Thursday, May 30, 2019

Tibet Infrastructure: new panacea for the Middle Kingdom?

My article Tibet Infrastructure: new panacea for the Middle Kingdom? appeared in The Indian Defence Review.

July 1, 2006 witnessed a tsunami of change on the Tibetan high plateau, the first train arrived in Lhasa.
It was perhaps the most radical transformation since the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) crossed the upper reaches of the Yangtze river and entered eastern Tibet on October 7, 1950.
On October 31, 2018, China Daily reported that the Qinghai-Tibet Railway had been a driving force of Tibet's growth. The Communist Party’s mouthpiece explained: “Since its opening in 2006, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway has been serving as an important driving force for the economic development of Tibet. Linking Xining and Lhasa, capital cities of northwestern Qinghai province and southwestern Tibet autonomous region, the railway, 1,956 kilometers long, is the region's first railway in history.”
According to the Qinghai-Tibet Railway Company, during the last 12 years, the railway has transported 182 million passengers and 552 million tons of goods.
China Daily run by the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China affirmed: “The railway is known as a ‘sky road’, because it is built at the highest altitude and is the longest railway sited on a high plateau. As a result, the geographic conditions brought many challenges, including the high altitude and lack of oxygen, to the operation of the railway.
As a result of the opening of the rail line, the TAR's GDP rose from 24.88 billion yuan ($38 billion) in 2005 to 131.06 billion yuan in 2017. This growth is generally attributed to the railway. It brought a tremendous change in strategic terms too.

Dual Use of Infrastructure
To understand the importance of the infrastructure on the plateau, one has to look at the civil-military integration or dual-use of infrastructure. In 2015, Xinhua first mentioned that the joint civil-military development of airports would “strengthen aviation safety and combat support capabilities."
A joint statement from the People Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and General Administration of Civil Aviation (CAAC) explained that the integration would include joint maintenance of airport support facilities, joint flight safety support and joint airport management.
Interestingly, the Lhasa Gongkar Airport in Tibet and Sunan Shuofang International Airport in Wuxi in Jiangsu province were the first two pilot airports to implement the 'integration' in China.
It was done during the second half of 2015. The PLAAF/CAAC circular further affirms that "All the civil-military airports will conduct strengthened integration next year."

Work Forum and Stability
During the 6th Tibet Work Forum in 2015, the top Chinese leaders discussed economic and social development in Tibet, and how to ensure the autonomous region achieve prolonged stability." The statement of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) further noted: "Safeguarding national unity and strengthening ethnic unity should be highlighted in work involving Tibet."
It added that: "Efforts should be made to unswervingly carry out the anti-separatism battle, promote the region's economic and social development, safeguard and improve people's welfare, and enhance exchanges and integration of different ethnic groups."
The Politburo (or probably an extended Politburo) agreed that "strengthening Tibetan infrastructure, helping it foster competitive industries while ensuring environmental protection are the means to achieve marked improvement in living conditions and more social cohesion," these were the priorities for the restive region.
The PLA/Civil integration pertains not only to the airports, but the entire infrastructure setup in Tibet should be seen in the perspective of consolidating China’s presence on the plateau; in other words, 'to stabilize the borders'.

New Railway on the Plateau
In September 18, 2018, an article in Xinhua dealt at great length about the ‘LaLin’ section of the Sichuan-Tibet Railway. ‘Lalin’ is a short form for Lhasa-Linzhi railway .
The news agency reported that China Railway’s 11th Bureau had successfully laid the first group of ballasts for the Gonggao  station, a new station in the railway line: “thus created the traffic conditions for the passage of the Lalin Railway.”
Liu Jun, the Secretary of the Lhasa-Nyingchi Project told the agency that the Sichuan-Tibet Railway was a key project of the National 13th Five-Year Plan: “Upon completion, it will become another railway artery connecting the plateau with the mainland.”
The ‘Lalin’ section is an important section of the Sichuan-Tibet Railway; this part is relatively easier to build than the eastern part (Nyingchi-Chengdu).
It will have a total length of 435 kilometers with 34 new stations, out of which 17 already exist. It will start in Lhasa and the terminus wil be at Nyingchi City  and follow the Yarlung Tsangbo River .
The construction of this section started at the end of 2014; it will take some seven years to complete the entire project and the speed of the train will be 160 kms/hour; it will be the first electrified railway in Tibet.
The Railway line will cross the Yarlung Tsangpo 16 times. The railway bridges use large-span bridge structures: “The mountains are high in water depth, the rivers are rushing, the technology is special, and the construction is extremely difficult. There are 14 high-risk tunnels out of 47 tunnels, of which 7 are extremely high-risk tunnels,” explained China Railway's 11th Bureau.
Shen Yubin, a project manager for the China Railways Lhasa-Nyingchi Railway Second Division affirmed: “The total length of bridges and tunnels on the Lhasa-Nyingchi Railway is 331 km, 75% of the total distance of the line. Of these, there are 120 bridges totaling 84 km, which accounts for 21 % of the length of the line. As a single-track railway, there have been difficulties in construction and logistics transportation while building the Lhasa-Nyingchi Railway.”
To show the difficulty of the project, Shen added: “We have also encountered unique geographical, climatic, and environmental situations, which have brought unique challenges to the beam-laying process."


Visit of Premier Li Keqiang
At the end of July 2018, Li Keqiang, the Chinese Premier visited a construction site of the Lhasa-Nyingchi railway.
Li stressed the importance of the project for Tibet’s development: "The railway project is beneficial for Tibet to cultivate new growth drivers, and it is the right thing that must be done. Full construction work should be accelerated," Li said.
He added that "at present, infrastructure development in the country's central and western regions is relatively weak, and promoting effective investments to improve weak links will not only narrow the gap in regional development but also be helpful for the country to cope with economic downturn.” He further observed: "China should avoid strong stimulus and take targeted measures that are beneficial in both short and long terms."
Many more railway lines are planned on the plateau.

A map of future railway lines
Interestingly, on a map found on a Pakistani website accompanying one of these articles, not only the ‘Lalin’ railway line is prominently displayed, but several new lines are shown reaching the plateau. They are worth noting:
•    The Lhasa-Shigatse-Kyirong section which should be completed in a couple of years (it was delayed due to the 2015 Nepal Earthquake)
•    The Lhasa-Yatung section reaching the Chumbi Valley and the Indian border in Sikkim. It has serious strategic implications for India, especially after the Doklam episode. Though it is rarely mentioned in the Chinese press, it is clearly on the cards (it is not in dotted lines)
•    The projected Yunnan-Tibet railway line which has special strategic implications for India too, particularly for the border in Arunachal Pradesh (in a dotted line). It will join the Sichuan-Nyingchi line somewhere near Chamdo.
•    Korla-Golmud is already under construction. It will be the second major railway line linking Qinghai province to Western Xinjiang.
•    The Shigatse-Rutok-Kashgar line (in dotted line). It may follow the G219 Highway (known as the Aksai Chin road). Will India protest if China starts building a railway on its territory?
•    A new Qiemo-Korla line across the Taklamatan desert. An extension of G216 Highway is under construction. It should be following the highway.
•    The Khotan-Quiemo line in Xinjiang. It will link up with the Khotan-Kashar line. It is probably important for the totally unstable Muslim province, in order to ‘stabilize’ southern Xinjiang and build new model villages/town along the line.
•    The Khotan-Tashkurgan line, leading to the border with Afghanistan.
Tashkurgan has historically been part of the Silk Road. “Major caravan routes converged leading to Kashgar in the north, Yecheng to the east, Badakhshan and Wakhan to the west, and Chitral and Hunza to the southwest” says Wikipedia.
•    A never seen-before project to link Chengdu in Sichuan to Golmud in Qinghai. It will close the loop linking the two provinces on the West and North of the Tibetan plateau and link up Xinjiang through the above-mentioned Golmud-Korla line.
But the plans are not restricted to the railway.

New Roads
In October 2017, the Lhasa-Nyingchi High Grade Highway was opened for trial operations. Quoting from the TAR’s transportation department, Kangba TV reported: “except Songduo Tunnel and Milashan Tunnel , Lhasa-Nyingchi High Grade Highway has been well prepared and begins trial operation from October 1.” The four-lane Lhasa-Nyingchi High Grade Highway is 398 km long; it is designed for a 80 km/h speed.
According to the Chinese media: “The operation of Lhasa-Nyingchi High Grade Highway shortens the travel time between Lhasa and Nyingchi from 10 hours to four hours, which can greatly improve the traffic condition of the golden tour line as well as boost local economy development.”
The train on the same route should follow in some years from now.
Also part of the Lhasa-Nyingchi Highway, China has built a Lhasa-Lhoka (Shannan) Express Line (Highway).
On March 6, 2017, China Tibet News published some pictures of workers on the Lhasa-Lhoka Express Line driving an engineering vehicle. The news agency commented: “At present, the Lhasa-Shannan  Express Line project goes well. This project started on August 26, 2016. The whole line is 48 kilometers with bidirectional four roadways. [It is] designed speed is 80 kilometers per hour. The project can not only bring the benefits of development to both Lhasa and Shannan, but also has a positive significance to improving people’s livelihood and driving the accelerated development of the whole region’s economy industry chain.”
The highway will serve the Indian border, particularly north of the Tawang sector; it will run in parallel to the railway line and have dual use.

The Rongme Ngatra tunnel
Another tunnel project, termed as the world's highest highway tunnel, was opened to traffic in 2017; this time in Sichuan province on the Nyingchi-Chengdu section. The China Daily wrote: “The Que'ershan  Tunnel, stretching 13 kilometers on National Highway No. 317, at Ganzi in Sichuan province, opened to traffic on September 26, 2017. It is said to be the world's highest tunnel on a highway. The tunnel, whose highest point is 4,378 meters above sea level, was completed 15 years after the launch of the project.”
According to the press release: “With the opening of the tunnel, it takes only 10 minutes to pass through the perilous and steep Que'ershan Mountain that stands 6,168 meters above the sea level. The project is projected to become a new impetus to help drive the economic and social development of the remote Tibetan region.”
Each of the tunnels represents a remarkable technological feat.

The Tibet-Nepal Road
On August 29, 2017, the Kyirong-Nepal border post was reopened for foreign travelers. Located in the Kyirong County, Shigatse City , Kyirong border post is a vital landport between Tibet and Nepal. Kyirong border is located 85 km away from Nepal's capital Kathmandu; from China-Nepal highway section, Kyirong docking distance is only about 30 km.
According to the article, the National Highway No. 216  will end in the Kyirong  county, near the Nepal border.
Incidentally, the G318 ends up in Zhangmu, the other landport between Nepal and Tibet which runs from Shanghai to Zhangmu. It is China’s longest National Highway at 5,476 kilometres before reaching Tibet; a 115 km long Araniko Highway then connects Zhangmu to Kathmandu.

The Mythic G216 Highway
Will the extended G216 be a reality one day?
The G216 would start in Northern Xinjiang, from Altay City to Baluntai (in Hejing County); the 857 kms highway would 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). Keryia in South Xinjiang is located at 1459 m above sea level (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 today the main channel for land trade between China and Nepal.
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. Is it another mad dream of the Emperor in Beijing? Is Beijing dreaming of a New Silk Road linking Central to South Asia via Nepal? Difficult to say today ...the engineers have to cross the Kunlun first.

Gongkar Airport in Lhasa
We should not omit the airports.
This year, the Tibetan capital city received a record 4 million passengers according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China’s Tibet office; the passenger volume at Gongkar Airport, the largest airport in the TAR, exceeded 2 million in 2013, and 3 million in 2016.
Tibet’s civil aviation industry has witnessed a quick development thanks to the application of new technologies since the country's reform and opening-up four decades ago, noted the Chinese media.
Tibet now has 10 airlines operating a total of 81 routes, enabling convenient connections between Tibet and most of the major cities in China, according to CAAC. It is estimated that the airport will see 4.3 million passengers by the end of 2018.

New terminal opens at Nyingchi airport
In March 2017, Xinhua announced the second-largest airport terminal in Tibet has started its operations in Nyingchi: “The new terminal, the sixth to open in Tibet, is located at Nyingchi Mainling Airport. It covers an area of 10,300 square meters and will be able to handle 750,000 passengers and 3,000 tons of cargo annually by 2020.”
Nyingchi is located at an average elevation of 2,950 meters above sea level.
Xinhua says: “The city has attracted more visitors in recent years thanks to tourist attractions such as its peach blossom festival.” More than three millions according to Chinese statistics.
Incidentally, the Bayi Township, owned by the PLA and located nearly, is served by the same airport. The Indian border will be well-serviced …in case!

Three New Airports in Tibet
On June 9, 2018, the CAAC and the TAR government announced that Tibet would soon have three new airports. The announcement came during a Conference held in Lhasa on June 8. A communique stated: “Construction of the three airports, all above the altitude of 3,900 meters, should begin in 2019.” Xinhua gave the official rationale: “Tourist travel will be more convenient, and economic development in Tibet's agricultural and pastoral areas will also be assisted.”
The Chinese-language press provided more information about the location of the three airports; one will be located in Lhuntse in Lhoka (called Shannan by the Chinese) area, north of the Upper Subansiri and Tawang districts of Arunachal Pradesh, the second will be between Tingri and Lhatse counties of Shigatse City, north of Zangmu, the border post with Nepal, and the last in Purang, near the trijunction Nepal-Tibet-India, north of Pittoragarh district of Uttarakhand (on the yatris’ route to Mt Kailash).
While Tingri airport is near the Nepali border, the two other (Lhuntse and Purang) are at a short distance from the Indian border.
The airports should be completed in 2021; by then, there will be eight airports in the TAR (plus three close to the Indian border in Xinjiang, i.e. Kashgar, Hotan and Yarkand).
The news agency added: “At present, the preparatory work for the three airports is underway. The preferred sites have been determined, and the construction of temporary weather stations at each site is completed.”
The three airports will be high altitude airports; they will be operated by companies including Air China, China Eastern Airlines or Sichuan Airlines already involved in Tibet.
One has to understand Xi’s plans for Tibet. The ‘core’ leader had declared: “Govern the nation by governing the borders; govern the borders by first stabilizing Tibet; ensure social harmony and stability in Tibet and strengthen the development of border regions.”
Over last few years, the authorities in Tibet have started implementing the emperor’s theory, while the Party’s propaganda is doing its best to entice the local Tibetan population to side with the Communist Party. This is a serious development, unfortunately largely ignored in India.

The protectors of the sacred homeland and the builders of happy homes

It is necessary to say a few words about a related development on the border: The Xiaogang model villages.
This new development is often mentioned in the speech of the TAR’s local satraps; it is said that the inhabitants of China’s borders (with India) will be “the protectors of the sacred homeland and the builders of happy homes.”
It has taken a concrete shape with the mushrooming of new ‘model’ villages and towns on the Tibetan side of the Indian border, mainly north of Arunachal Pradesh; officially, the scheme is linked with ‘poverty alleviation’, but also ‘defence of the borders’. These model villages are called Xiaogang, moderately well-off.
It has another connotation. The 40th anniversary of “China's reform and opening up” celebrated across China in 2018 put a great emphasis on an event which took place in 1978, when 18 farmers in Xiaogang village, in Anhui Province, signed a secret agreement to divide collectively-owned farmland into individual pieces and drop the collectivization of the Great Leap Forward (GLF), which between 1958 and 1960 resulted in some 40 million casualties; in Xiaogang itself, 67 villagers out of 120 had died of starvation between 1958 and 1960.
Forty years later, the name Xiaogang is been used for a different project, which should worry India: the building of a large number of ‘model’ villages along the border.
On October 19, China Tibet News reported that since the beginning of 2018, Tsona County, north of Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang District, has been “vigorously promoting the construction of border ‘Xiaogang’ villages”.
Several senior Communist leaders have visited the new villages, either north of Kibithu in the Lohit valley; in Metok, north of Upper Siang district; in Yume , north of Takshing in Upper Subansari or in Lepo, Marmang and Tsona, north of Khenzimane and Tawang. As mentioned earlier, the Lhuntse airport will serve the Tsona and Yume areas.
The new project was given publicity soon after the conclusion of the 19th Congress, when Xi Jinping sent a reply to two young Tibetan herders who had written to him introducing their village, Yume. According to Xinhua, Xi “encouraged a herding family in Lhuntse County to set down roots in the border area, safeguard the Chinese territory and develop their hometown.” Xi acknowledged “the family’s efforts to safeguard China’s territory, and thanked them for the loyalty and contributions they have made in the border area. Without the peace in the territory, there will be no peaceful lives for the millions of families,” he wrote.
The two Tibetan girls, Choekar and Yangzom had told the CCP’s Secretary General about their “experiences in safeguarding the border area and the development of their township over the years.”
The girls’ village, Yume is located in Lhuntse county, not far from the remote Indian village of Takshing, which incidentally has recently been linked by a motorable road. Xi further hoped that the girls’ family could “motivate more herders to set down roots in the border area like kalsang flowers,” blooming in hard conditions.
China is to invest 110 million yuan in the Yume Well-Off Rural Construction Project; to start with, 56 sets of light-steel prefabricated residential houses are being built, linked by two new municipal roads, a central park and six squares. Electricity and water have already reached the border village. And this is not the only example.

Implications for India
All this is worrisome for India, though Beijing is presently facing a serious problem: can it afford all these new infrastructure projects?
Who will finance these mega-developments, especially if the US President turns the screw on the Chinese economy and if Xi continues to ‘invest’ in Africa, Pakistan or elsewhere, outside the Walls of the Middle Kingdom?
It is a serious question, though difficult to answer.
Further, the US ‘squeezing’ of China is bound to create ‘differences’ within the Communist leadership about the investment ‘priorities’ and …when the Emperor and his courtiers start fighting among themselves, the ‘stability’ of Kingdom is jeopardized.

Monday, May 27, 2019

The US Ambassador in Lhasa

According to the State Department, the US Ambassador to China, Terry Branstad spoke his mind during a visit to the Roof of the World between May 19 and 25.
A Statement from Washington said that he “urged China to open ‘substantive dialogue’ with exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama and give the Himalayan region’s Buddhists freedom to practice their religion.”
It was the first trip by a US ambassador since 2015.
During his tour, Branstad met “religious leaders and toured historic sites in Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Qinghai Province”, Washington said, stating: “The Ambassador raised our long-standing concerns about lack of consistent access to the Tibetan Autonomous Region. …He also expressed concerns regarding the Chinese government’s interference in Tibetan Buddhists’ freedom to organize and practice their religion."
Branstad visited number of places such as the Potala Palace, the Jokhang Temple, the Norbulingka Palace and the Sera Monastery; he met with senior Tibetan religious and cultural leaders: “He encouraged the Chinese government to engage in substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives, without preconditions, to seek a settlement that resolves differences.”
All this was obviously not reported in the Chinese press.

Meeting with the Party Boss
More importantly, though not said in the US communiqué, Branstad met Wu Yingjie, Tibet’s Communist Party Chief, who explained the ‘huge achievements’ undertaken for guaranteeing the rule of law, religious freedom and traditional culture in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).
According to the Communist Tibet Daily newspaper, Wu added that he “sincerely welcomed more American friends to visit” in the Region.
Before the visit, Beijing had announced that it hoped that the ambassador would come to the TAR with any prejudices.

The Encounter
A Chinese official website gave more details of the encounter between the US ambassador and the Party Boss; were also present the two Tibetan members of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, Lobsang Gyaltsen, the Chairman of TAR People’s Congress and Che Dalha, the Governor of Tibet.
Ding Yexian, a Deputy Secretary of the TAR in charge of ‘development’ also participated.
Other members of the TAR Party’s Committee Standing Committee in attendance were Norbu Dhondup, Pema Wangdi and Liu Jiang.
Missing, for obviously reasons was Lt Gen Xu Yong, the Commander of the Tibet Military Region and No 6 in the TAR Standing Committee.
Also missing  on of the Party's Deputy Secretaries Zhuang Yan.
None of the old Tibetan guard, principally, the head of the Tibet CPPCC, Phakpalha Geleg Namgyal, but also also Raidi, Legchok, Raidi or Pasang were seen around. 
Other senior leaders such Sonam Rinchin, Jampa Khendup (Zonglo Tulku) and Lhaba a monk and Party cadre of Jokhang Cathedral were also seen on some of the photos.
The Chinese had obviously taken seriously Branstad’s visit.
The American too as the Ambassador's delegation was rather large.
Incidentally, the Chinese released only one picture (below).
The meeting took place on May 22 afternoon.
The Chinese report says that Wu Yingjie first welcomed Branstad to the TAR; Wu noted that 2019 marks the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States: “Over the past 40 years, China-US relations and the two countries have made historic progress; this has brought great benefits to the two peoples, and made important contributions to world peace, stability, and prosperity,” he observed.
Of course, there was no question of the on-going trade war, started by President Trump.
Wu reminded his guest that in December last year, President Xi Jinping met with President Trump in Argentina and “reached important consensus”, which was an indication of the direction in which Sino-US relations were moving. Wu said that was hoped that “the two sides would work together …in the same direction.”
The Party boss added that in accordance with the principles and directions set by the two heads of state, “we will expand our cooperation on the basis of mutual benefit, manage differences on the basis of mutual respect, and jointly promote Sino-US relations based on coordination, cooperation and stability;” all this for the benefit the people of the two countries and the people of the world.

Then Wu Yingjie briefly introduced the “great achievements made by the TAR under the leadership of the Communist Party of China in safeguarding the freedom of religious belief, traditional culture and ecological environment protection, and people's livelihood, education, employment, and poverty alleviation.”
What is most surprising is that this report, in Communist jargon, appeared more than five days after the meeting took place …and it is completely different from the US account.
Wu concluded that he hoped that Ambassador Branstad’s visit would further deepen his own understanding of the TAR and that what he will see during his visit, would be an good introduction “to a prosperous and developing Tibet and its people from all walks of life.”
Wu sincerely welcomed “more American friends to come to Tibet for sightseeing, exchanges and cooperation.”

Branstad's Answer
Jampa Khendup (Zonglo Tulku) and Liu Jiang
According to the Communist mouthpiece, Terry Branstad expressed his gratitude for the warm welcome. He would have observed that the Region “has beautiful natural scenery and profound historical culture, and its economic and social development is very fast. The visit left a deep and beautiful impression.”
The report concluded by noting that the two sides “exchanged views on issues of common concern.”
That must have been the most interesting part of the discussion, but it will probably remain classified for many years.
Did Branstad ask about the fate of the Panchen Lama, kidnapped 20 years ago? Probably not!

It is difficult to say if the visit will be beneficial for the Tibetans, as for the Chinese, it was probably a gesture to cool down the tensions, in the midst of the trade war.
Beijing can’t fight the US on too many fronts at the same time.
One could wish that the Indian Ambassador to China would also visit Lhasa and recall his hosts about the century old relations between Tibet and India.

Postcript
After writing this post, the Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lu Kang came back on the visit,
he asserted: "We welcome Ambassador Branstad to visit Tibet and hope he will have a first-hand understanding of economic and social development, as well as significant changes in people's livelihood over the past 60 plus years since the peaceful liberation of Tibet."
He repeated the same argument: "We hope Ambassador Branstad will visit [visited] Tibet in an objective manner and draw [drew] his own conclusion with respect for facts and without prejudice."
He was also aksed about ambassadors of other countries: "Whether it is the US ambassador or other countries' diplomatic envoys to China, consulting with relevant parties is necessary before making visits to specific places in China," Lu answered in diplomatic jargon.
No harm for the Indian Ambassador 'applying'.


 
 
 
 
 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

China-Nepal love affair

My article China-Nepal love affair appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer
 
Here is the link...

The deepening of ties between Kathmandu and Beijing is a serious setback for New Delhi. China scored one more goal but it’s difficult to say how far this story will continue

In politics, there is little difference between love and sycophancy — the case of Nepal is particularly telling. The social media was recently buzzing with news that some Tibetans had protested “against an utterly ridiculous demand from Nepal’s China sycophant politicians to ban the use of the khata, the traditional Tibetan white scarf, because it was hurting the feelings of the Chinese people.” Whether true or not, the sensitivity of “hurting the feelings of the Chinese people” is nowadays prevalent all over the world with Nepali politicians at the vanguard of the movement.
The “love” has increased further after Nepal President Bidhya Devi Bhandari spent nine days in China on a State visit. The invitation had come from Chinese President Xi Jinping himself. The first part of the visit coincided with the Second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing on April 27. President Bhandari held high-level meetings with the top Chinese leadership; they “exchanged substantive views on further strengthening and consolidating the ties of co-operative friendship and mutually beneficial partnership subsisting between the two countries,” according to an official communique.
More importantly, the Himalayan nation signed seven agreements with its giant northern neighbour; it included a protocol for an Agreement on Transit Transport; an accord on Cooperation and Mutual Administrative Assistance in Customs Matters and one on strengthening assistance and cooperation in the field of livelihood in the Northern Region of Nepal (ie the border with Tibet).
The ruling Nepal Communist Party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, alias Prachanda, was quick to assert that a railway line will connect Kathmandu to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) “within his lifetime.” Prachanda also affirmed that the railway will be later extended to Lumbini and Pokhara. It will be “a milestone in Nepal’s economic development and growth of the tourism sector”, he said.
The Government of Nepal had announced earlier that technical studies for the construction of railway lines linking Nepal with India and China have been completed. Bhandari specifically told the Parliament: “The Rasuwagadhi-Kathmandu railways will be started within two years.” Rasuwa is the border post town with Tibet (Kyirong). The line between Shigatse and Kyirong was much delayed due to the 2015 earthquake but now it is expected to be completed by 2023.
In May 2017, Beijing had already signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Kathmandu for roads, railways, ports and aviation as well as hydropower and energy projects, finance and tourism as part of the Belt and Road Initiative.
Xi assured Bhandari of China’s support to make a “Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali.” Before returning to Kathmandu, the Nepali President spent a day in Lhasa; the main purpose of the visit was re-emphasising Nepal’s commitment to the “One China” policy.
As the Japanese newspaper The Nikkei wrote, “The price is paid in diplomatic support for Beijing: The Nepalese consulate in Lhasa, the only foreign diplomatic mission in the Tibetan capital, recently reiterated unwavering support for Beijing’s claims to both Tibet and Taiwan.”
Incidentally, India had a full-fledged mission in Lhasa till 1952 and a Consulate-General till 1962. Today, Beijing adamantly refuses to reopen it, wanting India to go through Nepal authorities for trans-border trade. Examples abound to show the ongoing love story. Nepal has chosen a railway track gauge used by China as standard for its network; Kathmandu justifies the choice by the lower Chinese costs. The move is a serious setback for Delhi, which has failed to limit Beijing’s control over Nepal.
Minister for Physical Infrastructure and Transport Raghubir Mahaseth told Reuters that his Government will ask India to use the Chinese gauge: “Standard gauge is less expensive,” was the rationale.
Even Nepal’s borders with Tibet are looked after by Beijing. According to The Kathmandu Post, Kathmandu has permitted the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA) to provide development assistance in 15 northern districts of Nepal “to meet their developmental needs”; these districts share a common border with Tibet. The agency was set up in August 2018 in order to strengthen “the strategic planning and overall coordination of the Chinese aid to Nepal.”
One unsaid objective is to stop Tibetans fleeing their native land and taking refuge in India. It has been remarkably efficient. On May 12, the Nepal Intermodal Transport Development Board signed with Tibet Fuli Construction Group, a Chinese company, an agreement to construct the inland container depot in Timure in Rasuwa district. Built with Chinese aid, the project is expected to cost $20 million and is expected to be completed in 30 months. The Chinese Government will construct the dry port on five hectares of land provided by Nepal; a parking yard with a capacity to park 350 trucks and containers will be built.
In another news, more on the ridiculous side, according to The Kathmandu Post, Nepal’s leading English language newspaper, three journalists working for the Rastriya Samachar Samiti (RSS), Nepal’s national news agency, are being probed for disseminating a news item regarding the Dalai Lama.
What is their crime? The journalists “translated and disseminated” a wire report about the Lama’s return to Dharamsala on April 27, after he was discharged from a hospital in New Delhi. Minister for Communications and Information Technology Gokul Baskota confirmed to The Post that an investigation was on; Baskota said that the Tibet issue was sensitive for China and dissemination of a report regarding the Dalai Lama’s health by a state-run news agency was against Nepal’s commitment to “One-China policy.” Sycophancy of the first order!
Also in the tragi-comedy category, Pradip Yadav of the Samajbadi Party and Iqabal Miya of the Rastriya Janata Party, two Members of the Nepali Parliament, recently participated in an event organised by the Latvian Parliamentary Support Group for Tibet and the International Network of Parliamentarians for Tibet.
The convention in Riga was attended by Lobsang Sangay, president of the Central Tibetan Administration, along with other members of the Tibetan Parliament. Soon after, an official at the Parliament Secretariat pretended that “the two leaders said they were visiting Latvia for personal reasons and they did not disclose the details and purpose of their visit.” But finally, the Nepali parliamentarian “regretted” their participation and declared that they inadvertently attended the conference because of misinformation and it was a “mistake.”
China scored one more goal; but for how long the love story can continue is difficult to say. Buddha had said “everything is impermanent” …even China’s great “loan” friendship?

Monday, May 20, 2019

A Truce that was not to be

My article A Truce that was not to be appeared in the Mail Today

One of the strangest characters who appeared on the political scene after India’s Independence was VK Krishna Menon.
PK Banerjee, the Indian chargé d’affaire in Beijing in 1962, who often encountered the arrogant politician, wrote in his memoirs: “Krishna Menon's appearance in the Indian political arena was as sudden as it was unexpected. …he had his education and was enrolled as a Barrister. He hardly had any legal practice …[but] became a protégé of Palme Dutt, a lawyer and founder member of the British Communist Party.”


An Unlikely Minister
Why after Independence, he was suddenly nominated Indian High Commissioner in UK, is not clear.
A few years later, he came back to India and was made Minister of Defence: “In addition, for all practical purposes, he functioned as Foreign Minister de facto,” noted Banerjee.
The Nehru Memorial and Museum Library (MNNL) recently opened the VK Krishna Menon Papers to the public. The first surprising thing to note is that a politician can walk away with so many government documents; of course it has been done by many bureaucrats too (scholars nevertheless rejoice to be able to access these ‘stolen’ files, as the ‘official’ ones remained classified in the different ministries).
In the case of Krishna Menon, he was certainly a smart politician; it can be seen from the fact that he did not leave many ‘traces’ behind.
I was hoping to find the records of his meeting with Marshal Chen Yi, the tough Foreign Affairs Minister of China.
A few years ago, The Hindu quoting declassified Chinese documents asserted that on July 23, 1962, Chen Yi met Krishna Menon in Geneva over breakfast. The Chinese Foreign Ministry reported that Menon suggested that both sides make clear their perception of the western boundary: “both sides could establish posts, but they would not attack each other. There should be a distance between posts of each side …Mr. Chen instantly opposed the suggestion.” The Aksai Chin was Chinese, he argued.
Sixty seven years later, it is a tragic fact that we still have to depend on Chinese archives to know what happened in 1962; I had hoped that a report of the breakfast with Chen would be in the Krishna Menon Papers; unfortunately, it was not. Another problem is that the brash Indian Defence Minister often believed that he did not need to keep proper minutes of his meetings.
However, I found the undated and unsigned transcript of his 1960 encounter with Zhou Enlai, the Chinese Premier; it is an important document as it is the only record not available in the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru which consecrate some 300 pages to Zhou’s meetings with Indian leaders (the Prime Minister alone had 17 hours of talk with his Chinese counterpart to try to unlock the disputed border issue).

Tryst with Zhou
The visit of Zhou Enlai in Delhi in April 1960 was clearly a turning point and the last opportunity to settle the Sino-Indian boundary issue peacefully.
As they met, Zhou Enlai told Menon that he had been told by Nehru that he wanted to see him; this was not a fact, noted Menon. Zhou then insisted that Menon spoke first.
The Defence Minister told the Premier that India’s foreign policy was “we were by far the best of friends and the world also thought so.” The minutes were obviously not taken in a professional manner and the English is often poor; for example when Zhou explained that despite “the Tibetan affair [the flight of the Dalai Lama], both in the world and even here although a great many of our people understand, they were very shocked” (sic).
The clever Zhou said that friendship with India was the basis of China’s foreign policy, and whatever happened does “not make any difference to this.”
Zhang Hanfu, the Chinese Vice-minister remained ‘inscrutable’ during the monologue, watching every move of Zhou, noted Menon.
Interestingly, for the Eastern Sector of the boundary, though China did not recognize the McMahon Line, “[Zhou] suggested that we leave it alone.” This meant that Beijing was ready to accept the Line minus the ‘imperialist’ name (McMahon); the Premier however objected to the Indian advance in Khinzemane (north of Tawang) and in Longju (in Subansiri Frontier Division).
Zhou then mentioned the Western Sector.

The Hint of a Swap
He said there had never been any delimitation and only an old treaty (of 1842), which did not mention any area; the Aksai Chin was part of Sinkiang (today’s Xinjiang) and the road built by China was on Chinese territory.
Zhou also spoke of Chinese total sovereignty over Tibet and the autonomy granted to the Tibetans. Though he had no problem with the Dalai Lama, he was shocked by the reception given to him in India. Menon noted: “I think he referred at this stage, though I am not quite sure, about a considerable amount of talk against China in India.”
The entire transcript is in this vein. It is rather surprising, not to say shocking, that such vital talks were handled in such an amateurish manner.
There was a second round of talks: “I think he [Zhou] said much and I think there is no purpose in repeating what he said about the past, but about the frontiers. …I cannot remember the whole of the conversation.”
The conversation had lasted two hours (apparently Zhou had spoken Nehru to say that he wanted another half hour with Menon). Zhou was testing the ground for a ‘swap’: India acknowledges that the Aksai Chin as Chinese and Beijing recognizes NEFA as India. The duo met a third time during the dinner; Zhou again alluded to a deal.
It is evident that these crucial talks for the nation were conducted in an extremely unprofessional manner, without briefing, debriefing or proper note-taking. A chance was probably missed, leading two years later, to the worst possible debacle for India.

Friday, May 17, 2019

‘United Front Work’ is now Xi’s most potent tool

Zhang Yijiong, UFWD Executive Director, Gyaltsen Norbu, Wang Yang,
You Quan, Gyaltsen Norbu's teacher
My article ‘United Front Work’ is now Xi’s most potent tool appeared in Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle.


The consolidation of borders, the selection of the next Dalai Lama or influencing of personalities should concern India.

Here is the link...

Big changes are in offing in China; Beijing has already announced its objective to become the No 1 power in the world by 2049, when the Communist regime will celebrate its hundred years at the helm of the Middle Kingdom.
The ongoing ‘trade war’ with the United States, with President Trump not accepting to see China replacing his own country as the world leader, is a sign of it.
President Xi Jinping is aware that the Communist Party needs new tools, new organization to fulfill its ‘China Dream’; the radical reforms undertaken by the People’s Liberation Army are part of this attempt.
Another organization has recently come into preeminence to help China to attain its goal; it is the United Front Work Department, today the most potent tool in the hand of the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Earlier this month, The China Brief of the Jamestown Foundation consecrated an entire issue to this organization. It explained the meaning of United Front Work as: “the process of building a ‘united front’ coalition around the CCP in order to serve the Party’s objectives, subordinating targeted groups both domestically and abroad. United front work is viewed by Party leaders as a crucial component of the CCP’s victory in the Chinese Civil War (1945-1949), and is now central to controlling and utilizing domestic groups that might threaten the CCP’s power, as well as projecting influence abroad.”
UFWD coordinates various vital activities inside the Party and at the periphery of the Party, like the relations with religious and ethnic ‘minorities’ or the overseas Chinese.
For The China Brief: “Without question, united front activities have taken on renewed importance under General Secretary Xi Jinping. …The past four years have seen united front work expand in scope, resourcing and top-level coordination.”
Some of the twelve bureaus of the Department deal with Chinese ‘democratic’ parties, ethnic affairs, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan (Bureau 3), Tibet (Bureau 7), Xinjiang (Bureau 8), overseas Chinese (Bureau 9 & 10) or religious affairs (Bureau 11 & 12). A vast encompassing program!
Note that the last three bureaus have recently been added.
It means that the Department has greatly extended its scope by adding the activities of the Chinese overseas which are now monitored and controlled; conducting external propaganda or ‘influencing’ important foreign personalities.
The Seventh Bureau, the Tibetan Affairs has for decades been one of the most central to the UFWD’s activities.
To give an example, on May 5, Wang Yan, the Chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference National Committee (CPPCC) and de facto the UFWD supremo, met with Gyaltsen Norbu, the Chinese-selected Panchen Lama in Beijing. After offering a khata (ceremonial scarf), the young Lama considered as a Chinese puppet by the exiled Tibetans, (the ‘real’ Panchen Lama has been under house arrest for the past 24 years, he was kidnapped by the Chinese State at the age of 5), briefed Wang Yang about “his studies and life in recent years.” Norbu is important to China because he is the key for the recognition of a future ‘Chinese’ Dalai Lama.
Wang told the young Lama: “The Panchen Lama, as a leader of Tibetan Buddhism, shoulders a great responsibility of leading Tibetan Buddhism in the right direction, and safeguarding the unification of the motherland and the ethnic solidarity”. He added that he hoped the Panchen Lama “will take a firm political stand and lead the religious figures and believers in fighting against all separatist elements.”
The Panchen Lama was urged to take the lead in interpreting religious doctrines in order to adapt them to socialism; in other words Tibetan Buddhism with Communist characteristics.
The Panchen Lama agreed to safeguard “the unification of the motherland, ethnic solidarity, social stability, and religious harmony.” He also promised that he will always remember the CCP leaders’ instructions.
You Quan, the powerful director of the UFDW was present when Wang Yang checked on the Chinese Panchen Lama.
A couple of days later, You went on a four-day inspection cum research tour in the restive Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR), which has been in the news in recent months, after the information leaked that more than one million local Uyghurs are kept in captivity …to be reeducated.
According to Xinhua news agency, You called on the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) and urged the corps “to maintain stability in and garrison the country's border areas.”
Speaking highly of the achievements of the Corps, You asked the participants “to further understand and grasp the responsibilities and missions of the corps in the new era and improve their emergency system in maintaining stability.”
The XPCC is an autonomous economic and paramilitary organization with administrative authority over large areas in Xinjiang; it fulfills governmental functions such as healthcare and education, but more importantly, it looks after Xinjiang’s borders. Founded by Wang Zhen, one of the CCP’s Eight Elders in 1954, the XPCC’s goals are “to develop frontier regions, promote economic development, ensure social stability and ethnic harmony, and consolidate border defense.”
Border with whom? First and foremost India, but also the Central Asian republics whose stability will make the Belt and Road Initiative, dear to President Xi a success …or a failure.
You Quan spoke highly of the Corps’ achievements; he asked the Corps to mobilize cadres and common people “to develop, construct and stabilize southern Xinjiang;” we know what it means for the Uyghur population.
As mentioned earlier, the UFWD has recently gone through a major reorganization; three new bureaus were created: “The new bureaus reflect the UFWD’s absorption of two State Council agencies responsible for overseas Chinese and religious affairs—the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office (OCAO) and the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA)”, noted The China Brief; in the meantime, the State Ethnic Affairs Commission, an essential government organ, has been placed under the UFWD.
The new Tenth Bureau, known as the Overseas Chinese Affairs Bureau has the responsibility for educational and cultural affairs, the media as well as the Chinese living abroad. This includes managing China’s official international media network, China News Service, which in turn, influences foreign organizations and individuals around the world, while promoting Chinese language via organizations such the Confucius Institutes.
Another important responsibility of the UFWD is to prepare the reunification with Taiwan. On May 12, Wang Yang sent a message to the fourth annual conference of media organizations from China and Taiwan, a pro-Mainland group. Wang warned Taiwan that the United States will not be able to preserve Taiwan's security and that time is on China's side: “Taiwanese authorities cannot even guarantee what will happen two years from now. Therefore, we are confident in saying that both time and momentum are on our side, the side of mainland China,” he said.
He heavily criticized those "placing their bets on the Americans" in Taiwan: “The Americans] are just using Taiwan as a pawn. Will they go to war with China for Taiwan? I'm guessing they won't. If we really go to war, will the Americans win? I'm guessing not," Wang hammered.
The UFWD is also used to ‘influence’ intellectuals, journalists, academics or deciders abroad. The consolidation of the borders, the selection of the next Dalai Lama or influencing of personalities should concern India; hopefully Delhi is carefully watching these new developments.


Wang Yang visiting an exhibition for the 60th anniversary of the so-called Democratic Reforms in Tibet.
Wu Yingjie, Gen Zhao Zongqi, Gen Xu Yong (behind), Lepchog visiting a similar exhibition in Lhasa

Sunday, May 12, 2019

1963: Indian PoWs in Beijing

Some Indian PoWs in Tibet in 1962-63 with their Chinese guards
(first row left, Lt Col Gurdial Singh, 3 J&K)
I recently came across an interesting book, My Peking Memoirs of the Chinese Invasion of India by Dr Purnendu Kumar Banerjee, the Indian Chargé d’Affaires in Beijing during the Sino-Indian War.
In the chapter reproduced below, he mentioned the reception given to the senior Indian officers who had spent more than six months as prisoner of war in Tibet, in extremely dramatic conditions.
Against their will, the officers were taken on a propaganda tour of 'New China'.
The Communuist leadership had planned to 'parade' these officers on the Tiananment Sqaure on May 1 on the occasion of the Labour Day.
Brig John Dalvi strongly opposed this final humiliation for his men.
The Chinese had not choice, but to drop their plans.
It is in these circumstances that they were 'allowed' to visit the Indian Embassy in Beijing (it was certainly part of Beijing's propaganda efforts, to show how 'liberal' was China).
Before going into PK Banerjee's memoirs, here is the account of Maj Gen (then Lt Col) KK Tewari, one of the Commanding Officers who spent seven months in captivity.

If you are interested, you can read this old post, POW in Tibet (Gen Krishna Tewari's book, A SOLDIER’S VOYAGE OF SELF DISCOVERY is also downloaded from here).

Extracts:
One day a couple of us even had a walk from the hotel to the Tiananmen Square, which was in the news recently due to the student unrest in China. On 30th April, we were taken to the Great Wall of China which is supposedly the only man-made structure in the world visible from space. Built in 300 B.C. by the Chou Dynasty, it is 3,000 miles long (1,700 miles of it in the plains and the rest in the mountainous area), it took 300,000 men ten years to complete it, used enough material to build a wall 8 feet high and 3 feet thick around the world, has an average height of 28 feet 8 inches with a base width of 24 feet and a top width of 18 feet. We were also shown the famous Ming tombs.
On 1st May, we saw the fire-works from the roof of the hotel to celebrate May Day.
On 2nd May evening we were entertained to tea at the Indian Embassy and a warm reception by Dr. PK Banerjee, who embraced each one of us at the entrance. The Chinese guards, of course, were left outside and it was a lovely feeling to step into the ‘little India’ in Peking. However, all the time our thoughts were on our return to our homeland.
It was on 3 May that we left Peking for our journey home.
On our last night in Peking, we were taken to a musical show put on by an oriental troupe who performed Indian, Pakistani and Ceylonese dances and songs. It was an enjoyable treat. We had to
be up early for the 45 mile drive to the airport and after a lot of photographs, we took off at 5:20 a.m. from Peking in two IL 14 aircraft. We landed at Sian for refuelling at 8:45 a.m., were given, surprisingly enough, a very poor breakfast after all the excellent service we had been given till then and took off again at 10:20 a.m. We had another brief landing at Chengdu at 12:45 to pick up Rattan who had been left behind earlier due to his illness, took off at 13:25 and landed at Kunming at 15:45.

Extracts:
My Peking Memoirs of the Chinese Invasion of India (Clairon Books, New Delhi) by Purnendu Kumar Banerjee (Indian Chargé d’Affaires in Beijing)
Chapter 30

INDIAN PRISONERS OF WAR
I mentioned earlier our attempts to have the International Red Cross in Switzerland assist in the disposal of dead bodies and. the release of Indian troops and officers. As the Chinese refused to deal with the International Red Cross, the matter remained confused and a solution to the problem was delayed. At the same-time the Chinese exploited the situation to their benefit in various ways. Since the invasion and even long after the ceasefire, they played up their propaganda. For example, they maintained that Nehru, as an agent of the imperialists, had forced the Indian troops to attack a friendly neighbour, China; that the Indian troops had never been properly looked after and cared for; that the Indian Government showed no interest in the disposal of the dead bodies and the release of prisoners; that 'due to the goodwill and- friendship of the Chinese troops', the Indian troops were being taken good care of and were being sent home to be reunited with their families despite the Indian government's reluctance to help or assist in the matter; and that the departing troops had been expressing their thanks and gratitude to .China for her "magnanimous" attitude and treatment. Such propaganda was evident in the daily broadcasts on Peking radio, not only in Chinese - but also in Indian languages.
Another matter was concerned with the repatriation of about two thousand Chinese from India which was agreed to by India. Consequently, efforts were made for their transport mainly by boat, but the Chinese turned on their propaganda and compared the situation to Nazi concentration camps. Meanwhile, other attacks on India's news media continued and so did the protest notes.
By early spring in 1963, it was clear the three thousand nine hundred persons belonging to the Indian armed forces were prisoners in Chinese hands. Though a large number of our troops were eventually released after considerable effort by the Chinese to brainwash them with propaganda, an equally large number remained unaccounted for. In the last category were twenty-seven officers and I requested the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs for information about them. This request was turned down and I was told that the Indian Red Cross should approach the Chinese Red Cross in the matter. While this was still pending, I was having dinner one evening at an East European embassy, when a newspaper reporter from another East European country, whom I knew well, asked me in private if I had heard about the captive Indian officers? I told him that I had no news and that my legitimate request for such information had been rejected by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. He then told me, in confidence, that according to the latest information, one of his colleagues had seen the Indian officers in Nanking and that they were being taken by bus and train to many large cities and, possibly, would soon be brought to Peking.
I thanked him sincerely.
The same evening I requested to see the Foreign Minister, Chen Yi.
The next day, I was given an appointment to see the Vice-Foreign Minister as Chen Yi was out of town, which in other words meant that the latter was not prepared to see me. When I met the Vice-Foreign Minister, I opened fire. I told him that the Chinese were continuing to violate international law and conventions such as the Geneva Convention, and this was unacceptable and regrettable. First the Chinese had refused to deal with the International Red Cross in matters of the dead and the release of Indian troops resulting in delay, harassment, humiliation and more suffering. At the•same time, the Chinese were engaged in constant and cheap propaganda about Indian troops being happy to be in Chinese prisons where they were loved. The Vice-Foreign Minister tried to interrupt me because the language and the tone I was using were not often applied in "diplomatic dialogue". He could•not stop me. I continued. I said I had information that the Indian officers in captivity had been separated from their troops. and were being paraded in public, in blatant violation of international law, international practice and international conventions, in particular the Geneva Convention, even though China was a signatory to these conventions. I demanded that this cruel circus must stop, that this kind of thing was unknown in the civilized world; and that the prisoners must be released.
The Vice-Foreign Minister was perspiring profusely and was visibly shaken. His•aide and interpreter fumbled while translating. Though my words were somewhat harsh, I kept my expression calm. I knew with conviction that the Chinese had made a serious blunder. He wanted to know my source of information. I told him that I was not prepared to disclose this but I was prepared to accept his assurance that the Indian officers were not being taken from city to city, in public places and in public view. He tried to avoid the tight corner I had placed him in by saying that they were not prisoners and were not being treated as such. They were visitors to a friendly country and had expressed their wish to see China before going home, which would hopefully be soon. Then I opened my second round of fire. I told him that I would enjoy Chinese fairy tales in other circumstances but not in such a serious matter.
Were they captives of the Chinese or not? If they had been captured, were they not prisoners? Then shouldn't they be governed by the Geneva Convention? If they were not prisoners, why had they been kept under guard for more than six months away from their homes, families and friends? I repeated my two demands, but I added that in case the Chinese failed to respond positively in the matter, India would be compelled to inform the world, in particular the Asian and African countries and the other one hundred signatories of the Geneva Convention, about China's flagrant violations. I thanked him for receiving me and got up to go. He was still shaken when I left.
I informed my Ministry about the latest developments and what action I had taken. When I told my colleagues in the embassy about my talk, they were rather pessimistic about the Chinese response. A few days later, our number two in the embassy, Damodaran, informed me that he had received a message from the Chinese Foreign Ministry that the Indian army officers were in Peking and that facilities would be given to me if I wanted to visit them. I called a meeting immediately of all our officers and placed the facts before them for their views. After some discussion, it was evident that they wanted me to visit them. I disagreed, I told them the officers were prisoners of the Chinese and were obviously kept under strict security.
Therefore they were in a Chinese prison, in law and-in fact. How could the Indian envoy visit a Chinese prison to see the Indian officers? My visit, at the Chinese behest, would legitimise the whole illegal and uncivilised Chinese policy in this regard. My colleagues pointed out that, in principle, I was right. But if the information leaked out that I had refused to visit the Chinese prisons or detention camps to see the Indian officers, there would be severe criticism in the Indian press and in Parliament. They were right. I decided on a compromise solution. Damodaran [No 2 in the embassy] would call back the Chinese official dealing with this matter and say that it would be inappropriate for the Indian envoy to visit the Indian officers. But if they were free and willing, they were invited to visit their own embassy and call on the envoy. If this proposal was not acceptable, we would fly out a representative of the Indian Red Cross to visit the Indian officers. This was communicated in due course. After a three days' wait, we received a message that the Indian officers - would visit the embassy.
The date and time were worked out on the clear understanding that no armed or unarmed guards would be permitted inside the embassy compound during the visit of the Indian officers. We were more than delighted that our gamble had won.

Captured Indian army officers visit the embassy

All the members of the embassy joined together and with great enthusiasm produced enormous quantities of excellent and varied food, delicacies from almost all parts of India. Rosha, one of our first secretaries, a dear friend and a fine officer, looked after the arrangements. The drinks included lassi (buttermilk), different fruit juices, tea, coffee and of course champagne, wines, scotch and cognac. The reception rooms were decorated with flowers and Indian flags. I called a meeting with all members of our embassy, both diplomatic and non-diplomatic. I explained to them that our officers had a very hard time as prisoners for almost six months, completely cut off from their families, friends and home, and even news from India. The Chinese had attempted to brainwash them. They inevitably had feelings of loss, defeat and humiliation, all for no fault of theirs. We then agreed on the following programme and arrangements:
  1. On their arrival, we would garland each officer;
  2. The national anthem would be played;
  3. I would say a few words of welcome, telling them how India was proud of them, of their courage and dedication, and that a great and warm welcome would await them in India;
  4. We would then take them inside and show them their places in six separate groups;
  5. Each group would have at least two members of the embassy as hosts, looking after them with warmth and affection, and helping them with food and drinks;
  6. It was expected that these groups would break up and regroup according to the inclinations of our guests;
  7. The military attaché Lt.-Colonel Khera and I would move freely from one group to another;
  8. While the embassy staff were playing host, they were not to show any curiosity and ask questions, but would reply if the officers asked them a question;
  9. Whatever was heard or whatever impressions were formed by the hosts would carefully be remembered, and reported to me later, after the officers’ departure.
The army officers duly arrived in buses, at the time fixed earlier. There were no Chinese guards either with them or outside in the street where the buses were parked. The officers cried and so did we, as we embraced them; the atmosphere was charged with emotion and affection. Some of the officers were in their military uniforms; they explained that this was because they were officially visiting their embassy. We took them inside to their seats, but very soon they started to regroup.
Food and drinks were offered. They were delighted to have such a variety of Indian delicacies after such a long time. They showed their appreciation by consuming large quantities of the food. It was wonderful to have them with us. The conversation in the different groups continued. We soon learned that because of the unrelenting Chinese propaganda which was based on distortion of statements, mainly made by the opposition parties in India, the officers were deeply worried about the future after their return to India. I kept assuring that they would be given the warmest welcome, a hero's welcome. Brigadier Dalvi however, was most worried; he was depressed, dejected and disappointed. He had a distinguished career behind him and he impressed me as an intelligent person. He had legitimate and serious complaints against the planning and implementation of India's defence policy. In his book Himalayan Blunder, he did not refer to his time in China or the visit to the Indian embassy in Peking. It is understandable, considering the unavoidable tensions and dissensions endured by these officers during the previous six months.
One of the most joyous moments of that reception was when Lt Colonel Khera called me to a corner and quietly pointed out an officer who had been declared dead in combat and whose wife had received from the President• of India a high decoration awarded posthumously, We had another round of champagne to celebrate.
The time came for them to leave. We did not know then where and when they would be released, nor did they.
After the army officers left, we sat down together to draft reports on our conversations and impressions. In the meantime, I also sent a top secret and most urgent telegram in code addressed to the Secretary-General of our Ministry, in which I described briefly the visit of the officers, their main worries and my assurances, and indicated that a detailed report on the information obtained and our impressions during three 'hours of conversation was being sent by special courier to New Deihi. 
I also suggested. that pending a serious study of my report, the government and if possible the opposition should desist from discussing matters relating to these twenty-seven officers;• that all of them should be given a hero's welcome but if later on, after careful and discreet observation, "bad eggs" were discovered, they should be removed without publicity because otherwise we would be strengthening China's pernicious propaganda about the Indian armed forces; and that we had as yet no information about when •or where the officers would be released. I also gave information about the officer who was presumed dead but was alive. By the time all the reports were coordinated, written or dictated and finally typed, it was well past midnight. Everyone was happy and we were teasing each other. My colleagues teased me too, saying that I was at my best after midnight because of my association with Chou En-lai. I will always remember with gratitude the warmth and affection of these colleagues during my time in China.

Return of Indian prisoners
In diplomatic circles in Peking, everyone soon came to know about the visit of our officers to our embassy. After a few days, Terence Garvey (later Sir Terence Garvey), my opposite number from the British Embassy came to see and tell me in confidence that, according to information he received from Hong Kong, the Chinese were planning to release our officers from the-border of China and Hong Kong. I told him that this could be to draw the attention of the international press; TV and radio representatives who would witness the release and handing over of the officers as a gesture of peace and magnanimity by the Chinese. I thanked him for this information and for being such a good friend. I reported to New Delhi immediately and requested them not to inform the press. I sought an interview with Marshal Chen Yi urgently. This time Chen Yi received me himself.' He asked me whether I was satisfied and happy to have seen and spent some time with our officers in our embassy. I had a feeling that both Chen Yi and Chou had received a report from their Vice-Minister about our "warm" discussions previously in this regard, Chen Yi said that the officers had, as they desired, seen a good part of China and her achievements, and that soon they would be going home. I referred• to my earlier discussions with his Vice-Minister and strongly affirmed our-view-that China had violated and continued to violate the Geneva Convention by parading them publicly.
Our officers were no more and no less than prisoners in Chinese hands. If China had any respect for international law and respect for humanitarian considerations, the officers should have been released months ago and reunited with their families.
Chen Yi got angry. He said he forthwith rejected my false and fabricated allegations against China. I should have been grateful and pleased that I had been I given the opportunity to see the officers. I said I was sorry to upset him but I had to tell him: the truth as warranted by the facts. I added that I had come to see him about another very serious aspect of the matter. I told him that according to my information, China was planning to release the officers on the border of China and Hong Kong. Chen Yi cut me short and asked me my source of information. I said I was- not prepared to disclose my source since it was not relevant. What was relevant was that if my information was wrong, I would withdraw it and offer my profound regrets, but if it were true, I would lodge a most serious protest in the strongest terms. Chen Yi was boiling in anger and I was enjoying it in calm satisfaction. He said that China was not answerable to anyone as to where and when the officers would be returned. I told him they were our officers, prisoners of war' who had to be returned to us, and therefore we would need advance information about the date, time and place of their release. If the Chinese authorities had decided to release them on the border of China and Hong Kong, a colonial territory, we would not need advance intimation of time and date as there would be no representative from India to take them over from the Chinese representative. Of course the Chinese representative could hand them over to the colonial representative of Hong Kong and might get an extra mileage of propaganda. Chen Yi was so upset he had to make an effort to calm himself before he could speak; but before he could do that I got up and thanked him for receiving me and said that I would leave him with my earnest request because the decision- was his in the matter. I returned to our embassy, informed New Delhi and briefed my colleagues. We were not very optimistic about the outcome from this last gambit.
At a National Day reception the next day, I saw Chou En-lai when he came to our table to clink glasses in a toast. I asked his permission to mention a matter of utmost urgency, He signalled me to continue. I told him very briefly that I had information that China was considering releasing our officers on the border of China and British colonial Hong-Kong. When China and India had two thousand miles of common frontier and a history of hundreds of years of friendship and cultural ties, why not release them anywhere on our common border or inside China? Why on colonial soil?
Despite the recent unfortunate relations between our two countries, both India and China had fought against colonial rule. So why now involve Hong Kong? Before I could continue, Chou looked at me and said in English, "I don't know anything about it and have nothing to do with it." He turned round and left for the next table. I felt at that moment that it was not much of a diplomatic success for me.
I reported my talk with Chou En-lai to New Delhi. Three days later, in the morning, Lt-Colonel Khera rushed into my room bubbling with excitement and radiant like a child, holding a piece of paper in his hand. He said, “We got it, we made it, it worked." I asked him if it was my transfer orders! He became serious. He said he had an urgent message from the Chinese Defence Ministry giving the date, time and place where the Indian officers would be handed over, and requesting the time, date and identification of the Indian aircraft which would fly the officers back to India. We were so relieved and happy. I informed New Delhi accordingly.
A few days later, I received a letter from General Chaudhuri, Chief of Staff of the armed forces of India. It said, "I join the armed forces in saluting you." His generous comment, obviously, was related to my recent telegrams and special report on our officers' visit to our embassy. I knew General Chaudhuri because for three generations our families had had connections: our grandfathers were friends, our fathers were colleagues and, much later, I had more occasions to see him.
The tensions continued on the border: The Colombo proposals had buried by the Chinese. The atmosphere was one of stalemate and uneasy calm. The protest notes continued to be fired by each side with regularity and rapidity. Having completed two years of my two-year assignment, I wrote MJ a personal letter, requesting a change to a calm, pleasant and easy capital. He wrote back that a change was not possible because the normal rules did not apply to me, and that he had obtained the approval of the Prime Minister in the matter. In fact, it was the Prime Minister's wish that I should continue for longer.

Lord Bertrand Russell's representatives in Peking
A few days later, in early July, a peculiar if not ominous event happened. -I was told by a friend in a foreign news agency that two men from Britain, representing Lord Bertrand Russell, were in Peking. They had brought a new offer from Mr. Nehru for Chou En-lai, Their names were Schoenman and Pottle. I was surprised that I had not even been informed by New Delhi about this. I consulted my British colleague, Terence Garvey, and he, knew nothing except that the two men were in Peking.
I sent a telegram to New Delhi asking for information and guidance. In the meantime, I was told in Peking that Mr. Nehru had made an offer to Chou En-lai that if China accepted twenty kilometers along the Western Sector of withdrawal as "no man's land", he would start negotiations with Chou En-lai without any other preconditions. I reported this to New Delhi and received a reply stating that
  1. Mr. Nehru had never made any such offer or proposals, and 
  2. The two men had come initially to discuss, on behalf of the Russell Peace Foundation, some matters with the Gandhi Peace Foundation. 
They were given an opportunity to meet Mr. Nehru when they discussed the possibility of starting a dialogue between China and India.
After a couple of days, the Chinese came out with a statement in the press concerning the discussions with the two representatives of Lord Russell, which made it clear that Mr. Nehru never made the proposals; the two Britishers had mentioned to Mr. Nehru that when in Peking they would make the proposals to the Chinese leaders, and Mr. Nehru raised no objection. What a fiasco, what a farce!
Later, when I inquired privately as to why Mr. Nehru had decided to see the two men and discuss matters of such vital national importance,-which ended in futile, unproductive and immature manoeuvring, I was told that Krishna Menon who was sometimes a visitor with Mr. Nehru, had recommended that Mr. Nehru should see them. No wonder, the whole episode reminded me of my earlier experiences during Krishna Menon's reign. He had been vanquished but had not yet vanished!

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Fading Memories

A Forgotten Student Revolution
My article Fading memories appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer


Here is the link...

While remembering the events of 1919 and seeking to better integrate the spirit of May 4 into the party’s narrative, the student revolt of 1989 has been completely blacked out
China is suffering from a strange disease, a sort of selective amnesia — certain things from the past are clearly remembered, while other events seem to have been completely erased from the nation’s collective memory (or at least from the party’s annals). Take the May Fourth Movement, which was recently celebrated with much fanfare in every corner of the Middle Kingdom. In this case, the memory of the event, which occurred a hundred years ago, is absolutely clear.
Following the 1911 Revolution in China, the Manchu (Qing) dynasty disintegrated, triggering the fall of imperial rule. Eight years later, the May Fourth Movement took place in the Chinese capital where students started protesting against the nationalist Government’s weak response to the Treaty of Versailles, allowing Japan to control the territories surrendered by Germany in Shandong.
On the morning of May 4, 1919, student representatives from 13 different local universities met in Beijing and drafted five resolutions, in particular, to oppose the granting of Shandong to the Japanese and the creation of a Beijing student union. Later in the afternoon, some 3,000 students of Beijing University marched to Tiananmen Square, shouting slogans such as “struggle for the sovereignty externally, get rid of the national traitors at home” and “don’t sign the Versailles Treaty.”
Nobody can deny that it was a true revolution. Hundred years later, Chinese President Xi Jinping affirmed that patriotism was the core spirit of the 1919 event. He added that the May Fourth Movement inspired the ambition and confidence of the Chinese people and the nation to realise national rejuvenation. “It was also a great enlightenment and new cultural movement of disseminating new thought, new culture and new knowledge,” Xi said.
The President urged Chinese youth “in the new era” to love the country, the party and adhere to the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC)…by the way, where was the party in 1919? Seventy years later, another student revolution took place on Tiananmen Square in Beijing and the Communist Party has no remembrance of it.
The aspiration of the students may have been very similar: A craving for a fairer world, more freedom for the youth to express themselves, a more democratic system (termed the ‘Fifth Modernisation’) and greater transparency and participation in the state’s affairs. A power struggle at the top of the party ended with the decision to send tanks on to the Square on June 4, 1989, which  resulted in the death of some 3,000 youths.
The Tiananmen papers, prefaced by a Chinese scholar, Andrew Nathan, gave a clear picture of the decision process inside the Politburo, which led to the massacre. Nathan wrote: “For the first time ever, reports and minutes have surfaced that provide a revealing and potentially explosive view of decision-making at the highest levels of the Government and party in the People’s Republic of China (PRC)…the protests were ultimately ended by force, including the bloody clearing of Beijing streets by troops using live ammunition. The tragic event was one of the most important in the history of communist China and its consequences are still being felt.”
This has completely been blacked out by Beijing. In May 1968, students in France and elsewhere in Europe also dreamt of a better world, but the two-month revolution, often violent, did not result in any casualty, neither from the students nor the police side.
Wang Xiangwei, a former editor-in-chief of the South China Morning Post, wrote an editorial piece for the Hong-Kong newspaper. After mentioning the similarities between the student movement in 1919 and 1989, he commented: “But the Government will disregard the 30th anniversary of another student demonstration in 1989 that preceded its bloody crackdown on June 4. The latter protest may be less seminal in China’s modern history, but its core spirit should not be obscured.”
Wang also noted that before the beginning of the May 4 celebrations, Xi chaired a meeting of the Politburo “to discuss ways to enhance study into the movement’s history and significance. The President seeks to better integrate the spirit of May 4 into the party’s narrative that only it can lead the country’s youth to his goal of national rejuvenation.”
The sad fact is that today, China is probably worse off than in 1989. Sycophancy and repression have reached new heights. Recently, the regime re-established an alliance of nine colleges, called the “Yanhe University Talent Training Alliance,” in order to perpetuate what is called the Yan’an Red DNA. Yan’an was the place where the Long March ended; it later became the centre of the Chinese communist revolution. In the early years, nine university institutions were set up to train the next generation of communist cadres. It was called the ‘Red DNA college’, responsible for spreading the “fire of the Chinese revolution” to the whole country.
Another instance, during the cultural revolution, party committees in universities made the students report on the anti-party faculty members.
After the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, the regime systematically established student informants in key Chinese universities. In 2005, the arrangement was expanded to almost every university and even some high schools explained the well-informed site Chinascope: “Although on the surface, the purpose is to collect information on academic activities, the student informants are the ears and eyes of the communist party authorities in the universities.” One could multiply the examples. One can just guess that China’s freedom-loving students will again revolt one day.
Incidentally, in 1989, the Indian Government ordered the state television to pare down the Tiananmen coverage to the barest minimum. Analyst C Raja Mohan explained: “The Government’s monopoly over television helped Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi signal Beijing that India would not revel in China’s domestic troubles and offer some political empathy instead.”
Rajiv Gandhi had travelled to China barely six months earlier. Sometimes, it is easier to be Alzeimerish.