Thursday, April 8, 2021

Tibet: Not Liberated Yet (updated)

Are they really happy?
Despite the fact that the Chinese propaganda machinery is working day and night to make the world believe that the people in Tibet are the happiest on the planet, Beijing is nervous, very nervous.
Just a look at the situation in Tibet and Xinjiang shows that Xi Jinping is not fully controlling 'his minorities’ areas (as they are called by Beijing's propaganda).

Lt  Gen Wang Haijiang
The Tibet Military District Commander Transferred
Though it may not directly be linked, on April 6, it was reported that Lt Gen Wang Haijiang, Commander of the Tibet Military District (TMD) had been transferred to Xinjiang (XMD).
The Caixin, which broke the news, said: “The specific position is yet to be announced.”
But it can only be XMD Commander.

On April 4, on the occasion of the Qingming (Tomb Sweeping) Festival at the Martyrs Cemetery in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, while Chen Quanguo (Xinjiang’s Party boss and member of the CPP Politburo), Xuekelaiti Zakeer, Xiaokaiti Yiming, Nuerlan Abdumanjin, Wang Junzheng, Zhang Chunlin, Wang Haijiang, Yang Cheng, Xu Hairong, Elken Tuniyaz, Tian Wen, Li Yifei, Wang Mingshan, all members of the Standing Committee of the so-called Autonomous Region, were in attendance,  Wang Haijiang was not seen.
He must have just reached the capital of the restive province to take over his new job; it will give him over-all command over the Ladakh front against India, which reports to the South Xinjiang MD or SXMD. based in Kashgar.
Wang Haijiang, a native of Anyue, Sichuan,  born July 1963, must have pleased his bosses in Beijing (read Xi Jinping) during his tenure in the TMD.
According to Caixin, he has served in the frontier for a long time: “He was the commander of a division and the deputy commander of the Southern Xinjiang Military District; he was the deputy commander of the Tibet Military Region in 2016 and in the winter of 2019, he succeeded Lt Gen Xu Yong as commander of the Tibet Military Region. He was immediately promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General.

Gen Wang, a few days ago in front of the Potala in Lhasa, still commander TMD

The Ladakh Talks
This important change comes at a time when the 11th round of talks between the 14 Corps Commander based in Leh and Maj Gen Liu Lin, the Commander of the SXMD is scheduled to take place on the banks of the Pangong lake.
The successor of Gen Wang in Tibet is not yet known, but there are a few generals who fit the bill and could soon be nominated to replace Wang.
One of them is half Tibetan (from his mother side).

Lt Gen Wang Kai, TMD Commander
The New TMD commander (update)
After writing this post, some Chinese websites named the new Tibet Military District (TMD) commander.
Lt Gen Wang Kai, formerly one of the Deputy Commanders of the Western Theater Command has apparently taken over the TMD from Lt Gen Wang Haijiang.
From his CV, which appeared in Chinese websites, in April 2017, Wang Kai was appointed Deputy Commander of the Army in the Western Theater Command with the rank of Major General and at the end of March 2021, he was transferred to Lhasa and promoted lieutenant general.

Chinese name: Wang Kai
Country of Citizenship: China
Nationality: Han nationality
Date of birth: 1963
Job: Soldier
Place of birth: Sichuan Meishan on the marches of the Tibetan plateau
Belief: Communism
Major achievements: Deputy Commander of the Army of the Western Theater
Military rank: Lieutenant General 

Wang Kai served as brigade commander and commander of the 37th Division of the 13th Army.
During the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, Wang Kai, then commander of the 37th Division, he led his troops to reach Beichuan, the hardest hit area, and commanded the men to advance to the epicenter of Yingxiu Town.
In 2009, he served as Chief of Staff of the Fourteenth Army of the Army.
He won the title of '5-12' National Model for Earthquake Relief.
'5-12' stands for May 12. It refers to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, also known as the Great Sichuan earthquake or Wenchuan earthquake. It occurred at 14:20 hrs on May 12, 2008 and measured 8.0 on the Richter scale. The earthquake's epicenter was located 80 kilometres west-northwest of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan. Strong aftershocks, some exceeding 6 Ms, continued to hit the area up to several months after the main shock, causing further casualties and damage. The earthquake also caused the largest number of geohazards ever recorded, including about 200,000 landslides and more than 800 quake lakes distributed over an area of 110,000 km2. Over 69,000 people lost their lives in the quake.
In July 2013, Wang Kai became the commander of the 13th Group Army. His ilustrious predecessors include Gen Zhang Youxia (2000.12-2005.12), now member of the Central Military Commission; Gen Zhao Zongqi (2007.09), former commander of the WTC of Doklam fame and Gen Xu Yong (2008-13), former TMD Commander.
In April 2017, Gen Wang was transferred to Chengdu as deputy commander of the Western Theater Army.
In 2019, he won the commemorative medal of "Celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the Founding of the People's Republic of China." 
At the end of March 2021, he moved to Lhasa as the Commander of the Tibet Military District and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general.

The Situation in Tibet
It is clear that the situation is not easy in Tibet and one clearly see that Beijing is nervous, fearing a reaction of the Tibetan populations, who are supposed to have been 'liberated' 70 years ago by Mao’s troops.
On April 6, as Gen Wang had just reached Urumqi, The Global Times reported: “Tibet issues border activity bans.”

The Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) announced a ban “on 15 border activities, further strengthening controls over illegal crossings.”
According to The Tibet Daily, the TAR Public Security Department and Foreign Affairs Office jointly issued a circular to other government departments, highlighting 15 acts that are prohibited at the border: “the strictly prohibited acts include entering the border management zone without valid documents, evading border inspection, organizing or helping others to be smuggled across the border, and hunting or collecting national protected rare animals and plants, etc.”
The circular added: “The bans also prohibit private small aircraft flight activities, damaging or moving of communications and water facilities, moving of markers that mark the location of the border, and damaging of military facilities. …Anyone who violates these prohibitions will be held accountable according to law, and will be transferred to the judicial authorities if the act constitutes a crime.”

Why suddenly?
The Global Times observed that at the Seventh Tibet Work Forum in August 2020, “the central government called for efforts to ensure national security and enduring peace and stability, steadily improve people's lives, maintain a good environment, solidify border defense and ensure frontier security. …the emphasis on the 15 border prohibitions can further implement this approach.”
It was stressed that carrying or disseminating newspapers, books or electronic products containing content that endangers national security and undermines ethnic unity is strictly prohibited."
It is rather drastic. This will undoubtedly alienate the Tibetans further.

What is causing such fear in the second most powerful nation of the planet?
The relations that the Indian populations in the Himalaya could have had with the Tibetans in Tibet?
It does not make sense, as there is presently hardly any contacts between the two.
The Global Times speaks of “Tibet's long border and its harsh geographical and natural conditions, the border was not fully guarded before and criminal activities.”
What criminal activities?
Some Chinese observers thought that Tibet's stricter border controls may help safeguard the region's COVID-19 prevention work “as India recorded an all-time high of 103,558 single day new coronavirus infections”.
Here too it does not make sense as the Himalayan states are not presently touched by the pandemic. Arunachal Pradesh in particular has hardly any cases.

Infiltrations from India?
It is also said that in recent years, “the region has also been infiltrated by some foreign forces.”
With the monitoring system in place on the plateau, it is not easy for ‘foreign forces’ to infiltrate; it is in fact impossible.
Minnie Chan in The South China Morning Post mentioned the Special Frontier Force, the Tibetan commandos associated with the Indian Army.
An insider, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, told the Hong Kong journalist: "All the bans are updated rules based on previous border regulations, with the key mission being to prevent exiled Tibetans trying to infiltrate Chinese borders." 

Chan added: "according to Chinese officials, more than 10,000 exiled Tibetan were being trained as 'special operation troops' by India."
Here again it is not serious.

More plausible is the fact that the PLA could be planning to open a new front against India to celebrate the 'liberation' of Tibet and the 100th anniversary of the Party. This should be watched seriously by the Indian Government.

The 70th anniversary of May 1951 

The main reason is that “Tibet is about to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its liberation, it is necessary to take appropriate precautions."
This is briefly mentioned by The Global Times' article.
The grandiose celebrations will take place on May 23 and in July, Tibet will ‘celebrate’ again, this time the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China.
Years ago, I wrote a long paper on the treacherous 17-Point Agreement. It can be downloaded from my website.
Each and every Tibetan knows that Tibet was not liberated in 1951.
China fears this.
The truth is that seventy years ago, a Tibetan delegation led by Ngabo Ngawang Jigme, a prisoner of war and former Governor of Kham,  was forced to sign 'under duress' a Seventeen-Point Agreement in Beijing. 

Article One says: "The Tibetan people shall unite and drive out imperialist aggressive forces from Tibet; the Tibetan people shall return to the big family of the Motherland-the People's Republic of China".
Since then, Tibet became a colony of China and the Tibetans slaves in their own country.

The Dalai Lama's Memoirs
In his memoirs Freedom in Exile, the Dalai Lama vividly recalls these dramatic events:

From my rooms in the monastery, I could look down towards the river where farmers came to graze their sheep, yaks and dzomos [mixture of a yak and a cow]. And I could watch, enviously, the groups of picnickers that came almost daily to build a little fire and cook down by the water's edge. I was so enchanted with all that I saw that I felt brave enough to ask Ling Rinpoche [his tutor] for some time off. He must have felt the same way as, to my surprise, he granted me a holiday. I could not remember being happier as I spent several days roaming around the area. On one of my excursions I visited a Bon monastery. My only sadness was that I knew that troubled times lay ahead. It could not be long now before we heard from Ngabo [Ngawang JIgme] in Peking [Beijing]. I half expected bad news, but nothing could have prepared me for the shock when it came.
At the monastery I had an old Bush radio receiver which ran off a six-volt battery. Every evening, I would listen to the Tibetan language broadcasts of Radio Peking. Sometimes I did so with one or other official, but often I listened alone. The majority of the broadcasts were taken up with propaganda about the 'Glorious Motherland', but I must say that I was very impressed with much of what I heard. There was constant talk of industrial progress and of the equality of all China's citizens. This seemed like the perfect combination of material and spiritual progress. However, one evening, as I sat alone, there was a very different sort of programme. A harsh, crackling voice announced that a Seventeen Point 'Agreement' for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet had that day been signed by representatives of the Government of the People's Republic of China and what they called the 'Local Government' of Tibet.
I could not believe my ears. I wanted to rush out and call everybody in, but I sat transfixed. The speaker described how 'over the last hundred years or more' aggressive imperialist forces had penetrated into Tibet and 'carried out all kinds of deceptions and provocations'. It added that 'under such conditions, the Tibetan nationality and people were plunged into the depths of enslavement and suffering'. I felt physically ill as I listened to this unbelievable mixture of lies and fanciful clichés.
But there was worse to come.
Clause One of the 'Agreement' stated that 'The Tibetan people shall unite and drive out imperialist aggressive forces from Tibet. The Tibetan people all return to the big family of the Motherland - the People's Republic of China.'
What could it mean? The last foreign army to have been stationed on Tibetan soil was the Manchu army in 1912.
As far as I was aware (and now know), there was no more than a handful of Europeans in Tibet at that time. And the idea of Tibet 'returning to the Motherland' was shameless invention. Tibet had never been part of China. In fact, as I have mentioned already, Tibet has ancient claims to large parts of China. On top of which, our respective peoples are ethnically and racially distinct. We do not speak the same language, nor is our script anything like the Chinese script. As the International Commission of Jurists stated subsequently in their report:
'Tibet' s position on the expulsion of the Chinese in 1912 can fairly be described as one of de facto independence is therefore submitted that the events of 19 II - 12 mark the re-emergence of Tibet as a fully sovereign state, independent in fact and in law of Chinese control.'
What was most alarming, however, was that Ngabo had not been empowered to sign anything on my behalf, only to negotiate. I had kept the seals of state with me at Dromo to ensure that he could not. So he must have been coerced. But it was several more months before I heard the whole story. In the meantime, all we had to go on was the radio broadcast (repeated several times), together with a number of self-congratulatory sermons about the joys of Communism, the glory of Chairman Mao, the wonders of the People's Republic of China and all the good things that the Tibetan people could look forward to now that our destinies were united. It was quite silly.
The details of the Seventeen-Point 'Agreement' were chilling all the same.
Clause Two announced that the 'Local Government' of Tibet would 'actively assist the People's Liberation Army to enter Tibet and consolidate the national defence'. This meant, so far as l could judge, that our farces were expected to surrender at once.
Clause Eight continued the theme by saying that the Tibetan army was to be absorbed into the Chinese army - as if such a thing were possible. Then in Clause Fourteen we learned that, from now on, Tibet was to be deprived of all authority aver the conduct of her external affairs. Interspersed with these more telling clauses were others assuring Tibet of religious freedom and protecting my position and the present political system. But far all these platitudes one thing was clear: from now on, the Land of Snows answered to the People’s Republic of China.
As the unhappy reality of our position began to sink in, several people, notably Taktser Rinpoche [the Dalai Lama's elder brother] in a long letter from Calcutta, urged me to leave far India at once. They argued that the only hope for Tibet lay in finding allies to help us fight the Chinese. When l reminded them that our missions to India, Nepal, Great Britain and the United States had already been turned back, they countered that once these countries realised the gravity of the situation, they would be sure to after their support. They painted out that the United States was implacably opposed to Communist expansionism and was already fighting a war in Korea far that very reason. l could see the logic of their arguments, but somehow felt the fact that America was already engaged in fighting an one front lessened the likelihood of her wanting to open up a second.
A few days later, a long telegram arrived from the delegation in Peking. It did not say very much beyond repeating what we had already heard on the radio. Obviously Ngabo was being prevented from telling the truth. Recently, same members of the delegation have related in their memoirs the full story of how they were forced to sign the 'Agreement' under duress and use counterfeit seals of the Tibetan state. But from Ngabo's telegram I could only guess at what had happened. However, he did say that the new Governor-General of Tibet, General Chiang Chin-wu [Zhang Jingwu], was en route to Dromo [Chumbi Valley] via India. We should expect him shortly.

The truth is that Tibet has never been liberated.
The Tibetan nation still lives under the yoke of the Chinese Communist Party, and Beijing has today a guilty consciousness; this creates a great uneasiness for Xi and his colleagues.
In the meantime, will Gen Wang Haijiang do better than his predecessor? 

Can he understand that India of 2021 is not India of 1962. The future weeks will tell us.  

Monday, April 5, 2021

The Colonizers’ Dilemma

According to the website China Tibet News, many young Tibetans applied for recruitment in the Chinese Army in the first half of 2021.
This was the first post Covid-19 recruitment exercise for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), after the confrontation with the Indian Army in Ladakh. Normally, recruitment happens twice a year all over China; Beijing is apparently trying hard to recruit Tibetans in the PLA; offering many incentives to those willing to join.
The article says: “This year is an important year for Tibet to implement biannual conscription. At present, the conscription work in Tibet has entered the final stage. As a key part of ensuring the quality of troops, the recruitment department of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) attached great importance to the work of conscription medical examinations.”
On March 8, 22 young women from different prefectures in the TAR had passed the preliminary screening; once preselected, they were sent to Medical Examination Center of the General Hospital of the Tibet Military Command for further testing.
The article notes that in order to recruit female soldiers, the TAR’s Recruitment Department has established four groups, responsible respectively for physical examinations, physical fitness tests, ‘political’ assessments and interviews “to ensure that aspiring female youths meet the standards of physical and psychological quality.”
There is no doubt that ‘political’ assessment is the most important in the volatile Land of Snows.
This year, despite the conflict in Ladakh, the number of Tibetan applicants, aged 18 to 22, is said to be more than 3,800 (3,069 young men and 753 women); the exercise targets educated youth, mostly college students, most of them with degrees. Another recruitment session willl take place in June/July this year.
After the fiasco in Ladakh, where the Chinese soldiers did not fare well compared to the Indian jawans (one of the reasons is the enforced military conscription in China), Beijing is seriously thinking to bring reforms and enroll more minorities like the Tibetans in the PLA (for sure, the latter are suffering less of the lack of oxygen unlike Chinese soldiers); of course, ‘ideology’ remains the crucial criteria for the final selection.
Recruitment and conscription are major issues for the PLA leadership, which has probably realized its shortcomings on the Ladakh front.
China Military Online had reported in January that a first plenum of the inter-departmental joint conference on national conscription work was held in Beijing on January 18.
It was addressed by General Wei Fenghe, Defense Minister and member of the all-powerful Central Military Commission (CMC). The Chinese media commented: “The joint conference is responsible for implementing related major decisions and deployments concerning the military conscription.”
Beijing seems to be fully aware of the recruitment deficiencies; one of them being the quasi absence of ‘minorities’ troops in the PLA.
While addressing the PLA delegation during the recently concluded Two Sessions (the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference or CPPCC and the National People’s Congress or NPC), President Xi Jinping noted that the PLA achieved “a good start in strengthening national defense and the armed forces during the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) period.”
Xi, also CMC chairman praised the armed forces “for reaching the targets and missions for 2020 amid the COVID-19 epidemic and complex domestic and international circumstances.”
Xi urged the PLA to focus on combat readiness and while remembering the ‘instabilities’ and ‘uncertainties’ in China's current security scenario; the PLA “must always be ready to respond to all kinds of complex and difficult situations, resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, security.”
To be ready for a war with India may not pass well for the Tibetan recruits, most of whom have relatives living in exile in India.
Undoubtedly, the recruiters must be asking themselves some serious questions: can the Tibetans be loyal to the Communist Party and faithfully serve Chairman Xi and their ‘Chinese motherland’ or will they continue to pay obeisance to their spiritual leader in exile in India?
One detail is telling: the PLA delegation in the NPC (which also includes the People’s Armed Police) has 294 representatives. Most of the top generals are NPC members, including the infamous Gen Zhao Zongqi, who triggered the Doklam incident in 2017 and more recently the Ladakh confrontation.
Tibet is only represented by three ‘model’ soldiers, Sergeant Yangchok Geshe, 30 years old from Ngaba in Sichuan, Captain Jampa Khedrup, 31 from Kangding, also in Sichuan and 2nd Lieutenant Sonam Tashi from Lhoka in Southern Tibet.
These are puppets to show the world that Tibet is represented, though today China needs Tibetan puppets for its propaganda, however, it fools less and less people around the world, even if China continues to call itself a good neighbour and a peace-loving country.
On March 1, China Military Online, quoting a statement from Ministry of National Defense stated: “China’s strategic choice to take the road of peaceful development and independent foreign policy of peace, as well as the traditional Chinese culture advocating ‘harmony’, …China unswervingly pursues a defense policy that is defensive in nature.”
The same article stressed that “China must not lose an inch of the territory that the country's ancestors have left behind. The building and development of China's national defense and armed forces is entirely driven by the need to safeguard China's national sovereignty, security and development interests, not targeting any country or not posing threat to any country.”
One could ask: have these ‘ancestors’ ever set foot in Ladakh, in Arunachal Pradesh or elsewhere on India’s northern border? The answer is no.
During a recent CPPCC session, the PLA deputies discussed a number of issues related to national defense; one of these was how to “incite rural revitalization in ethnic areas through military-civilian cooperation.”
The present recruitment is in line with this policy.
However, the truth is that the PLA leadership today fears the Tibetans.
Recently, a notice from the Metok Border Management Brigade announced that from March 1, the Chinese authorities began “to check border pass, ID cards and other documents of people entering and exiting Metok.”
Metok is the last small, but strategic town located near the Great Bend of the Yarlung Tsangpo, north of the McMahon Line (where mega hydropower plants are being planned).
Even the PLA is not exempted from these new restrictions: “officers and soldiers of the PLA and the People’s Armed Police who are not stationed in the area must present a certificate issued by the competent department to enter and leave the border area.”
China clearly has a dilemma; how to show that the Tibetans are on its side, when they are probably not.
This is happening when Beijing is preparing to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the 17-Agreement Agreement on the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet; an accord signed under duress according to the Dalai Lama (at gun point in fact). A great dilemma indeed for Beijing.

The Yarlung Tsangpo HPP: Mega Tragedy in the Making

Dave Petley, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) at the University of Sheffield in the UK has a blog which provides scientific information on landslides or mudslides occurring worldwide.
On March 29, he noted: “Yarlung Tsangpo: another giant, high mountain landslide on March 22, 2021.”
He elaborated: “I received an email from Göran Ekstrom of Columbia University making a small group of us aware that he had detected, using seismic instruments, a probable large-scale landslide in the vicinity of the Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet. As always, the seismic data gives an indication of location, but not a precise grid reference, and an idea of the mass (in this case about 100 million tonnes – a very large one indeed).”
Whether it was triggered by an earthquake in this highly seismic area, is still not clear.
As we shall see, it could also be due to torrential rain.

The British scholar continued: “Fastest out of the blocks was Marten Geertsema, who used partially cloudy Planet Labs satellite imagery to identify a possible site. Yesterday [March 28], Planet Labs data with low levels of cloud became available. Dan Shugar from the University of Calgary was able to identify that the location was correct, and that a large landslide had occurred.”
Shugar said: “Planet Labs’ images of the Tsangpo Landslide from Mar 13 and 28 show failure of some small hanging glaciers (similar to Chamoli in Uttrakhand) and likely rock material, which dropped 3900m (!!) from ~6600m to 2700m to Yarlung Tsangpo valley bottom, causing partial blockage (but some water flowing).”

Shugar published an image from Planet Labs image captured on March 28.
The coordinates of the site are given (29.815, 94.932). It is the 'epicenter' of the landslide or mudslide.
Pethley commented: “Dan and I slightly disagree with how this (and Chamoli) should be described (which is fine of course). Dan describes this event as the collapse of hanging glaciers, whereas I consider it to be a rockslide that has taken some ice with it. Researchers love semantics!”
Pethley further explained: “Either way, at Yarlung Tsangpo it is clear that a large amount of rock and ice have detached from the east side of the tributary valley, moving westwards and then to the south. Once again this has formed a catastrophic channelised flow that has travelled down the channel to deposit a large volume in the main channel. This was probably blocked briefly, but as the image above shows water is now flowing freely.”
He mentioned a huge increase in turbidity of the water downstream of the blockage on the Yarlung Tsangpo.
Stuart Dunning of Newcastle University noticed another aspect in his response to Dan Shugar: “This must be one of the most dynamic landslide locations on Earth. I have previously written about another landslide at exactly the same site. That event looks broadly similar to this one.”
I have written on this blog three years ago about another landslide in the same area.

The Location of the Mudslide
The slide is about 50 km downstream of projected giga hydropower plant (HPP) on the Yarlung Tsangpo and it is not presently directly connected with the forthcoming project.
According to The People's Daily, the Tibet Autonomous Region Meteorological Bureau announced on March 7 that during the week between March 8 to March 14, the temperature in most parts of Tibet would be high for the season, and it would be raining: “in the eastern part will receive rain and snow, and high-altitude road sections are prone to snow and ice.”
The meteorological department reminded the public “to pay attention to traffic safety and prevent secondary disasters such as mudslides. Relevant departments need to continue to strengthen fire prevention in grasslands, forests and cities.”
It spoke of possible ‘mudslides’.
The point is that the area around the proposed HPP is environmentally extremely fragile, but Beijing does not seem to care much about that.

The Earthquake of 2017
In November 2017, an earthquake shook the area around Mt Namcha Barwa, also near the Great Bend; as a result, the Siang/Brahmaputra suddenly became black.
An excellent article ('Muddy Siang is sign of danger ahead, wake up call for Indian authorities') described the developments on the Yarlung Tsangpo/Siang/ Brahmaputra. It was published by the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP).
It said: “The current ongoing episode of Muddy Siang River water in Arunachal Pradesh is due to landslides in the upstream Tibet, triggered by the earthquakes starting on Nov 17, 2017 or possibly earlier. This is revealed by the satellite pictures and work of two researchers, first published in Arunachal Times on Dec 21, 2017. These landslides are partly blocking the Siang flow and could lead to massive floods in the downstream Arunachal Pradesh and Assam any day.”
The article raised two important questions.
Why the Chinese officials kept quiet for weeks, if it was ‘only’ a simple earthquake and why India remained ‘unaware’, when it was not too difficult to ‘know’ the facts with remote satellite imagery.
SANDRP questioned the role of the Indian officials in this.
According to the report quoted by SANDRP, a huge amount of debris accumulated and blocked three locations, forming natural dams on the river across a 12-kilometre stretch in Tibet. It was cause by a 6.4 (or 6.9) earthquake in the Great Bend region. It darkened the waters of the Yarlung Tsangpo.

Due to Heavy Rains?
Unlike in 2017, the present mudslides are probably due to heavy rains.
It is however extremely worrying when one think that China is planning a HPP thrice the size (or at least the capacity) of the Three Gorges Dam.
See my previous post about this.
The area is definitively fragile and earthquake-prone.
The areas were the 2017 and 2021 mishaps occurred is of course located upstream the proposed giga project, but in the future mudslides/landslides could trigger heavy sedimentation, as well as the other possible problems.
For example, if mega mudslides happen in the area of the proposed giga HPP, the reservoirs could well quickly fill up with dirt and the turbines and tunnels/pipes would need to be closed and cleaned, forcing China to temporarily divert the waters of the Yarlung Tsangpo/Brahmaputa.
India should be concerned by the happenings upstream the McMahon Line/LAC.

The Giga Project
On November 30, 2020, The Global Times had announced China's plan to build a large hydropower project on the Yarlung Tsangpo; the Communist tabloid admitted that it could raise concerns in India “over potential political and ecological threats as the river passes through Southwest China, India and Bangladesh. [But] Chinese experts refuted the claim that Chinese hydropower project have political aims, and said the project could help alleviate power shortage problem in northern India and boost regional economy."
It is obviously a non-sense.
According to the head of POWERCHINA the planned hydropower station - which is expected to have three times as much generating capacity as the world-leading Three Gorges power station – “aims to maintain water resources and domestic security.”
Very vague indeed.
The Global Times continued: “However, the news raised India's concerns, with some experts and media worried that Chinese activities in upstream areas may hurt interests downstream. Some are even concerned that China will use the hydroelectric project as a tool to serve its political strategy in the region, along with the border military conflict in Ladakh, or to curb India's right to explore downstream water resources. … But these energy projects can benefit the entire regional economy, if properly coordinated.”
Coordination will not take place, but even with ‘coordination’ the extreme frailty of the area will remain.

The project during the 14th Five-Year Plan?
During the Two Sessions in Beijing in early March, it was reiterated that “the construction of key projects should be promoted, such as the Sichuan-Tibet Railway and hydropower development on the Yarlung Tsangpo River, according to the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) for National Economic and Social Development and the Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035, which was adopted by China's top legislature and published in full.”
So, is it a fait accompli, the giga HPP will be constructed?

During the Two Sessions, the Chinese media reported that Che Dalha, chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region and deputy to the 13th National People's Congress: “urged acceleration of the project and comprehensive planning and environmental impact assessments" for the project .
One can doubt that proper assessment will be conducted? Will the Chinese ‘scientists’ take into account the presence of tens of thousands of truck and GCBs moving earth around and changing the shape of the mountains, north of the Indian borders?
It looks more the question of an aging Emperor wanting to show the world that He has constructed a HPP thrice the capacity of the Three Gorges Dam, than love for environment. 

The recent mudslide's location, north of the Yarlung Tsangpo

Sketch published in 2009 by a famous Chinese blogger

Sunday, April 4, 2021

100 years ago: Sri Aurobindo arrives in Pondicherry

Here a eleven years ago article on the arrival of Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry on April 4, 1910.

On April 4, Pondicherry celebrates the 100th anniversary of Sri Aurobindo’s arrival in the former French Establishment. On that day, politicians, eminent personalities and scholars will garland statues of the Master and pronounce great speeches; they will probably recall what Viceroy Lord Minto said about the first proponent of Purna Swaraj: “I can only repeat that he is the most dangerous man we have to reckon with”, and the curtain will fall on the grand function. I presume that it the fate of all functions.
But, let us go back 100 years ago.
In the afternoon of April 4, 1910, the Pondicherry pier witnessed a scene which will remain etched in history: a strict orthodox Tamil Brahmin, Srinivasachari and Suresh Chakravarti, a 18-year old Bengali revolutionary shared a small boat to reach out to Le Dupleix, a steamer which had just arrived from Calcutta carrying the ‘most dangerous’ man on board.

Perhaps due to old habits inherited during his British years, the revolutionary leave would not leave before having a cup of tea in the cabin. By the time they disembarked and boarded the rowboat waiting to take the famous passenger to French India, it was 4 pm.
Sri Aurobindo already ‘knew’ for certain that on a higher plane, India had already got her independence; it was only a question of time before it would ‘materialize’.
It is one of the reasons why as he set foot on the French territory, he could consecrate his energies to help humanity to undertake a new step in its spiritual evolution; a decision that many politicians in India never forgave.
Sri Aurobindo had come to Pondicherry to change the human nature. During the four following decades, his mantra will be “All life is Yoga”; everything, including matter has to be transformed and made divine.
Around 1914, he foresaw: “At present mankind is undergoing an evolutionary crisis in which is concealed a choice of its destiny.... Man has created a system of civilisation which has become too big for his limited mental capacity and understanding and his still more limited spiritual and moral capacity to utilise and manage, a too dangerous servant of his blundering ego and its appetites.”
He believed that “the burden which is being laid on mankind is too great for the present littleness of the human personality and its petty mind and small life-instincts” and therefore “it cannot operate the needed change” without a change in consciousness.
It is doubtful if the garlanders will have this in mind when they pay homage to the ‘great leader’, but no harm thinking positively.
For several months, Sri Aurobindo and his companions stayed on the second floor of a house belonging to one Shankar Chetty; Swami Vivekananda had stayed there when he had visited Pondicherry a few years earlier.
During the first three months, the young men remained inside the house day and night, it was too dangerous to roam the streets of the White Town; British CID agents were watching for a scoop.
Life continued thus during the following years, though rules gradually became less strict for the disciples who were even allowed to play football.
August 15, 1947, the day India obtained her independence coincided with Sri Aurobindo’s 75th birthday. It was a ‘justice of history’ for someone who had tirelessly worked for this momentous event.
The previous day, Sri Aurobindo had been requested by All India Radio to give a message to the nation. He spoke about his Five Dreams.
The first was that India be united again. Will the present division disappear one day and at which cost? Nobody can answer this question.
The second dream was to see the “resurgence and liberation of the peoples of Asia”. It is certainly happening fast.
Sri Aurobindo’s third dream was of a “world-union forming the outer basis of a fairer, brighter and nobler life for all mankind.” Many groupings such the European Union, the ASEAN or more recently the BRIC are slowly taking shape.
The fourth dream was a ‘spiritual gift of India to the world’. One only has to go to a bookshop in the West or look at the number of works on yoga, dharma, etc. to see that something of this has already been achieved.
The final dream was a new “step in evolution which would raise man to a higher and larger consciousness and begin the solution of the problems which have perplexed and vexed him since he first began to think and to dream of individual perfection and a perfect society”.
But life was not always easy. In the evening of August 15, 1947, goons belonging to a local political party turned violent and attacked some of the inmates of the Ashram. Mulshankar, a personal attendant of Sri Aurobindo who had gone home for a shower was attacked and killed. Nirodbaran, a close confident of the Master wrote later: “Sri Aurobindo listened quietly [to the news] and his face bore a grave and serious expression that we had not seen before.” India was free, but the Goonja Raj had begun.
It was probably the first act of terrorism of free India.
A few days later, Sri Aurobindo explained to the Editor of a National Daily: “There are three sections of the people here who are violently opposed to the existence of the Ashram, the advocates of Dravidisthan, extreme Indian Catholics and the Communists.”
For these small sections of the local community, Sri Aurobindo had probably become the ‘most dangerous man’, just because he believed in a future humanity rising above ideologies, castes, creeds or religions. He was indeed the Prophet of a new Humanism. A hundred years after his arrival in Pondicherry, one should not forget his message
Sri Aurobindo has described this quest as ‘the Adventure of Consciousness and Joy’. It seems to be the most urgent task at hand for humanity.
If enough individuals would aspire for this higher consciousness, undoubtedly the process could be hastened and the world around us would begin to change. It is perhaps the only relevant adventure in the world today.
But there is the other side to the coin: terrorism, corruption, discrimination, inequality, selfishness, etc. seem to prevail everywhere.
A hundred years ago, Sri Aurobindo saw that mankind was confronted with this ‘critical choice’, if the human race was to survive. Will humanity make this choice?

Thursday, April 1, 2021

The Forgotten Hero of the Indian Air Force

Chinese PLA surrounding the Bell helicopter of Sqn Ldr Vinod Sehgal
Perhaps the main unsolved mysteries of the 1962 India-China War is the fate of 35-year old Squadron Leader (Sqn Ldr) Vinod Sehgal, (sometimes is name is written ‘Sahgal’); the Vayu Sena Medal awardee of the 105 Helicopter Unit of the Indian Air Force, went ‘missing in action’ at Tsangdhar in the Tawang sector of the then Kameng Frontier Division of the North East Frontier Agency (today Arunachal Pradesh) on October 20, 1962.
In the early hours of this fateful day, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) attacked the Indian positions south of the Thag-la ridge. It soon turned into a debacle recounted by Brig John Dalvi, the Commander of the ill-fated 7 Mountain Brigade in his remarkable Himalayan Blunder; the ‘leadership’ in Delhi had insisted of defending indefensible positions on the river Namkha chu (river), with the tragic well-known outcome. 
Tsangdar Dropping Zone where Sqn Ldr Sehgal landed
What happened in the vicinity of the Thag-la ridge and the Namkha chu (river) has been the object of a number of good or less good books.
Nobody has forgotten that the foolish (not to say criminal) leadership in Delhi did not think it fit to use the services of the IAF for offensive operations; the 7 Brigade was soon decimated; Hatung-la, the ridge next to the Thag-la fell on October 21 and Brig Dalvi was taken prisoner of war (PoW) on October 22; by that time, Maj Gen Niranjan Prasad, the General Commanding Officer (GOC) of the 4 Infantry Division had trekked back to Tawang from Zimithang, his tactical headquarter.
Maj Gen KK Tewari was then a Lt Col commanding the Signal Regiment of the 4 Corps based in Tezpur; on October 18, he had flown with Vinod Sehgal to the front and landed at Tsangdhar to inspect some deficient equipment on the forward posts, particularly in the Namkha chu sector.
Tewari, like many other officers and jawans, was taken PoW on October 20 morning; not hearing from his boss, with all communication lines cut, Tewari’s second-in-command (2iC), Maj Ram Singh decided to find out the situation on the front; he flew to Tsangdhar in Vinod Sehgal’s Bell helicopter.

Gen Tewari wrote in his memoirs: “Numerous cases of men who deserved to be honoured for their outstanding examples of devotion to duty in the face of enemy were ignored because of the confusion and failure in the higher directions and conduct of war. …The case of my own 2iC, Maj Ram Singh who gave his life along with Sqn Ldr Vinod Sehgal when they had tried to land at Tsangdhar in a two seater Bell helicopter after the Chinese attack, is one such. They came to find out what had happened after my last radio transmission that morning, when we suddenly went off the air after giving news of intense shelling and they were shot down.”
The GOC of the 4 Division later remembered that Maj Ram Singh, not knowing the true situation, had suggested sending a replacement set to the front; according to Gen Prasad’s memoirs: “I decided to go with him, not only to keep an eye on the battle while 7 Brigade HQ was on the move, but because I was keen to supervise the Tsangle withdrawal ...I called out to (Sqn Ldr) Vinod Sehgal to get his helicopter ready, collected Ram Singh and set out for the helipad. When emplaning, however, Sehgal raised an objection about the load. While he had no objection to carrying an extra passenger against regulations, he said, he just could not risk taking a heavy wireless set and battery in addition. At those heights, this was asking for trouble. My first reaction was to tell Ram Singh to wait for the next sortie, but Ram Singh quite rightly argued that establishing the set on Tsangdhar was more important as I would be helpless up there without communications In any case, by then the set and the battery had already been strapped on to the outside carrier frame; Ram Singh argued that it would only take a turn-around of 20-25 minutes to drop it at Tsangdhar and return. This made sense, so I got out of the helicopter and allowed Ram Singh to proceed to Tsangdhar.” The fate of the two officers was sealed; Ram Singh and Sehgal would never return. 

The Thagla ridge in the background
Gen Prasad then sent Flight Lieutenant (Flt Lt) AS Williams to check what was going on: “It was not more than fifteen minutes later I received a report from Borkungthang post that they had seen a helicopter come crashing near them. The pilot appeared to be safe and even then making his way towards Zimithang. Sure enough, Williams appeared down the path in about ten minutes time, looking visibly shaken. …The loss of both my helicopters was a serious blow - apart from the fact that I was more than a little worried about the fate of Ram Singh and Vinod Sehgal."
Air Marshal Bharat Kumar, who wrote the history of the 1962 air support operations, noted: “It can be surmised that Sehgal and Ram Singh were captured after their landing - they were not aware that the post had been overrun by the Chinese. The Chinese have kept silent about the incident, as if nothing ever happened. It is probable that both of them were shot after they were captured as their names did not appear either in the list of Prisoners of War (POWs) or declared dead by the Chinese.”
In a Chinese video clip released a few years later, Sqn Ldr Williams recognized the Bell 47-G2 Helicopter piloted by Sqn Ldr Sehgal: “the helicopter was intact and apparently Sehgal and his passenger [Ram Singh] were captured by the Chinese, never to be heard or seen again.”
After another helicopter was later shot by the Chinese; the Operational Record Book of No. 105 Helicopter Unit concluded: “Zimithang was abandoned with a sad heart as three beautiful valuable aircraft were lost and one very experienced pilot (Vinod Sehgal) taken prisoner by the enemy. Zimithang detachment came to a tragic end.”
That was it!

Sqn Ldr Vinod Sehgal, VSM
Why was Vinod Sehgal’s action never rewarded?
One of the tragedies within the greater 1962 tragedy is that Sq Ldr Vinod Sehgal’s bravery has never been acknowledged by the Indian Air Force. The young pilot’s name has today been forgotten though he performed a heroic feat several hours after the war was started.
Incidentally, a few years ago, Brig Amar Jit Singh Behl who was a young Second Lieutenant of the 17 Parachute Field Regiment fighting in Tsangdhar, told me in an interview for that after he was made prisoner by the Chinese: “On October 21, we were kept near the helipad and I saw the two officers who had been killed near their chopper. I went to the Chinese officers who had interpreters in English and Hindi. I asked this officer, I want to bury these officers; after I insisted, he said: 'Alright'. With two of my boys, we dug a two feet trench and buried Major Ram Singh and Squadron Leader Sehgal. We saluted them.” The next day, Behl and his companions started their long walk to the PoW camp in Tibet.
The question is: was it Vinod Sehgal that they buried?

from the ICRC Archives, Geneva

The Red Cross Angle
The mystery deepened further when during a recent visit to Geneva, I had the opportunity to visit the archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). I came across a cable from the Indian Red Cross (IRC) to the ICRC dated November 9, 1962 requesting the humanitarian organization in Switzerland to take up the case of Vinod Sehgal with the Chinese Red Cross: “Kindly obtain confirmation Peking [Beijing] Radio News that Brigadier Dalvi, Lt Col Tewari and Sqd Ldr Saigal [are] in Chinese hands; also news [of] their welfare.”
The cable further says: “In conformity with Third Geneva Convention, we would appreciate receiving news concerning above mentioned prisoners.”
Does it mean that Vinod Sehgal was not killed in Tsangdhar, but taken prisoner in China? Probably.
Why has the IAF been silent on this event for all these decades?
The same day, the IRC was informed by the ICRC: “We have transmitted your request to Chinese Red Cross and [other] authorities.”
In a letter to Wu Chin-Shih, the Chinese General Consul in Geneva, the ICRC enquired: “[We] would appreciate receiving news of these prisoners in accordance with the Geneva Convention of August 12, 1949 relative to the treatment of prisoners of war (Convention No III).”
There is no answer in the file.
Does it mean that what happened to Vinod Sehgal will forever remain a mystery?
Apparently (and sadly), Sehgal’s family was never informed of the fate of the young pilot. Gen Tewari mentioned in his memoirs an incident which took place when the PoW officers arrived in Kolkata after their captivity: “At the mess, an Air Force officer had ‘sneaked’ in a lady. She approached me to ask about Sqn Ldr Vinod Sehgal. Vinod was the Bell helicopter pilot who had flown me to Tsangdhar on October 18 with that jar of electrolyte in my lap. This lady was his sister. When I told her that Vinod was not with us, she said that she had a picture from a newspaper in which he was supposed to be standing next to me. She showed me the faded picture and of course, it was not my picture, nor Vinod’s. We had also been told already by the Chinese in the PoW camp that a Bell helicopter had been shot down at Tsangdhar on 20th October. …When I told her that it was not my picture, she broke down and cried bitterly. It was so sad and upsetting. In the happiness of our home coming we had forgotten even if temporarily, the pain of others who had lost their dear ones. We were not otherwise allowed to talk to anyone. In fact, all the mess staff also were forbidden to talk to us.”
Had Vinod Sehgal’s sister been informed that he was a PoW in China? It is possible.

Confluence of the Namkha chu and the Namjiang chu
This leaves us with a host of unanswered questions:
•    Did Vinod Sehgal die in Tsangdgar?
•    What happened to the helicopter? Was it dismantled and taken to China? Why China has never acknowledge it?
•    Or was Vinod Sehgal taken PoW to Tibet or China?
•    If he was, where was he kept? Why was he not kept with other PoWs who did not know about his whereabouts?
•    How did he finally die? Was he killed? Was the Indian government informed?
•    Why has the IAF kept so quiet for all these years?
We can only hope that one day the Ministry of Defence will seriously take up these questions; it is up to the Indian Air Force to take the initiative.

Equipment used by the Signals Regiment on the front near Tsangdhar

Sketch of the battle of Namkha chu by Brig John Dalvi