Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Developing Western Tibet, China secures its border with India

The two parts of Demchok
I have often mentioned on this blog, the unusually-long stay of Deng Xiaogang, Deputy Party Secretary of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and Secretary of TAR’s Politics and Law Committee (in other words, responsible for the law and order, security and police in Tibet) in Ngari Prefecture “to inspect the border security and the People’s Liberation Army bases”.
During the past 2 months, he spent most of his time in Western Tibet, except for one or two times he had to rush to Lhasa to receive VVIPs.
On June 20, an article in The Tibet Daily mentions: "Deng Xiaogang comforts the rank and file of the police in border County", adding that Deng “inspected Rutok, the border county in Ngari Prefecture and conveyed to the rank and file of the border policemen, the Party’s cordial greetings. He cordially shook hands with the soldiers and comforted them.”
Rudok is located near the Pangong Lake (tso) stretching between India and China; it is where Chinese ‘water’ incursions often occur.
Addressing the border guards, Deng Xiaogang stressed: "Tibet is very special strategic location; it is an important barrier for the national security; development and stability in these border areas is an important part of the region's overall situation. In recent years, under the strong leadership of the CPC’s Central Committee, the regional Party committee [of the TAR] and the [local] government firmly requested people to unite and take a lead in the development of the region; they went all out to maintain stability, and improve people's livelihood as much as possible; to build prosperity, harmony, happiness, a place ruled by law, a beautiful new socialist Tibet and [finally] to work hard."
Apart from the usual Communist jargon, the question remains why should a senior, powerful leader like Deng spend weeks in such remote places.
One possibility is that China wants to reinforce its border with India, especially after the Modi Sarkar declared that one of its priorities was the development of infrastructure along the borders (see my interview with Kiren Rijiju).
Deng has not been the only Chinese official to visit the beautiful (and strategic) province of Ngari.
Zhang Yijiong, Deputy Director of the Central United Front Work Department, who is also the interlocutor-designate for eventual negotiations with Dharamsala, followed the footsteps of Deng Xiaogang.
Wu Yingjie, Deputy Secretary of the TAR, Deng Xiaogang and Dong Mingjun, one of the TAR’s vice-chairmen were on Zhang’s side.
When Zhang Yijiong particularly visited Purang County, at the trijunction India-Nepal-Tibet, near Mt Kailash, his trip was of course, not a spiritual one.
He met policemen, firefighters (for preventing immolations?), officers and troops manning the border with India, the SWAT (commandos) and lectured them on the different aspects of ‘counter-terrorism’ and ‘stabilization’.
He praised the troops for remaining ‘steady’ despite the cold and the lack of oxygen, the harsh environmental conditions and complimented them for fulfilling their duties conscientiously without being overtaken by fatigue.
He asked them to continuous keep their fighting spirit "to maintain a sustained harmony and stability of Ngari area and to work for the development and stability of Tibet".
He thanked the soldiers for their important contribution to the Chinese nation: “On behalf of the Central United Front Work Department, my heartfelt gratitude and highest respect for you, I hope you will continue to make persistent efforts, do a solid job for the long-term stability and the overall stability of Tibet”, he told the border troops.
The caring party leader asked the soldiers to look after themselves and pay attention to their health.
More importantly, General Xu Qiliang, a member of the Politburo of the CCP's Central Committee and one of the two vice chairmen of the Central Military Commission (CMC) ‘inspected’ the Xinjiang and Tibet garrisons.
According to a military website: "Xu Qiliang recently [when is not disclosed] inspected the troops of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the People’s Armed Police Force (PAPF) garrisoning Xinjiang and Tibet."
General Xu visited the soldiers and officers stationed in the Aksai Chin and Ngari opposite the Indian troops.
Note that there was a recrudescence of ‘intrusions’ into the Indian territorial waters on the Pangong lake and on the ground (Demchok) around the time of his visit.
No doubt just a coincidence!
On June 24 and 25, the powerful Commander of People’s Armed Police Force (PAPF), Wang Jianping had visited Lhasa and Ngari prefecture ‘to carry out investigations’. The boss of all paramilitary forces in China, an old Tibet hand (he was posted in Tibet between 1996 and 2000), emphasized that the troops should “resolutely complete every task keeping in mind the tasks that are more urgent, working hard to start the new phase of establishing the police team for a new achievement for the developmental breakthrough and long term peace and stability of Tibet.”
In Lhasa, he was accompanied by the TAR Secretary Chen Quanguo, Deng Xiaogang, Choedak (Qizha La), Wang Ruilian, Kelsang Tsering, Dorjee Tsedrub, Lobsang Gyurmey and others.
General Wang Jianping’s visit was followed by the arrival in Lhasa of Meng Jianzhu, Politburo Member and head of the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the Central Committee. Meng spent five days in Lhasa and Lhoka. While in Tibet, he asserted that “local officials should have a profound understanding of the long lasting nature of the anti-secession efforts, and always take them as the primary political task, he said, vowing a harsh crackdown on separatist activities or terror attacks.”
It is not known if Meng had time to drop by Ngari.
Now, on the development side, Shaanxi Party Secretary Zhao Zhengyong also visited Ngari. Shaanxi is one of two provinces that have ‘adopted’ Ngari Prefecture by sending hundreds of cadres to carry out infrastructure and developmental projects.
On July 16, a Chinese website reported: “Zhao Zhengyong [downgraded by the website as Deputy Secretary of Shaanxi] led the team of the party government delegates to Gar [Gartok] county of Ngari prefecture to investigate the project of Shaanxi’s aid to Tibet. They visited and greeted the cadres aiding Tibet. He emphasised that Shaanxi will sincerely implement the orders of the Central Party, regarding the work of giving aid to Tibet. He said that they will incorporate Ngari’s development into the overall plan of the Shaanxi province, start formulating the 13th five-year plan of Shaanxi at the earliest and give impetus to Ngari Prefecture’s new developmental breakthrough.”
Zhao was accompanied by Padma Choling (Chairman of TAR people’s Congress and only Tibetan in the Central Committee) and Jiang Zelin (Standing committee member of CPC Shaanxi Provincial Committee and Vice Governor of Shaanxi Provincial People’s Government).
Lhasa TV showed Zhao’s visit in Ngari.
At the end of 2012, Shaanxi had allocated 4 million US $ to make Demchok, the border town with India [note the traditional Demchok village is in Ladakh, but the Chinese have built/renovated their own Demchok on their side of the LAC] into a ‘model village’.
CCTV showed new homes, a guest house (for future Indian visitors?) and a map of the nearby historical spots.
The TAR website explains: “The border line [with India] passes through Dian-jiao [Demchok] village of Tashigang township, Gar County .On Aug 2011, the Shaanxi Province fund for aiding Tibet donated 21million Yuan to Dian-jiao [Demchok] village for making it a model border village by promoting economic development of the border area, unity among the ethnic groups and consolidation of the border.”
The article continues: “Waking into the Dian-jiao [Demchok] model border village, one can see an irregular arrangement with charming effect which is filled with Tibetan characteristics. There are good water, electricity, road and communication facilities. Facilities like Solar energy street lights and gymnasium equipments are also available. Zhao Zhengyuan had close interaction with the village cadres, members of the working group stationed at the village, the security personnel responsible for guarding the border, to get a detailed understanding of the situation of building of the model village, the situation of the Party branch of the village and the village [Party] Committee. He pointed out that TAR party committee and the government is sincerely implementing every policy that is beneficial to the people and that will bring prosperity to the border areas.”
What to conclude from all this?
These high-profile visits are linked with the railway line soon reaching Shigatse. This will bring a tremendous boost to the region, first around Shigatse and particularly to the new landport in Kyirong which will become the most important link between Tibet and Nepal, but also to Western Tibet (Ngari prefecture).
Beijing seems keen to open the area to large-scale tourism like it was earlier done in Lhasa and Nyingchi.
It will be one way to get more revenues for the region; they can be reinvest later in the ‘development’ of the area.
This, of course, poses serious security problems to China, mainly due to the proximity of the border with India. This explains the visit of General Xu Qiliang [originally, an Air Force officer] and General Wang Jianping, responsible of the paramilitary forces on the border.
The last two visits mean that China remains in a state of alertness and preparedness on its frontier with India. Regular incursions (in the Western and Eastern Sectors, but in the Central Sector too - in Uttarakhand) will probably continue; it is one way for Beijing to test the Indian waters (and the Modi Sarkar).
The visit of Zhao Zhengyong demonstrates that China is keen to invest in the rapid development of the area with the help of other Chinese provinces.
The construction of a new guest house in Demchok is perhaps a sign that China may agree to open the traditional border between Tibet and India; on a very small scale in a first stage, but security issues have to be tackled first.
That is probably what Deng Xiaogang was inspecting.
From the Indian side, the situation is worth watching.

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