Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A Better but Bumpy Border Road Lies Ahead

My article A Better but Bumpy Border Road Lies Ahead appeared in Mail Today/DailyO


The Indian media likes to publish ‘scoopy’ news. It was recently the case with an article in The South China Morning Post which spoke of “large-scale mining operations on the Chinese side of the border with India;” it argued that it “may create a new military flashpoint with India.”
Though it sounded like fake news, it got large coverage, while one of the greatest achievements for India’s defence preparedness went practically unnoticed.
On May 9, the Border Roads Organization (BRO) created history by establishing a road link beyond Limeking in Upper Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh, between Tama Chung Chung (TCC) to Takshing, the last Indian village before the border with China. The road covers a distance of some 80 kilometers before reaching the small village.
The BRO's 23 BRTF commander Col Tanish Kumar asserted that with his team, he drove from Limeking to Takshing ‘for spot verification.’
Long time frustrated villagers of Takshing have for years been lamenting that “the road will never happen, we will always remain isolated and at the mercy of Chinese intruding patrols.”
The conditions, the terrain, the hardness of the rock seemed insurmountable obstacles. The work on the TCC-Taksing link began in 2009, the BRO explained, “it continued unabated despite number of challenges and hindrances, including inhospitable terrain, inclement weather conditions with rains for almost nine months in a year, no access to this stretch of uncut road having dense foliage, undergrowth, rugged and steep mountains, while ferocious river Subansiri flowing nearby posed greatest challenge for transportation of men and materials.”.
Interestingly, the Chinese noticed the feat and several bloggers commented on this major strategic development; one commented: “The low altitude also has a negative side - it is rainy, and it often destroys roads. This is how our Metok’s road (in Tibet) road has been constructed.” Another even said: “Have to admire the spirit of the Indian perseverance!”
Another news which, like the Takshing road, will greatly improve India’s defence preparedness, got better coverage; the Prime Minister inaugurated the Zojila project; the 14.2 km tunnel will provide an all-weather connectivity between Srinagar and Leh. It will eventually cut down the time to cross the Zojila pass, situated at an altitude of 11,578 ft on the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh National Highway, from the present 3.5 hours to 15 minutes.
The construction of Asia’s longest bi-directional tunnel will cost some 6,809 crore to the exchequer and is expected to be completed in five years. After unveiling a plaque, the Prime Minister asserted: “The Centre and the state government are working together to take the development work forward.”
The state-of-art tunnel will have a transverse ventilation system, uninterrupted power supply, tunnel emergency lighting, CCTV monitoring, pedestrian cross passages at every 250 metres, as well as emergency telephones and fire-fighting cabinets. The construction will also provide employment for local people for the years to come.
Ambassador P. Stobdan, a Ladakhi, wrote in The Quint: “A tunnel through Zoji La has remained a constant dream for the last several decades. The initial survey for the tunnel was carried out in 1997, but the actual planning had started only after the Kargil war in 1999. …With the completion of this strategic tunnel, …[it] will enable traffic to move swiftly and safely between Kashmir and Ladakh.”
This may open the way to an even more strategic project: a railway line to Ladakh, which is scheduled as one of the 14 strategic connectivity projects initiated by the Ministry of Defence to protect India’s border areas.
Stobdan commented: “Leh rail network will have enormous strategic significance for boosting India’s defence capabilities and preparedness, enhancing the communication network both along the China border and the border with Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).”
Already in November 2017, the BRO constructed the world's highest motorable road in Ladakh, passing through Umlingla Top at a height of over 19,300 feet. Starting near Hanle in East Ladakh, the 86 km long strategic road runs close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC); it connects Chisumle to Demchok village.
All this could be a first step towards another historic development.
The Daily Excelsior reported a press conference of the Himalayan Buddhist Cultural Association (HBCA) which urged the Prime Minister to fulfill the long pending demands of Ladakhi people; namely the inclusion of Bhoti language in 8th Scheduled of Indian Constitution and the opening of the Kailash Mansarovar road from Ladakh via Demchok.
HBCA President Tashi Targais said that the Kailash Mansarovar route via Demchok is not only the shortest route but it will also boost the economy of Ladakh region.
Reopening the Demchok landport could be a great benefit for Ladakh, but also for Western Tibet and China; it would not only give a tremendous boost to trade and pilgrimage, but it also could have a ‘Nathu-la’ effect: remember the skirmishes in Sikkim before the pass officially reopened in July 2006. The opening for trade had the effect to fix the border, drastically reducing the tensions in the area; since then the pass has become an important Border Personnel Meeting point between India and China.
For years, the people of Ladakh have asked for the reopening of the ancient route via Demchok; if it happens, it could become part of the New Silk Road project, dear to President Xi Jinping.
Beijing should let people and goods flow again over the Himalaya. China should allow the devotees wanting to visit Kailash-Manasarovar to use the Demchok route again.
It would have an additional benefit; it would stop the smuggling between China and Ladakh, which poses serious security risks of infiltration for India.
The Prime Minister should definitely raise this question with his Chinese counterpart when they meet next month.
In the meantime, kudos to the BRO.
 
 
 
 
 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Preparing for China’s information warfare

Is China prospecting gold in this river?
My article Preparing for China’s information warfare appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer

Here is the link...

As Beijing intensifies the implementation of military/civilian doctrine, particularly media manipulation, India must stand prepared. Information will be an important part of any battle of tomorrow

In 2003, China’s Central Military Commission approved the concept of ‘Three Warfares’, namely: (1) the coordinated use of strategic psychological operations; (2) overt and covert media manipulation; and (3) legal warfare designed to manipulate perceptions of target audiences abroad.
In recent months, Beijing has been intensifying the implementation of this military/civilian doctrine, particularly ‘media manipulation’.
Take the example of an article published last week in The South China Morning Post. It speaks of “large-scale mining operations on the Chinese side of the border with India where a huge trove of gold, silver and other precious minerals has been found.” It argues that it “may create a new military flashpoint with India.”
Though no large-scale mining has yet been spotted in Lhuntse County, north of Arunachal Pradesh, the writer connects it with the Chinese claims in the area: “People familiar with the project say the mines are part of an ambitious plan by Beijing to reclaim South Tibet [the Chinese name for Arunachal], a sizeable chunk of disputed territory currently under Indian control.”
The article mixes the Longju border incident in 1959, the 1962 war with India, the Chinese claims and the supposedly huge deposit of rare earths. The sad part of the story is that the article was immediately copied and pasted by PTI and the next morning, the entire Indian media reported about the issue and linked the happenings on the Tibetan plateau with the Chinese advances in the South China Sea.
Ironically, a day later, the ultra-nationalist Chinese tabloid, The Global Times, called the article “a dodgy report disturbing the Sino-Indian ties.” It said that the article had lit a firestorm but remarked that after Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Wuhan, the two countries have achieved major progress in strengthening mutual trust, further it said China “has no intention of provoking border disputes”.
The Global Times added that though: “the report severely lacked factual evidence and was coarse,” the Indian media “was extremely excited to see such a topic,” adding: “to many Chinese people, their first impression is that the report is not credible, given the vague facts, the geopolitical point quoted by a geologist and the denial by the expert.”
Whether it is an orchestrated move by Beijing to first plant a ‘dodgy’ piece, knowing fairly well that some Indian correspondents in Beijing are experts at copy-paste reporting, and later to throw water on the fire, is difficult to know.
It is not the first time that The South China Morning Post has done it. On October 29, 2017, Jack Ma’s newspaper reported that “Chinese engineers are testing techniques that could be used to build a 1,000km tunnel — the world’s longest — to carry water from Tibet to Xinjiang;” again the Indian media jumped to the bait. There is no doubt that India needs to be prepared for Information Warfare in the coming months.


1962 War with India
Another favorite topic of the Chinese media propaganda has been the 1962 War with India. Beijing is keen to rewrite the narrative and sell it to lakhs of its citizens visiting South Tibet; its idea is to prove that India attacked China in October 1962.
At the end of October 2017, as an offshoot of the Doklam episode, Sina.com published an album of photos “to commemorate the 55th Anniversary of the Outbreak of the Self-Defense Counterattack.” Note that for Beijing, it is the ill-equipped and unprepared Indian troops who attacked the Chinese, giving China no option but to ‘counterattack’, killing hundreds of Indian jawans and officers in the process.
One of the photos, showing the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) parading in front of the Potala in January 1963, in Lhasa linked the 1962 War with the 2017 standoff in Bhutan: “The leader of the Chinese Communist Party, Mao Zedong, once estimated that India’s ‘embarrassment’ [of the 1962 War] could usher in 10 years of border security and peace. History has proved that the period of peacetime has been longer than estimated. Today, 55 years later, India once again provoked China.” The message was clear. At the time of the 1962 War, disinformation already existed.
In his Monthly Report for April 1963, the Political Officer in Sikkim informed New Delhi: “Early in the month it was announced by the Chinese authorities that the Chinese frontier guards in Tibet would be releasing 3,213 Indian prisoners which included amongst others one Brigadier [John Dalvi], 26 Field Grade Officers and 29 Company Grade Officers.”
The PO added: “The propaganda machine of the Chinese made out that the Indian prisoners were living in Tibet in a state of idyllic bliss. The detention camp was described as having been established in picturesque surroundings where the prisoners spent their time playing games or fishing and otherwise enjoying themselves. The food was supposed to have been so good that the prisoners had according to the Chinese statement on an average gained 1.35 Kgs per head. The nursing care received by the sick is supposed to have so overwhelmed the recipients as to have induced them to say that even their parents had not bestowed more loving care on them.”
The Indian PoWs reported the opposite; they ate only radish and immensely suffered during their months of captivity on the cold Tibetan plateau. Today, the Chinese propaganda is using the 1962 conflict to its benefit.
Che Dalha (alias Qizhala), the Governor of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) recently visited Zhayul, north of the McMahon line in the Lohit Valley. Some 50 km south in the same valley, the famous Battle of Walong took place in November 1962; here Indian troops and particularly the six Kumaon regiment of the Indian Army managed to stop the Chinese advances and paid a high price for it; the Chinese too suffered heavy casualties.
China has built a Hero Memorial Park to honour its deaths in Zhayul. During his visit, Che told the villagers that the masses should always cherish the memory of the revolutionary martyrs; he laid a wreath for 447 Revolutionary Martyrs at the War Memorial.
The story will now be told to thousands and thousands Chinese visitors, how ‘the Indians attacked our troops’. Incidentally, Che took the opportunity to urge the villagers to watch for strangers or suspicious persons (Indian?); he asked them to cross-examine them and send a report to the PLA manning the Indian border.
Another memorial stands north of the Thagla ridge in Tsona County. The Forward Command Post of General Zhang Guohua, who commanded the PLA operations in 1962, has been reconstituted and opened to tourists. It is located in Marmang village, the first hamlet north of the McMahon Line.
This gazetted national-level historical site also mentions the ‘Sino-India Self Defense Counter Attack Battles’, hotels are already mushrooming to receive the visitors.      ‘Information’ will certainly be an important part of any battle of tomorrow. Has India grasped this? Not sure. In the meantime, Indian journalists should scrupulously verify the facts when they write.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Beauties of Sikkim

My article The Beauties of Sikkim appeared in Rediff.com

Here is the link...

'The Himalayan people may not represent a large or politically influential section of the population, but India's security depends on them.'
'Let us hope Sikkim remains a beacon of stability,' says Claude Arpi after a recent visit to the picturesque north eastern state.


A hundred years ago, a young French lady described thus her visit to North Sikkim: “Perched on a mountain slope, a humble monastery dominates the villagers dwellings. I visited it the day after my arrival, but finding nothing of interest in the temple, I was about to leave when a shadow darkened the luminous space of the wide-open door: a lama stood on the threshold.”
The narration continued: “I say ‘a lama’, but the man did not wear the regular monastic garb, neither was he dressed as a layman. His costume consisted of a white skirt down to his feet, a garnet-coloured waistcoat, Chinese in shape, and through the wide armholes, the voluminous sleeves of a yellow shirt were seen. A rosary made of some grey substance and coral beads hung around his neck, his pierced ears were adorned with large gold rings studded with turquoises and his long, thick, braided hair touched his heels.”
The lady was the famous French explorer Alexandra David-Neel, who would make Tibet and Buddhism known to the world through her tens of millions of books sold and enumerable lectures all over the world.
When she wrote the above lines, she had just met her future guru, the Gomchen of Lachen: “This strange person looked at me without speaking, and as at that time I knew but little of the Tibetan language, I did not dare to begin a conversation. I only saluted him and went out.”
When she returned to the travellers' bungalow, she asked: “Who was this lama?” One of her attendants told her: “He is a great gomchen (great meditator). He has spent years alone, in a cave high up in the mountains. Demons obey him and he works miracles. They say he can kill men at a distance and fly through the air.”
A couple of years after this encounter, she decided to live for three years (between 1913 and 1916) in total seclusion at an altitude above 10,000 feet to learn the esoteric form of Buddhism practiced in Tibet and the Himalaya.
The French lady, a few years later would be the first foreign woman to reach Lhasa. The next 50 years of her life would be consecrated to tell the world, particularly in her best seller, With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet, what she learnt from the Gomchen of Lachen.
A century later, the ‘magic’ encountered by Alexandra continues to permeate the mountainous State and the small village.

The Beauties of North Sikkim
Her three-year tough apprenticeship was in my mind when I arrived in Sikkim; for me, a visit to North Sikkim was a must.
The two main villages are Lachung and Lachen.
Lachung, the ‘small pass’ is in fact higher in altitude than Lachen (2,900m asl vs 2,750m); it is a large and prosperous village.
If one continues (the next day) to the north is Yumthang, the ‘Valley of Flowers’, with its myriad rhododendrons of different colours and beyond at ‘Zero Point’, one experiences the snow-covered Tibetan plateau at some 15,300 feet.
Further north is a ‘restricted’ area under the control of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and the Army. Incidentally, it is the only area where the boundary with China is emborned with a series of cairns (it is unfortunately not the case in Southern Sikkim, an area which witnessed a stand-off for 73-days with China last year).
In order to preserve the pristine natural beauty of these northern reaches, plastic bottles, if you are caught with a bottle of mineral water, there is a fine of Rs 2,000.
Lachen, the ‘big pass’, though built in an extremely narrow valley has developed at a fast pace during the recent years.
I could not visit the Gomchen’s cave due to the bad road between Lachen and the village of Thangdu where his abode was located. Hopefully this will be remedied soon.
Towards the north is the lake of Gurudongmar.
Legend say that Guru Rinpoche (also known as Guru Padmasambhava) dwelt in seven sacred and hidden lands; most of these places are in Tibet and Bhutan, but locals believe that Guru Rinpoche visited Sikkim in the 8th century, he then blessed this often-frozen lake near the Tibetan border, which became ‘Gurudongmar Tso’, the ‘lake of the red-face Guru’.
Some say that the Great Guru manifested at the lake in the form of Gurudongmar or Gurudrakpo, one of the main aspects that the tantric master to establish Buddhism in Tibet and the Himalayan region. Gurudramar, the red-face deity of Guru Rinpoche, is one of the main protecting deities of several important monasteries in Sikkim, including in Lachen and Pemayangtse; in the 13th century, the ancestors of Sikkim’s ruling Namgyal dynasty were instructed by the deity to go southwards to ‘Payul Demjong’, the ‘hidden valley of grains’, as Sikkim was traditionally known. A visit to Gurudongmar, three hours from Lachen by road is a must.

A stable state
Something else touched me when I reached Gangtok: Sikkim is clean and the environment is well-protected. This is particularly striking when one comes from a State where plastic and garbage litters each and every public place; it is a truly refreshing experience to see clean forests, streams and villages.
Driving in from West Bengal, Sikkim seems the paradise.
Sikkim is indeed a stable and prosperous State; the fact that the charismatic Chief Minister Pawan Chamling has recently become the longest serving Indian Chief Minister, is a clear sign of the continuity. Sikkim is also the first Organic State in India, showing the way to other smaller progressive States.
At a time this State is so crucial to India’s security, it remains a trend setter and a model. India can’t afford to have insecure and ‘unhappy’ borders, when the northern neighbour is always ready to change the status quo.
Another welcome change is the forthcoming disenclavement of the State. A couple of weeks ago, the Pakyong Airport formally obtained a license to operate commercial flights, thus enabling Sikkim to be connected with the rest of the country by air. Union Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu tweeted: "The Pakyong Airport at Sikkim got a license today for scheduled operations. It's an engineering marvel at a height of more than 4,500 ft in a tough terrain.”
The need of the hour is the strengthening of the Indian Himalayan border States; the issue has even become more urgent after the Doklam episode.
Sikkim could be a role model for other States.

Nathu-la, the border with China
Another must visit is Nathu-la, the border pass between India and China; it is a special place for many reasons. Several times a year, it witnesses BPMs (Border Personnel Meetings) between the Indian and Chinese Army in a ‘hut’ built for the purpose. It symbolizes the decision taken at the highest level of the Indian and Chinese States to solve the border issues around a table.
Nathu-la is also the entry point for the Kailash Yatra organized every year by the Ministry of External Affairs (it was unfortunately cancelled in 2017 due the Doklam episode). Several batches of Indian pilgrims will go again on pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain this year.
Nathu-la is also one point where the Sikkimese and Tibetan traders meet during several months. Pre-Doklam, the border exchanges had reached a peak; more than 80 crores for the financial year; it is hoped that business will reach new heights in 2018.
Traditionally (till 1962), it is via Nathu-la (and also Jelep-la further south) that most of the trade with Tibet was conducted.
A strange episode came back to mind: in the early 1950s. India started feeding the Chinese troops who had just started occupying the plateau. John Lall, a former Diwan of Sikkim was posted in Gangtok when the supply of rice took place; he could witness the long caravan of mules leaving in the direction of Nathu-la.
Lall remembered: “This could, and indeed should, have been made the occasion for a settlement of the major problems with China as a prelude to the altogether unprecedented help requested from the Government of India. It simply did not occur to anyone in Delhi, and which caution as I advised was brushed aside. “
The mules of yesterday have been replaced by the long convoy of Indian tourists wanting selfies near the BPM hut.

Empowering the local populations
Ultimately, Sikkim needs to remain stable’.
One possibility is ‘development’, particularly eco-tourism which can bring rich dividends. But it is probably not enough. It is also necessary to empower the local populations.
China has recently decided to ‘empower’ the Tibetan populations living on the border; Xi Jinping’s ‘border’ doctrine is: "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.”
China tries to kill two birds at the same time; it uses border tourism as a way to tackle poverty ...and to protect the country’s borders (by buying the local population over to China's side).
With the fast developments taking place on India’s borders and the arrival of a railway line in Yatung in Chumbi Valley, the pressure is going to greatly increase for the local population to remain steadfast.
The Himalayan people may not represent a large or politically influential section of the population, but India’s security depends on them.
Let us hope that Sikkim can remain a beacon of stability and cleanliness.
Incidentally, there is hardly any crime against women in Sikkim, another sign of a progressive society.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Happy People of Ngari?

Ngari or Western Tibet has been in the Chinese news in recent weeks.
It looks like a concerted effort from the Communist propaganda to promote the region bordering Ladakh, Himachal and Uttarakhand.
And first of all 'promote' the happiness of the people in these borders areas.

Happy Old People
On May 18, Xinhua published an article about The Happy life of a senior in Ali Prefecture of Tibet. ‘Ali’ is ‘Ngari’ (as the Chinese have difficulties to pronounce the ‘Ng’, it becomes ‘A’). 
The Chinese news agency mentions “a two-story house equipped with all kinds of household appliances where Cama Ciren [Karma Tseten], a 72-year-old Tibetan and his wife live.”
Karma stays there for the past 34 years, says the article.
Interestingly, the village is located in Tashigang in Gar County of Ngari Prefecture, near the Indian border (on the other side is Demchok in Ladakh).
The pattern of developing 'well-off border villages' seems the same as in Lhoka and Nyingchi Cities of Southern Tibet, (north of Arunachal Pradesh), whose fast-track development has been often been mentioned on this blog.
As reported earlier, Beijing wants the Tibetan populations living in the border areas to become: “the guardians of the sacred land and the builders of happy homes”.
This seems to me a worrying trend for India, when one think at the post-Dalai Lama era (though India was never worried, having more important political and cricket issues to follow or bother about).
Karma told Xinhua: “The village was actually isolated from the outside world in the 1980s and 1990s. There were only two or three households. Without a tent, we built a rock wall to shelter us from the wind. All of our clothes were scrabbled by hands.”
A few households, like in Yume in a couple of years ago (or less), mushroom into a large township.
Tashigang is the last village in Tibet; on the other side of the border is Demchok in Ladakh.
One has to remember that whenever villagers in Demchok have undertaken small development work, like laying a water pipe, the Chinese PLA/Border Forces immediately stepped onto the Indian territory, to object to ‘development in a disputed area’.
It is a blatant double standard!  Demchok has always been in Ladakh and Tashigang in Tibet.
Xinhua admits that on the Chinese side: “things have changed over the years. By 2012, the village was already a well-off village where each family lived in new house and a newly-built road connected the village with the outside world.”
To give these villages a ‘well-off’ status, China is building ‘model townships’, like it did in Tsona, Lepo, Marmang, Yume, or Metok in Southern Tibet.
The News Agency observed that Karma and his wife “are not supposed to labor for a living;” due to their old age, “they lead a comfortable life owing to the government subsidy policy.”
Karma told Xinhua: “The subsidies we receive each year exceed 20,000 yuan;” further, they enjoy full medical reimbursement.
The village has three college graduates; one of them is Karma’s daughter.
Even for the children, food, accommodation, and tuition fees are covered by the government.  “A happier life awaits us in the future,” Karma concludes.
Everybody seems to be happy in Tashigang.

A Happy Married Couple
Xinhua in another article reported The Happy life of married couple in Ngari Prefecture of Tibet.
One Luo Qiming came from the Mainland (Qinghai province) to the village in 2010; he met his wife, a Tibetan Niji Lhamo; she was then running the village's only commodities store.
The News Agency says “They fell in love at first sight and soon got married.”
At first, Luo thought of moving back to Qinghai with Lhamo, but “everything went on fine for the young couple,” the store does a good business, as it is supported by the local government.
Lhamo has got subsidized loans and has expanded her store: “their little store became a mini supermarket selling a variety of commodities. Their business thrived and all their loans were paid off.”
As Lhamo also works at the Gar County’s Agricultural Bank, she gets thousands of yuans extra: “Our income has increased a lot while our expenditure has not.”
And to make life happier, their children enjoy 15-year ‘free compulsory’ education: “Instead of paying anything for my elder daughter’s kindergarten education, we’ve received a lot of subsidies from the school.”
Compulsorily free education.

Happy Life in Purang
Let us move on the other side of the Ngari Prefecture.
An article on the China Tibet Online website speaks of Happy life on yaks' back in Ngari.
The website explains: “When one thinks of livestock carrying cargo, the first thought is often poverty, yet in Gangsha Village of Baga [?] Township, part of Pulan [Purang] County of Ngari Prefecture, people have used this way to overcome poverty and become prosperous.
Purang is at the trijunction between India (Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand), Nepal and Tibet). Also known as Taklakot, it is the first town in Tibet territory for the pilgrims on their way to the Kailash-Manasarovar (after crossing the Lipilekh pass or flying by helicopter from Nepal).
China Tibet Online says: “Gangsha Village is an essential stop on the route to renowned holy mountain, Mt. Kangrinboqe [Kang Rinpoche for the Tibetans or Kailash]. Since Mt. Kangrinboqe has an average altitude of 4,700 meters, so many tourists couldn't make it past this point and need help carrying cargo and luggage. Starting in the 1980s and 1990s, Gangsha villagers have begun to provide yak-transport service for visitors.”
Since 2010, the villagers have organized a yak-transport service association: “Whenever a tourist ordered the service, the center would organize the appropriate yak, horse, and manpower.”
Jigme Dorje, the village headman explained: “we have clear prices for hiring guides and animals; one yak is 240 yuan (37.8 US dollars), and one guide is 260 yuan (40.9 US dollars), and our service is very popular. We have already made tens of thousands of yuan in profit this year, and the peak tourism season hasn't even started yet.”
In recent years, the ‘yak-transport service’ has greatly expanded its operation; the association has used part of its income, along with Chinese government subsidies, to open supermarkets, tea houses, and inns.
The village Party Secretary Dorje Pema: "We predict that we'd have more than three million yuan (0.47 million US dollars) in income this year in just those supermarkets, tea houses, and inns. We have also hired college grads, and we hope to take online orders in three years."
While the number of Indian pilgrims trekking via Lipulekh La under the Ministry of External’s scheme remains small, pilgrims visiting Kailash Manasarovar through Nepalgunj and Simikot is increasing exponentially. 
Nepali tour operators admit that some 20,000 pilgrims have booked trips to the sacred mountain and lake as of mid-May this year.
Last year, some 12,900 Indian pilgrims visited the holy place using the Nepalgunj-Simikot-Hilsa route in western Nepal.
This makes the tour operators and the yak owners happy.

Happiness in Ngari
In conclusion, everybody seems ‘happy’ in Ngari.
In the meantime, for the people of Ladakh, who for decades have been asking to reopen the traditional route from Ladakh to the Kailash via Demchok, it remains a far-away dream.
Beijing adamantly refuses and Delhi is not pushing to hard for it.
Recently, the Himalayan Buddhist Cultural Association (HBCA) has urged the Prime Minister to fulfill the long pending demands of Ladakhi, particularly the inclusion of Bhoti language in 8th Scheduled of Indian Constitution and opening of Kailash-Manasarovar route from Leh to Demchok and Tashigang.
HBCA President Tashi Targais observed during a press conference in Leh that the Kailash Mansarovar road is not only holy place for Buddhists but also for Hindus and Jain community and the route from Ladakh is the shortest route and its reopening would also boost the economy of Ladakh region.
China is not ready to listen.
If the people in Ngari are so happy, where is the risk for Beijing?
But China remains nervous.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Why India needs to keep a tab on the new silk road

My article Why India needs to keep a tab on the new silk road appeared in Mail Today/DailyO

Linking Xinjiang to south Asia seems to be a new dream for the leadership in Beijing.

Here is the link...

After focusing for years on Lhasa and southern Tibet, Beijing has decided to invest in the development of western Tibet, known as the Ngari Prefecture of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). Despite the 2015 Nepal earthquake which delayed the building of infrastructure in the area, particularly the railway line Lhasa-Kyirong at the Nepal border, the work has now started at an accelerated pace.

Economic angle
One project which could have serious strategic implications for India is the extension of the National Highway G216 from Xinjiang to Kyirong landport; linking Xinjiang to south Asia seems to be a new dream for the leadership in Beijing. Though technically it is a formidable challenge to cross the Kunlun range, the Chinese engineers are determined to implement the scheme.
This could also have immense economic consequences as it may become the main conduit of a new Silk Road from Central Asia to Nepal and South Asia. Has India been taken into the loop when Prime Minister Narendra Modi "informally" met the Chinese president recently? It is doubtful.
Meanwhile, western Tibet develops fast. In January, VTIBET.com reported that the Ngari prefecture received over 6,60,000 visitors in 2017. The statistics released by the Ngari Tourism Bureau website said that it was a 20 per cent growth compared to the previous year. Even the revenue increased.
“The tourism revenue totalled about 750 million yuan, up by 10 per cent over the same period last year.” The website cites the prefecture’s marvels: the Kailash Manasarovar area, the ruins of the former Guge Kingdom and the Tholing Clay Forest — all located in Ngari Prefecture.
Last month, Radio Free Asia (RFA) announced that the Chinese authorities have seized farmland in Lhatse to build a new airport, “displacing Tibetan villagers and offering far less in compensation than the land is worth”. RFA argued that the land belonged to Yushang village in Shigatse prefecture’s Lhatse county.
Apart from the deprivation of the land, the news item shows that in the years to come, Western Tibet could become the new economic and touristic hub and, of course, an important strategic centre for the defence of China’s borders. The opening of a new airport should be seen in this perspective, though the rapidly increasing trade with Nepal shouldn’t be ignored.
According to Tibet Business Daily, the total value of Tibet’s foreign trade exceeded 5.8 billion yuan (nearly Rs 6,700 crore) in 2017. “The domestic economy has been steadily improving, and the demand for international market has generally recovered,” noted the daily.
Nepal is the main recipient of Tibet’s exports. In April, Nepal’s foreign minister, Pradeep Gyawali, visited Beijing. After meeting vice-president Wang Qishan and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, he spoke of “expediting past agreements, developing trans-Himalayan multidimensional transport network and building a China-Nepal-India economic corridor.”
Gyawali noted that China is Nepal’s genuine friend and a trusted ally. “We should build on the excellent roots of civilisational, geographical and cultural affinities to further connect our countries and societies.” This new civilisational bond between China and Nepal explains the need of a new airport in Lhatse.

Difficult terrain

China Tibet News Network mentioned another megaproject, the "extension" of the G216 Highway which, according to the article, will end in Kyirong. What does the extension of G216 mean?
In 2016, a "Public Announcement for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of G216 (Tibet Area)" was made. The original 857-km-long highway starts from Altay City in northern Xinjiang and ends in Baluntai (in Hejing County). It will now be extended via Minfeng and Keryia in southern Xinjiang to western Tibet and Nepal.
Needless to mention the immense technical challenge to cross the Kunlun range between Keryia and Rutok where the road will join the G219 or Aksai Chin road. To give an idea, Keryia is located at 1,459m sea level, while Lake Lighten on the plateau is at 5080m (a 3,500m climb in less than 200km). It is perhaps the most difficult terrain in the world.

Crazy dream

The last section of the "extended" G216 (towards Nepal) will have a length of about 94km; the geological conditions are complex, said a Chinese website: “After experiencing the May 12, 2015 earthquake in Nepal, the geological conditions are even more unpredictable. The original roads at the Kyirong Port have been seriously damaged, and the subgrade has subsided in some sections.”
The main bridge in this section is said to have collapsed “and the road surface was broken and cracked.” Kyirong is located 24km away from the Nepal border; it is now the main channel for land trade between China and the former kingdom.
Due to the earthquake, the railway line between Shigatse and Kyirong has been delayed by at least three years. After the earthquake, one section of the G216 slipped and is no longer accessible. The road from Kyirong to the border with Nepal is only a dirt road. “When the rainy season arrives, disasters such as landslides and mudslides are frequent.”
The point remains that if the terminal section of G216 towards Kyirong is difficult, it is nothing compared to the section which will try to cross the Kunlun range, north of Lake Lighten. One more crazy dream of the rulers in Beijing?
Or a visionary project in view of the importance of having a second Xinjiang-Tibet highway (after the Aksai Chin road built in the early 1950s)? Could it be a true New Silk Road linking Central Asia to South Asia via Nepal? It is difficult to say today. The engineers have to cross the Kunlun first. India should watch the developments.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The guardians of the sacred land and the builders of happy homes

In the recent weeks, I often mentioned the mushrooming a new ‘model’ villages on the Tibetan side of the Indian border, mainly north of Arunachal Pradesh. This development has been linked with ‘poverty alleviation’ and the ‘defense the borders’.
Several senior Communist leaders have visited these new villages, either north of Kibithu (there is War Memorial as a bonus); 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 Khenzimani and Tawang.
It is interesting to look at the recent increase of visitors in the TAR and the rationale behind this Chinese move.

Tourism in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR)
According to China Tibet News, Lhasa received 918,900 tourists (mainly inland tourism) during the first three months of 2018. It represents a year-on-year increase of 38%. The influx of visitors brought 1.2 billion yuan in tourism revenue, up 30%.
The accommodation in star-hotels soared by 35%.
Tourist attractions such as the Potala Palace and Jokhang Temple witnessed a double number of visitors (despite the ‘structural restrictions’ for the Potala).
The sales of souvenirs have doubled over last year.
During the tomb-sweeping holiday (around April 4 and 5), Lhasa welcomed 284,600 tourists generating 214 million yuan (35 million US $) in tourism revenue.
The representation of the epic opera about Chinese Princess Wencheng started on April 20; after five days only, this performance has attracted 8,531 tourists, a growth of 19% compared with the same period of last year.
But there is something new in the TAR and perhaps more important for India; it is the ‘border tourism’.

Development of border areas
TAR’s Party Secretary Wu Yingjie recently gave an interview to The People's Daily about the TAR’s development, particularly in the border areas.
As required by the Party etiquette, Wu Yingjie first quoted General Secretary Xi Jinping’s “series of important instructions for the work in Tibet.”
‘Pointing out the direction to follow for doing Tibet's good work’, he stated: “Being the guardians of sacred land and the builders of happy homes, this is the political task that the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core has handed over to the cadres and people of all ethnic groups in Tibet.”
‘Guardians of the sacred land and builders of the happy homes” is the new motto for Party’s work with the borders’ Tibetan populations.
Wu added: “We must firmly establish ‘four consciousnesses’ and firm up the ‘four confidences’, i.e. “Strengthen the ideals and beliefs, and vigorously promote the 'old Tibet spirit' and the 'two-way spirit' [it is not clear what the ‘two-way spirit’ is] and work hard to promote long-term development and long-term peace in Tibet in the new era."
'Old Tibet spirit' refers to the work of the first Communist cadres who worked in Tibet in the 1950s.
When the reporter asked Wu about 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” for managing the borders and maintaining the stability of Tibet, Wu answered: “This is the first requirement for carrying out the important strategic thinking of General Secretary Xi Jinping to govern the country and administrate the borders first.”

To govern the Nation

Let us recall that Xi Jinping has said: “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.”
Wu also quoted Xi on the management of Tibet, the rule of law, the improvement of the life of the local people, the long-term construction of Tibet and the consolidation of the people’s minds.
These were the basic principles, said Wu.
The latter plan (consolidation of people's mind) is the Party's propaganda work to induce the local Tibetan population on the side of the Communist Party.
Making the inhabitants of the borders (with India) ‘the protectors of sacred homeland and the builders of happy homes,” can be found in each speech these days.

A confirmation of the Indian border?
As I mentioned a few months ago, one could be read in the scheme, the confirmation of the border with India in all the places mentioned above (where new model villages have come up).
However for China, the maintenance of Tibet’s stability is always the first priority; Wu asserted: “We must never allow the secession of an inch of land from the motherland in Tibet.”
He mentioned the Chinese nation’s “sense of community and the Chinese culture giving an emotional support, spiritual destination and spiritual homeland of all ethnic groups in Tibet.”
Whether this is true or not is another issue.
Wu boldly stated that the Tibetan culture is an inseparable part of the Chinese culture and is rooted in the minds of the people of the borders.”
He advised to ‘work hard on these lines’ and continue to promote the adaptation of the [Buddhist] religion to the socialist doctrine: “Education will guide the masses to treat religions rationally”, he argued.
This is of course debatable if ‘education’ can change the religious mindset of the Tibetan population.
The village-level party organizations should be built into strong fighting bastions that listen to the Party, reunite the people, develop the villages, get them wealthier and maintain Tibet’s stability, without failing 'to be confused'. The idea is to 'strengthen the feelings of the masses'.

A series of effective measures
Then, Wu dealt directly with “a series of effective measures to accelerate the development of the border areas”.
These measures are clearly post-Doklam.
The rationale is “to consolidate border security and to promote the deep integration of the military and the people.”
The Party boss spoke of improvement of infrastructure in the border areas, and “improving the dealing with the residents.”
Taking the example of Metok, north of Upper Siang district of Arunachal, he said that the county was now well-connected by concrete roads (and a tunnel!); Wu also mentioned the construction of Yumai, “the well-off village on the border as a breakthrough which is steadily progressing.”
As often mentioned on this blog, this is Chairman Xi Jinping’s pet project.
Every cadre has to praise it.
Wu added that “more and more border people are taking root in the snow-covered areas like Kelsang flowers.” Once again an expression used by Xi.

Different requirements
Wu mentioned different requirements for the proper implementation of this new policy of strengthening the border villages; one is the selection of the impoverished villages (in Chamdo, Nagchu, and Shigatse and other places in Western Tibet), he mentioned.
Another one is the industry’s precise requirements to support poverty alleviation and employment. Industries such as the barley production and selling of yak products have already lifted 32,300 people of poverty, affirmed the Party Secretary.
However, tourism and cultural industries remain the pillars of the scheme; it helps the poor to get rid of poverty through participation 'in tourism and cultural industries' and it promotes 'ethnic exchanges'.
Another requirement which is very controversial is the relocation of some truly poor people from areas “with extreme water and soil conservation conditions, such as high altitude and ecologically fragile areas” to ‘productive’ areas with good resources and weather conditions.

A smart village?
It means practically shifting nomads to ‘smart’ villages, which are not that ‘smart’.
Wu mentioned other requirements such as ensuring that 80% of Tibet's aid funds are spent on the most remote and poorer regions.
Once again Yume (or Yumai) is the ideal village selected as the model for the scheme.
The Party Secretary’s conclusions were: “Let the people of all ethnic groups have more feelings of happiness; to take a clear-cut stand against splitting, in order to maintain the stability of Tibet …and always be the guardians of sacred land and the builders of happy homes.”
He added: “This is the purpose of high-quality development, and it is also our job to implement this project and work for the people’s livelihood. …We shall always put the people of all ethnic groups at the top of our hearts; we shall give prominence to the work of people’s livelihood focusing on employment; we shall formulate and improve policies and measures; we shall encourage more college graduates to return to their hometowns, and further promote medical education for groups aiding Tibet.”
Efforts would continue to be made “to enable all ethnic groups to enjoy high-quality medical education services at their doorstep. We have actively promoted the construction of beautiful Tibet and deepened the practice of green development”, he concluded.

Military Civilian Integration
Zhayul County is located north of Anjaw district of Arunachal Pradesh in the Lohit valley.
According to China Tibet News, some of the villages of the county have started implementing the ‘double-support model city’ which translates into full of military and civilian integration: “For decades, on the borders stretching several hundred kilometers, the border guards and soldiers stationed have been working with the local people to protect the sacred territory and build a beautiful home.”
The article speaks of the civilian population and the soldiers working 'hand in hand’; the love of the people supporting the New Age Army.
The reporter gave a few examples: “On April 10, a border guard stationed in the town of Chagao [?] was going to perform patrols. After hearing of  a border incident, Atolima, a 37-year-old member of the village who helped to build houses in the village, asked his boss for leave. With three militiamen working with him on the construction site, they went straight to the border defense company. The mountains are densely forested and patrols often take seven or eight days in this area. All the supplies of the border guards have to be carried. However, in this case, the nearby militia did not hesitate to lay down their work and take the initiative to participate in the patrols and provide the soldiers with the strongest protection.”
It is not clear if this refers to an Indian ‘intrusion’ on China’s perceived territory.
The reporter then took another example: “In Shama village, if there are strangers or suspicious people, the villagers, regardless of their age, will step up to cross-examination and find suspicious points [of entry] which will be reported to village officials and frontier defense officers, effectively preventing the penetration of hostile saboteurs.” The article speaks of an ‘Invisible Great Wall' to guard the country.
It also mentioned “a touching scene in which soldiers and civilians united to fight the catastrophic rain and snow disaster was being staged on the town of Chaga,” and the cadres and people of Zhayul County celebrating the major festivals with the officers and soldiers stationed in the [local] garrison.”
Though it is difficult to position these villages on a map, it shows that China is trying hard to enlist the border Tibetan populations on the side.
Can it succeed is another issue. But it is certain that incentives (and employment) are thus provided to the local Tibetans.

The Military and Civil Integration Development Committee
On May 10, China Tibet News Network reported that Wu Yingjie participated in a plenary session of the Military and Civil Integration Development Committee in Lhasa for a “in-depth implementation of the strategic thinking of General Secretary Xi Jinping's integration of military and civilian development and provide a strong momentum for Tibet's long-term development and long-term stability.”
Wu Yingjie who is also first secretary of the Party Committee of the Tibet Military Region, and the director of the TAR’s Military and Civil Integration Development Committee, presided over.
Deputy Party Secretary Che Dalha (also Deputy Director of the Military and Civil Integration Development Committee) and Lt Gen Xu Yong, the Commander of the Tibet Military Region (also a Deputy Director of the Military and Civil Integration Development Committee) attended.
They all reported about the rapid integration of the civil and military development in the TAR in 2017; the key issues to be dealt with in 2018 by the task force of the Committee was the integration of military and civilian in the ‘13th Five-Year Plan’ of the TAR’s Development Plan.
Civil and military integration is also a pet project of Xi Jinping.

Some conclusions
The above gives insights in the theoretical background of the new Chinese campaign on the borders of India.
In the coming months, Beijing will continue to try to enlist the Tibetan populations on their side of the boundary, not only in Nyingtri area (Nyingchi City), but also in Western Tibet.
Similar stories have been reported from Purang, near the trijunction with Nepal and Tibet.
At the same time, the empowerment of the border villages can be read as a reiteration of the border between India and China.
But on this, Delhi should be cautious and it needs to closely watch the unfolding situation.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

A Dinner with the Third King of Bhutan

This month, India and Bhutan are celebrating the 50th anniversary of their diplomatic relations.
On this occasion, I post a note written by Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of India on January 20, 1954 after a dinner with the King of Bhutan.
Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (2 May 1929 – 21 July 1972) was the Third Druk Gyalpo. He is credited with opening Bhutan (or Druk, the Land of the Dragon) to the outside world, to have started the modernization process and have taken the first steps toward the democratization of his country.
In September 1958, Nehru would visit him in Paro, crossing over the Chumbi Valley.
See my post of the subject.

The Dinner
At one point during the dinner in 1954, Nehru said that India was “friendly with China and there was no reason to think that between India and China there would be any conflict.”
This was of course a serious misjudgment.
Nehru however rightly pointed out that the foreign affairs of Bhutan “was a vital matter for India.”
Though Bhutan is now a fully independent nation, what is happening in Bhutan remains ‘vital’ to India.
Later in the evening, Nehru spoke of a survey of the Manas river for a hydro-power project; the Gyalpo was not fully convinced. Nehru added: “As for a survey, he [the Gyapo] said that permission had been given within a limited area. I [Nehru] said that this was not good enough and that the survey should have to take into consideration broad areas. He said he would consider this matter further.”
This would eventually lead to the survey of the trijunction between Tibet, Bhutan and Sikkim (Batang-la area) two years later by TS Murthy, an officer of the Indian Frontier Administrative Service (with a team of the Survey of India).
It would then be realized that the trijunction was Batang-la, not Gyemochen (or Gipmochi).
A large collections of documents on the relations between Bhutan and India are available on my website.
Here is the link...

Here is Nehru’s Note dated January 30, 1954:
I had a long talk with the Maharaja of Bhutan after dinner to-night. The Maharani was asked to join us after some time at the instance of the Maharaja. According to him this was desirable as he did not always understand what I said and the Maharani's knowledge of English would help.

2. I expressed my pleasure at their visit to India which had enabled us to know each other better and also given them an opportunity of seeing a bit of India. I was sure that this would lead to greater understanding and fuller co-operation.

3. The Maharaja entirely agreed and thanked me for all the friendliness shown to him here. He said that Bhutan's relations had been friendly with India even in British times, and now they were friendlier.

4. I then mentioned very briefly the difficulties and tensions of the world and the possibility of even distant countries being affected by them. Bhutan had kept an isolated existence in the past and, for my part, I thought that this was a wise policy then, otherwise the British Government would have interfered a great deal. But conditions were very different now because of various happenings. The world was a much tighter place to live in, and the Tibet-Bhutan-India frontier was much more important now. We had, therefore, to take a broader view of the present as well as the future and it would become progressively more difficult for Bhutan to remain isolated. We had no desire to interfere in the internal government of Bhutan, though we were, of course, interested in Bhutan's progress and the well-being of her people. But, we were very greatly concerned with anything affecting foreign affairs and defence of Bhutan. It was for this reason that in our last Treaty [of 1949] it had been mentioned that the foreign affairs of Bhutan should be conducted with the guidance of India. Foreign affairs were intimately connected with defence. A wrong step by Bhutan in either of these matters might land us in difficulties. Therefore, there has to be the fullest co-ordination between Bhutan and India in regard to foreign affairs and defence.

5. In so far as Bhutan was concerned, the only two countries that affected her were India and China (or Tibet). We were friendly with China and there was no reason to think that between India and China there would be any conflict. Nevertheless, one must not leave things to chance and it was in the interest of India and Bhutan both to co-ordinate their defence and foreign policy. I mentioned that, even in the case of Nepal, this was our understanding. Indeed, India's real defence lay in the Himalayas. Any intruder coming into Nepal or Bhutan would weaken that defence and we could not tolerate it.

6. I developed this point rather fully. The Maharaja said that they quite understood that in regard to foreign policy India should be interested and they would give every consideration to what India said in this matter. I again pointed out that this was a vital matter for India.

7. I referred to our previous suggestion about having an Agent in Bhutan and said that this would help greatly in furthering our co-operation. It would be helpful to Bhutan in many ways and, in any event, we would be in direct contact which was so necessary. The Maharaja referred to past history and said that his National Assembly had not viewed this with favour but he was prepared to consult them again. He said that he was in constant touch with Mr. [BK] Kapur [the Political Officer in Sikkim]. I said that this was right, but, it would be advantageous to have an Indian Agent in Bhutan. I had no desire to press this against the will of the Maharaja and the Bhutan Government. But I did not understand why the Maharaja or his Government should be apprehensive in this matter. That showed a certain lack of confidence in us. We should proceed on a basis of accepting each other's bona fides and having confidence in each other. I left it at that.

8. I discussed internal conditions in Bhutan, the land system, the Nepalese there etc. The Maharaja said that there were no big zamindars there and land was owned by peasant proprietors who were happy and prosperous. There was no trouble with them. There was also no trouble with the resident Nepalese in the valleys, though two or three outsiders had come and tried to create some trouble.

9. I referred to the survey of the Manas river. He said that this matter had been raised in his father's time who thought that if a dam was constructed, the backwash of it would be injurious to Bhutan. I pointed out that the first step was a survey. Nobody could say now whether this survey would lead to the construction of a dam, and, in any event, no such decision could be taken without the consent of the Bhutan Government. As for a survey, he said that permission had been given within a limited area. I said that this was not good enough and that the survey should have to take into consideration broad areas. He said he would consider this matter further.

10. I then referred to the foreign exchange question and said that we had to be very careful about this so as not to waste it. Generally speaking, Bhutan should be able to get her requirements from India. Where this was not possible and something was specially wanted from abroad, there would be no difficulty in our arranging for foreign exchange. I suggested that we might have a minimum figure (I did not mention the figure) for foreign exchange. Any addition to this, if necessity arose, we would consider favourably.

11. The Maharaja referred to the necessity for free trade between Bhutan and India. He said that this had been more or less agreed to by Mr Harishwar Dayal [previous Political officer] at the time last Treaty was framed [1949]. It was then said that this might be left out of the Treaty but would nevertheless hold good. As a matter of fact, there were tell gates right near the frontier with West Bengal, and each truck was charged at the rate of Rs. 5 for round trip. This affected contractors on the Bhutan side. I told him that I knew nothing about this and no mention of this had been made previously. This question had better be discussed with our officers.

12. This was the substance of my conversation. Towards the end, the Maharaja again expressed his happiness at having come here and established personal contacts.

Copies were sent to the Secretary General of the MEA, the Foreign Secretary and the Joint Secretary.


Thursday, May 10, 2018

Importance of Sikkim as a border State

Magnificent Kanchenjunga
My article Importance of Sikkim as a border State appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer

Here is the link...

The Himalayan people may not represent a large or politically influential section of the population, but India’s security depends on them. It is, therefore, essential to empower local residents

Sikkim is a special State and this for many reasons. First, Denjong or the Valley of Rice, as Sikkim is traditionally known, is today a stable and prosperous State; the fact that the charismatic Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling has recently become the longest serving Indian Chief Minister, is a clear sign of the continuity. Sikkim is also the first organic State in India, showing the way to other smaller progressive States.
At a time this State is so crucial to India’s security, it remains a trend-setter and a model. India can’t afford to have unsecure and ‘unhappy’ borders, when the northern neighbour is always ready to change the status quo.
Another welcome change is the forthcoming disenclavement of the State. Last week, the Pakyong Airport formally obtained a license to operate commercial flights, thus enabling Sikkim to be connected with the rest of the country by air. Union Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu tweeted: “The Pakyong Airport at Sikkim got a license today for scheduled operations. It’s an engineering marvel at a height of more than 4,500 ft in a tough terrain.”
The need of the hour is the strengthening of the Indian Himalayan border States; the issue has even become more urgent after the Doklam episode. How to do that?
One possibility is ‘development’, particularly eco-tourism, which can bring rich dividends. But it is probably not enough. It is also necessary to empower the local populations.
One issue which has not been understood properly in India is why the Chinese decided to call for a cease-fire hardly a month after their first attack on India in October 1962. The internal struggle within the Chinese Communist Party between 1959 and 1962 can’t be overlooked, but the Tibet factor gives the rationale why China suddenly decided to put a halt to its advance at a time it was winning on all fronts. The obvious reason was not the winter, but the political instability on the Tibetan plateau.
During a speech at the summer station of Beidaihe in August 1962, Mao delivered a diatribe against the 10th Panchen Lama, who in a 70,000-character petition, had described the unstable situation in Tibet due to harsh communist actions. The young Lama, who had been made Chairman of the Preparatory Committee for the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) after the Dalai Lama left for India, had dared to criticise the policies of the party in Tibet.
The Tibetan instability greatly influenced the smooth running of the supply lines to the Indian front; it became a major issue impeding longer military operations against India as discontent was brewing on the Roof of the World.
The petition was sent by the Panchen Lama to Zhou Enlai and Xi Zhongxun (President Xi Jinping’s father) in April 1962. The Chinese Premier requested Xi Senior to read and study the Panchen Lama’s petition. For his courage, the Panchen Lama spent 14 years in jail.
It is probably why China has recently decided to ‘empower’ its Himalayan populations; Xi Jinping’s doctrine is known to all: “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.”
The official top priority is a poverty alleviation campaign in Tibet “to make the border villages prosperous and well-off.”
Beijing has, however, a second objective that is to build-up the border defenses against India.
China kills two birds at the same time; tourism is the best way to tackle poverty ...and to protect the country’s borders (by buying the local population over to China’s side).
Recently, Che Dalha (alias Qizhala), the head of the TAR Government, visited Zhayul, north of the McMahon line in the Lohit Valley. Walong, which witnessed the famous battle in November 1962, is located some 50 km south in the same valley; there, the 11 Infantry Brigade and in particular the 6 Kumaon of the Indian Army managed to stop the Chinese advances; they had to pay a high price for it …so did the Chinese.
While inspecting a Hero Memorial Park, he told the villagers that the masses should deeply cherish the memory of the Chinese soldiers who died in 1962 as well as the ‘heroes’ who fought the Tibetan resistance in the late 1950s the revolutionary martyrs.
But China does not only pay homage to its martyrs, it fast-track builds tens of ‘model’ villages along the border in order to literarily bring lakhs of tourists, at a time India lives under an antiquated Inner Line Permit system.
India needs to satisfy the basic aspirations of the local population and give them the freedom to develop according to their own genius. This is something China may be unable to do.
In connection with the local population’s aspiration, an important Summit was recently held in Gangtok. Though Sikkim is today stable, large sections of the society feel that they have been victim to historical injustices in the past.
After the merger in 1975, some communities were excluded from the tribal status. The Summit demanded that all communities having a Sikkim Subject’s Card should be given ‘tribal’ status and the State be declared a tribal State, like other North-Eastern States where only the tribals occupy the Assembly seats and governance is kept in the hands of indigenous people.
The two-day summit was organised by the EIECOS (Eleven indigenous ethnic communities of Sikkim), a formerly registered association, the Sikkim Commission for Backward Classes and the Social Justice Empowerment and Welfare Department.
Three years after the State joined India in a quasi-unanimous referendum, some communities were unfortunately left out when Scheduled Tribe recognition was granted to others.
According to IANS, during the Summit, Pawan Chamling made “a strong pitch for granting of Scheduled Tribe status …an issue which has been lying unresolved for over 40 years.”
While inaugurating the Sikkim Summit for Tribal Status 2018, Chamling said: “We embraced India as a country on the condition of never compromising our uniqueness as Sikkimese people protected by the Indian Constitution.”
With fast developments taking place on India’s borders and the arrival of a railway line in Yatung in Chumbi Valley, the pressure is going to greatly increase for the local population to remain steadfast, a small gesture such as granting Tribal status to Sikkim, would go a long way to make the people of Sikkim ‘happier’ and, therefore, more prepared to support the defence of India’s borders. This is also valid for other Himalayan States which too have their long-pending demands, which are often ignored by Big Brother in Delhi. It is true for Ladakh, for Arunachal Pradesh, but for Himachal and Uttarakhand too.
The Himalayan people may not represent a large or politically influential section of the population, but India’s security depends on them.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A new Xinjiang-Tibet-Nepal Highway?

New developments in Western Tibet
The development of Western Tibet (Ngari Prefecture) is going on in an accelerated manner despite the 2015 Nepal Earthquake, which delayed for at least 3 years, the building of infrastructure in the area, particularly the railway line to Nepal (to Kyirong, spelt Gyirong by the Chinese).
But there is more, China is planning to extend the national Highway G216 from Xinjiang to Kyirong landport with Nepal; linking Xinjiang to South Asia is a new dream for the leadership in Beijing.
It will have immense economic and strategic implications (for China and …for India).
As we shall see, technically, it is not an easy proposition, but the Chinese engineers seem to be determined to work on the scheme.

Guge Kingdom's ruins

Tourism in Ngari
In January, VTIBET.com reported that the Ngari prefecture received over 660,000 visitors in 2017.
The statistics released by the Ngari Tourism Bureau website said that it was a 20% growth compared to the previous year. Even the revenue increased: “The tourism revenue totaled about 750 million yuan, up by 10 percent over the same period last year.”
The website explained: “Hailed as ‘Roof of the World’, Ngari, at an average elevation of 4,500 meters above [sea level], is the birthplace of the four major rivers in Asia. It’s the place where the Himalayas, the Gangdise, the Kunlun Mountains and Karakorum Mountains meet. There are great mountains, beautiful lakes, vast grasslands and spectacular snow mountains in Ngari. Famous tourist landscapes, including Mapam Yumtso [Manasarovar], Kangrinpoche [Kailash], Guge Kingdom Relics, Piyang-Donggar Caves Relics, Zanda Clay Forest are all in Ngari Prefecture.”
Liu Qilin, deputy director of Ngari Tourism Development and Reform Commission asserted: “In 2017, more than 12,000 farmers and herdsmen in Ngari participated in tourism industry, creating income of 153 million yuan, and promoting tourism development of 11 poor villages with tourism development conditions.”
Some 12 new tourism projects were built in Ngari during 2017, with an investment of 12 million yuan (not much!). Further, a 97 million yuan budget was approved by the central government to invest in six key tourism projects, a already announced in the 13th Five-Year Plan.
The Pangong Tso, which shares its shores with India, is one of them: “This beautiful lake sits at an elevation of 4,350 meters. The lake and sky are both amazing shades of blue that make it become one of the must see scenes,” says the website.
Incidentally, during the Doklam episode, the lake witnessed a clash between the Indian and Chinese troops in the vicinity of a place called 'Finger Four'.

A new airport in Lhatse
A few days ago, Radio Free Asia (RFA) announced that the Chinese authorities have seized farmland in Lhatse to build a new airport, “displacing Tibetan villagers and offering far less in compensation than the land is worth.”
RFA argued that the land belonged to Yushang village in the Chusha municipality of Shigatse prefecture’s Lhatse county.
A source told the US radio: “For Tibetans in Chusha, farming has been their main source of livelihood for many years, and is a tradition handed down to them by their ancestors. The loss of so much land to Chinese development projects is having a negative impact on the daily life of the local people.”
The source then added: “Chinese projects have already been under way on vast stretches of land lying near Lhatse county, with new buildings being constructed, for more than a decade.”
Apart from the deprivation of the land, the news item shows that ‘Go West’ movement is unabated on the Tibetan plateau.
In the years to come, Ngari will become the new economic and touristic hub for the plateau and of course …an important strategic center for the defense of China’s borders.
Ngari, with its rich cultural heritage (particularly the ruins of the Guge kingdom which are being restored, the Kailash-Manasarovar area or the Pangong tso), will be THE place to visit.
The opening of a new airport should be seen in this perspective, but also the burgeoning trade with Nepal.

Tibet’s Foreign Trade
According to Tibet Business Daily, the total value of Tibet’s foreign trade exceeds 5.8 billion yuan in 2017: “the domestic economy has been steadily improving, and the demand for international market has generally recovered,” noted the daily.
Lhasa Customs’ data showed that the total import and export value of Tibet’s foreign trade was 5.885 billion yuan in 2017, adding 13.9% from the same period in 2016, among which the export reached 2.950 billion yuan; a decrease of 5.6% and the import totaled 2.935 billion yuan, an increase of 43.6%, with a trade surplus of 15 million yuan.
Nepal, France and Belgium were Tibet's top three trading partners,
While France is the largest source of imports, Nepal is the largest export market.
This partially explains the development of the infrastructure towards the Nepal border.
The total import and export of those three countries reached 72.1% of the total value of the entire Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR).
Further, the import and export performance of private enterprises dominated the scene; it accounted for 71.7% of the total value of the whole year of 2017.
One of the features described by the TAR government explained why France is number one: “The export commodities [to Nepal] were dominated by traditional labor-intensive products, and the main import commodities [from France] were aircrafts and medical products.”
At the same time: “the traditional labor-intensive products in 2017 reached 1.990 billion yuan, down 17.6%, occupying 67.5% of the total export value of Tibet.”
This is mostly the trade with Nepal; we shall see that it was partially due to the difficult road conditions.

Nepal’s Foreign Minister in China
In April, Nepal’s Foreign Minister, Pradeep Gyawali visited Beijing, where he met Vice President of China Wang Qishan and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi; he spoke of “expediting past agreements, developing trans-Himalayan multi-dimensional transport network and building a China-Nepal-India economic corridor.”
Has India been informed?
Probably, not yet!!!
Speaking about Nepal-China relations in Sichuan University in Chengdu, the foreign minister said that academic exchanges, tourism, cultural exchanges and cooperation would help in strengthening proximity between the people of these countries: “As the future belongs to young generation, exchanging visits and sharing of opinions between the youths of these countries have become crucial so that they can frame correct policy to lead the future in the right direction.”
Gyawali also appreciated Chinese assistance in the construction of airports in Pokhara and Lumbini, the tourist cities of Nepal, “to spur the untapped tourism potentiality of nature-gifted Nepal.”
He said that China is Nepal’s genuine friend and a trusted ally: “we should build on the excellent roots of civilizational, geographical and cultural affinities to further connect our countries and societies in order to achieve common prosperity in the trans-Himalayan region.”
This new ‘civiliziational bond’ between China and Nepal partially explains the need of a new airport in Lhatse.

The train to Kyirong
In this context, it is interesting to look at another piece of news which appeared the China Tibet News Network which mentioned the G216 National Highway (see my posting in December 2016 on the subject).
According to the article, the National Highway No. 216 will end in the Kyirong (written Jilong in Chinese) county, near the Nepal border.
Incidentally, the G318 ends up in Zhangmu, the other landport between Nepal and Tibet; it runs from Shanghai to Zhangmu on the China-Nepal border. It is the longest National Highway with 5,476 kilometres, passing through Zhejiang, Anhui, Hubei, Chongqing, Sichuan, and ending in Tibet (from Lhasa to Zhangmu it is called Friendship Highway); a 115 km long Araniko Highway then connects Zhangmu to Kathmandu.
As mentioned earlier, the G216 starts in Northern Xinjiang, from Altay City to Baluntai (in Hejing County). The 857 kilometres highway could be extended to Southern Xinjiang (Keryia) and later Western Tibet.
Needless to speak of the immense technical challenge to cross the Kunlun range between Keryia and Rutok (joining the G219 or Aksai Chin road).
As mentioned on the map above,Keryia in South Xinjiang is located at 1459 m asl, while lake Lighten on the plateau is at 5080 m asl (a 3,500 m climb in some 200 kms!!!).
The last section of the ‘extended’ G216 (towards Kyirong) would have a length of about 94 kilometers; the geological conditions are complex, said the website: “After experiencing the ‘May 12 2015’ earthquake in Nepal, the geological conditions are even more inestimable. The original roads at the Kyirong Port have been seriously damaged, and the subgrade has subsided in some sections.”
The main bridge in this section is said to have collapsed “and the road surface was broken and cracked.”
The town of Kyirong is only about 24 kilometers away from the Nepal border; it is now the main channel for land trade between China and Nepal.
Let us remember that though the casualties in Tibet are not known, 8,857 died in Nepal and 21,952 were injured, while 3.5 million were rendered homeless as the result of the earthquake. Further, the railway line between Shigatse and Kyirong has been delayed by at least 3 years.
The same Chinese website said that after the earthquake, one section of the 216 National Highway slipped and was no longer accessible: “After the disaster, with the efforts of the relevant departments, it was promptly rushed through. However, one Kyirong-Huan [?] section of the 216 National Highway has changed beyond recognition.”
The road from Kyirong Town to the landport bridge (the border with Nepal) which is about 24 kilometers long is a ‘dirt road’: “It takes about two hours to pass through this section. When the rainy season arrives, disasters such as landslides and mudslides are frequent.”
The China Railway’s 20th Bureau Group of the Tibet First Engineering Co, located in Kyirong town is responsible for the post-disaster reconstruction of this section of the National Highway: “In May 2016, after the preliminary bidding and related preparation work, the post-disaster reconstruction project of the 216 National Highway Section was fully started.”
In order not to affect China-Nepal Trading, a ‘fully-closed’ construction was adopted (probably selecting a new route).
During construction, there are dangerous situations, said the website.
Ren Jixing, head of the project department of the company of the 20th Bureau Group openly stated that “this is very difficult.”
A reporter who followed the staff of the 20th Bureau Group when it visited the section between Kyirong Town and the landport wrote: “On the same day, rainy and wet, two-lane asphalt roads were slippery.”
According to Liu Jian, a member of the Standing Committee of the Kyirong County Committee and a member of the Landport’s Working Committee said that after the earthquake, the Zhangmu Port was closed and the Kyirong Port became the only channel for land trade between China and Nepal.
In the first quarter of 2018, the total import and export trade volume was however up to more than 600 million yuan. “Usually, we put more than 80 trucks in Nepal and released more than 70 vehicles. In the peak season, more than 100 trucks can enter and exit. The imported goods are mainly bronze sculptures, decorative copper ornaments, decorative aluminum ornaments, and handicrafts. Products, etc.; exports of goods are clothing, footwear, agricultural and sideline products, textiles, hardware, small appliances, etc”.

Is crossing the Kunlun feasible
The point remains that if the terminal section of G216 towards Kyirong is ‘difficult’, it is nothing compared to the section which will try to cross the Kunlun range, north of Lake Lighten.
One more mad dream of the Emperor?
Or a futuristic vision of the importance of having  second Xinjiang-Tibet highway (after the Aksai Chin road in the early 1950s)?
Could it be a true New Silk Road linking Central Asia (Altai) to South Asia via Nepal?
Difficult to say today ...the engineers have to cross the Kunlun first.

Monday, May 7, 2018

A Strange World

Remember some fifteen years ago, the book The Mitrokhin Archive II, written by Vasili Mitrokhin, a former KGB defector? It stated that India was "the model of KGB infiltration of a Third World government with scores of sources throughout the Indian government, in intelligence, counter-intelligence, defence and foreign ministries, the police..."
According to Mitrokhin: “The agency had so many agents and sources that then KGB chief Yuri Andropov turned down an offer by an Indian cabinet minister for a payment of $50,000 in exchange for information. Suitcases of cash were sent to then prime minister Indira Gandhi for her party's war chest, not to mention vast sums of money funnelled to the CPI.”
It was the way that the Soviet Union manage to ‘influence’ Indian politics.
This was before Facebook.
Is today’s ‘influencing’ less crude? No, but it is done using social media and its tool, Artificial Intelligence (AI).
In recent weeks, Facebook has been in the news for the wrong reasons. One British company Cambridge Analytica is said to have obtained users’ data from the social media service.
Brittany Kaiser, who worked with the company at Cambridge provided evidence of Analytica’s wrongdoings during a hearing in the British Parliament, she said that Cambridge Analytica or its partners extract data from the social media. She believed that the number of people whose Facebook data may have been compromised is likely higher than the widely reported 87 million.
Cambridge Analytica obtained data through a personality quiz app designed by researchers: “applications were designed specifically to harvest data from individuals,” she said.
It is indeed not new that politicians and countries have tried to influence their opponents (or sometimes their friends) by using unethical means in order to promote their own interests.
This is what the Chinese People’s Liberation Army calls the Psychological (or Influence) Warfare. The novelty is just the ‘digitalization’ of the techniques.
‘Influencing’ (or spying) is not limited to social media.
Recently, the Indian Army’s Additional Directorate General of Public Interface (ADGPI) tweeted “Stay cautious, stay alert, stay safe! The Chinese are penetrating the digital world”. It was alleged that Chinese hackers were targeting Indian users to extract personal data.
China reacted immediately via The Global Times: “The negative propaganda against China recently released by the Indian Army on social media violates the will of both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who are seeking to bring Sino-Indian relations into a stable phase."
Hu Shisheng, director of the Institute of South and Southeast Asian and Oceania Studies in Beijing told the Chinese tabloid: “The allegation of Chinese hacking of Indian users' personal data could also be a way for the Indian Army to boost their budget.”
It indeed looks like a very well-planned campaign and India needs to be aware that this could be a well-thought military doctrine, elaborated in the name of the Psy Warfare.
Let us look at examples from elsewhere in the world. According to a new book Silent Invasion: How China Is Turning Australia into a Puppet State, written by Clive Hamilton, professor of Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University in Australia: “Thousands of agents of the Chinese state have integrated themselves into Australian public life — from the high spheres of politics, academia and business all the way down to suburban churches and local writers' groups.”
Hamilton alleges a systematic Chinese government campaign of espionage and influence peddling; he said that it includes “billionaires with shady histories and tight links to the [Chinese Communist] party, media owners creating Beijing mouthpieces, 'patriotic' students brainwashed from birth, and professionals marshalled into pro-Beijing associations set up by the Chinese embassy.”
A group of 27 Australian scholars recently published an open letter stating that the fact that the Chinese Communist Party is exercising its influence in Australia is unacceptable and warned against using racism in the debate. The open letter included a list of espionage activities that the Australian government needs to be aware of.
Similar stories occurred in the United States, in New Zealand or in Europe, but in China too.
During the 13th NPC, Beijing unveiled a massive plan to further assert the Communist Party’s control over economic and foreign affairs, cultural policies, and the appointment and training of cadres.
The South China Morning Post observed: “The party’s influence has grown under President Xi Jinping, in line with his slogan “the party leads everything”, reversing past practice of leaving policy implementation to the state.”
During the recent NPC, deep reforms have been announced. One should be noted, the United Front Work Department which has been given an increased importance, taking-over the State Council Overseas Office, the National Ethnic Affairs Commission and the State Administration for Religious Affairs. Observers expect that it will translate into a tighter control over religion and ethnic issues, in particular in Tibet and Xinjiang, but also a renewed ‘influence’ policy abroad; the UFWD being the coordinating agency.
It is not that China is not peeping into the life its own people. While some in India are complaining about the Aadhar card system (and the Supreme Court is looking into the issue), China is shamelessly ‘spying’ on its citizens.
On April 17, President Xi Jinping called for efforts to fully implement a holistic approach to national security and “break new ground in national security in the new era”. It is an euphemism to keep a tab on every citizen.
Speaking at the first meeting of the National Security Commission, Xi, the Commission Chairman mentioned “strengthening the centralized, unified leadership of the Party over national security.”
How does this translate?
Apart from the introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in all domains of life (with ‘facial recognition’ for example), the Chinese State encourages citizens to denounce their neighbours.
China Military Online reported that the Beijing Municipal National Security Bureau recently released a document on awarding bonus for citizens and organizations to report espionage: the ‘12339 hotline’.
On April 10 Beijing Evening News announced that the local Public Security Bureau was rewarding citizens who offer information about suspicious spying activities: “Nearly 5,000 reports from people from all walks of life and people outside China in the past year, providing important support for national security agencies to conduct in-depth legal investigations and effectively fight against espionage crimes.” The newspaper gave the names of the ‘winners’.
But it is not only about spies; take the ‘toilet revolution’, the new buzzword in China. Xinhua recently reported: “Tourists may be very surprised when they walk into a toilet and are greeted with piped-in music, decorations including green plants and even a smart management system.” But because toilet rolls get stolen, “some municipal governments have sought help from technology to deal with this problem.”
To enter the loo, facial recognition is required.
In the years to come, will we have to live with this type of intrusive ‘intelligence’ technology? Yes, and they will probably extend to all domains, including defence.
It is vital for India to watch (and learn) from these developments which are bound to have repercussions on our lives in the future …and India’s relations with Beijing.
Are we not living in a strange word?