Thursday, February 28, 2019

A Highly Strategic Corridor

A couple of weeks ago, The Washington Post published an article titled: “In Central Asia’s forbidding highlands, a quiet newcomer: Chinese troops”; it reported : “Two miles above sea level in the inhospitable highlands of Central Asia, there’s a new power watching over an old passage into Afghanistan: China.”
According to interviews, satellite images, photographs, and firsthand observations by a Post journalist, it was found that Chinese troops have settled in one of the most strategic areas of central Asia, termed ‘a choke point in Tajikistan’.
The US newspaper said: “Tajikistan — awash in Chinese investment — joins the list of Chinese military sites that includes Djibouti in the strategic Horn of Africa and man-made islands in the South China Sea, in the heart of Southeast Asia,” adding “the modest facility in Tajikistan — which offers a springboard into Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor a few miles away — has not been publicly acknowledged by any government. But its presence is rich in significance and symbolism.”
The region has been (and is) still highly strategic.
Last year a publication The 1959 Tibetan Uprising Documents: The Chinese Army Documents was released on Kindle. It was a collection of top secret documents of the Military Intelligence of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), dating from the end of the 1950s till the 1962 War with China.
At that crucial time, China had a serious problem; it did not have an Air Force in a position to take on the Indian Air Force. The compiler of above papers noted: “disadvantage of the Chinese Air Force is still a major problem in case of a conflict with India. Indian jets can start at a low altitude with a full load of bombs and plenty of fuel. Also, India has many airports only about a hundred kilometers from the highest peaks of the Himalaya. The short distance and the higher bomb load means each Indian jet is at least twice if not three times more effective than a Chinese aircraft.”
Apart from the fact that many airplanes had been sent to the Korean front and that the Soviet Union had stopped supplying spare parts for the MIG fighter planes, the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) had a major hurdle, no fuel for its few planes.
The amount of gasoline reaching the plateau from China via the Qinghai-Tibet or the Sichuan-Tibet highways, was not enough to maintain a large occupation force on the Tibetan plateau (read the Indian borders) and at the same time, provide the necessary fuel for the PLAAF.
One of the published documents mentioned secret statistics for ‘border trade’ and the import of fuel, gasoline and other commodities between 1953 and 1967.
What do the statistics show? In 1958, 380 tons of gasoline was imported into Tibet; in 1959, nothing; in 1960, 2220 tons, in 1961, 96 tons and 1962, 30 tons. It means that in 1960 there was a huge surge in fuel import.
But import from where?
There was no possibility of any gallons passing unnoticed through Nathu-la or Jelep-la, the two main passes between Sikkim and Chumbi Valley (Tibet); ditto for the passes in Uttarakhand or NEFA (Arunachal Pradesh today), or even Demchok in Ladakh, which had been closed for trade by the Chinese.
The author of the publication presumed that ‘corrupt’ Indian officials had let the fuel be smuggled in. That too was not possible, first the officers of the Indian Frontier Administrative Service posted in these areas, were the most upright people and in any case, considering that a mule could only carry 40 kg per trip it would have meant thousands and thousands of mules, which did not exist on the plateau …and they would have to have been transparent.
After pondering the issue, my conclusion was that this amount of gasoline could not have crossed any Indian or Nepalese border post into Tibet. It left few other possibilities. One was the Soviet Union, though it had just split with China; the relations between Beijing and Moscow had reached a breaking point by 1959.
The only possibility was some under-the-table purchases through corrupt officials in Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan; I got convinced that the gasoline had come from the same area in Tajikistan where China is today building a new base, at the edge of the Wakhan corridor and Xinjiang.
An interesting lead: Tursun Uljabayev, the Party Secretary of Tajikistan in 1960 was sacked and imprisoned for serious corruption, a year later. In all probability, gasoline from Tajikistan was transported to Kashgar (or Tashgurgan) in Xinjiang and then taken over the Aksai Chin to be used in Western Tibet. It could have been done at night via the road cutting across Indian territory, which was the best protected artery in China in the 1950s and early 60s as only the PLA was allowed to use it; the traffic could have gone unnoticed for several months.
It was probably why Uljabayev was caught and the import of gasoline into Tibet drastically fell in 1961 …and 1962 China had no fuel for its aircrafts.
The above findings have two important corollaries; one, it confirms that the Chinese had no Air Force in flying condition at the time of the 1962 conflict with India, having no spares and no fuel. This was recently confirmed to me by Wing Commander ‘Jaggi’ Nath, who extensively flew over Tibet in secret missions between 1960 and 1962; he was awarded his first Maha Vir Chakra medal for this (he got his second in 1965 for mapping the Pakistani defenses). The second upshot is that the area where the Chinese are today building their new base, is highly strategic, being a relatively easy link between the oil-rich Central Asia, Afghanistan (through the Wakhan corridor), the restive Xinjiang (the hub of Xi Jinping’s Road and Belt Initiative) and Tibet.
This raises another issue: why did the Indian government, which had all the information about the situation in Tibet, the deployments of the PLA on the plateau and the lack of Chinese Air Force (‘Jaggi’ Nath was never attacked or even followed during his regular sorties over Tibet), not use its jets to pound the PLA concentration near the Thagla ridge in the Tawang sector, in Walong area of Eastern NEFA or in Rezang-la in Ladakh?
The only answer is, a woeful lack of leadership.
Let us hope that the present bosses watch what is happening in this area.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Xi gets PLA war-ready, India must wake up

My article Xi gets PLA war-ready, India must wake up appeared in Asia Age/Deccan Chronicle on Monday.

In May 2015, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced a strategic plan for China, known as ‘Made in China 2025’; the Middle Kingdom wants to move away from being the World's factory and shift to higher value products and services; the idea is to upgrade the manufacturing capabilities of Chinese industries.
The China Briefing of Dezan Shira & Associates wrote: “This has required transitioning the country’s existing manufacturing infrastructure and labor market towards producing more specialized output – with targeted investments in research and development (R&D) and an emphasis on technological innovation.”
One of the tools to reach this objective is the program called ‘civil-military fusion’ (CMF) which would bring together the civil and defense R&D and developments; something unthinkable in India.
On March 2, 2018, during the third meeting of the Central Commission for Integrated Military and Civilian Development (CCIMCD), President Xi Jinping emphasized the strategic importance of reducing barriers between the commercial economy and the defense industrial base. A few days later, Xi spoke of CMF as a ‘prerequisite’ for realizing the goal of building a strong military. The objective is to become the No 1 power of the planet, (in 2049, for the 100 years of the Communist Party?).
In its China Brief, the Jamestown Foundation explained: “China’s efforts to become a dominant ‘science and tech superpower’ in technologies like artificial intelligence, quantum communications, robotics and smart manufacturing are well documented. Less is known about how China plans to use CMF to convert its technological push into a long-term military advantage, in ways that, to a significant degree, are partly modeled on the US.”
For the Council on Foreign Relations, China is “on its way to becoming a science and technology power. Three of the five most valuable tech startups are Chinese. Companies like Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, and Huawei are increasingly narrowing the spending gap with American tech giants on research and development.”
All this translates directly into the military domain.
Recent developments in terms of new weaponry, some of them facing India, have to be seen in this background. For example, information has recently emerged that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) had deployed a new Shenyang J-16 strike fighter in strategic locations in Tibet (probably in prevision of the arrival of the game-changer Rafales on the Himalayan scene).
The deployment of the J-16 could provide the PLAAF with an modern complement to the J-11B – the derivative of the Russian Su-27 Flanker.
Beijing today claims that the advanced fighter now possesses ‘near stealth’ capabilities; the paint covering the plane “is a kind of cloaking coating that gives the warplane a certain stealth capability, making it nearly invisible to the naked eye and electromagnetic devices," reported the Chinese media.
On January 8, the Chinese State-owned Global Times announced that some units of the PLA Ground Force (PLAGF) stationed in Tibet have been equipped with a new vehicle-mounted howitzer to boost their combat capability and improve border security.
The mouthpiece of the Communist Party referred to the new system as ‘PLC-181’, claiming that it had already been deployed by an artillery brigade in Tibet during a 72-day-long stand-off in 2017 between the PLAGF and the Indian Army at the Doklam tri-junction between Sikkim, Tibet, and Bhutan.
The Global Times posted a PLA photograph with units of the new howitzer system in a mountainous area. According to Jane's Intelligence Review, “the platforms are similar in appearance to the Norinco SH-15 155 mm self-propelled artillery system.”
It has to be seen in the larger context of the PLA’s preparedness for War.
On January 4, President Xi Jinping ordered the Chinese armed forces to enhance their combat readiness, he instructed the armed forces to resolutely safeguard the national sovereignty, China’s security and development interests and be ready to withstand complex situations and severe struggles: “The world is facing a period of major changes never seen in a century”, he asserted, while speaking of the various risks and challenges facing China.
The Chinese Armed Forces are expected to speed up their preparation in view of a series of landmark anniversaries in 2019, particularly the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic.
Last month, Xinhua reported that some 2 million personnel had been involved in more than 18,000, mostly small-scale exercises in 2018.
Apart from that, China has been active in boosting its border defence with India; for example, the rapid development of infrastructure on the Tibetan plateau (in particular three new airports in Lhuntse, Purang and Tingri) or new drones for better border control.
In November, The Global Times quoted a professor at the National Defense University who revealed details of China's new armed reconnaissance drone, which had been seen at the Airshow China 2018 in Zhuhai: “The GJ-2 is believed to enhance China's border patrol and counter-terrorism efforts,” said the professor. The military-industrial conglomerate Aviation Industry Corporation of China had unveiled a new reconnaissance drone series. Reportedly, the GJ-2 prototype flew over the 8,848-meter Mount Everest during one trial flight. The drone has six weapon bays under its wings, capable of carrying more ordinance than its predecessors, including up to 12 air-to-surface missiles.
The new-generation Type 15 lightweight battle tank, which is much swifter and has better mobility than other armoured vehicles, could easily be deployed in Tibet in the event of a conflict with India. It was also recently handed over to the PLA.
Many more such examples could be cited.
All this shows that China is working hard to be ready for any contingency.
India needs to wake up, closely follow the developments on the plateau and take necessary counter-measures to boost the preparedness of the Indian Army and Air Force on the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
However, there are small mercies as the real situation might not be as rosy as depicted by the Communist propaganda.
Dennis Blasko, a former US Army attaché in China wrote in War on the Rocks, that the PLA is today facing serious issues: “A large body of evidence in China’s official military and party media indicates the nation’s senior civilian and uniformed leaders recognize significant shortcomings in the warfighting and command capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army.”
He further elaborated: “the increasing scope and frequency of these self-critiques during the tenure of Xi Jinping as chairman of the Central Military Commission casts doubt over the senior party and military leadership’s confidence in the PLA’s ability to prevail in battle against a modern enemy.”
Let us not forget that some 200 officers of the rank of Major General and above have been ‘investigated’. What a huge gap in the hierarchy! A decade may be necessary to replace the ‘corrupt’ officers.
The PLA also suffers from the ‘Peace Disease’; the PLA hasn’t faced an actual combat since the War with Vietnam in 1979. It is a huge issue for China.
Despite the advances in technologies, the PLA might not be ready to face the US …or even India, at least for a few years.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Map of aggression

Map of Xikang. First the first time in the 1940s, Nationalist China started claiming new areas in India's North-East
My article Map of aggression appeared last week in the Edit Page of The Pioneer

Here is the link...

Before making any outrageous claims on border issues, Chinese officials are better advised to do their homework well about history and geography

Hua Chunying, the spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has a poor knowledge of history and even geography. Once again, she claimed recently that Arunachal Pradesh is a part of Chinese territory. Soon after the Indian Prime Minister visited Arunachal Pradesh, she affirmed: “The Chinese Government has never recognised the so-called Arunachal Pradesh and is firmly opposed to the Indian leader’s visit to the East Section of the China-India boundary.”
As usual, South Block issued a weak rebuttal. One wonders why can’t New Delhi speak of the “so-called Tibetan Autonomous Region” or lodge a strong protest each time China does repair work on the road cutting across the Aksai Chin region of Ladakh? Indian diplomats are probably too shy for this. But we should learn from China to defend our interests more vociferously.  Hua’s sharp tongue expressed hopes that “India will cherish the momentum of warming bilateral ties and not take any provocative action.” What provocative action? Just the Prime Minister’s visit to an Indian state? Hua may not be aware but China’s refusal to acknowledge the McMahon Line is a relatively new phenomenon.
Let us go back to 1956. As India prepared to celebrate the 2,500th anniversary of the birth of Buddha, communist China was extremely nervous; eastern Tibet was on fire with the Khampa rebellion, while central Tibet was slowly getting contaminated by the revolt. After months of prevarication, Beijing finally allowed the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama to visit India for the celebrations. But Chinese premier Zhou Enlai was really febrile, he was aware that many Tibetans wanted the Dalai Lama to stay on in India; as a result, he visited Delhi thrice in a period of two months.
During one of his numerous encounters with Zhou, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru asked him: “But I do not quite understand what you meant when you said that Tibet in the past had not become a province of China?” The premier answered: “That Tibet is part of China is a fact but it has never [been] an administrative province of China and has kept an autonomous character.” For Beijing, the autonomous character would remain on paper only. Zhou even admitted that India knew more about Tibet’s past history: “For example, I knew nothing about McMahon Line until recently when we came to study the border problem after the liberation of China.”
Hua would be surprised to learn that China’s premier did not know about the line delineating the border between Indian and Tibet till the early 1950s. Nehru unnecessarily asserted that historical knowledge was not important: “History is gone.” He, however, added: “My impression was that whatever it may be in theory, for all practical purposes, Tibet has all along been autonomous.”
The clever Zhou repeated that though people like him never knew about the McMahon Line till recently, the Kuomintang regime knew about it. Referring to the McMahon Line, he spoke of a “secret” pact between British India and Tibet at the time of the Simla conference.
The Chinese do not like to remember that the Tibetans sat on an equal footing with them during the Simla conference between October 1913 and July 1914. To give an example, the proceedings of the third meeting of the Tibet conference held on January 12, 1914, mentioned the presence of Sir Henry McMahon, GOVO, KCIE, CSI, British Plenipotentiary and staff; Monsieur Ivan Chen, Chinese Plenipotentiary and staff and Kusho Lonchen Shatra, Tibetan Plenipotentiary and staff. They officially sat together for nine months; China suffers from selective amnesia today.
To come back to the Nehru-Zhou meeting, the Premier continued on the McMahon Line: “And now that it is an accomplished fact, we should accept it. But we have not consulted Tibet so far. In the last agreement, which we signed about Tibet [in 1954], the Tibetans wanted us to reject this Line but we told them that the question should be temporarily put aside.”
The Chinese Premier bluffed: “But now we think that we should try to persuade and convince Tibetans to accept it.”
Then, Nehru went on his favorite argument: “The border is a high mountain and sparsely populated.” He further asserted: “Apart from the major question, there are also small queries about two miles here and two miles there. But if we agree on some principle, namely, the principle of previous normal practice or the principle of watershed, we can also settle these other small points.”
It is a fact that it is the nationalist government which made the communists realise the extent of the Chinese territory in the area. It is Ren Naiqiang, an influential scholar during the Republican era, who first included parts of the north-eastern borders of India into the Chinese territory. In 1926, long before the beginning of the Japanese war, Ren had started wandering through Kham. In 1936, as the Nationalist Government formally established the new province Xikang (corresponding to Kham province of Tibet), Ren Naiqiang was encouraged by Liu Wenhui, the Governor of the new province, to produce a map of the area. Though the Chinese had never set a foot in the area, the new map included the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) in China.
At the end of 1949, Ren Naiqiang met Marshal He Long, one of the seniormost generals of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and explained why his map was dependable; the Marshal was convinced and ordered the distribution of copies. On January 10, 1950, He Long sent his report to Mao Zedong strongly recommending that Ren’s map should be accepted and circulated amongst the PLA. It is after this encounter that China started “claiming” India’s NEFA (today Arunachal Pradesh).
Before making outrageous claims, Hua should do her homework and know her country’s history. China has not always claimed NEFA.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Its Time for Babudom 2.0

My article Its Time for Babudom 2.0 appeared in Mail Today.

While the choice of a CBI director has been in the news, the selection of new members for the Central Information Commission (CIC), which takes care of appeals under the Right to Information Act (RTI), has received hardly any coverage.
A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by RTI activist Anjali Bhardwajin the Supreme Cout, requested the government to fill up the vacancies in CIC. In the process an issue plaguing India came to light.
Out of 280 applicants, the search committee had shortlisted 15, 14 bureaucrats and a judge; the Supreme Court could only wonder why bureaucrats alone could make it as information commissioners.
A Bench headed by Justice AK Sikri asked the Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Pinky Anand: “According to the search committee, this class (bureaucrats) is the only class which is eligible. No doubt many of them would be very good after clearing the IAS and serving in the government for 30-35 years. But why not people from other fields - academics, journalists, scientists and lawyers."
The learned judge could have added eminent Indians from civil society, who are the main sufferers of the bureaucratic arcane. The government defended the search committee's choice as “all were deserving people having experience in the government.”
For an outsider, it looks rather like appointing convicts as jailers. The RTI Act, 2005 is meant to tackle the lack of transparency in the administration; it mandates a timely response to citizen requests on any government action.
One does not need to be Sherlock Holmes to trace the culprits for the opacity in the Indian administration; laws are not to be faulted, it is those who interpret and implement them, in other words the babus, who are responsible for the lack of transparency.
This raises a larger question: the pivotal role of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in running the country.
The present IAS cadre was created in January 1950 under the new Constitution of India, for taking over the administration of the Indian Dominion.
While some officers get promoted from the state civil services, the main recruitment is through the Civil Services Examination (CSE).
As only some 180 candidates out of over 1 million applicants, are selected through the CSE, one could consider that it is the cream of the nation.
However, the world has changed since 1947, when ‘generalists’ could effectively govern the country, it is not the case anymore.
To give an example, it is ridiculous that today a ‘generalist’ from the Madhya Pradesh cadre can one day be transferred from Bhopal to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and proceed to dictate his views to someone who served more than three decades in the defence field (a Joint Secretary is supposed to be equivalent to a Major General …on paper).
The courageous late Defence Minister George Fernandes had made a step in the right direction; he started sending the babus to the Siachen glacier to acquire a glimpse into what it meant to defend the border.
Unfortunately, it was not followed by deeper reforms.
One wonders for example, why before joining the MoD, a Joint Secretary is not required to go for a compulsory one-year course at the prestigious National Defence College? He could certainly learn a few things for when he would later deal with procurement or other sensitive fields in the Ministry. Similar rules need to be applied to other ministries.
Another solution would be to have specialized cadres; there are already some, but they are usually considered ‘inferior’ by the IFS/IAS big shots.
It is time to realize that the world-over, the private sector is thriving simply because it gives a due place to innovation and specialization; the world has indeed become more complicated and it requires one to possess a deeper knowledge on specific subjects …while keeping the larger perspectives.
In the 1950s, a remarkable experiment was made with the Indian Frontier Administrative Service (IFAS). The initial recruitment to the IFAS was made by the Central Government through a Special Selection Board with representatives from the Ministries of External Affairs, Home and Defence, along with an expert in tribal affairs.
KC Johorey, who later became Chief Secretary in Goa, was one of the first pioneers who joined the IFAS; he still remembers what Nehru told his batch: “The staff must go along with the flag and the typewriters can follow later on.” He recalls his first posting in Along in the Siang Frontier Division: “There were two houses, one for the burra sahib [Rashid Yusuf Ali, his boss], and behind another smaller hut. The houses were really huts made of bamboos, palm leaves and canes. Even the tables and the beds were of bamboos. There were no mattresses, no electricity and no furniture. The houses were very clean and airy. That was all,” says Johorey; IAFS officers are still remembered sixty years later.
One of the most illustrious members of the IFAS was Maj Ranenglao ‘Bob’ Khathing, who single-handedly brought Tawang under Indian administration in February 1951; he is still considered as a god around Tawang.
Incidentally, most of these officers had an Army background which was extremely useful to tackle the strategic issues involved in the border areas.
The IFAS was a success; unfortunately in the late 1960s, one ‘generalist’ babu decided that the Service was illegal; it was dissolved and officers were merged into the IFS or the IAS. Bu why can’t this type of experiment be attempted again?
It would bring deep changes in India, to create a modern and professional set of administrators, who would, at the same time, be in touch with the grounds realities; the time of the generalist is over.
As far as the CIC is concerned, the Commissioners should come from all walks of life, including the civil society.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Silk Roads without people

My article Silk Roads without people appeared last week in the Edit Page of The Pioneer

Xi Jinping’s likely visit to India must not be wasted. It can be a good occasion for New Delhi to question him about the new corridors and remind him about Demchok
China is very fond of Silk Roads. In 2013, a year after Xi Jinping was anointed Emperor of the Middle Kingdom, he initiated a Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Since then, the Chinese diplomacy has been tirelessly promoting the mega project to link the country to its neighbours as well as to Central Asia, Africa and Europe. Beijing’s latest promotional move has been to confer the Silk Road Super Ambassador Awards to the Ambassadors of Pakistan, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Malta and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Pakistani Ambassador to China, Masood Khalid, told The Global Times: “Our cooperation is very broad and is expanding, so we are happy. We are confident that as we move forward, we will see more tangible progress in our cooperation.”
One may think that the BRI has opened new avenues between the people of China and Pakistan and that the route between Gilgit and Xinjiang is wide opened to Pakistanis to trade with China. But it is not the case — the BRI seems to be just a state-to-state affair, without any concern for the ‘people’ from both sides. To give an example, a few weeks ago, Reuters reported: “Pakistani businessmen, whose wives and children are trapped in China’s restive Xinjiang, are travelling to Beijing to lobby with their Embassy, with hopes that the south Asian nation’s new Government will pressure its ally for their release.”
Deutsche Welle of Germany explained: “Due to Xinjiang’s proximity to Gilgit-Baltistan, the residents of the two areas have shared long historical, cultural and family ties. Many Uighurs are married to the Gilgit-Baltistan locals and vice versa.” The pretext for closing down the border is China’s suspicion about the alleged association of Uighurs with Islamist extremists. China’s Silk Roads are clearly not for the common man, though Nepal, too, is speaking of Xi’s project in laudatory terms.
On January 9, Jameson Lamudhali Layi, the Nepali Consul General in Lhasa (Tibet), told the website China Tibet Online: “I’m really looking forward that the Qinghai-Tibet Railway would reach the city of Kyirong on the China-Nepalese border, which will connect Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, with many cities in China, including Lhasa. …This will be very beneficial and very important to our country.”
The Chinese official website continued: “As the ongoing friendship and collaborations between China and Nepal continue to develop, the extension of the Lhasa-Shigatse Railway is also a project people of both countries are looking forward to.”
Everybody does see it this way; Uddhab P Pyakurel, an Assistant Professor in the School of Arts in Kathmandu, wrote a well-researched paper pointing to the historical and proximate relationship between Nepal and Tibet before China came into the picture. The scholar analyses how this relationship has changed from a striving one to “a stage that is only formal and rhetoric.” He said that the opening of the Rasuwagadi (Kyirong) border has been welcomed by Kathmandu “as if China has shown a great sympathy for Nepalis.” Pyakurel then asserted: “But evidences show that the Chinese proposal to strengthen activities through Kyirong border was just to avoid negative impressions about China in Nepal.” Another landport where local trade was taking place has recently been closed, though “it is reported that the Chinese officials keep promising to open it but do not confirm when they would open the customs points.”
The scholar accused China of progressively eliminating “both the local trade carried on by the inhabitants of the Nepal-Tibet border and the traditional transportation trans-border pasturage-usage system under which pastures on both sides of the boundary were used at different times of the year by Nepali and Tibetan herdsmen.”
Pyakurel gave a detailed account of the successive treaties since 1956, which made it more and more difficult for local traders to deal with Tibet …while the state-to-state business bloomed. This comes at a time when China is opening another port with Nepal: The new corridor lies dangerously close to the strategic State of Sikkim.
Kimathanka is one of the smallest and  remotest hamlets in the North-eastern district of Sankhuwasabha of eastern Nepal; the village is strategically located as it lies at the border with Tibet (China). The Kathmandu Post affirmed that it is “a crucial strategic location for Nepal as the country strives to increase its connectivity with the northern neighbour.”
In April 2018, Nepal’s Foreign Minister, Pradeep Gyawali, visited Beijing, where he met Vice President of China, Wang Qishan, and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. He spoke of “expediting past agreements, developing trans-Himalayan multi-dimensional transport networks and building a China-Nepal-India economic corridor.” Gyawali said that China is Nepal’s genuine friend and a trusted ally: “We should build on the excellent roots of civilisational, geographical and cultural affinities to further connect our countries and societies in order to achieve common prosperity in the trans-Himalayan region.”
Once the new corridor is opened, it will have serious strategic implications for India as it will open via Biratnagar, a new strategic and unwanted gate to India through Kishanganj and Siliguri. Here, too, no people-to-people exchange.
As the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to India is announced for February or March, it could be an occasion for the Government to question him about the new corridor and remind him about Demchok, the last Ladakhi village on the road to western Tibet.
For centuries, Demchok witnessed caravans from Kashmir, Ladakh or Central Asia bringing goods (delicious apricots among others) to the Roof of the World. Ironically, ‘The Agreement on Trade and Intercourse between Tibet Region of China and India’, remembered as the Panchsheel Agreement, signed on April 28, 1954, literally killed the age-old border trade.
Suddenly, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which had taken control over the plateau, stopped Ladakhi traders from selling their goods in Tibet; it marked the end of one of the most flourishing Silk Roads. There was a reason for it, China was building a road across the Aksai Chin, an Indian territory, and the PLA did not want witnesses to the construction.
If Beijing is serious about trans-boundary trade, it has no option but to re-open the old traditional routes, be it the Khunjerab Pass with Pakistan, the passes between Nepal and Tibet or the old routes like the Demchok caravan road. But is China ready to do this? Let us hope that Mr Modi will at least ask President Xi Jinping.

Friday, February 1, 2019

China is forced to court India

My article China is forced to court India appeared in Mail Today

Will Chinese President Xi Jinping visit India in February or March?
it is not certain, though The Nikkei Asian Review reported that Xi hoped to come to India before the general elections in May. The Japanese publication said that if not in February, the visit could take place after the National People's Congress in Beijing in March.
Nikkei’s sources added that Xi would discuss “measures to defuse border tensions, as well as propose deals to expand imports of Indian farm products and increase cooperation in advanced technologies”.
The main rationale seems to “counter Washington's increasingly antagonistic trade policy and aggressive Indo-Pacific diplomacy," according to the Japanese newspaper.
When asked about it, Hua Chunying, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said, "I am not aware of what you said," but she added that China and India were friendly neighbours.
Why would Xi visit India so soon after the encounter of the two leaders in Wuhan in April 2018, which resulted in the famous ‘consensus’?
The answer is simply because China is not in good shape, having been destabilized by President Trump and his tweets and facing unprecedented economic issues.
The most telling sign has been the postponement, for more than three months now, of the Fourth Plenum of the Central Committee which traditionally discusses economic issues.
Since beginning of October, China watchers have been expecting the Plenum to take place ‘soon’; weeks and months have passed and no Plenum.
On December 17, analysis website had already commented: “if no Fourth Plenum is held, this means that the factional struggle is extremely intense and Xi is in grave danger.”
Why has the top leadership been unable to meet?
The Plenum has not been held for different reasons: one is the grim economic situation which brings to the fore dissension, in particular to decide future priorities, among the leadership as well as between the Centre and the Provinces.
Instead of a Plenum, the seven members of the Politburo’s Standing Committee met senior provincial and ministerial-level officials, during a ‘study session’ at the Central Party School in Beijing on January 21. They discussed ‘major risks’ facing the Communist Party of China (CPC).
In his opening speech, Xi spoke of “the prevention and defusing of major risks in areas including politics, ideology, economy, science and technology, society, the external environment and Party building.”
He urged the Party and the regional governments to pursue a holistic approach to national security in order to ensure the political stability of the regime.
He mentioned the turbulent international situation and the complex and sensitive ‘surrounding environment’; ‘stability maintenance’ must be carried out vigorously, he said.
China must protect itself against Black Swans and charging Gray Rhinos: “The CCP regime will likely face immense challenges from inside China and abroad.” Black Swan refers to an unforeseen occurrence with extreme consequences, while a Gray Rhino is a highly obvious threat which has been ignored.
Bloomberg analyzed the economic crisis which is looming large: “Economic growth in the third quarter sank to 6.5 percent, the slowest pace since the depths of the global financial crisis in 2009. …a slowing Middle Kingdom would drag down global growth and corporate profits. …Tariffs on Chinese exports to the US imposed by President Donald Trump are starting to pinch the country’s factories.”
For Xiang Songzuo, a professor at the Renmin University School of Finance, wrote China’s GDP growth would only be 1.67 percent and not 6.5 percent in 2018. Xiang gave four reasons why China’s economy did so badly: first, the tightening of the government financial control caused shortage of capital supply; China’s stock market dropped 30 percent and lost US $1 trillion in value in 2018; the government’s inclination to eliminate private ownership and expand state owned companies which has greatly hurt private companies’ confidence and lastly, the trade war triggered by President Trump.
According to the website Chinascope, Xiang also warned that “nowadays Chinese have become addicted to playing with debt and high leverage financing. This is actually a mirage and will collapse soon.”
All this may force Beijing to have a hard look at its priorities.
One of the first casualties could be the massive infrastructure development. Nikkei quoted an executive at China Railway, a state-owned enterprise handling the rail sector: “Investment for 2019 will very likely reach 850 billion yuan," This would be about 6% over last year's figure of 802.8 billion yuan, which surpassed initial plans by about 10%: “Generous stimulus measures for the economy could “take a hit from the trade war with Washington.”
And there is the war with Huawei, the giant telecom company; Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s CFO, has been arrested in Canada. Bloomberg noted: “Should the US hit Huawei with a business ban and prohibit the sale of American microchips and other high-tech components to the CCP’s national champion, then Huawei faces a real risk of bankruptcy. A crippled Huawei endangers the CCP’s high-tech ambitions and propaganda, the Belt and Road project, the regime’s plan for global 5G dominance, and military communications.”
India seems blissfully unaware that there could be a problem with Huawei; you will say. Five years ago Killi Kruparani, the MoS in the Ministry of Communications and IT admitted that an incident “about the alleged hacking of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) network by Huawei ... has come to notice”.
After Wuhan, between friends, no such thing can happen!
It is probably to make sure that India does not join the bandwagon of the China’s and Huawei’s detractors and to make sure that the Consensus last forever that Xi is planning to visit India.
Shaky China needs friends; India is always ready.
A word of caution is however necessary, Hindi-China bhai-bhai has not led anywhere in the past.