Sunday, November 27, 2016

Connecting Heavenly Tibet

The Tibetan plateau is witnessing a great deal of infrastructure development. This is not new, but the Chinese investments have taken much larger proportions in the recent weeks.
According to the website, the Government of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) has vowed to invest 543.1 billion yuan (88 billion US dollar) “to improve transportation conditions and promote the economic and social development during the 13th five-year period (2016-2020).”
What does it means?
Undoubtedly, it will bring tens of millions Chinese tourists on the plateau.
One hundred million soon?

The 12th Five-Year Plan
During the previous five-year period (2011-2015), 300 kilometers of high-level roads were built in the TAR while the Lhasa-Shigatse Railway started its operations in 2014; further 63 new airlines have been opened, linking 40 cities in China.
By the end of the current Plan (13th), the total mileage of highways in Tibet will reach 110,000 kilometers.

New Developments
On November 25, China Daily announced that “more than 20 new highways will be built in the TAR next year, with a total investment of more than 33 billion yuan (5 billion US dollar)”.
According to Ge Yutao, head of the TAR’s regional transportation authority, the new routes will include Lhasa to Nagchu; Derge to Chamdo; Chamdo to Jaka; Lhasa to Shigatse Airport; and Gongkar Airport to Tsethang, as well as the Nyima-Aso section of National Highway 317.
Ge added that 54 billion yuan (8.8 billon US dollar) from the TAR’s coffers will be spent on Tibet's transport infrastructure during the current year: “The total length of roads has reached 82,000 kilometers, and it's expected to reach 89,000 km next year. Next year, we will finish constructing 864 km of highways and 5,500 km of rural roads, and reconstruct 4,310 km of national and provincial trunk highways."
Ge spoke during the recent TAR Congress in Lhasa.
The TAR plans to spend 15 billion yuan (2.4 billion US dollar) from the State resources and 40 billion yuan (6.5 billion US dollar) from bank loans to further improve Tibet's transportation network next year.
It is not said who is guarantying the loans. Probably the Central Government as these investments will also be useful to ‘defend the borders’.
On November 15, while presenting the TAR’s ‘Work Report’ to the regional Congress, Wu Yingjie, the new TAR Party boss mentioned the improvements in road, rail and aviation networks planned for the next five years.

The second ‘Sky Road’
During the current Five-Year Plan, Tibet will particularly speed up the construction of its second ‘Sky Road’, the Sichuan-Tibet Railway.
The 1,838 km railway will run from Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province to Lhasa. The first ‘Sky Road’ on the plateau was the Qinghai-Tibet Railway opened in July 2006, linking Golmund to Lhasa.
‘While the first section of the second ‘Sky Road, between Chengdu and Ya'an, began in 2014, the second part, from Lhasa to Nyingchi, started in 2014. 
Wu affirmed that “The section inside Tibet is expected to be finished by 2020.”
He told the delegates to the Congress that the preliminary work on the Yunnan-Tibet Railway and flights between Ngari and Purang, in Ngari prefecture, will start in the next five years.
Incidentally, Purang is located near Mt Kailash, just north of Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand.
Wu added that “Tibet has plans to build airports in densely populated and developed cities and prefectures. The progress of an elaborate transportation system of highways, railways and air routes in the coming years will lay a foundation for Tibet to blend in with the Belt and Road Initiative. [One Road One Belt scheme]"
According to the TAR’s Work Report: “Tibet has witnessed rapid development in transportation construction in the past five years, with the total length of the highways increasing by 33 percent. In that time, the 300-km Lhasa-Nyingchi Highway was completed, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway was expanded and the Lhasa-Shigatse Railway went fully operational.”
All this has brought millions of tourists from the Mainland to the plateau, with the consequences often mentioned on this blog.
Xu Ance, an engineer with Qinghai-Tibet Railway Co, told The China Daily: “Over the past 10 years, the number of tourists visiting Tibet has increased every year, while our passenger and cargo flow has grown annually, too,"
The railway line is being used for transporting basic goods, coal, cement and construction materials …and troops and military equipment.

The world’s highest tunnel
The Chinese press reported that China completed the work on the world's highest road tunnel, costing about US dollars 170 million on the Sichuan-Tibet highway.
The seven-km long tunnel, situated 6,168 metre above sea level (the tunnel or the mountain?), passes through the main peak of Chola Mountain. It shortens the time from Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, to Nagchu in Tibet by two hours, and avoiding the most dangerous section on the highway.
The four-way lanes tunnel has been under construction since 2012. It will open to traffic next year.
The seven-km long tunnel has been built at a cost of 1.15 billion yuan (US dollar 170 million). It takes only takes 10 minutes to drive through. The highway will accommodate 4,000 to 5,000 vehicles a day, as compared with around 1,500 now.

Feasibility of Kangding to Nyingchi railway
According to China Tibet Online, the pre-feasibility study report of the Kangding to Nyingchi segment of the Sichuan-Tibet railway was ready by the end of October this year.
The China Railway Eryuan Engineering Co. Ltd asserted that it is the longest and toughest segment of the Sichuan-Tibet railway line. National Development and Reform Commission is planning to start the construction of this section in 2017. The expected construction time should be seven or eight years
The Sichuan-Tibet railway starting from Chengdu will serve Ya'an, Kangding, Chamdo, Nyingchi, Lhoka and Lhasa. The total length of the operation route will be 1,838 kilometers, out of which 1,738 kilometers of new track will be built. The total investment will reach be 216.6 billion yuan (35 billon US dollars). 
It should shorten the traveling time from 43 hours and 7 minutes now to 13 hours while providing for ‘bidirectional rapid trains’ and inject “double momentum for Tibet's economic development. Over five million people will benefit from this railway project,” according to one report.

Preliminary work of Yunnan-Tibet

The new Yunnan-Tibet Railway to Shangri-La and Dechen County of Yunnan province crossing to the TAR’s Markam and Zogang counties will connect with the Sichuan-Tibet Railway in Bamda Town. The line will be 415 kilometers long; 265-kilometer being in TAR. The total investment has been evaluated to 43.6 billion yuan (7 billion US dollar); the Tibet section alone will cost about 27.8 billion yuan (5 billion US dollar). The preliminary work for the alignment of the line has started. The main work will begin during the 14th Five-Year Plan period.
China Tibet Online says that the railway in Tibet “is gradually approaching perfection with the operation of Qinghai-Tibet Railway and Lhasa-Shigatse Railway as well as the construction of Lhasa-Nyingchi Railway. Since the Qinghai-Tibet Railway is put into operation, [in 2006] Tibet's freight transportation has increased rapidly and it has become the main freight channel."
And let us not forget, it also takes care of the PLA’s requirements.
The Chinese site added: “The construction of Yunnan-Tibet Railway will bring more convenient transportation conditions for the passenger and cargo circulation between TAR and Yunnan Province;” it concludes: “The Yunnan-Tibet Railway is a critical part of China Western Development, which is meaningful for the leapfrog development and long-term peace and order of Tibet.”
In other words it will be useful to control the restive Tibetans.

On October 31, Kangba TV announced, the opening ceremony of Baima (Pema?) Snow Mountain tunnel on the G214 national highway from Shangri-la to Dechen in Yunnan province.
Kangba TV said that the Shangri-la-Dechen secondary highway is extremely difficult to build “with the high altitude, the worst environment and the most complicated geological landscape in Yunnan Province.”
The project consists of three tunnels, all above 4,000m altitude. The length of the three tunnels totals 19,5 kms. The project started its construction in March 10, 2010 (incidentally, the Tibetan Uprising Day).
The Baima (Pema?) Snow Mountain tunnel should boost the local economy and help the transportation network in Dechen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.
In Amdo/Qinghai
In the north, in the Amdo province of Tibet, the construction of the Delingha-Xiangride Highway has been completed; the road is 176.48 km long. The 72.75 km-long Ebao-Qilian Highway is also in operation.
The Delingha-Xiangride Highway is a special one.
Historically, Delingha has been the launching sites for many Chinese ballistic missiles. Located in the Haixi Mongol and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province, the project’s ending point will be connected with the planned Beijing-Tibet Highway (G6), and to the beginning of the Xiangride-Huashixia Highway.
It has a complex geographical environment, crossing the Gobi Desert, salt-marsh, and water meadows.
According to the Chinese media: “It will create a combined transportation network featuring the Beijing-Tibet Highway (G6), National Road 214, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, and the Qinghai-Xinjiang Railway.”
This expansion is part of the national highway project linking Delingha to Maerkang in Sichuan (G0615). The entire highway will be built to the latest standards and will be designed for vehicles to run at a speed at 100 km/hr.
In the Qilian County, the Ebao-Qilian Highway starts from Ebao Town. It connects to National Highway 227 as well as the Zhangye-Henan Highway, ending up in Qilian County. The road further connects to Provincial Road 204 and the planned Qilian-Chamdo Highway.

Other developments
China Tibet News reported that at the beginning of 2016, all cities in China's have access to the fiber-optic broadband. During the current Five-Year period, China Telecom will promote the development of basic information resources, making the fiber-optic broadband faster: “Internet will integrate with more traditional industries, accelerating the construction of broadband Tibet, intelligent city, intelligent industry and intelligent family. It also makes the poverty alleviation work more efficient.”
The website says that there are 82 mobile phones and 11 fixed phones for every 100 people in China's Tibet. The Internet penetration rate reaches 60 percent: “Internet not only improves Tibetan people's livelihood but also shortens the distance between Tibet and the outside world. As Internet integrates with traditional industries such as tourism and agriculture, work efficiency gets great improvement.”
It cites the Qionglin Village in Nanyi Township of Menling County, Nyingchi (north of Aurunachal Pradesh). It has been provide fiber-optic broadband connection by China Mobile. Out of 47 households in the village, 40 have access to broadband and Wifi access is available in the village.
The same website says that “during  the 12th Five-Year Plan period, China's Tibet built 3,000 rural comprehensive information service stations, covering 57 percent of administrative villages and 62 percent of farmers and herdsmen.”
Tibet branch of China Mobile has invested 14.29 billion yuan (about 2.14 billion U.S. dollar) and built 12,600 base stations: “long distance optical cable reached 51,900 sheet km. In Tibet, there are already 4,440 administrative villages that have access to mobile Internet, with the coverage rate of 84 percent. 693 towns and more than 4,000 administrative villages are connected to optical fiber cable, lying a solid foundation for the proliferation of optical fiber cable in all farming and pastoral areas.”
It speaks of ‘Heavenly Tibet’: “an intelligent tourist product, providing tourists with one-stop information service encompassing eating, accommodation, traffic, traveling, shopping and entertainment. It is the same as the newfangled online tourism service.”
The Nyingchi Prefecture has invested 1.33 million yuan (about 199,445 U.S. dollars), to develop the ‘transparent kitchen’ which is a food safety monitoring project integrated with the Internet: “Currently, 25 school cafeterias and hotels have been monitored by this system. Besides, more than 400 restaurants will be put into this item.”
The Disneyland of Snows will become a cool connected place, but it may lose its soul in the process.
Lamas in their mountain caves were also ‘connected’, but in a different way.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Chinese tourists arrive on the Indian border

Le (or Legbo) village north of the McMahon Line
While Delhi remains stuck with its ‘colonial’ system of Inner Line/Protected Area Permit system, China has opened its side of the frontier to hordes of tourists coming to the Mainland.
Yesterday, China Tibet News reported that “Legbo Valley creates ‘natural oxygen bar’ tourism brand.”
The catchy title is not very clear, but the location of the ‘Legbo Valley’ is speaking. ‘Legbo’ or ‘Le’ (or Lepo’) village is located just a few kilometers north of the McMahon Line (LAC) in Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh.
One still remember the Thagla ridge, the site of the Namkha chu battle during the 1962 conflict with China.
Le village is situated on the Tibetan side of the ridge, not far from Khinzemane, the last Indian post on the Namjiang chu (river).
Today, Le village comes under the administration of Tsona County/Dzong of Lhoka City, Southern Tibet.
China Tibet News says that the area is not only renowned “as natural oxygen bar; but it is also the settlement of Monpa people with simple and unique ethnic customs.”
‘Natural oxygen bar’ is just a gimmick to attract tourism, as the altitude is not so high (Zemithang, the last big village on the Indian side is at 2,100 meter asl) and the area is afforested, with plenty of oxygen.
The Chinese site says: “To create the tourism brand of ‘natural oxygen bar’, by centering [sic] on the Legbo [Le] Valley scenic spot, Cona [Tsona] County strengthens the construction of tourism infrastructures, improves tourism services, explores unique folk customs, develops characteristic local products, and builds tourism leisure resort destination.”
All this on the Chinese side of the LAC!
China Tibet News gives figures: up the beginning of 2016 up to November “the number of tourist reception in Legbo Valley is 46,242 passengers and tourism revenue is 15.929 million yuan, increasing 20.4% and 18.5 respectively.”
It is not clear what a ‘passenger’ is, but it seems a lot of visitors for such a small border village.
Beijing is said to be ready to invest some 89 million yuan (14.5 million US dollars) to have “an ecological civilization site”.
Ecological site or military base?
Probably both!
Like most of the places in Southern Tibet (particularly in the Nyingchi prefecture) local farmers (and even herdsmen) are encouraged to open up ‘Inns’ (family hotels). The Chinese site speaks of promoting “a combination of characteristic culture and tourism.”
The nearby town of Tsona is ‘the site of commodity’ [sic] and is where the Tsangyang Gyatso Festival [takes place].
Let us remember that Tsangyang Gyatso, the Sixth Dalai Lama was born in Urgyeling, a hamlet south of Tawang. Tsona is not the birthplace of the ‘Indian’ Dalai Lama, though he stayed there for a short time while on his way to Lhasa; strangely the town is today promoted as Tsangyang Gyatso's place.
China Tibet News reports that during a first phase of investment (77 million yuan or 6 million dollars poured into the area), a ‘characteristic’ small town project is being launched in Le village: “The overall planning project of Kyipa and Gomri Monpa nationality township has been completed. At present, the Legbo Valley tourism leisure resort has been basically formed, attracting tourists with unique charm.”
All this would be fine, it was not happening a few kilometers away from the LAC.
Beijing has used a similar tactic in Metok County, located near the Indian border (Upper Siang). This small country, with a population of hardly 11,000 inhabitants received over 70,000 visitors in 2015.
China Tibet Online, an affiliate of Xinhua reported last year that since a highway reached the village of Metok in 2013, “tourism industry has seen rapid development”. In 2015, Metok officially welcomed some 70,800 tourists. For the first time in 2014, the authorities of the county started selling tickets for entrance to its scenic areas; in 2015, total ticket sales have exceeded 5 million yuan.
The propaganda invites the Chinese tourists to see the Galongla Waterfall, the wonder of Swallow Pond, the Metok Waterfalls, the Menba suspended tower and other scenic sites, “as well as ‘plant fossil’ spinulosa trees and other such thousands of kinds of plants and animals.”
The potential tourists in China are told that Metok “is famous for its natural ecology and highland tropical climate. The drop in elevation here is huge, with both brilliant snow mountains and tropical and subtropical plants existing side-by-side, and it is knows as a hiker’s paradise.”
I wonder how many Indian tourists are allowed to Zemithang or Tuting/Geling (Metok is located just north of these villages on the Yarlung Tsangpo river — the river becomes the Siang in Arunachal and later the Brahmaputra in Assam).
Incidentally, was the visit of the Party boss of the Tibet Autonomous Region, near the LAC north of the Upper Subansiri district, linked with a similar scheme to 'occupy the frontiers with tourists' north of the Upper Subansiri district?

India to emulate China
Delhi should perhaps emulate China and open the Indian borders to tourism.
Would it not be the best way for the Government of India to demonstrate that Arunachal is part of India?
For Beijing, the trend is bound to continue; the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been told that all new infrastructures built in China should be able to be used for civilian and military requirements.
According to Xinhua, on November 10, President Xi Jinping called for the building of strong and modern logistics forces that will guarantee the realization of the Chinese dream as well as the dream of a strong army.
Xi said: “As the international military competition situation experiences profound changes, and national interests and military missions develop, logistical construction is becoming an increasingly crucial factor that affects wins or losses in battle... and occupies a key place in the development of the Party, the country and the military."
Xi added that “more efforts should be made to use state-level resources and enlist the help of local governments as well as social groups and individuals to develop a series of innovation projects that cater to both military and civilian uses.”
As the result in 2016, 50,000 ‘passengers’ will come a few kilometers from the Indian border.
India should start thinking about the implications of this development.
Incidentally, Lt Gen Devraj Anbu, the GOC of 4 Corps called yesterday on Arunachal Chief Minister Pema Khandu. According to press reports, the discussion centered on construction of roads in the border areas and land acquisition for army use; Gen Anbu also suggested having an Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) in the Tawang-Kameng area.
How many years it will take, nobody knows; India is not China.

For information, I am reproducing an extract of the Diary of Capt Frederick Bailey during his journey in the area in 1913. Based on this report, McMahon drew the famous Line.
20th October, Shakti, 11 ½ miles, 7,250 feet. We had a good view down the valley of the Tawang Chu this morning and were shown the frontiers of Bhutan. Our road left the Tawang valley and went up the Nyamjang valley. We had to change our coolies at several villages and were delayed each time. We passed some terraced rice cultivation at Gyipu. The hills were covered in forest. We stopped in a house in the village of Shakti. No rain.

21st October, Le, 19 miles, 8,350 feet. We made a very late start as were again had trouble with our local coolies. Two miles from Shakti we crossed to the right bank of the river and six miles further we came to a large [Gorsam] chorten of a peculiar design having a base of over 50 yards. A mile beyond this was Pangchen on the left bank above which the river has been dammed up by a landship and there are marshy flats [near Zemithang]; at other places the river flows in a very valley with steep sides covered with forest. At Shoktsen where we changed transport we again had trouble with the coolies who threw our loads down and bolted into the jungle. The road is in places over galleries and causeways built up in from the river. We crossed the river 3 tames by good wooden bridges. We arrived after dark, the villagers of Le coming out to meet us with torches of dried bamboo. We stopped in a house. No rain.

[And then Bailey and his colleague Henry Morshead continued towards Tsona]

22nd October, Trimo, 10miles, 10,700 feet.-We went up the valley all day crossing the river 3 times. After going 5 ½ miles we suddenly came on Lepo Tsukang or custom house astride the road where we found an agent of the Tsona Dzongpons who took us in and gave us tea. He collects a tax in kind of 10 per cent on all merchandise which goes up into Tibet from the lower lying Monba country. He also collects 1 tanka on each animal and ½ tanka on each man who passes his post. At Trimo we found the people, though still Monbas, to be very Tibetan in their appearance; they grow crops of barley and turnips but maize and other Himalayan crops have been left behind. Their cattle are dzos. No rain.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

One more airport on the plateau

Karze (or Garzi or Kardze) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture is situated in Western Sichuan, in the historical Kham province of Tibet.
Today, the so-called autonomous prefecture covers an area of 151,078 square kilometres with a population of approximately 880,000 (according to Chinese census). The Tibetans are said to represent some 78% of the total population. The capital city of prefecture is Kangding (traditionally known as Dartsedo or Tachienlu).
In the fall of 1950, the People's Liberation Army took over area. It was one of the bases chosen by Mao for the Battle of Chamdo (October 1950).
It has always been one of the most restive areas of the plateau inhabited by the Khampa tribes; Karze still has large monasteries such as Dzogchen, Dzongsar, Palpung, Sershul and more recently the Larung Gar Buddhist Institute, which has recently been in the news.
For Beijing, the best way to pacify the area is probably to bring millions of tourists.
The ‘restive’ Khampas will be then be used as tourist guides.
The immediate solution is to make Karze accessible by air.

Karze (Garzi) Gesar Airport
The new Karze (Garzi) Gesar Airport is located at the border of Laima Township of Karze County and Cuo’a Township of Derge County.
The Airport is built at 4,068m above the sea level, 52km away from the closest city in Karze County and 150km away from Derge County’s capital.
The new airport got the approval from the National Development and Reform Commission in October 2015. The projected cost is 2.26 billion yuan (US dollars 414.7 million).
The 4,000-meter-long and 45m wide runway (class 4C) is designed to handle 220,000 passengers and 660 tons of freight every year. Boeing 737 and Airbus A319 aircrafts will be able to land on the runway.
A 3,600 square meters terminal will serve the passenger.
It will be the third airport in Karze Prefecture, after Kangding Airport and Daocheng Yading Airport.
The construction has started on April 15, 2016.
First trials were scheduled for 2017, but on November 15, Kangba TV reported that sources closed to the contractor, the Kangding Airport Group Co Ltd affirmed the Karze Gesar Airport’s trial section had been completed end of October (probably ahead of schedule).

The J-20 case
Incidentally, on September 5, a photo showing China's stealth fighter J-20 was spotted on the Internet at the Daocheng Yading Airport. China Military Online commented that it “triggered the sensitive nerve of Indian media, who claimed that the ‘deployment of J-20 in Tibet’ is a counter measure against India's plan to deploy the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile along the China-India border. “
The same website explained that according to ‘Chinese experts’: “the time when the picture was taken is not clear, and even if the J-20 is put into service, it is not likely to be deployed first on the China-India border. Moreover, even if J-20 really appeared in the Daocheng Yading Airport, it may turn out to be a high altitude performance test.”
Well, either it was a J-20 or a dummy, the Chinese authorities should know.
NDTV had reported on September 2: “The image of the stealth fighter appeared on Twitter and on two defense websites, days after China warned India against deploying the supersonic BrahMos missile along the Himalayas."
The Indian media had further commented: "J-20 is a twin engine fighter with stealth features which enable it to sometimes go undetected by radar, an enormous advantage in air combat over conventional fighter jets which can be tracked on radar. The supersonic J-20 is thought to have gone into low-rate production this January.”
China Military Online remarked: “Indian media is deeply worried about the appearance of J-20 in Tibet.”
The image of the J-20 showed the fighter covered in tarpaulin. The Daocheng Yading Airport is located at an altitude of 14,000 feet, far higher than the new Karze airport; in fact, the Daocheng Yading is the world's highest civilian airport.
And of course, there no such things as ‘civilian’ airport in China.
Whatever is the truth about the J-20 in Daochen Yading Airport, the new Karze Gesar airport will be of much easier access, being at 'only' at 12,000 above sea level.
The new airport will be used of course for ‘civilian’ requirements, but also to tackle internal disturbances …and in case of a conflict with India (Arunachal is not far).

Saturday, November 19, 2016

'Hot' visit in Ulaanbaatar

'Hot' visit in Ulaanbaatar
China is again upset.
Simply because the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan religious leader, has been invited for a four-day visit to Mongolia.
According to China Radio International (CRI), Beijing has strongly urged Mongolia “to stick to its commitment to Tibet-related issues for maintaining the sound development of bilateral ties.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang too sees red: “the Dalai Lama is a political refugee who has long been engaged in activities to split China and alienate Tibet from China in the name of religion.”
Geng added:
China resolutely opposes the Dalai Lama visiting any country to carry out anti-China separatist activities in any name or in any capacity. We also stand firmly against all forms of contacts between officials from any country and the Dalai Lama. We strongly demand that Mongolia, for the purpose of maintaining the general picture of a sound and steady development of bilateral ties, earnestly stick to its commitment on Tibet-related issues, do not allow the visit by the Dalai Lama and do not provide any form of support and convenience to the group of the Dalai Lama.
It usually works: it is enough to persuade leaders of Buddhist countries to desist inviting Tibet’s popular religious leader.
No visit takes place.
Not this time.
Associated Press quoted Davaapurev, a monk from the Gandan monastery in Ulaanbaatar, saying that Dalai Lama was on a four-day visit “with purely religious purposes.”
According to Davaapurev, one of the organizers of the visit, the Tibetan monk is to receive an honorary degree, take part in different religious functions and meet with academics and representatives of the nation’s youth: “the visit is separate from politics and for religious purposes only,” the organizer explained.
The Chinese do not believe this.
For Radio Free Asia (RFA), in the past Beijing “used the Mongolian economy’s heavy dependence on trade with China as leverage, cutting off rail links and disrupting air travel during a visit by the Dalai Lama in 2006.”
The Dalai Lama has visited Mongolia several times; his first journey to Ulaanbaatar was in 1979.
But the Chinese lobby in Mongolia has been active. It used the abbot of the rival Ikh Khuree monastery, Sanjdorj Zandan, to point out at the visit was an interference in Mongolia’s internal affairs. Zandan said that the Dalai Lama planned to name the new head of Mongolian Buddhism (Davaapurev denied that such appointment would take place).
RFA reported that when the Dalai Lama arrived in Mongolia on November 18, he was welcomed at the airport by government representatives, senior monks of Mongolian monasteries …and the Indian ambassador.
For India, the Dalai Lama is not only a respected guest of the country but a venerated religious teacher.
Today (November 19), he will bless the Gaden Thekchen Choeling, Mongolia’s largest monastery and speak to the abbots and other Mongolian senior religious teachers.
He will then visit the monastery of the Kalkha Jetsun Dampa, the ninth head of Mongolia’s Buddhists (the Mongolian ‘Dalai Lama’).
In countries where religious and politics are so closely intermingled, it is bound to infuriate China’s further.

Mongolia's courage
Mongolian leaders have been quite courageous to dare facing Beijing’s ire. The country’s President, Prime Minister, and Speaker of Parliament admitted that they supported Gaden monastery’s invitation, though no meetings with government officials would take place.
RFA says: “Beijing often berates foreign leaders who host the Buddhist leader, last month telling Slovakian President Andrej Kiska that his lunch meeting with the Dalai Lama had “broken the political basis of China-Slovak relations.”
It is interesting to see that the Indian Ambassador had the clearance from South Block to go at the airport.
While China promotes religious tourism on the Tibetan plateau in a big way, it is surprising that Beijing is more and more inflexible on the Dalai Lama issue, though the Tibetan leader is probably the only person who could help the Communist Party to sort out the Tibetan issue.
Let us hope that the example of Mongolia will be an example for other Asian Buddhist countries such Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Thailand or Burma.
Bullies should not dictate their rule forever.

Post scriptum
On November 20, two days after the arrival of the Dalai Lama in Ulaanbaatar,
China urged Mongolia “to eliminate the negative impacts of the Dalai Lama's visit and refrain from disturbing the healthy development of China-Mongolia ties.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang admitted that “regardless of China's repeated dissuasions, the Mongolian side insisted inviting the Dalai Lama for visit.”
Geng added: “China is firmly opposed to the anti-China secessionist activities by the Dalai Lama in any capacity and under any name, as well as any contacts between the Dalai Lama and the authorities of any countries.”
Though the Dalai Lama is already preaching (under the snow) in Mongolia, Beijing continues to ask Ulaanbaatar “to recognize the separatist nature of the Dalai Lama clique, show respect to China's core interests and major concern, and take effective measures to remove the negative impacts of the Dalai Lama's visit, so as to avoid disturbing the sound development of China-Mongolia relations.”
It is doubtful if Mongolia will be convinced now.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Warrior, Governor

Nine years ago, I published an interview in two parts of Lt Gen S.K. Sinha. He was then the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir.
General Sinha passed away yesterday at the age of 90.
As a homage to the great soldier and statesman, I repost his interview.'s Interview

Warrior, Governor
January 16, 2007
Lieutenant General Srinivas Kumar Sinha (retired), PVSM, is the governor of Jammu and Kashmir.
Described as one of India's most outstanding post-independence generals, his distinguished military career includes combat service in Burma and Indonesia during World War II. In 1946, when he was a captain, he worked for a year with Major Yahya Khan, who went on to become a general and then the military ruler of Pakistan.
After Independence, he was a major at Army Headquarters in Delhi during the 1947-1948 war in Kashmir, and was later named secretary of the Indian delegation on delineation of the cease fire line in Kashmir at a meeting convened by the United Nations in 1949 in Karachi. He sought premature retirement in 1983, and has since served as India's ambassador to Nepal, and governor of Assam, among other positions.
In an exclusive interview with Claude Arpi at the Raj Bhavan in Jammu, General Sinha, 80, describes how India responded during to the first India-Pakistan war over Kashmir in 1949, how the two nations have fared since, and expands on his special version of Kashmiriyat.

Your Excellency, you can oversee the Kashmir issue from a very unique position. You actively participated in the 1947-1948 operations; in 1949, you were the secretary to the cease fire negotiating team in Karachi; since 2003, you are the governor of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. I would like to begin with some questions about the first operations in Kashmir.
Let me first tell you that there is a lot misconception or misinterpretations about Kashmir. There is propaganda started by Pakistan and lapped by the West, especially during the Cold War. They say it was premeditated aggression by India and an illegal act because India had sent her troops into Kashmir even before the maharaja had acceded (to India).

Click here to read the interview...

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Beijing cannot ignore Indian concerns now

My article Beijing cannot ignore Indian concerns now appeared in in the Edit Page of The Pioneer.

Here is the link...

In the brouhaha created by Trump’s victory and Modi’s coup against black money, what the media missed was Xi Jinping’s Special Envoy Meng’s visit to India, wherein New Delhi conveyed an important message to Beijing

In the brouhaha created by the election of Donald Trump as President of the US and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s grand master coup against black money, an event of great international importance was missed by the Indian Press. Meng Jianzhu, Secretary of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China (CPC) visited Delhi and met Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
Meng is not an ordinary official; he is a member of the CPC’s all-powerful Politburo. He replaced the disgraced Zhou Yongkang, the biggest tiger to fall in President Xi Jinping’s net in the latter’s fight against corruption and as such responsible for the ‘security’ and intelligence in the Middle Kingdom.
What was Meng here for? Probably two things: Beijing was nervous about Modi’s visit to Japan (two days later), and the China Pakistan Economic Corridor  (CPEC) is not progressing as smoothly as envisaged (though a first Trade Convoy reached the port of Gwadar on November 12). India had a message to convey too: The nation is tired of ‘Made in Pakistan’ terrorism. In these circumstances, can India and China find an understanding?
After Modi’s meeting with Meng, a Press release from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO)  asserted: “The Prime Minister welcomed the intensive exchange of high-level visits between India and China over the last two years.” Nothing new or special in this!
Though Modi ‘fondly’ recalled his visit to China in May 2015, as well as his trip to Hangzhou in September 2016, to attend the G-20 summit, the PMO communiqué remained vague: “The two leaders discussed issues of mutual interest, including bilateral counter-terrorism cooperation.” The Prime Minister pointed out that “terrorism poses the gravest threat to international peace and security, and welcomed increased cooperation between India and China on counter-terrorism related matters.”
Before Meng Jianzhu’s arrival, the Indian establishment was caught in ‘a piquant protocol situation’: strictly speaking, Meng has no ‘counterpart’ in the Indian Government. Meng is said to be far senior to the Chinese Home Minister and in a way to India’s National Security Advisor. The Government finally opted for a meeting with Singh, the number two in the Indian Cabinet.
During his encounter with Meng, Singh appealed to Beijing “to support the international community’s efforts to designate Masood Azhar, the leader of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), as a terrorist under the UN Resolution 1267.”
Singh reminded his interlocutor that Pakistan was patronising and financing terrorist groups, including Masood Azhar, Lashkar-e-Tayeeba and Hizbul Mujahideen. Their leaders still roam around freely in Pakistan; Meng was probably shown proofs.
Singh also argued that there is no good or bad terrorist: Terrorism can’t be one country’s problem alone, it is a threat to global peace and security. It had to be dealt globally…by China too!
The Home Minister mentioned the case of the ULFA leader Paresh Barua as well as the arrest of a Pakistani national in Guangzhou with fake Indian currency; Meng was asked to “clamp down on Pakistan’s nefarious designs to smuggle fake Indian currency into India through China.”
The Minister suggested that India and China should soon conclude negotiations on a bilateral Agreement on Security Cooperation; it would include tackling transnational and cyber crimes. Meng’s reactions are not known, though he is sure to have complained about the Dalai Lama’s forthcoming visit to Tawang and the ‘splittist’ activities of the Tibetan refugees in India.
We don’t know if the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, passing through Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) and if the recent developments on the border in Ladakh were discussed. Incidentally, a couple of days before Meng’s arrival, the Indian Army and the ITBP showed for the first time a great firmness when some PLA troops tried to stop an irrigation project in Demchok, a border village on the Indus river.
Meng who was announced as Xi’s Special Envoy, had not come to Delhi just to hear a lecture from the Home Minister or the Prime Minister. Especially as the meetings took place just before Modi left for Japan for a crucial visit (to sign a civil nuclear deal), Meng is bound to have aired Beijing’s concerns.
Can India and China collaborate in the field of counter-terrorism? At the end of September, a ‘dialogue’ had already started in Beijing where a meeting, jointly chaired by Wang Yongqing, the Secretary General of the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs and RN Ravi, chairman of India’s Joint Intelligence Committee, took place. At that time, India and China agreed to work together ‘on counter-terrorism and security’.
The Global Times reported: “The two sides …reached consensus on measures to strengthen cooperation and to jointly deal with security threats.”
In Beijing, Ravi also met Meng Jianzhu who told him that “terrorism is a common enemy of the global community.” Meng asserted that “strengthened counter-terrorism cooperation between China and India is conducive to the interests of the people of both countries.”
According to The Global Times, Meng voiced the hope that the two sides could start some counter-terrorism collaboration in order to protect regional security. Where is Pakistan in this new ‘dialogue’?
Was it a coincidence, but as Meng arrived in Delhi, India and China were holding their 8th meeting of China-India Defence and Security Consultation. China was represented by a PLA rising star, Sun Jianguo, Deputy Chief of the Joint Staff Department (and informal head of China’s intelligence and military diplomacy).
Sun made the routine declaration “both countries have maintained frequent exchanges of visits and reached consensus on the development of bilateral ties in recent years.” He added: “The Chinese military is willing to join hands with India Army to maintain the exchanges on border defence, improve the mechanism of communication and strengthen border management and control so as to safeguard peace and stability in their border areas.”
Kumar was not very explicit too, “exchanges of visits and interactions between Chinese and Indian leaders have promoted the India-China strategic partnership of cooperation, which has also contributed to the common prosperity of the two countries as well as the world peace and development.”
Though little transpired during these two important visits (especially Meng’s), the future of the CPEC and its all-weather friend must have received a lot of attention. For mega projects such as the CPEC, China certainly can’t ignore India which has its own stakes in PoK. India’s closer relations with Japan and the new US President are bound to have come up too during the talks.
Asia seems in a flux, with new realignments in the offing; this makes China nervous. The time has come for Beijing to take into account Delhi’s security concerns.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

It pays to be tough with China

Tibet across the nalla (view from the Indian side)
My article It pays to be tough with China appeared in The Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle.

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The change in Chinese maps began with the objective to protect a new road linking Tibet to Xinjiang in Aksai Chin area in the mid-1950s.

Interesting news has been coming in from the high plateau of Ladakh. For three days, the Indian Army and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police had an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with the People’s Liberation Army on the Line of Actual Control in the border village of Demchok. While this village of Nyoma block in Leh district is small (with 74 inhabitants, the last census said), its location on the Indus river is strategic. It’s been a part of Ladakh and thus Indian territory for centuries. In fact, no Chinese was ever seen in this rather desolate area before the 1950s. Today, however, Beijing claims Demchok as Chinese. It’s not that China is Alzheimerish; it’s simply convenient to rewrite history for its strategic purpose. Before India’s independence nobody ever contested the fact that Demchok was the last village on the road to western Tibet on the Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage. It was agreed to by all.
Take Rai Bahadur Dr Kanshi Ram, the British trade agent in western Tibet. Starting from Simla on May 20, 1937, he reached Srinagar seven days later; and from there was joined by Wazir Wazarat, commissioner of Ladakh, on his onward journey to the Tibetan border. Both officers were to meet the garpon (governor) of western Tibet for a tripartite inquiry into an alleged murder, in Ladakh a few years earlier, of a Tibetan, Champa Skaldan, by Zaildar, a Ladakhi of Rupchu. After a week’s halt in Leh, they reached Demchok on July 17, 1939, where they were to meet the senior and junior garpons; and the inquiry started three days later. Dr Kanshi Ram, in his report to Simla, notes: “On the night of July 21 the stream by the side of which we were camping suddenly rose to higher level and began to flow over our camping ground at midnight. We were abed as alarm was raised and we then got up and took our luggage and other belongings to a place of safety, and had to keep awake throughout the night. The rain, which began to pour down since morning, was still continuing. The next morning we crossed the stream and camped on the Tibetan border at a place of safety ... This stream forms a natural boundary between Tibet and Kashmir at Demchok.”
This is interesting because it shows that just before Independence the Indo-Tibet border in Ladakh was well defined and agreed upon by the government of British India (represented by the trade agent), the state of J&K (wazir) and the Tibetan government (garpons). Unfortunately, the Chinese “claims” have resulted in what is prosaically called today “differences of perception” on the Line of Actual Control. Why did China start claiming the area? The change in Chinese maps, particularly in the Demchok sector, began with the objective to protect a new road linking Tibet to Xinjiang in Aksai Chin area in the mid-1950s (the famous Aksai Chin road). Though the issue would only become public through a debate in the Lok Sabha in August 1959, in early 1950s New Delhi was already aware that China was building a road, but South Block was not ready to acknowledge it. Changing the map of the frontier was the best way for China to create a strategic buffer for the new road. But let us come back to the present stalemate.
In April, the residents of Demchok had appealed to the deputy commissioner in Leh for their resettlement elsewhere in the district; the reason was the continuous obstructions to development work in the area by Chinese troops. Quoting Army sources,, a Ladakhi website, said last week that on November 2: “Nearly two platoons of the PLA came close to Indian territories in Demchok village and objected to laying of a water pipe for use in irrigation and drinking purpose, a project carried out by the state rural development department in the area.” The same source explained that the PLA personnel “appeared on the scene and raised objections to ongoing civilian construction work and stayed there for whole day and returned in late evening. Surprisingly, they appeared once again next day morning.”
The PLA asked local people to immediately stop their work; the Chinese quoted the agreement between India and China, which says either side needs prior permission before undertaking any construction work. This argument did not fool the Indian Army, who pointed out to the Chinese that the Indo-Sino border agreement specifically says information about the construction needs to be shared only in case the development was for defence purposes, not otherwise, certainly not for civilian work. While both sides continue to deny any incursions or transgressions, the Indian side clarified that issues, if any, would be resolved at a local level with Chinese officials at the border meeting point (Chushul in this case).
Finally, on the third day, local engineers could finish laying a water pipeline for irrigation of the remote Indian village. The pipeline is nearly a kilometre long. The stalemate ended on November 5 in the evening. The scene witnessed the holding of “vritual” banners by the PLA: “It is my territory, go back”; but the Army and ITBP personnel did not allow the PLA guards to erect a hut and the Chinese ultimately had to take the material back to their base camp in Tibet. In the end, the work was done: India didn’t back out while confronting the PLA troops in Demchok. Almost a few thousand kilometres away, also near the LAC, India took another great step to defend its borders. For the first time, the Indian Air Force successfully carried out a test landing and takeoff of the C-17 Globemaster-III at Mechuka’s Advanced Landing Ground.
After the upgradation of Mechuka’s ALG, the giant Boeing C-17 could land. It should eventually ensure the transport of men and material to the remote border village of west Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh, which was invaded by the Chinese in 1962. Let us not forget that Dibrugarh, the nearest air/rail head, is located some 500 km away (practically a drive of two days). A few days later, the eighth meeting of the China-India Defence and Security Consultation was held in New Delhi and Xinhua reported all was well at the border between India and China. Around the same time, Meng Jianzhu, China’s security tsar and member of the all-powerful politburo, discreetly visited New Delhi and met Prime Minister Narendra Modi (and home minister Rajnath Singh); apparently not about any border issues, but for a serious discussion on “global” terrorism. It always pays to take a tough position with China.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

How Bhutan has kept its identity

Government officials at Punakha Dzong
As you come out of the Paro International Airport in Bhutan, the first thing which strikes you is that the Land of the Dragon (Druk-yul) is different from any the other place you may have visited: though a modern State, it has kept its caché, its architecture, its traditional dresses, its language.
As importantly, Druk-yul has also kept its independence, which has not been the case of its once powerful northern neighbor, Tibet.
While both Himalayan states functioned in a complete autonomous (and often reclusive) manner for centuries, Tibet became a colony of China in 1950.
One question comes immediately to mind, how did Bhutan manage to keep its ‘independence’?
Tibet’s recent history is too well known: a brutal force, with its own strategic and ideological designs, took over the peaceful land of the Dalai Lamas. in the name of ‘liberation’. The Communist invasion was so violent that more than one million Tibetans perished during the first decades.
It is perhaps due to some kind of good karma that Bhutan did not have to go through such an ordeal, though its location is extremely strategic. Tibet’s Chumbi Valley, sandwiched between Haa district of Bhutan and Sikkim, commands the entry to the vulnerable ‘Siliguri Corridor’.
India’s support to the Happy Kingdom has been vital. Article I of the 1949 Treaty of Peace and Friendship says: “There shall be perpetual peace and friendship between the Government of India and the Government of Bhutan,” while the Article II assures Bhutan against any interference : “The Government of India undertakes to exercise no interference in the internal administration of Bhutan;” however during a few decades, the Royal Government agreed “to be guided by the advice of the Government of India in regard to its external relations.”
In 1971, it is Delhi who sponsored Bhutan’s candidature to the UN; it was then wisely decided that Thimphu would have no diplomatic relations with any of the permanent members of the Security Council (India has had an embassy in Thimphu since 1968).
In 1981, Bhutan became ‘global’ and joined the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and a year later the World Health Organization and UNESCO. An active SAARC member, Bhutan has today diplomatic relations with 52 states and the European Union.
But this does not explain how Bhutan has kept its Buddhist tradition so remarkably alive.
My conclusion, after a 10-day sojourn in Bhutan, is that the Royal Government has successfully managed to tackle the ‘migrants’ issue.
‘Migration’ is everywhere a sensitive matter. Take a look at the world press: the French authorities have decided to evacuate over 2,000 migrants from a makeshift camp located near the Stalingrad metro station in northern Paris.
Earlier in the week, Reuters reported: “Demolition teams finished tearing down unoccupied shacks and tents in the northern seaside town on Monday after last week's evacuation of thousands of migrants from the ‘Jungle’ camp where more than 6,000 people were living, most in the hope of making it across the Channel to Britain.”
Some 10 years ago, Bhutan faced its own eviction dilemma when the Lhotshampas or Bhutanese of Nepali origin had to be resettled to third countries, primarily the US, Canada, Australia and UK.
In the late 1980s, the Bhutanese government had estimated 28 percent of the Bhutanese population to be of Nepalese origin, (unofficial estimates of the ethnic Nepalese population ran as high as 30 to 40 percent). The result of the census ultimately led to name Nepali refugees as ‘illegal immigrants’.
A year later, Thimphu decided to stand by its own identity: the national dress code was made mandatory. All citizens, including the Lhotshampas, were required to follow the dress code in public during business hours. Then, the government removed Nepali as a language of instruction in schools, making Dzongkha, the national language, compulsory.
The Human Rights organisation pointed an accusing finger at Thimphu, which stood by its decision, because Nepali influx has not been something new to Bhutan.
Already in March 1954, volunteers of the Bhutan State Congress (defending the Nepali ‘cause’) marched from India across the border to launch a satyagraha at Sarbhang in southern Bhutan, where thousands of Nepali Bhutanese lived. They were protesting against the treatment of the ‘migrants’.
The Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had to write to his Nepali counterpart: “A number of Nepali organisations are organising satyagraha in Bhutan. They have made their base in Indian territory. …This is exceedingly embarrassing to us as it must be to your Government.”
Nehru told Koirala: “We cannot encourage Indian territory to be made the base of operations. I am sure that your Government also cannot approve of this method. Governments do not function in this way. …Any difficulties in Bhutan should be dealt with in a different and governmental way.”
Human Rights activists have remained vociferous about the Nepalis’ rights, though it is today clear that the Royal Government took the right decision.
Today Bhutan would have been unable to promote Gross National Happiness if the ticklish migrant issue had not been solved; it ultimately greatly helped the nation to preserve its own identity and culture.
One can always argue that we are living today in a global village and nobody can stop forces of globalisation, the fact remains that part of the happiness which Bhutan is famed for, is due to the absence of tension between the local population and émigrés, as one can see in other parts of the world, particularly in Europe.
One can only wish that the Bhutanese remain happy, with their own identity, for many decades to come. A stable situation is also good for India.