Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Dalai Lama in the US: 5 Burning Questions | in conversation with Claude Arpi | News9 Plus Show

My interview with News9

Dalai Lama in the US: 5 Burning Questions | in conversation with Claude Arpi | News9 Plus Show
The US on June 12, 2024, passed the Resolve Tibet Act that urges Beijing to re-engage with Tibetan leaders for a peaceful resolution with China. The Act is awaiting President Joe Biden's signature. Will there be fresh tensions between the US and China over Tibet? Analysing the scenarios are News9 Plus Editor Sandeep Unnithan along with Claude Arpi, a Tibetologist. Watch this topical discussion and don’t forget to like, share and subscribe for more such geopolitical discussions.

Monday, June 24, 2024

Can US Pressure Xi on Tibet?

Programme on News9

As India continues to grapple with Chinese aggression along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, a high-profile delegation of US lawmakers, led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has met with the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala. This visit comes as the US House of Representatives has passed the Tibet Resolve Bill, which calls on Beijing to resume dialogue with the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan leaders about the governance of Tibet.

In this video, we explore the potential implications of this development and whether India can leverage the "Tibet card" to offset the pressure it faces from China on the border. Joining us to discuss this are Claude Arpi, a renowned author and Tibetologist, and Dr. Rajan Kumar from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, along with our in-studio expert, Deepak Bhadana.

Tune in to this insightful discussion as we analyze the complex geopolitical dynamics at play and the potential opportunities for India to assert its position on the global stage.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

How China stokes unrest globally to contain West

My article Claude Arpi | How China stokes unrest globally to contain West appeared in The Asian Age and the Deccan Chronicle

Here is the link...

Examining China's expanding influence in Africa through infrastructure diplomacy, alleged connections with Hamas, and geopolitical maneuvers

At the end of an informal meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing earlier in May, the two leaders hugged each other, something rather unusual for Mr Xi (though he did it with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well). US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby jokingly commented: “I’m not good at talking about personal human bodily affection one way or the other. I think I’ll leave it to these two gents to talk about why they thought it was good to hug one another.”
Whatever the US spokesman may say, the encounter was significant, as it heralded a still closer relationship between Russia and China. According to Reuters: “Russia, grappling with Western sanctions after its invasion of Ukraine, is increasingly reliant on its booming trade with China, which is challenging US supremacy in areas from quantum computing to espionage and hard military power…. The leaders signed a lengthy statement that sharpened their opposition to a US-led world order and pledged cooperation across fields ranging from space and nuclear technologies to finance and manufacturing.”
It is a fact that for Moscow, though the Chinese economy may be facing serious difficulties, Beijing is an ally of weight.

The Three Battles
At the same time, China is more and more asserting itself all over the planet. Long Kaifeng, a PLA commentator associated with the Kunlun Policy and Strategy Research Institute, a Communist Party of China think tank, recently wrote about “CPC’s 3-Battle Scheme” to erode America’s power prior to a clash in the Taiwan Strait; among other things, the author argues that the outcome of the “Three Battles” will see the US dollar becoming worthless.
Long explains: “On a global scale, three major battles are in Europe, the Middle East and Asia respectively. The Ukrainian war represents the European front; the Middle Eastern battle will be a conflict between Israel and Palestine, and the Asian theatre might be the second Korean war. After these battles, the US military and dollar dominance established post-Cold War will fall. The US dollar will depreciate, becoming worthless -- a trend seen as inevitable.”
The PLA scholar further notes: “Given the current situation, Russia seems poised to win in Ukraine. Reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran and unity in the Arab world are crucial to counter US-Israeli dominance. In East Asia, North Korea is ready, possessing nuclear capabilities and openly challenging US dominance.”

Beijing’s Assertiveness
In India’s neighbourhood, this translates, for example, in the Maldives falling for Beijing’s promises or in Nepal, a recrudescence of territorial claims in the Kalapani area, clearly influenced by Beijing.
Regarding Africa, China is, of course, deeply involved. In a research paper, Hema Narang from Delhi University believes that infrastructure diplomacy is the key to China’s influence in Africa.
The scholar gives an example: “China gifted Zimbabwe a new Parliament building in 2023. This gift is emblematic of China’s strategy of gifting large-scale projects worldwide, especially in Africa, to establish itself as a modernisation facilitator and gain international prestige. These projects, often grand structures such as government buildings and stadiums, transform the dynamics of donor-recipient relationships, augmenting China’s global reputation and subtly reinforcing material inequalities, while their architectural grandeur and visible labels such as ‘China Aid’ prominently emphasise China’s commitment to development and cooperation.”
She concludes: “In international societies, gifts work in a similar way, establishing prestige for the giver and reaffirming the receiver’s position.”
At the same time, everybody is not fooled by Beijing’s generosity: a “gift” does not always mean a free meal.

The Ukraine War
Another question often asked: Is China supporting Russia in the Ukraine war? There is no doubt that China is a vital partner for Russia, helping Moscow to soften the impact of sanctions imposed by the United States.
When asked if China was providing Russia with weapons, US secretary of state Antony Blinken told BBC: “What’s not happening is the provision of actual arms by China to Russia for use in Ukraine.” However, the US leader added: “About 70 per cent of the machine tools and 90 per cent of the microelectronics Russia imports come from China.”
Without Beijing, Moscow would certainly not have survived the Western sanctions so easily.

The Hamas War
More important perhaps is China’s hand behind the Hamas attack on Israel. A newspaper article says: “The evidence of the PRC green-signalling Hamas’ attack on Israel goes beyond the circumstantial.”
Quoting Guermantes Lailari, a retired US Air Force foreign area officer specialising in counter-terrorism, who recently visited New Delhi, the article says: “Massive quantities of Chinese arms, ammunition, military grade communication and other intelligence gathering equipment were found in Hamas warehouses in Gaza during the raids conducted by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), in the aftermath of the October 7, 2023 attack on Israel by the Palestinian terrorist group. At least two tunnel engineers from China’s People’s Liberation Army were captured by the IDF, suggesting that extensive Chinese help was given to Hamas to construct the huge network of tunnels under Gaza City. Apart from this, the PLA has been giving military training to Hamas.”
The informant added that the head of Hamas’ military wing, Mohammed Deif, who masterminded the attack on Israel, lived in the China for years, and maintains deep contacts with the PLA.

One More Battle
One more front (or “battle”) seems to be in the French enclave of New Caledonia, which witnessed an insurgency from of the local population. While President Emmanuel Macron struggles to restore some order, a question is recurrently asked: Who is behind the unrest?
Paris has put the blame for the violence on extremist independence groups, supported from outside; Gérald Darmanin, the interior and Overseas France minister, asserted that Azerbaijan has some responsibility for the unrest: “It’s not a fantasy, it’s a reality”, he said. The Azerbaijan flag was repeatedly seen in the hands of rioters.
The next question is logically: “Who is behind Azerbaijan?”
Has Russia opened up a second front in its proxy war against France?
Though Azerbaijan has described the allegations “insulting”, and said: “We deny any link between the leaders of the Caledonian freedom struggle and Azerbaijan”, one could also put the question differently.

Who benefits most from the current mess in New Caledonia?
No doubt China is trying hard to make its presence felt in the chain of Pacific islands and an independent Caledonia would be a great boon for Beijing, while President Macron has never been in such a weak position, particularly after the recent European Parliament elections.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

With China willing to discuss 'Dalai Lama’s future', Tibetan fate hangs in balance

When Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat
My article With China willing to discuss 'Dalai Lama’s future', Tibetan fate hangs in balance appeared in Firstpost

Beijing has not called Dalai Lama a ‘separatist’ leader; instead, it has shown interest in discussing his ‘personal future’
With China willing to discuss 'Dalai Lama’s future', Tibetan fate hangs in balance

On May 24, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a public meeting in Mandi to support Bollywood actress and BJP candidate Kangana Ranaut. In the course of his speech, he mentioned Tibet, something he rarely does. According to a press release from the PMO, Modi asserted: “The Congress government was so timid that it was afraid to even mention the name of Dalai Lama Ji. I frequently engage in discussions with Dalai Lama Ji. He is a stalwart of our rich heritage. India is the land of Buddha, and the Modi government has been actively promoting this heritage.”
The ‘frequent discussions’ are not in the public domain; we only know that from time to time, a phone call is made from Delhi to Dharamsala on the Dalai Lama’s birthday.
This statement, however, raises the issue of Tibet, which seems to have been dormant for years.
The political head of Tibet’s government-in-exile, Penpa Tsering, recently visited the United States and Canada. Everywhere, the Sikyong conveyed the urgent situation in Tibet “highlighting China’s efforts to eradicate Tibet’s distinct culture and identity and assimilate the Tibetan people”.
During an encounter with the Tibetan Diaspora, Penpa Tsering noted that the priorities and policies of his government were to enhance the stability and efficiency of departments within the Central Tibetan Administration and implement the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way policy.
He admitted that he was in contact with Beijing; according to Firstpost, the Sikyong stated: “We have had back-channel engagement since last year. But we have no immediate expectations from it. It has to be a long-term one.” Penpa Tsering, however, insisted that the talks were “very informal”.
PTI quoted him, saying, “I have my interlocutor who deals with people in Beijing. Then there are other elements also trying to reach out to us.”
Beijing was quick to retort: “[We] will talk only with the representatives of the Dalai Lama and not the officials of the Tibetan government-in-exile.”
The positive side was that Beijing did not call the Dalai Lama a separatist and instead said it was ready to discuss his “personal future”.
This has been Beijing’s position for the past four decades: the discussions can only be about the Dalai Lama’s future.

The Future
This, however, raises the issue of the future of Tibet and the Tibetan people.
In the early 1980s, the Dalai Lama envisaged a Middle Path approach, probably based on the “One Country, Two Systems” slogan coined by Deng Xiaoping at the end of the 1970s.
The Tibetan leader elaborated his vision for the future in two documents, a Five-Point Peace Plan in 1987 in Washington, DC, and his Strasbourg Proposal in 1988.
The first of the five points was “transformation of the whole of Tibet into a zone of peace”, a concept certainly appealing for India; another point was “respect for the Tibetan people’s fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms”.
The ‘Zone of Peace’ would soon be dropped, and the riots in Lhasa in 1989 and the subsequent imposition of martial law demonstrated the limits of the second.
In his Strasbourg Proposal, the Dalai Lama spoke of “the whole of Tibet known as Cholka-Sum (U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo) should become a self-governing democratic political entity founded on law by agreement of the people for the common good and the protection of themselves and their environment, in association with the People’s Republic of China”.
This was before the events of Tiananmen Square; before June 1989, there were probably chances that China could join the concert of democratic nations and be a normal state.
Ten rounds of negotiations took place between the Dalai Lama’s representatives (the CTA’s representatives have always been banned in Beijing) between 2002 and 2010. This led nowhere.

China, a Great Power
Things have changed since then; China has become the second most important economic player in the world, while the situation within the Middle Kingdom has grimly deteriorated since 2012, at least in terms of individual liberty.
Today, after the recent events in Hong Kong and the military threats against the ‘renegade island’ (Taiwan), ‘One Country, Two Systems’ cannot be envisioned anymore. This makes the situation in Tibet (and in Xinjiang, the other Chinese colony) more precarious than ever.

In February, a Chinese writer living in exile, Yuan Hongbing, revealed that China planned to use the Kuomintang’s (KMT’s) influence in Taiwan’s legislature to boost its United Front strategy. Yuan said that the information came from a “princeling” (son of a Chinese revolutionary leader) whom Xi Jinping does not dare to challenge. According to Chinascope, a US website carrying information on the Mainland, “the CCP is not just using military intimidation to destabilise Taiwan; it is also using propaganda, the deployment of agents, and the expansion of the KMT’s legislative power to override the Taiwanese administration.”
Last week, Chinese military spokesperson senior Colonel Wu Qian told a press conference that China’s reunification is an irreversible trend in history and that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is ready to take resolute actions to counter any “Taiwan independence”.
Soon after Lai Ching-te took charge as Taiwan’s president on May 20, the Chinese military warned Taiwan that “independence” would mean “war” and Beijing would thwart any foreign interference in support of “separatist activities” in the democratic-ruled island.
The recent military drills that followed were more to ‘scare the chicken’ than a rehearsal, as an ‘influence’ takeover will certainly be less costly and risky for Beijing. Yuan added that “the CCP’s Taiwan policy has shifted from coercion and enticement to psychological warfare, aiming to demoralise Taiwanese.”

Deterioration in Hong Kong
Around the same time, the BBC reported that a court in Hong Kong “found 14 pro-democracy activists guilty of subversion in the largest use yet of a China-imposed National Security Law. They included former lawmakers Leung Kwok-hung and Helena Wong, journalist-turned-campaigner Gwyneth Ho, and ordinary Hong Kongers who joined the mass protests of 2019, such as nurse Winnie Yu”.
Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee took Beijing’s side and declared that his government will do its “utmost to prevent, suppress, and impose punishment” for any activities “endangering national security”.

Situation in Tibet
In Tibet, the situation is also rapidly deteriorating. A report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted, “Since 2016, the Chinese government has dramatically accelerated the relocation of rural villagers and herders in Tibet. The government says that these relocations—often to areas hundreds of kilometres away—are voluntary.” The Chinese rationale was to “improve people’s livelihoods and protect the ecological environment”.
Using over 1,000 official Chinese media articles between 2016 and 2023, as well as government publications and academic field studies, HRW said that China’s own media reports showed that participation in “whole-village relocation” programmes in Tibet is in fact compulsory. “In one case, 200 households out of 262 in the village did not initially want to relocate to a new location, which was nearly 1,000 kilometres away. In another village scheduled for relocation, all the residents except for a Chinese Communist Party activist initially disagreed with the plan to move the village,” said the report.
HRW could not find a single case where a village scheduled for relocation was able to avoid being moved.
What is left of the ‘genuine autonomy’ the Dalai Lama was dreaming of in the 1980s? Probably not much today.

Another Report

The Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet reported in May that the Buddhist Association of China (BAC), a non-political organisation, “is becoming a key instrument in the Chinese Communist Party’s strategy to assimilate and transform Tibetan Buddhism, particularly in relation to the search for and recognition of reincarnate lamas”.
When it speaks of the ‘sinification of Buddhism’, Beijing is obviously thinking of the succession of the Dalai Lama.
Since President Xi Jinping’s announcement of his intent to sinify all the religions in China, the BAC has been “mandated as the tool to implement campaigns that will contribute to its fruition, particularly in connection with Tibetan Buddhism”.
Founded in 1953, the BAC’s charter was amended in 2020 to include “Sinification of Buddhism in China”, one of its objectives in order to “support the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the socialist system, study and implement Xi Jinping’s Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, and adhere to the direction of the Sinification of Buddhism in China”.
During the recent Two Sessions held in Beijing in March 2024, Wang Huning, the Party’s chief ideologue, mentioned that the BAC “carried out 10 research and inspections in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Tibet-related counties in Sichuan Province on promoting the sinification of Tibetan Buddhism”.
In the present circumstances, hopes for a better tomorrow are presently limited.

One can only hope that when the Indian prime minister calls the Dalai Lama on July 6 to wish him on his 89th birthday, the Tibetan leader will be able to convince PM Modi that the fates of Tibet and India are intimately linked, in particular as far as the boundary between them is concerned.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

As PoK rises in revolt against Pakistan, China continues infra-building in Shaksgam Valley

My article As PoK rises in revolt against Pakistan, China continues infra-building in Shaksgam Valley appeared in Firstpost

The new infrastructure could give a tremendous advantage to China in case of a new conflict with India in the region

Today, we are living in a world where everything can be seen from the sky, which often makes human intelligence (humint) irrelevant.
The latest case is a road illegally built by China in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). While in the old days, it would have taken months or years to discover the road passing close to India’s Siachen Glacier, satellite imagery of the new road was splashed over the Indian and foreign media.
The road, located in the Shaksgam Valley, branches out from an extension of Highway G219 (also known as the Aksai Chin road) and “disappears into mountains at a place approximately 50 km north of India’s northernmost point, Indira Col in Siachen Glacier,” according to India Today.
The construction that passes through Aghil Pass (India’s frontier with Xinjiang before 1947), was first flagged on X (formerly Twitter) by ‘Nature Desai’, an observer of the Indo-Tibetan boundary.
Tom Hussain, a Pakistani journalist who writes for The South China Morning Post, gave the Chinese motivation: “Pakistan is looking to develop new overland border crossings with China that would potentially boost the allies’ military interoperability against Indian forces in Ladakh and the rest of Kashmir.”
The Hong Kong newspaper asserted that the Gilgit-Baltistan region, today under Pakistan’s control, had proposed a new transit and trade route linking Xinjiang to Kashmir “[which] will increase Beijing and Islamabad’s military interoperability against Indian forces in the region”.
The spokesperson of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) immediately asserted: “Shaksgam Valley is a part of the territory of India. We have never accepted the so-called China-Pakistan Boundary Agreement of 1963, through which Pakistan unlawfully attempted to cede the area to China. …We have registered our protest with the Chinese side against illegal attempts to alter facts on the ground. We further reserve the right to take necessary measures to safeguard our interests.”
It is, however, necessary to understand the history behind the Shaksgam Valley.

The Role of Western Powers
When China invaded northern India in October or November 1962, Delhi had no alternative but to ask for the help of Western nations, particularly the United States and Great Britain. At first, the United States seemed only too happy to offer support, thus gaining leverage over India, which until then had been ‘non-aligned’; this ‘neutrality’ often meant an alignment with Moscow, while Pakistan, a member of the SEATO and the Baghdad Pacts, always sided with the West.
When, at the end of November 1962, Washington realised that north India was in danger of being invaded by Chinese troops, it immediately declared its support for Delhi, but instead of helping India, London and Washington chose instead to try to settle the Kashmir dispute between their Pakistani ally and India.
On November 22, Averall Harriman, the American Under-Secretary of State, and Duncan Sandys, the British Commonwealth Secretary, visited the two capitals of the subcontinent to persuade the enemy brothers that it was time to bury the hatchet and find a solution to their fifteen-year-old dispute. Harriman and Sandys eventually signed a joint communiqué and asked the two countries to resume negotiations.
Although India, in an extremely weak position, had some doubts about the possibility of obtaining positive results from negotiations conducted in such particular circumstances, Nehru accepted.
On December 22, 1962, Nehru wrote to the Chief Ministers of the provinces: “I shall briefly refer to Indo-Pakistan problems, notably Kashmir. In another four days’ time, Sardar Swaran Singh will lead a delegation to Rawalpindi to discuss these problems. We realise that this is not a good time to have such a conference because the Pakistani press and leading politicians have vitiated the atmosphere with wild abuse and attacks on India. Nevertheless, we have agreed to go and to try our best to arrive at some reasonable settlement. It is clear, however, that we cannot agree to anything that is against our basic principles and ultimately injures the cause of Indo-Pakistan friendship.”
In the end, the two delegations held a series of six meetings, but nothing much came out of them. The first negotiations took place in Rawalpindi, where Swaran Singh and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the two foreign ministers, confined themselves to a historical presentation of the problem and a reiteration of their respective points of view.

Derailing Talks
But soon the negotiations went off on a tangent: the Pakistan government announced that it had reached an agreement in principle with China on its northern border problem (with Xinjiang). Hardly a month after the end of the Sino-Indian war, Pakistan was prepared to give China a piece of India’s territory (as per the August 1948 UN Resolutions).
What a slap in the face for India!
This agreement between China and Pakistan was obviously meant to derail the Kashmir talks.
It is indeed surprising that Pakistan, an ally of the United States and the Western world, should have chosen this moment to make the announcement. It was yet another proof that Pakistan expected nothing from the talks with Delhi, even though they had been initiated by their mentor, the US; at the same time, the support expected by India from the US for India’s northern borders had gone in smoke.
Nehru remained optimistic all the same, or perhaps, like the ostrich, preferred not to see anything. In a letter to the Chief Ministers, he remarked: “The talks have produced no results as far as our problems are concerned, except that they have reduced, to a small extent, the barriers of fear and mistrust that make it difficult to approach these problems.”
Negotiations continued, without tangible results, between 16 and 19 January in Delhi and 8 and 11 February in Karachi. Pakistan was only interested in a plebiscite for Kashmir, but India insisted on prior demilitarisation of the regions occupied by Pakistan.

The Treaty Discussed
On February 25, 1963, the government was asked in Parliament if the Note of Protest sent by Delhi to Pakistan regarding the Sino-Pakistan border treaty drew any response; if yes, what it said; and if the text of the agreement was available.
Dinesh Singh, the Deputy Minister in the MEA, answered: (a) No formal reply has been received to our protest note so far. (b) Does not arise. (c) No Sir.
At that time, Delhi did not even have a copy of the agreement.
Later, on the same day, Harish Chandra Mathur of the Congress asked again about the government’s reaction. Nehru answered: “The Government of India’s reaction is obviously unfavourable.” That was all.

The Treaty Cedes India’s Territory
China and Pakistan signed the agreement on March 2, 1963, by Bhutto and Chen Yi, the foreign ministers of the two countries. According to the two parties, this agreement was intended to promote “the development of good neighbourly relations and friendly relations and the safeguarding of peace in Asia and the world.”
In Article 1, it was acknowledged that the border had never been formally demarcated, and that the two countries wanted to draw it on the basis of “the traditional and customary border.”
As the Pakistani and Chinese maps did not match exactly, it was decided that the topographical features on the ground would be decisive.
It should be noted that in its description of the border, the agreement mentions the Karakoram Pass as the eastern end of the border. In practice, this seems to mean that the Siachen Glacier was occupied by Pakistan at the time. This was, of course, not the case. In fact, the Siachen glacier, long unexplored, has never been occupied by Pakistan, and it was only in 1984 that India took control of it.

Article 6
More interesting is Article 6, in which Pakistan and China agreed that after the settlement of the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India, “the sovereign authority concerned will reopen negotiations on the boundary with the Chinese Government so as to sign a formal boundary treaty to replace the present agreement.”
It means that even if the 1963 agreement was considered ‘legal’, which it is not, China is today building a road on a territory that is only temporarily with China. It is clearly a provocation in retaliation for India refusing to budge in Depsang and Demchok in Ladakh.
It remains that the new infrastructure could give a tremendous advantage to China in case of a new conflict with India in the region.
After maps of the new roads were published, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar reasserted that Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is part of India; he also mentioned the resolution of the Indian Parliament, which states that PoK is part of the country, and observed, “So, what will happen in the future? Very difficult to tell. But, I always tell people one thing, today PoK is in the consciousness once again of the people of India.”
In the meantime, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan have started revolting against the Pakistani state. The game is certainly not over.

Tail End: India will soon have the occasion to protest again; Pakistan and China plan to ‘realign’ the Karakoram Highway to avoid Attabad Lake, which is prone to landslides.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Last Indian Villages On Tibet Border

My article The Last Indian Villages On Tibet Border appeared  in Rediff.com

Here is the link...

'It is a breathtaking journey towards the Tibet border, especially since the Border Road Organisation has accomplished a fabulous feat in black-topping the road till the border.'

'One is left with a salute for the dauntless Indian soldiers who spend the winter in these majestic, though inhospitable areas (we were told that the temperature comes down to minus 40 in winter),' recounts Claude Arpi.

After searching for years in the old dusty files of the National Archives of India to unveil some of the secrets on a specific subject, one becomes rather familiar with the object of one's research ... but on paper only.
Often the physical reality is vastly different.
This is what happened to me when I recently visited a remote area in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand.
The places are Nilang (also written as Nelang), a village located in the Jadh Ganga valley, Jadhang (or Jadhung) and Pulam Sumda, the latter two lying on the upper reaches, towards the India-Tibet frontier. The Line of Actual Control (LAC) with the Chinese army occupying Tibet is located on top of the ridge.
The particularity of the place is that the area was claimed by Tibet before India's independence (and subsequently by China) as part of Tsaparang in Tsamda county of Ngari Prefecture of Western Tibet.

Today, when China claims any area, its Liberation Army first physically takes over the place and later Beijing announces that it is ready for discussions; the disagreement between the Lhasa government and the administration of the erstwhile princely Tehri state (and by extension British India) was different, it continued for decades, at the end of which no mutually acceptable solution was found, but the 'dispute' did not result in any physical clashes or even an increase of the police personnel posted on the border.
A large amount of correspondence took place between Tibet (Lhasa and the Dzongpen or commissioner in Tsaparang) and the princely states of Tehri‐Garhwal, Bashahr (today Kinnaur) as well as the provincial governments of the United Provinces, Punjab and, of course, the Foreign and Political Department of British India in Delhi.

The Brief History of the Dispute

The Gumgum nalla. Not really a border

Let us first look at the long history of the area.
The difference of perception seems to have arisen when the Dzongpen of Tsaparang, the nearby Tibetan district, visited the Gumgum nala in 1914. He publically announced his decision of setting up a boundary pillar on the spot near a bridge.
When the local villagers objected, the Dzongpen left without any further action.

A few kilometres beyond Gangotri, I kept asking my guide, "Where is this Gumgum nalla?" Finally, he pointed out a most insignificant place ...without a real nalla.
It is where the Tibetans had unilaterally decided to 'fix' their border with India. Of course, the watershed principle or other features determining a boundary were unknown to them.
Four years later, in 1918, the Tehri State decided to erect 3 pillars on the top of the watershed, at Tsang Chok‐la, following the watershed principle.
In 1920, the Tehri State surveyed for the first time the area and prepared cultivation maps of the Nelang area. The Jadh Ganga valley was then included in the maps of the princely state.
In 1921, the Tsaparang Dzongpen visited Nelang again. This time, he sent a letter to the Raja of Tehri requesting him to nominate an official to sort out the boundary issue; at that time, it was not yet considered a 'dispute'; it was only a 'difference of perceptions' between friendly neighbours.
The Raja answered that the issue had to be raised through the Government of India as it involved a problem between two foreign governments.
In 1924, it was finally proposed by British India to appoint a boundary commission, but due to the poor communications and the fact that these areas could only be visited in summer, the commission could meet only in the summer of 1926.
Travelling in the Valley, you first note the inaccessibility of the area. On the opposite side of the road, perched on a cliff, is the Gartang Gali (bridge), built some 150 years ago, by Pathans who are said to have come from Peshawar to build this bridge at a height of 11000 feet.
It was finally slightly easier for the villagers to move in the valley and eventually visit the trade marts in Tibet. This wooden step bridge path was closed after the 1962 War; today it has been opened for tourists.
The 3.5 km bridge is indeed a marvel of wooden architecture, worth the visit.

Gartang Gali, a wooden bridge, said to be built by Pathans from Peshawar

The Acton Commission
To return to history, in June 1926, T J C Acton, an officer of the Indian Civil Service, was nominated as the British representative to discuss the issue with Tibetan officials near the Gumgum nala.
The Tibetans claimed that the Tehri people had removed their boundary marks after they had returned to Tibet.
The British commissioner commented: 'Their attitude, I think, was that His Highness [His Holiness] the Dalai Lama had said that the boundary was the Gumgum nala, and that any criticism of that decree would be a dangerous form of blasphemy.'
It was the first of several commissions which would try to solve the problem with the Buddhist neighbour during the following years.

The Chor Gad, another route to Tibet.
At one point, the British, great adepts of compromise, suggested that Nelang could remain with Tehri State while Jadhang would go to Tibet. But a complication soon cropped up, Jadhang (and even Nelang) was claimed by the Bashahr state.
The Tibetan claim of a frontier in line with the Gumgum nala remained 'clearly absurd', according to Acton.

A moraine, a pile of unconsolidated debris, usually soil and rock
left behind by a moving glacier

The Saga Continues

Two years later, on November 14, 1930, Colonel J L R Weir, the political officer in Sikkim, informed the foreign secretary in Delhi that he had received a letter from Lhasa about the Tibet‐Tehri boundary question.
Weir commented: 'This Tehri boundary is one to which much importance is attached by the Tibetan Government so much so that they paid me a special visit to discuss the matter that day.' Nothing came out of a new enquiry.
Colonel Weir was replaced by Frederick Williamson as the political officer in 1932. During a tour in Western Tibet from August to October 1932, Williamson was requested by the Government of India to look into the 'Tehri‐Tibet' dispute again.
In his report, the political officer mentions the Acton Report which 'reported in favour of the watershed boundary claimed by Tehri, but the Government of India considered that the evidence showed that Tibet was entitled to a frontier further to the west.'
Williamson commented 'with the exception of the northwest corner, this tract appeared to my untrained mind to be practically valueless. But the south‐west corner contains valuable deodar forest.'
The discussions continued till Independence.

Nelang Village
Post Independence: The valley occupied
In the early 1950s, the government moved fast following the Himmatsinghji Committee report prepared by the Government of India. One of the actions suggested by the Committee was that areas such Tawang and Nelang should be immediately occupied by Indian forces.

Already in May 1950, the ministry of external affairs had sent a note to the ministry of defence asking the latter to comment on the feasibility to occupy the Nelang/Jadhang area; the Political Officer in Sikkim had noted: 'The guiding principle in the new circumstances must however be the Government of India's ability to vindicate what they would regard as the appropriate frontier.'
While visiting the area today, one realises the difficulty to sustain a permanent occupation of these villages. 

On April 4, 1950, the ministry of defence answered: 'The area under dispute is an extremely difficult country physically and climatically with hardly any communications. It therefore follows that operations in the area will have to be confined to short periods and undertaken by specially trained infantry.'

Six years later, China walked into the area.

On May 2, 1956, the ministry of external affairs complained about a Chinese intrusion. The ministry said: 'Nilang at the area right up to Tsang Chok‐la pass is clearly within Indian territory and has always been in our possession.'

Apart from the fact that the border follows the watershed, the area is clearly Hindu with two small mandirs being maintained by the Indian Army on behalf of the Jadh population.
Today, what remains of the villages of Nelang and Jadhang has been opened to visitors and the Government of India has decided to repopulate the villages under the Vibrant Village programme. This is a fine initiative, though it is not certain that the scheme will immediately succeed. In the meantime, the villages are worth visiting.

 As I entered the Jadh Ganga valley, the story of George Fernandes, the then defence minister, sending babus to the Siachen Glacier to study the topography of the place, instead of getting their knowledge from the files alone, came back to mind.
It is indeed an entirely different experience to travel on a road between two majestic ridges and slowly go up in altitude, from the base camp in Harsil village.
It is a breathtaking journey towards the Tibet border, especially since the Border Road Organisation has accomplished a fabulous feat in black-topping the road till the border.
One is left with a salute for the dauntless Indian soldiers who spend the winter in these majestic, though inhospitable areas (we were told that the temperature comes down to minus 40 in winter).
When India had a peaceful neighbour such measures were not necessary, but today Delhi has no other choice.

Jadh Ganga


Thursday, May 16, 2024

Xi in Europe: How Chinese President posed as ‘ruler of world’ while Europeans 'begged' a solution for Ukraine

My article Xi in Europe: How Chinese President posed as ‘ruler of world’ while Europeans 'begged' a solution for Ukraine appeared in Firstpost

Here is the link...

Macron probably wanted to impress the French public with his diplomatic skills before the European elections in June. Unfortunately for him, banners and flags were unfurled by Uyghur, Tibetan and Chinese activists on the streets of Paris
Xi in Europe: How Chinese President posed as ‘ruler of world’ while Europeans 'begged' a solution for Ukraine

Observers could see that France was fascinated by China when President Xi Jinping of China paid a three-day visit to France; he was lavishly received by his French counterpart, President Emmanuel Macron.
What is strange is that at a time when President Vladimir Putin of Russia is considered to be the supreme villain in France (and in Europe in general), Xi is seen as a decent person that France needs to engage with.
But is Xi really different from Putin? Does he treat his minorities better? Have the Chinese people more freedom than the Russians? Certainly not. But Europeans and Westerners in general remain fascinated by China and prefer to bury their faces in the sand about the dark side of the Middle Kingdom.
Let us not forget that it is thanks to China that, for the past two years, Russia has survived all the US and European sanctions.
Putin may not be what one can call a ‘good human being, but unlike India, France has been unable to find a balanced relationship with Russia and China.
What were Macron’s motivations to receive so elaborately Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan (a major general of the People’s Liberation Army) with red carpets all over Paris and even in the snows of the Pyrenees mountains?

France’s Short Memory
In France, as elsewhere, political leadership has a short memory.
Who remembers February 23, 2017, when French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve went to Wuhan to inaugurate a ‘P4’ virology laboratory? That day, Cazeneuve declared, “France is proud and happy to have contributed to the construction of the first high biological security ‘P4’ laboratory in China.”
The French Prime Minister further explained: “This cutting-edge tool is a central element in achieving the 2004 intergovernmental agreement on Franco-Chinese cooperation for the prevention and fight against emerging infectious diseases.”
This investment did not prevent or even foresee the forthcoming disaster, though it showed the level of trust between the two countries.
My point is that, despite having a very privileged relationship with India, Paris would not have trusted New Delhi enough to build a P4 lab in India.
But thankfully, during the following years, relations between New Delhi and Paris have grown in strength and depth.

First Visit to China

During his first state visit to China in 2018, the French President brought with him two key messages.
One was the huge possibility of cooperation between China and Europe and France’s commitment to that effort.
The other is a warning to not underestimate growing concern and frustration in Europe and elsewhere with what many regard as China’s unfair trade practices (such as investment restrictions).
At that time, Mathieu Duchatel, deputy director of the Asia and China Programme at the European Council of Foreign Relations, stated: “[Macron] wants to present himself as a leader of the EU, but at the same time, I think he wants to send a signal that Europe and the EU are in better shape than many think in China.”
In 2018, in a speech in Xi’an, in northwestern China’s Shaanxi province, Macron admitted that China faced a “united front from developed countries against its unfair trade practices”.
Nothing has changed since then. This has become acutely worse after the COVID crisis (made in Wuhan), though today the Chinese leadership desperately needs to be accepted by the world. This explains the Chinese President’s first outing after five years (to France, Serbia, and Hungary).

A Failure?
In an article published in Le Figaro (belonging to the Dassault family), President Xi Jinping spoke of “carrying forward the spirit that guided the establishment of China-France Diplomatic Relations [in 1964], working together for global peace and development.”
Xi wrote that he was bringing three messages with him: “China will work with France to carry forward the spirit that guided the establishment of their diplomatic ties, build on past achievements, and open new vistas for China-France relations.” He further observed: “I think it’s important to have a dialogue, everyone together, so we can all go in the same direction. It’s very important for French and Chinese people to communicate. China is a very important country."
He added that China understands the repercussions of the Ukraine crisis on the people of Europe, adding that the longer the Ukraine crisis drags on, the greater harm it will do to Europe and the world.
Good intentions indeed, but will they be followed by resolute action when an economic war is raging between China and the United States?

The French Motivations
Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Macron has expressed his desire to ‘play a role’, but it was doubtful from the start that he could influence Beijing, which has its own interests with Russia; despite the official declarations, China has always stood firm behind Putin.
Further, the French President has stated several times that he does not rule out sending ground troops to Ukraine. Is it compatible with ‘playing a role’?
In an interview with The Economist earlier this month, Macron reaffirmed his previous statements backing Ukraine: “If the Russians were to break through the front lines, if there were a Ukrainian request, which is not the case today, we would legitimately have to ask ourselves this question,” he said.
Isabelle Lasserre in Le Figaro frankly noted: “Emmanuel Macron failed to win over his Chinese counterpart, reflecting France’s lack of clout in the face of China.”
Speaking of the joint press conference, she wrote: “Behind the tense face of the French president…and that of the Chinese president, uncomfortable and closed, we could not see the ‘friendship’…but the confrontation between two worlds that oppose each other on everything.”
It is indeed two opposite worlds.

Special Friendly Outing
In a very special gesture, Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte took Xi Jinping and his wife to the Col du Tourmalet in the Pyrenees, where they watched folk local dancers and enjoyed local gastronomy.
Does it remind you of an outing in Mahabalipuram?
They had lunch on the spot; on the menu, typical Pyrenean dishes were chosen by Dominique Bouchait, the local chef. For starters, garbure, the traditional local soup. Then shoulder of lamb confit, with ham from Porc Noir de Bigorre cut into pieces, accompanied by Tarbais beans and porcini mushroom heads. After a cheese platter, for dessert, the chef had prepared a pastry known only to the local Béarnais: le russe (the Russian). It is made with an almond-based cookie and praline paste and is said to originate from Crimea.
However, in view of the war in Ukraine, this dessert, particularly appreciated by Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron, was at the last minute replaced by a banal blueberry tart. Diplomacy and politics prevailed.

Not Much Progress
The bilateral negotiations did not see much progress, though China will allow imports of pig origin protein feed as well as pork offal from France. However, European hopes for an Airbus plane order have been dashed, with the two sides only agreeing to expand cooperation.
A European diplomat said Xi was the ‘winner’ of the visit, having ‘cemented his image as the ‘ruler of the world’ where westerners are begging him to solve European problems in Ukraine’.
Macron probably wanted to impress the French public with his diplomatic skills before the European elections in June. Unfortunately for him, banners and flags were unfurled by Uyghur, Tibetan, and Chinese activists on the streets of Paris. “Free Tibet. Dictator Xi Jingping, your time is up!” stated a large white banner that his motorcade had to drive under on the Outer Boulevard. On the top of the banner was the flag of Tibet, a symbol of the Tibetan independence movement.
The protesters were joined by Chinese, Taiwanese, Mongolian, and Vietnamese human rights activists, as well as Hong Kong pro-democracy supporters, because after all, France is a democracy and people can express their views.

Indo-French Relations
More discreet but perhaps more concrete, on May 13 in Versailles, France will host its seventh edition of the ‘Choose France Forum’.
A French official told Business Today Television: “Seven Indian CEOs will meet President Macron on the 13th. There will be a Franco-India forum where the Indian CEOs will interact with the French CEOs."
The official objective is to welcome more Indian investments in France and to increase further partnership between both countries.
This may not bring votes for the European elections to Macron’s party, but it will certainly enhance relations between France and India.
The South China Morning Post summarised Xi’s three-nation tour: “Xi Jinping, his tour over, leaves behind a Europe split by how to deal with China,” adding: “Despite long-standing ties to President Emmanuel Macron, [Xi] made few if any concessions to reduce the flood of Chinese imports into the European Union.” And no concession on Ukraine either.
But for Xi, these few days must have been a relief from the pressure under which he lives in Beijing.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Nepal’s flimsy claims on Kali River will not change ground realities, but India must be vigilant

Adi Kailash
My article Nepal’s flimsy claims on Kali River will not change ground realities, but India must be vigilant appeared in Firstpost.

Here is the link...

Though China does not have any claim in the area, it is clear that Chinese have been inciting Nepal to claim Kalapani and beyond, and this is probably to destabilise India

Nepal’s flimsy claims on Kali River will not change ground realities, but India must be vigilant
Kathmandu seems to have forgotten that the location of the Kali river on the maps of the Sino-Nepali treaty matches with the Indian stand: Kalapani is on Indian territory. Image: Wikimedia Commons
A recent visit to the border areas of the Central Sector of the Indo-Tibet boundary was an eye-opener. The first thing that I witnessed was the considerable efforts that have been made by the Central government (through the Border Road Organisation of the Indian Army) to connect to ‘the world’ in these remote locations.
The accounts of travellers, yogis (particularly Swami Pranavanada in the 1930s), yatris (to Kailash Mountain), or Indian officials posted in Gartok in western Tibet always struck me for the description of the harsh terrain near the tri-junction of India, Tibet, and Nepal; till recently, the journey was indeed extremely perilous.
To give an example, a few years ago, it took up to a 27-day walk for a yatri to travel from Darchula to Lipulekh and later come back (in Tibet, they were taken by buses to the Kailash base camp). Today the road reaches a few hundred metres from the top of Lipulekh, the border pass separating Kumaon (near the trijunction with Tibet and Nepal) from Purang County (Dzong) in Tibet.
The black-topping of the road between Darchula and Lipulekh is not yet fully completed, but it is a matter of a few more months before the tar will be laid all the way to the pass.
The implication of this development is that access to the Indian Army and the Indo-Tibet Border Police (ITBP) is far easier; today, the defence forces can answer any contingencies in the shortest possible time, which also makes the lives of the local population simpler.
Though this area did not witness any confrontation during the 1962 War with China and is not directly claimed by Beijing, it remains ‘disputed’ through China’s proxy, Nepal.

In the News Again
The issue was recently in the news when Kathmandu decided to incorporate on their 100-rupee banknotes a new political map of Nepal, covering the so-called disputed territories of Lipulekh, Limpiyadhura, and Kalapani as part of the Nepali territory.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar was quick to answer: “I saw that report. I have not looked at it in detail, but I think our position is very clear. With Nepal, we were having discussions about our boundary matters through an established platform. And then, in the middle of that, they unilaterally took some measures on their side. But by doing something on their side, [Nepal is] not going to change the situation between us or the reality on the ground,” said Jaishankar.
Nepal, which now tries to unilaterally change the maps, has not always claimed the Indian village of Kalapani, the main resurgence of the Kali river, which has its origin in a rivulet near Lipulekh.
In May 2020, an argument erupted between India and Nepal; the immediate reason was an 80-km road from Darchula to Lipulekh.
Strategically, this road is crucial for India, but also important for the yatris and local traders, Lipulekh being one of the three landports between India and Tibet.
It was only in 1998 that the CPN-ML faction led by Bam Dev Gautam started claiming some Indian territory in the vicinity of Kalapani as Nepalese. According to Buddhi Narayan Shrestha, a former Director General of the Land Survey Department, the ‘Kali River’ was the Kuti Yankti river that arises below the Limpiyadhura range and not the Kali accepted by India; Nepal began then claiming an entire area of 400 km².

But why was no claim put forward by Nepal for the previous 150 years?
This has never been explained by Kathmandu, and some flimsy historical excuses are being used today.
A Nepali argument is that the flow of the Kuti river is more significant, though this does not prove anything. In his book, History of the Kailash-Mansarovar, Swami Pranavananda, who extensively wrote on the subject, mentioned the confluence of the Kali and Kuti rivers “at a distance of 2 or 3 furlongs down below the road. Though the River Kuti is almost twice or thrice as big as Kali, the Kali is taken to be the main river.” The Swami also noted that the local population attached to Garbyang village is not of Nepali stock.

Tracing the History
After a war between British India and Nepal in 1814, the Nepalis were sent back across the Kali River in May 1815, and subsequently, the Sugauli Treaty was signed on March 4, 1816. Article 5 of the Treaty stated: “The Rajah of Nepaul renounces for himself, his heirs and successors, all claim to or connexion with the countries lying to the west of the River Kali, and engages never to have any concern with those countries or the inhabitants thereof.”
Unfortunately, no map was attached, which could have authoritatively shown the exact alignment and source of the Kali River.
In any case, at that time, no scientific survey worth the name could be carried out; it was only by the mid-19th century that the Himalayan border was first surveyed by the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India (a precursor of the Survey of India), in a more scientific manner.
Today, the Nepalis base their claims on an old map that is neither accurate nor authentic. From 1998 until 2020, the Nepalese government continued to keep quiet, but in May 2020, Kathmandu for the first time released a map incorporating the entire area east of the Kuti Yankti River as part of their territory. To make it worse, on June 13, a bill seeking to give legal status to the new map was unanimously approved by the lower house in the Nepal Parliament.
The political struggle within the ruling party in Nepal further complicated the issue.

The Border in the 1950s
Interestingly, in the early 1950s, the Indian police already manned a check post at Kalapani. In his diary, Lakshman Singh Jangpangi, the Indian Trade Agent in Gartok, wrote: “July 10, 1955. I could not start on 9th, as my clerk suddenly ran a very high temperature and was unable to leave his bed. The Compounder was sent with the advance party on 6th. This clerk was today better and fit to travel, I started and camped at Kalapani Police Post. A section of P.A.C. [Provincial Armed Constabulary] under Subedar Sher Singh has been stationed here since June 28, 1955. The Garbyang villagers have cultivated land close to the post.”
When the police post was set up by the Uttar Pradesh government, probably in 1952, Nepal did not object.

The 1961 Sino-Nepal Treaty
But there is more, the “Boundary Treaty between the People’s Republic of China and the Kingdom of Nepal,” signed by President Liu Shaoqi of China and King Mahendra of Nepal on October 5, 1961, shows the Kali River as per the Indian stand. Article I (1) defines the China-Nepal boundary line, which “starts from the point where the watershed between the Kali River and the Tinkar River meets the watershed between the tributaries of the Mapchu (Karnali) River on the one hand and the Tinkar River on the other hand”.
More telling are the precise maps attached to the treaty and signed by both parties; Kathmandu seems to have forgotten that the location of the river on the maps of the Sino-Nepali treaty matches with the Indian stand: Kalapani is on Indian territory.

Other Proofs in Favour of India’s Stand
The Memorandum between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the Resumption of Border Trade, signed on December 13, 1991, and the Protocol on Entry and Exit Procedures for Border Trade, signed on July 1, 1992, are other examples confirming that China agreed with India on the border in this area.
For Beijing, the border pass was (and still is today) Lipulekh. Once again, Kathmandu did not protest.

The Chinese Stakes
Though China does not have any claim in the area, it is clear that Chinese have been inciting Nepal to claim Kalapani and beyond, and this is probably to destabilise India.
The visit of Wang Junzheng, the TAR party secretary, to Kathmandu last November set the ball rolling. The Tibet delegation (without any Tibetans) announced that they wanted to maintain the “good momentum of high-level exchanges between the two countries”. During his stay, Wang met, among others, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’.
A five-year initiative for Nepal’s northern border districts was then created; it offered different kinds of logistical and material support, mostly for building schools and health posts, installing solar electricity in the 15 northern districts of Nepal.
A preparatory meeting was recently held in Lhasa on April 23 and 24; all this means a more important Chinese presence in Nepal, including in Darchula district (of Nepal), bordering India.
Besides these political aspects, the stunning and majestic beauty of the area (particularly the Om Parvat and the Adi Kailash) will hopefully attract more and more Indian visitors in the years to come. After all, it is Indian territory.

The border in the Kalapani/Lipulekh sector

Om Parvat near the trijunction India-Tibet-Nepal at Tinkar Pass

Cave in which Maharishi Vyasa meditated and wrote the Mahabharata (near Kalapani)

Chinese map showing Chinese claims (green) and Nepali claims (mauve)

First Pillar on Sino-Nepal border near Tinkar Pass

Friday, April 19, 2024

A Tibetan Lama in the Land of the Dragon

A few years ago, during a visit to Drukyul, the Land of the Dragon as Bhutan is locally known, I had the occasion to meet a group of Bhutanese scholars and historians belonging to a local think-tank. During the course of the discussion, the term “our Northern neighbour” kept coming up in the conversation.
As I was wondering why the Bhutanese were not naming China, I asked an Indian friend accompanying me: “why nobody names China”. My friend explained that as a ‘small’ (by size at least) country, Drukyul does not like even to pronounce the name of its northern neighbour.
A formula used by the 13th Dalai Lama as he was chased out of his country by a Chinese warlord in 1910, returned to my mind: “The big insect always eat small insects”.
In the past Tibet played the role of ‘big insect’ for Bhutan, the southern neighbour.
Till very recently, Thimphu has been extremely wary of the Tibetans; for example the Dalai Lama has never been permitted to visit the Land of Dragon, even 65 years after he took refuge in India.
The recent visit to Bhutan by one of the highest Tibetan lams should be seen in this background.

Sakya Trichen

Known as His Holiness Kyabgon Gongma Trichen Rinpoche, the respected lama served as the 41st head (Trizin) of the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism from 1951 until March 2017, when he handed over his responsibilities of throne-holder to a successor.
His biography says: “His Holiness Sakya Trichen [former throne-holder] is renowned throughout the world for the brilliance and clarity of his teachings and his fluency and precise command of English. Receiving teachings directly from His Holiness carries a special lineage of blessings from the founders of the Sakya Order, as well as from Manjushri himself.”
It speaks of an unbroken lineage dating back to 1073 A.D.: “Since this celestial race descended upon earth over one thousand years ago, the lineage remains unbroken to this day. Many illustrious masters and practitioners have appeared in the lineage including the Five Great Masters of the Sakya Order”.
Sakya Trichen is a member of Khon noble family, which founded the Sakya School in the eleventh century and ruled over Tibet for centuries. The present Sakya Trichen is said to be a manifestation of Manjusri, the Buddha of transcendent wisdom.
First relocated in Darjeeling in 1959, the Lama soon shifted to Rajpur, near Dehra Dun from where he reestablished the Sakya monastery and preserved his lineage’s tradition.

The Visit
Sakya Trichen left India for his inaugural visit to Bhutan on April 9.
As he arrived at the Paro Airport, he was received by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, one of his foremost disciples, who apparently organized the visit.
Incidentally, Khyentse is not only a renowned religious teacher, but also a filmmaker (he directed the hugely successful “The Cup”), a photographer and a football fan. Khyentse was born in 1961 into a ‘hard-core Buddhist family’ in the ‘staunchly Buddhist country’ of Bhutan. At the age of seven, he was recognized by the same Sakya Trichen as the main incarnation of the unrivaled Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, the spiritual heir of one of the most influential and admired 19th century ‘Rime’ (non-sectarian) traditions of Tibetan Buddhism; his biographer says: “At a time when sectarianism threatened to decimate the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, in a unique collaboration with Jamgon Kongtrul Lodrö Taye and Chogyur Lingpa, Khyentse Wangpo was responsible for initiating and promoting Rime throughout the Land of Snow, effectively breathing new life into all schools of Buddhism, and rescuing many lineages from complete extinction.”
It was in the 19th century.

Sakya Trichen in Bhutan
On April 11, Sakya Trichen emphasized the importance of devotion to Guru Rinpoche (also known as Padmasambhava) in today’s world.
The next day, he met Dzongsar Khyentse and other Bhutanese Rinpoches.
Most impressive was the grand procession in Bumthang on April 13 where tens of thousands of devotees had gathered to receive the teachings and blessings of the 78-year old lama. Sakya Trichen took the opportunity to bestow a number of oral transmissions and empowerments to the local population.
On April 15, he had an audience with the King and the Queen of Bhutan and some of the members of the royal family, during which the Tibetan lama was accompanied by his wife Dagmo Tashi Lhakyi Sakya.
Interestingly, on the following day, he met the Lopens of the Zhung Dratshang or Central Monk Body of the Drukpa Kagyu tradition established in 1620 by Shabdrung Ngawang Tenzin Namgyel, the Founder of the Bhutanese State who unified the country, codified the laws, and set up the dual system of governance (religious and secular).
In 1637, the Sangha moved to Punakha Dzong, which still today continues to serve as the winter headquarters of the Zhung Dratshang, representing more than 7,000 monks, nuns and gomchens (meditators). According to the Constitution of Bhutan, the Zhung Dratshang is an autonomous institution, financed by an annual grant from the Royal Government.
The Tibetan Rinpoche had the occasion to mention the long cordial relations between the Zhung Dratshang and the Sakya lineage since the 17th century.

Why the Visit is Important
There is no doubt that the visit, though not covered by the world media, has important religious as well political implications.
First, it showcased that despite the differences, the cultural bondage between Tibet and Bhutan remains strong; it also demonstrates the spiritual reverence for a non-Bhutanese respected lama; let us remember that Sakya Trichen belongs to a different school than the main stream Drukpa Kagyu in Bhutan.
In his speeches, the Tibetan lama lauded time and again Bhutan's spiritual atmosphere; he was happy to visit the ancient gompas and enjoyed meeting the common people as well as the religious leaders of the country. He was all praise for the royal family, particularly the “Dharma Raja”, the present king (the Fifth of the Wangchuk dynasty), whose role was stressed time and again as pivotal to the nation’s progress.
Religiously, the Sakya lama stressed Guru Rinpoche's significance; he asked the Bhutanese to pray for the Tantric master of Swat, who strengthen Buddhism in the 8th century in Tibet and visited several places in Bhutan during his spiritual peregrinations. For the lama, Bhutan, with its ethos of Gross National Happiness, encapsulates a harmonious blend of cultural development, spiritual atmosphere and aspiration for global peace.
The visit of Sakya Trichen to the famous Paro Taktsang or ‘Tiger's Nest’, a monastery built on a cliff wall about 900 m above Paro valley is significant in this context as the monastery is built around a cave where Padmasambhava is said to have meditated. The sage is said to have flown there from Tibet on the back of Yeshe Tsogyal, his consort, whom he had, for the purpose, transformed into a flying tigress.

Political Significance

But the visit has also a political significance, at a time whom the ‘northern neighbour’ repeatedly intrudes into Bhutanese territory to bully Thimphu; the visit of the Indian Prime Minister Modi in April was probably linked to this, particularly the fact that Beijing is trying to force a border agreement on Bhutan. Could a Tibetan lama siding with its former ‘southern neighbour’ make Beijing think twice? Not sure.
One should remember that relations have not always been cordial between the Tibetans and the Bhutanese.
On April 5, 1964, Jigmie Dorji, then Bhutanese Prime Minister was assassinated by some Bhutanese officers.
Three days after the murder, the alleged assassin, Zambay was arrested; he apparently confessed that Bhutan’s deputy commander-in-chief, Brigadier Namgyal Bahadur, had ordered him to kill the Prime Minister.
The then King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk was then away in Switzerland; he returned hurriedly but rumours had already circulated that Yankie, the Tibetan mistress of the King, was involved, being jealous of the power of the Dorji family.
Eventually, a total of 39 army officers, including Brigadier Bahadur, were arrested and the brigadier was executed by a firing squad on May 17. Zambay was put to death on July 4.
Referring to local reports, the Bhutanese court that convicted Brigadier Bahadur noted: “There is no evidence at all that any foreign power was in any way involved.... The full and the entire responsibility for this plot belongs to these accused and only to them.”
Though Yankie was exonerated, mistrust continued to persist.
One could mention many such incidents showing that the suspicion between the Bhutanese and the Tibetans has continued; with this background, the visit of the Sakya lama is a most welcome change and it could be a powerful message to China that ‘divide and rule’ between traditional neighbours cannot be exploited forever.
Will the visit of the Sakya Trichen be followed by a trip of the Dalai Lama to the Land of the Dragon?
It is too early to say, but it would be interesting…

Sunday, March 31, 2024

From Tibet To India: Looking Back At Dalai Lama’s Journey

The program of Nitin Gokhale ('Simply Nitin') of StatNewsGlobal quotes me.
Here is the Video...

It was this week sixty-five years ago that will remain etched in the minds of Tibetans as a watershed. On March 31, 1959, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, entered India to seek refuge. It was a particularly troublesome month for the Tibetan administration when Chinese troops marched into Tibet and took control. The Dalai Lama was barely 23 then and there was a sense that he could be arrested by PLA troops.

On March 17, 1959, the Dalai Lama, his family members and some of his close associates left the Potala Palace in Lhasa. They travelled south towards the McMahon Line (which separates Tibet from India) and the destination was India, the North East Frontier Agency or NEFA (which is now Arunachal Pradesh).

The Dalai Lama was dressed as an ordinary Chinese soldier. The journey took about a fortnight, through inhospitable terrain and mountain passes. They also had to watch out whether Chinese soldiers were on their trail.

In one of his blogs, noted Tibetologist and author Claude Arpi gives a vivid description of what followed.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Dalai Lama's arrival in Tawang: 65 years on, India-China ties remain complex and chaotic

My article
Dalai Lama's arrival in Tawang: 65 years on, India-China ties remain complex and chaotic appeared in Firstpost...

The Dalai Lama’s escape to Tawang in 1959 not only marked a significant turning point in India-China relations but also highlighted the enduring struggle for Tibetan autonomy amid shifting regional dynamics 

Here is the link...

Sixty-five years ago, momentous events took place on the Tibetan plateau; they had incalculable and incredible consequences for India, which until then had peaceful northern borders.
On 31 March, 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet crossed the Indian border at Khenzimane on the riverbank of the Namjiang Chu (river) in the Tawang sector of today’s Arunachal Pradesh.
A few days earlier, camping in Lhuntse Dzong in Southern Tibet, the Tibetan leader had sent a cable to the Indian prime minister. The Dalai Lama who had just denounced the 17-Point Agreement signed under duress in Beijing in May 1951, said: “The Government of Tibet have tried their best to maintain good relations with China but the Chinese have been trying to take away powers from the Tibetan Government and in some areas they are making preparations for war. On March 17, 1959 at 4 pm the Chinese fired two shells in the direction of my residence. They could not do much damage. [But] as our lives were in danger, I and some of my trusted [people] manage to escape the same evening at 10 pm.”
On 27 March, TS Murty, the Assistant Political Officer in Tawang received instructions about the possibility of the Dalai Lama seeking entry into India. He was immediately asked to proceed towards the border to receive the dignitary and escort him to Tawang, Bomdila and Tezpur.
An archive document from the Government of India stated: “Expecting that some such development might occur, we had instructed the various check-posts there what to do. So, when the Dalai Lama crossed over into our territory, he was received by our Assistant Political Officer of the Tawang Sub-Division. …A little later, the rest of his entourage came in. The total numbers who have come with him or after him is 80.” More than 85,000 Tibetans would come to India during the following years.

Dalai Lama arrives in India
On 31 March at 9 am, Murty reached Chuthangmu, where a detachment of the 5th Battalion of the Assam Rifles was posted. The Dalai Lama’s advance party under a junior officer had already reached the post two days earlier. Murty was told that the main party consisting of the Dalai Lama, his family, ministers and tutors was expected to enter India at 2 pm the same day.
Murty communicated to Bomdila and Shillong (seat of the Governor of Assam) that there was no sign of the Chinese pursuit.
After planting his walking stick (which since then has become a beautiful tree and is known by the locals as the ‘Holy Tree’) on the frontier at Khenzimane, the Dalai Lama proceeded to Chuthangmu check-post where Murty handed over to him the Indian prime minister’s message. The Tibetan leader was immediately treated by India as an ‘honoured guest’ and for the past 65 years, he has remained so.
This would have important consequences for India. Soon after, the first clashes took place with the Chinese on the border (the first serious skirmish happened in Longju in Subansiri sector on 25 August, 1959). It was undoubtedly for the warm welcome given to the Tibetan leader.

Today’s Chinese claims
Recently, Beijing has again started claiming the area (corresponding to the state of Arunachal Pradesh) as its own. However, it is worth noting that when the Dalai Lama and his entourage entered India at Khenzimane in 1959, the Chinese government did not protest about the location of the border or even claim that Tawang was ‘Southern Tibet’ (the term used today by Beijing to define Tawang).
They knew perfectly well that the Tibetan leader had taken refuge in Indian territory. Strangely, Beijing is today insisting that Tawang district is part of the People’s Republic of China, but it is clearly an afterthought.
Had Beijing already believed that Tawang area was part of the Chinese territory in 1959, the Chinese troops would have followed the Dalai Lama and his entourage into this area and stopped him from moving to Assam.
The Dalai Lama also clearly mentions in his autobiography that Chuthangmu was the border where he was received by a detachment of the Assam Riffles. He wrote: “I would like to state how the Government of India’s officers posted there had spared no efforts in making my stay and journey through this extremely well administered part of India as comfort-able as possible.”

Events of March 1959
The Tibetan leader’s arrival in India was the culmination of the events of March 1959 in Tibet. It included the popular uprising on 10 March. The escape of the Dalai Lama from Lhasa on the night of 17 March, the massacre of the Tibetan population during the following days and finally the so-called ‘emancipation’ (or ‘liberation’) of the Tibetans by the Communists.
In his ‘Report for the months of March, April and May 1959’ sent to the Ministry of External Affairs, Maj SL Chibber, the Indian Consul General in Lhasa recounted: “In the history of movement for free Tibet, the month of March, 1959, will be most historic …during this month Tibetans high and low, in Lhasa, capital of Tibet, openly challenged the Chinese rule … the might of [the] Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), who on March 20, 1959, started an all-out offensive against the ill-organised, ill-equipped and untrained Tibetans with artillery, mortars, machine guns and all types of automatic weapons, [the protest] was short-lived.”
Chibber continued: “On March 28, 1959, the State Council of the Peoples Republic of China dissolved the local Tibet Government and transferred all its functions and powers to the Preparatory Committee for the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR).”
Another account was given by the Chinese author, Jianglin Li in her book, Tibet in Agony. She used Chinese sources to describe the crackdown in Lhasa. Jianglin wrote: “From March 25 to April 5, the CPC’s Central Committee held an enlarged politburo meeting, and the seventh plenary session of the Eighth Central Committee in Shanghai. Pacification of rebellion in Tibet and relations with India were two of the issues discussed. Wu Lengxi, who was then head of Xinhua news agency and chief editor of The People’s Daily, revealed a glimpse of Mao’s thinking on the China-India relationship in his memoir: ‘Let the Indian Government commit all the wrongs for now. When the time comes, we will settle accounts with them’ [would have said the Great Helmsman].”
The accounts were ‘settled’ three years later (in October 1962) when the 7Th Infantry Brigade was decimated on the slopes of the Thagla ridge.
Since then, Beijing has used its propaganda machinery to paint the dramatic events of 1959 in white when they were black.

Propaganda continues
As recently as 21 March, 2024, China Tibet Network republished an interview of Anna Louise Strong, the author of A Million Serfs Stand Up. She, like Edgar Snow, falls in the category of what Lenin described as the ‘useful idiots’, i.e. foreigners defending all the actions of the Communist Party of China, including during the Cultural Revolution.
In August 1959, she was one the first foreign journalists to arrive in Tibet after the massacre of the Tibetans (prosaically called ‘democratic reform’ by Beijing); she wrote: “The air on the plateau is thin, and the entire nature seems to be soaked in sunlight. Snow peaks, rocks, cliffs, and long sloping pastures all have very bright colors, which are more dazzling than any scenery I have ever seen." She added, “Maybe instead of trusting others, it’s better to go and see for yourself.”
The Chinese website said: “In the next months, she visited Norbulingka, Jokhang Temple, Potala Palace, Drepung Temple, walked into the fields, and walked into the former serfs …She interviewed monks and former serfs, celebrated the Fruit Festival with farmers and herdsmen, and felt the joy of the harvest.” Strong celebrated the Communist ‘emancipation’ of the Tibetans.
Sixty-five years later, Beijing still uses Strong’s propaganda writings to justify their 1959 actions, forgetting that according to Chinese own records, 87,000 Tibetans were killed during these few weeks of March and April 1959, though according to China Tibet Network: “[Strong] did a lot of homework, analyzed the background of democratic reform, and also carefully observed and recorded the situation of democratic reforms in Lhasa, Shannan, Shigatse, Nyingchi and other places, and completed When serfs stood up in Tibet.”

End of a way of life
RS Kapur, another Indian official posted as Indian Trade Agent in Gyantse, wrote in his usually emotionless Annual Report for the Year 1959: “While heart of Tibet was bleeding the free world only made speeches. With the end of the debate on Tibet in the United Nations, Tibetans lost all hopes of their survival, stare at the sky with the blank eyes and ask: Where is God? Where is Buddha? How can world witness such brutal acts on a race that has always wanted to live in peace?”
Kapur added: “Buddha, the Tibetans say, has disappeared from the world; [they] are fast losing hopes of survival of their race. From all appearance Tibet is finished.”
Sixty-five years of a very sad tale indeed. But we have perhaps not seen the end of the story.