tailpiece: I am grateful to Mr Karanjia for having given me my first chance as a journalist to write for Blitz on China affairs in the early 1990s. This is called the 'Irony of Life'!

(Photos twitted by the PMO)

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Experiment called Auroville

My article The Experiment called Auroville appeared in The Mail Today.

On the last day of February 1968, some 5,000 people, young and not so young, gathered on a barren plateau of red laterite, some ten kms north of Pondicherry, the former French Establishment.
It would have been a very special moment for those present that day; it was like the birth of a ‘Dream’ which had rarely been attempted; to bring people from different countries, races, religions, backgrounds in one single place to build a city together, ‘a Tower of Babel in Reverse’, in the Founder’s words.

The Dream exists
The most astonishing part is that the ‘dream’ still exists; it is celebrating its 50th anniversary and the Prime Minister of India will acknowledge this remarkable achievement by gracing the occasion with his presence.
As the world was churning (it was three months before the May’ 68 students’ revolution in Europe), this utopia began to take shape; instead of destroying ‘an old world’, the idea was to construct a ‘new’ one; it was undoubtedly far more difficult, because it meant building a new men and women. Indeed, this apparently crazy ‘lab’ had all chances to explode apart under the pressure of human egos.
The person who had this ‘strange’ utopian idea was the French-born Mother, Sri Aurobindo’s collaborator, who had set up the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1926.
This time, the experiment was to be more ‘universal’ in its approach; to symbolize this, young couples representing 121 countries and 23 Indian states placed a handful of soil from their respective countries or states, in a lotus-shaped foundation urn at the centre of the future City. In the midst of the red desert, the banyan tree nearby would become the geographical center of the City.
As not all countries could send two representatives for the event, those missing physically were replaced by boys and girls from the Ashram (years later, I was told that a Tibetan girl had placed the Afghan earth in the urn, as no one from this country could come; already a powerful symbol of Human Unity).
From her room in Pondicherry, The Mother solemnly announced: “Greetings from Auroville to all men of good will; are invited to Auroville all those who thirst for Progress and aspire to a higher and truer life.” She later read the Charter of Auroville through an All India Radio broadcast, giving, in her frail voice, the first direction to the new project: “Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But to live in Auroville, one must be a willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.”
The Soviet translators faced immediate problems to find a politically correct equivalent of ‘Divine Consciousness’, but never mind, this was part of the game. The Charter, the ‘Constitution’ of Auroville, had four such articles; the fourth one reads: “Auroville will be a site for material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual human unity".

The Great Adventure
Having spent 43 years of my life in Auroville, I can say that the miracle is that this utopian project, dedicated to human unity and international understanding, still exists.
The fact that it received the unanimous endorsement of the General Assembly of UNESCO did not change much the lives of the pioneers, who had to ‘survive’, often on millet, during the scorchingly hot summer of South India, living in rudimentary huts.
In many ways, life is today easier than during the first years of the City of Dawn. At first, only a couple of hundreds heard the call, to what the founder called a ‘Great Adventure’. However, after the Mother passed away in November 1973, life changed drastically. The Aurovilians were then left to stand on their own feet, materially and spiritually. But they knew that they had to carry on the mission given to them by their mentor, to built the ‘City that Earth Needs’; a smart city before its time.
The task was immense, but the most immediate need was down-to earth, to create shade from the scorching sun. Aurovilians started to rejuvenate the arid land; they planted trees, built bunds and dams to stop the soil being washed away with the monsoon rains and constructed the first primitive houses. It is how the first pioneers became ‘experts’ in environment, giving Auroville the reputed expertise it has today.

The Highest Ideals
But the problems began accumulating and with recurrent shortage of funds, the Mother’s words, came back to everybody’s mind: “Auroville wants to be a self-supporting township…” She had had also said that in Auroville “money would be no longer the Sovereign Lord, individual merit will have a greater importance than the value due to material wealth and social position”; money had nevertheless to be generated for the project to survive and develop.
I remember that in the early eighties, very few in India knew about Auroville; the project had the reputation of a place with strange foreigners roaming around. What were foreigners or even Indians doing in this wilderness, when most dreamt of America?
It is JRD Tata, a great supporter of the concept of Auroville since its early days, who thought that Auroville crafts could become Auroville’s best ambassadors. In 1980, the Tata Group sponsored an exhibition Auroville Today which toured the major cities of India in 1980. The exhibition was a tremendous success.
Nobody could have then guessed that just over three decades later, Auroville would be visited by thousands of people every day. Auroville may not yet have succeeded in all its objectives, but the way of life chosen by the pioneers is today acknowledged by many.
One can only hope that Auroville will continue to strive towards its highest ideals; it would be good for the earth.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Is India opening up? Some good signs

My article Is India opening up? Some good signs appeared in The Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle

Here is the link...

The media has often mentioned the report prepared by Lt. Gen. Henderson-Brooks on the October-November 1962 debacle.

Is India changing? Political pundits will probably have diametrically opposite views on the subject.
It is a fact that India is rapidly emerging as an important economic pole; the recent visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos and the hosting of the 10 Asean Heads of State or government  for Republic Day are symbols of this new emergence.
India has reached some maturity in certain fields but not in all. One can cite the poor ranking of Indian universities on the global stage and the lack of serious R&D in the defence sector among areas that are lacking. But the fact that the government continues to confiscate the history of modern India is not only immature, but also shows lack of self-confidence.
The media has often mentioned the report prepared by Lt. Gen. Henderson-Brooks on the October-November 1962 debacle. Fifty-five years after it was presented to the Government of India, the report is still kept in a locked almirah in the defence secretary’s office with only a few having had the privilege to go through the pages written by the Anglo-Indian general. The babus running the largest bureaucracy in the world seem keen to keep history under wraps. Will their mindset ever change?
I personally believe the study of the history of the subcontinent could be one of the keys to disentangle difficult problems such as the Kashmir issue and the border row with China. Unfortunately, it is difficult to access this information.
One has to admit that things have changed in the past few months, and it is certainly a positive sign. Take the National Archives of India (NAI), for example.
I have been visiting its research room for years, and it has been nothing less than an ordeal. First, I had to re-register every two years and “prove” that I was “still” a scholar. Whenever I asked why I could not be a “scholar for life”, I was invariably told: “Sir, it is not like that in India”. This statement itself shows the mindset of those supposed to be assisting the researcher.
Then, while going through the catalogues, it took ages to search for a keyword as the software was extremely slow. That was not all: thousands of spelling mistakes were made at the time of entering the data. I remember a specific instance — the day I was searching for a file on Maj. S.L. Chhiber, who served as the Indian consul general in Lhasa (Tibet) at the end of the 1950s. I could get nothing on “Chhiber”. Fortunately, probably by the grace of the “archive” god, I chanced on a Maj. Children. It was the file!
When I wanted to photocopy some documents for my research, I was told that only 25 per cent of the document could be copied. I once had a document of nine pages, my request to copy three pages was rejected and I was allowed to have two pages only.
On another occasion, I visited the archives six weeks after my previous trip and I was told that the rule was clear; I could not take photocopies again. A delay of several months had to take place between two requests: “In any case, why do you need the photocopies so often?” When I tried to explain that I was trying to write a book based on Indian archival material, it made the person even more suspicious. This has serious implications — and scholars find it easier to write on India using foreign archives.
As the NAI was doing me a favour in letting me consult “their” material, no discussion was possible!
Many things have changed in the past one year or so.
A new web portal Abhilekh Patal was recently launched with advanced (and quick) search facilities (a new version 2.0 is even online since January 12). It has a powerful search engine, real-time filters on search results and even digitisation “on demand”. Scholars need only to login using their registered email ID and a password. This is a great achievement. And if you find a misspelling, you can even suggest changes to the webmaster.
But perhaps more than the technological “smart” aspects of the portal, it is the change in the attitude of the staff posted in the research room — they are now ready to “facilitate” your research. During my recent visit, it was a pleasant surprise to find professional staff willing to help and not just protect “their” archival material. Each scholar has a personal monitor enabling him/ her easy access to all the catalogues.
Similarly, great progress has been made in the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) where the famous JN Collection (also known as the Nehru Papers) has been opened to study for researchers. Though not indexed, it is an extraordinary mine for the study of the history of post-Independence India. At both the places, the number of scholars has increased manifold. An encouraging sign indeed!
Unfortunately, while some progress is taking place at the NAI and NMML, not much is happening on the declassification front; both the ministries of external and home affairs are hard nuts to crack. Bureaucrats make sure that you don’t access the dusty files: India’s security and integrity will be endangered if these precious documents are opened to the public, they say.
Is there really a question of India’s national security interests? In fact, the opening of some archives (after a due professional declassification process is undertaken and documents are “sanitised” if necessary), would greatly enhance India’s position in most cases; but in most cases the babus themselves have not read the files — they have no time.
Two other factors come into play. First, bureaucrats always prefer to “block” everything instead of making an effort of going through the proper process; and second, the MEA and other ministries do not have knowledgeable staff to do the job.
For this, I admire the United States of America: Official documents are scrupulously made available to the public. A couple of years ago, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), the US official organ, posted some 320,000 declassified cables online. The most impressive aspect is that the text of declassified diplomatic cables, superbly indexed, is retrievable from the NARA website. Even the secretive CIA has posted lakhs of documents on its electronic reading room.
Some may argue the United States or France is a “developed” nation that can “afford” the cost of sifting through historical documents and the process of declassification, but it is the  wrong argument.
While bureaucrats do not see any good reason to open up the “old” files, Indian politicians see their own interests in the continued closure of the archives. Opening them up could make them accountable.
But if India wants to become a great power, why should Indians and all others not be allowed to know about its recent past? Is that not the hallmark of a mature nation?

Sunday, February 18, 2018

When the Gods spoke


Last night, Xinhua reported that "a fire broke out at 6:40 pm in part of Jokhang Temple in Lhasa."
According to the official Tibet Daily, the fire was eventually put off in the evening,
The News Agency said: "Located at the center of old Lhasa, Jokhang Temple is a renowned temple for Tibetan Buddhism. It has a history of more than 1,300 years and houses many cultural treasures, including a life-sized statue of Sakyamuni when he was 12 years old."
This inauspiciously occurred on the second day of the Losar, the Tibetan New Year (Earth Dog Year).


The Statue of Jowo Rinpoche
The Jokhang temple, the Central Cathedral in the Tibetan capital, houses Jowo Shakyamuni or Jowo Rinpoche, the most sacred statue in Tibet.
The Jowo Rinpoche statue is said to have been personally blessed by the Buddha.
It came to be owned by the king of Magadha, who gave it to a Tang emperor of China.
One of the emperor's clansman's daughter, Princess Wenchen Kongjo took it to Lhasa in a wooden cart when she married the Great King of Tibet, Songtsen Gampo.
During King Mangsong Mangtsen's reign (649-676), due to a threat that the Tang Chinese might invade, Princess Wencheng is said to have hidden the statue of Jowo Rinpoche in a secret chamber in the Jokhang.
Another Chinese Princess Jincheng, sometime after 710 CE, placed in the central chapel.
The statue was badly damaged by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution.

Signs sent by the Gods
The Tibetans believe that the Gods are from time to time sending signs to the humans.
It can be forewarning messages for the bad (and good) times to come.
I post here extracts of my book The Fate of Tibet.
It was August 15, 1950 (coincidentally (?) India's Independence Day).
The signs were strong.
On that day, the Gods spoke.
Three months later, Tibet was invaded by the 'Liberation Army' of China.
The epicentre of the earthquake was also symbolic; it occurred in Rima, north of the McMahon Line (Kibithu/Walong sector), which saw heavy fighting in October/November 1962.
It was one of the most powerful earthquakes of the 20th century (8.6 on the Richter scale).
In India, it became known as the 'Assam Earthquake' due to the extensive damages in the State.
The course of the rivers changed in several places.

Here are the extracts of The Fate of Tibet:

The Dalai Lama who was 15-year old, was in Lhasa, a few hundred kilometers away.
He later wrote about the ominous earthquake which shook Tibet on August 15, 1950
It was like an artillery barrage – which is what we assumed to be the cause of both the tremors and the noise: a test of some sorts being carried out by the Tibetan army…Some people reported seeing a strange red glow in the skies in the direction from which the noise came….
For centuries, Tibet had remained isolated. The nation’s energies and time was consecrated to achieve spiritual goals, her defence was neglected and until the beginning of the twentieth century, nobody (except the Thirteenth Dalai Lama) had too much been bothered by the international happenings.
Formal recognition or boundary delimitation [with India] had been in a way forced on the Tibetans by Younghusband’s invasion and later by Sir Henry McMahon at the Simla Convention.
At the end of the forties, Tibet had begun to wake up at the sight of the black clouds gathering around the Land of Snow: the atheist 'east wind' was threatening to blow over the sacred Shangri-La. 
The first signs that mythical Tibet was soon to forever disappear were appearing.
The 'Rima' earthquake was the most striking one.
...In the evening of August 15, a terrible earthquake shook Tibet. "This was no ordinary earthquake; it felt like the end of the world,
writes Robert Ford, the British Radio operator working in Chamdo (Kham);
 For hours afterwards, the sky over the south-eastern Tibet glowed with an infernal red light, diffused with the pungent scent of sulphur.
For the Tibetans, it was one more bad omen, following some recent prophecies of the State Oracle and the appearance of a bright horse-tailed comet similar to the one viewed before the Chinese invasion of 1910.

The time has come
Suddenly in Tibet, everyone understood that the time had come.
The Last Testament of the Thirteen  Dalai Lama [‘And Long and Dark Shall be the Night’] came back at the mind of all, but it was too late, the dies had been thrown long ago.
Now, Tibet would have to go through the ordeal and the only hope for the Tibetans was it would not be too painful and long.
In the meantime, the Indian Government was torn between two sentiments: on one side Tibet was a small (though large by size) independent nation with very rich and old cultural and religious bonds with India and on the other side Nehru and some of his colleagues had an immense admiration for the new People's Republic who like India, had to struggle against colonial powers to gain her freedom. For many in Delhi, China and India were the symbol of a ‘New Asia’ and the newly-found ‘eternal friendship’ with China was of supreme importance.
This one-way friendship was to be the fountainhead of Nehru’s Tibet policy till the fateful day of October 1962 when the troops of Marshal Lin Biao crossed the McMahon Line over the Tagla Ridge. That day Nehru knew that the so-called friendship was a one way traffic, but he was too late and he never physically and psychologically recovered.
As we will see in the debate in the Lok Sabha in December 1950, a few Indian political leaders understood about the security of the Indian borders and the defence implications of the ‘resurgence’ of the Chinese empire.
Among them, one man stands as a giant: Sardar Patel.
But fate took him away from the political scene at this most crucial time of Indian history.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Dalai Lama, China and the homecoming urge

My article Dalai Lama, China and the homecoming urge appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer

Here is the link...

It has been a lifetime wish for the Lama to visit Wutaishan. But he must follow his own saying: Look at situations from all angles. It is unwise for him to go on pilgrimage in China right now

At the end of 2017, Prof Samdhong Rinpoche, former Chairman of the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala and now, the Dalai Lama’s Special Envoy, went to China to ‘negotiate’ an eventual visit of the Tibetan leader to Wutaishan in Shanxi Province of northern China.
Mount Wutai is said to be one of the four sacred mountains in Buddhism. Each of the mountains is viewed as the abode of one of the four great bodhisattvas. Wutai is the home of Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of wisdom.
Since decades, the Dalai Lama has expressed the wish to visit Wutaishan in his lifetime. While in China, Samdhong Rinpoche is said to have met senior officials of the United Front Work Department in Kunming and Wutaishan to discuss the proposed visit, which would exclude Tibet, as Beijing does not want to see the Dalai Lama returning to his native land, where he is immensely popular.
Beijing believes that China could benefit from the visit by extracting a ‘statement’ from the Dalai Lama. But can the Tibetan leader ‘admit’ to Tibet always ‘belonging’ to China?
In his Five-Point Peace Plan speech in Washington DC in 1987, which heralded his Middle Way approach, the Dalai Lama stated: “The real issue …is China’s illegal occupation of Tibet, which has given it direct access to the Indian sub-continent. The Chinese authorities have attempted to confuse the issue by claiming that Tibet has always been a part of China. This is untrue. Tibet was a fully independent State when the People’s Liberation Army invaded the country in 1949/50.”
The Dalai Lama knows history can’t (and shouldn’t) be changed. In 1987, the Lama stated: “China’s aggression, condemned by virtually all nations of the free world, was a flagrant violation of international law. …China’s military occupation of Tibet continues.”
The recent secret, though formal, contacts between Beijing and Dharamsala, could make the public believe that there was a relaxation of the Chinese position. It is not the case.
On February 11, The Global Times reported: “The public security bureau (PSB) in Southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region has released details on how the public can provide tips on activities of criminal gangs connected to the separatist forces of the Dalai Lama.”
Practically, it means that the Tibetans, who worship, or even simply respect, the Dalai Lama could now be termed criminals?
The mouthpiece of the Party continued: “[the circular] warns local people to be on the lookout for the ‘evil forces’ of the Dalai Lama that might use local temples and religious control to confuse and incite people against the Party and Government.”
The circular asked people to report on the activities of ‘foreign hostile forces’. Interestingly, a few weeks ago, Beijing announced the nomination of three Han cadres in the 20-member Tibet delegation to the National People’s Congress (NPC).
One of the delegates is Zhao Kezhi, the Minister of Public Security, responsible for the dreaded PSBs; he will ‘represent’ Tibet at the NPC. Probably wanting to show the leadership his efficiency, Zhao acted fast; the PSB’s circular said: “Criminal gangs are cancers on the healthy economic and social development, and gangsters are a chronic disease that severely disgusts the public”.
It listed 22 illegal activities to be reported to the PSB; three of them mention the ‘Dalai’s clique’: “The Dalai Lama has been in exile for decades but still holds the ambition to split China’s Tibet from the Chinese territory.”
Mt Wutai in China
Dai, a professor at Public Security University of China told The Global Times: “Collusion with criminal gangs is a tactic the Dalai group uses to spreading its message of separatism. These kinds of gangsters were involved in the Lhasa rebellion in the 1950s and the violent incident in 2008 in Tibet.”
Dai added “the spread of separatist gangs in Tibet is rampant. Only a campaign against the ‘gangsters’ would deter secessionist activities by the Dalai.”
Wang Xiaobin, a Chinese scholar at the Beijing-based China Tibetology Research Center, explained that the primary task for Tibet is “to maintain national and ethnic unity”. He cited a few groups in China “closely connected with the Dalai group…The Dalai group always interferes in national affairs by controlling temples, including lamas and living Buddhas, and by spreading a kind of ‘middle way’ to the world.”
Xinhua had earlier reported that the campaign would involve targeting “protective umbrellas of gang crime — the officials who shelter the criminals.”
This explains another Han nomination in the NPC’s Tibet delegation, Jing Hanchao, who is currently Vice-President of the Supreme People’s Court. Jing will make sure that the ‘criminals’ caught in the nets of Zhao Kezhi are heavily sentenced.
All this comes at a time when Beijing has just introduced sophisticated facial recognition softwares on the plateau. The circular promised that the PSB informers’ identity and safety will be protected: “The targets are gangsters who threaten political stability and infiltrate politics, or encourage the public to go against the Party.”
Beijing has also taken the campaign against the Dalai Lama internationally; there too it has been ferocious.
On February 8, The People’s Daily Online titled: ‘Mercedes-Benz: Don’t dare challenge China’s core interest’ while announcing that the German car company had apologised for quoting the Dalai Lama ‘in an extremely wrong message’. What did Mercedes-Benz do so wrong?
Next to one of its luxury cars, the German firm had quoted the Dalai Lama: “Look at situations from all angles, and you will become more open.”
You may think that it is a nice quote, but Beijing is not amused: “The post not only hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, but also challenged their bottom line on national sovereignty.”
The challenge is clear: If the firm, which sold 600,000 new cars in China in 2017, wants to continue to do business in the Middle Kingdom, it has to follow the paranoid regime’s diktats. The same misadventure had recently happened to the US hotel chain Marriott, who had to profusely apologise for wrongly marking Tibet and Taiwan as independent countries.
President Xi Jinping would have said in 2015 that foreign interference in China’s domestic affairs is intolerable: “Country, enterprise, or individual should not challenge the core interests of China, and [have] any activity to split China.”
Even after due apology by Mercedes-Benz, the Chinese newspaper said that “the apology lacks sincerity and reflects the German carmaker’s lack of understanding of Chinese culture and values. China’s core interests cannot be challenged.”
The paper even compared the Dalai Lama to Hitler: “How will the German people react if a foreign enterprise speaks highly of Adolf Hitler.”
It seems definitely unwise for the Dalai Lama, considered by Beijing as the ‘head of the gangsters’, to go on pilgrimage in China right now. Let us hope that the spiritual leader will not accept the diktats of the bully regime in Beijing.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Did Xi taste Tibetan butter tea?

Tibetan butter tea for Xi or just photo opp?
Days ahead of the Spring Festival (which falls on February 16), Chinese President Xi Jinping, who also Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), visited the satellite launch site located at a military base in Sichuan Province.
Accompanied by Gen Zhang Youxia, Vice Chairman of the CMC, he extended festival greetings to all officers and soldiers of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), the Armed Police Force (PAP), as well as all militia and reserve personnel.
Interestingly, the next day, President Xi prepared Tibetan butter tea in Yingxiu.
Yingxiu is a small town of Wenchuan County of Sichuan province.
It is located on the marches of the Tibetan plateau, in the southern corner of Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture; 47 kilometres south of the county’s main urban centre and just 14 kilometres of the city of Dujiangyan. It was the epicentre (and one of the worst hit areas) of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake; 80% of the town was destroyed. The town has been rebuilt now.
It is not said if Xi taste the Tibetan tea.

Xi trying his hands at Tibetan khapses?
Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, also known as Aba, is an autonomous prefecture of northwestern Sichuan, bordering Gansu to the north and northeast and Qinghai to the northwest.
The main city is Barkam; it has an area of 83,201 km2 and in 2013, it had a population of 919,987.
It is one of the most restive Tibetan prefecture on the edge of the plateau.


The Panchen Lama Gyaltsen Norbu
The Season’s Greetings is going on full swing in China.
In Beijing, You Quan, the new head of the United Front Work Department (UFWD) met Gyaltsen Norbu, the Chinese-selected Panchen Lama.
According to the Chinese media: “You extended new year greetings to Panchen Lama ahead of the traditional Spring Festival and the Tibetan new year, and Panchen Lama presented You with a traditional silk cloth to express his best wishes.”
The Chinese Panchen Lama was encouraged by You “to continue [his] progress in Buddhist research and cultural and ethical areas [sic].”
You asked Gyaltsen Norbu “to make new contributions to safeguard national unification and ethnic unity and adapt Tibetan Buddhism to socialist society.”
The media said that the young Lama agreed with You.
Before taking over the UFWD, You Quan was Party Secretary of Fujian province.
You Quan joined the Communist Party of China in March 1973.
In June 1995, he started working in China’s State Council; rising through the ranks, in December 2006, he became Chairman of the State Electricity Regulatory Commission.
In March 2008, he was appointed Deputy Secretary-General of the State Council, a minister-level post, working under Ma Kai, a member of the Politburo.
In December 2012, You Quan was nominated Party Chief of coastal Fujian province, succeeding Sun Chunlan who was transferred to Tianjin municipality.
In 2017, You Quan became UFWD Head.
He is a full member of the 19th Central Committee.
If any talks take place in the future, between Beijing and the Dalai Lama or his envoys, You will be the official responsible.
You is said to have facilitated/arranged the November visit of Prof Samdhong Rinpoche to China.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Tibetan 'gangsters' in the net of Mr Zhao?

At the end of 2017, it was reported that China had received Prof Samdhong Rinpoche, former Prime Minister of the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala and now Special Envoy of the Dalai Lama to ‘negotiate’ an eventual visit of the Tibetan leader to Wutai shan (Mount) in Shanxi province of Northern China.
Mount Wutai is said to be one of the Four Sacred Mountains in Chinese Buddhism. Each of the mountains is viewed as the abode of one of the four great bodhisattvas. Wutai is the home of Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of wisdom. It is believed that Manjusri has been associated with Mount Wutai since ancient times.
For years, if not decades, the Dalai Lama had expressed the wish to visit Wutai shan in this lifetime. During his tour, Samdhong Rinpoche is said to have met senior officials of the United Front Work Department in Kunming, Wutai shan and Beijing to discuss the proposed visit, which would exclude Tibet, as Beijing is not ready to take the risk to have the Dalai Lama is in native land.

A Statement extracted?
Beijing believes that a ‘statement’ could be extracted from the Dalai Lama during the visit. But could the Tibetan leader 'admit', while in the Mainland, hat Tibet has always 'belonged' to China ?
It seems difficult.
In his Five-Point Peace Plan speech in Washington DC in 1987, the Dalai Lama stated: “The real issue …is China's illegal occupation of Tibet, which has given it direct access to the Indian sub-continent. The Chinese authorities have attempted to confuse the issue by claiming that Tibet has always been a part of China.  This is untrue. Tibet was a fully independent state when the People's Liberation Army invaded the country in 1949/50.”
Can this be changed now?
The Dalai Lama also stated: “China's aggression, condemned by virtually all nations of the free world, was a flagrant violation of international law. As China's military occupation of Tibet continues, the world should remember that though Tibetans have lost their freedom, under international law Tibet today is still an independent state under illegal occupation.”


 A thaw between Dharamsala and Beijing?
The recent secret, tough formal, contacts could between Beijing and Dharamsala could have made the public believed that there was a relaxation of the Chinese position.
It is not the case.
On February 11, The Global Times reported: “The public security bureau in Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region has released details on how the public can provide tips on activities of ‘criminal gangs connected to the separatist forces of the Dalai Lama’.”
Does it mean that the Tibetans who worship and simply respect the Dalai Lama will now be classified as ‘criminals’?
The mouthpiece of the Party continued: “[the circular] warns local people to be on the lookout for the 'evil forces' of the Dalai Lama that might use local temples and religious control ‘to confuse and incite’ people against the Party and government.”
According to Chinese ‘experts’, the Dalai Lama works in collusion with gangsters.
The circular asked people to report on the activities of 'foreign hostile forces' that may seek financial support for the Dalai Lama.

The work of Zhao Kezhi
A few days ago, I mentioned on this blog the nomination of three Han cadres in the Tibet delegation to the National People’s Congress (NPC).
One of the ‘delegates is Zhao Kezhi, the Minister of Public Security who will 'represent' Tibet. It is Zhao who is responsible for the dreaded Public Security Bureaus (PSBs).
He did not lose time to act.
The PSB’s circular reads: “Criminal gangs are cancers on the healthy economic and social development, and gangsters are a chronic disease that severely disgusts the public"
It listed 22 illegal activities that the PSB wanted the public to report.
In three of these 22, the ‘Dalai’s clique’ is mentioned: “The Dalai Lama has been in exile for decades but still holds the ambition to split China's Tibet from the Chinese territory.”


The 'experts' speak
Wang Xiaobin, a Chinese scholar at the Beijing-based China Tibetology Research Center, explained that the primary task for Tibet “to maintain national and ethnic unity”.
Dai, a professor at Public Security University of China told The Global Times: “Collusion with criminal gangs is a tactic the Dalai group uses to spreading its message of separatism. These kinds of gangsters were involved in the Lhasa rebellion in the 1950s and the violent incident in 2008 in Tibet.”
According to the same Dai, “due to lack of development and legal knowledge, the spread of separatist gangs in Tibet is rampant. Only a campaign against the ‘gangsters’ would deter secessionist activities by the Dalai.”
Wang Xiaobin said that there are a few groups in China “closely connected with the Dalai group, and help each other at home and abroad. They challenge the Chinese government using ingenious methods and pose a huge threat to national interests.”
‘Indigenous methods’ sounds ominous.
Wang continued: “The Dalai group always interferes in national affairs by controlling temples, including lamas and living Buddhas, and by spreading a kind of "middle way" to the world, which actually advocates separatism and emphasizes the separation of sovereignty and governing rights.”
Xinhua had earlier reported that the campaign would involve fighting corruption, including lower-level corrupt officials, and deal with the ‘protective umbrellas’ of gang crime (the officials who shelter the criminals).
This explains another Han nomination in the Tibet delegation, i.e. Jing Hanchao who is currently Vice-President of the Supreme People's Court.
Jing will make sure that the ‘criminals’ caught in the nets of Zhao Kezhi are heavily sentenced.
The circular concluded: “The targets are gangsters who threaten political stability and infiltrate politics, or encourage the public to go against the Party and government under the disguise of religion, or prompting ethnic extremism. The public security departments will protect tipsters' identity and safety.”

Is it a good time for the Dalai Lama?
Presumably being considered by Beijing as the ‘head of the gangsters’ for Beijing, to go on pilgrimage in China does not seem a good idea.

Incidentally, the Five Points of the Dalai Lama’s Peace Plan were:
  1. Transformation of the whole of Tibet into a zone of peace;
  2. Abandonment of China's population transfer policy which threatens the very existence of the Tibetans as a people;
  3. Respect for the Tibetan people's fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms;
  4. Restoration and protection of Tibet's natural environment and the abandonment of China's use of Tibet for the production of nuclear weapons and dumping of nuclear waste;
  5. Commencement of earnest negotiations on the future status of Tibet and of relations between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples.
It seems so far away today.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

India and China are destined to be rivals because they are simply too different

As I am quoted, I post below a book review of China’s India War by Bertil Lintner by Pramit Pal Chaudhury of The Hindustan Times.

Bertil Lintner, author of China’s India War, believes India and China are destined to be rivals because they are simply too different

Click here to read my full views. 
I don't believe that there ONE factor only, which triggered the War, there were several.

There is a Neville Maxwell school of historiography regarding India’s 1962 war with China. It has reigned in much of the external world and left a footprint even in India. The Maxwell school has a lengthy curricula, but its principal text is that Jawaharlal Nehru’s Forward Policy provoked China into launching a full-scale military offensive. Maxwell believed the likeliest time for Mao Zedong to have made the decision to attack was thus “in mid-October 1962” just after India’s forward movement had led to an outpost being set up in Dhola, in the eastern Himalayas.
Lintner argues that “Chinese preparations for the war obviously began long before October 1962... Even if there already were new roads and military camps in the area, tens of thousands of more PLA troops and tons of supplies, including heavy military equipment, had to be moved over some of the most difficult terrain in the world.”
The evidence that he furnishes for this, however, is circumstantial.
One, Deng Xiaoping had said in 1959 when the Dalai Lama fled to India that “When the time comes, we certainly will settle accounts with [the Indians].” Mao also told foreign delegations that he believed India had designs on Tibet.
Two, a known export on Chinese intelligence, Nicholas Eftimiades, has written that Chinese agents began entering what is today Arunachal Pradesh two years before the actual fighting.
Three, Indian POWs, most notably Brigadier John Dalvi, noticed that the Chinese had been building POW camps and truck-bearing roads well before the fighting broke out.
This is a warm but hardly a smoking gun. Fortunately, better evidence has been provided by the Chinese themselves. Research by the Chinese scholar Jianglin Li, in his book When the Iron Bird Flies and on his blogspot site War on Tibet has Mao telling his central committee in 1959, “When the time comes, we will settle accounts with [the Indians].” Chinese General Yin Fatang is cited saying orders to “resolutely fight back” India were given in May 1962.

Lintner is on firmer ground as he describes how India, China and various Himalayan regimes have sparred for influence over the past several decades. Lintner is at his best describing this playing out in the ethnic mosaic of the Northeast and Upper Burma, areas which he knows intimately, but chapters also look at Nepal, Bhutan and, less ably, Kashmir. Post-1962, he argues, China shifted to supporting insurgents like the Nagas and Assamese to trouble India – though even Beijing found the Naxalites too extreme. Parallels are drawn to China’s use of concocted territorial disputes to assert influence elsewhere, whether invading Myanmar in 1968, Vietnam in 1979 and today grabbing most of the South China Sea.
He develops scholar Claude Arpi’s argument that the 1962 war was useful for Mao to restore his authority at home, especially after the disastrous Great Leap Forward. While this sounds nice, it is questionable given at least one Chinese general’s account that Mao was nervous as to whether his army would be able to defeat the Indian military.
A better big picture argument, developed by Allen Whiting’s Chinese Calculus of Deterrence, is that Beijing was becoming increasingly nervous about its deteriorating ties with Moscow, Taiwan’s public threats to launch an attack on its western shore and its continuing difficulties in holding Tibet. The India border dispute was deemed part of a larger global conspiracy – and Nehru the weakest link in the chain. The last word on this will need access to Chinese Politburo archives.
Short work is made of other parts of Maxwell’s thesis. The Chinese, for example, have no historical right to Arunachal Pradesh. Lintner shows the Chinese set up border posts in that area for a brief period in 1911-12 and then, finding it impossible to hold, never returned again. He refutes Maxwell’s claim that the British Raj’s designated Outer Line in the Northeast was treated by London as a de facto border. British authorities specifically defined the Outer Line as a limit of administrative capacity not sovereignty. Maxwell’s claim that the Indian military’s post mortem of 1962, the Henderson Brooks report, blamed the Forward Policy was a simple lie. The report focused almost solely on tactical issues – as became evident when Maxwell posted the report on the internet years later.
Among the interesting insights the book provides is that the Chinese 1962 inroads into Arunachal Pradesh were limited to Arunach Tibetan language areas because they lacked surveillance agents trained in other languages. Lintner has a curious admiration for Krishna Menon and General Brij Mohan Kaul, both universally seen as culpable for India’s military defeat. He rightly reminds Indians of the shameful decision to put Chinese-Indians in a concentration camp in Deoli during the war.
Ultimately, he believes, Asia’s two giants are destined to be rivals because they are simply too different. “It is hard to imagine two cultures that are more different than India and China in terms of history, social structure and political culture” and the relations between them represent a true “clash of civilisations.”

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Why drones are the future of warfare

Swarm attacks buy cheap drones in Syria
My article Why drones are the future of warfare appeared in Mail Today/DailyO

Here is the link...

There is no doubt that drones could leave the infantry jobless in a few decades from now. Does India realise this?

On January 5, something happened in Syria which will remain as a first in the history of warfare. Though it was not widely covered by the world media, it may prove to be a game changer.
The website of Global Risk Insights reported that the Russian forces stationed in Syria suffered a case of swarm attack by drones. Despite the fact that the UAVs were rather crude, it was certainly a new development.
What happened?

Russian bases
Two Russian military bases in Syria – one in Hmeymin and a logistic and supply base in Tartus – were targeted by a swarm of 13 GPS-guided drones carrying improvised explosives. While seven drones were shot down by anti-aircraft missiles, six were hacked by a cyberwarfare unit. Upon landing, three drones exploded causing extensive damage to Russian fighter planes; three others were captured intact by Russian forces.
Quoting experts, Global Risk Insights said that “despite the attack itself not necessarily being spectacular by terrorist standards, this event heralds a near future where technologies like swarm drones will be increasingly employed by violent non-state actors and terrorist organizations.”
The cost of a drone was estimated at 1000 Euros (Rs 75000).
In a recent issue consecrated to The Future of War, The Economist observed: “In the 19th century the speedy victory of the Prussian army over France in 1870 convinced European general staffs that rapid mobilisation by rail, quick-firing artillery and a focus on attack would make wars short and decisive.” In the 1930s, strategists started believing that “aerial bombardment of cities would prove devastating enough to prompt almost immediate capitulation.”
Then in 1990-91, America demonstrated during the first Gulf war what “a combination of its precision-guided munitions, new intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance methods, space-based communications and stealth technology could achieve.”
Then September 11 took place and wars ‘took a different course’.
The Economist’s report argued: “Potentially the biggest change to the way wars are fought will come from deploying lots of robots simultaneously.”
It quoted Paul Scharre, an autonomous-weapons expert at CNAS who has pioneered the concept of swarming: “collectively, swarms of robotic systems have the potential for even more dramatic, disruptive change to military operations. Swarms can bring greater mass, co-ordination, intelligence and speed.”
There is no doubt that drones could leave the infantry jobless in a few decades from now. Does India realize this?
In October 2017, The South China Morning Post mentioned “high-altitude spy drones could help China dominate ‘near space’ – a region of the Earth’s atmosphere that is at the heart of a modern-day space race.”
Near space, which starts some 20km above sea level, has always been considered a ‘death zone’ for drones: “thin air at this altitude makes it hard to generate lift, while extremely low temperatures mean electronic components like batteries are prone to fail,” explained the Hong Kong newspaper: “However, a new type of Chinese-developed drone that is undergoing testing appears to have overcome such difficulties.”
Till then, the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk was the highest flying drone, having reached an altitude of about 19km; that was before a Chinese research facility in Inner Mongolia successfully tested an experimental drone at an altitude of 25km.

Defence technology
Two months later, according to The Drive – The War Zone, researchers from the People's Liberation Army (PLA) National University of Defense Technology (NUDT), conducted an experiment involving approximately two dozen of small fixed wing unmanned aircrafts. Citing an official PLA publication, the website said: “the test consisted of the entire group of drones acting as a swarm to complete a simulated reconnaissance mission. The individual aircraft operated together as a single entity and performed certain, unspecified portions of the flight autonomously.”
Shen Lin Cheng, the head of NUDT’s Institute of Artificial Intelligence Sciences explained: “We have precise short, medium and long term objectives, which are consistent with those set by the government on the modernization of the Chinese armed forces by 2020, 2035 and 2050.”
Already in June 2017, the state-owned China Electronics Technology Group Corporation flew some 120 unmanned fixed wing aircrafts; the entire formation acted either as one entity or in small groups breaking away with separate objectives.

US and China
The US is not left behind; in October 2016, the Department of Defense's Strategic Capabilities Office's tested with its Perdix, a miniature air-dropped unmanned aircraft.
Two months later, the US Department of Defence issued a communiqué announcing that one of the world’s largest micro-drone swarms had been successfully demonstrated at China Lake, California.
Note the name ‘China Lake’.
The test conducted consisted of 103 Perdix drones launched from three F/A-18 Super Hornets. The micro-drones demonstrated ‘advanced swarm behaviors’ such as collective decision-making, adaptive formation flying, and self-healing.
The DoD release added: “The demonstration is one of the first examples of the Pentagon using teams of small, inexpensive, autonomous systems to perform missions once achieved only by large, expensive ones.”
In the meantime, drones belonging to SF Express, China’s biggest private courier company have been drafted by the PLA Air Force in Yunnan and Shaanxi provinces, to explore new kinds of logistics support. The South China Morning Post reported: “In the Yunnan drill, a company drone delivered urgently needed spare parts for a damaged radar in a rugged mountainous area in about an hour after the request was made, less than half the time it would have taken to truck in.”
Whether it is for the State or non-State actors, the drones are here to stay and will be extensively used in future conflicts.
The question is what is India doing?
Incidentally, China has not returned the Indian drone which accidentally fell in the Chumbi Valley.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

So, who has a Cold War mindset?

Chinese map of Sikkim showing the trijunction at Batang La
It is what the joint Survey of 1956 had confirmed
My article So, who has a Cold War mindset? appeared on Thursday in the Edit Page of The Pioneer

Here is the link...

It is ironical that while it is the Middle Kingdom which is getting ready for another stand-off, it loudly objects to New Delhi protecting its side of the border


China has difficulties to digest the Doklam episode for which Beijing (or at least the People's Liberation Army) was fully responsible. Senior Colonel Wu Qian, spokesperson of the Ministry of Nation Defense (MND), in his regular monthly Press conference spoke in a derogatory manner: “I have noticed many China-related remarks made by this Indian general lately.” ‘This general’ is the Chief of Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat, who had just said India needed to shift its focus to the northern border. A logical and normal statement after last year’s confrontation at the tri-junction between Sikkim, Tibet and Bhutan?
Col Wu continued: “I would like to stress that Donglang [Doklam] is China’s territory and the remarks from the Indian side also shows that illegal border crossing of the Indian troops is a clear fact. We hope that the Indian side will draw lessons from the incident.”He also spoke of India’s ‘Cold War mentality’.
A look at the facts: In 2012, the Governments of India and China had reached an agreement that the location of the tri-junction would be finalised in consultation with the concerned countries. On June 30, 2017, the Ministry of External Affairs issued a statement: “Any attempt, therefore, to unilaterally determine tri-junction points is in violation of this understanding.” The finalisation of the boundary was to take place during the Special Representatives’ talks.
In June-July 1956, a tour of the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet frontier from the tri-junction area was conducted by the Ministry of External Affairs, the Survey of India, along with Bhutanese officials. The location of the boundary was reconfirmed on the watershed principle, but also on the basis of the reports of the local inhabitants: “The Bhutan-Tibet frontier starts in the vicinity of Batang La and runs along the La Hen Chum ridge via Sinchu La and then along the Amo Chu upto Chilim Chon.” The description continues till the Chomo Lhari, in North-West Bhutan.
Interestingly, the factors which weighed in favour of the confirmation of this boundary were, firstly, “[in] the west of Amo Chu, the published Chinese maps themselves appeared to include the Doklam pastures (south of Batang La and Sinchu La line) in Bhutan; and secondly, the east of Amo Chu, the Bhutanese had strong claims over the pastures of the Langmarpo valley (south of Tendji ridge).”
Why did China need to suddenly change the status quo and start building a road on the Bhutanese territory?
It was apparently the initiative of a Chinese General, with the knowledge of President Xi Jinping (who was probably not briefed on the details of the operation and its implications).
In an informed piece, The Indian Express recently questioned: “Who in the Chinese hierarchy ordered the extension of the track in Dolam from the point it had been constructed up to in 2003, to the Jampheri ridge?”
According to the newspaper, the road construction was ordered by General Zhao Zongqi, commander of the Western Theatre Command facing India; Zhao had, for two decades, served in Tibet.
The Indian Express said: “Even before the face-off in Doklam, Chinese border troops had been telling Indian soldiers in daily interactions at multiple points on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that General Zhao had walked each of these tracks with military patrols over 20 years, and had been rarely confronted by the Indians. As the Indian deployment has increased over the past decade, General Zhao is unwilling to accept the challenge to Chinese claims. Not only in Doklam, but also at other places on the LAC.”
It might partly be speculation, but there is no doubt today about the involvement of General Zhao, who probably had forgotten to read the agreement arrived at by the Indian and Chinese diplomats in 2012 about the status quo at the tri-junction. Amongst other things, it shows that China does not always speak with one voice.
While the PLA talks of a Cold War mindset, pointing a finger at India, China is not ready to restart the usual Border Personnel Meetings (BPM) along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Only two BPMs took place on the occasion of the Republic Day, both in Ladakh region (in DBO and Chushul area). Why was no BPM held in Bumla, Kibithu in Arunachal and Nathu-la in Sikkim?
Why has the Indian drone, which accidentally fell in the Chumbi Valley, not yet been returned? Why has information on the flow of the Sutlej and Pareechu rivers in Himachal and the Yarlung Tsangpo/Brahmaputra still not been shared with India?
The Central Water Commission recently raised serious concerns over the Pareechu and even sought the Ministry of External Affair’s help: “We wrote to the Ministry. China stopped sharing information about the tributary’s flow last year. They said that the water monitoring site across the border is damaged,” AK Gupta, the Commission’s regional director told The Hindustan Times.
On New Year’s Eve, President Xi Jinping delivered an 11-minute televised speech to extend his greetings to all Chinese and… friends all over the world. Xi said that Beijing is dedicated to safeguarding peace. “China will act as a builder of world peace, a contributor to global development and an upholder of the international order.”
Will this translate in peace on the border in 2018? Probably not! Soon after, the PLA intruded in Tuting sector of the Siang Valley of Arunachal Pradesh. The irony is that while China itself is getting ready for another standoff, Beijing loudly objects to Delhi protecting its side of the border.
The China Daily recently reported: “Investment in infrastructure in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) is helping to lift 628 villages along the border out of poverty.” The Chinese newspaper further asserted: “After getting access to electricity and the construction of new roads, tea farmers and herdsmen in a village some 200 kilometres southwest of Lhasa in Tsona county founded a cooperative that provides skill training and job opportunities for villagers.”
Lepo, the first Tibetan village north on the McMahon Line in the Tawang sector, is said to have received several thousands of visitors last year and to have adequate lodging facilities.
China also admitted: “Starting last year, more than 100 million yuan (Rs 99.4 crore) has been invested in infrastructure in villages of less than 100 families as a part of a broader construction project to build model villages in the border area.”
There are many such examples on the Tibetan side of the McMahon Line.
In the meantime, it is refreshing that the new Indian Ambassador in China, Gautam Bambawale told The Global Times: Our interaction must be based on equality and mutual benefit. Also, in the India-China border areas, especially at some sensitive points, it is important not to change the status quo. We need to be clear about this.”
It is indeed China which did not respect its engagements. Year 2018 may not be serene despite the peaceful vows of President Xi.