Monday, November 30, 2020

Declaration of War? A New Front in the Himalaya

The unthinkable has happened, yesterday, The Global Times announced "China to build historic Yarlung Zangbo River hydropower project in Tibet".
The dam in the Great Bend has been the object of thousands of articles, I myself wrote more than 70 on the Big Dam and the Diversion of the Brahmaputra, but I always thought (and all the serious analysts too), that it was not feasible.
Now Emperor Xi as decided to go for it: "China will build a hydropower project on the Yarlung Zangbo River, one of the major waters in Asia that also passes through India and Bangladesh, and the head of the involved company said that the project could serve to maintain water resources and domestic security," wrote the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China.
The Global Times continued: "China will implement hydropower exploitation in the downstream of the Yarlung Zangbo River, and this was clearly put forward in the proposals for formulating the country's 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) and its long-term goals through 2035 made by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, Yan Zhiyong, chairman of the Power Construction Corp of China, or POWERCHINA, said at a conference on Thursday, according to an article on the WeChat account of the Central Committee of the Communist Youth League of China."

The dam company explained: "There is no parallel in history… it will be a historic opportunity for the Chinese hydropower industry," Yan told a conference to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the founding of the China Society for Hydropower Engineering."

China has always denied that they would do it. One more example showing that the present regime cannot be trusted.

In November 2006, as President Hu Jintao was leaving India after a State visit, the Chinese Minister for Water Resources, Wang Shucheng, categorically stated that the proposal was "unnecessary, unfeasible and unscientific." He added that it had no government backing: "There is no need for such dramatic and unscientific projects.” He however admitted: "There may be some retired officials that support the plan, but they're not the experts advising the government.” In 2006, I wrote: "It was not a point blank denial as he admitted that the project existed. As we know, governments change, so do their advisors."

I reproduced here an article that I wrote 10 years ago, quoting a piece of 2013.

Dams on the Brahmaputra
In October 20, 2003, I wrote an article Diverting the Brahmaputra: a Declaration of War for At the time, I was told that it was a cheap journalistic gimmick; there was no ‘scientific’ proof!
My question then was: “What is the rationale for the project?”
I had explained: “Two of the most acute problems China faces today are food and water. These two issues are closely linked and, if not solved, are bound to have grave social and political consequences for the country” and added: “The new emperors are not sure where the solution lies or even if there is a solution.”
Seven years later, these problems are more acute than ever. Since then, another issue has cropped up: fast-track development of the Tibetan plateau (also known as The Third Pole by environmentalists). The new activities, mainly large-scale tourism, are energy-hungry. More power is required to maintain the increasing flow of mainland visitors (over millions tourists  visited the Tibetan capital in 2009).
The problem faced by China today is far more serious than 7 years ago.
The basic quandary however remains the same, with water becoming a rare commodity in China and agriculture needing more water to sustain its growth.
This led Chinese experts to look around for water. The answer was not far: four of the world’s ten major rivers, the Brahmaputra (or Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet), the Yangtze, the Mekong and the Huang Ho (or Yellow River) have their headwaters on the Tibetan plateau. The other major rivers which originate in Tibet are the Salween, the Irrawaddy, the Arun, the Karnali, the Sutlej and the Indus. About 90% of their runoff flows downstream to China, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand, Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Thus the idea to use Tibet’s waters for Northern China was born.

One of the possibilities was to divert waters from the Great Bend of the Yarlung Tsangpo, north of the McMahon Line by building a mega structure. There are different versions of the project, but the Shuotian Canal is the most elaborated. It is the brainchild of an engineer, Guo Kai whose life mission is to save China with Tibet’s waters. He has calculated that if waters from the Salween, the Mekong, the Yangtse, the Yalong and the Dadu (last two are Yangtse’s tributaries) were diverted and directed to the Ngawa Prefecture of Qinghai (Amdo) Province, the problem for the recurrent water shortage in north and northwest China could be solved (today, the Yellow River is dry more than 250 days in a year).

Guo not only worked closely with experts from the Chinese Ministry of Water Resources and the Academy of Sciences (CAS), but also made several on-the-spot investigations and surveys, before coming up with the details of his pharaonic scheme.
According to him, the ‘Great Western Route’ diversion could solve the water shortage in north China, bring drinkable water to Tanjing and even counter the desertification facing the northern and northwestern provinces. It is why it is considered so vital to the Middle Kingdom’s strategic security.
The name Shuotian comes from the contraction of ‘Shuomatan’ the origin of the canal (near the Great Bend of the Brahmaputra) and the city of Tanjing at the fag end.

From the start the Chinese military have shown a lot of interest in Guo's Great Western Route scheme. In November 2005, the Great Western Route project got a boost with the publication of a book entitled Save China Through Water From Tibet, written by a Li Ling; the writer used Guo’s theme and arguments. It appears that more than 10,000 copies were ordered by various central government ministries and commissions, including the Ministry of Water Resources. Some observers will say that it is a figment of the imagination of a few old retired generals (with the backing of journalists looking for scoops), but it may or may not be the case.
In November 2006, as President Hu Jintao was leaving India after a State visit, the Chinese Minister for Water Resources, Wang Shucheng, categorically stated that the proposal was "unnecessary, unfeasible and unscientific." He added that it had no government backing: "There is no need for such dramatic and unscientific projects.” He however admitted: "There may be some retired officials that support the plan, but they're not the experts advising the government.” It was not a point blank denial as he admitted that the project existed. As we know, governments change, so do their advisors.

Recent developments
The proposed diversion/damming has come back in the news with the construction of a series of dams on the Yarlung Tsangpo upstream to the Great Bend. According to available information, the Chinese plan to build a series of five dams in the Shannan Prefecture (Lhoka) of Tibet at Zangmu, Gyatsa, Zhongda, Jiexu and Langzhen.
The Zangmu dam will be the first to be built. At an altitude of 3,260 meters, it is expected to generate 540 MW of electricity; its height will be 116 m and length 390 m, it will have a width of 19 m wide at the top and 76 m at the bottom. The 26 turbines-dam would cost 1.138 billion yen.
The contract has been awarded to a consortium of five companies under the leadership of Gezhouba, one of China's biggest dam-building companies (also involved in the massive $1.5 billion river diversion and hydro-electricity project on Neelum-Jhelum in POK).
For more than a year, satellite imagery as well photos of the project were available on the Net, even though the construction was denied by the Chinese government. The Government of India knew of the project but was unwilling to forcefully tackle Beijing and ask for factual explanations.
However recently during the question hour in Rajya Sabha, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna informed the Members that during his visit to China, Beijing had finally admitted to the existence of the dam: “It is a fact that when we met in Beijing, the question of the power station did come up. The Chinese foreign minister assured me that there would be no water storage at the dam and it would not in any way impact on downstream areas.”
New Delhi sighed and Krishna and his team came back to India reassured.
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao was so happy; there would be no diversion: “This would not be a project that would divert water… It is not a storage dam for irrigation purposes”, she said.

The latest developments and the Indian Government’s declaration raise several points:

1- At this stage it is difficult to link the string of five dams to the larger project of diverting the waters of the Yarlung Tsangpo/Brahmaputra to Northern China. The five dams, including the Zangmu dam located upstream of the proposed diversion project — Shuomatan or Great Bend — is said to be a run-of-river project only.

2- The rationale to divert the waters of the Yarlung Tsangpo is more compelling as ever. Many believe that it is only a question of time and one day China will have to go for it in order to survive. It is as serious as this.

3- For many months, the fact that China was building a dam in Zangmu was known and photos were circulating on the Net. Why did Delhi take up the matter with Beijing so late? It remains a mystery. Probably to not hurt the Chinese ‘sensitivities’.

 4- The Yarlung Tsangpo's gorge is a highly seismic zone. Most geologists agree that the area is prone to earthquakes. The South China Morning Post quoted Yang Yong, a Chinese geologist saying: “Huge mountains suddenly surged from a piece of flat land, forming two almost vertical walls to the horizon,” adding the canyon “is fresh evidence of violent geological movement. I cannot imagine a more dangerous spot to build dams.”

August 1950 earthquake in Tibet (8.6 on Richter scale)

5- India and China have no water-sharing agreements. A meeting of experts from India and China took place between April 26 and 29 in Delhi to discuss the issue of sharing information on the Brahmaputra and the Sutlej. Hopefully the outcome will be made public. Indian and Chinese water experts were to ink an ‘implementation plan’ to share hydrological data on the Sutlej and Brahmaputra rivers. Though the mechanism was mentioned in the Sino-Indian Joint Statements issued after the visits of Premier Wen Jiabao (2005) and President Hu Jinatao (2006) to India, the Chinese authorities had refused to share data because there was no ‘implementation plan’ to support decisions taken at the highest level.

6- Regarding the data of the Himalayan rivers, there is a major problem. The Indian babus are even more jealous of ’their’ data than their Chinese counterparts. Those who have tried to get scientific information on the flow of the Brahmaputra and other rivers have had a nightmarish experience. ‘National security’ is the babus’ mantra (this includes the Army babus).
One wonders sometimes is these babus are really interested in ‘national security’. Many believe that they are unconsciously playing into the hands of forces adverse to India. Because where are the ‘national interests’ in this case? How does it help to hide hard facts about the happenings on the Yarlung Tsangpo?

7- China has never consulted lower riparian states before undertaking dam constructions upstream, though it is considered as a trans-border water issue. As IDSA scholar, P. Stobdan puts it: “No downstream country has any legal arrangements or provisions of international law to deal with China’s river manipulation. China has refused to join the Mekong River Commission, and has also not ratified the UN convention on Non-Navigable Use of International Watercourses (1997)”. This is an issue on which Delhi could insist when Indian officials meet their Chinese counterparts. Data should be shared and transparent information on the projects undertaken on the Tibetan plateau should be given to the lower riparian States (though Bangladesh is so obsessed with India ‘stealing’ its waters that it does not realize that the Brahmaputra is flowing from China).
Pressure should also put on China to respect international regulations.

8- In China, there is a strong lobby advocating large dams (in India as well). An excellent paper Mountains of Concrete: Dams Building in the Himalayas published by an NGO International Rivers — People, Water, Life explains: “One of the biggest changes to occur in big dams in the past 20 years is the rise of Chinese dam builders and financiers. China’s dam industry has gone global, building hundreds of dams throughout Africa and Southeast Asia, but also Central Asia, South America, and the Himalayas. …Chinese dam builders have taken their business to nearby countries such as Burma, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Second, China’s domestic dam industry is now arguably the most prolific in the world, with technical skills on par with those of industrialized nations. While the playing field is becoming crowded within China, there is huge external demand for the technology, capacity, and financial backing that Chinese dam building companies can bring, particularly in countries like Pakistan and Nepal, where there are few domestic resources and leaders are eager to exploit rich hydropower resources or boost irrigation capacity.”
This lobby is very influential and advocates the diversion project (as the Chinese Minister for Water Resources stated, many PLA generals are also involved in the dam business). One should also not forget that several major Chinese banks have an interest in the mega-projects. Since the completion of the Three Gorges dam, this lobby has not been able to undertake ‘big’ projects.

9- One of the main problems is that some Indian intellectuals (this word is not appropriate, because according to me, they lack intellect), believe that the Chinese ‘are our friends’ (if not brothers) and India cannot afford a conflict with the Middle Kingdom. Their conclusion is that India should keep quiet. They trust that the Chinese leadership will never ‘dare’ to harm their brothers in India and that they will stand by their words.
When Beijing says that the Zangmu damming on the Brahmaputra will have no consequences for India, Indian 'experts' therefore readily agree. There was recently a talk at a reputed Indian think-tank in Delhi with the main Indian 'expert' arguing that even if the Brahmaputra is diverted, it will only be a mere 30% of its waters which will be lost to India and Bangladesh, with no consequence for these countries. This is frightening and unscientific. Is it not the duty of ‘experts’, scientists, strategists to study and analyze all possibilities, even if some are more remote?

10- One can understand what is going to happen to India and Bangladesh (whether it is a diversion or simply a string of dams) when one looks at the fate of the Mekong. The 4,350 km river has its source on the Tibetan Plateau. It flows downstream to the Yunnan province of China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Chinese experts assert that Tibet contributes only 20 % to the Mekong's waters, and the remaining 80 % is fed from water sources in downstream countries. During recent months, a severe draught has been experienced in Yunnan province of China and the Indochinese peninsula.
The problem seems compounded by the fact that China has built several dams on the upper reaches of Mekong without consulting its neighbours. This year, the drought has been so severe that the cargo traffic on the river has stopped, affecting the lives of 65 million people in the peninsula.
Though some environment scientists claim that the lack of rainfall alone is responsible for the low level of the river, a group of affected countries — Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam— met in Thailand to discuss this hot issue.
When Panitan Wattanayagorn, a Thai government spokesman asked Beijing for 'more information, more cooperation and more coordination', China immediately denied any wrong doing.
Environmental NGOs in the peninsula however blame China for 'drying' the Mekong and provoking the crisis. China, a dialogue partner of the Commission took the 'attack' seriously and sent a delegation led by Vice-Foreign Minister Song Tao to the two-day conference in Thailand. Liu Ning, the Chinese Vice Minister of Water Resources argued that the dams and irrigation projects upstream have actually helped stave off some of the effects of drought. Facts speak otherwise.
The earlier mentioned report of International Rivers says: “Large dams alter the natural hydrology of rivers in unpredictable ways, and hold back soil-renewing silt, while the ‘hungry water’ below them scours river banks and stream beds, destroying fish habitat and wiping away fields and villages. The cascade of dams under construction in China’s Yunnan Province and the half-dozen proposed dams in northern Laos are particularly threatening because of their large storage capacity and impact on the river’s natural hydrology and seasonal inflows, the key to its natural bounty. Along with proposed dams in Cambodia, they also threaten to advance the expected date of sea-level rise in the Mekong Delta.”
It is a fact that large dams have an influence on the ecology of the bioregion, whether it is admitted by the dam builders or not.

11- Interestingly, the Pakistanis are laughing at South Block wishy-washiness. In October 2009, a discussion took place on the dams on
Here is an extract:
Commenting on what External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vishnu Prakash said in response to a media report stating that India will be checking “to ascertain whether there are recent developments that suggest any change in the position conveyed to us by the government of China”, a commentator said: “Checking, still checking… You can't help but laugh!”

12- It is not that the Chinese are unable to bend and listen. In May 2009 Premier Wen Jiabao, himself an engineer by training, suspended the construction of a planned cascade of 13 dams on the Nu River (Salween in Burma). Already in 2004 Wen had blocked an earlier version of the cascade and asked for a serious review of the environmental impact to be carried out. Wen’s decision has been seen as the response to international and local pressure over the environmental effects of such a structure in an eco-sensitive region. And let us not forget that Tibet’s environment is even more sensitive.

13- Last but not the least, there is a strong lobby in India which wants to build dams in Arunachal Pradesh. Ask any Arunachali minister, he will tell you: “We are the richest Indian State, we will soon ‘sell’ 50,000 MW of electricity to India”. The Assam Tribune recently reported: “Speaking to the media in North Lakhimpur after participating in a public function on 10th April, [Arunachal Home Minister] Tako Dabi said international circles that did not want India to become energy efficient by tapping its natural resources had been behind such popular movements that were voicing opposition to the construction of mega dams like the one in Gerukamukh and Dibang valley.” This shows another aspect of the issue, more difficult to handle by a weak Center.

One can only conclude that India is facing a complex and extremely serious problem; only by firm diplomacy and proper information of the public, does India have a chance to force Beijing to change its plans, avoiding thus a regrettable fait accompli.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Turning points in the Tibetan Movement

The Red Army marches into Tibet: the first turn
Reposting an 8-year old article.

Here are some remarks I made during a one-day  conference on “Current State of Affairs in Tibet: Reasons?” organized by the Bureau of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, New Delhi, the India International Centre (IIC) and the Foundation for Non-Violent Alternatives on April 21, 2012 at the IIC.

In 1986, I had asked the Dalai Lama about the future of Tibet.
He said that the solution will not come from any action of the exiled community, but from changes from within China. In a way the Tibetans have nothing to do (whether it is fighting for “freedom or Rangzen” or “autonomy”), but to keep their culture and religion alive.
Today, I understand better this statement. It appears even truer than 25 years ago.
When will changes occurring in China trigger a solution for the Tibet issue?
It is necessary to look at some important dates in modern Tibetan history, to grasp the changes of wind on the Roof of the World.
It is what I call here ‘shifts’ or turning points.
There have been many turning points earlier:
Deng Xiaoping-Thondup
  • In 1950, when Tibet was invaded
  • In 1959, when the Dalai Lama took refuge in India
  • In 1973, when the Dalai Lama started travelling abroad
  • In 1979 when Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama’s brother met Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese Paramount Leader, who told him that everything except independence could be discussed.
  • In 1987/88 when the Dalai Lama internationalized the Tibet issue through his Five Point Peace Plan and his Strasbourg proposals

However for the sake of this presentation, I will restrict myself to the period starting in 2000.

Unrest in Lhasa in 1987
Some Important Dates:
(In bold = important turning points)
  • 2001    June    Fourth Tibet Work Forum (Under President Jiang Zemin)
  • 2001    November    White Paper on Modernisation
  • 2002    September    Visit of Lodi Gyari and Team to China Round 1
  • 2003    May    Visit of Lodi Gyari and Team to China Round 2
  • 2004    May    White Paper on Tibetan Issue
  • 2004    September    Visit of Lodi Gyari and Team to China Round 3
  • 2005    February    White Paper on Nationalities
  • 2005    June    Visit of Lodi Gyari and Team in Bern Round 4
  • 2006    January    Kalachakra in Amravati

Let us start with the Fourth Tibet Work Forum in June 2001 under the Chairmanship of President Jiang Zemin.
These “Tibet Work Fora” are very large meetings called for deciding China’s Tibet Policy. They are attended by 200/300 senior Party leaders, including members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, Party Secretaries involved in Tibet areas, PLA Commanders, etc...
The decisions taken at the highest level during these meetings are usually implemented during the following decade.
President Jiang Zemin’s two priorities were development and stability, for China as well as for Tibet. The motto was therefore to develop Tibet by building infrastructure, keeping a tab on the ‘stability’ of these ‘minority’ areas.
It is probably in this perspective (to bring ‘stability’ to Tibet) that soon after the Fourth Tibet Work Forum, Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama’s Special Envoy and his team, were invited to visit China for ‘talks’.
After the difficult times at the end of the 1980’s and during the first years of the 1990’s, Beijing thought that the situation in Tibet was rather stable. It was therefore decided to emphasize on development programmes in order to win the support of Tibetan people.

The first attempt to reach out to the Tibetans
The first negotiations between China and the Dalai Lama’s representatives had taken place in 1979, twenty-nine years after the so-called peaceful liberation in 1950/51.
In 1980, during his March 10 Statement, the Dalai Lama elaborated on his perception of the then situation in China and Tibet:  “In the past few years, the fluid international political scene has witnessed rapid new developments; the internal situation in China under the present leadership who are ‘seeking the truth from facts’ is also undergoing changes. We hear of the repeated calls by the Chinese government requesting us to return to our homeland. We also hear that the so-called wave of moderation has begun to creep into China and, to some extent, into Tibet. However, it is still too early to predict the outcome of what may happen in the future. In response to these changes, as well as to the request by the Chinese government, I have despatched a fact-finding delegation to visit Tibet through China. It is for the first time in nearly twenty-one years that we have established contact with the Chinese government, as well as our beloved countrymen”.

The Chinese Communist government in Beijing was under the impression that the ‘backward Tibetan people’ had finally been ‘liberated’. Hence, the local Communist authorities briefed the Tibetan population in Lhasa about the forthcoming visit of the Dalai Lama’s delegates: “You should not resent this visit. You should not insult the delegates; you should not spit on them, just receive them as your own countrymen,” were the strict Party instructions.
They had however misread completely the Tibetan people’s feelings, their deep resentment, as well as their will to resist colonization. The three first delegations visited Tibet between 1979 and 1980; wherever the Dalai Lama’s envoys went, they were mobbed by crowds of Tibetans. One delegate remembered: “The Tibetans tried even to tear our chubas (Tibetan dress) to have them as relics”. The entire Lhasa population was in the streets; everybody wanted a darshan of the Dalai Lama’s envoys.
During these fact-finding trips, Tibetans inside Tibet told the Dalai Lama’s representatives of their descent to hell. During the past 20 years, since their precious Protector had left for India, they felt orphaned. Despite the constant indoctrination by the Communist Party, that they had been ‘liberated’, nobody had forgotten the Precious One. Each and every Tibetan still dreamt of seeing him back in the sacred Land of Snows with his full power and regalia.
The leader of the first delegation told us:
The Chinese definitively did not expect that the Representatives of the Dalai Lama would be received with so much enthusiasm. They were bewildered. During the 20 years of absence of His Holiness and the twenty years of Chinese administration, they had tried their best to denounce and put down the Dalai Lama, they wanted people to lose their faith in the Dalai Lama. Whenever the Chinese would make derogatory statements against the Dalai Lama, peopled used to say, “Yes, Yes”.
At that time, the Chinese might have thought that the people might spit at the representatives and throw stones at them. The Chinese had in fact forbidden the people to spit at the Representatives, to throw stones at them or do anything bad to them. When they saw what was happening, they were completely bewildered.
The local populations had been told by the Chinese that a delegation was coming to facilitate a better relation between China and Tibet.
Surprisingly, the Chinese cadres sincerely believed that the Chinese presence on the Roof of the World was appreciated by the locals and that none would ever think with nostalgia of the ‘old regime’.
But the unbelievable happened. The same Envoy said:
The day after the delegation reached Lhasa, the delegation went to Jokhang. We went to the terrace and from there we saw that thousands of people had gathered around the Jokhang. They were very enthusiastic, so we went down and tried to meet the people, but we were not allowed by the police who had barricaded us off inside the Jokhang to cut us off from the people. There was a building in front of the Jokhang from where the Chinese were peering and watching what was happening on Jokhang. When they saw that the Tibetan people were prostrating, folding their hands in prayers in front of the delegates and were trying to get whatever their hands could grab [from the delegates], the Chinese people in Jokhang became so angry that they remarked “Here is the result of all our efforts for these people for 20 years.
They became so nervous and disappointed by their failure, that some stamped their feet and even cried. From these anecdotes, you can see that the Chinese were not expecting what happened.
It was after all Avalokistehwara’s envoys driving away in those vehicles. The Chinese perhaps began to understand that their ‘liberation’ had not brought all the changes that they had expected.
The following delegations had the same experience.

Hu Yaobang’s visit

Hu Sr., Hu Jr. and Wen
It was the first big shock of the Chinese because for the first time they noticed that there is something wrong in their policies. As a result, the General Secretary of People’s Republic of China (PRC), Hu Yaobang went to Tibet in May 1980 to see the real situation in Tibet. Hu Yaobang was the first Chinese leader to have the courage to announce publicly that there was something wrong with the Chinese policy in Tibet. In my view, the Chinese will bring change in Tibet only when the leaders in the politburo have the courage to tell the truth of the situation. Otherwise, it will be very difficult.
Unfortunately, Hu Yaobang was soon after removed as Party Secretary. Today, China is still waiting for another Hu Yaobang, or a Chinese Gorbachev to reform the country.
We have gone into details in the happenings of this period to show the surprise of the Chinese leaders when they realized that the Tibetans were unchanged by their ‘liberation’.
With the political struggle going on full swing in China today, will  we see  the emergence a new Hu Yaobang? And more importantly, can a reformist leader last in the present system?

Another turning point: Amravati Kalachakra: January 2006
Let us come to more recent times.
The Dalai Lama gave the Kalachakra initiation in Amravati (Andhra Pradesh) in January 2006. More than one thousand Tibetans from Tibet had come to attend the teachings. The Dalai Lama started the function with a powerful statement urging Tibetans from inside Tibet to tell their countrymen living on the Roof of the World when they returned about the importance of the 'Middle Path' approach towards a genuine autonomy for Tibet. The Tibetan leader said that it was natural to consider the newcomers from Tibet as the main audience for the Kalachakra: "Tibetans living in Tibet are less fortunate than their counterparts living in India. They have to suffer a lot in their own motherland from repressive forces. Tibetans from Tibet are the key for the Tibetan cause”.
During an audience with the Tibetans from Tibet, the Dalai Lama urged the Tibetans not to wear robes and furs of endangered animals which Tibetans used to traditionally wear, especially those who came from Amdo and Kham regions of Eastern Tibet.
As a result of his speech, there was an immediate reaction in Tibet, thousands started to burn their chupas made with animal fur. Once again it was a big shock for the Chinese leadership, who had come to believe that they had got Tibetans on their side by building roads, bringing a railway line to Lhasa or developing the Tibetan plateau.
Despite the changes in the Tibet policy introduced during the Fourth Tibet Work Forum in 2001, Beijing seemed to face a tremendous reaction from the Tibetans.
I personally believe that the negotiations between Beijing and Dharamsala were already finished in 2006 after this incident. The United Front work Department suddenly realized the power of the Dalai Lama on the simple folks in the remotest parts of Tibet: he just had to say a few words and the entire population followed his advice.
During the following months, Beijing got busy in the preparations of the Olympic Games and their main preoccupation was the ‘peaceful’ passage of this world event .The dialogue with the Dalai Lama’s representatives was not a priority. Their only interest in Tibet was that the issue should not disturb the peaceful conduct of the Games. As a matter of fact, no progress has been made in the dialogue after 2006.
Though in the Fourth Tibet Forum Meeting, the Chinese had strongly emphasized on the economic development of Tibet, the resentment of the Tibetan population was still present. The huge infrastructural development in Tibet both in terms of railways and roadways especially in the border region, had not helped removing the misgivings against the Chinese Hans.

Another Turning Point: The 2008 riots
On March 10, 2008, soon after 500 monks of Drepung monastery began a peaceful protest in Lhasa, they were tear-gassed and beaten by the People’s Armed Police (PAP). Some ten monks were arrested and the monastery surrounded by the PAP; the water supply was cut off.
The same day, 14 monks from Sera monastery held a protest in the Jokhang Central Cathedral in Lhasa; they waved Tibetan flags. They were immediately taken away by the local police. Minor protests were also reported from Amdo region (today in Qinghai province).
The next day, 600 monks from Sera monastery marched peacefully to the Tibetan capital. They were also tear-gassed by the police and many were arrested. The same method was used by the PAP: the water supply of the monastery was cut off and restaurants in the area closed.
On March 12, when two monks from Drepung cut their wrists, other monks from Sera monastery began a demonstration.
During the first three days, the main events occurred around Lhasa. Local authorities however considered the happenings as "a direct challenge to the long term stability of Tibet".
On March 13, when a few hundreds of monks from Ganden monastery, together with a few nuns, came to Lhasa to stage a peaceful protest, they were stopped by the police. Later that day, the three Great Monasteries of Drepung, Ganden and Sera were closed.
The next day, March 14, 2008 will remain etched in the history of protests in Tibet. It was subsequently termed ‘the 3/11 incident’ by Beijing, probably to make it sound like a terrorist attack against the People’s Republic of China.
In the morning, about one hundred monks from Ramoche monastery began to demonstrate against the arrest of the monks on the previous days. Once again they were stopped and beaten by the police. This infuriated the Tibetan by-passers. From then on, the situation went out of control.
Soon after, a large scale demonstration involving tens of thousands of people lead to a confrontation between Tibetans and the PAP.
It was reported that on March 14, the ban on firing weapons was lifted. Police and the PAP were free to shoot at will.
Robert Barnett, a scholar from Columbia University later wrote the details of the events for the New York Review of Books :
Unlike the great monasteries, Ramoche is in the heart of Lhasa, and opens onto a busy market street in one of the few areas of the city that remains a largely Tibetan quarter. Members of the public, apparently aroused by rumors that monks detained that Monday had been beaten in custody, began to attack the police and a small squad of PAP sent in to support them. The police and soldiers were pelted with stones, their cars were burned and, pursued by a group of stone-throwing youths, they fled. No reinforcements were sent into the area for at least three hours (one Western journalist who witnessed the events saw no police for twenty-four hours), though they were waiting on the outskirts. It was the traditional response of the Chinese security forces to serious unrest—to wait for orders from Party leaders on whether to shoot or not—but the hours of inaction left the citizenry unprotected and allowed the violence to escalate. (The government announced on April 9 that wily monks had ‘misled’ them into sending the security forces to the city suburbs).
In this vacuum, a number of Tibetans turned from attacking police to attacking the next available symbol of Chinese governance, the Chinese migrant population. The rapid increase of migrants in Tibetan towns (they already were 34 percent of the Lhasa population when official figures were last made available in 2000, and this figure probably excludes temporary residents and the military) had created uneasy resentment — until then silent — among the indigenous population. About a thousand Chinese-owned shops were set on fire by rioters who were seen by foreign tourists igniting cooking gas cylinders or dousing shops in gasoline.
According to The Economist's correspondent James Miles, the only accredited foreign journalist in Lhasa at the time, almost every [Chinese or Chinese Muslim] business was either burned, looted, destroyed, smashed into, the property therein hauled out into the streets, piled up, burned. It was an extraordinary outpouring of ethnic violence of a most unpleasant nature to watch: “Miles saw Chinese passersby, including a child of about ten years old, pelted with stones, and several Western tourists described hard-core rioters beating random Chinese civilians with enough force to have killed them. Eleven Chinese civilians and a Tibetan were burned to death after hiding in shops set on fire by the rioters, and a policeman and six other civilians died from beatings or unknown causes, according to the Chinese government. Later, the PAP moved in, shooting from time to time, leading to an unknown number of casualties. 
The exiled Tibetan government declared that eighty Tibetans were shot dead in Lhasa, while the Chinese government says that its forces never opened fire; just what happened when the security forces moved in remains unclear because no tourists saw Tibetans being shot and most foreign reporters were allowed to visit Tibet only for three days in March and then only in a group under supervision. By the official count, one thousand Tibetans were detained in Lhasa alone, and the punishment of those deemed guilty of offenses is expected to be ferocious—to be handled according to the principles of ‘quick approval, quick arrest, quick trial, quick execution’ according to Zhang Qingli, the current Party secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region.
From Beijing, the Tibetan Autonomous authorities immediately blamed the Dalai Lama. Even Premier Wen Jiabao accused the Tibetan Leader to have masterminded the violence for sabotaging the forthcoming Olympic Games. This was denied by the Dalai Lama.
An interesting collateral was a redefinition of Tibet, the map of Tibet was redrawn.

Till 2008, it was very clear that for China, ‘Tibet’ was only the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), while the Dalai Lama spoke for Cholka Sum, the three traditional provinces of U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo. For Beijing, there was absolutely no question of negotiating anything special status for ‘traditional’ Tibet; the discussion between the Dalai Lama’s representative and the Chinese were restricted to the TAR.
After March/April 2008, a tremendous change occurred: the map of Tibet was changed. Suddenly all the Tibetan inhabited areas were included in Tibet, not only by Dharamsala but by Beijing too.

The changes were even incorporated in the Chinese official website (

Similarly after the Drugchu mudslide, while the Chinese (and even the Western) medias first mentioned the tragedy as having happened in ‘Western China’, later, it was shown as “Tibetan-inhabited areas”.

Change of Definition of Tibet
It was a tremendous change for the definition of the Tibet issue. The same thing occurred in the case of the huge earthquake in Jyekudo; the media first reported that it touched ‘Western China’ and later it was designated as part of “Tibetan inhabited areas”.
External events (2008 unrest, mudslide, earthquake, etc.) forced Beijing to reconsider the Tibet geographical definition: a feat that several rounds of negotiations have never succeeded to achieve.
This is quite remarkable and the words of the Dalai Lama of 1986, that the change will not come through the efforts of the exiled-community, but through changes in China, resounded in my mind.
Interestingly, though after the TAR was formed in 1965, the Tibetan leadership often raised the question of ‘reunifying’ Tibet, it was never accepted by Beijing. In 2008, it became a fact, accepted by even the Chinese media; the development plans were also altered.
And the Fifth Tibet Work Forum in January 2011 for the first time included all the Tibetan-inhabited areas of the plateau in its projections and programs.


Another important shift in the annals of the Tibetan issue is the Dalai Lama’s ‘retirement’ from his political activities in March 2011. This was subsequently enshrined in the Charter (Tibetan Constitution in Exile) after a General Meeting of the Tibetans in exile in May 2011.
Practically in parallel, another shift started: the Tibetan movement moved from Dharamsala, the seat of the Dalai Lama in India to Tibet.
It manifested through a series of immolations which began around March/April 2011 in Kirti Monastery in Eastern Tibet. The world media coverage of the Tibetan issue also shifted from Dharamsala to Eastern Tibet.
Let us look at the phenomena: most of the people who committed the ultimate self-sacrifice were very young; they were not even born during the 1959 Uprising, the Martial Law in Tibet (1988-89), or the 1989 Tiananmen Incident. For the Tibetan movement, it is a very new phenomenon led by very young people. It will probably continue during the next months or years. It will put a tremendous pressure on Beijing and badly dent China’s image. New repressive measures imposed by the Communist leadership may give rise to more self-immolations in Tibet rather than stopping the process, thereby entering in a vicious circle.
Let us examine some statistics
  • 35 Tibetans have been confirmed to have self-immolated since February 27, 2009
  • 30 men, 5 women
  • 25 of the 35 are known to have died following their protest
  • 25 of the 35 are from Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan province
  • One is from Chamdo prefecture in the Tibet Autonomous Region
  • Five are from Tibetan Autonomous areas in Qinghai province
  • Seven of the 35 were monks at Kirti monastery in Ngaba
  • Eight of the 35 are former monks at Kirti monastery in Ngaba
  • Two of the 35 were nuns from Mame Dechen Chokorling nunnery in Ngaba
  • 34 of the self-immolations have occurred since March 16, 2011
The immolations have occurred mainly in former Amdo and Kham provinces.

The Fifth Tibet Work Forum
What has made the situation worse is the series of decisions/actions, reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution, put in place by the United Front Work Department after the 5th Tibet Work Forum held in January 2010.
It was decided to send 21,000 Han and Tibetan Party officials in teams of four to each of the TAR’s 5,453 administrative villages; they had to remain for a period of 4 years. Each team member could rotate to a new location after 12 months, but the team was assigned to the same village for at least 25 days per month.
In addition teams were sent from Lhasa to each of the seven prefectures “to oversee the prefecture’s work teams, receive the work reports and monitor the success or failure [of the program]”. The scale of the scheme was the largest since the Cultural Revolution.
It created further rancor and resentment.
The objectives of the Fifth Tibet Work Forum were five‐fold:
  1. To strengthen the Party organization at the local level,
  2. To promote stability by persuading villagers to join the struggle against the Dalai Lama’s splittist activities and independence plans,
  3. To improve the economy of each village and create new jobs for the village youth,
  4. To educate the locals to appreciate and be grateful to the motherland and the Party, and
  5. To get each village to begin to more effectively carry out the plans and policies of the Party.
The Party started implementing these decisions in October 2011.
Further the United Front Department decided to promote new schemes such as the “Nine Haves Monasteries”
  1. Have a poster of the four national leaders
  2. Have a national PRC flag
  3. Have a motorable road to the monastery
  4. Have a good source of water
  5. Have electricity
  6. Have a broadcast TV set
  7. Have (the capacity) to show films
  8. Have a reading room for books
  9. Have The People’s Daily and the Tibet Daily newspapers (both have Tibetan language editions)
The Party added that all expenses will be met by the TAR Government.
Another scheme: ‘The Six Ones’ was also implemented.
  1. Make one friend. Each temple management official should try to be soulmates with one or several monks/nuns to understand their difficulties in life and what's going on in their mind.
  2. Visit one family. Each temple management official to visit the families of one or more monks/nuns to understand what's going on in their homes.
  3. Solve one problem.  To solve the most urgent, real problem facing the family of any monk/nun so as to make them feel the warmth of the party and government.
  4. Build one file. Establish a file for every monk/nun to document in a detailed fashion their personal and family situation. This will aid in preparedness, understanding and management.
  5. Keep clear one communication channel. Steady communications should be maintained between temple management officials and the families of monks/nuns through telephone, letters and house visits, so as to educate them to love the nation and love the religion, as well as to obey the law.
  6. Develop one mechanism. To build temple management committees (with full-time officials) that temple management officials, monks/nuns and families are jointly responsible for. This is to develop a mechanism for building harmonious model temples.
  7. Policies such as monks having to build a file on their dharma brothers or sisters which could “aid in preparedness, understanding and management” explain the state of despair of the monks and nuns of Eastern Tibet.

Torture Permitted
Another example can be given: a police poster threatening to punish 'criminals' appeared in different counties of Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Gansu province). Those not following the ‘directives’ were promised violent beating and torture.
Here is the content of the poster written in Tibetan:

The following directives have been authorized by the Security Department (PSB). All the following actions will be met with violent beating/torture by the PSB:
  1. The disturbance of relations between ethnic groups, public agitation between ethnic groups, the destruction of national unity.
  2. The corruption of the public with ideas of the splitting of the nation, through speech and the distribution of written information, cartoons, home-made materials, videos, etc —.all acts destructive to social discipline and stability.
  3. The membership, promotion of, or the making of donations to illegal organizations — all of which harm national security and destabilize society.
  4. The incitement of the public to illegal activities through websites, e-mails and audio files, all acts destructive to ethnic unity through websites and sms texts, and other major criminal actions against the security of society
  5. The engagement in criminal activities such as grievous bodily harm, destruction of property, arson and looting, etc, and the coercion of others into criminal acts that damage the security of society.
Further informers/denunciators were promised a hefty reward: “Any member of the public who informs the police about the above criminal acts or gives the police information about the perpetrators will be guaranteed personal protection by PSB officers, personal confidentiality, and a reward of 5,000 Chinese Yuan.”
It should be noted that like in the 1950’s, it is in Eastern Tibet that the most repressive measures are first implemented.

Abolishing ‘Special Privileges’ for Minorities
To make things worse, an article written by Zhu Weiqun, the Deputy Director of CCP's United Front Work Department in The Study Times (Xuexi Shibao) raises the possibility of abolishing special privileges and preferential policies offered to minority nationalities, taking the nationality name off all IDs cards and passports and removing nationality names from provinces.
Zhu, who is the interlocutor of the Dalai Lama's Envoys in the Beijing-Dharamsala negotiations, argues that China must change some aspects of its present political and educational system in order to achieve 'national cohesion'. Fortunately, this issue was not taken up during the last National People’s Congress, too busy with L’Affaire Bo.

A New Shift?
The death of 26-year-old Jampel Yeshi may be the latest shift in the Tibetan issue. Yeshi, the 26-year-old Tibetan youngster who immolated himself on March 26 in New Delhi during a demonstration against Chinese President Hu Jintao's presence at the BRICS Summit has become 'Pawo' Jampel Yeshi, a hero.
He was given a 'national' funeral in Dharamsala, the seat of the Central Tibetan Administration.
The picture of the young native of Tawu from the Kham province of eastern Tibet splashed on the front pages of hundreds of publications around the world.
The function was held on the Tiananmen of Dharamsala, in front of the Central Cathedral in Dharamsala where all important ceremonies, such the Dalai Lama’s addresses to the Tibetan people or the oath taking of a new Kalon Tripa (Chairman of the Council of Ministers) are held.
As khatas (Tibetan ceremonial scarves) were placed on Yeshi's coffin, with the Tibetan national anthem resounding in the hill town over the Kangra Valley, Dhondup Lhadar, vice president of the Tibetan Youth Congress which spearheaded the demonstration against President Hu in Delhi, spoke emotionally of the young martyr's last days.
This was a first: the Tibetan Youth Congress presiding over a function in the central place of power of the Tibetan capital-in-exile.
Has the Tibetan Youth Congress taken the lead in the Tibetan movement? Since he retired last year, the Dalai Lama does not actively participate in the political life of the exiles, for example, he has hardly commented on the self-immolations. And though Yeshi's funeral was less than a furlong away from his residence, he did not participate. This could be a real shift.

Some conclusions
The resentment of the Tibetan populations which was witnessed by the first fact-finding delegations in 1979-80 in Tibet is still present, even stronger today. It is mainly due to the senseless repressive policies of the Chinese government or at least a clique in the Government which believes that repression will solve all the problems.
The novelty is that it is a new generation of Tibetans, the third one, today revolts against the Chinese occupation. This has serious implications for the regime in Beijing which has always thought that it could ‘liberate’ Tibet by giving a few freebies.
It has not been the case, and it will not be so in the coming years.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Use Tibet links, counter China in the Himalayas

My article Use Tibet links, counter China in the Himalayas appeared in The Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle

Here is the link...

Though the Indian government never wanted to be politically involved with Tibet, the age-old ties have remained alive

For millennia, the Himalayas have been an active bridge between the Indic and Tibetan civilisations. The great physical barrier has been a place of intense contacts between two worlds which shared their search for infinity.
After the arrival of a newcomer (Mao’s People’s Liberation Army) on the plateau in 1950-51, the ancient relations became more and more strained, ending with being completely severed in 1962.
Beijing could not tolerate India’s special relations with Tibet.
Today, while Beijing promotes its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), or the new Silk Roads, it has made sure that the ancient kinship between Tibet and the Himalayas is not revived; all the borders have been closed for almost 60 years now, with the exception of three land ports opened for petty trade at Nathu-la, Shipki-la and Lipulekh-la; far from the flourishing business that took place over many centuries. Beijing has conveniently set aside these traditional trade routes to sponsor new ones (with Pakistan).
The situation turned for the worse in March 1959, when the Dalai Lama reached Khenzimane, north of Tawang, and was given asylum by the Indian government; and relations between India and Tibet, as well as the trade and pilgrimage, reached a point of no return.
Soon after the Indo-Tibet frontier became the “disputed” Sino-Indian boundary, intrusions took place in Longju in the then North East Frontier Agency (Nefa) and Kongka-la/Hot Springs in Ladakh in the summer of 1959, making New Delhi suddenly realise India had a new neighbour and that the boundary had not been settled, as the idealist Indian government had wanted to believe.
After 1962, an ancient world disappeared and India (and the Himalayas) lost a friend, a kind neighbour and a peaceful border.
But the kinship of shared values and common history between India and Tibet have remained; unfortunately, this never translated into a coherent policy for Tibetan refugees as well as the populations of the border areas.
Though the Indian government never wanted to be politically involved with Tibet, the age-old ties between the Land of Snows and India’s Himalayas has remained alive (as we have seen since the start of the present crisis in Ladakh); but now it needs to be revitalised by the government.
While the People’s Republic of China was able to annex Tibet by force of arms, Beijing has been unable to assimilate Tibetans into their system. Can Beijing succeed in the future? It is a moot question, the answer to which the future alone holds.
Some argue the past should be forgotten, as the world has changed; further, China has become a powerful state; and the fact that the Communist regime is today dreaming of leading the world and imposing the “Chinese Dream” on the planet is worrying for the Tibetan and the Himalayan population. In view of this situation on India’s borders, we must think of a new approach towards the Himalayas.
At the outset, instead of a new policy for Tibet alone, it would be better to have a common policy for the Himalayan belt and Tibet, which have shared countless cultural, spiritual, strategic and economic similarities. I would therefore suggest a new “Himalayan and Tibetan Affairs’ Policy”.
Some general principles should dictate this new policy.
First, that India should look after its own interests, then after the interests of those who are ethnically or culturally close to India, like the Tibetans. It seems obvious, but it has not always been the case.
India should adhere to its ideals of being a peaceful nation, of fighting against any form of imperialism and defending the rights of weaker people; further the government should certainly not take at face value declarations of peace by other nations, particularly China.
Another principle is that India’s policies or actions should not be dictated by what others will think or say, particularly how China will react to a particular decision. This tendency has lasted too long with no tangible gain for this country (for example, the 2018 directive that no Indian officials should meet the Dalai Lama); retrospectively, it had counter-productive effects.
Unfortunately, India faces a country which still believes that power comes out of the barrel of a gun; without emulating China, India must quietly and forcefully look after its own interests and be honest, frank, straightforward about it.
Whatever overall policy is finally adopted, one element is crucial -- coordination. In view of the individualistic tendencies of India’s bureaucracy, this is extremely crucial in order to achieve the targeted aim of a common policy for all stakeholders (external affairs, defence, home, education, culture, security agencies). That is why I propose the creation of a Department of Himalayan and Tibetan Affairs (DHTA), to function under the Prime Minister’s Office.
If any “coordinator” were to work under one of the above ministries, he/she will not be able to implement the holistic policy decided by the government.
A DHTA, headed by a secretary-rank officer, could be the central element for developing the border areas.
In the 1950s and 1960s, a post of SOFA (Special Officer of Frontiers Affairs) existed; the scope of the SOFA’s responsibilities was limited due to the fact that it worked under the MEA alone; it was however manned by (excellent) officers; a few SOFAs could be professionally looking after border areas and Tibetan affairs.
Keeping in mind the welfare and customs of the local population and the Tibetan refugees, the DHTA could take measures to stop the migration of the local population towards the big cities; build infrastructure, work on closer ties between the defence forces and the local population, an eventual revival of border trade, trans-border pilgrimages, and promote Buddhism on a larger scale.
The DHTA could revive the Indian Frontier Administrative Service (IFAS); in the 1950s, IFAS officers did a great job on India’s northern borders and in Tibet; most of them had sacrificed promising careers in the Army to join the service; all were remarkable personalities. Even though the cadre does not exist any longer, they are still a role model for young IAS/IPS officers posted at the borders.
The need of the hour is to revitalise the Himalayas and link it with the welfare of Tibetan refugees and the promotion of their unique culture. It is the only way to balance China’s propaganda efforts in the border areas.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Why India needs to rethink its Tibet policy, if there’s one

The Dalai Lama with President Bush at the White House (2010)
My artic
le Why India needs to rethink its Tibet policy, if there’s one appeared in The Daily Guardian

Here is the link...

A look at the US’s recognition of the Tibetan government-in-exile makes one question why India does not build a more formal and meaningful relationship with the Land of Snows, especially given how the two share a significant cultural, religious and sentimental bond.

On 20 November, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) proudly announced that its Sikyong (president), Lobsang Sangay, had entered the White House. Dharamsala called it “a historic feat”, the first time that the CTA head was invited into the White House. In November, Sangay had already been invited to the State Department to meet Robert Destro, the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues. The fact that the building was not the White House, but the Eisenhower Executive Building next door is just a detail.
The Tibetan government-in-exile, which has so far not been recognised by any country, was often in the past denied entry to the US Administration buildings. “The logic for both denials was that the US government does not recognise the Tibetan government-in-exile. Today’s visit amounts to an acknowledgement of both the democratic system of the CTA and its political head,” said a CTA press release.
Whether it amounts to a virtual recognition of the Tibetan government or not can be argued. It is, however, certain that the outgoing US President, who will soon leave his job (and his house), is keen to put his successor in front of as many fait-accomplis as possible.
Whether the visit ‘next-door’ is a positive development for Tibet or not, only the future will tell. However, one wishes that the South Block would start meeting regularly with the Dalai Lama and the CTA officials. It would certainly be far more meaningful for the future of Tibet (even if Dharamsala does not realise this). Why was the visit of Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla to Dharamsala in July kept hush-hush and local journalists asked to not publish any photos? Why so much unnecessary discretion?
Interestingly, a few days before Sangay’s visit to the White House, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution (H. Res. 697): “Affirming the significance of the advocacy for genuine autonomy for Tibetans in the People’s Republic of China and the work His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama has done to promote global peace, harmony, and understanding.” Among other things, the Resolution said that “it would be beneficial to convene a bipartisan, bicameral forum… between Members of Congress and His Holiness the Dalai Lama to discuss peaceful solutions to international conflicts”. On 18 November, during the debate, Representative Ted Yoho also strongly criticised Beijing for violating the Tibetans’ religious freedom: “the CCP sees Tibet culture and religious heritage as a threat to its control”.
Some parts of the US legislation should trigger a re-thinking of India’s Tibet policy (not sure if Delhi has one!). Take the example of the US Statement of Policy on Reincarnation of Dalai Lama: “The wishes of the 14th Dalai Lama, including any written instructions, should play a determinative role in the selection, education, and veneration of a future 15th Dalai Lama.” Why can’t South Block simply state that it will support all the decisions taken by the Dalai Lama in the matter of his reincarnation and will welcome the 15th Dalai Lama as an honoured guest of India, like the present pontiff has been since 1959. It is not necessary to go into details like the US Resolution does.
Then, regarding the preservation of the Tibetan plateau’s environment and water resources, the US bill “recognises the key role of Tibetan plateau as it contains glaciers, rivers, grasslands, and other geographical and ecological features that are crucial for supporting vegetation growth and biodiversity, regulating water flow and supply for an estimated 1.8 billion people.” America is far away, but it is India which will suffer the brunt of the climate change on the Third Pole and the intensive damming on the Roof of the World. It is a great pity that Delhi keeps mum on the subject.
The US appointment of a Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues is worth thinking about for India, though the post should be more holistic in its definition and the officer should be able to deal with not only the Ministry of External Affairs, but also the Ministries of Home Affairs, Culture, Education or Defence in order to coordinate a new Tibetan policy.
Section 618 of the US legislation speaks of ‘Diplomatic representation relating to Tibet’: “The Secretary [of State] should seek to establish a United States consulate in Lhasa, Tibet”. The rationale is given: “(1) to provide consular services to United States citizens traveling in Tibet; and (2) to monitor political, economic, and cultural developments in Tibet.” It is crucial for India to have a similar policy.
In 1947, India inherited from the British a full-fledged mission in Lhasa. An ICS officer, Hugh Richardson, served as the first head of the Indian mission, but was replaced in August 1950 by a bright young Chinese-speaking IFS officer, Sumul Sinha. Unfortunately (and unwisely), the Prime Minister discreetly downgraded the Mission into a Consulate General in 1952. Thereafter, it remained so till December 1962, when, for unknown reasons, South Block decided to close it down. I have spent several years trying to find out why it was closed, but I have no answer till date. Maybe foolishness and panic were the causes for it.
The fact that the Ministry of External Affairs keeps the history of the crucial two years before the Sino-Indian conflict inaccessible to the Indian public does not help understand what really happened in the months preceding October 1962. For example, who in India knows that the Indian Consul General in Lhasa was practically kept under house-arrest for thirteen months before and during the border war and that there was no retaliation or even complaint from the Government of India? Another example is how the last Indian Consul could not even visit the Potala during his tenure in Lhasa. The reasons mentioned by Dr P.K. Banerjee — that the Chinese Consulates in Mumbai and Kolkata were causing problems — can’t be taken seriously.
The presence of an Indian Consul General in Lhasa could have helped to accelerate the process of the repatriation of the nearly 4,000 Indian PoWs, or, at least, put some pressure on the Chinese Government to release them. But was Delhi even interested?
Decades later, India tried to reopen the Lhasa Consulate, but in vain. In the 2000s, Shivshankar Menon, who served as Ambassador in Beijing and Foreign Secretary, is said to have played a pivotal role in this effort, but it is obvious that it was easier to hurriedly close the mission in December 1962, than to reopen it. Incidentally, Nepal still has a representative in Lhasa today.
Without copying the US, this is something that Delhi should insist on. It is India’s legitimate right due its old cultural, religious, sentimental affinity with the Land of Snows.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Unravelling the mysteries of India’s last days in Tibet

My last volume has been reviewed by Ananth Krishnan in The Hindu
: "The End of an Era | Unravelling the mysteries of India’s last days in Tibet"

Here is the link...

Reasons for the closure of the Indian Consulate in Lhasa in December 1962 remain unclear.
For a development as significant as the end of India’s presence in Tibet, the events surrounding the closure of India’s Consulate General in Lhasa in December 1962 still remain a small footnote in the history of that period, forgotten in the immediate aftermath of the war earlier that year.

Attempting to lift the veil on what would turn out to be a landmark event in the history of India’s relations with Tibet and China, a new book reveals it was India that took the fateful decision to close the Consulate in Lhasa — a momentous decision that, the book concludes, remains a mystery and still never fully explained, and one that India would come to regret as it made numerous unsuccessful attempts to reopen its presence in Lhasa and return to Tibet following the normalisation of relations with China in 1988.

The End of an Era: India Exits Tibet
is the fourth volume of a sweeping work of research by the south India-based scholar Claude Arpi, who has drawn on official documents to write the most detailed history yet of India-Tibet relations from 1947 to 1962.
In the book, Mr. Arpi notes that information about the Lhasa Consulate and this period in history remains scarce. “Unfortunately,” he laments, “the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) still zealously keeps classified all documents related to 1961-62.”
He does, however, piece together the chain of events leading up to the fateful decision, which was, finally, conveyed “in a laconic note” from the MEA to a surprised Chinese Embassy in India, saying it had “decided to discontinue the Indian Consulates in Lhasa and Shanghai from December 15, 1962.”
Mr. Arpi writes that even the Indian Embassy in Beijing appeared to be kept in the dark. The then charge d’affaires P.K. Banerjee, would write in his memoirs that Delhi took the call on Shanghai “because there was hardly any work to carry out.”
That certainly wasn’t the case in Tibet, at a time when, not only was being in Lhasa crucial in the aftermath of the war, but there was also the unsettled matter of 3,900 Indian PoWs in Tibet.
In the memoirs, Mr. Banerjee suggests one reason could have been Delhi being “anxious” to close Chinese consulates in Mumbai and Kolkata because “they were indulging in activities other than consular work”, but that doesn’t explain why Delhi would voluntarily close Lhasa.
What we do know is that in the lead up to the war, Indian officials in Lhasa began to come under increasing harassment from Chinese authorities. On October 9, 11 days before China launched its offensive, the consulate’s telegraphic lines were cut, as were its telephone lines and courier communication. All outsiders were barred from entering the Dekyilinka area where the mission was located, while supplies of essential commodities like milk and eggs were also stopped.
On November 4, 1962, the MEA in a note complained this treatment was “against all established norms” and its staff were subject “to the most willful harassment by local Chinese authorities.”
Yet after the November 20, 1962 ceasefire, this would stop, Mr. Arpi notes, leaving unclear why the closure still went ahead. “These are among the many questions without answers,” he writes.
Mr. Arpi traces the closure to India’s gradual withdrawal from Tibet, where it was also maintaining trade agencies in Yatung, Gyantse and Gartok under the 1954 agreement on trade and intercourse — now famous as the “Panchsheel” agreement — and its decision to not renew the agreement when it expired in April 1962.
Beijing had offered a renewal, but India’s contention was that with every tenet of panchsheel violated by then — the MEA highlighted China’s actions in Aksai Chin starting in 1957-58 — it could not renew. The trade agencies, where Indians were coming under increasing restrictions, were all shut, and by the end of the year, the consulate would follow.
India would later try unsuccessfully on numerous occasions to return to Lhasa. In 2006, Mr. Arpi notes, when both sides agreed to open new consulates, India suggested Lhasa but had to settle for Guangzhou, while China returned to Kolkata. As trade boomed, India had also returned to Shanghai and China reopened Mumbai, but Lhasa still remained off-limits.
In 2015, an agreement was reached for India to open a consulate in Chengdu and for China to open one in Chennai, although that remains stalled. That year, India had again sought Lhasa but was turned down again, unable to return to the city it left under a cloud of mystery.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Indian Army ignores Chinese propaganda

Nubra Guards of Chhewang Rinchen in 1948

My article Indian Army ignores Chinese propaganda appeared in

Here is the link...

Today, the Ladakhis and Tibetans have been joined by the Sikhs, the Madrassis, the Garhwalis, the Rajputs who are well trained psychologically and otherwise to defend the nation, observes Claude Arpi.

“PLA unveils new smartwatch for combat rescue, it features IoT SIM card, health tracking, Beidou positioning, individual recognition, SOS voice calling, injury reporting, rescue sensing, one key data wiping, remote wipe, a one-key requesting assistance from combat support service,” said a report from a Chinese website.
When one reads the Chinese press related to defence issues, one gets this type on ‘scoop’ every day. However one has to remember that all publications in the Middle Kingdom are controlled by the Communist Party of China (CPC), therefore mere propaganda pieces.
One, of course, runs the risk of being brainwashed into believing that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is several generations ahead of India, at least in technological terms.
In just a few days, The Global Times reported that Chinese scientists have developed “an exoskeleton system specially designed for high-altitude regions, and the equipment is expected to conserve users' energy in tasks including patrol and logistics support.”
The end of the old infantry patrols?
Then, new-generation assault vehicles were said to have been commissioned into a battalion of the Tibet Military Command (TMD): “The vehicles will give PLA troops operating in high altitude regions high mobility, winning them advantages in stamina and time,” explained an article.
The TMD would have conducted long-distance exercises featuring heavy equipment, including dozens of Type 15 light tanks and different types of infantry fighting vehicles and trucks, “in a move experts said demonstrated the PLA's rapid, comprehensive deployment capabilities in high-altitude border regions.” All these ‘scoops’ are of course targeting India.
A video showed a combined arms brigade attached to the TMD using railways and motorized vehicles maneuver in a day-and-night long-distance exercise in mountainous areas located more than 4,000 meters above sea level: “…Most of the heavy weapons and equipment featured in the drills were newly commissioned.”
Another day, The Global Times mentioned “newly developed, self-powered dismountable insulated cabins [in Tibet] … amid the prolonged border tensions between China and India.” It added that the living conditions and combat capability of border defense troops has been greatly enhanced as the region entered winter. A video showed officers and soldiers of the Xinjiang Military Region (opposite Ladakh) wearing only short-sleeved shirts in the cabins.
Another report asserted that hot food was delivered to the PLA troops posted in forward positions, using the latest drones.
All this is obviously to try to demoralize the troops on this side of the border, but the Indian jawans are not much affected by this type of propaganda; they have their own motivations and professionalism, any day superior to their PLA opponents.
In the present context, it is worth remembering those who ‘saved’ Ladakh against the Pakistani invaders soon after Independence.
They did not have any gadgets, but were great soldiers with incomparable enthusiasm, strength and patriotism.
Take the case of a young Ladakhi, Chhewang Rinchen, who earned his first Maha Vir Chakra (MVC), the second-highest decoration in war time, in 1947 at the age of 17, after raising the Nubra Guard and protecting the mountainous region against the wild Pakistani raiders.
Fifteen years later, it is he who informed Delhi of the Chinese heavy build-up in the Aksai Chin; in June 1960, Chhewang was transferred to 14 J&K (Ladakhi) Militia, a newly raised battalion. On arrival at the Spituk Dak Bungalow in Leh, he was ordered to move with a company to Deskit in the Nubra Sector. He was soon given the responsibility of the construction of an airfield at Thoise; it was the first airstrip to be built in this area and the second in Ladakh, after the Leh airport built in 1948. After Chhewang accomplished this remarkable feat, the first Dakota could land on the new airfield on September 26, 1960.

Col Rinchen receives one of his MVCs from President Giri

The presence of the Chinese troops in the area only dates from that time; Chhewang’s mentor was Major (later Lt Col) Randhawa, who dispatched the young Ladakhi “on recces in uncharted wilderness of the Depsang Plains and desolate heights beyond.” Incidentally, Randhawa himself was awarded an MVC for his achievements in Ladakh during the years 1960 to 1962.
Chhewang’s biography states: “In August 1961, in pursuance of the Forward Policy, Rinchen was ordered to recce the area in the extreme north and establish a post at DBO, very close to the Karakoram.”
Located 120 km from Leh on the old Silk Route between Leh and Yarkand, DBO lies at an altitude of more than 5,000 metres, 16 kms south of the Karakoram Pass.
At that time, there were two routes from Leh to DBO; one via the Shyok river which was the winter route and the other one across the perilous Saser La (pass), the summer route; both routes converged at Murgo.
These names sound familiar since the Chinese advances in Ladakh in May this year.
In June 2020, The Hindustan Times reported: “India is working on two key roads near the China border in eastern Ladakh — the site of a tense weeks-long border stand-off with its northern neighbour — to provide connectivity to an important forward area that the military calls Sub-Sector North (SSN). While the first is the strategic Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi (DS-DBO) road that provides connectivity to the country’s northern-most outpost, DBO; the second road being built from Sasoma to Saser La could eventually provide an alternative route to DBO near the Karakoram Pass. The Sasoma-Saser La road axis is south-west of DBO.” A key bridge inaugurated by the Indian Defence Minister, is called ‘Chhewang Rinchen bridge’.
In 1971, the young Ladakhi single-handedly recovered the Nubra Valley from the Pakistani troops. As he was proceeding to attack Khapalu in Baltistan, he was stopped by the Army Headquarters after securing Turtuk. Had he succeeded there would be no Siachen issue today. Why was he stopped? We will probably never know. Incidentally, there was no question of ‘drones’ to deliver the food to the Nubra boys; Rinchen just confiscated the supplies of the Pakistanis troops on the way; he and his men lived on their dhal and rotis. No fancy swatch either, Rinchen knew each and every ridge and valley.
In 1971, Col Rinchen was awarded a second Maha Vir Chakra for his prowess; he is one of only six defence personnel to have the MVC with bar (twice-awarded).

Army Commander and Khushal Chand's family in front of his memorial in Ladakh

The Lahauli Cousins
Soon after Col Rinchen earned his first MVC, Pakistan decided to ‘liberate’ its Buddhist ‘brothers’ in Ladakh.
No, the raiders did not want to convert to the Buddha Dharma, they just wanted to loot the monasteries of Ladakh and walk away with their treasures (gold, precious stones, wood for construction, etc).
In February 1948, two young Buddhist officers from Lahaul, Captains Khushal Chand and his cousin, Prithvi Chand, offered their services to the nation to stop the raiders. The duo managed the incredible feat of crossing on foot in winter the snow-bound Zoji-la between Kashmir and Ladakh; they were accompanied by a small caravan of men and mules carrying arms and ammunition. The young captains reached Leh safely to prepare a surprise for the raiders. Both were awarded the MVC.
The citation says: “In February 1948, Major Khushal Chand was one of the two officers who volunteered to go to Leh to help in raising a local militia force and to conduct the defence of the Ladakh Valley. For four months Major Khushal Chand with one platoon of J&K State Forces and about twenty local militia hastily trained delayed the enemy advance south towards Leh along the Indus Valley. He conducted guerrilla warfare of a skilful nature giving the impression to the enemy that he had many more men than he actually had. On one occasion he held the Khaltsi bridge for24 hours with just himself and one sepoy and later set it on fire. This delayed the enemy for a further week. Throughout these operations without proper rations, without mortars and with an acute shortage of ammunition, Major Khushal Chand led his small band with vigour and skill and by personal example of daring and ‘daredevilry’ he carried out his task successfully. He thus maintained the high traditions of the Indian Army and set a fine example to those serving with him.”

Col Sonam Wangchuk (MVC)
This daring act by the young Army officers, has since then emulated by many brave soldiers to defend the Indian territory. It is worth visiting the Hall of Fame near the Leh airport, where the exploits of Col Chewang Rinchen, Khushal Chand, Prithvi Chand and other heroes, are portrayed.
More recently, Major (later Colonel) Sonam Wangchuk (another Buddhist soldier to be awarded the MVC) and his Ladakh scouts recaptured some of the crucial peaks occupied by Pakistan during the Kargil war in 1999. I still have the image of Wangchuk, praying to the Dalai Lama, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, to give him the strength to defend India, his nation.
Today, the times have changed, so has the enemy. China is certainly much more powerful and better prepared that the Pakistanis in the 1940s or 1950s, but one should not read too much Communist propaganda; even if the PLA was able to have the latest armament or equipment, they miss the josh and motivation of the Indian troops; let us not forget that the Chinese belong to a single-child generation.
Today, the Ladakhis and Tibetans have been joined by the Sikhs, the Madrassis, the Garhwalis, the Rajputs, you name them, who are well trained psychologically and otherwise, to defend the nation. They all have the same motivation that the young Ladakhis or the Lahaulis had 70 years ago.
Today like yesterday, this is what will make the difference if a conflict takes place, it will not be the kitschy non-existent swatches.
Let us hope that President Xi Jinping realizes this at the earliest.