Tuesday, April 10, 2018
The Tibetan Factor in 1962: The importance of stable operation base
As the 19th Congress approaches, the Chinese authorities have banned foreigners to travel to the Tibetan plateau from October 18 to 28. During this period, the Congress, which is expected to the nominate a new leadership, will be held in Beijing.
On September 22, Radio Free Asia (RFA) asserted: “The ban was announced by telephone about ten days ago”. A Tibetan working in a travel agency in Xining (in Qinghai province) told the radio’s Tibetan Service: “During this period, it is not just foreigners but also Tibetans living in the Amdo region of Qinghai who are not allowed to travel in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).”
Usually, foreign visitors and Tibetans living in the Chinese western provinces are not allowed to visit Tibet in March, at the time of the Two Meetings and the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising on March 10.
Why is China so nervous about its ‘border areas’?
The Stability of the Operational Base
To understand this, it is important to look at the Tibet factor in the 1962 China-India war; it is indeed an angle which has been insufficiently studied.
We have a fairly good idea why China suddenly decided to inflict the worst possible humiliation on the Nehru’s government, as well as the ‘political’ compulsions which pushed the Great Helmsman into this win-win venture for China; all this however does not explain why the conflict was so short.
The internal struggle within the Chinese Communist Party between 1959 and 1962 and Mao Zedong’s declining power after 1959, due to the man-made famine triggered by the Great Leap Forward, give some indication of Mao’s drive which ended in an armed conflict in October-November 1962. But why did Beijing decide to suddenly put a halt to the conflict hardly after a month, at a time China was winning on all fronts? One obvious reason is the forthcoming winter, but the political instability on the plateau is an issue which played a non-considerable role.
Mao’s ideological position
In his Origin of the Cultural Revolution, MacFarquhar remarked: “behind Mao's tactical devices in a relatively brief speech , one can detect elements of the thinking which would lead eventually to his decision to launch the Cultural Revolution: the degeneration of the Soviet revolution, the danger of China becoming infected, the need for class struggle to prevent that, the shortcomings of Chinese senior cadres, their failure to deliver the goods.”
Mao’s attack against the Soviet Union was also directed at India, considered as a ‘lackey of Moscow’.
During the Tenth Plenum of the Party's Eighth Central Committee which followed the Beidaihe Meet, Mao's theoretical argument continued: “China was facing a danger of capitalist restoration that had to be fought through relentless class struggle”.
Marshal Peng Dehuai, who had submitted an appeal for his political return , was further accused of different crimes such as colluding with the Soviet Union and other ‘reactionary forces of the world’. This still does not explain the unilateral cease-fire suddenly announced by China.
The Poisonous Arrow
During the same speech at Beidaihe in August, Mao delivered a diatribe against the Panchen Lama and his critics about the Communist actions in Tibet. The young Lama, who had been made Chairman of the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) when the Dalai Lama left for India in 1959, had dared to criticize the policies of the Party in Tibet.
Dr Li Zhisui, author of The Secret Life of Chairman Mao, recounts: “Then [Mao] turned his opprobrium against the Panchen Lama of Tibet, denouncing him as ‘an enemy of our class’. [After the 1959] crackdown, the Panchen Lama, ordinarily subservient to Beijing, was now arguing that Beijing's so-called ‘democratic reforms’ had moved too far to the left. He hoped that the ultraleftist trend in Tibet could be corrected.”
The Tibetan factor, influencing the weakness of the supply lines to the Indian front was a major issue for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA); at the end of 1962, this impeded longer military operations against India as discontent was brewing on the Roof of the World.
This appears unmistakably in the 70,000-character petition sent by the Panchen Lama to Zhou Enlai and Xi Zhongxun in April 1962. The Chinese Premier requested Xi Sr., Li Weihan , General Zhang Jingwu , General Zhang Guohua to read and study the Panchen Lama's petition.
The Panchen Lama listed several problems such the ‘suppression of the Rebellion’ in March/April 1959. Each time, after agreeing with the official line, the young Lama criticized it: “The rebellion in Tibet was counter-revolutionary in nature, being against the Party, the motherland, the people, democracy and socialism. Its crimes were very grave. Thus, it was entirely correct, essential, necessary and appropriate for the Party to adopt the policy of suppressing the rebellion. However, when these points were implemented…” And then he mentioned the grievances of the Tibetan population.
Then he took on the ‘Democratic Reform’, the ‘Production in Agriculture and Animal Herding’, ‘Livelihood of the People’, the United Front policy for the ‘nationalities’, ‘Democratic Centralism’, the Dictatorship of the Party and finally the most important for him, the freedom of religion. Each time, he used the same pattern. The Panchen Lama paid a heavy price for having dared to write what everyone knew. But his letter was termed a ‘poisonous arrow’ by Mao.
It should be pointed out that a longer war would have been very difficult to sustain in the atmosphere of 'rebellion' prevalent on the Roof of World.
It is crucial to understand Tibet’s instability to fully comprehend the ‘short’ Sino-Indian border war.
Though openly siding with the 'reformists' camp led by Lui Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, the Panchen Lama was also warning the Communist leadership of the resentment of the so-called minorities.
The situation in Tibet
Some new historical documents concerning the 70,000-character petition sent by the Panchen Lama to Zhou Enlai and Xi Zhongxun have recently been translated into English. The Panchen Lama bitterly describes the situation in Tibet. The transcripts make fascinating reading.
In the Summary of a Meeting between Comrade Xi Zhongxun, Comrade Li Weihan and Panchen held on June 21, 1962 in The Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Nehru and India are several times cited.
In one discussion, Xi Zhongxun intervenes: “…It is possible that you have a few [opposite] opinions about each other, this is quite natural. …This is a beginning [to solve the issues in Tibet]. …If you are angry, let it out. If you have disagreement, speak out. Problems should be solved through consultation and discussion.”
Two years later, the Panchen Lama’s ‘anger’ would cause him to suffer 14 years in jail. The issue of the Dalai Lama’s flight to India also came in the discussion. Xi Zhongxun explains: “Comrades in Tibet should be clear of the fact that through a big struggle, the reactionary Dalai clique had split off. Through suppressing rebellion and implementing reform, we have laid an initial foundation for our work in Tibet, which is the foundation for development and prosperity within the big family of motherland.”
‘Implementing reform’ meant forcing on the Tibetans an unwanted ideology. This obviously created a great resentment amongst the masses.
It has to be noted that according to Chinese figures 87,000 died in the first week of the ‘suppression’. For Communist China, ‘anti-rebellion work’ was the ‘base’ of the so-called ‘Liberation’.
Xi admits: “we must strengthen our unity, and unite every person that can be united. If this work is not done well, Dalai will laugh at us, and Nehru will laugh at us too. Don’t give them a chance to amuse themselves by our failure.” The 1962 conflict was a way for Mao to ‘reunite’ the leadership, though Xi Zhongxun himself was purged a couple of weeks later; one of his crimes: he had probably not spoken strongly enough against the Panchen Lama. Tibet however remained in turmoil and in these circumstances, it would have been dangerous to plan longer operations against India in 1962.
Tibet’s Stability today
A question can be asked, has the situation improved during the last decades. The answer seems to be ‘no’.
In 2015, Tibet celebrated the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the so-called Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) with great pomp. All was well in the Middle Kingdom?
But to analyze the situation on the Roof of the World, one has to look beyond the glamourous function in front of the Potala Palace and look at the program (and speeches) of Yu Zhengsheng, the chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC); Yu, a member of the Standing Committee of the CCP is the official responsible for the ‘minorities’.
Side-visits often speak more than grandiose parades.
Yu Zhengsheng met the representatives from the PLA and the People’s Armed Police Force (PAPF) posted in Tibet.
On September 7, Yu urged the army and the police: “to crack down on separatist forces and be ready to fight a protracted battle against the 14th Dalai clique.”
Yu also asked the defence forces “to improve their abilities of governing Tibet according to law [sic], specifically cracking down on the separatist forces, strengthening social management and protecting the people's rights.”
The defence forces should uphold the correct ‘political direction’ and exert a larger role for safeguarding border stability and ethnic solidarity.
‘Border stability’ comes back again and again in the discourse. Addressing through video conference the defence staff posted in the seven prefectures across the plateau region, Yu repeated the message, while praising the army’s and police’s contribution to Tibet's stability and development
Stability seemed to be the new Mantra of the Land of Snows.
Even in the monasteries, the Sutra of Stability is recited, Nirvana can wait!
The recent banning of foreign visitors demonstrates that the situation has not improved over the last two years.
The instability of the borders
In February 2017, at the end of the first round of the strategic dialogue between India and China co-chaired by Zhang Yesui, the Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister and S. Jaishankar, the Indian Foreign Secretary, The Global Times commented in a paternalistic tone: “One lesson India may learn from China is to be honest with oneself. Asymmetry in economic and geopolitical power is natural for any bilateral relations.”
While the ‘asymmetry’ may be in China’s favour in many fields, there is one domain where India is far in advance on the Middle Kingdom; it is the people’s participation in the State’s governance through fair and open elections. Though Indians elections may look ‘chaotic’ from Beijing, the process brings an obvious stability to India. This is absent in China, which is fast becoming a police State.
The explosive situation in Xinjiang
In August 2016, at the end of the annual closed-door meeting held at the beach resort of Beidaihe, an official statement announced that Zhang Chunxian would be replaced by Chen Quanguo as party secretary of the restive Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Chen was then serving as party boss in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), where he had shown his skills to forcefully ‘pacify’ the restive Tibetans.
More than a year after his appointment in Xinjiang, Chen is using the ‘Tibetan recipe’, a good dose of repression mixed with an opening to ‘tourism’, to bring some wealth to the local population.
The situation however remains extremely unstable.
In January 2017, the Chinese media reported that eight people had been killed in a violent attack in Pishan county of Hotan Prefecture in Southern Xinjiang. According to the local Government, three knife-wielding men attacked and stabbed several people. Subsequently, the police shot dead the three attackers and ten others were injured.
A few days earlier, Radio Free Asia (RFA) had reported that Uyghurs had been called to several meetings to confess their 'crimes'. This was part of a campaign called ‘Revealing Errors’; the meetings were held in Aksu Prefecture "to uncover behavior considered politically destabilizing. …Residents are called to a podium one by one to confess these errors after they have listed them on a 39-question form. They are also told they will face legal consequences if they attempt to cover up their own or anyone else’s anti-state activities.”
The fast development of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) may bring more trouble for Xinjiang as the State-sponsored terrorism in Pakistan is bound to percolate north.
The situation in Xinjiang is so tense that the Chinese authorities have ordered all motor vehicles in Bayingol Prefecture to have mandatory satellite tracking devices installed.
On February 27, more than 10,000 Peoples’ Armed Police (PAP) paraded in the streets of Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital. The authorities spoke of a rapid-response system to quell unrest. During the rally, helicopters hovered around the city, while armored vehicles threateningly patrolled the streets of the capital. It was the fourth such massive display in one year. On the occasion, Xinjiang's Party Secretary Chen Quanguo told the PAP that they must realize the ‘grim conditions’ facing the region.
Chen also dispatched 1,500 PAP to the ‘frontlines’ in Kashgar, Hotan and Aksu, not far from the Indian border.
The fact is that today the Middle Kingdom’s periphery is unstable and Beijing does not know how to handle the situation (except by increasing the repression and offering a few economic carrots). But, more repression automatically brings more resentment; a vicious circle!
In October 2017, it was even reported that Koran and prayer mats have been confiscated in some districts.
It should be noted that the most restive areas are located close to the Indian border north of the Aksai Chin; recent large military parades in Hotan and Kashgar were synchronised with the one in the capital, Urumqi.
At a time when Beijing has decided to demobilize several Group Armies (corps), the XUAR is recruiting. The Jamestown Foundation noted that the party “has built a multi-tiered security state with, among other components, the recruitment of nearly 90,000 new police officers and a 356 per cent increase in the public security budget.”
Part of the ‘recipe’ is a new wave of infrastructure spending. But will it work?
The ethnic representation in the PLA
Another issue is ethnic representation in the PLA. Though Xi Jinping, the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, has recently undertaken a complete overhaul of the defence forces and new faces have appeared on the scene, very few ethnic faces can be seen.
Ethnicity still plays a negative role in PLA promotions; though there is a slight rise in the number of ‘ethnic’ delegates at the 19th Congress (six per cent of the delegates are ethnic minority officers, from 4.6 per cent in 2012), their number is relatively small and they don't occupy important posts.
The Manchus and the Tibetans will send three delegates each, while the Uyghur, Hui and Tujia will each put forward two. Many consider this as the PLA’s Achilles’ heel.
Two Tibetan ladies, Kalsang and Sonam Dolma made it in the list though their qualification or designation is unknown. Their presence in the Congress will probably be for ‘ethnic’ representation only.
A Tibetan Major General: Thubten Thinley
It is, however, worth noting that the list contains a Tibetan Major General, Thupten Trinley serving as a deputy commander of the Tibet Military Region.
Thubten Thinley is born in December in Lhasa in 1961. In July 1987, after spending three years in the lower ranks of the PLA, he was admitted to the Communist Party.
Prior to joining the military, he completed a four year university course and gradually climbed the PLA echelons in the departments of political propaganda, military recruitment and the promotion of military-civilian relations. Between January 2001 and March 2003, he attended training classes at the Central Party School in Beijing and in April 2005; this probably helped him to become responsible for preparing for the induction and assignment of new troops in the Tibet Military District (TMD).
Between January 2006 and September 2008, he attended again some courses in the Graduate School of the Central Party School.
In March 2013, he was promoted to PLA Deputy Political Commissar in the TMD before becoming in June 2014, Deputy Commander of the TMD.
His main job is probably the recruitment of Tibetans in the PLA.
What does it mean?
That China is conscious of this endemic weakness and one way to solve it would be to recruit more and more Tibetans in the PLA. Will it work is another issue.
The situation in India
India has a different ‘population’ problem, with large scale migration away from the border areas, but Delhi is conscious of the importance of the ‘local population factor’
Home Minister Rajnath Singh, during a recent forward area tour to the border areas in Uttarakhand, told PTI that a group will be soon constituted to conduct a study on various aspects of the border areas which need improvement.
The Centre is planning to set up a study group to analyse the security and development issues along the China border, with a special focus on involving the frontier population in the mainstream of the country. The group will also look at ways to further expedite the work of completing border roads in these states.
He called the border population as ‘strategic assets’ for the country who need to be given due importance, while urging the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and others guarding the border “to ensure that the locals living in these areas do not migrate.”
A senior official of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) further elaborated on the new views of the government: “The local populations are the eyes and ears of the country and its security mechanism.”
This realization and later an implementation of new policies would go a long way to get a strategic advantage on China, which is far from getting the local populations in Tibet and Xinjiang on its side.
In case of a long conflict, this could make the decisive difference.