Wednesday, June 19, 2019

China-Tibet concord dream fading fast

The Chinese Panchen Lama in Thailand: a political card?
My article China-Tibet concord dream fading fast appeared in The Asian Age and The Deccan Chronicle.

Here is the link...

One man has destabilized China. For the purpose, he has used something which hardly existed a decade ago, Twitter. Though his messages are sometimes eccentric, President Donald Trump has changed the course of the US-China relations. For the first time in recent years, the US has taken the ascendant on the Middle Kingdom in term of communication and propaganda.
This can be seen in all aspects of the bilateral relations.
As a result, Beijing feels insecure like never before; this probably explains the rare authorization given to Terry Branstad, the US Ambassador to China, to visit the Roof of the World between May 19 and 25; a first for a US ambassador since 2015.
A statement issued from Washington said that Branstad spoke his mind; 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.”
The State Department added that Branstad “raised our long-standing concerns about lack of consistent access to the TAR. …He also expressed concerns regarding the Chinese government’s interference in Tibetan Buddhists’ freedom to organize and practice their religion."
The ambassador visited several historic places such as the Potala Palace, the Jokhang Temple or the Norbulingka Palace linked to the Dalai Lama and when he met the senior Communist leaders, he encouraged them “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.
Wu Yingjie, Tibet’s Communist Party Chief explained to the ambassador the ‘huge achievements’ undertaken for guaranteeing the rule of law, religious freedom and traditional culture.
According to the Communist Tibet Daily newspaper, Wu added that he sincerely welcomed more American friends to visit the TAR.
On the ambassador’s return, Beijing used a well-known hawk, Zhu Weiqun to counter the US diplomacy. Zhu, though retired, holds the honorific post of Chairman of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference; for years, as Executive Deputy Director of the United Front Work Department, Zhu was the interlocutor of the Dalai Lama’s Envoys (2002-2010).
Once, when asked whether if ‘religious’ members could be admitted in the Party, Zhu famously retorted: "No Chinese Communist Party members should be allowed to be religious."
On June 9, Zhu commented on the visit of Branstad to Tibet, in The Global Times, the mouthpiece of the Party. Zhu strongly criticized the ambassador, who dared, according to him, to encourage Beijing “to engage in substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama without preconditions.”
This was not appreciated by Zhu (in fact by the Party, as the tabloid represents the Party’s views). Why?
Not only it was blatant interference in China's internal affairs, said Zhu, but he also questioned the meaning of ‘seeking a settlement without preconditions’ and the definition of a ‘substantive dialogue’.
Though time and again the Dalai Lama has said that he wanted an association, not aseparation with China, Zhu considers the Dalai Lama a splittist.
While giving an assurance that the CPC's Central Committee had not closed the door to contacts and negotiation with the Dalai Lama, Zhu showed the Party’s hard-line stance, “the proposed negotiation cannot come without preconditions.”
In my book The Negotiations that Never Were, I argued that the ‘talks’ never really took off, because the two sides did not speak the same language.
Already in 1981, Hu Yaobang, the CPC’s General Secretary had submitted to Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama’s elder brother a “Five-Point Policy towards the Dalai Lama”. The ‘conditions’ were not related to Tibet, but only to the Dalai Lama’s future.
One of the Points said: “The central authorities sincerely welcome the Dalai Lama and his followers to come back to live [in China]. This is based on the hope that they will contribute upholding China's unity and promoting solidarity between the Han and Tibetan nationalities.” It was also said: “It is suggested that he not go to live in Tibet or hold local posts there. Of course, he may go back to Tibet from time to time.”
Zhu Weiqun reitarated that there was nothing to discuss about Tibet, the ‘negotiations’ could only be about the condition of the Dalai Lama's return to the Motherland and his status ...in Beijing.
Zhu explained: “First, it must be made clear that in nature, contact and consultation [these] are not talks between China's central government and the Tibetan government-in-exile or ‘Central Tibetan Administration’, nor are [they] ‘Tibetan-Han Talks’ or ‘Tibetan-China Talks’. The Dalai separatist political group is illegitimate and ineligible to have a ‘dialogue’ with representatives of the CPC Central Committee.”
Beijing wants only to talk to the Dalai Lama’s personal envoys.
Such conditions did not yield positive results during the nine rounds of ‘talks’ held between 2002 and 2010, when Lodi Gyari was the Dalai Lama’s Special Envoy.
The second point mentioned by Zhu was: “the Dalai Lama must accept Tibet as an integral part of China, abandon all attempts about so-called Tibet independence, stop all separatist and destructive activities, and recognize Taiwan as an integral part of China.”
Why Beijing wants to link Taiwan to Tibet is perplexing!
Regarding the second point, China has been insisting that the Dalai Lama agrees that historically Tibet has always been a part of China.
When a senior Tibetan exiled Lama went to China a couple of years ago, the Chinese told him that the Dalai Lama should sign a statement acknowledging that Tibet has been part of China since ancient times. This is obviously not acceptable to the Dalai Lama and the People of Tibet, as it is a falsification of history.
Taking a hard stand, Zhu affirmed that in these two preconditions “there is no so-called Tibet issue, but just the problem of the Dalai Lama.”
It means that today, the Chinese stand has not changed since 1981.
All this does not much leave any margin for substantive negotiations and the recent events in Hong Kong, the pressure in Taiwan and the tragic situation in Xinjiang do not indicate a positive change in the Chinese attitude.
Beijing is playing another card; on June 10, the official China News Service announced that Gyaltsen Norbu, the Panchen Lama selected by the Communist Party in 1995 had visited Thailand in May, “the first time he had ever left China”, while the boy chosen by the Dalai Lama as the 11th Panchen Lama still languishes for more than two decades under house arrest.
The announcement came nearly one month after Norbu’s visit; it show Beijing’s nervousness. Norbu just gave a speech at a Buddhist university, but his visit made him even more aware of the “greatness of the motherland and the Chinese Communist Party.”
Tibetans will not be fooled by such cheap propaganda. Substantive progress between the two parties seems to have slipped further away, with or without tweets.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

In the New Era: National Laws are Higher than the Buddhist Canon

Shangda Monastery in Chamdo area
The Chinese-selected Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu recently visited Thailand. On his return to Beijing, he affirmed “that he was able to deeply appreciate the greatness of the motherland while he was in a foreign country.”
It is a month after Norbus' foreign visit that Xinhua announced that he was part of a Buddhist delegation led by Yanjue, the acting President of the Buddhist Association of China, who traveled to Thailand to attend the ceremony on the occasion of festival of Vesak.
It was said that it was the Panchen Lama's first trip abroad.
Interestingly, Gyaltsen Norbu had spoken at a Buddhist conference in Hong Kong in 2012.
This is not counted as a foreign visit!
In Hong Kong, Norbu had said that he valued inner sciences.
In Thailand, he gave a speech on Let the Light of Compassion and Wisdom Shine upon the World, asserting that since he came “to the foreign country, he could personally better understand the vastness of the motherland, the profound cultural heritage of the Chinese nation, and the unity and harmony of the three major Buddhist communities in China.”
He remarked: “We are fortunate to be in the era of the development and rise of New China, and thank the Communist Party of China for leading the Chinese people in achieving the tremendous transformation of standing up, growing rich, and becoming strong.”
He further emphasized that he has a responsibility and an obligation to guide Tibetan Buddhism to adapt to the socialist society with Chinese characteristics, "to constantly adhere to develop Tibetan Buddhism in the Chinese context, to maximize the positive role of religion, and to make due contributions to safeguarding the unification of the motherland and promoting ethnic unity."
What a program, but what does “adapting Tibetan Buddhism to the socialist society with Chinese characteristics” mean?
An article on a Chinese website run by Xinhua gave an answer.

Testing the monks’ and nuns’ legal knowledge

All monks in Tibet had recently been invited to pass 'legal knowledge' examinations: “In order to promote the basic and leading role of the rule of law, and actively guide the adaptation of religion to the socialist society, and enhance the legal knowledge level and the rule of law awareness” among monks and nuns in Tibet.
You perhaps thought that monks and nuns were supposed to specialize in the Teachings of the Buddha, but in the New Era, they need to be lawyers too.

A New Vinaya?
Xinhua reported that the new program was are jointly organized by the Tibetan Autonomous Region’s Justice Department, the Law Office, the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department and the Religious Bureau. According to the statistics quoted by Xinhua, some 30,000 passed the examination.
On which topics were the tests conducted?
The monks had to answer questions on the Chinese Constitution, the State Security Laws, Anti-Terrorism Laws, Anti-Spying Laws, Environmental Protection Laws, Internet Safety Laws and Regulations on Religious Affairs Matters.
Quite comprehensive?

But where is the Buddha?

All the top TAR’s ‘legal’ big shots visited the test centers.
Lobsang Gyurmey, vice chairman of the Political Consultative Conference and Danba, the Head of the TAR Justice Department inspected the Ganden Monastery's examination center.
Gao Yang, deputy secretary and vice chairman of the Party Committee of the Political Consultative Conference, inspected the test center at Sera Monastery, he was accompanied by Jayong Rinchin, Inspector in the Justice Department. Similarly, Drepung and other monasteries were ‘inspected’ at the time of the examinations.
Xu Xueguang, deputy director of the People's Congress Standing Committee, and the vice chairman of the District Political Consultative Conference and Sonam Rinchen were spotted in Drepung Monastery.
Jigme Gyalpo, Deputy Head of the TAR Justice Department was also on the job, conducting “in-depth inspections and guidance at the examinations’ scene.”
According to Xinhua, after the launch of these (compulsory) tests, “the legal literacy and the rule of law awareness of religious faculty members in our Region have been further improved.”
The website affirmed that “National laws are higher than religious canons and obeying these laws should come before adhering to (Buddhist) precepts”; all this in order to create a harmonious and stable social situation for Tibet.
The examinations created “a good atmosphere of the rule of law.”
In these circumstances, one understands that students in Hong Kong or in Taipei are a bit nervous, to join the Motherland’s ‘legal system in the New Era’.

All over Tibet
Examinations were conducted all over the ‘Autonomous’ Region, particularly in Shigatse, in Lhoka (Lhuntse County), in Nagchu, and Shangda Monastery in Chamdo area.
According to a notice of the United Front Work Department, the People's Committee, the Justice Department, the Religious Office and the Law Office worked hard for implementing the “Legal Knowledge Examination for Religious Faculty” in the entire Region.
A Notice entitled “Doing a Good Job in the Legal Knowledge Examination for Religious Faculty in the Region" required that by March 20 all the monks and the monasteries’ faculty members should be ‘uniformly’ tested.
The examination was conducted in two ways: a Tibetan-Chinese bilingual ‘open-book’ written test and an oral test.
Apart from the topics mentioned above, the questions checked the knowledge of the monks and nuns on the Communist Party's 19th National Congress, Xi Jinping's New Era of Socialism with Chinese characteristics, the Chinese Constitution, the National Flag Law, the National Anthem Law, the National Security Law, the National Regional Autonomy Law, and the Religious Affairs Regulations, and other party ethnic and religious policies and related laws and regulations.
This probably included the Rules for the Reincarnation of ‘Living Buddhas’.
Was the traditional system of debates practiced, is not mentioned.

The Patrols
Xinhua reported that in order to ensure the smooth and orderly examination, “a three-level patrol test group for districts, cities and counties” was formed.
The patrols checked each test center under their jurisdiction.
Moral of the story: “you better know Comrade Xi’s speeches,” because the patrol teams went “deep into the relevant temples to conduct an in-depth and detailed understanding of the examination arrangements and the order of the examination room.”
Xinhua explained that the legal knowledge test for religious faculty members is “another regional large-scale event since the launch of the Seventh Five-Year Plan."
Earlier 'tuition’ activities, and calligraphy contests were organized for the local monks and nuns.
The attendance of the examination was 100%.
It is a follow-up of the Communist Party's 19th National Congress, keeping in mind the spirit of the Tibet Work Forum. It is said that was an important initiative of Party Secretary Wu Yingjie for “strengthening the education on the rule of law.”
Will Comrade Wu get a promotion for organizing these tests?
Future will only say, but according to the news agency, “The purpose was to further promote the rule of law awareness and legal knowledge.” And more importantly to firmly establish the concept that “National law is higher than the Buddhist Canon” and of course for strengthening national unity, safeguarding the unity of the motherland, and striving for patriotism and law-abiding…

Is it why Gyalsten Norbu deeply appreciated the greatness of the Motherland when he was abroad?
I am wondering what would have Karl Marx and the Buddha have thought of the exercises.
They would have probably had heart attacks …for different reasons.
What would have been the reaction of Chairman Mao? I leave to you to guess.
These few photos speak for themselves.

Add caption

Monday, June 10, 2019

When China takes Tibet for a ride!

Jigmey Passang, Bhuchung K Tsering, Tenzin P. Atisha, Kelsang Gyaltsen, Lodi Gyari (left to right)
then Du Qinglin, Zhu Weiqun, Sithar, Nyima Tsering, Chang Rongjun and An Qi Yi (2010)

Zhu Weiqun is a well-known hawk, at least as far as Tibet and ‘religion’ are concerned.
A few years ago, he retired as Executive Deputy Director of the United Front Work Department (UFWD) of the Communist Party of China (CPC).
Born in Jianhu County, Jiangsu Province, Zhu graduated from the department of journalism of the school of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; he joined the CPC as early as July 1970.
In February 1999, he became the UFWD’s Executive Deputy Head and as such he was responsible for the negotiations with Dharamsala (2002-2010).
In January 2006, he was promoted to minister rank.
Zhu was supposed to have retired from active politics in 2013; but he took an ornamental job as Chairman of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).
As such Zhu is close to Wang Yang, the CPPCC’s boss, who looks over the Tibetan issue as well as religious and minorities’ affairs and Hong Kong and Taiwan …and the United Front Work.
In May 2013, when asked whether if religious members should be openly admitted in the Party, Zhu is said to have answered: "No Chinese Communist Party members should be allowed to be religious."

Zhu’s nasty writings
From time to time, Zhu still writes a nasty article in The Global Times.
On June 9, in one these articles, he commented on the visit of Terry Branstad, the US Ambassador to China, to Tibet.
Speaking about the ambassador, he remarked: “It is hard to figure out his true feelings about Tibet. On the one hand, he spoke positively of Tibet's economic and social development, (which disproved the Dalai Lama group's lie about the destruction of Tibet's environment by the Qinghai-Tibet Railway). On the other, he repeated the hackneyed remarks of the US government.”
Zhu strongly criticized Branstad, who dared, according to him, to encourage Beijing “to engage in substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives, without preconditions, to seek a settlement that resolves differences."
This was not appreciated by Zhu. Why?
Zhu said it is blatant interference in China's internal affairs.

China wants preconditions
He also questioned the meaning of ‘seeking a settlement without preconditions’ as well as the definition of a ‘substantive dialogue’.
Though time and again the Dalai Lama has said that he wanted an association with China; Zhu considers the Dalai Lama as a splittist. The ‘retired’ Communist leader also said (does he really believes it?) that the Dalai Lama’s clique has only one objective, to split China.
At the same time, Zhu gave the assurance that the CPC's Central Committee had not closed the “door to contacts and negotiation with the Dalai Lama.”
Showing his hard-line stance, he added that “the proposed negotiation cannot come without preconditions.”

The Old Preconditions
One remembers the preconditions given by Hu Yaobang, the CCP General Secretary to Gyalo Thondup in 1981; it was called the “Five-Point Policy towards the Dalai Lama”.
Please note, these five points are not related to Tibet, but only to the Dalai Lama’s status.
Zhu Weiqun and his clique have often asserted that there was nothing to discuss about Tibet, the ‘negotiations’ could only be about the condition of the Dalai Lama's returns to the Motherland and his status ...in Beijing.
The five Points were:
  1. The Dalai Lama should be confident that China has entered a new stage of long-term political stability, steady economic growth and mutual help among all nationalities.
  2. The Dalai Lama and his representatives should be frank and sincere with the Central Government, not beat around the bush. There should be no more quibbling over the events in 1959.
  3. The central authorities sincerely welcome the Dalai Lama and his followers to come back to live. This is based on the hope that they will contribute to upholding China's unity and promoting solidarity between the Han and Tibetan nationalities, and among all nationalities, and the modernization programme.
  4. The Dalai Lama will enjoy the same political status and living conditions as he had before 1959. It is suggested that he not go to live in Tibet or hold local posts there. Of course, he may go back to Tibet from time to time. His followers need not worry about their jobs and living conditions. These will only be better than before.
  5. When the Dalai Lama wishes to come back, he can issue a brief statement to the press. It is up to him to decide what he would like to say in the statement.
In his recent article in The Global Times, Zhu explained: “First, it must be made clear that in nature, contact and consultation are not talks between China's central government and the Tibetan government-in-exile or ‘Central Tibetan Administration’, nor are ‘Tibetan-Han Talks’ or ‘Tibetan-China Talks’. The Dalai separatist political group is illegitimate and ineligible to have a ‘dialogue’ with representatives of the CPC Central Committee.”
Beijing wants only to talk to the Dalai Lama’s personal envoys.
In my book The Negotiations that Never Were, I argued that with such conditions the ‘talks’ could go anywhere and they indeed went nowhere during the Lodi Gyari’s days (nine rounds between 2002 and 2010).
The second point mentioned by Zhu was: “the Dalai Lama must accept Tibet as an integral part of China, abandon all attempts about so-called Tibet independence, stop all separatist and destructive activities, and recognize Taiwan as an integral part of China.”
It has never been clear why Beijing wants to link Taiwan to Tibet.
Regarding the other point, China has been insisting that the Dalai Lama agreed that historically Tibet has always been a part of China.

Tibet is part of China only since 1951
When a senior Tibetan exiled Lama went to China a couple of years ago, the Chinese said that they wanted the Dalai Lama to sign a statement acknowledging that Tibet has been part of China since ancient times. This is obviously not acceptable to the Dalai Lama and the People of Tibet, as it was a falsification of history.
Taking a hard stand, Zhu affirmed that in these two preconditions “there is no so-called Tibet issue, but just the problem of the Dalai Lama. The Dalai group, whose existence is against the Chinese Constitution, is not at all eligible to discuss Tibetan affairs with the CPC Central Committee.”
It means that today, the Chinese stand has not changed; Beijing is ready to discuss the Dalai Lama’s status, not the status of Tibet.

No substantive dialogue
Zhu also objected to Ambassador Branstad speaking about ‘substantive dialogue’.
The former UFWD official does not like the word ‘substantive’.
He listed the ‘substantive’ issues presented by Lodi Gyari and his team during the ‘negotiations that never were’, it included “denying that Tibet has been a part of China since ancient times; defining Tibet as a ‘State’ occupied by China; demanding the Dalai Lama’s rule to be extended to the whole of ethnic Tibet, (i.e.) Qinghai, as well as two autonomous prefectures in Sichuan, one in Yunnan and one in Gansu (an area equal to one fourth of China's territory); requiring the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to withdraw from Tibetan areas and make it a so-called international zone of peace under the control of Western countries; requiring all the Han people who settled down in Tibet return to where they came from - in other words, to implement ethnic cleansing in all Tibetan areas.”
It is travesty of the demands of Lodi Gyari; how could the Special Envoy ask for a Zone of Peace under Western control?

The Seventeen Point Agreement
Incidentally, the Seventeen Point Agreement signed ‘under duress’ by Tibetan delegates in May 1951 admitted the invasion of Tibet; Article I said: “The Tibetan people shall unite and drive out imperialist aggressive forces from Tibet; the Tibetan people shall return to the family of the Motherland the People's Republic of China (PRC).”
The fact that the Tibetans had to return to the Motherland, meant that they were not ‘in the Motherland’ earlier.
In any case, the PRC was only created in 1949.
Article III stated: “In accordance with the policy towards nationalities laid down in the Common Programme of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the Tibetan people have the right of exercising national regional autonomy under the unified leadership of the Central People's Government (CPG) of the PRC.”
Zhu may have not read the Agreement. This nevertheless raises the question, how and when was the right to autonomy dropped?

Branstad visit to Tibet
To come back to Zhu’s article, he affirmed: “If the US government insists that ‘substantive’ dialogue means meeting all the aforementioned requests of the Dalai Lama, then its hopes would be dashed.”
My question is: what the point to discuss, if what China promised in 1951 cannot even be brought today on the negotiating table.
Zhu Weiqun observed that during his visit to Tibet, Branstad had met with the Communist leaders, that he visited “local communities, educational and cultural institutions and religious sites, which at least improved his understanding of Tibet.”
Zhu’s conclusion was that “the knowledge he gained from the trip will help him in his career.”
The Ambassador’s career should not be the concern of the Chinese …or the Tibetans.
Zhu added that “Since the peaceful liberation [the Chinese term for occupation], especially since the reform and opening-up [the massacre of thousands of Tibetans in 1959], Tibet has witnessed rapid economic and social development, with people's livelihood improving and the environment getting better and better. From my point of view, China could and should create conditions for more foreigners to visit Tibet and encourage them to draw their own conclusions based on what they see.”
It is not the case today, though the Chairman of the CPPCC’s Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee affirmed that “Tibet's door has always been open to foreigners.”
At the end, he again puts the blame on the 'Dalai clique' who creates disturbance in Tibet, forcing Beijing to take 'administrative measures' to regularly close down Tibet to visitors.

Some conclusions
All this will not help to bring a rapprochement between Dharamsala and Beijing (probably China is not interested).
The time has perhaps come for the Tibetan Administration to set aside the idea to find a negotiated agreement with Beijing and wait for a new leadership to emerge in the Middle Kingdom.
Remember when the Chinese forces invaded Tibet in 1910, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama took refuge in India, and returned to Tibet in 1912 to proclaim the Independence of Tibet.
He wrote in his Testament:
"As a result of our meritorious Karma, and the numerous prayers and services that were conducted in Tibet, internal strife took place in China. It was no problem therefore to completely drive out the Chinese from Tibet."
This shows the importance given by the Tibetans to the power of prayers and rituals.

Zhu Weiqun final conclusion is: “We must start from the needs of stability and development in Tibet.”
We should not forget that 'stability’ has serious implications for the Indian borders and schemes such the Xiaogang villages, often mentioned on this blog, and the fast building of infrastructure on the plateau is truly worrisome.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Wanted: Historian’s office

My article Wanted: Historian’s office appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer.

Here is the link...

It’s high time that India re-organises its historical records. A revamp is crucial in this domain, as also others, especially if we want to become a respected world player Since the Lok Sabha results were announced, the Indian media has been speaking about rebooting, something you do when you change your..

Since the results of the Legislative Elections were announced, the Indian media have been speaking of re-booting, something you do when you change your Operating System (OS); new and high expectations about the new government probably explain the term and Modi 2.0.
Though analysts usually think is in terms of better control about internal security (with General Amit Shah in command) or improvement of defence preparedness with the trusted No 2 as Rashtra Mantri, many other fields need ‘rebooting’ too.
There is, however, one domain which is never mentioned by the commentators; it is the opening and reorganization of India’s historical records; a re-boot or revamp is absolutely crucial in this domain too, especially if India wants to become a respected world player.
Remember the standoff at the trijunction between Sikkim, Tibet and Bhutan, during June-August 2017.
Day after day, Beijing used a historical argument, the 1890 Convention signed between the British and the Manchus, without reference to the main stake-holders, the Tibetans. For Beijing, it was the occasion to conveniently ‘erase’ several posterior agreements, particularly the 1914 Simla Convention, during which the northeastern border of India was defined (McMahon Line).
At that time, nobody countered China on the 1890 Convention, which spoke of an un-surveyed place called ‘Gipmochi’, but it was only in 1956 that a trijunction was demarked on a map, after a bold officer from the Indian Frontier Administrative Service, TS Murty, accompanied by staff from the Survey of India, found out that the tripoint was at Batang-la and not at all Gyemochen located a few miles south of the physical trijunction (Gipmochi was a misspelling for Gyemochen).
The Chinese could bluff the Indian media for nearly three months with their 1890 Convention. With the current re-booting, one can only hope that deep changes will soon take place in this domain.
A telling example is the Sikkim Papers.
Soon after the merger in 1975, the responsibility for the Himalayan State shifted from the Ministry of External Affairs to the Ministry of Home Affairs. An acquaintance, who as a young diplomat was posted in Gangtok in the Political Officer’s office recalled that at the end of 1975 he spent months going through all the historical records kept in Gangtok relating to the period between 1885 to 1975; it was indeed the Memory of the Himalaya.
Once his work over, the officer was told to dispatch the Papers to Delhi; four lakhs of precious files moved in six trucks to Delhi under CRPF escort.
South Block was keen to keep the Papers, but other officers, probably from the Intelligence Bureau prevailed and the corpus was taken away. Since then, these Sikkim Papers are missing in action; they would have an immense historical value today to prove that India and Tibet had a different relation than the one portrayed by China.
It is just symptomatic of a lack of interest in historical issues in India.
What can be done?
Leaving the Sikkim Papers aside for a moment, the first thing to do is to reopen the Historical Division in the Ministry of External Affairs. It existed till the 1990s when an officer decided to close it down, “we don’t need one more division”. As a result the MEA has today only a ‘Boundary Cell’ manned by a Lt Col from the Survey of India. It is insufficient when the country is facing so many boundary disputes (and will face more in the months and years to come).
The Division needs to be headed a professional historian, not a Foreign Service officer, bound by short tenures. When one reads some of the notes prepared the Historical Division available in the National Archives of India (NAI), one is surprised by the in-depth historical background material provided to the deciders to take decisions …and inform better the Indian public.
The Ministry of Defence faces a similar problem. The records of the Army for example, can’t be kept by a few officers posted for a short term, even if these officers are extremely dedicated. Only a professional from outside the Army hierarchy, can provide the professionalism and continuity required.
The same argument applies to other ministries, particularly Home Affairs.
One of the problems is that very few scholars have the necessary knowledge to go through the files to decide if there is anything which could jeopardise India’s ‘security’ or ‘national interests’. In my experience of years of working in the archives, particularly with the Nehru Papers at the Nehru Memorial Library (NMML), very few documents (perhaps one out of tens of thousands) would need to remain ‘classified’.
Of course, there are the ‘glamourous’ cases, i.e. the Henderson-Brooks-Bhagat report on 1962 or the report into the mysterious death of former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1966 in Tashkent.
In the later case, the Government was ordered by the Chief Information Commissioner to “consider the fundamental right to know and demand of the people, (and) to declassify (them), either through an expert committee or by any other process, to get the mystery probed and resolved”. Nothing happened.
The ‘right to know’ applies to all papers more than 25-years-old. It is not that India has no law; the Public Records Act exists, but unfortunately laws seem to have been made more for the ‘common man’, than for the Government offices. It is sad!
Apart from separate divisions in important ministries, what is today required is an Office of the Historian, directly under the Prime Minister’s Office, with a large oversight over the different historical divisions, sections or desks. It needs to be headed by a senior reputed historian, with a team of scholars who will make sure that the different divisions work properly and follow the laws about declassification. This would of course have to be closely coordinated with the National Archives of India and other State Archives.
The Historian or whatever name is given to the officer, should be of Secretary to the Government rank and able to coordinate with other ministries and supervise digitalization of records, joint indexing and timely transfer to the NAI.
The Historian should be supported by an advisory board of senior historians, diplomats, bureaucrats, army generals who could help him to decide for difficult cases.
Would this happen, it would be great re-booting; it would show that India has become a mature Republic and the ‘right to know’ is respected.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Importance of Yatung and Chumbi Valley

Yatung-by-night
Yatung (called Yadong by the Chinese) has been in the news recently.
One of the reasons might be the annual opening of the Nathu-la pass for trade between India and China (Yatung is also one of the routes for the Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra for Indian pilgrims).
China Tibet Online noted: “The Natho [Nathu] La Pass Trade Channel in Yadong [Yatung] County, Shigatse City, southwest China’s Tibet opened on the morning of May 1.”
Note the compulsory ‘China’s Tibet’!
Does it mean that Beijing has a doubt about the ownership of Land of Snows?
Nobody in India would think of writing ‘India’s Tamil Nadu’ or ‘India’s West Bengal’ or in the States, ‘United States’ Virginia’.
The official website, affiliated to Xinhua, informs its readers: “The Natho [Nathu] La Pass is the only land route trade pass between China and India, and it is a seasonal trade port.”
This is wrong statement as Lipulekh-la (Uttarakand) and Shipki-la (Himachal) are also opened for official trade between the two countries.
The article continues its description: “It opens each year between May and November and remains closed between December and April. While it is open, residents in the border regions of Yadong County in China and Sikkim in India can travel back and forth to conduct in normal trade activities using border residents’ certification cards.”
It adds that to monitor the “smooth operations of trade and daily border checks, civil police have already been deployed to the Yadong Border Entry and Exit Inspection Station and actively contacted joint inspection units to carry out convenient service measures.”
The border is clearly opened for traders only, not for Indian tourists (apart from the yatris who zoom through the town on their way to the base camp).
Further, we are told that the Chinese staff is taking Hindi and Nepali language classes, which is probably not the case of the Sikkimese staff (learning Chinese).

International Border Trade Festival
On May 30, China Tibet News announced that the First Yadong International Border Trade Tourism and Culture Festival was to be held from June 2 to 8: “During the festival, bonfire party, photography, calligraphy and painting exhibition, commodity fair, fitness activity, investment invitation and other activities will be held.”
Will this help promote trade?
Most certainly not, but the Chinese authorities are keen to develop Yatung as tourist spot.
The website says: “Yadong is one of the most pleasant border towns on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. It has six kinds of comprehensive and professional natural tourism resources for tourists to choose, including historical and cultural tourism, natural ecological tourism, ethnic festival tourism, hiking adventure tourism, self-driving special tourism and border trade characteristic tourism. Besides, it is also rich in tourism resources, and its main attractions include Dromo Lhari [or Chomolhari] Snow Mountain, Natoi [Nathu] La Mountain Pass, Khambu Hot Spring, Dungkar Monastery, Kagyu Monastery, Phari Grassland, Ruins of the Customs of Qing Dynasty, Rinchengang Border Trade Market.”
The so-called occupation of the Chumbi Valley by the Manchus is a new way to rewrite history and show that these areas close to the Indian border have always belonged to China …and are part of the Silk Road, dear to Chinese President Xi Jinping.
(for the Qing Dynasty Custom House, read my Archeology and Politics).
Dungkar Gompa has historically been one of the main centers for the practice of the violently anti-Dalai Lama, Shugden cult.
The article does not mention the beautiful India House which has been destroyed by the Chinese authorities as a remnant of the Indian presence.

Nehru’s visit
When Prime Minister Nehru visited Yatung and the Chumbi Valley in September 1958, he asked to meet the Indian traders in the Yatung bazaar. There were some fifty Indian shops then.
KC Johorey, who served as Indian Trade Agent, remembers that as soon as he reached, the Prime Minister changed from riding kit and breeches into the sherwani and churidar pyjamas and put on a red rose; he then asked how far the bazaar was.
When Johorey told him a hundred yards down the hill, the Prime Minister started walking, and Nehru went down to the bazaar. The ITA had requested the Indian traders to wear a cap: “they were all with their caps on, even the panwallah.”
The Chinese were extremely upset with this unscheduled visit, but the Indians and Tibetans were delighted, they rushed towards Jawaharlal Nehru: “Somebody was touching his hands, somebody laying flat on the ground and somebody offering him flowers. The Indians were very well disciplined as they stood there.”
Colonel Lu, the local Political Commissar came and asked Johorey: “What is this? We did not have this programme, why have you come here?”
The ITA could only say: “He is my boss and your guest. You tell him; you tell him to go back as his security is your responsibility. I cannot ask Prime Minister what [he should] do or what not to do.”
Finally, Colonel Lu could not prevent the Tibetans from approaching and getting near the Prime Minister: “Some of them were crying. …Their sobbing and tears were more eloquent than any formal parlays. There was Tibetan disapproval of the Chinese at every stage.”
Sixty years ago, the Chinese were already not feeling uncomfortable with the Indian presence in the Valley.

International Border Trade Festival
The Chinese authorities have now organized a 'trade' festival. Nyigar, director general of the Culture and Tourism Bureau of Yatung County, gave a speech at the opening function; he affirmed that Yatung “has always been a passage and border town leading to South Asia. It is the last stop of the Ancient Tea Horse Road, with rich historical and cultural deposits. We will focus on creating a high-end tourism route with characteristics of the border tourism destination in Tibet, and truly build cultural tourism into the pillar industry of the county.”
Once again, it is only a one-way tourism, as the Sikkimese traders have to return at night and Indian tourists are not permitted.
China Tibet Online observed that the First Yadong International Border Trade Tourism and Culture Festival wanted to “fully display the profound historical and cultural resources, magnificent tourism resources, fast and convenient border trade channel of Yadong County, improve its popularity and influence, drive the development of border trade, invigorate the county's economy, as well as increase the income of the masses.”
What is strange that tourism does not really increase the revenue of the masses.
According to Chinese statistics, in 2018, Yatung County received 119,870 tourists (an increase of 43% compared to the previous year), but the revenue from this activity was only 33 million yuan (5.3 million US $). It does not come much by head.
Worse during, the first quarter of 2019, Yatung received 43,620 tourists and got a revenue of 4.52 million yuan (730,000 US $). Obviously, the Chinese tourists are not spending much money (yuan 100 per head).
These ridiculous low figures are a mystery; either the authorities had their figures wrong or the visitors were not tourists!

Strategic location and Xiaogang Villages
It is true that the Chumbi Valley has been the base for Doklam operations in 2017, as well as for any military development in North Sikkim (Kampa Dzong area).
It is worth watching.
At the same time, it looks as if the authorities are encouraging migrants to come in the area.
On April 29, an article in China Tibet News said that Yatung County “has insisted on the construction of well-off villages.”
I have often mentioned on this blog, the Xiaogang villages built by Beijing near the Indian borders.
The Chinese website pointed out that it was “an important starting point in implementing rural revitalization strategy.”
What means a ‘revitalization strategy’ so close from highly sensitive border.
The article further explained that the county has adapted measures “to develop local industries, so as to ensure people living and working in happiness, peace and contentment”
Apparently the construction of nine 'well-off' villages has started in the Chumbi Valley “implementing characteristic agriculture and animal husbandry projects.”
The article also noted that Yatung has set up a Communist Party's Leading Group to look after the construction of the villages and promote their overall management: “To build featured small town, it has integrated Tibetan people's traditional living habits into urban construction, separated the production areas and living areas, stepped up infrastructure construction such as water, electricity, road as well as telecommunication, and improved public service facilities including village committee, clinic and culture activity room and others to follow the construction requirements.”
All this is for the local population, for the tourists or for the People’s Liberation Army?
There is no answer right now, but it is certainly part of ‘stabilization of the border’ dear to Chairman Xi, the boss of the Central Military Commission.
Another website carried a series of photos of Yatung-by-night with the following caption: “Photo shows the Yadong County in Shigatse City, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, is quiet and bright under the dazzling light after nightfall. In 2017, Yadong County became one of the five counties that got rid of poverty in the region. The county is clean and its infrastructure is complete nowadays.”
Not fully completed as the train is expected to reach Chumbi Valley in 2030.