Tuesday, May 5, 2015

China’s Land of Snows

My article China’s Land of Snows appeared in The Statesman.

Here is the link...

The State Council Information Office (China’s Cabinet) recently released a White Paper (WP), ‘on the development path of Tibet’. It is not the first WP published by the Chinese Government on Tibet; in fact, it is the 13th since 1992. The characteristic of the latest avatar is best described by the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala: “[it] tries to belittle His Holiness the Dalai Lama by questioning his sincerity in dealing with China.”
Why such an aggressive posture, when many in China realise that the Tibetan leader is Beijing’s best bet if it wants to find a solution to the Tibetan issue. But reading through the longish paper, it is clear that for the communist regime, there is no ‘Tibetan issue’; everything is wonderful on the Roof of the World. Beijing, however, warns: “The wheels of history roll forward and the tides of the times are irresistible. …Any person or force that attempts to resist the tide will simply be cast aside by history and by the people.”
Beijing mistakenly judges the tides’ direction. Democracy, freedom of thought and speech are accepted concepts everywhere on the planet, except in the Middle Kingdom which seems to have passed into reverse gear. The WP asks the Dalai Lama to ‘put aside his illusions’ about talks on Tibet’s future status. For Beijing, the Dalai Lama has little understanding of modern Tibet, but keeps ‘a sentimental attachment to the old theocratic feudal serfdom’.
The WP argues: “The only sensible alternative is for the Dalai Lama and his supporters to accept that Tibet has been part of China since antiquity. …The Central Government [Beijing] hopes that the Dalai Lama will …face up to reality in his remaining years.”
The publication raises a question: Why take such a strong position at this point in time?
An article, which appeared in  China Tibet Online soon after the WP’s publication puts the release into perspective.  The WP’s timing was obviously ‘synchronized’ with the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR): in 1965, Tibet was arbitrarily divided into five areas, with Southern and Western Tibet becoming the Tibetan Autonomous Region, while other parts of historic Tibet were officially integrated in the Chinese provinces of Yunnan, Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai. But there is clearly more behind the attack against the Dalai Lama.
The article gives a hint of what is up Beijing’s sleeves; it is titled: “Guess what? Sixth Tibet Work Conference may be convened this year, netizens say.”
The fact that the Chinese netizens are aware of ‘State Secrets’ such as holding crucial meetings …and their timings is a novelty; it is further surprising that they are allowed to make comments about it on the social media! The announcement of a Sixth Conference (or Forum) on Tibet Work by the Chinese ‘netizens’ is clearly an information gimmick.
But first, what is a Work Forum on Tibet?  It is a large meeting held every 5 to 10 years, during which a new Tibet policy is decided; it is attended by several hundreds of officials, including all the members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo. The previous Forums were held in Beijing in 1980, 1984, 1994, 2001 and 2010: “it has played a significant role in advancing the economic and social development in Tibet”, says the Chinese State media which adds: “Now people are eagerly anticipating the Sixth Tibet Work Conference.”
Who are the ‘people’ eagerly expecting a new direction for the Tibet Policy?
The ‘netizens’ (they were called the ‘masses’ under Mao), says the article, which gives the official background: “This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Tibet Autonomous Region. On March 5, during the Third Session of the 12th National People’s Congress, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang highlighted that celebrations should be organized for the 50th anniversary in the government work report.”
To prepare the ground for the celebrations (and the new Forum), the official media explains that from November 2014 to March 2015, “many in the central leadership as well as various government departments went to Tibet and Tibetan-inhabited areas in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan provinces to conduct research and make inspections”. They included Yu Zhengsheng, Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and Madam Sun Chunlan, member of the Politburo and director of the United Front Work Department.
According to the Chinese media, the ‘masses’ (oops sorry, the ‘netizens’) have been guessing that “the central authorities [Beijing] may initiate a big move to aid Tibet.”
Netizen ‘Costa’ says: “After much research, I think the next conference will be held sometime between August 28 and September 1, 2015”; while Netizen ‘i3broadaxe’ believes that “the reasonable time frame is from June to July”.
The Communist mouthpiece admits, “these statements are not necessarily credible,” but adds, “it might be a good news if the Sixth Tibet Work Conference could be held this year. This would comply with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s important strategic ideology.”
What does Xi say about Tibet? The Chinese President believes that “to govern the country well, we must govern the border areas first, and to govern the border areas well, we must stabilize Tibet first”.
And who is on the other side of the border? India, of course!
How does this translate on the ground?
The masses will have to follow Xi’s new theory of the Four Comprehensives: “upholding the [Communist] rule of law in governing Tibet, maintaining a long-term development of Tibet, seeking for public [masses] consent, and laying a solid foundation.”
But more importantly, it will signify pushing the ‘One Belt, One Road’ project, while ‘developing’ the Roof of the World. In practical terms, it translates into opening Tibet to neighbouring provinces and countries …except India.
By bringing some prosperity and encouraging ‘international’ exchanges, Beijing believes that it can solve the Tibetan issue.
In all probability, the Sixth Work Forum on Tibet will decide to transform the Land of Snows into an important economic and touristic hub, under the New Silk Road project.
One of the decisions might be to lay a Tibet-Xinjiang railway line through the disputed Askai Chin area. To complete it at the earliest. 
To complete it at the earliest could be a major policy decision of the Forum. Tibet would then be linked by rail to Xinjiang and Central Asia …and Pakistan through the new Economic Corridor.
Where is India in all that?  Beijing may not seek Delhi’s permission to run a railway line through what India considers her own territory; further, India will be nowhere in this new scheme because all Himalayan landports to Tibet remained closed (except for some restricted trade via Nathula in Sikkim, Shipkila in Himachal and Lipulekh in Uttarakhand).
If China is truly serious about the New Silk Road, (and wants India’s participation), it should reopen the traditional Himalayan border passes/routes, such as the Karakoram pass and Demchok in Ladakh; Niti, Mana, Darma passes in Uttarakhand; Jelep-la between West Bengal and Tibet; Bumla and Kibitoo in Arunachal.
One should not forget that for millennia, the Himalaya has been a place of passage and exchanges between the Tibetan world and the subcontinent.
Unfortunately, Jawaharlal Nehru’s irresponsible Panchsheel  policy effectively closed these Himalayan routes in 1954.  He only realized his blunder when the PLA started rolling down the slopes of the Thagla ridge and marching into the high plateau of Ladakh.
Prime Minister Modi might well pre-empt the decisions of the Tibet Work Forum and take up these issues with President Xi when he visits China.
As for the Tibetans, their future is bleak.

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