Thursday, July 21, 2016

For a few tanks more

The Chinese are not happy!
Last week, they were furious after the announcement of the verdict of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). The International Tribunal in The Hague had given its ruling on a reference by the Philippines over the South China Sea (SCS): China has no historic ‘rights’ over the natural resources in most of the areas of the SCS; further any right must not exceed what’s permitted by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Now, China is upset again.
This time, it is because the Indian press reported the deployment of T-72 battle tanks in Ladakh.
Quoting official sources, The Tribune, whose correspondent visited Ladakh, spoke of a possibility for China and Pakistan to launch a collusive two-front war against India: “In the past four-five years, ground troops have been added to pre-positioned locations along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), or the de facto border, that is not marked on the ground.”
Since the past 36 months, ground forces and artillery guns have been backed by T-72 Russian-origin tanks and another tank unit is slated to move to Eastern Ladakh facing China: “This adds a new dimension to any future war in the area that is marked by an average height of 14,000 feet, where oxygen is scarce,” says The Tribune.
According to The Daily Excelsior published from Jammu, for the Indian Army “the move is part of the winter drill to validate the capability of the tanks at such heights and is not an inimical move against China.”
Colonel Vijay Dalal, Commanding Officer of the tank regiment explained: “What we have done is that we have procured special additives and lubricants for high altitude terrain such as winter grade diesel and additives for the lubrication system, which prevents it from freezing in the tank.''
The Colonel added: “While the tanks and crew have acclimatised, they have not been able to test their fire power in the heights here due to lack of firing ranges. There is a need to verify their firing capacity at higher altitudes.”
The Global Times objected to this move: “Deploying tanks on Indo-China border hinders potential for Chinese investment.”
How can protecting the Indian borders ‘hinder’ Chinese investments?
Are the Chinese doing India a favour by investing?
The Global Times links the deployment of the Indian forces on the border to Chinese business investments in India: “A media report stating that nearly 100 Indian tanks have been positioned near the Indo-China border to counter any possible threat grabbed people's attention as more Chinese firms are looking to increase their investment in India.”
Then it quotes statistics of the China’s Ministry of Commerce: “Chinese outbound investment [in India] increased by 58.7 percent in the first half of the year, as the country [India] has sought to further integrate itself into the world economy.”
Probably referring to the announcement by Delhi of a new foreign direct investment (FDI) policy, opening up several sectors, including defense, to 100 per cent equity, The People's Daily says: “the Modi administration has recently promoted a second round of reforms to attract more overseas investment by allowing foreign firms to increase their shareholding in local enterprises.” It however adds that “it is puzzling that while deploying tanks near China's border, India still strives to woo Chinese investment.”
What have the tanks to do with the investment policy?
You may call this ‘logic with Chinese characteristics’, especially at a time China is behaving badly and illegally the South China Sea.
Though it sounded like a threat, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lu Kang was more courteous; Lu just said: “There have been a series of significant agreements and consensus reached between China and India on upholding stability of the border area. …The two countries should abide by relevant agreements and consensus, work in concert to maintain peace and tranquillity of the border area and create a favourable environment for improving bilateral mutual trust and bolstering the proper settlement of the boundary question.” He further pointed out: “The China-India border area has long been peaceful and stable.”
To come back to The Global Times article, it paternalistically explains: “In an index on the ease of doing business, from the World Bank, India currently ranks 130 out of 189. Despite India's stated goal to rise to within the top 100 this year, the nation has its work cut out for them.”
In other words, it tells Delhi, ‘forget about your borders, make business easier for us’.
What is amazing is that China has developed its dual-use infrastructure on the Tibetan plateau at a very rapid pace during the last few decades, but now it objects to India occupying its own territory and taking necessary measures to defend its borders.
Further, China recently raised the level of the Tibet Military Command's (TMC) authority. China Military Online admitted: “China continues to strengthen its military presence in the autonomous region and aims to allow the military command to shoulder more combat assignments. …The TMC's political rank will be elevated to one level higher than its counterpart provincial-level military commands, and will come under the leadership of the PLA Army.” It added that the promotion marks a "new journey for the Tibet military command's construction."
Zhao Zhong, deputy director of the Political Work Department of the TMC told the PLA website: “The elevation of the authority level is not only an improvement for the troops' designation, but also an expansion of their function and mission.”
Song Zhongping, a Beijing-based military expert, told The Global Times that the TMC “bears great responsibility to prepare for possible conflicts between China and India, and currently it is difficult [for the TMC] to secure all the military resources they need.”
So why make so much fuss for a few Indian tanks at a time when China moved its 15th Airborne Corps to Tibet?
The Global Times’ conclusion is that deploying tanks near the Indo-China border “may hit a nerve within the Chinese business community, causing investors to weigh the threat of political instability when they make investment decisions.”
According to the same principle, Delhi should stop doing business with China because Beijing has illegally (according to the La Hague Tribunal) occupied most of the South China Sea, where it has built mega infrastructures, even on ‘rocks’?
This is one more example of Chinese double standards.
But Delhi has probably touched a raw nerve.
After the announcement of the verdict of the PCA, a PLA commentator wrote: “The great rejuvenation of Chinese nation is an unstoppable historical trend that won't be diverted by the will of any individual country or person.”
A rejuvenated China is bound to bully its neighbours and economic partners.
India has to take all measures to counter the Chinese tactics, investment or no investment.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

For the Sake of Happiness

My article For the Sake of Happiness appeared in Hindi in 23 editions of the Dainik Baskar.
The translation is not mine!

Here is the link...

Just Google 'Bhutan', hundreds of articles such as ‘discover a kingdom where happiness rules’ will appear on your screen.
The Kingdom of the Dragon is today considered as the happiest and most contented country of the planet.
But what is the happiness?
Wikipedia explains: “Happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.”
Well, a definition can’t replace a smile on a child’s face; happiness is indeed beyond definition.
What is more interesting is that a tiny (in size) nation has made the concept of ‘global happiness’ known to the world.
The idea of a Gross National Happiness (GNH) was coined in 1972 by Bhutan's fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck.
It is true that for centuries, Bhutan’s culture has been based on a deeper understanding of life, and not on purely material development whose only objective is a constant increase of the gross domestic product.
It was a stroke of genius, from a monarch who perhaps saw the Future.
It was not fashionable as yet, when Thimphu first pledged to have an economy preserving Bhutan’s culture of contentment (santosh).
Bhutan may not be a world decider like the US, China or India, but the Himalayan nation is now regularly cited during international conference.
Bhutan is also present in mundane news, for the right reasons: their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited the Land of Happiness and trekked up to the picturesque Tiger's Lair, also known as Paro Taktsang in Dzongka, Bhutan’s national language. The monastery complex, hanging on a cliffside of the upper Paro valley, was built during the 17th century on the spot where the Swat-born Guru Padmasambhava meditated for three years, three months and three days. Paro Taktsang is one the thirteen ‘Taktsang’ caves which were blessed by the Master of Supreme Happiness.
Looking at the photos taken by the journalists who followed the couple half-way, the royals must have experienced some bliss during the unusual trek.

Does the world understand happiness?
A few weeks earlier, data collected by the United Nations from people in 156 countries, had surprisingly ranked Bhutan a lowly 84 in the list of Happy Nations. Different variables were used: real GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and perceptions of corruption.
The fact that Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Finland are the five toppers shows that these variables are based on Western values. It is a great pity! Can you believe that China is listed 83, just before Bhutan, while India is 118?
Each country is also compared against Dystopia, a hypothetical nation characterized by human misery, oppression, disease, overcrowding and pervasive fear, a place where everything is wrong. Dystopia is the opposite of Utopia, synonymous for an ideal society with no crime or poverty.
Despite the Western prejudice (or lack of understanding) in the data collection and analysis, it is interesting to see that the UN has begun studying the concept of ‘happiness’ which has been central to the Indian and Himalayan culture.

Happy Environment
A few weeks ago, Tshering Tobgay, the Bhutan Prime Minister gave a most inspirational TED talk at Vancouver, Canada.
Tobgay spoke with great eloquence of the special culture of the Land of the Dragon, its concept of Gross National Happiness, climate change, environment and free education for all. Tobgay said: “Of the 200-odd countries in the world today, it looks like we are the only one that's carbon neutral. Actually, that's not quite accurate. Bhutan is not carbon neutral. Bhutan is carbon negative.”
The ‘Happy’ Prime Minister asserted: “But it is our protected areas that are at the core of our carbon neutral strategy. Our protected areas are our carbon sink. They are our lungs. Today, more than half our country is protected, as national parks, nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries.”
The latter are connected through a network of biological corridors: even animals should be happy in Bhutan.

The Pillars of Happiness

Bhutan defined the four pillars of ‘Happiness’ as sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance. GNH is officially part of Bhutan's five-year planning process, which guides the economic development of the nation.
Easier planned than done!
But as the world starts looking back at the mess it has created, many believe that “after all, this GNH was perhaps not so naïve.”
At the end of the Paris Conference, the European Union (EU) acknowledged Bhutan’s ‘extraordinary ambition’ in addressing climate change by signing a ‘declaration’, which recognizes “Bhutan’s unique situation as a land-locked and least developed country with a fragile mountainous environment.”
‘Happiness is no more a utopia; Bhutan is often now cited as an example to follow.
Being a Global Village, in today’s world, no nation remains secluded, able to play according to its own rules without reference to its neighbours.
One could ask: with Bhutan becoming wealthier, will Happiness be consigned to the backstage for the sake of greater ‘wealth’?
If one believes news reports, dam companies will soon rule the Land of the Dragon. With ‘development’ becoming the universal god, can society remains ‘happy’?
It is up to Bhutan, but the important point is that the concept of ‘Happiness’ is now acknowledged worldwide.
During his Ted Talk, Tshering Tobgay said that through the biological corridors: “our animals are free to roam throughout our country.”
It is a fact that the fauna is still happy in Bhutan.
The Land of the Dragon has the highest population of the White-bellied Heron (ardea insignis) in the world. It was acknowledged during an international workshop on White-bellied Heron conservation conducted by the Royal Society for Protection of Nature. Bhutan now has 47 percent of the WBH global population, up from only 14 earlier.
I sometime wonder how Padmasambhava would have fared under the UN criteria. He had no social security, no wifi, no means of transportation (except for levitation), no house (though taktsang have breathtaking views), but his cave is still charged with happiness.
Will it last, is another question.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Chinese Irredentism and the Great Rejuvenation

“The great rejuvenation of Chinese nation is an unstoppable historical trend that won't be diverted by the will of any individual country or person,” 
is how a Chinese ‘expert’ reacted after the announcement of the verdict of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) on China Military Online.
The International Tribunal in The Hague had just announced its ruling on a reference by the Philippines over the South China Sea (SCS); the Philippines had objected to Beijing violating its sovereign rights in the SCS.
The court ruled China had no legal basis to claim any historic right to the natural resources in most of the areas of the SCS. It also ruled that such rights must not exceed what’s permitted by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)
Further there was no evidence China had historically controlled the waters or its resources exclusively. The court maintained it had jurisdiction to consider historic rights and maritime entitlements.
The ruling is a terrible blow in the face for the land- (and sea-) grabbing Middle Kingdom.
China was quick to release a statement on “China's territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea.”
The longish statement/justification was obviously ready in anticipation of the verdict of the Court. Beijing reaffirmed “China' s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea, enhance cooperation in the South China Sea with other countries, and uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea.”
It then detailed the different Islands and rocks ‘belonging’ to China and adds: “Since its founding on October 1, 1949, the People' s Republic of China has been firm in upholding China' s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea.” It quotes internal laws and conventions which mean nothing in International Law.
Beijing’s main argument is that the SCS disputes are inseparable from sovereignty issues and as such, the issues were beyond the scope of the UNCLOS, which was referred by the tribunal in its ruling.
Well, the argumentation is weak to say the least, even if Chinese citizens have reacted angrily to a ruling.

An irredentist attitude
Remember the great historian Dr. RC Majumdar’s statement decades ago. He rightly assessed the Chinese way of behaving: “There is one aspect of Chinese culture that is little known outside the circle of professional historians. It is the aggressive imperialism that characterized the politics of China throughout the course of her history, at least during the part of which is well known to us. Thanks to the systematic recording of historical facts by Chinese themselves, an almost unique achievement in oriental countries... we [historians] are in position to follow the imperial and aggressive policy of China from the third century BC to the present day, a period of more than twenty-two hundred years... It is characteristic of China that if a region once acknowledged her nominal suzerainty even for a short period, she should regard it as a part of her empire forever and would automatically revive her claim over it even after a thousand years whenever there was a chance of enforcing it.”
Though written long ago, it is shows that Chinese mindset.

Angry reactions
As mentioned earlier, the Chinese reaction was violent.
According to The Quartz: “Patriotic netizens have called for war against the Philippines, a boycott of the country’s products, and created a somewhat racist cartoon to mock Filipinos. They’re jumping the Great Firewall to spit vitriolic, expletive-laden insults on Twitter, and over 20,000 Chinese citizens have signed an open letter to protest against the court ruling. Many can’t believe the Philippines brought a complaint to an international tribunal to begin with.”
Will this help? Certainly not.

Though it will be difficult to implement the judgment, it could however create jurisprudence. The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) is not a UN court, but “organiser of arbitral tribunals to resolve conflicts between member states, international organizations, or private parties,” it remains a very respectable and respected institution.
The range of legal issues taken by the PCA can involve territorial and maritime boundaries, sovereignty, human rights, international investment, and international and regional trade.
The first effect of the ruling of the Court may to calm down the irredentist ardours of the Middle Kingdom, at least for some time.
It is a first international warning to China: if Beijing wants to become a ‘normal’ State, it has to follow the rules accepted by the rest of the world community.
Beijing has to decide in which category it wants to be listed: with the rogue States like North Korea or with ‘normal’ States?

Take the example of Arunachal Pradesh.
For years, China has been trying to claim the entire Indian State as hers, with no historical justification, except for the fact that a small part of State (Tawang) has once upon a time paid monastic taxes to a monastery near Lhasa. Chinese claims are clearly not tenable in international law.
Arunachal may be the most glaring case, but the above is also true for many areas in Ladakh, in Uttarakhand or Himachal … and in POK as well.
Without any historical basis, Beijing has regularly claimed large chunks of its neighbours’s territory.
The ruling of the PCA should remind China that all the nations live on the same planet and commonly agreed rules should be followed by all.
Though in 1959, the International Commission of Jurists had condemned China’s Human Rights violation in Tibet, it is the first time that the issue of territoriality involving China has been looked into, analyzed and a judgment delivered. This creates a precedent which has other serious implications.
The Chinese President may say that “the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s verdict will not affect Beijing’s territorial sovereignty and maritime interests in the fiercely contested waters,” it will definitively create a jurisprudence with the possibility of more States approaching the PCA.
During a meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, President Xi Jinping stated that China will not accept any proposition or action based on an international tribunal’s ruling over the disputed SCS: “We firmly insist on maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea, and on directly negotiating for a peaceful resolution on relevant disputes with states that are directly involved, based on the respect of history and in accordance with international laws,” Xi said.
Today, China only accepts the common rules favorable to China.
After the La Hague verdict, it may not be acceptable for the world community any more.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor
In April 2015, Xi arrived in Islamabad bringing with him generous gifts for Pakistan: an eye-popping $46 billion worth of planned energy and infrastructure investment to boost Pakistan's flagging economy. This included 10,400 megawatts to Pakistan's national grid through coal, nuclear and renewable energy projects. It sounded like a Chinese Dream for Islamabad!
Beijing wanted to help Pakistan to develop a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which will eventually link up its pet project, the two New Silks Roads (also known as ‘One Belt, One Road’).
In other words, the Chinese-sponsored port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea will be connected through the Karakoram Highway, to the Xinjiang province in China’s Far West and Central Asia …and later Middle East, Africa and Europe. The ‘corridor’ will have railways, roads, optical fiber cables, dams (to produce the necessary electricity), pipelines, you name it!
Observers marveled at Beijing kindness (and wealth), but don’t be fooled by the Chinese generosity: Beijing is investing for Beijing!
The important point for India is that several of the CPEC’s crosses over the Indian territory in Kashmir. It is not acceptable and ultimately India could, as a last resort, take one day the Philippines way.

A Belligerent Mood
The ‘expert’ quoted earlier, wrote in the China Military Online: “The new China didn't bow to power or hegemony at its weakest moment. Now the rising China is more resolved to defend its own interests. Certain countries should be fully aware that no matter how many tricks they play, whatever actions they take, they won't change the fact that South China Sea Islands and adjacent waters all belong to China, or stop China's steps to become stronger, let alone shake Chinese military's resolve and will to staunchly defend national sovereignty and security.”
With a wounded ego, the Middle Kingdom can become even more belligerent; in any case the reference to the PCA shows that if Beijing does not accept the verdict, it will be difficult to be considered as a ‘normal’ State by the world community.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Upgrading of Tibet Military Command and the Train

In May 2015, the Chinese Government published a White Paper (WP) on Defence, putting forward new objectives for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Beijing announced that the PLA’s military strategy was to ‘win informationized local wars’.
China Military Online, a website affiliated to the PLA explained: “The WP systematically expounded on the Chinese military's missions and strategic tasks in the new era”. It spoke of “making preparation for military struggle shall be focused on winning local wars in conditions of modern technology.”
Highlighting maritime military struggle (in the South China Sea for example), the WP said “the traditional mentality that land outweighs sea must be abandoned.”
Mao’s old view of ‘an Army of peasants’ is dead and gone. In the years to come, the Chinese Navy and the Air Force are bound to take a more preponderant place in Beijing’s defence strategy, but it does not mean that China is going to forget its land neighbours, first and foremost India.
In May 2016, The Global Times announced that the status of the Tibet Military Command (TMC) facing India from Arunachal Pradesh to Ladakh was to be raised. It was part of the in-depth reforms instituted by President Xi Jinping, who is also the Chairman of the all-powerful Central Military Commission (CMC).
Quoting an unknown ‘analyst’, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece reported: “By raising the TMC’s authority level and putting it under the jurisdiction of the PLA Army (ground forces), China continues to strengthen its military presence in the autonomous region and aims to allow the military command to shoulder more combat assignments.”
Assignments against whom?
The fact is that there is only India on the other side of the Himalayan range!
China Youth Daily had reported earlier that this marks a “new journey for the TMC's construction.”
Zhao Zhong, deputy director of the TMC’s Political Work Department explained: “The elevation of the authority level is not only an improvement for the troops' designation, but also an expansion of their function and mission.” Quoting ‘a source close to the matter’, The Global Times suggested that “the command may undertake some kind of military combat mission in the future.”
Song Zhongping, a Beijing-based military expert, told the tabloid that the TMC “bears great responsibility to prepare for possible conflicts between China and India, [because] currently it is difficult to secure all the military resources they need.”

A plan and a tool
For this, Beijing has a clearly-defined plan …and a tool: the railway line.
The most important strategic development in the recent decades has been the arrival of the train on the Tibetan plateau in July 2006.
For Beijing, it has been a historic event.
The train has brought radical changes not only for China or the Tibetans, but for India too.
An article on the China Tibet Online remarks: “Foreigners only know that the Great Wall is the seventh wonder of the world, actually, modern Chinese construction is even more amazing.” And it cited the train, termed the ‘pride of the Chinese people’.
Hundred thousand workers “with no past references, have solved many technical problems such as building a railway through frozen soil, and achieved a miracle in human railway construction, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway.”
Ten years ago, Beijing hoped to solve several issues with the arrival of the train on the plateau. It has partially succeeded.
The railway indeed triggered a frenzy of infrastructure development on the plateau; the instability of the restive region has apparently been contained; a mega economic boom has been brought by tourism and as importantly, the border with India is mightily reinforced. Once could add that the exploitation of the natural resources of the plateau (like water and minerals) has reached new heights.
The main pretext for rapidly developing the infrastructure has been tourism.
In 2015, the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) broke all records; it welcomed more than 20 million tourists. The tourism industry in the TAR generated 4.26 billion U.S. dollars, nearly three times the figure of 2010.
For Beijing, the tourist boom is a win-win solution to solve all the problems of the plateau; the Chinese authorities have hence decided to accelerate the infrastructure construction and develop high-end tourism brands with a new railway line from Chengdu (Sichuan) to Lhasa. The Western leg from Lhasa to Nyingchi to be completed by 2020, will reach the Indian border.
Then, a railway line to Kyirong and Nepal, probably to be continued to Kathmandu and perhaps Lumbini; a second international airport in Lhasa, a new airport in Nagchu, a 4-lane highway between Lhasa and Nyingchi (the Arunachal border) and finally the improvement of National Highway 219 between Tibet and Xinjiang, cutting across the Indian territory in the Aksai Chin area of Ladakh.
All these projects have serious strategic implications for India, as ALL infrastructure built on the plateau has a dual use: civilian and military.
On April 25, 2016, Xinhua reported that the National People's Congress (NPC) discussed a new law on national defense transport. The legislation will cover the use of infrastructure for defense as well as civilian purposes.
The idea is to integrate military and civilian resources and make sure that the national defense transport network is compatible “with market and economic development.”
In August 2015, during the Tibet Work Forum, a large gathering on Tibet, Xi reiterated his theory about the ‘border areas’; he said that “governing border areas is the key for governing a country, and stabilizing Tibet is a priority for governing border areas.”
This speaks for itself.
The time has come for India to wake up.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Pakistan’s dreams of disbalance, disruption

Calling for Amy rule in Pakistan
My article Pakistan’s dreams of disbalance, disruption appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer

Here is the link...

Pakistan’s response to (if not covert support for) the currently volatile situation in Kashmir underlines yet again that influential sections of that country’s leadership are still delusional about their ability to destabilise India

Kashmir is once again on the boil. It would be wrong to simplify the issue and put the entire blame on Pakistan. Other issues such as allowing public funerals when the Jammu & Kashmir Government is aware that thousands of Kashmiri residents would defy the curfew, have certainly added foment.
However, the recrudescence of violence, following the death of Burhan Wani, the 22-year-old commander of the Hizbul Mujahideen and poster boy of the anti-India movement in the valley, has its roots in Pakistan. The occasion was too good for the leadership in Islamabad; Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif immediately siad, “deplore  the excessive and unlawful force used against innocent people in Indian-administered Kashmir.”
While expressing deep shock over the killing of Wani, Sharif spoke of “the people of Jammu & Kashmir demanding their right to self determination.” Sartaj Aziz, the Prime Minister’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs, went (as usual) a step further than his boss. Talking to Dunya News, Aziz stated “such acts are violation of fundamental human rights of Kashmiris … (who) only demand freedom and liberty whereas India is continuously spreading chaos in the region.” As a good durbari, he pledged to raise his country’s voice “against Indian brutality in Kashmir at international forum.” Nothing is new under the Pakistani sun.
A few days before the Srinagar incidents, I was putting some order in my old papers and came across some decades-old documents which I had found in the archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France when I was researching for a book on Kashmir several years ago. Amongst other documents, a cable sent on January 8, 1959, by Bernard Dufournier, the Ambassador of France in Pakistan, makes fascinating reading…57 years later.
The cable from Karachi is addressed to Maurice Couve de Murville, General De Gaulle’s illustrious Foreign Minister. The cable to the Quai d’Orsay (the Ministry) starts thus: “The Revolution and the establishment of the dictatorship in Pakistan coincided with new tensions in relations between Delhi and Karachi.”
It first refers to a communication “sent on October 24 (1958) by Lall and December 18 by Prince Aly Khan to the Security Council (which) have shown that the case of Kashmir remained a source of conflict,” says the Ambassador.
I traced the letter under reference. Arthur S Lall, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, had written to the members of the Security Council, countering a letter from Aly Khan, his Pakistani counterpart, who had addressed Gunnar Jarring, the Security Council’s Chairperson about the Indus’ waters. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had directed Lall to put on record that the latest Pakistani statement was “in disregard of the facts and even of (Khan’s) own statements made in his previous communication to the Security Council” and India regretted that Pakistan “should continue to use the medium of the United Nations for propaganda purposes.”
According to Dufournier, the exchange “provided new topics of excitement to the public opinion; almost daily, border incidents have continued to occur for two months between police forces or detachments of the two Armies, either in Punjab, or more frequently in East Pakistan. The cold war continues; the military dictatorship does not seem willing to change the offensive attitude adopted in 1956 by the Suhrawardy Government.”
On May 6, 1958, Aly Khan had already objected to Sheikh Abdullah’s arrest without trial; he had argued with the UN that “the Jammu & Kashmir Government was unable to substantiate its allegation with any evidence which could be sustained in a court of law.”
While 57 years ago, Pakistan complained about the Indian judicial system, today, Islamabad wants to go ‘international’ to defend a terrorist. In 1959, the French Ambassador notes: “Pakistan’s claim appears to be hopeless, since India will never come back on the annexation of Kashmir and a UN resolution would not change this fact. However, would the men ruling in Karachi play with the destiny of their people on the Kashmir myth, if behind the screen were not concealed deeper designs?”
Has anything changed today? Probably not. The fascinating study of Pakistan’s psyche by the French diplomat goes on: “Their tactic seems absurd to some extent, if it was not used to cover a more tortuous strategy, whose springs cannot be exposed to light. The final objective is to challenge the Partition itself and upset the balance of power that guardianship (the British) tried to introduce in 1947 in the Indian subcontinent.”
Are Aziz’s or Sharif’s motives different today, than Ayub Khan’s in 1959? Dufournier observes: “If we take this hypothesis, the policy of Karachi’s rulers reads almost like a book. Pakistanis have never accepted the division of territory between the Indian Union and Pakistan as enshrined in the Treaties. Not only the ‘sale’ of Kashmir, but also the conquest of Junagardh and Hyderabad, as well as the division of Punjab and Bengal were always held as provisional. The fact that forty million Muslims remained prisoners in the Indian Union reinforces these revisionist tendencies that dare not speak their name, but which are the secret engine of diplomacy of Karachi.”
The far-sighted French envoy remarks that Karachi’s concern “has always been to maintain open the Kashmir file before its own people as well as on the international scene. The circumstances surrounding the defection of the Raja of Srinagar (Hari Singh), the fighting for the possession of Kashmir, the internationalisation of the (UN) trial, served his views, because they allowed Pakistan to proclaim to the world that 1947 was tainted with fraud on an essential point, the legal validity (of the Partition).”
Dufournier even goes one step further: “An exceptional situation should occur for the Pakistani army to be able to confront India’s defenses with some chance of success. It would be necessary that the neighbouring country (India) be weakened either by secessionist movements, or by revolutionary unrest. Pakistani leaders consider that this event will happen in the future.”
The Pakistani leadership has constantly lived with the same delusion, believing it can destabilise India. The Ambassador’s conclusions are interesting, “When will sound the hour of the Holy War, it would be easy for Pakistan to remind (the world) that it has never recognised the annexation of Kashmir, he had to yield to force and intends only to recover his legitimate property. Claims on East Punjab and West Bengal would be presented simultaneously.”
For Dufournier prophesised: “The minarets of Delhi’s mosques appear in these expectations as a mirage, but these dreams are for many Pakistanis — at least for the leaders — the reality of tomorrow.”
Islamabad can continue to dream, after all Pakistan is built on a dream; in the meantime, Delhi should keep a closer tab on the so-called Indian intellectuals, not only preachers like Zakir Naik, who propagate the ‘dream’ of a self-determined Kashmir. They are far too many on the social networks.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

'Tibet' delegate prosecuted

Three years ago, in a post ‘Chinese Hans from Tibet', I mentioned that three senior Han officials had been nominated in the Tibetan delegation to the National People’s Congress .
One was Wang Huning, the powerful member of the Politburo and close confidant of President Xi Jinping.
He was probably put in this position to report to his mentor the ‘feelings’ of other Tibetan delegates.
The second Han in the delegation is Dr. Ding Zhongli, a well-known environmentalist, whose job seems to keep a tab on the plateau’s environment.
The third one was Chang Xiaobing, former Chairman of state-owned China Unicom for 14 years before taking over China Telecom in August 2015.
However, he was detained as part of a graft probe in late December 2015.
I had mentioned it here 'Tibet delegate to the Congress investigated'.
Now Chang Xiaobing faces prosecution, as the Communist Party wrap up an internal anti-graft investigation against him.
The South China Morning Post reported: “The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said that Chang allegedly took bribes, interfered in the anti-graft agency’s inspection and violated state-owned enterprise corporate governance rules.”
He has been expelled from the party and sacked from all public offices and the prosecutors have taken over his case.
According to the Hong Kong newspaper, “the investigation into Chang was related to allegedly corrupt activity during his time at China Unicom.”
According to a letter by a mainland credit assessment company, Chang would have sold a state-owned office building in Beijing at 800 million yuan below the market price to benefit the family of the disgraced former Central Military Commission vice-chairman Guo Boxiong.
Once again, a corruption case points the finger at the People’s Liberation Army and its two infamous vice-chairmen, General Guo Boxiong and General Xu Caihou.
Who will replace Chang in the Tibet delegation is not known.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Pride of the Chinese People: the Train to Lhasa 10 years After

One of the most important strategic developments in the recent decades has been the arrival of the train on the Tibetan plateau in July 2006. Ten years later, the event has been largely ignored by the Indian media.
The train has not brought radical changes for the Tibetans alone, but for India’s defence preparedness too.
For Beijing, it has been a historic date.
An article on the China Tibet Online remarks: “Foreigners only know that the Great Wall is the seventh wonder of the world, actually, modern Chinese construction is even more amazing. …For example, there are the 130 thousand railroad workers working in the ‘forbidden zone of life’ on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, with no past references, they have solved many technical problems such as building a railway through frozen soil, and achieved a miracle in human railway construction, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway (QTR).” The train is termed the ‘pride of the Chinese people’.
Ten years ago, Beijing hoped to solve several issues with the arrival of the train on the plateau. It partially succeeded.
The railway indeed triggered a frenzy of infrastructure development on the plateau; the instability of the restive region has apparently been contained; a mega economic boom has been brought by tourism and as importantly, the border with India mightily reinforced.
Once could add, that the exploitation of the natural resources of the plateau (like water and minerals) has reached new heights.

Tibet: a Paradise for Tourists
The main pretext for rapidly developing infrastructure has been tourism. According to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Lhasa is one of the cities with the best air quality in China. The ministry compiled air quality data from 74 major cities. Seven of them, including Lhasa, have met the national standards for best air quality for five main pollutants.
The China Daily recently advertized the Roof of the World thus: “Tibet with its mystery is the spiritual Garden of Eden and is longed by travelers home and abroad. Only by stepping on the snowy plateau, can one be baptized by its splendor, culture, folklore, life, snow-mountains, saint mountains, sacred lakes, residences with local characteristics and charming landscape.”
Further, tourism brings tremendous revenues to the regional government and helps in tackling the two other issues, the ‘stability of the plateau and the defence of China’s borders.
In 2015, the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) broke all records; it welcomed more than 20 million tourists. The tourism industry in the TAR generated 4.26 billion U.S. dollars, nearly three times the figure of 2010.
Lhasa, Tibet’s capital alone saw its tourism revenue triple over the past five years to an estimated 2.51 billion dollars. The number of tourists visiting the capital rose to 11.79 million in 2015, a 23 percent increase compared to 2014.
An article in China Tibet Online mentioned the train, ‘Iron and Steel road pierces into plateau tourism’; it says: “These world class locations are like pearls embedded along the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, and now because of extensions of the Qinghai-Tibet railroad they are all linked up.”
Indeed several extensions of the railway line are coming up.

‘Stability’ of the Plateau
In the wake of the 2008 unrest in Tibet, Beijing still seemed nervous. On September 7, 2015, soon after a grandiose parade on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, Yu Zhengsheng, a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, who was the chief guest, met a large number of representatives from the PLA and the People’s Armed Police Force (PAPF) posted in Tibet.
Yu urged the army, the police and the judicial staff “to crack down on separatist forces and be ready to fight a protracted battle against the 14th Dalai clique.”
It is worth noting that according to the TAR’s Tourist Bureau there were more than 100,000 Tibetans engaged in tourist services in Tibet in 2015. By providing a decent income to the local Tibetans, China believes it can keep the restive populations relatively happy, thereby ‘stabilizing’ the plateau.

‘Defending’ the Border
Last but not least, for Beijing, the defence of the borders are often mentioned in the Chinese media. Dduring the Tibet Work Forum, Xi reiterated his theory about the ‘border areas’; he said that “governing border areas is the key for governing a country, and stabilizing Tibet is a priority for governing border areas.”
This speaks for itself.
Soon after the PLA entered Lhasa in September 1951, the Chinese started improving the infrastructure between China and Tibet and building new strategic roads on a war-footing.
Mao Zedong knew that the only way to consolidate and ‘unify’ China’s new colonies (Tibet and Xinjiang) was to construct a large network of roads. Priority was given to motorable roads: the Sichuan-Tibet and the Qinghai-Tibet Highways. Surveying for the Tibet-Xinjiang Highway cutting across Western Tibet (and the Indian territory in Ladakh) started at the end of 1951; construction began in 1953/54.
On 29 November 1954, Xinhua News Agency reported: “The two large armies of road builders from the eastern and western section of the Sichuan-Tibet Highway joined hands on November 27.” A month later, the Qinghai-Tibet Highway was completed.
The construction of one feeder road leading to Nathu-la, the border pass between Sikkim and Tibet had some strange consequences. India began feeding the Chinese road workers in Tibet, sending tons of rice through this route.
Both the road network and the airports were to play a crucial role not only in what China calls the ‘Liberation of Tibet’, but also in the 1962 border conflict with India.
Nearly two decades ago, the then Defense Minister George Fernandes had told a news agency: “China has built roads up to the border, while there has been negligence on India's part.” He further lamented: “China has even built roads in such areas where not a single human being lives or even a blade of grass grows.”
The allusion was not lost on anybody. In 1959, while intervening in Parliament on the 'Aksai Chin road', Prime Minister Jawaharlal justified why his government had taken more than two years to discover that the PLA had been building a road on the barren heights of the Aksai Chin plateau in Ladakh, by saying: “Nobody has been present there. It is a territory where not even a blade of grass grows.” It had just come to light that a Chinese road had been built through Indian territory.
Since George Fernandes uttered these brave words, what has been done on the Indian side? The Modi Sarkar is apparently trying, but little has been achieved so far.

The new plans
According to the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016 to 2020), Lhasa should receive 24 million Chinese tourists (an annual increase of 15 percent), as well as 300,000 international tourists (an annual increase of 20 percent).
The real figures will probably exceed the plans.
For Beijing, the tourist boom is a win-win solution to solve all the problems of the plateau; the Chinese authorities have hence decided to accelerate the infrastructure construction and develop high-end tourism brands with:
  1. A new railway line Lhasa-Chengdu (in Sichuan); the western leg from Lhasa to Nyingchi to be completed by 2020 will reach the Indian border
  2. A railway line to Kyirong and Nepal, probably to be continued to Kathmandu and perhaps Lumbini
  3. A second international airport in Lhasa
  4. A new terminal for the Nyingchi airport
  5. A new airport in Nagchu
  6. A 4-lane highway between Lhasa and Nyingchi
  7. Improvement of National Highway 219 between Tibet and Xinjiang
All these projects have serious strategic implications for India, as ALL infrastructure built on the plateau has a dual use: civilian and military.
On April 25, 2016, Xinhua reported that the National People's Congress (NPC) discussed a new law on national defense transport. The legislation will cover the use of infrastructure for defense as well as civilian purposes.
According to the Chinese news agency: “The new law is expected to regulate the planning, construction, management and use of resources in transportation sectors such as railways, roads, waterways, aviation, pipelines and mail services, for national defense.”
The idea is to integrate military and civilian resources and make sure that the national defense transport network is compatible “with market and economic development.”
The time has come for India to wake up.
An antiquated ‘Inner Line Permit’ dating from the Raj still prevails in many border areas. It was recently announced that this may change soon, but one has to see it to believe it.
In the meantime, China is going ahead at full steam.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Dual-use airport is a win-win move, says China

As the Dalai Lama, the apostle of peace, celebrates his 81st birthday in Karnataka, China is reinforcing its war preparation on the Tibetan plateau.
It does not mean that a conflict is imminent, but in case China has 'to face India', Beijing wants to be ready.
A year ago, I mentioned on this blog the dual-use of airports in China.
Xinhua had just announced the possible integration of civil-military airports to "strengthen aviation safety and combat support capabilities."
A joint statement from the People Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and General Administration of Civil Aviation (CAAC) had announced that the integration will include joint maintenance of airport support facilities, joint flight safety support and joint airport management.
Interestingly the Lhasa Gongkar Airport in Tibet was one of two first pilot airports to implement the 'integration'.
The other one was the Sunan Shuofang International Airport in Wuxi in Jiangsu province.

A new law for dual use integration
On July 1, China Military Online reported that new steps have been taken to “help PLA Air Force (PLAAF) cope with emergencies.”
A joint meeting on the development of military-civilian integration of dual-use airports of the PLAAF was held in Beijing on June 17.
On the agenda was the "Interim Provisions of Operation Security at Dual-use Airports of the PLA Air Force."
The PLA website said that it is based on win-win principles for both the military and civilian sides.
The new arrangement to integrate the development of military-civilian airport resources between the PLAAF and civil aviation is now being implemented, says the website, which further explains: “Its main purpose was to establish a complementary management mechanism with smooth coordination and shared resources to gradually form a support capability that guarantees flight safety at peace times and meets combat needs at wartimes.”
Beijing believes that “two [first] airports [Lhasa and Sunan Shuofang] are good examples of dual-use airports.”

Why Lhasa Gonggar Airport? 
Because it provides “important support for Tibet's economic development and national security in China’s Southwestern region.”
Lhasa Airport has always been the hub to ‘defend' China’s borders …against India.
The China Military Online site remarks: “On the one hand, as an important force in Tibet’s transportation, the airport has made great contributions to Tibet's economic construction. It has safely transported more than six million passengers in total since it was put into use. The cargo throughput also surpassed 140,000 tons.”
It adds: “On the other hand, the airport is an important channel to transport the PLA's new recruits and strategic materials to Tibet. The airport is also a major ‘airborne bridgehead’ in Southwest China.”
As mentioned last month, the 15th Airborne Corps exercised in Tibet recently. Photos appeared with the following caption: “a mechanized regiment of 15th Airborne Corps, conducted a battalion size rapid deployment into the Tibetan Plateau. Pictures from this ‘independent action’ exercise.”

To wait for the reinforcements
A specialized blog (China Defense Blog) commented:
Tibet is one of China's largest regions but with only three line brigades protecting it (52nd, 53rd and 54th mountain Brigades), clearly it's ORBAT [order of battle] is not geared for large scale military operations, especially in defense against a foreign power's [i.e. India] new mountain strike corps. To beef up, the PLA high command is shifting its 15th Airborne Corps for rapid reinforcement from Wuhan in time of crisis, hopeful this buy time until REGFORCE [regular forces] reinforcements arrive.
The article in the  PLA website mentioned above observes: “It has been found that the development of military-civilian integration of dual-use airports has very important practical significance and strategic benefits. First, the dual-use airports greatly save the cost of airport construction. Second, such airports bring great benefits to both the military and civilian sides.”
Does it means that the up-gradation of the Lhasa Airport goes on the civilian budget? Probably!
The China Military Online to conclude: “For the PLAAF, dual-use airports can significantly improve the support capability of military airports. Such dual use can provide more footholds for the Air Force to deal with emergencies and future operations. …Practice has proved that the construction of dual-use airport is a win-win move.”
All this is not really new, but it has now been formalized and the new arrangements come under a law.
In the future it will be officially extended to all infrastructure development, including roads, railway lines, etc..
When will the Tibetan plateau become a Zone of Ahimsa as the Dalai Lama once wished. Not soon!

Airbus A330 lands in Tibet
Incidentally, on July 1, the 1st Airbus A330 'wide-body' jet of Tibet Airlines 'smoothly' landed at Lhasa airport.
"It marked that Tibet airlines formally entering the era of 'wide-body jet', reported Xinhua which added: "The maximum take-off weight of the Airbus A330 wide-body jet is 242 tons, which is the first of its kind in China. What's more, it is also the first kind of wide-body jet that possesses advanced navigation ability in the world. The wide-body jet has many advantages on seats, cruding range, and plateau operation, which is conductive to the development of Tibet airlines and has landmark significant meanings."
It can certainly be dual-used in times of 'difficulties'.
Golok Airport

Golok Airport opened
Another piece of news: the China Eastern Airlines Flight A319 smoothly landed in the Qinghai Golok Airport at 2:20 p.m. on July 1. It marked the formal opening of the Golok Airport, according to
The Golok Airport is located 5.5 kilometers southeast of Dawu Township, Maqen County of Golok Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.
Some 170 million US dollars were invested into the 3,788-meter-high runway and airport facilities.
It is the 6th highest airport in China and the 8th highest in the world.
The airport was designed for a future capacity transporting about 80,000 passengers by 2020, carrying over 200 tons of cargo and accommodating 940 planes landing and taking off.
The construction project started from August 29, 2013.
The use of this airport will be two-fold: "push forward the economic development powerfully and speed up construction of the Sanjiangyuan National Park" and bring reinforcement of troops of the People's Armed Police Force in case of need.
Golok in the most restive county in Tibet.

Tail End
A Chinese website has announced that in order to provide better service, the Yatung's border station, near the Sikkim border "has set up a cultural exchange platform for its police officers, using cultural exchange lectures, classroom instruction, discussions, and other methods to enhance the operational capacity of the officers on duty, increase officers' foreign language level, and create a good living environment for the police officers."
PLA officers are learning Hindi!
Some more photos of the 15 Airborne Corps


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

We are all followers of the same Buddha?

Bhutan's Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay inaugurates the Conference
A Press Information Bureau (PIB) communiqué reported yesterday that ‘at the invitation of the Minister of Home & Cultural Affairs, Royal Government of Bhutan, Mr. Lyonpo Dawa Gyeltshen, Minister of State for Home Affairs, Shri Kiren Rijiju visited Bhutan from July 2-4, 2016 to attend the International Conference on Tradition and Innovation in Vajrayana Buddhism.”
We are also informed that Rijiju addressed the Closing Session of International Conference on “Vajrayana Buddhism: A Mandala of 21st Century Perspectives” at the Royal Institute for Tourism & Hospitality (RITH) in Thimphu.
A few words about this three-day conference on Vajrayana.
Last year, I wrote on this blog a piece titled, Buddhist Union – Spiritual Confluence or Geo-Politics? 
In another piece, I mentioned: "Prime Minister Modi has been promoting a new term, ‘spiritual neighbourhood’. He used it during his trips to Sri Lanka and more recently to Mongolia to link up with Buddhism. It makes for good diplomacy."
On March 19, 2015 the Dalai Lama had met with a delegation of Sri Lankan Theros (senior monks), to discuss about Vinaya, the Buddhist monastic discipline. It was a rather rare occurrence, as the followers of the Buddha rarely ‘exchange’ their views on their respective interpretations of the Buddha’s words.
The Dalai Lama told his Sri Lankan colleagues: “We are all followers of the same Buddha. At a time when scientific minded people are expressing some doubts about religion, many of them are expressing an interest in aspects of the Buddha’s teachings.”
The Tibetan leader then added: “To think of yourself as different from them, as someone special, is to create distance and a barrier between yourself and others, which can lead to isolation and loneliness.”
I then wrote: “It is unfortunately what has happened between the different Buddhist schools over the years (or perhaps centuries),” and I added: “This religious happening [meeting the Sri Lankan monks] has however some strong political connotation and it is a direct outcome of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Sri Lanka.”

Kiren Rijiju arrives at the Conference
The Thimbu Conference
The Thimbu Conference saw some 300 international participants discussing “continuity and change within both historical and contemporary expressions of Vajrayāna Buddhism.”
Though Vajrayana is often associated to ‘Tibetan Buddhism’, no Tibetan invited in Bhutan.
The answer can probably be found in the historical antagonism between Tibet and Bhutan, but also (and linked to it), in the sectarian clashes between the Drukpa and Gelukpa schools of Buddhism.
The conference was organized by the Central Monastic Body and the Centre for Bhutan Studies & GNH Research (with inputs from Ian Baker, a Buddhist scholar and board member of the International Society for Bhutan Studies, says the official announcement).
The organizers had announced that the speakers would be world-renowned spiritual leaders as well as prominent scholars and neuroscientists researching the effects of yogic and contemplative practices on the human brain and wellbeing. It sounds similar to the decade-old ‘Mind and Body’ programs of the Dalai Lama.
The announcement explained that the 65 speakers from seventeen different countries were “to share their insights and experiences, and engage in discussion.”
The main theme was “Vajrayāna’s dialogue with 21st century science, medicine, and ethics …and contributions to comprehensive human flourishing.”
The conference was linked to Bhutan’s policy of Gross National Happiness (GNH), “a philosophy based on the premise that true development takes place when material, emotional, spiritual, cultural, and environmental well-being are cultivated in unison and mutually reinforcing.”
Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay while opening the Conference declared: “This conference is not only about what we Bhutanese can share with all of you who have come from across the world to experience Vajrayana Buddhism in its living context. We ourselves will benefit greatly by learning more about the forms that Vajrayana Buddhism has adopted in Mongolia, India, Nepal, Myannmar, Russia, Australia, Brazil, Japan, China, Europe, and the United States.”
Kiren Rijiju participates

No Tibet!
What does it mean?
For Bhutan, it is certainly a unique opportunity to push its ‘Happiness’ USP and promote its cultural and heritage.
The Royal Government should be complimented for this.
For Dharamsala, the time has perhaps come to start an ‘intra-faith dialogue’, it is as important (if not more) as the present ‘inter-faith dialogue’ for the survival of the Tibetan identity.
A lot could be said on this. I leave it for some future posts.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Brexit and Euro

Very few events have triggered such a flood of comments as the vote for the Brexit in UK.
For some, it was suddenly as if the world had ended; though it may not be, it could be the last journey of an empire on which the sun used to never set.
Cartoonists have also tried to capture the folly of the Brexit. One of the most telling caricatures I came across was by Plantu in Le Monde.
One sees Sigmund Freud seating near a patient lying on the Union Jack on a sofa. Obviously the person being psychoanalyzed represents the British voter, who keeps repeating: “In, out, in, out, in, out, in…”. Near a frustrated, sweating, depressed Freud stands a young lady with a cap on which one reads ‘Europa’. The great psy says: “I can’t take it anymore. How have you managed to bear with this?”
It symbolizes the decade-old love-hate of the British for the European Union.

Immediately after WWII, Jean Monnet, the father of Europe and his German colleagues believed that the surest way to avoid a new conflict was to ‘share’ the very same materials which had in the past divided the two nations. Monnet took the initiative: “Coal and steel were at once the key to economic power and the raw materials for forging weapons of war… To pool them across frontiers would reduce their malign prestige and turn them instead into a guarantee of peace.”
As both Germany and France had to rebuild their industries, a supranational High Authority would be created to manage the resources in coal and steel for both nations. Monnet convinced Robert Schumann, the French Foreign Minister and the German Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer and hence the embryo of Europe was born. A treaty was signed in Paris in 1951 establishing the European Coal and Steel Community.
A close partnership between the enemies of yesterday was set in motion, though (or because) no ‘ideology’ was involved.
Six years later, six European states (France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg) decided to focus their energies on integration and union. Europe was born on March 25, 1957, with the Treaty of Rome. The main object of the Treaty signed in the Italian capital, was to set up a customs union and a common market between the member states.
When the British put their candidature in 1961, many started questioning their entry into the Common Market. Charles de Gaulle was one of them.
Two years later, during a press conference, after mentioning that London had refused to participate in the first experience, the general explained that the character of the British nation was “insular, turned towards the sea” and the nation had always been linked “through exchanges, markets, supplies to far-away countries”, not with Europe. He added that the “nature, structure, situation of England are deeply different from the ones of the continental people”. De Gaulle had a point.
Eventually, Great Britain was admitted in the Union in 1973, but doubts persisted in London, as the cartoon shows.
Coinciding with the Brexit, a second major event made the headlines during the last couple of weeks: the Euro2016 Football Cup.
While politicians and ‘experts’ discussed the implications of UK leaving the EU, lakhs of enthusiasts supporting one of the 24 ‘national’ teams poured into the main cities of France.
One could suddenly see the true diversity of Europe. From the organized Russian ‘breakers’ who destroyed the centre of Marseille on the first day, to the British hooligans, the Albanians, the Polish, the Scots or the sweet ‘green army’ of Ireland, who got the Golden Medal from the City of Paris for their exemplary behavior; all were Europeans.
Euro2016 was indeed a showcase of Europe in its diversity.
But to build a political Union on this diversity is not an easy proposal. Today’s Europe is not perfect, far from it. The babudom of Brussels has taken colossal size and power, but globalization cannot be wished away, hence the need for unity.
Take the case of Iceland, a small island with a population of just 319,756 people. The ‘Vikings’ managed to send England packing in the Euro pre-quarter final.
Iceland has suffered more than anybody else when the global financial crisis hit the island nation in 2008. Its currency crashed, unemployment soared and the stock market was wiped out. Unlike other European economies, the Reykjavik government let its three major banks fail and went after the bankers; even Prime Minister Geir Haarde was put on trial.
Today, Iceland is slowly recovering, but does not want to join the EU anymore. Icelandic President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson stated that the Brixit is good news for Icelanders as it may give them an opportunity to work together with other countries in the North-Atlantic. “Iceland and Norway will now, in a totally new way, become participants in negotiations that must take place between the EU and the UK and the EU and member states of the European Economic Area (EEA) with this new triangle of countries in the North Atlantic.”
It may work, who knows?
Jean Monnet wrote once: “Have I said clearly enough that the Community we have created is not an end in itself? It is a process of change, continuing that same process which in an earlier period of history produced our national forms of life.”
The events of the last weeks demonstrate the difficulty to ‘unite’ while keeping the identity of each participant alive, but Europe is a ‘process’, not the end; it is where the British got it wrong.