Thursday, October 17, 2019

Was Modi-Xi Chennai meet a ‘civilisational’ encounter?

My article Was Modi-Xi Chennai meet a ‘civilisational’ encounter? appeared in the Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle

Here is the link...

The Indian communiqué from the PMO said that the two leaders “evaluated the direction of bilateral relations in a positive light”.

Indian commentators have always been fond of the word ‘civilisational’, it was already so during the Nehruvian days, it continues today; it must be something anchored in Indian genes.
As I never really understood the meaning of the term, I finally looked it up in the dictionary: it is “the act or process of civilizing, as by bringing out of a savage, uneducated, or unrefined state, or of being civilized.”
Well this does not help much.
The two-day meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping at a resort in Mamallapuram was another occasion to talk ‘civilizational’. A famous columnist recalled: “The Pallava prince from Kanchipuram renounced the throne, became a Buddhist monk, known as Bodhi Dharma in India and DaMo in China, almost like how prince Siddhartha became Buddha. His guru asked him to go to Zhen Dan - today’s China. Bodhi Dharma, who became India’s first spiritual ambassador to China, also emerged as its chief mentor. Regarded as Buddhaabdara (Buddha’s Avatar), he expounded Zen Buddhism and founded the famous Shaolin Temple in China’s Henan province,” and added “Modi is now reviving memories of Bodhi Dharma to position him as the icon of India’s civilisational outreach to China, which is integral to his overarching strategic civilisational diplomacy.”
My own take is completely different; I believe that when nations start speaking about their past, it is often because they prefer to avoid talking about the present. It may be what happened between India and China during the two-day encounter in Mamallapuram?
According to Xinhua News Agency, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping “in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere, held a candid and in-depth exchange of views on bilateral relations and major international and regional issues of common concern,” (interestingly, I came across a Chinese report speaking of a ‘relatively relaxed atmosphere’).
Without denying the great past of the Chinese nation, one question was certainly not discussed at the sea resort: which type of civilization can China boast of today?
The day after his meeting with Modi, Xi Jinping, then in Nepal, warned that those not respecting the One China policy would be crushed: “Anyone attempting to split China in any part of the country will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones. And any external forces backing such attempts at dividing China will be deemed by the Chinese people as pipe-dreaming.”
According to China’s state media, Xi said this to the Nepali Prime Minister during his stay in Kathmandu; to state it mildly, it is rather unusual for a Head of State to use such words. One can imagine what would have happened to the Indian Prime Minister if he had uttered such statements, the Western media would have gone wild. But it is the prerogative of the Chinese president to be able to say such a thing, without being shot down.
The South China Morning Post commented: “While the immediate context would have been the Tibet issue, in light of the Nepal government’s crackdown on Tibetan independence activists protesting against Xi’s visit, China-watchers also saw it as a wider warning that applied to Hong Kong as well after more than four months of civil unrest and street violence.”
The Chinese proverb, ‘kill the chicken to warn the monkeys’ immediately comes to mind.
The Chinese ‘influence’ in India was experienced on a small scale by the Tibetan refugees who tried during Xi’s visit in Tamil Nadu, to protest against the happenings on the Roof of the World; many young refugees ended in police custody (mercifully the local police did not crush their bones). At the same time, the Dalai Lama declared in Una (Himachal Pradesh): “We enjoy freedom living in India, in one way I am a refugee, but I enjoy India’s freedom”. Everything is relative would have said the Buddha.
During the Mamallapuram summit, termed by the Indian Government as the ‘Chennai Connect’, the Chinese President observed: “Maintaining and developing good relations between the two countries is China's unwavering policy.”
Probably influenced by the cultural tour given by the Indian Prime Minister on the first day, Xi spoke of ‘national rejuvenation’ for India and China.
The reference is also ‘civilisational’ as the concept is linked to the Chinese Dream to see the Middle Kingdom becoming the most powerful nation in the world.
Though it is not known what went on for two and half hours during the one-to-one dinner composed of delicious dishes, very few concrete decisions seem to have been taken. The Indian communiqué from the PMO said that the two leaders “evaluated the direction of bilateral relations in a positive light.”
The leaders agreed that the international situation is witnessing significant readjustment: “India and China share the common objective of working for a peaceful, secure and prosperous world in which all countries can pursue their development within a rules-based international order.”
But is China following ‘rules-based’ policies, whether it is the South China Sea, Tibet or Xinjiang? The great fear of the people of Hong Kong and Taiwan is that Beijing-based rules will soon prevail.
The difficulty with ‘unofficial’ meets is that the talks are not minuted, no joint statement is issued and no joint press conference is held.
Everything remains ‘informal’; and the parties are not bound to the decisions taken (if any) as there is no signature on any agreements or minutes.
Can the age-old “commercial linkages and people-to-people contacts in the past two millennia,” in other words the civilisational links solve the current contentious issues such as Chinese claims over Ladakh? Certainly not; though it helped to relax the atmosphere which had been vitiated by Pakistan Prime Minister’s visit to China a few days earlier.
The Indian Foreign Secretary said that the K word was not pronounced, it is regrettable; it was an occasion to clarify the Indian position.
Xinhua said that President Xi made some proposals such as the dragon and the elephant dancing together being “the only correct choice for the two countries” or the two countries should “correctly view their differences, and never let the differences dim the overall situation of bilateral cooperation.”
One positive outcome is the decision to establish a High-Level Economic and Trade Dialogue mechanism “with the objective of achieving enhanced trade and commercial relations, as well as to better balance the trade between the two countries.” This could hopefully help to rebalance the trade deficit, today in India’s disfavour.
Regarding the border dispute, both parties reiterated that efforts should be made to arrive at a mutually-agreed framework for a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement; similar words have been used since 1960. However, the PMO communiqué speaks of the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles agreed by the two counties in 2005 and later rejected by China. Article VII stated that in reaching a boundary settlement, the two sides shall safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas,” which meant that areas like Tawang would no longer be claimed by China. We should know if China really agreed to this when, hopefully in a not too distant future, the Special Representatives meet; otherwise the Meet would have been ‘civilisational’ only (though one very positive outcome was the cleaning up of the area around the resort).

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

What went unsaid between Modi and Xi

My article What went unsaid between Modi and Xi appeared in Mail Today and DailyO

Here is the link...

Everything that happened at Mamallapuram remains 'informal', including the decisions taken (if any).

When nations start speaking about their past, it is often because they prefer to avoid talking about the present. It could be the case with India and China in Mamallapuram, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping "in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere, held a candid and in-depth exchange of views on bilateral relations and major international and regional issues of common concern," according to Xinhua News Agency.

Nothing contentious

Incidentally, a Chinese report speaks of a 'relatively' relaxed atmosphere only. "Maintaining and developing good relations between the two countries is China's unwavering policy. Under the current international circumstances, the two countries shoulder increasingly important responsibilities in safeguarding global stability and promoting development," observed President Xi. This was probably an indirect jibe at the US President.
Interestingly, Xi spoke of 'national rejuvenation' for India and China, a term usually linked to the 'Chinese dream' to see the Middle Kingdom become the most powerful nation in the world. After the cultural tour given by PM Modi on the first day, China has perhaps realised that India too has a glorious past. Can the age-old "commercial linkages and people-to-people contacts in the past two millennia," solve the current contentious issues? Probably not; though it may help relax the atmosphere vitiated by the Pakistan Prime Minister's visit to China a few days earlier.
The Indian communiqué from the PMO said that the two leaders "evaluated the direction of bilateral relations in a positive light and discussed how India-China... interaction can be deepened to reflect the growing role of both countries on the global stage."
'XiMo', as observers termed the two leaders, agreed that the international situation is witnessing significant readjustment: "India and China share the common objective of working for a peaceful, secure and prosperous world in which all countries can pursue their development within a rules-based international order." Whether China always follows a 'rules-based' order in the South China Sea, trade or cyberspace is another issue.
The alphabets T, X, HK or even K or L (Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Kashmir, Ladakh) were apparently not on the table, though scores of Tibetans were 'preventively' arrested outside, as they planned to protest against the way China treats their countrymen.

Bilateral ties
The problem with 'unofficial' meets is that the talks are not minuted (hopefully they are recorded), no joint statement is issued, no joint press conference held and no memorandum of understanding signed. Everything remains 'informal', including the decisions taken (if any). The parties are not really bound by their words. This is the drawback.
The advantage is that things which could normally not be said during a state visit can be frankly stated, though without an official trace. How will historians be able to reconstitute the 'Chennai Connect' as the meet was termed, in 30 years? President Xi made some proposals, according to Xinhua. First, "China and India should be good neighbours who live in harmony and work together as good partners;" for him, the dragon and the elephant dancing together is "the only correct choice for the two countries". Then the two countries should "correctly view their differences, and never let the differences dim the overall situation of bilateral cooperation". China and India need to have a timely and effective strategic communication, enhance mutual understanding and cooperation. Xi also proposed that the two countries should improve their cultural and people-to-people exchanges and finally both nations should strengthen cooperation in international and regional affairs.
But while Xi speaks of the international system "with the United Nations as its core", Beijing still opposes India's entry in the UN Security Council. At the end, it was said, "The relevant departments of both sides [should] implement the results of the meeting so as to open up new prospects of China-India cooperation."

Delicate balance

Of course, both sides agreed that terrorism continues to pose a common threat to humanity, but this at a time the Chinese press praised Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, whose only objective in life is to 'retake' Kashmir from India.
One positive outcome is the decision to establish a high-level economic and trade dialogue mechanism "with the objective of achieving enhanced trade and commercial relations, as well as to better balance the trade between the two countries". This could hopefully help rebalance the trade deficit, today in India's disfavour; a manufacturing partnership was even suggested.
Regarding the border dispute, both parties reiterated that efforts should be made to arrive at a mutually agreed framework for a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement; nothing new. However, the Indian communiqué speaks of the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles agreed by the two counties in 2005 and later rejected by China. Article VII stated that in reaching a boundary settlement, the two sides shall safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas, which meant that areas like Tawang would no longer be claimed by China. Did Xi really agree to that?
The future only will tell us.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

China’s weak spot

My article China’s weak spot appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer.

Here is the link...

The nation is mighty but also fragile because it has not been able to take the masses and the world along. Xi’s dream of a new era will remain if people are not granted some freedoms

China is a mighty country. We have seen it on October 1 on Tiananmen Square.
On the occasion of the 70th Anniversary of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), President Xi Jinping was on the same wavelength as his predecessor Mao Zedong 70 years ago, when he announced the foundation of the PRC; the morale of the parade was ‘power comes from the barrel of the gun’: “No force can ever undermine China's status, or stop the Chinese people and nation from marching forward,” said President Xi Jinping from the rostrum of Tiananmen Square.
Xi reminded that those who watched the function that “seventy years ago, Comrade Mao Zedong solemnly declared to the world that the PRC was founded and the Chinese people had stood up. This great event completely reversed China's miserable fate born from poverty and weakness and being bullied and humiliated."
The Chinese State media was ecstatic as “China had reaffirmed its commitment to global peace and development”, and added: “we will continue to work with people from all countries to push for jointly building a community with a shared future for humanity.”
Many doubted as they watched in awe the DF-17 hypersonic ballistic missile (a hypersonic glide vehicle that can deliver both nuclear and conventional payloads) or the new-generation road-mobile DF-41, which made their debut in an official parade.
Some 15,000 troops from 59 units, 47 belonging to the ground forces and a dozen airborne squadrons, participated in the display. Xi inspected 580 new weapon systems, almost all of them were ‘made in China’, proving that Beijing’s military industry is truly becoming self-sufficient. It is a lesson that India has hopefully noted a few days before the visit of the Chinese President in Mahabalipuram.
However a backlash to China’s might has started to manifest.
A few days before the parade in Beijing, a telling incident took place in France; it showed that it is not only China’s neighbours and the United States which have difficulties to accept China’s so-called peaceful rise.
It looked innocuous but at the start of French Ligue One’s football match between Olympique Lyonnais (OL) and Nantes, an entire wing of the Gerland stadium in Lyon displayed a tifo, a gigantic graphic display organized by thousands (or tifosis).
A Tibetan flag? Why? Simply because China is the club’s second shareholder and the OL management had decided to rescheduled the match to 13:30 hrs …for a broadcast in China (matches usually take place at 17:30 or 21:00 hrs). China is simply mighty.
The supporters, known as the ‘Bad Gones’ (‘Gones’ is the OL supporters’ nickname) wrote on their Facebook page: “At the kick-off, we deployed a tifo representing the Tibetan flag accompanied by a Free Tibet banner. Beyond the crypto-politic aspect of this tifo, our objective was to remind everyone that the spectators and supporters are also actors of the match and respect is due to them, as much as to a few hundred thousand viewers at the other end of the planet.” The message to Beijing continued: “these Tibetan flags can piss off the League and its new shareholders which are under the control of the Chinese State, but we will be delighted to renew the experience…”
It is perhaps a sign of what the Financial Review calls a dangerous decade ahead ‘as China's rise falters’: “Economists, defence planners and security strategists have begun testing the consensus around China's inevitable rise and have come up with some surprising predictions.”
ANI said it in different words: “China exhibits Cold War mentality with huge military parade”, adding: “China regularly likes to point the finger at the US for harbouring a ‘Cold War mentality’, but nothing speaks of militaristic ambitions and martial glory as a large military parade. And no military spectacle comes close to the size of the event held in Tiananmen Square on October 1.”
It is not only the Gaulish tribes which are revolting against the Chinese hegemonic mindset, in Hong Kong, lakhs of young people refused to slip under the yoke of Beijing. The former British colony has witnessed defiant protesters for several weeks; interestingly, the Hong Kongers took their campaign against Beijing to their Stadium, booing the Chinese national anthem before the city's soccer team lost to Iran in its first home qualifier for the 2022 World Cup.
The EU recently issued a statement: “The escalation of violence and continuing unrest in Hong Kong, including the use of live ammunition, resulting in critical injuries to at least one person, are deeply troubling. The European Union maintains its position that restraint, de-escalation and dialogue are the only way forward,” it further observed: “Fundamental freedoms, including the right of assembly of Hong Kongers must continue to be upheld and the possibility to hold peaceful demonstrations must be ensured. These rights must be exercised peacefully.”
It is clear that the World will not accept another Tiananmen massacre.
Though the regime in Beijing praised “Foreign officials and experts [who] applauded a speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping, as Beijing reaffirmed its commitment to world peace and development,” one can’t forget that Communism killed millions of its own citizens during the past 70 years.
A French book (‘The Black Book of Communism’) calculated that more than 94 million were killed by the different Communist governments around the world since 1917. The statistics of victims include deaths through executions, man-made hunger, famine, war, deportations and forced labour. In China alone, 65 millions died, while the Soviet Union accounted for 20 millions in Cambodia and North Korea for 2 million each. The list is long.
In the meantime, the propaganda machine of the Communist regime in Beijing works full steam. Beijing published a White Paper entitled ‘Seeking Happiness for People: 70 Years of Progress on Human Rights in China’.
One of the chapters is on the “Splendid History of China’s Human Rights Protection.”
The restive population of the Western Muslim province of Xinjiang or the Tibetans, whose religious freedom has been ruthlessly stifled, will tell you another story.
All this should be kept in mind when President Xi Jinping arrives in South India to ‘informally’ meet Prime Minister Modi; China is mighty and innovative, but China is fragile, simply because it is unable to take the masses and the world along. Xi’s Dream of a new era will remain a dream, as long as the Middle Kingdom does not allow a minimum freedom to its own people.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Prez Xi's Love for Guns & Glory

My article Prez Xi's Love for Guns & Glory appeared in Mail Today.

It also appeared in DailyO under the title 'Message for India in President Xi Jinping's love for guns and glory'
China is clearly getting ready in case of another showdown with India
“Observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership,” such were the words of Deng Xiaoping, China’s Supreme Leader at the end of the 1970s.

Mao back in Vogue
Today’s People’s Leader, as President Xi Jinping calls himself, does not believe in these virtues; he thinks that ‘in the new era’, it is necessary to show the Middle Kingdom’s muscles …and more.
On the occasion of the 70th National Day of the People’s Republic of China, Xi returned to the ‘power coming from the barrel of the gun’ theory of his predecessor, Mao Zedong.
“No force can ever undermine China's status, or stop the Chinese people and nation from marching forward,” solemnly declared President Xi Jinping from the rostrum of Tiananmen Square.
Xi reminded the privileged who attended the function that “seventy years ago, Comrade Mao Zedong solemnly declared to the world that the PRC was founded and the Chinese people had stood up. This great event completely reversed China's miserable fate born from poverty and weakness and being bullied and humiliated over more than 100 years since the advent of modern times."
The Chinese State media was ecstatic as “China had reaffirmed its commitment to global peace and development”, and added: “we will continue to work with people from all countries to push for jointly building a community with a shared future for humanity.”
Neighbours, Japan, Korea and even India do not see it that way.
They witnessed 23 new weapons displayed, some of them seeming uncontrollable by the missile defence installed by Japan, South Korea or even the US.
Many watched in awe the DF-17 hypersonic ballistic missile (a hypersonic glide vehicle that can deliver both nuclear and conventional payloads) or the new-generation road-mobile DF-41, which made their debut in an official parade. Though one analyst said that it was “the ultimate show of insecurity and cold war thinking”, The South China Morning Post (SCMP) wrote: “For China it is a show of how its armed forces have been modernised.” The Hong Kong newspaper further pointed out: “Among them, the Dongfeng, or ‘East Wind’, series of missile systems drew the most attention,” it included not only the DF-17 and the DF-41, but also the DF-16 and DF-26 medium-range missiles.
Some 15,000 troops from 59 units, 47 belonging to the ground forces and a dozen airborne squadrons, participated in the display. Xi inspected 580 new weapon systems, almost all of them were ‘made in China’, proving that Beijing’s military industry is truly becoming self-sufficient. It is a lesson that India has hopefully noted a few days before the visit of the Chinese President in Mamalapuram.
Interestingly, the Jane’s Review mentioned that the parade showcased “a number of new land platforms that reflect growing needs within the People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF) for improved mountain warfare capabilities;” the reputed publication noted that the show comes two years after Doklam: “Analysis conducted by Jane’s indicates that the PLA has since attempted to revise its military positions in the region to improve its readiness, while India has maintained a robust presence,”
further observing that China has built a number of all-weather roads through Tibet “but its primary armour assets capable of influencing the totality of the battlefield, such as the Type 99A2 and Type 96 main battle tanks, are too heavy to deploy and sustain in mountainous regions.”

Firepower in Show
A similar restriction applies to the PLA’s heavy artillery platforms, said Jane’s “this situation points to the need for lighter armoured vehicles that can provide direct and indirect fire support to PLAGF units operating in mountainous regions.”
ZTQ-15 lightweight tanks and the PLC-181 SPH vehicle-mounted howitzer, were paraded on Tiananmen Square: “The weight of those vehicles, which is not thought to exceed 35 tonnes for the ZTQ-15, means that these vehicles can be rapidly relocated using air or rail assets, if required.”
The ZTQ-105, a 105 mm gun and a 155 mm L52 gun for the PLC-181, have already been spotted in Tibet, they are “sufficient to counter all vehicles and forces that the Indian Army can currently deploy to the disputed territories at short notice.”
Incidentally, the PLA’s five theatre commanders appeared for the first time at the parade. General Zhao Zongqi, Western Theatre Command who looks after the Chinese forces facing India was present.

Notes for PM Modi
 China is clearly getting ready in case of another showdown with India.
Something else is not auguring well for the Mamalapuram meet: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan will visit Beijing a few days before Xi arrives in South India, to brief the Chinese President about Kashmir and deliver a speech at the China-Pakistan business forum to try to ‘revive’ the stalled China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects.
In the meantime in Nepal the security in Kathmandu has greatly increased, partly to control the Tibetan refugees during the grand show on Tiananmen, but also in view of Xi’s probable visit later this month.

In these circumstances, one shouldn’t expect too much from the ‘informal’ Modi-Xi talks. The status of Gilgit-Baltistan will no doubt be at the center of the dialogue; it has implications for the border issue, the Shaksgam Valley ‘offered’ by Pakistan to China in 1963 and today occupied by China, entirely depends on the future status of the area.
Opening a couple of more Border Personnel Meeting (BPMs) in the Himalaya and possibly, a new landport between India and Tibet, could be positive advances.
Prime Minister Modi should not to be influenced by the show of might displayed on the Tiananmen Square, but should take a leaf from Deng’s moto, ‘observe calmly, bide your time…’.
It will be wiser for India than to show its muscles.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

China celebrates its Republic day in Minsar, the Indian village in Tibet

China celebrated the 70th Anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China in the Indian village/town of Minsar in Western Tibet.

An article in China Tibet News mentioned the performance held to welcome upcoming National Day on September 29.
A picture showed a dance composed and performed by teachers and students of the Primary School of Montser Town.
Montser is the Chinese spelling for Minsar.
The article says: "To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, recently, an artistic performance has been held in Montser Town of Gar [Gratok] County, Ngari Prefecture, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, which not only creates a strong festival atmosphere, but also brings a cultural feast to the masses."

Minsar, an Indian Village in Tibet
Minsar is an Indian principality in Tibet.
The Indian rights to this small town were inherited from the Peace Treaty between Ladakh and Tibet signed in Tingmosgang in 1684. Besides the confirmation of the delimitation of the border between Western Tibet and Ladakh, the Treaty affirmed: “The king of Ladakh reserves to himself the village of Minsar in Ngari-khor-sum [Western Tibet]”. For centuries, Minsar has been a home for Ladakhi and Kashmiri traders and pilgrims visiting the holy mountain.
A report of Thrinley Shingta, the 7th Gyalwang Drukpa, head of the Drukpa school of Tibetan Buddhism, who spent three months in the area in 1748, makes interesting reading: “Administratively, it is established that the immediate village of Minsar and its surrounding areas are ancient Ladakhi territory. After Lhasa invaded West Tibet in 1684, it was agreed and formally inscribed in the Peace Treaty between Tibet and Ladakh, signed in 1684, that the King of Ladakh retained the territory of Minsar and its neighbourhood as a territorial enclave, in order to meet the religious offering expenses of the sacred sites by Lake Manasarovar and Mount Kailash.”
For centuries, the inhabitants of Minsar, although surrounded by Tibetan territories, paid their taxes to the kingdom of Ladakh. During in the 19th century, when Ladakh was incorporated into Maharaja Gulab Singh’s State, Minsar became de facto part of the Jammu & Kashmir State which regularly collected taxes from Minsar.
This lasted till the early 1950s.

Minsar today
What happened then?
In 1953, wanting to sign his Panchsheel Agreement, Jawaharlal Nehru decided to abandon all Indian ‘colonial’ rights, inherited from the British. Though he knew that the small principality was under the Maharaja of the Jammu & Kashmir’s suzerainty and therefore part of the Indian territory, he felt uneasy about this Indian possession, near Mt. Kailash in Tibet. Nehru was aware that Minsar had been providing revenues to maintain the temples around the sacred mountain and the holy Manasarovar lake, however Nehru believed that India should unilaterally renounce her rights as a gesture of goodwill towards Communist China.
He instructed the diplomats negotiating the Panchsheel accord in Beijing: “Regarding the village of Minsar in Western Tibet, which has belonged to the Kashmir State, it is clear that we shall have to give it up, if this question is raised. We need not raise it. If it is raised, we should say that we recognize the strength of the Chinese contention and we are prepared to consider it and recommend it.”
Though Beijing did not have to ask anything, the Indian Prime Minister recognized ‘the strength of the Chinese contention’; Nehru added: “But the matter will have to be referred to the Kashmir Government. The point is that we should not come to a final agreement without gaining the formal assent of the Kashmir Government.” However, Delhi never referred the issue to the Kashmir government.
We should remember that treaties, conventions or agreements signed by any states, do not depend on an individual or a political party; they remain in force whoever is in power. The Chinese occupation of Tibet did not change this fact.
Further, the return of any part Indian Territory needs to be ratified by the Indian Parliament only, through an amendment of the Constitution. Therefore the so-called ‘return’ of Minsar to Tibet (and China) is still today illegal and invalid in law.
John Bray, the noted scholar and President of the International Association of Ladakh Studies wrote: "the Sino-Indian boundary dispute remains unresolved. Since the 1960s, the attention of the two governments has focused on the demarcation of the frontier and, more recently, on the prospects for mutual trade. The status of Minsar is no more than a minor footnote to these concerns, but one that has still to be cleared up."
Nehru’s perception that old treaties or conventions could be discarded or scraped greatly weakened the Indian stand in the 1950s (and later when China invaded India). Nehru’s wrong interpretation made it easy for the Chinese to tell their Indian counterparts “look here, McMahon was an imperialist, therefore the McMahon line is an imperialist fabrication, therefore it is illegal”.
Minsar, today located on the National Highway 219
The disastrous consequences of Nehru’s stand can still be seen some sixty five years later.
But if Beijing continues to raise the ‘illegal’ occupation of the Arunachal by India or interfere in Kashmir affirs, Delhi should definitely bring Minsar and the Shaksgam Valley on the negotiating table.
Further, it would be useful to have an Indian enclave near the Kailash, at a time when Indian pilgrims, in ever-increasing in number, are keen to visit the sacred mountain.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Reliable Partner

As my article Reliable Partner appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer, President Jacques Chirac, the third President of the French Republic, passed away.
He leaves a great vacuum on the French political scene.
I posting here a few lines that I wrote several years ago on the Indo-French Strategic Partnership, the first of this kind, initiated by President Chirac and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
It remains a model for other partnerships.
Merci President Chirac and Prime Minister Vajpayee for this!

Here is old article on the Indo-French Relations
The most interesting aspect of the 90’s was the tremendous boost in bilateral relations given by the visits of President Chirac in January 1998 and Prime Minister Vajpayee’s trip to Paris later in the year.
The most striking feature was the setting up of a framework for a strategic partnership.
Before reaching Delhi, the French President had declared that he was keen on an “ambitious partnership”. Using a de Gaulle-like language, Jacques Chirac saluted India, “a nation which has affirmed its personality on the world stage”. He said that he had come to show that “France wanted to accompany India in its potent march [towards the future].”
Inaugurating a Seminar in Vigyan Bhavan, the French President elaborated on the nuclear deal. Reminding that “certain conditions are to be met ”, he however suggested to: “reflect, together with those of our partners involved, on the ways to reconcile our common will to cooperate and the necessary respect for the rules the international community has set itself”.
Nine years later, a similar language could be used by President Sarkozy when he visits Delhi in January 2008.
Chirac’s words were not mere political niceties.
When India conducted its nuclear tests in Pokhran in May, France was one of the few countries which did not condemned Delhi (or impose sanction). This was greatly appreciated in Delhi and when Prime Minister Vajpayee returned Chirac’s visit in October, the new strategic dialogue could take its first concrete steps. 
These events set in motion a closer collaboration.
From the friendship mentioned by de Gaulle, the relation had become a partnership.
By putting proper structures in place, the dialogue was institutionalized:
  •  A Strategic Dialogue at the level of National Security Advisors provides both sides an opportunity to review the evolution of the overall global security situation and emerging challenges in various parts of the world (17 rounds have been held so far).
  •  A High Level Committee for Defence at the level of Defence Secretaries, works through its three specialized sub-committees, dealing with issues related to defence cooperation.
  • A Joint Working Group on Terrorism has been established to cooperate in the fight against terrorism
  •  Annual consultations between the two foreign ministries are held at the level of Foreign Secretaries.
  • A Joint Committee for Economic and Technical Cooperation at the level of Ministers of Commerce
The bilateral relations have benefited in several ways:
  •      Increase in the number of high-level civilian and defence personnel visits. Just a glimpse at the website of the French Embassy in India  will show the drastic improvement in this field. Mr. Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister visited Delhi on December 20 and 21. The regular reciprocal visits of a large number of senior serving defence officers have enabled a deeper sharing of views and experience.
  •      Defence Personnel Exchanges
Exchanges have not been too successful so far. According to General Alain Lamballe (Retd), a former military attaché and expert in the Indo-French relations: “Both nations have not sufficiently explored the possibility to send young officers for training. It is the only guarantee to have a good reciprocal knowledge in the long term. India hesitates to put its officers in contact with foreigners, fearing compromises. ” If trust between the armed forces of the two countries increases, one can hope that there will be an improvement in this field.
  •      Joint Naval Exercises
In 2006, the Indian Navy called these exercises: “A Significant Indicator”. Explaining the background of the successful Varuna joint naval exercises, the Indian Ministry of Defence said: “In recent times the Indian Nary laid great emphasis on enhancing bilateral ties and interoperability with navies of developed countries through professional and operational interactions.” Varuna 07, a sea and air military exercise was held from the September 11 to 19, 2007, off the Somali coasts and in the Gulf of Aden in continuation of the exercises organized in March and April 2006 off the coast of Goa. The French contribution was then centered on the aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle.
  •      Aerial Exercises
From 12 to 23 February 2007, the French and Indian Air Forces carried out the third edition of the Garuda series of air force exercises. Organized for the second time in India, this year exercise took place at Kalaikunda Air Force Station. The French Air Force participated with one Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft, four Mirage 2000-D Air-to-Ground fighters and four Mirage 2000-5 Air-Defence fighters. It was the first time that a French AWACS Aircraft came to India.
  •      Joint Research and Development
One of the many examples which could be given is the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL), a missile research laboratory under the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) and the leading European company, MBDA Missile Systems, planning to jointly develop a new-generation low-level, quick-reaction missile (LLQRM). The $500 million project is aimed at developing the 35-kilometer Maitri quick-reaction missile, a blend of the French Mica and DRDO Trishul. MBDA will develop an active homing head, thrust-vector controls and missiles. DRDL will handle software, command-and-control, and integration.
Though President Chirac’s visit to India in February 2006 was marred by the Clémenceau controversy, it further cemented the close relations between the two nations. On the eve of the visit, France’s ambassador Dominique Girard had summed up the relations: “Our two nations now more than ever before have a major responsibility in relation to the rest of the international community and the promotion of peace and development. The strategic partnership that they have forged with one another must be based on sound and coordinated defence systems”.

Here is my Pioneer's article on 'Reliable Partners'

France has had a long relation with India, particularly in the defence sector. One area where India can be of great help to it pertains to the transport sector

Remember the months before the legislative elections, L’Affaire Rafale was everyday in the news, thanks to the then leader of Opposition, who alleged hanky-panky in the intergovernmental deal signed between India and France for acquiring 36 off-the-shelf Rafale multi-role fighter planes.
The day the campaign was over, no line of negative writing has appeared in the media. Of course, l’Affaire was just an electoral plank, with no connection to the reality of the deal itself.
Dassault Aviation is back in the media; this time for the better reasons; one newspaper titles: “Deadly French fighter planes to arrive soon”.
It has been a long journey since the first Request for Information for 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircrafts …in 2001.
Five years ago, the then French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had come to India on a two-day visit meet. He was trying to resurrect the stagnating deal with his Indian counterpart Manohar Parrikar.
In an interview for The Pioneer, he told me:”France and India share a wide range of common interests. Our strategic partnership, developing since 1998, when the BJP was in power, includes defence and security.”
Regarding the Rafales, he then observed: “The negotiations are proceeding well. For a project of this scale and such complexity, which brings the transfer of numerous know-hows to several industrial stakeholders of India, the pace is comparable to that of other negotiations. Both our Governments share the will to conclude it and this is, of course, essential.”
But it was far from being done.
In fact it took two more years and the will of the Indian Prime Minister to sign a Government to Government agreement for 36 planes.
On October 8, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will finally receive the first plane at Dassault’s factory, in Merignac near Bordeaux. The first four planes should arrive in India in May 2020; the other jets will then follow in quick succession. What a protracted, painful road!
The Indian Air Force (IAF) has already started training 24 pilots in three different batches to fly the Indian custom-made combat aircrafts, which will be deployed (one squadron each) at Ambala airbase in Haryana and Hashimara in Bengal.
As a new Chief of Air Staff (CAS) was nominated, the Indian Air Force (IAF) received ‘acceptance’ for its first Rafale in Merignac, where the planes are assembled. On the tail of India’s new Rafale is painted ‘RB-01’, standing for Air Marshal RKS Bhadauria, who will take over as new CAS on October 1 and whose role was pivotal in negotiating the final deal between India and France. The IAF Deputy Chief, Air Marshal VR Chaudhary had just flown the Indian jet, which will be equipped with the latest gadgets, in particular Meteor missiles, SCALP ground attack missiles and many other equipment which should remain top-secret.
This comes at a time when India faced a difficult time on the international scene, with two of her neighbours clubbing their forces to internationalize the Kashmir issue. China distastefully decided to support Pakistan’s objections to the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which has surprised many. India undoubtedly needs all her energies, resources and friends to face these two separate fronts.
Incidentally, France was the first country to torpedo the Chinese initiative to get a statement on the abrogation of Article 370 from the Security Council; further on August 21, Jean-Yves Le Drian, now Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs phoned his Pakistan counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi and told him that for France, Kashmir was a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. Le Drian pleaded for restraint, de-escalation and easing the situation, the message was clear.
France has a long relation with India particularly in the domain of defence.
In the early 1950s’ India had purchased 71 Ouragans (known in India as Toofanis) from the same Dassault company; HS Malik, India's Ambassador to France wrote to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in October 1953: “All of us in the Embassy who have been working on the implantation of the contract with the Defence Ministry here for the supply of Ouragan aircraft were greatly relieved and delighted when we got the news that our four pilots with the four Ouragans had reached Palam safely.” He continued: “I venture to bring to your notice the wonderful cooperation that we have received both from the French officers of the Ministry of Defence, from the Cabinet Minister downwards, and from the French industry.”
Since then, India and France remain reliable friends.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was Macron’s special invitee at the G7 meet in Biarritz in South France. The two leaders met before and the joint statement noted that the “traditional relationship is enduring, trustworthy, like-minded, and all-encompassing. India-France relations are marked by mutual trust between two strategic partners who have always stood by each other.”
Modi's visit further strengthened the strategic ties in crucial sectors such as defence, nuclear energy and maritime security, and deepen the bilateral cooperation to check flow of funds for terror activities. The collaboration with France in the Indian Ocean is particularly noteworthy.
Apart from defence and new fields in IT, cooperation has developed in key areas such as nuclear energy, space International Solar Alliance, and joint development projects.
Symptomatic of the close relations, India and France finalized a closer cooperation in digital and cyber security domain: “the two leaders have adopted a cybersecurity and digital technology road map aimed at expanding Indo-French bilateral cooperation, particularly in the strategic sectors of high performance computing and Artificial Intelligence, with the target of bringing our start-up ecosystems closer to each other,” said the joint statement.
Both nations have been left far behind by China and it is high time that India collaborates with friendly countries in this domain, which will determine the superpowers of tomorrow. In a world in turmoil, France has been and indeed is an enduring partner for India.
Tailpiece: one domain where India could help France is transport security. On the first day of a recent visit to France, I was robbed of my wallet with all my cash, in the Paris metro; it is a fact that the Delhi metro is far safer than Paris’. Indian engineers should advise their French counterparts how to have a clean and secure transport system.
The number of other avenues in bilateral collaborations is unlimited, the purchase of 36 new aircrafts is already rumoured.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

And if India had won 1962 War?

The Battle of Rezang-la
Wing Commander Jag Mohan (‘Jaggi’) Nath of the Indian Air Force (IAF) is the first of the six Indian officers to have twice been decorated with the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC), India's second highest war-time military decoration.
A few months ago, I interviewed the 90-year old Wing Commander who had the privilege to fly 11 years on the famous Canberras, out of which, during 8 years, he was part of top-secret 106 Squadron.
He received his first MVC for his role in reconnaissance missions over the Aksai Chin and Tibet, between 1960 and 1962.
Even during the Sino-Indian War (October-November 1962), he flew over Tibet; the MVC citation says: “As Flight Commander of an Operational Squadron [106], Squadron Leader Jag Mohan Nath has fulfilled a number of hazardous operations tasks involving flying over difficult mountain terrain, both by day and by night, in adverse weather conditions and in complete disregard of his personal safety. He has displayed conspicuous gallantry, a very high sense of duty and a high degree of professional skill.”
His missions proved immensely useful to learn everything about the Chinese military build-up on the Tibetan plateau. Unfortunately, the political leadership refused to believe the hard evidence gathered during his sorties or use the information gathered.
‘Jaggi’ Nath’s conclusions were that China had NO Air Force on the Tibetan plateau in 1962.
The fate of the Sino-Indian War could have been totally different had India used its own Air Force, but the Government in Delhi chose to ignore to the findings of the brave airman.
Wing Commander explained: “If we had sent a few airplanes (into Tibet), we could have wiped the Chinese out and everything could have been different in the 1962 War. The political leadership did not believe me that China had no Air Force. Can you imagine what would have happened if we had used the IAF at that time? The Chinese would have never dared do anything down the line.”
It is one of the greatest tragedies of India’s modern history.

A few Notes exchanged between India and China
A note given by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing to the Chinese the Embassy of India in China brings more light on the extent of reconnaissance that 106 Squadron did before the War.
The note is dated October 11, 1962.
On September 8, Dhola Post in the Tawang sector was surrounded by some 600 Chinese soldiers; the India Army chose to respond aggressively.
The Henderson-Brook Report mentioned that on September 12, four days after Dhola was surrounded, the Eastern Command’s Commander, Lt Gen LP Sen told Lt Gen Umrao Singh, the Corps Commander and Maj Gen Niranjan Prasad, the Division Commander that the "[Indian] Government would not accept any intrusion of the Chinese into our territory. If they come in, they must be thrown out by force.”
A month later, the People’s Liberation Army would massively attack the 7 Infantry Brigade headquartered on the Namkha chu (river).
The debacle which followed is too well known to be recounted.
What is not known is that the IAF knew everything about the Chinese deployment.

The Chinese Note
The above-mentioned Chinese note says: “In the night of October 10, 1962, an Indian aircraft intruded into China's air space over the suburbs of Lhasa at 20:15 hours for reconnaissance and then flew northward along the Chinghai-Tibet (Qinghai-Tibet) highway to Damshune [Damchung, north of Lhasa where an airfield is located] where it made reconnaissance circlings over a Chinese airfield and then flew away in the direction of India.”
Damchung had been the main airport used by the Chinese in Tibet since 1955.
The note from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued: “The deep intrusion of Indian aircraft into China for flagrant reconnaissance over the capital city of, and an airfield in Tibet was obviously an action coordinated with the current military attacks by the aggressive Indian troops in the eastern sector of the Sino Indian border. The Chinese Government hereby lodges a serious protest with the Indian Government against this action and warns the Indian side that it must give serious thought to the grave consequences of such increasingly frantic activities of aggression.”
What to conclude?
China had no Air Force able to counter the Indian reconnaissance flights and no air defence able to shoot down the Indian Canberras.
Two days later (on October 13, 1962), the Ministry of External Affairs denied the Chinese ‘allegations’: “This allegation is not only completely groundless but definitely mischievous and deliberately designed to confuse the people of China, more particularly of the Tibet Region of China, with a view to seeking their support for the irresponsible and wanton aggression into Indian territory by Chinese forces across the Thagla ridge and their unprovoked cold-blooded attack on an Indian post in Indian territory on the morning of the 10th October 1962.”

Flying deep into Tibet
Was the ministry of External Affairs in Delhi not informed about the secret flights?
It could be, in view of the arrogance of the Defence Minister.
South Block assured Beijing: “All Indian aircraft have strict instructions to keep within the international frontiers of India and these are fully observed. The fantastic and absurd allegation of an Indian aircraft having intruded into the air space over the suburbs of Lhasa is a deliberate and mischievous invention of the Chinese authorities who seem determined to resort to all sorts of unscrupulous devices to mislead the Chinese public and to whip up anti- Indian feelings amongst the people of China.”
On October 17, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing wrote again to the Indian embassy in China: “The Indian Government, disregarding the repeated protests lodged by the Chinese Government, continues to dispatch its airplanes to intrude into China's air space. In the two months of August and September, 1962, there were another 140 verified cases of air intrusions, totalling 161 sorties (59 cases totalling 64 sorties in August, and 81 cases totalling 97 sorties in September, for details see Appendix). The intruding Indian planes wilfully circled low over Chinese territory for reconnaissance purposes, some even repeatedly circled 13 times and for as long as an hour and 40 minutes.”
It alleged that Indian helicopters “even openly landed on Chinese territory for a number of times and transported military personnel for the aggressive Indian strongpoints.”
This was wrong, as the posts were within the Indian territory, though it is true that China had different ‘perceptions’ about the location of the international border in this area.
Beijing complained that in September, “Indian planes further made large-scale intrusions into the area of Le Village in Tibet, China, this was obviously for the purpose of coordinating with the military action taken by the aggressive Indian troops in the Che Dong area of Le Village.”
Che Dong is the Chinese name for Dhola; it was certainly not under the jurisdiction of Le (or Lepo), the first Tibetan village, north of Khenzimane, the last border post in India.
The Chinese Government lodged again a protest because India was “frequently dispatching Indian planes to intrude into China's air space and deliberately aggravating tension on the Sino-Indian border. It is absolutely impermissible for Indian planes to intrude endlessly into China's sacred air space.”

Had India extensively used her Air Force and not lost the War, what could have been different?
  • One can imagine that the casualties would have been less on the Indian side and more of the Chinese.
  • The number of Indian PoWs who suffered seven months in Tibet, would have been far less.
  • The Line of Actual Control would have remained where it was in September 1959, and the border dispute with China would not been so acute today.
  • The Shaksgam Valley would have not been offered to China by Pakistan in 1963.
  • Mao Zedong would have lost his job, and perhaps no Cultural Revolution would have taken place three years later. As a result, China would have been completely different today (read my post)
  • There would be no scar on Indian psyche as there is today.
  • No complex of inferiority vis-a-vis China as we often encounter in India today.
  • The fate of the Tibetan people would have certainly been different.
  • The history of the War (i.e. the Henderson-Brooks Bhagat Report) would be opened to all and not hidden in an almirah in South Block.
  • And in 1965, Pakistan would have perhaps thought twice before venturing in Operation Gibraltar, in order to infiltrate military forces into Jammu and Kashmir to create an insurgency against Indian rule, which resulted in the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965.
  • and many more consequences...
But history can’t be rewritten.
Three years later, India had learnt her lesson, an Air Force can be useful …and by that time, there was a more decisive Chief of Air Staff (Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh).
It made all the difference and 'Jaggi' Nath was awarded his second MVC.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Will Xi Dada visit Tibet?

But who is X Dada?
A few years ago in China, a song went viral on the internet; showing the growing personality cult around President Xi Jinping or ‘Xi Dada’ (Uncle Xi).
Xi was painted as a strong, wise, great leader (‘The People’s Leader’ in his new avatar, equaling Chairman Mao) “who is decisive in acts and is serious in all his work; no matter whether it’s flies or tigers, monsters and freaks, he will get all of them down and never let them go,” said the song. It referred to the high and low-level corrupt officials that Xi Dada has been sending to jail.
He was even the perfect husband: “If you want to marry, marry someone like Xi Dada, a man full of heroism with an unyielding sprit; no matter how the world changes and how many difficulties lie ahead, he will insist and keep moving forward,” said the lyrics.

A visit to Nepal?

Now, it has been rumoured that Xi will soon visit Tibet and Nepal.
The visit to the former Kingdom may pause problems.
According to The Annapurna Express, a Chinese delegation lead by Foreign Minister Wang Yi was not pleased when it visited Kathmandu last week: “It had come to Kathmandu to prepare the ground for President Xi Jinping’s much-discussed Nepal visit. But neither could it get the Nepali side to finalize the BRI projects Nepal wanted China to help with, nor was it assured about the ‘security preparations’ for Xi’s trip.”
Worse, possible protests in Nepal by pro-Tibet activists or the local Muslim community over China’s treatment of its Uighurs could be expected, it was reported.
The Nepali newspaper continued: “The Chinese delegation would not have been reassured by the small protest in front of the Chinese Embassy by a group of women, on whatever pretext, when it was in town. This is perhaps the first time that there has been a public protest in front of the Chinese Embassy during the visit of a high-level dignitary from China. The Chinese were left wondering: Even with its supposedly foolproof preparations, how could Nepal Police have failed to guard the embassy periphery?”
What about Xi’s visit to Tibet to ‘celebrate’ the so-called the emancipation of the Tibetan serfs, sixty years ago. I have often written about this during the past few months. It is a cruel joke on the Tibetans who were massacred in March 1959 and the Dalai Lama who had to flee his country.

A rare press conference
Preparing to receive Xi Dada
A development probably linked to a probable visit of Xi Dada to the Roof of the World, is the press conference given by Wu Yingjie, Tibet Autonomous Region’s (TAR) Communist Party of China chief and Che Dhala, chairman of the regional government at the State Council Information Office on September 12 in Beijing.
Both took questions from the Chinese and foreign media.
On the side of the press conference, artists told the story of King Ling Kesar, a 11th century Tibetan hero “who defeated enemies on horseback and helped to save his people (i.e. the masses).”
An exhibition was also organized on the site and Tibetan “cultural and creative products and specialties” were displayed.

The press conference was said to ‘celebrate’ the 70th anniversary of the founding of New China.
Incidentally, 70 years ago, all the Chinese living in Lhasa were thrown out by the government of the then independent Tibet (and repatriated via Chumbi Valley and Kolkata). This has obviously been forgotten by Xi’s China.
Hu Kaihong, director of the Information Bureau of the State Council Information Office, presided over the press conference.
Wu Yingjie gave his usual lecture: “Tibet is a special frontier ethnic region and is known as the ‘Roof of the World’. It is an important national security [border with India] and ecological security barrier, an important strategic resource reserve [water and minerals], a plateau living on agricultural products and an important cultural reserve of Chinese national characteristics.
Wu elaborated that Tibet is an important world tourist destination and an important channel for opening to South Asia.
Does it mean that Wu wants to start opening trade routes with India, at a time when even Nepal is lukewarm?
Does it mean that now as the ‘border is stabilzed’, people could circulate freely from Tibet to South Asia? It would be interesting!
Wu continued his tirade: “The Party Central Committee has always attached a great importance to Tibet's Work. After the founding of the People's Republic of China, our party adopted a series of major policies for Tibet. The Party Central Committee held six Tibet Work Fora. Each forum introduced major measures, which have effectively promoted Tibet's economic development and promoted Tibet's social stability.”
Stability has been all the Chinese leaders’ leitmotiv whenever they speak about Tibet.
Wu explained that since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2012, General Secretary Xi Jinping has always shown concern for Tibet and the people of all ethnic groups in Tibet, “creatively inheriting and developing our party’s theory of governance for Tibet’s economic and social development and long-term stability.”
The Party boss in Tibet reiterated Xi’s often-repeated slogan “for governing the country, one must rule Tibet and to rule Tibet, one must look at the border first".
Wu reminded the journalists that Xi himself presided over the Sixth Central Tibet Work Forum and “delivered an important speech, clarifying the guiding ideology, objectives, tasks, important principles and focus of Tibet's work in the new era.”
Xi is said to have formulated “a series of special preferential policies, planned and implemented a large number of key projects, and raised the important strategic position of Tibet's Work in the overall work of the party and the state to an unprecedented height …and injected a strong momentum.”
Wu Yingjie praised Xi Dada again and again: under the strong leadership of the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core, “we adhere to the guidance of Xi Jinping's new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics and carry out the Communist Party's 18th and 19th National Congress and the 6th Central Tibet Work Forum.”
He spoke of Xi Jinping's important discourse [I presume all the speeches of Xi are important!!] “on the regulation of borders, upholding and improving the system of regional ethnic autonomy, strengthening the ‘Four Consciousnesses’, strengthening the ‘Four Self-Confidences’, and achieving ‘Two Maintenances’.
It is doubtful if the journalists present understood what he was saying, but it was not the purpose of the press conference.
Under the leadership of Comrade Xi, “Tibet should firmly grasp the correct political direction, resolutely safeguard the motherland's reunification and national security, continue to promote economic and social development, focus on improving people's livelihood, unite people's hearts, focus on building beautiful Tibet, do a good job in ethnic and religious work, comprehensively strengthen and improve the Communist Party leadership, and rely on all ethnic groups.”
Wu further asserted that the cadres and the masses “have promoted the prosperous and comprehensive progress of all undertakings, and achieved historic achievements and historic changes.”
In other words, under the guidance of Xi Dada, Tibet has become: “a society with prosperous economy, harmonious society, good ecology, national unity, religious harmony, consolidation of frontiers, strengthening party building, and people's happiness.”
That is a new Tibet that Xi will visiting.
In these circumstances, why China is so shy to open its borders with India and allow fact-finding delegations from Dharamsala to visit Tibet, like Deng Xiaoping did in 1979/80?
And let the Dalai Lama visit his now-happy native land!
But the reality is probably different from the propaganda.

Here is an extract from one of my book ('Tibet: The Lost Frontier')

The Expulsion of the Chinese from Tibet
On July 8, 1949, Chen, the acting head of the Chinese mission in Lhasa, was called by the Kashag and informed that he and his staff as well as all Chinese working in schools and hospitals had to leave Tibet. The pretext was that the Chinese Mission no longer had any relations with the Nationalist Government and was not accredited with the new government. In fact, the Tibetan Government was afraid that some (if not all) members of the Chinese mission in Lhasa would switch over to the new Communist regime in Beijing ‘for bread and butter’, as Richardson put it. The Chinese were swiftly expelled by the Tibetan Government and their bank accounts were frozen in India on the request of the Tibetan Government.
The remarkable feature of the expulsion order was that this secret had not leaked out of the Kashag Office. It was a record of sorts for a small village like Lhasa.
The Indian Mission was later informed about the fait accompli. “It was a complete surprise for the Indian Mission” Richardson commented later.
However the Chinese were expelled with courtesy and a band accompanied them until they were outside of Lhasa.
The cable that Nehru sent to the Political Officer in Sikkim demonstrates the position of the Government of India vis-à-vis Tibet in 1949 and makes interesting reading:
2- …Their wholesale expulsion will naturally be regarded as an anti-Chinese rather than anti-Communist move. And the Government of India, by letting them into India without any travel papers in contravention of all passport regulations, will be regarded as privy to this move.
3. We can however understand the desire of the Tibetan Government to get rid of persons suspected of subversive tendencies and officials sympathizing with them. From the Tibetan Government's own point of view it would seem better for Tibetans to expel these suspects rather than all Chinese officials in Lhasa.
Nehru was ready to help to a certain extent when he informed the Political Officer in Sikkim that “there are many difficulties in the way of the Government of India receiving and looking after these suspects. Nevertheless, in view of our friendly relations with the Tibetan Government, we are considering the possibility of giving them passage. We would be gravely embarrassed if they stayed in India.”
He concluded by suggesting: "The Tibetan Government are the best judges of their own interests but to us it would seem unwise on their part to take any steps which in effect mean the forced discontinuance of the Chinese Mission in Lhasa."
It is clear that a few months before the Fateful Year, the Government of India, “in view of [its] friendly relations with the Tibetan Government”, was ready to help Lhasa with its security concerns. Not only did Delhi treat Tibet as an independent entity, but the Government of India accepted that they were the best judge of their problems.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

China readies for Next Dalai Lama

China objects to the Dalai Lama's birthday being celebrated in Ladakh
My article China readies for Next Dalai Lama appeared in Mail Today and DailyO

Here is the link...

The Dalai Lama’s answers about his succession often make the headlines; in some cases, his words were even misinterpreted. But, on August 18, a video addressed to members of the Minnesota Tibetan Association which received a wide circulation on social media, brought joy to his followers; the Nobel-laureate said that he was presently in the best of health and would live to be 110 years old.
Concerns were raised about his health in April, when the 84-old leader was flown from Dharamsala to Delhi where he was admitted to a private hospital for a serious chest infection.

Fears allayed

In his talks with the American Tibetans, he recalled a dream in which Goddess Palden Lhamo, the special protector deity of Tibet, while riding on his back, proclaimed that he would live for 110 years. "Tibetans have not forgotten me, and I will not forget you," asserted the Dalai Lama.
At the same time, on the other side of the Himalaya, the Chinese are actively planning for the return of his reincarnation.
The Global Times, the mouthpiece of the atheist Communist Party, recently reported that some 100 Tibetan Buddhist monks attended “a training session on reincarnation for a living Buddha in Tibet Autonomous Region, which includes government regulation on management of the reincarnation system, and was hailed by Chinese experts and officials as a necessary method to maintain religious harmony in the region.”
‘Living Buddha’ is a term invented by China to designate the tulkus, the Lamas who consciously return to this world to continue what they have not achieved in their previous life; Beijing appears busy making preparation to appoint its own 15th Dalai Lama.
According to The Global Times, the training session which was organized by the Institute of Socialism in Tibet, the Tibet Buddhist Association and regional authorities, covers the history and rituals for the reincarnation of Living Buddhas. The course lasted some 10 days; at the end of it, the newly-educated monks were received by Wu Yingjie, the Party boss in Lhasa.
Sonam Rinchin, a deputy secretary of the regional Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, explained that the reincarnation system was "never a religious-only issue or a living Buddha's personal right" but an important representation of the Communist Party of China's strategies and policies in the region. It meant that for Beijing, it is a Party affair, to be decided by the Communist leadership.
The "Management measures for the reincarnation of living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism" were notified on July 13, 2007.
Article 1 spoke of “protecting religious concord and social harmony, and protecting the normal order of Tibetan Buddhism.”
It asserted that: “Reincarnating living Buddhas should respect the religious rituals and historically established systems of Tibetan Buddhism,” insisting on an old ritual rarely used, the Golden Urn which can easily be manipulated, …further “Reincarnating living Buddhas shall not be interfered with or be under the dominion of any foreign organization or individual.”
This is practically a ban on the Dalai Lama to return from India.

Chine eyes succession
Pema Lhamo, head of the South Asia Institute of the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences explained that holding such a training session helped the process of reincarnation, “written in government regulations and embedded in Tibetan Buddhism …to be carried out properly and not affected by any individual or the Dalai Lama's separatist clique.”
China wants a reincarnation of the Dalai Lama without Dalai Lama’s involvement!
But the Chinese preparations are not limited to ‘convert’ a few monks to a ‘socialist’ Buddhism, the Chinese-selected Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu has been conducting an extensive 'inspection tour' on the Tibetan plateau, including a village bordering Ladakh, trying to assert himself as the heir apparent to the Dalai Lama.
Norbu toured areas such as Purang (near the trijunction Nepal-Tibet-India), Mt Kailash, Manasarovar lake, the monasteries in Tholing, Ngari town, Rutok, the Panggong Lake (of The Three Idiots’ fame on the Indian shores) and even a village on the Indian border; all these areas are close to the Indian border.

Norbu's Border Tour
The Chinese media extensively covered his three-week long visit.
China Tibet Online reported that on July 26, Gyalsten Norbu traveled to Jaggang village in Rutok County “for survey and research”; he paid a visit to two Tibetan families. The Chinese website said that “Jaggang Village is located in the southern part of Rutog County, 70 kilometers away from the county town. It is a typical plateau village.”
But it is not an ordinary village, it is also known as Chiakang and situated close to Demchok in Ladakh.
It is the first time, that such a ‘senior’ religious leader, goes himself the Indian border, which China claims as ‘disputed’.
Norbu's visit was probably a message to Delhi and Dharamsala; Beijing is doing its homework on the ‘succession' of the Dalai Lama. For at least the next twenty years, Norbu will be the face of Tibetan Buddhism in China, which seemed decided to fully play the Gyaltsen Norbu card against the Dalai Lama.
Even if China selects its own Dalai Lama (with the help of Norbu), the latter will continue to ‘rule’ on behalf of the Communist Party for decades (provided, the Communist Dynasty lasts that long).
Incidentally, Norbu also visited a Nyingma (old school) monastery (Tirthapuri Gompa near Mt Kailash). This shows that China plans to use him as ecumenical leader, not just a Lama of the Geluk School of Tibetan Buddhism.
China is clearly putting people and systems in place for the succession of the Dalai Lama.
One can hope that that Palden Lhamo’s prediction is right and the Dalai Lama will continue to live a healthy life for many years. It is important for Tibet, but for India too, particularly for the Himalayan region where he brings a great harmony, stability and a refreshing presence.

Monday, September 9, 2019

The legend who inspired 3 Idiots

My interview The legend who inspired 3 Idiots appeared in

Magsaysay Award winner and teacher extraordinaire Sonam Wangchuk tells Claude Arpi about his journey, his fights, his hopes and how he became an inspiration for the Bollywood blockbuster.
A Teacher's Day Special.

Here is the link...

Ladakh has recently been in the news after the government decided to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution and create a Union Territory for Ladakh.
This seems to have rattled Beijing no end.
Today Ladakh is euphoric; its 70-year-old demand has finally been fulfilled by Delhi.
Over the last decades, while waiting for the Great Day, some individuals have slowly changed the face of the region. One of the most prominent among them is Sonam Wangchuk (not to be mixed with his homonym, the Maha Vir Chakra awardee).
In 2018, Sonam was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award, an annual award established 'to perpetuate former Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay's integrity in governance, courageous service to the people, and pragmatic idealism within a democratic society'.
Over the years, Sonam has been instrumental in changing the education scene and bringing a deeper environmental consciousness in the mountainous region.
Sonam's lastest project is in higher education; he is in the process of setting up the Himalayan Institute of Alternatives, Ladakh (HIAL).
The project will be unique in several ways.
First, it will deal with the issues of the mountain context. Secondly, the university will combine academics with entrepreneurship in which the students will learn by doing and will be earning as they learn.

The two legendary Sonams. Left: Magsaysay Award winner Sonam Wangchuk
right: Colonel Sonam Wangchuk (retd), Mahavir Chakra,
'The Lion of Ladakh' (photo: Abha Tewari)

Claude Arpi: Sonam, you are wearing different hats; you are an educationalist, an environmentalist, a social reformer, a Magsaysay Awardee. Tell us how your adventure started.

Sonam Wangchuk: My journey has mainly been driven by empathy towards people who I thought were suffering.
When I started my engineering, I had to support my education expenses; I was then studying in what is now the National Institute of Technology in Srinagar.
As I had to finance my education, I decided to teach students.
Not that I did not have any other skills, but I loved teaching students, sharing with them my knowledge in sciences, maths or languages.
So during vacations, I started teaching students in Ladakh.
It is where I learnt about the current educational system.
At the beginning, my main purpose was to finance myself; in a way, I did it too well.
I thought that I would need one year to finance my studies, but it was so successful that in just two months I made enough money to finance my three years in Srinagar by teaching a number of Ladakhis.
This experience changed my life.
Firstly because I earned so much money, I got rid of my craze for money.
I thought that money could be made any time, if required.
I also realised that there were more important things to do than make money.
It was a blessing for me, because most young people, especially engineers at that age, are crazy about money.
Luckily, I got relieved of (this craving).
The second thing that I realise was that there was a challenge, right in front of me: the students that I taught during this winter were very bright, they could understand everything, and yet 95% of these students failed in their exams.

Claude Arpi: Why was the level of education so low?

Sonam Wangchuk: Degrees were like your passport for higher education and still 95% of the students regularly failed.
At that time, everybody would blame the students, whether it was the teachers, the parents or the bureaucracy.
I immediately realised that it was not the fault of the students, there was nothing wrong with them; in fact, they were really eager to learn.
There was something wrong with the system.
In a mountainous place like Ladakh, the text books were in Urdu.
The mother tongue was completely disregarded; after 8 years of teachings in Urdu, they would switch to English.

Claude Arpi: Do you mean to say that Ladakhi language was never taught.

Sonam Wangchuk: Yes, no Ladakhi language.
Another problem was that the teachers were totally untrained and text-books were completely irrelevant to the region.

Claude Arpi: The text books were the same as used in the Kashmir Valley?

Sonam Wangchuk: Yes, books were about tigers, elephants, there was nothing about snow leopards or apricots.
The children did not relate to them; so, I discovered that it was the system which had failed.

Claude Arpi: That was the seed for SECMOL (The Students Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh).

Sonam Wangchuk: Yes, though trained as an engineer, I shifted to education as I realized that the system needed to be changed; I saw so many of the bright minds caged.
Empathy for the students drove me to try to reform the system.

Claude Arpi: Did you face a lot of hurdles, obstacles from the administration, the establishment in general?

Sonam Wangchuk: Though we should have, initially I did not.
We used a strategic approach.
I found like-minded people and we started SECMOL.
We knew that as 21-year-old youth we could not go to the office of the commissioner or to a minister and tell them 'your system is not working'.
They would have just said: 'Get lost!'

Claude Arpi: At that time there was no Ladakh Hill Council representing the Ladakhis?

Sonam Wangchuk: Yes, it was before the creation of the LAHDC.
Initially, we started SECMOL in 1989, we were so naïve that we just tried to help the students to pass their exams, we were just teaching maths and sciences.
But soon we realized that it was not the solution, we could teach maths and sciences for 50 years, it was just repairing a broken system again and again.
Then we saw that the root of the problem should be addressed, that is the rural, the village schools.
It is where the foundations were built and these foundations were weak.
We had to work with the government to bring about changes in primarily schools.

Claude Arpi: You had to work with the government in Srinagar?

Sonam Wangchuk: No, we just said: 'let us work in one school'.
We thought that if we show some results in one school, we could advocate some larger changes.
We couldn't just say that we will perform miracles.
We chose a school called Saskpol; it was the first prototype where we experimented; we changed what is taught, the way it was taught, we trained the teachers and organized the villagers.
When this worked, we went to the government.
Luckily at that time, there was governor's rule.
More sense usually prevails during governor's rule in J&K in terms of devolution, at least for Ladakh.
The advisor to the governor who came to see our work was very impressed and he adopted our text books for government schools.
This text book is still used today.
It is how the movement for education reforms started.

Claude Arpi: Tell us about 3 Idiots. How did you become an inspiration for one of the legendary roles in a Bollywood film?

Sonam Wangchuk: Well, it is a very interesting story.
You asked me if we got problems from the establishment; I said initially not.
After a few years, our program became very very popular; it was a household name in every village in Ladakh.
Everyone was talking of Education, Education, Education.
We helped the Ladakh Hill Council to do well in the education field.
It was good, but the politicians got insecure; they thought: 'We are supposed to be the leaders, these people (SECMOL) are more popular than us.'
Similarly the bureaucrats became very upset; newspapers were writing too much about us.
They felt that we had become the masters of the government schools.
They were more jealous of our popularity.
At a point in time, they came together and gave us a hard time to the extent that I branded as anti-national with Chinese connections.
One district commissioner accused me to be anti-national.
Their idea was to scare me and get me to my knees, and that I will fall in line.
But I am not of this material.
I stood against them, I took the bull by the horns; I went to court against the government; I also went to the media about the high-handedness of the bureaucracy.
I called a press conference in Jammu to show the attitude of the bureaucrats.
I refused to just submit; I took up arms.
The press conference was attended by many media persons.
Some got interested in our work.
The correspondent of CNN-IBN studied my work and a few months later, I was chosen for their 'Real Hero Award'.
On one hand, it was alleged that I was an anti-national element with connections with China, and on the other, I received the Real Hero Award.
It was in 2008.
I went to Delhi to collect the award; there was a big function in Delhi where I met Aamir Khan.
We talked, he asked me about my work, my background; he saw the documentary that the channel had made about me, it was about an engineer who had gone to Ladakh to change the education system.
But about the film (3 Idiots) it was never disclosed to me.
I had just shared some interesting ideas with Aamir Khan.
One was about the Siachen glacier, where we spend one million dollar a day for a piece of ice; I suggested that the people on both sides of the glacier, in Nubra and Baltistan, should come on the road and stop both armies to get in that zone, they may get upset initially, but they would realize that it was a man-made issue; one side is there because the other side is there.
People from both the regions could defuse the issue and part of the money spent on the glacier could be used for education of the children who are living in pathetic conditions.
I told Aamir Khan, can you inspire people by doing a film on that.
We exchanged such ideas and a few months later, I left to France to study architecture.
One year later, I suddenly got many e-mails and phone calls, people saying the film about you is super, great, etc.
I had no idea.
It was not a biopic.
They just used my story as an inspiration and changed the script which they have been working on.

Claude Arpi: How did you shift from being an educationist to an environmentalist?

Sonam Wangchuk: It was not a shift.
I believe that today, education should be mostly about environment.
Education is about solving people's problems.
Environment is today the biggest problem in the world.
Not only here in Ladakh, but everywhere in the world; our education system shouldn't be centered on consumption ad production, which caused the present mess.
It should about solving the mess.
Education is a great medium to prepare young people to deal these problems.

Claude Arpi: In Ladakh, tourism has developed extremely fast.
In one way it is good as it brings good revenue to many, but it also endangers the environment.
What is the way out of this dichotomy?

Sonam Wangchuk: Tourism itself is not the main problem.
The main problem is management of tourism, we have really mismanaged it.
What is happening today in the name of tourism in Ladakh?
Three lakhs of people descend on an area of 5 sq km, i.e. Leh in a 5 month-time.
That is a very concentrated dose for any place!
It is where the problem starts, such a large number of people, in such a small area, in such a short time.
My solution is to spread it out and increase the carrying capacity both of space and time.
In space means out of Leh, in rural areas, so that rural people do not have to come in Leh to benefit from tourism.
Make home-stay, farm-stay in rural villages, make these places more attractive for the young people to live.
Tourism benefits should come to the doorsteps of rural Ladakh; they can sell their milk, handicrafts etc, to visitors from all-over the world; people should not be uprooted to the cities.

Claude Arpi: Do you have large scale migration in Ladakh like in Uttarakhand?

Sonam Wangchuk: It is different.
In Uttarakhand, they migrate out of the State, here they come to Leh, they remain within Ladakh.
It is slightly better, but not good.
Leh is exploding being over-populated, in the villages it is the opposite, it is an implosion.
We should spread tourism in geography (space).
Make the villages in Kargil, Zanskar, etc attractive for the young Ladakhis to live.
Supplement agriculture with tourism in the villages.
Then in time, spread tourism through the whole year, don't make it a toxic concentration during five months.
Promote winter tourism, ice tourism, ice sports, ice art, many things are possible; Spring tourism about apricots blossoming, wild roses etc.; then Autumn tourism, all year round there should be a moderate number of tourists.
Not only in Leh, but all-over Ladakh, then it won't be such a problem.
It will be good to the people; remote areas will benefit from it too; it is what I call a better management.

Claude Arpi: How did the Magsaysay Award change your life?

Sonam Wangchuk: I never thought much about awards.
There are good aspects and bad ones.
On one hand it gives you recognition, on the other hand, people who also had worked hard, are left out.
On the positive side, the Magsaysay Award is highly respected in our country, it opens many doors.
It makes things less difficult to deal with the government.
You don't have to spend so much time convincing people of a good idea, with this recognition.
It is also a great responsibility.
One should not misuse it.

Claude Arpi: A word about your ice stupas.

Sonam Wangchuk: It is an effort of the mountain people to not give up, when faced with climate change.
It is still at an early stage of development, it is not at the stage of solving problems, but it has great promises.
Apart from being an attempt to solve the water issue, it is also the symbol of an SOS from the people of the Himalaya.
It is not something we want to brag about, but it is something that we are forced to do.
We have to do our own glaciers, because the life-style in big cities is melting our glaciers.
It is a message to the people in the big cities: 'If you live simply in the big cities, we will live better in our mountains! In the cities, you have to be caring about other people. We are the first victims of your behavour, but it will soon catch up with you too.'

Claude Arpi: A last question about, about the strategic location of Ladakh, with two neighbours, Pakistan and China, at your doorstep. Do you think that opening the borders could help?

Sonam Wangchuk: There are small border disputes for few kilometres here and there; it should become smaller and hopefully completely go one day.
The countries involved should settle for something mutually agreed and then remove the military build-up.

What I want to say to the world is that India and China fighting with each other is like two neighbours fighting when an avalanche is coming.
The environmental threat is so big for both sides, that instead of getting involved in conventional disputes (and this is valid for all countries of the world), the two countries should spend their budget for mitigating, if not stopping, the effects of climate change.
We all have to work towards solving climate change.

It is the challenge of the 21st century.