Friday, January 31, 2020

Wrong person at wrong time

My article Wrong person at wrong time appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer
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Nehru made a wrong choice of making Menon Defence Minister. Though the trauma of the 1962 war remains, many things have changed. The CDS should help in neutralising threats

India’s controversial Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon was recently in the news, courtesy a well-researched book, which did not elaborate enough on the implications for the country on account of having a wrong person at the wrong place and at the wrong time. Menon was one of the strangest characters, who appeared on the political scene after independence. PK Banerjee, the Indian chargé d’affaires in Beijing in 1962, who often encountered the haughty politician, wrote in his memoir: “Krishna Menon’s appearance in the Indian political arena was as sudden as it was unexpected... he had his education and was enrolled as a Barrister. He hardly had any legal practice …[but] became a protégé of Palme Dutt, a lawyer and founder member of the British Communist Party.”
How, after independence, he was suddenly nominated as the Indian High Commissioner in the UK is still not clear. A few years later, he came back to India and was made the Defence Minister: “In addition, for all practical purposes, he functioned as Foreign Minister de facto,” noted Banerjee. Menon was certainly brilliant in some ways. He joined the Union Cabinet as a Minister without a portfolio in 1956. It was former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who appointed him as the Defence Minister in April 1957.
Sixty-three years later, India still suffers because of Nehru’s choice. One of the many blunders that he committed was to stop using the seniority system in the Army, replacing it with the so-called merit-based method of promotion; in fact, posting his favorites in positions where they should have never been. This eventually led to the resignation of the then Chief of Army Staff, General KS Thimayya.
Let’s take a look at a few examples of the wrongs committed by Defence Minster Menon at the time when the Chinese troops attacked India in the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) and in Ladakh. It was only after meeting Wing Commander Jag Mohan (Jaggi) Nath, the first of the six officers who have been twice decorated with the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC), India’s second highest war-time military award, that I realised that the outcome of the 1962 war could have been completely different had India used its Air Force.
Nath received his first MVC for his role in reconnaissance missions between 1960 and 1962 over the Aksai Chin and Tibet. His missions proved immensely useful to learn everything about the Chinese military build-up on the Tibetan plateau. Unfortunately, the political leadership (first and foremost the Defence Minister) refused to believe the hard evidence gathered during of his sorties. After one of his missions over the Aksai Chin and Tibet, a message came that Nehru, Menon and their favorite General, Biji Kaul, wanted to be briefed about Nath’s reconnaissance sorties.
Along with former Air Vice Marshal DAM Nanda, the then Deputy Chief of the Air Force, Nath went to South Block to meet Menon. They were waiting outside the Minister’s room when Kaul came and he started talking non-stop: “I know, I know, these fellows [the Chinese] are there. They asked me to throw them back. I can throw them back, not a problem! But they will be back the next day. It has to be planned out properly.”
Nath was surprised that Gen Kaul would speak this way in front of a junior officer: “I was a low-level officer” but [Kaul] continued shouting: “You saw the Chinese soldiers.” I said, “Yes, sir, I saw them.” “OK, go to the Defence Minister”, he finally said.
Nanda and Nath finally landed up in Menon’s office.  Nath recalled: “He did not ask anything”, he just said, “Did you see the Chinese soldiers?” I answered: “Yes sir, I saw them.” “That’s alright, you can go.” That was it. Nath concluded: “There was a total breakdown.”
In a secret report written as he was forced to resign in November 1962, the flamboyant Defence Minister wrote: “China is reported to have the third largest Air Force in the world. This may well be true.” Though Menon was aware of the fuel issue: “[China] had inadequate  fuel capacity in terms of war requirements,” he ignored the findings of the brave airman, who explained: “If we had sent a few airplanes [into Ladakh or NEFA], 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…” Unfortunately, the then Chief of Air Staff did not have the courage to put his foot down. This led to one of the greatest tragedies in India’s modern history. Mao had bluffed Nehru and it worked.
Another sad story about the 1962 episode was recounted by Lt Col (later Maj Gen) KK Tewari, the Commander of the Signal Regiment of the Corps based in Tezpur (Assam), responsible in the early 1960s for the Tawang sector of the NEFA. Tewari wrote: “On the 19th [October], Brig Dalvi [Commander of the 7th Infantry Brigade] talked to the General Officer Commanding [GOC] at Zimithang [near the Tibet border] on the telephone. He was pleading with the latter to let him move up to a tactically sound defensive position.” He described the existing position along the river where he had been ordered to stay by the Corps Commander [BM Kaul] before his departure for Delhi as a “death trap.” Brig Dalvi was told “not to flap but to obey orders and stay put. He was visibly upset and was very abrupt on the telephone to his boss. He passed the telephone to me.”
Tewari told the GOC that the Chinese were moving down the Thagla Ridge like ants. He could also see at least half a dozen mortars, which were not even camouflaged: “The Chinese could not be there for a picnic, their attack was imminent on a massive scale,” he added. But Dalvi and his men were told that they had been informed by the “higher authorities in Delhi” that the Chinese would not attack …at a time they had already attacked.
Today, though the trauma of the 1962 thrashing remains, many things have changed on the ground. The creation of a post of Chief of Defence Staff should go a long way in overcoming the complete lack of coordination between the three services experienced in 1962. This, however, will not absolve Nehru’s wrong choice of making Menon the Defence Minister, a post he occupied for five crucial years.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Situation worsens for Tibetans as China dictates terms to Nepal and Myanmar

My article Situation worsens for Tibetans as China dictates terms to Nepal and Myanmar appeared in Mail Today/DailyO

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It is perhaps time for India to wake up and recognise that Tibetan refugees have never created any problems for India over the last 60 years.

While addressing a Chinese Lunar New Year reception held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, President Xi Jinping remarked: “From now to the middle of this century, the Chinese people will strive to build China into a great modern socialist country.”
“It will be a great era in which a new splendid chapter of the Chinese civilisation will be written. Every Chinese person must feel proud of living in such a great era,” Xi added.

Nepal capitulates

Sadly, Beijing’s ‘minorities’ — the Uyghurs, Tibetans or Mongols — do not seem to have been given a decent place in “the glorious goal of national rejuvenation.” The Tibetans in Nepal suffer most from Beijing’s new policies. When Xi visited Kathmandu in October 2019, the PM of Nepal, KP Sharma Oli, told Xinhua that he was committed to strengthening bilateral friendship. The two sides signed 18 cooperation documents but not an expected extradition treaty. It did not stop Xi from saying: “Anyone attempting to split China in any part of the country will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones.”
“Following apprehensions, it could infringe on its sovereignty” a milder pact on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters was signed, the Nepali media reported. It targets Tibetans leaving their country to take refuge in India. The illusion that the former Himalayan Kingdom could control its own destiny did not last long.
If the Tibetans were so happy in China, why would they take the risk of crossing the perilous Himalayan passes to escape the ‘Communist Paradise’?
On January 23, Nepal and China are said to have agreed to hand over citizens ‘illegally’ crossing their border. Meanwhile, the boundary management system signed during Xi’s state visit incorporated a provision to hand over individuals. The secret clause is now out in the open: Article 26 (2) of the agreement says: “The boundary representatives or competent authorities of both sides shall investigate cases of persons found while crossing the border illegally, ascertain their identities, crossborder facts and reasons as soon as possible and hand them over to the side where they stayed before crossing the border, within seven days from the day they are detained.”
According to experts interviewed by MyRepublica: “The provision could immediately target refugees from Tibet who sneak across the border to Nepal to make a safe passage to India.” Since the 1980s, Nepal has had a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ to let the refugees proceed to India (mostly to Dharamsala, the headquarters of the Dalai Lama) on humanitarian grounds. The new agreement will supersede this arrangement.

Myanmar enlisted
If the Tibetans were so happy in China, as projected by Beijing’s propaganda, why would the Dalai Lama’s followers take the risk of crossing the perilous Himalayan passes to escape the ‘Communist Paradise’? Beijing has a lot to answer on this. The truth is that today China is dictating terms to Nepal. Kathmandu does not have much choice. Nor does Myanmar.
During Xi’s recent visit to Myanmar, a joint statement said that “each side was pleased with the economic and social progress of the other.” Later, it was asserted that “the Myanmar side reiterates its firm commitment to the One China Policy and supports the efforts of China to resolve the issues of Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang, which are inalienable parts of China.” It was the first time that such a formula was imposed by China on a country. Myanmar has its reasons for wanting to please Beijing. The latter will now support the country on the Rohingya issue.
Meanwhile, the situation is worsening for Tibetans in Tibet. According to the official Tibet Daily, on January 12, the legislative branch of the Tibetan Autonomous Region voted in favour of new regulations to ‘strengthen ethnic unity’ in Tibet. In 2016, similar rules were introduced in Xinjiang. These were later used to justify crackdowns on Uyghurs.

A Xinjiang in Lhasa?
Tsewang Gyalpo Arya, the spokesperson of the Central Tibet Administration (CTA) in Dharamsala objected to the new regulations, arguing that the Chinese government wanted to make Tibetans a minority in their own country through systematic state-sponsored migration of a large number of Han Chinese. “This forebodes a very difficult and harsh time ahead for Tibetans in China,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kunchok Tsundue, the CTA’s Chief Planning Officer affirmed that “the demographic landscape of the Tibetans in exile has drastically changed, with more than half the population shown by a survey to have moved from India to Western countries.” According to a survey conducted in 2009, there were 94,203 Tibetans in India, 13,514 in Nepal, 1,298 in Bhutan, and 18,999 in the rest of the world, scattered in 27 countries, mostly Western countries.
“The Tibetans are now moving towards the West,” affirmed Tsundue. It is perhaps time for India to wake up and recognise that Tibetan refugees have never created problems for India over the last 60 years. In fact, they have been (and are) an asset for the country. The only ray of hope for Tibet is the immense difficulties faced by Xi Jinping; the coming Rat Year promises to be even more problematic for the Communist Party.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Hans lead in China’s poverty alleviation projects

A 'village' out of nowhere
As my article Hans lead in China’s poverty alleviation projects appeared in the Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle, a Chinese website mentioned once again 'poverty alleviation' on the Tibetan plateau, but this time in a strange context.

China Tibet News' article is titled: “Moving into new houses to get rid of poverty”
It is very short; it just says that “Located in Zogang [Dzogang] County, Qamdo [Chamdo] City, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, Sifangxianghe Village is a relocation site for poverty alleviation, with a total residential gross floor area of 79,918.51 m².”
‘Sifangxianghe’ is apparently a new name for the ‘village’. It is possibly linked to the Sifan tribe?
The article concludes: “The housing is multi-storey with frame structure, and water, electricity, road and network are equipped with. Now, 4,803 people from 902 households in 7 towns have moved into new houses.”

Nearly 5,000 people relocated out of nowhere is really strange, to say the least.
And as the map below shows, it is not far from the Indian border in Arunachal Pradesh.
The only thing we can think of, this new village could a shelter for migrants workers for the construction of a dam.
Two of the major Asian rivers with their source on the plateau flow through Dzogang county, the Salween and the Mekong.
The Salween or Nu River, is 2,815 kilometres (1,749 mi) long; it flows from the Tibetan Plateau into the Andaman Sea in Southeast Asia.
According to Wikipedia: “It drains a narrow and mountainous watershed of 324,000 km2 that extends into the countries of China, Burma and Thailand. Steep canyon walls line the swift and powerful Salween. Its extensive drainage basin supports a biodiversity comparable with the Mekong and is home to about 7 million people.”
A large number of dams are planned on the Salween.

Gyalmo Ngulchu is the name of the Salween in Tibetan
The Mekong is the seventh longest in Asia with a length of 4,350 km; it drains an area of 795,000 km2, discharging 475 km3 of water annually: “From the Tibetan Plateau the river runs through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. The extreme seasonal variations in flow and the presence of rapids and waterfalls in the Mekong make navigation difficult. Even so, the river is a major trade route between western China and Southeast Asia,” says Wikipedia.
The Dzogang county is served by two major National Highway (214 and 318).
China National Highway 318 (G318) runs from Shanghai to Zhangmu on the China-Nepal border. It is the longest China National Highway at 5,476 kilometres in length and runs from Shanghai towards Zhejiang, Anhui, Hubei, Chongqing, Sichuan, and ends in Tibet Autonomous Region.
China National Highway 214 (G214) runs from Xining, Qinghai to Jinghong, Yunnan. It is 3,256 kilometres in length and runs south from Xining towards Tibet, and ends in Yunnan Province.

Though the Chinese propaganda speaks of ‘poverty alleviation’, the new ‘village’ will probably be used for the migrant workers building a dam on the Salween.
Mr. Xi should check the data coming from the provinces; it is probably the easiest way to show that poverty has been eradicated, but if the workers have come from outside, the new ‘well-off’ society can not be listed in the achievements of the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

Dzogang county near the Indian border
Hans lead in China’s poverty alleviation projects 

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In the recent months, China has started in a massive relocation scheme in Tibet, redrawing the demography of India’s borders.
Beijing admits that though the rural poverty rate was more than 97.5 percent in 1978, it took 22 more years for Beijing to launch a serious program for aid development in the poorest areas of Western China. In 2012, 98 million Chinese people still lived below the poverty line; a year later, 128,000 villages remained classified as impoverished.
According to the China Daily, for Tibet it is a historic moment, “Chinese people felt excited and proud by the news that the local government in the Tibet Autonomous Region [TAR] had decided to strip 19 counties of their poverty labels, after 55 Tibetan counties cast off such labels in 2018.”
China’s aim was to eliminate the ‘Two Worries’, the lack of food and sufficient clothing.
While more than 100,000 villages are said to have been stripped of their ‘poverty label’ in China, the main ‘battle’ seems to have taken place in Tibet and Xinjiang, the two restive provinces which had been ‘liberated’ by the Communists in 1950.
This obviously raises the question, why have these areas, 'liberated' nearly 70 years ago, remained so poor? Beijing has a lot to answer for, what was the Party doing all these years?
In Tibet unfortunately, poverty alleviation is achieved by large population relocations, often near the Indian borders.
On December 24, China Daily cited Liu Yongfu, director of the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development in Beijing, who stated that the TAR and in the four provinces where ethnic Tibetan people live (particularly in three prefectures in Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan) as well as the southern part of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region had been clubbed together: “Officials commonly refer to these regions as the Three Areas and Three Prefectures, the deeply impoverished areas.”
According to, all the TAR 74 counties and county-level districts have been lifted out of poverty in 2019, “which means the whole region has got rid of absolute impoverishment”.
The article takes the example of a Tibetan family, who in 2018 moved to a new house from Rongma Township in Nyima County of Nagchu Prefecture, (located north of Lhasa at an altitude of more than 5,000 meters), they have been relocated near the Tibetan capital. The website claims that it was the first high-altitude exemplary site of ecological relocation in Tibet: “From June 10 to 18 in 2018, 571 herdsmen moved in two batches to Lhasa which is over 1,000 miles away.”
It is just an example.
More worrying for India are the relocations through the Xiaogang (‘moderately well-off’) villages located on India's borders.
More than hundred villages have been built, whether in Yume (north of Upper Subansiri), Tsona county (north of Tawang), Rima area (north of Kibithu in the Lohit Valley) or Chiakang (not far from Demchok in Ladakh) as well as in some more populated areas like Yatung in Chumbi Valley, near Sikkim or Purang, close to the trijunction between Tibet, Nepal and India.
On September 30, Xinhua mentioned the number of Tibetans relocated to new homes in anti-poverty fight: “Nearly 250,000 people in Tibet have moved into 910 new settlements as part of poverty alleviation efforts by August 2019.”
The official News Agency noted that China had planned to invest 19.78 billion yuan (US$ 2.8 billion) in its relocation program to build 60,931 houses in around 970 settlements for 266,000 poverty-stricken citizens in the TAR.
According to Beijing, relocation is used as a means of poverty reduction: “By offering job opportunities in industrial parks and cities, the relocated residents are ensured ways to make a better living.” As the relocations often happen in brand new villages, one can ask, where are the 'industrial parks' in these places?
Another propaganda article in China Tibet News speaks of the happy life brought by the relocation. The story says: “Starting eastward from Shannan (Lhoka) prefecture after a three-hour driving, one can arrive at Gongkang Village in Lingda Town of Gyatsa County, with an average elevation of 3,269 metres.” Interestingly, the village is not far from the site of a new dam on the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra in India). The new settlers are probably engaged in dam construction; in another word, they are migrant workers.
In August 2016, this place had already been designated as the target for poverty alleviation: “At present, there are 369 households and 1,269 people in Gongkang Village. The project of advancing relocation covers an area of 472,000 m², and its total investment reaches 210 million yuan (US$ 34 million),” said Xinhua.
All the villagers are said to benefit from a medical insurance, while the children enjoy favorable policies “at the stages of compulsory education and senior high school” and college students receive regional subsidies. Subsequently, the enrollment rate of the village's school-age children is 100%.
A Gongkang Village Industrial Development Co has been established, with five ‘mutual-aid teams’, namely ecological breeding team, agricultural and animal products processing team, labor-force exporting team and agricultural machinery promoting team. This sounds like the setting up of communes during the Great Leap Forward in China.
A list of benefits is given and the article concludes: “Nowadays, a harmonious and socialist new countryside has been built beside the Yarlung Tsangpo River under the Party's policy of benefiting people and Gongkang villagers.”
One important factor admitted by the Chinese authorities for relocating the Tibetans is tourism. Huang Yongqing, head of the regional tourism development department told Xinhua: “The regional government has encouraged rural residents and herdsmen to open family inns. The average annual income of the total of 570 family inns surpassed 100,000 yuan (US$ 16,000), and some even reached 300,000 yuan (US$ 48,000).”
It was observed that the number of tourists to visit Tibet reached 33.7 million, up 31.5 percent year on year; the income from tourism increased by 29.2 percent to 49 billion yuan (US$ 8 billion). Of course, these figures always need to be taken with a pinch of salt, but still there is no doubt that Tibet receives millions of Han visitors and their number is increasing.
More worrying, Xinhua announced in December that an application lab for Tibetan speech technology research had been established at the Tibet University in Lhasa: “The lab aims to create a platform of integrative development and application for ethnic language, phonology, and modern information technology, and to bring convenience in communication for local people in life and at work.”
iFlytek, an artificial intelligence heavyweight, had been working with the Tibet University for more than eight years on Tibetan speech technology.
It means that the relocated villagers, whatever their dialect, can now be monitored with the latest technology.
With one stone, China kills several birds: it provides employment to the poorer section, it monitors the restive populations better, particularly the nomads and it develops the border areas.
The ‘relocation’ will probably continue on a war-footing in 2020, bringing millions of new migrants to India’s border …and Happiness to the Party.
For India, the change of demography on her borders is a serious issue.
The new settlers are not Tibetans alone, Hans too are brought to the borders to take the lead in the implementation of the Party social and strategic policies.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Has China hit the spending curb?

My article Has China hit the spending curb? appeared in Mail Today/DailyO

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Though today it looks as if Xi's 'pockets' have no bottom, the question remains, can it last forever?

One question is highly relevant to predict China's future: How deep are the pockets of Chairman Xi Jinping, recently promoted to People's Leader of Communist China? Beijing's status in the world may depend on the answer. Though today it looks as if Xi's 'pockets' have no bottom, the question remains, can it last forever?
Take the Shandong, the first-generation Chinese aircraft carrier which was launched in April 2017 by the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). It is China's second aircraft carrier after the Liaoning. The conventionally powered ski-jump carrier with a 70,000 tonnes displacement was commissioned on December 17, 2019 at Sanya (Hainan) by President Xi. It probably costs far more than the estimated cost of $9 billion. A third aircraft carrier, Type 003, is already under construction and may have a displacement of 85,000 tonnes.
For the first time, a catapult-assisted takeoff barrier arrested recovery (CATOBAR), like on the most-modern US carriers, will be used. The PLAN broke all the records by launching 28 ships in 2019. The list of the new ships was recently published on Twitter: Two Type-055 destroyers, Eight Type-052D destroyers, 16 Type-056 corvettes, one Type-075 LHD 1 (a multi-purpose amphibious assault ship capable of receiving helicopters and a well deck, known as a 'landing helicopter dock') and one Type-071 LPD (amphibious transport dock, also called a landing platform/dock). This is only one field. Another domain of 'investment' for the Chinese Government are foreign projects like the Belt and Road Initiative and the flagship China Pakistan Economic Corridor; the latter alone is estimated to cost $62 billion. If one adds international projects (some undertaken in India's neighbourhood i.e. in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh or Nepal), but also in Central Asia, Africa or South America, deep pockets are definitively required to finance all this, even if some of the 'generous' gifts are loans-in-disguise.
China is also pouring yuans in infrastructure, particularly in Tibet and Xinjiang. In the last five years, it has relentlessly developed the infrastructure on the 'Roof of the World'. In 2017, China Tibet News announced the reconstruction and an extension of Lhasa Gongkar Airport. In April 2019, Xinhua wrote: "As one of the region's key projects during China's Five-Year Plan, the estimated investment reaches 3.9 billion yuan ($634 million) for the new terminal building construction." The main body of the construction was completed at the end of 2019 while the new terminal building is scheduled to be opened in 2020.

Infra push
Take the railways, on January 2, it was announced that most of the Lhasa-Nyingchi railway (north of Arunachal) had been completed; the balance is expected to be operational in October 2021; its total length will be 213 km. This massive requires money, as do the three new airports on the plateau, to be completed in 2021 or the railway to Kyirong at the Nepal border. Another 'investment' is the relocation of population on the Indian border. On January 6, Tibetan Autonomous Region's (TAR) government Chairman Che Dahla (or Qizhala)said that Tibet would start a pilot scheme for constructing 30 towns on the border: "In developing a group of border towns and villages into centers of commerce, logistics hubs or tourist destinations, Tibet will proceed from local conditions, pool strength and resources to upgrade infrastructure, improve public services. A few billions more! It is not only national defence, international cooperation or internal development which require billions and billions of yuans, internal security too. In 2019, The Nikkei pointed out: "Beijing has actually been pouring even more resources into domestic security than external security." The figures are flabbergasting: China's annual spending on domestic security has more than tripled since 2007, to reach $193 billion in 2017.
"The government of what is formally the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region said last month that its security spending alone rose 92.8 per cent last year from 2016 to reach 57.95 billion yuan. It had spent only 5.45 billion on security in 2007," as per a research published by Adrian Zenz of the European School of Culture and Theology in Korntal, Germany. And what about the billions of dollars poured into propaganda by the United Front Work Department to project China's 'peaceful rise'?
The question is: Can the spending spree continue forever; the answer: It cannot. The Chinese economy is said to have only progressed by 6.0 per cent in 2019; it was the weakest growth rate since the first quarter of 1992. The trade war with the US, the weakening global demand and alarming high borrowings by local governments are responsible for the slowdown. "With the economic slowdown in China, the Chinese government is strictly controlling the volume of capital flowing out of China, making Chinese investors work much harder than before to shrink the debt level and difficult for Chinese investors to pay back the debts acquired overseas," according to Singaporean newspaper Lianhe Zaobao. The Communist country's pockets definitely have a bottom.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Lessons for China

My article Lessons for China appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer

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Tsai’s presidential poll win and the Hong Kong local elections last year show the weakness of the Chinese regime, which remains dependent on propaganda and influence to bully its neighbours

The just-concluded presidential and legislative elections in Taiwan might remain a turning point in the life of not only the island but  the entire region. President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) defeated Han Kuo-yu from China-friendly Kuomintang by more than 2.5 million votes (57.1 per cent for Tsai and 38.6 per cent for Han). The former became the first-ever candidate to capture more than eight million votes. James Soong Chu-yu, chairman of the People First Party (PFP) close to China performed poorly with only 4.2 per cent of the votes. More than 14 million (out of 19 million eligible voters) participated in the vote, which also saw the DPP retain its majority in the legislature, winning 61 out of 113 seats.
Many observers saw this as a slap in the face of China and its President Xi Jinping. The problem for Beijing is that this is a second debacle in a row — in November 2019, the Hong Kong District Council elections were held for 18 seats when a record 71 per cent of the electorate had voted. The election was viewed by many as a referendum on pro-democracy protests that continued for six months. The results came as a jolt for Beijing; the Communist regime had never expected a “tsunami” in favour of the pro-democracy movement, which took control of 17 of the18 district councils.
At first, it looked as if Beijing did not know how to react. According to The South China Morning Post: “Xinhua waited [two days] to release a two-paragraph news report on the polls. It only stated that the elections took place and 18 districts produced results.” The next day, the People’s Daily went on talking about the history of US intervention in foreign elections. In the weeks preceding the elections, the Global Times repeatedly claimed that a “silent majority” in Hong Kong was condemning the protests.
An important common factor, the country’s mobilising youth, has been pointed out by Juang Wen-jong, professor of public policy and management at Shih Hsin University in The South China Morning Post: “Young people — or those between 20 and 39 — were the key to the weekend’s elections as they made up at least 6.6 million of the eligible voters in Taiwan… They helped bolster the turnout rate, which helped increase both the vote for Tsai and her party.”
Many considered the Taiwan’s presidential election to be a proxy contest about its national identity. This probably explains why Beijing was not amused. What has made matters worse for China is that many countries sent congratulatory messages to the new Taiwanese President. “China cried foul, claiming that their actions violated the ‘one-China’ principle,” wrote the Taiwan News.
The Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) had announced that officials from some 60 countries had greeted Tsai via phone call and email. It included US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi. “In a released statement, Pompeo congratulated Tsai on her well-deserved win and praised Taiwanese voters for demonstrating the spirit of democracy.”
The word “democracy” makes China see red. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang spoke of elections in “Taiwan region of China” and asserted that it was a “sub-national affair in China.” He added that Beijing deplores and firmly opposes “those countries” which violate the “one-China principle” by “offering the congratulations and lodged solemn representations.”
Geng declared that Beijing opposes any official relations between “the Taiwan region” and countries that have diplomatic ties with China. He asked these countries to deal with the issue “properly and with caution to avoid sending the wrong message to Taiwan’s independence forces.”
Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) released a communiqué asking Taipei to adhere to the “1992 consensus” between China and Taiwan. Ma Xiaoguang, the TAO spokesman, said: “Our political policy towards Taiwan is clear and consistent. We adhere to the basic principles of peaceful reunification; one country, two systems and one China.” We will resolutely safeguard China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, resolutely oppose any plot or act of “Taiwan independence” and resolutely promote the interests and “well-being of Taiwan compatriots.”
At the same time, Xinhua blamed Tsai and the DPP of using “dirty tactics such as cheating, repression and intimidation to get votes.” The official news agency claimed that it exposes “their selfish, greedy and evil nature.” In a Chinese language op-ed, Xinhua even accused Tsai of “buying votes and blamed the election results on external dark forces.”
The “dark forces” are obviously the “West”, which has sinned for “inventing” democracy (incidentally, is it the West which “invented” the “evil” democracy? Serious historians believe that elected village councils existed in India centuries before it was introduced in Ancient Greece).
The “two slaps” show the weakness of the Chinese regime, which depends too much on “propaganda” and “influence” to bully its neighbours — whether “Chinese ones” like Hong Kong or Taiwan or foreign ones such as Australia, Vietnam or the Philippines.
Once again, the billions of dollars used to change the mind of the voters did not help Beijing.  To the contrary, it looks as if it had the reverse effect and this may not change in the near future. Beijing is facing a dead end without even realising it.
Chinese leaders are unfortunately incapable of changing their tactics. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who was recently in India to discuss the boundary issue with the National Security Advisor, went on the same old track. In Zimbabwe during an African tour, Wang affirmed that Tsai’s win would not stop Taiwan’s reunification with the mainland: “A local election on the Taiwan island will [not] shake [China’s determination] despite erroneous words and actions by some Western politicians… The rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and the reunification across the [Taiwan] strait is inevitable. Going against the trend is bound to reach a dead end. Anyone separating the nation will stink for 10,000 years.”
Well, the human spirit for freedom and the aspiration to choose one’s own destiny is also difficult to suppress or extinguish. It is true not only for Hong Kong or Taiwan but places like Tibet and Xinjiang, too.
According to the official Tibet Daily, on January 12, the legislative branch of the Tibetan Autonomous Region voted in favour of new regulations to “strengthen ethnic unity” in Tibet. Four years ago, similar rules were introduced in Xinjiang. It was later used to justify crackdowns on the Muslim Uygur minority. But once again, it is not easy to tame the human spirit and change the hearts of the masses. Beijing will have to learn one day.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

India’s China agenda

My article India’s China Agenda appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer

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Compared to China, which is assertive and has undertaken innovative developments, India is definitively trailing. Preparation for any eventuality is the way forward to counter its rise

There is no doubt that 2019 has been a special year for China: Lavish events were organised to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). In 1949, from the rostrum of the Tiananmen Square, Chairman Mao had announced, “China has arisen.” On October 1, 2019, Chinese President Xi Jinping was on the same wavelength as his predecessor when he said, “No force can ever shake the status of China or stop the Chinese people and the nation from marching forward.” On that day, Beijing displayed several futuristic military gadgets.
On December 29, the Global Times listed China’s advanced weaponry. It said, “the year 2019” has been a “year of harvest” for China’s military equipment as the country showcased a “massive selection” of the latest, advanced and powerful weapons that operate on land, sea and air. It is not only in the field of advanced armaments that Beijing has been “doing well” but in this domain, the progress is indicative of an assertive China and of the innovative developments undertaken by Beijing. Comparatively, India is definitively trailing. Even though the communist party’s newspaper observed, “These displays of China’s new weapons showed transparency in the country’s military development” and sent a message to the world that China was determined to “safeguard sovereignty and peace,” the fact remains that China is still preparing itself.
Last week, in the Port of Dalian in Liaoning Province, China launched the country’s 23rd Type 052D and the sixth Type 055 destroyer. Experts said “the ship was one of the world’s largest and most powerful destroyers” and was capable of leading a high sea fleet or becoming the “pillar in an aircraft carrier battle group”, said the Global Times.
A few days earlier, China had officially commissioned its first domestically-built aircraft carrier, the Shandong. The CNN reported, “China has officially commissioned its first domestically-built aircraft carrier, the Shandong, a significant step forward in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitions for the country to field a world-class Navy.” Xi attended the commissioning ceremony in the southern province of Hainan where the carrier joined the Chinese Navy. In 2019, China launched the highest number of warships in the world: Nine destroyers, one comprehensive supply ship, one comprehensive landing ship, one amphibious assault ship, 12 light frigates with a total displacement of 200,000 tonnes, surpassing the US by far.
The Global Times quoted military experts as saying, “2019 will not be the end of China’s military equipment development. More weapons are expected in 2020 and beyond.” But there is another side to the coin. President Xi has been facing a rough sea at home. The fourth plenary session of the 19th Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee was held in Beijing from October 28 to 31. The members discussed the work report presented by Xi and adopted it “to uphold and improve the system of socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics and improve the party’s capacity for law-based governance and law-based exercising of state power.”
The communiqué mentions, the nation is facing “increasing challenges at home and abroad.” The gathering upheld the principle of “one country, two systems,” maintaining lasting prosperity and stability in Hong Kong and Macao, and “promoting the peaceful reunification of China.”
Despite the serious difficulties faced by China, India needs to be prepared to respond to its rise. But first, let’s talk about what India should not do. The two-day meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping at a resort in October in Mamallapuram was an occasion to talk about “civilisation.” But was it of any help?
As it is, during Nehruvian days, India was fond of this hazy concept. The dictionary thus defines the term as “an act or a process of civilising, as by bringing out of a savage, uneducated, or unrefined state, or of being civilised.” Already, in the 1950s, this great “idea” allowed the Indian leadership to “dream” of lofty principles such as peaceful co-existence, while China was quietly consolidating its presence on the Tibetan plateau and preparing for a war with India.
Today, India should look after its own interests and forget about vague idealistic concepts. It should learn from the Chinese leadership, which has always remained pragmatic and down-to-earth. Unfortunately, when India speaks about its past, it does so to avoid talking about the present. This is what may have happened between India and China during the two-day encounter at Mamallapuram. Though it is not known what went on for two-and-a-half hours during the one-to-one dinner composed of exotic Tamil dishes, very few concrete decisions seem to have been taken. The Indian foreign secretary affirmed that the “K” word was not pronounced. This is regrettable for the occasion was opportune to clarify the Indian position.
One positive outcome from the meeting was 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 can, hopefully, help rebalance the trade deficit — today in India’s disfavour.
An example of a positive pragmatic policy for India has been the creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). A day before the end of the year, the Government finally nominated Gen Bipin Rawat, outgoing Chief of Army Staff, as the first CDS “to drive the desperately-needed integration among the three services.”
But why did we have to wait for one day before the end of Gen Rawat’s tenure to see his name released? There was probably an intense lobbying from the babus to preserve their turf.  The history of modern India is a Mahabharata between the progressive forces, which want to change “eternal Bharat”, and the entrenched administration sticking to their privileges.
To win this battle would be the best way to counter China. As Rawat was handing over the baton to Gen MM Naravane, his successor, he was asked a question: Is the Army better prepared today to face the security challenges than when he took over? Gen Rawat replied, “Yes, we are better prepared.”
Preparation for any eventuality is the way forward to counter the rise of China. At the same time, India needs to continue investing in infrastructure, telecommunication systems, roads, airports and border areas while also providing a decent living and empowering frontier populations. In the future, Artificial Intelligence (AI), latest telecommunication means and new technologies should be indigenously developed if India does not want to be left behind. Only then will China respect India and will not be tempted to engage in an adventure like it did in 1962.
This is a tough agenda for 2020.