Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Playing the Gyaltsen Norbu 'Card'

Something rather unusual happened on the occasion of the Tibetan Losar (New Iron-Mouse Year).
Gyaltsen Norbu, the Chinese-selected Panchen Lama addressed his countrymen …in English: “I would like to extend to all my fellow Tibetans at home and abroad my best greetings for the new Tibetan year of the Iron Rat,” he said.
Incidentally, for the Tibetans, it is the Year of the Mouse, not the Rat Year as in China, but why to speak in English.
With a relatively good accent and subtitles (and obviously a prompter), Gyaltsen Norbu said: “In 2019, we stayed apace with the great times. Every family made progress and reaped benefits. Each and every person gained new understandings and personal growth. At present, people of all ethnic groups across China are fighting against the novel coronavirus outbreak. I firmly believe under the strong leadership of the CPC Central Committee, with the whole society united in taking action and working together to help each other, we will definitely achieve the ultimate victory.”
Though he mentioned the Communist Party, he did not say a word about the 'People’s Leader', Xi Jinping.
After speaking of the fight against the Coronavirus, his conclusions were: “I wish and pray for world peace and social harmony. I wish and pray for the prosperity of our country. I wish and pray for the health and well-being for our people. And I wish and pray for all living beings to achieve happiness by staying away from all sufferings.”
A few days earlier, The People’s Daily announced that the Chinese Panchen Lama had donated medical supplies worth 1 million yuan (about $1,43,000) through the Tibet Development Fund: “to help fight the novel coronavirus in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region [TAR].”
The Lama is obviously well-off.
Xinhua reported that the medical supplies, including medical gloves, isolation gowns, masks and thermometers, have been dispatched to the 'frontline' of epidemic control in the region.
Where is the ‘frontline’ when the TAR is said to be the only region in China without declared case?
More importantly, the fact that Gyatsen Norbu addressed the Tibetans in English shows that Beijing is planning a much larger role for him in the future.
It could even dispense China to ‘find’ a 15th Dalai Lama, a move which would be controversial to say the least; Beijing could play the ‘Gyaltsen Norbu’ card on a much larger scale and probably on a restricted international level.
Beijing is aware that after the Dalai Lama’s passing away, it will take a few years for his reincarnation to return and during the next two decades, he will not be able to play a political role due to young age, therefore it would be safe for Beijing to use Gyaltsen Norbu for a few decades.
But it is if…
The fate of a nation (or an individual) is never a straight line.
In 1931, two years before passing in the Heavenly Fields, the 13th Dalai Lama had written: “While I was returning to Tibet, [in 1910] the Ambans [the Chinese Resident] in Tibet sent false reports to the Chinese Emperor and as a result commander Lui Chan and his soldiers were ordered to march into Tibet. They started interfering and even managed to take considerable political power into their hands. Consequently, I, my ministers and important officials of the State, inspite of the difficult journey, had to leave Tibet and go to the noble land of India [The Dalai Lama stayed in Kalimpong]. There, I appealed to the then English Government of India who brought the matter to the notice of the Chinese king. However, the Chinese king refused to reply and nothing came out of it. [But in 1912] as a result of our past meritorious karma and the numerous prayers and services that were conducted in Tibet, internal strife took place in China. It was no problem, therefore, to completely drive out the Chinese force from Tibet.”
A few months later, the Dalai Lama declared Tibet’s Independence.
History does not often repeat, however many unpredictable events can happen… It would not be wise for Beijing to bet too much on Gyaltsen Norbu.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Whistleblower spurs China push for change

My article Whistleblower spurs China push for change appeared in Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle.

Here is the link...

The announcement of the surge in new cases happened as the Hubei provincial and Wuhan municipal party secretaries were shown the door.

When scholars will write the history of Modern China, one landmark will certainly be the day Mao Zedong founded the People’s Republic of China from the rostrum on Tiananmen Square in October 1949; another milestone will be when the students’ revolution was brutally interrupted on the same Square on June 4,1989.
The appearance of the COVUD-19 virus in Hubei in December 2019 seems destined to be another turning point in the life of the Communist Dynasty.
As I write this, more than 2,100 casualties have already been officially declared and 75,000 patients would have been infected; these figures are, no doubt, on the lower side of the reality.
Soon after the arrival in Wuhan of Chen Yixin, a Xi Jinping’s protégé, as new Deputy Chief the Central Guiding Group on the virus, the National Health Commission decided to ‘readjust’ the number of infected cases by reclassifying them; in one day, there was an increase of 14,840 new cases in Hebei province alone.
Bill Bishop, the author of the well-informed Sinocism Newsletter commented: “The situation remains very grim in Hubei and more cities in the province are going into quarantine lockdown. Do not be surprised for significantly higher case numbers to come.”
The announcement of the surge in new cases happened as the Hubei provincial and Wuhan municipal party secretaries were shown the door. Ying Yong, the mayor of Shanghai replaced Jiang Chaoliang as Hebei’s party secretary, while Wang Zhonglin from Jinan province took Ma Guoqiang’s seat as Wuhan party secretary. Incidentally, on the same day, Xia Baolong was appointed to replace Zhang Xiaoming as head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.
All this shows that the Middle Kingdom is in turmoil, a word frequently synonymous of great disasters such as famine, floods, earthquakes …or epidemic. Often in the past, the Emperor lost the Mandate of Heaven to rule when this occurred.
It is during these days that President Xi Jinping chose to disappear for several days from TV screens and the Chinese media (two of his colleagues of the Politburo’s Standing Committee, Wang Yang and Zhao Leji have not been publically seen since January 25).
On February 10, a masked Xi finally reappeared in a hospital in Beijing, where he talked to workers of three hospitals in Wuhan via videoconference: "Wuhan is a heroic city, and people of Hubei and Wuhan are heroic people who have never been crushed by any difficulty and danger in history.”
On the occasion of his well-orchestrated return, Xi was pompously named ‘Commander of the People's War against the Epidemic’.
Despite many laudible efforts such as building a 1000-bed hospital in one week, the people of China are angry.
Dr Li Wenliang, one of the first doctors who sounded the alarm in December, was in a first place, severely reprimanded by the local authorities. When he passed away, the Wuhan Central Hospital chose to deny his death, triggering a deeper anger among the Chinese public. The regime’s hesitations to announce Dr Li’s death show the dilemma of the Communist Party.
But there are others collaterals with perhaps far more serious implications for China’s future.
Following the death of Dr. Li Wenliang, a letter signed by hundreds of intellectuals asserted that he was a victim of speech suppression: “For thirty years the Chinese have been made to surrender their freedom in exchange for safety, and now they fall prey to a public health crisis and are less safe than ever. A humanitarian disaster is upon us.”
The signatories have five demands; first February 6, the day Dr Li died, should be declared ‘National Freedom of Speech Day’; second the National People’s Congress should implement the right to freedom of speech guaranteed by Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution; third, the state must immediately cease censoring social media and deleting or blocking accounts. The intellectuals also asked that all citizens across the country should be treated equally and receive timely, proper, and effective medical care and finally “beginning from today, [the State should] implement the [Chinese] Constitution!”
Quite an indictment!
That is not all: Xu Zhangrun, a law professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, who has been under suspension, blamed Communist Party leaders for putting politics ahead of the people in a strongly worded piece published on overseas Chinese-language websites: “The political system has collapsed under the tyranny, and a governance system [made up] of bureaucrats, which has taken [the party] more than 30 years to build has floundered,” he said.
Xu also affirmed: “the level of popular fury is volcanic and a people thus enraged may, in the end, also cast aside their fear. Herein I offer my understanding of these developments in the broader context of the global system. Being mindful also of the cyclical nature of the political zeitgeist, and with a steady eye on what has been happening here in China since 2018 [when Xu published his famous critic of the regime, accusing Xi Jinping to have granted to himself an unlimited tenure].”
At the same time, some Chinese websites quoted Wen Jiabao, the former Chinese Premier, saying: “Without the success in reforms of the political system, a historical tragedy such as the Cultural Revolution may be reborn.”
Wen elaborated: “Now that the reform has reached a certain stage, without the introduction of political reforms, it is impossible to carry out the economic reform to their end, and the achievements already made may be lost. …With the development of the economy, problems such as unfair distribution, lack of integrity, corruption, etc. have arisen. …we must not only reform the economic system, but also reform the political system.”
To make things worse, it appears that there is some unhappiness within the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). On February 10, the Central Military Commission (CMC) issued stricter regulations for the relationship between the PLA and the civil regional governments; this was directly linked with the PLA’s role in the fight against the virus. The Political Work Department, the Logistics Support Department and the Discipline Inspection Commission jointly issued a ‘notice’ which listed thirteen ‘strictly forbidden’ items, for example, “[barring] PLA units to accept visits and donations from local civil units, enterprises, and individuals, in the form of money, marketable securities, and other payment vouchers.”
On the Chinese social media, commentaries said that the CMC did this to prevent the military units and local governments from colluding.
At the same time, the State has increased its monitoring of the common man; many netizens recently received a notice from Douban, the popular Chinese social network, "the news you posted has been removed as it contains radical political or ideological content.” It referred to the lyrics of the Chinese National Anthem which starts: “Arise, ye who refuse to be slaves!”
The words are indeed dangerous for the ruling Party in the present context. All this does not augur well for the future of the Middle Kingdom; one can only hope that the peak of the epidemic will soon to reached; once the epidemic is under control, the leadership in Beijing will have to seriously think of the future of the present authoritarian system.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

No Losar in Tibet, but...

On February 11, Xinhua announced that the Tibetan New Year activities had been called off ‘amid virus outbreak’.
The news agency said: “Large-scale traditional religious activities during the Tibetan New Year, which falls on February 24 this year, will be suspended this year in Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).”
The ‘Communist’ Buddhist Association of Lhasa explained that the decision had been proposed “by monasteries in the city and aimed to protect people's health and avoid the risk of cross-infection caused by gatherings.”
A small mercy: “Other religious activities such as praying for the Tibetan New Year will be held inside monasteries in Lhasa, but the time should be shortened and the scale downsized.”
Xinhua quoted Tsering, a resident in Lhasa: “We all know the novel coronavirus is highly infectious, and we understand the anti-virus measures.”
Who is this Tsering, nobody will ever know.
Incidentally, there was one confirmed case of novel coronavirus pneumonia in TAR and the patient has now been discharged with fanfare from a hospital in Lhasa; his face was blurred in the images published.

Dagu Dam in Lhoka

Double Standards
The decision to cancel Losar seems to be more a political choice, probably to avoid possible disturbances from the restive Tibetan population; it is worth noting that at the same time, China Tibet News, a website run by the Chinese Government announced that the construction of the Dagu Hydropower Station have started again.
Why double standards?
Located in Sangri County, Shanan (Lhoka) City, the Dagu Hydropower Station has an installed capacity of 660 Mw. The total investment is said to be 12.22 billion yuan (2 billion US $): “It is a major project supported by the central government for Tibet's economic and social development. At present, 5.6 billion yuan has been invested and 51% of the main body has been completed.”
China Tibet News said that “During the Spring Festival [Chinese New Year], 300 workers on duty on [near?] the site, have successfully returned to construction recently. …The construction site in the valley is busy; a large hydropower station begins to take shape.”
Dagu will be the third large hydropower station on the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra in India) after Zangmu (510 Mws) and Gyatsa (360 Mws) in Lhoka area.
This obviously can’t wait for the stabilization of the virus epidemic.
But it is not all, the construction Lhasa-Nyingchi Railway continued in an orderly manner, said a Chinese website.
A photo of the “front-line workers speeding up the construction process in the deepest part of Mainling Tunnel,” appeared yesterday in Chinese media: “With a total length of 11,560m, Mainling tunnel of Lhasa-Nyingchi (nyintri in Tibetan) Railway is one of the key and difficult parts of the railway, and one of the tunnels with the most complicated geological conditions. According to a responsible person of the project, Mainling Tunnel is scheduled to be completed by the end of March, 2020. In order to ensure constructing process, currently, the construction workers are digging the last 60m of the tunnel.”
Mainling is located a few kilometers north of Arunachal Pradesh.
It appears that this project too can’t wait.
Xinhua also indicated that work will continue on other infrastructure projects in Tibet: “In the county of Sakya, a water project is in progress. With the biggest investment ever in Tibet's water project history, the project will help with irrigation, supply water, generate power and prevent flooding.”
The news agency continues: “Meanwhile, 1,881 workers in Tibet are doing their best to construct the Lhasa-Nyingchi railway. With a designed speed of 160 km/h, it will be the first electrified railway in Tibet.”
While there will be no New Year Celebration for the Tibetans for the Mouse-Year, work has resumed for the most important of the 179 projects (with an expected investment of 187.2 billion yuan – 30 billlon US $) planned in the Five-Year Plan.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Turbulent times for Beijing

My article Turbulent times for Beijing appeared in the Edit Page of the Pioneer.

Here is the link...

Only history can reveal the source of coronavirus. But the crucial issue facing China today is how the people perceive the communist regime’s response to the disaster

The world is going through tumultuous times. China, too, has not been spared. A dreaded virus has struck the Middle Kingdom and there’s no end in sight for the epidemic though it seems to be spreading at a slower pace outside Wuhan, its epicenter. The epidemic has strange collaterals. In usual times, internet and social networks are kept under close watch by the communist State and any “reactionary” or “anti-Government” post is deleted immediately. Ever since the outbreak of the virus, monitoring has been extended to topics that are usually out of the purview of the censor.
Recently, netizens received a notice from Douban, a popular Chinese social network, which said, “The news you posted has been removed as it contains radical, political or ideological content.” It referred to the lyrics of the Chinese national anthem, which starts: “Arise, ye who refuse to be slaves! With our flesh and blood, let us build a new Great Wall! From each one, the urgent call to action comes forth. Arise!”
Indeed, it is a revolutionary song … one that is dangerous for the ruling party in the present context as it evokes fears of a popular revolt against the way the Government has been handling the spread of the coronavirus. Take the case of Dr Li Wenliang, one of the first doctors who alerted the public about the outbreak. When Dr Li sounded the alarm in December, he was severely reprimanded by the local authorities. And when he passed away, the Wuhan Central Hospital first denied his death, triggering deep anger among the public.
Bill Bishop, the author of the well-informed Sinocism newsletter, noted: “Social media is blowing up the news that Wuhan whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang has died …but in a morbid twist, it appears that the relevant authorities, probably after seeing the online uproar, may not be allowing him to die officially yet.” The regime’s hesitation to announce Dr Li’s death showed the dilemma the communist party is faced with.
During the first month after the outbreak of the virus, China lost two battles. First, it was unable to foresee the seriousness of the epidemic (on the contrary, for a month, it tried to hide the truth from the public). Second, it lost control over the information warfare, which was then led by the citizens. China has now decided to retake the initiative on the information battlefield even as it uses the toughest possible preventive measures on the ground to manage the fallout of the coronavirus. This, at the risk of facing an economic slowdown.
On February 10, Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the communist party, reappeared (with a mask) on the stage after several days of absence and spoke of “resolutely winning the people’s war against pneumonia epidemic.” According to Xinhua, Xi asserted that the situation remained very serious but expressed confidence that “China will certainly obtain a full victory in the fight against the epidemic.”
At Ditan Hospital in Beijing, Xi talked to medical workers of three hospitals in Wuhan via video conference and praised the work done by them. He said, “Wuhan is a heroic city and people of Hubei and Wuhan are heroic people who have never been crushed by any difficulty and danger in history.”
Xi’s return seems to be a well-orchestrated move to regain the initiative. The Chinese President was pompously termed as the “commander of the people’s war against the epidemic.” Before disappearing, he chaired a meeting with the Politburo Standing Committee. Here, he stressed that the party should “do a good job in propaganda education and public opinion guidance.”
HK01, a Hong Kong-based online news portal, said that such guidance must include “promoting in-depth publicity about the major decisions of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, substantially reporting the effectiveness of the joint (epidemic) prevention and control measures in different regions and different departments, vividly telling touching stories about China’s fight against the epidemic and demonstrating the Chinese people’s spirit and the great power of unity and togetherness in fighting the epidemic.”
As a result, Zhang Xiaoguo, Director of the Information Bureau of the CCP Central Propaganda Department, announced that his department would send 300 reporters to Hubei province. The WeChat account of “Reporters Station” said that the scribes, besides providing reports on the epidemic prevention and control, “will present positive stories on humanity to the public to strengthen the guidance of public opinion.”
At the same time, authoritarian methods have been put in place. CNN mentioned, “They (Chinese authorities) are turning to a sophisticated authoritarian playbook honed over decades of crackdowns on dissidents and undesirables to enforce quarantines and lockdowns across the country”. The US channel spoke of a shift in the narrative “from a story of an entire country pulling together in a time of crisis to a darker tale of bad actors undermining efforts to keep people safe and spreading the virus through their own irresponsibility.”
The “Li Wenliang effect” had to be rectified by massive propaganda. The Globe, the Canadian media group, observed: “Stung by public criticism as the Wuhan virus outbreak continues to claim lives, Chinese authorities have reinvigorated the state hero-making machine, with official media promoting stories of sacrifice, dedication and love in arduous times.”
Meanwhile, Xu Zhangrun, a law professor at the Tsinghua University in Beijing who has been under suspension, blamed the communist party leaders for putting politics ahead of the people. He wrote a strongly-worded piece that was published on overseas Chinese language websites. He said, “The political system has collapsed under the tyranny and a governance system [made up] of bureaucrats, which has taken [the party] more than 30 years to build, has floundered.”
Only history can reveal the source of the virus — whether it is animal-borne or originated from a laboratory working on a covert biological weapons programme. The crucial issue today is how people perceive the regime’s response to the disaster. This is the real battle in China at present. Since 1978, the current dynasty in China has managed to bring some wealth and well-being to the masses but in the process, the Chinese people have lost their freedom to think freely.
In every corner of the Kingdom, they are recognised by cameras, which record the most intimate details of their life. They have no choice but to follow the words of the party. With the novel coronavirus still spreading wildly, the system has started showing its limits.
More propaganda cannot undo the much-needed political reforms in China.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

How killer Coronavirus has dented President Xi's mandate

My article How killer Coronavirus has dented President Xi's mandate appeared in Mail Today/DailyO

Here is the link...

There is no end in sight to the dreaded epidemic which continues to spread

Dynasties in the Middle Kingdom go through cycles. The Emperor of a strong and just dynasty brings peace and prosperity to the people with the 'Mandate of Heaven'. With time, the system becomes corrupt and the people start suffering. Disasters strike.
The Emperor loses his mandate after a peasant (or people's) revolt, leading to major changes, heralding a new era and the arrival of a wiser, fairer and more compassionate monarch or regime.

A cover up
This may not apply to the current 'dynasty' in China, in place since Deng Xiaoping's Open Door Policy in December 1978, which brought wealth and some wellbeing to the masses. In the process a price had to be paid: People lost the freedom to think independently.
Cameras record the most intimate details of their life, in every corner of the Kingdom. They have no choice, but to follow the words of the Party, led by a 'core' leader.Today, with the Novel Coronavirus' (nCoV) spread, the limits of this system have started to show. A telling case is the death of Li Wenliang, one of the first doctors to have alerted the public about the virus outbreak in December 2019. He was severely reprimanded by local authorities. Wuhan Central Hospital initially denied the news of his death. "In a morbid twist it appears that the relevant authorities, probably after seeing the online uproar, may not be allowing him to die officially yet," noted Bill Bishop, the author of the well-informed Sinocism Newsletter. The hesitation reveals the Communist Party's dilemma.
Unfortunately, there is no end in sight to the dreaded epidemic which continues to spread. Fifty million people have already been quarantined in Wuhan City and the Hebei province. While it is too early to say whether the virus can trigger dynastic changes, it has already shown to the present leadership that all is not fine in the Kingdom. The Chinese Dream heralded by Chinese President Xi Jinping sounds more like a nightmare at present.
One day, history may reveal the source of the virus, (whether it was animal-borne or originated from a laboratory working on a covert biological weapons programme). But today, the crucial issue is how the masses perceive the regime's response to the disaster.
"But even as the government (somewhat belatedly) sprung into action, its limited mobilisation of Chinese military assets and personnel has been notable - both because militaries traditionally play significant roles in battling pandemics and Beijing has in recent years been at pains to trumpet its burgeoning military capability," Defense One, a US-based website reported, mentioning another dysfunctional feature of Beijing's response to nCoV.

PLA's slow response
The first group of PLA medics arrived in relatively small numbers in Wuhan only on January 24, nearly a month after the virus was detected. The Army swung into action only after Xi, who is also chairman of the Central Military Commission, personally appealed to it "to shoulder its responsibility and continue contributing to the country's uphill battle to control the recent novel coronavirus". "As per the directive, all personnel must follow President Xi Jinping's instructions to the military's counterepidemic endeavours and carry out their tasks, such as curing infected civilians and providing logistics services," stated a release.Some 950 medics of the PLA's Joint Logistic Support Force and another 450 from the PLA's medical universities started running a newly constructed hospital in Wuhan. Why was the PLA response delayed? It is one of the numerous questions that the party will have to answer, if it wants to keep its mandate to rule.
Today, it is impossible to see the future implications of the crisis, undoubtedly the most serious occurrence in China since the 1989 student revolution at Tiananmen Square.
"Google closed all of its outlets in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. IKEA closed all its 30 stores in Mainland China. IKEA earlier only planned to close half of its stores. McDonald's closed all its 300 branches in Hubei Province," while most foreign airlines have stopped flying to China, Lianhe Zaobao, Singapore's primary Chinese language newspaper, reported.

Back to censorship?
Beijing has stuck to its old habits. The Cyberspace Administration of China has tightened controls on social media platforms after a brief period of tolerance, "as it cracks down on content that may sow fear and confusion amid the coronavirus crisis."
Meanwhile, the Communist leadership may delay the upcoming 'Two Sessions' of its legislative bodies, scheduled for early March. "We are discussing a range of options as the [virus] situation doesn't look likely to be contained by March," Reuters reported citing a Chinese official. Imagine 3,900 deputies wearing masks at a meeting.
Meanwhile, suspended Tsinghua University law professor Xu Zhangrun blamed Communist Party leaders for putting politics ahead of the people in a strongly worded piece. "The political system has collapsed under the tyranny, and a governance system [made up] of bureaucrats, which has taken [the party] more than 30 years to build has floundered," he said.
It is difficult to answer the question whether the leadership will manage to keep its mandate under these circumstances.