My article As Tibet becomes Xizang, Delhi faces a new concern appeared in The Asian Age and The Deccan Chronicle.
Tibet No More
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US President Joe Biden greets China's President President Xi Jinping at the Filoli Estate in Woodside, California, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperative conference. (AP)
The long-awaited meeting between the two most powerful leaders of the planet finally took place at a farmhouse on the outskirts of San Francisco on November 15. During his press conference, US President Joe Biden said that Chinese President Xi Jinping was effectively a "dictator", which seemingly undid whatever good could have come out of the meeting.
When asked whether he still held the view (mentioned in June) that Mr Xi was a dictator, Mr Biden answered: "Look, he is. He’s a dictator in the sense that he’s a guy who runs a country that is a Communist country that’s based on a form of government totally different than ours."
Listening to his boss, US secretary of state Antony Blinken made a telling face: "He has done it again."
The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Mao Ning, was not long to respond: "This statement is extremely wrong and irresponsible political manipulation," he told reporters on Thursday at a routine briefing. But Mr Xi’s speech at the welcome dinner remained uncontroversial: he mentioned the Belt and Road Initiative as well as the Global Development Initiative (GDI), the Global Security Initiative (GSI) and the Global Civilization Initiative (GCI) and proposed that China was "opened to all countries at all times, including the United States. China is also ready to participate in US-proposed multilateral cooperation initiatives."
He remembered his first visit to the United States: "I stayed at the Dvorchaks in Iowa. I still remember their address -- 2911 Bonnie Drive. The days I spent with them are unforgettable. For me, they represent America… Our two peoples are both kind, friendly, hardworking and down to earth."
These are different ways of dealing with seemingly insurmountable differences.
But remember Mahabalipuram? Everyone had praised the Modi-Xi encounter in 2019, and seven months later the People’s Liberation Army entered eastern Ladakh.
Though the California encounter may also end with a new confrontation (in Taiwan or the South China Sea?), one should not forget the hard realities of today’s life in China, particularly in what Beijing calls the "minorities areas", meaning Tibet and Xinjiang.
On November 10, Xinhua reported that the State Council Information Office had just released a white paper on the governance of the Xizang Autonomous Region.
But what is Xizang?
As a true colonial power, Communist China often changes the names of the people, places and even nations. It is the case of Tibet, which is now called "Xizang".
The main objective of the white paper titled "CPC Policies on the Governance of Xizang in the New Era: Approach and Achievements", is to make official the new name for the occupied territory of Tibet. It goes to highlight the CPC’s guidelines for governing Tibet, showing that Beijing has brought about "all-round progress and historic success in various undertakings in the region".
Of course, it praises Emperor Xi: "Since the 18th CPC National Congress held in 2012, Xizang [Tibet] has experienced a period of unprecedented development and huge change, bringing more tangible benefits to the people."
It also gives figures: "Xizang’s gross domestic product reached 213.26 billion yuan (about $29.3 billion) in 2022, representing an average annual growth rate of 8.6 per cent since 2012. The length of the region’s railway network had almost doubled during this period and 5G network has covered all counties and main townships there. The region had also eradicated absolute poverty."
Before concluding that "together with the rest of the country, people in Xizang have witnessed the tremendous transformation of the Chinese nation from standing up and becoming prosperous to growing in strength, and are now embarking on a new journey of building a modern socialist country in all respects".
The word "Tibet" is never used in the white paper, except as an adjective such as "Tibetan" or in the name of an organisation or institution, such as "Tibet Airlines".
The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), the Tibetan government-in-exile based in Dharamsala, strongly rejected the white paper, saying that the document was "unacceptable" and filled with "misinterpretation, misconceptions and lies".
It further pointed out that this 19th white paper on Tibet consistently downplaying the region’s distinct political identity by using "Xizang" or "Xizang Autonomous Region".
The CTA spokesperson, Tenzin Lekshay, called it "an insult to the Tibetan people. …The 32-page document talks about the aspirations of the people, but somehow the Tibetan people are missing, so we wonder what kind of aspirations they are talking about, whose aspirations they are talking about".
Also worrying for Delhi, China made official the term "Xizang" with India’s neighbours by sending visit Wang Junzheng, the Tibetan Autonomous Region’s party secretary, on a five-day visit to Kathmandu and then to Colombo. The "Tibet" delegation (without any Tibetans) was received at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu by Urmila Aryal, the National Assembly Vice-chairperson.
Mr Wang’s visit was to maintain the "good momentum of high-level exchanges between two countries", a communiqué of the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs said.
During his stay, Mr Wang met with Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal "Prachanda" Dahal: "Since we share a long border with Tibet, during the visit, our officials and the CPC delegation will discuss strengthening the bilateral ties along with implementing the agreements signed during the Prime Minister’s China visit," observed Rupak Sapkota, foreign affairs relations adviser to Mr Dahal.
The "Xizang" representatives also paid courtesy calls on vice-president Ramsahaya Prasad Yadav; later they met deputy prime minister and home minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha, minister for federal affairs and general administration Anita Devi Sah as well as Ganesh Prasad Timilsina, the chairman of the National Assembly.
He also visited "joint" projects in Pokhara, though it was clear that the objective of the exercise was to get acceptance for the name for "Xizang".
That is not all. A day later (on November 14), Wang Junzheng was seen in Colombo with Ali Sabry, the Sri Lankan foreign minister, who wrote on his X handle: "Pleased to meet with Wang Junzheng, secretary of the CPC of Xizang Autonomous Regional Committee in #China at the foreign ministry. Amongst other areas, we discussed potential bilateral cooperation @ChinaEmbSL [@MFA_SriLanka."
This means that more nations are now using "Xizang" instead of Tibet.
The moral of the story: Despite Mr Xi’s sweet words about building a community "with a shared future for mankind", ancient nations like Tibet have no place in Beijing’s schemes.
It does not augur well for humanity … or for India which has a long border with Tibet. After all, President Biden had been perhaps right about the Chinese "dictator".
Friday, November 24, 2023
Monday, November 6, 2023
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French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau had once said: "Nothing is so gentle as man in his primitive state, when placed by nature at an equal distance from the stupidity of brutes and the fatal enlightenment of civil man."
Jawaharlal Nehru too was a romantic; he wrote thus about the inhabitants of the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA): "I am not at all sure which is the better way of living, the tribal or our own. In some respects, I am quite certain theirs is better… There is no point in trying to make of them a second-rate copy of ourselves."
Though constitutionally a part of Assam, in the 1950s the NEFA was administered by the ministry of external affairs, with the governor of Assam, seconded by a senior officer (often from the ICS), designated as an adviser to the governor.
In 1955, Dr Verrier Elwin, the famous British anthropologist who had just taken Indian citizenship, joined as adviser for tribal affairs. Verrier’s concept of the development of these areas was expounded in his celebrated book, The Philosophy of NEFA, which became a sort of "bible" for all the officers serving in the NEFA.
Near 70 years later, one realises that this romantic view of the border areas amounted to the segregation of a large chunk of the Indian population. Verrier Elwin and Nehru only looked at the anthropological side of the problem, forgetting the strategic as well the economic aspects of border development; it resulted in a huge development gap between the frontier areas and the rest of India.
All factors, including military, need to be taken into consideration to arrive at a holistic "philosophy".
However, the first Prime Minister took an excellent initiative: he created a separate cadre for India’s frontier areas, namely NEFA, Tibet, Sikkim and Bhutan: "These primitive people especially have to be dealt with care and friendliness and require expert knowledge which our average administrator does not possess. Hence the necessity for a specially trained cadre."
It was the Indian Frontier Administrative Service (IFAS). This was shut down in the 1960s.
Today India is changing fast, particularly the border areas. One could say that the New Philosophy of the Northeast (this is also valid for Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh or Ladakh) is at present being rewritten and this time it should not to segregate the border populations but to integrate them into India.
Take the example of the Chumig Gyatse Holy Waterfalls in the Yangtse sub-sector of Tawang. This is one the most sacred places in Arunachal Pradesh, blessed by Guru Padmasambhava, the great yogi and tantric master who lived in the 8th century AD; it has now been opened to visitors.
The Great Guru extensively visited the border areas and his legacy can still be found in many places (for example, the Taktsang monastery near Tawang, Rewalsar in Himachal Pradesh or Gurudongmar in Sikkim).
On the exact spot where the Guru is said to have created 108 waterfalls, the Yangtse clash took place between the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on the night of December 9, 2022.
Several other border areas are now being opened to visitors.
An article in a national newspaper mentions: "The Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) has decided that tourists, mountaineers, and trekkers will no longer need an Inner Line Permit to visit Milam Glacier [located at 18,000 feet]. The Inner Line Permit has been one of the most mandatory requirements for decades now. It is one of the most famous places for adventure enthusiasts in the Kumaon Himalayas [of Uttarakhand]."
The article explains: "The Inner Line Permit requirement had many adverse effects on the tourism sector." But it goes beyond that: these areas are within Indian territory and there is no reason why permission should not be required to visit them. The "susceptibility" of the northern neighbour should not be New Delhi’s concern.
Interestingly, one newspaper had reported in 2015: "As villages along the international border in Uttarakhand face out-migration on an unprecedented scale, uninhabited areas lie open to territorial claims by the Chinese."
The reporter had studied the case of Niti, the last Indian village, located 26 km south from the Niti Pass which demarcates the border between Tibet and India, 88 km from Joshimath. For centuries, the village saw traders, pilgrims and officials freely moving between the two countries and the area flourished. Unfortunately, all this stopped in 1962.
In 2015, only 35 families remained in the village, while a few decades ago there were 250. After the trade with Tibet (today China) stopped, the area is virtually closed to outsiders and slowly it became a "ghost" region, with most young people moving to the plains in search of education or a better life.
Hopefully, the "philosophy" is changing fast and the village can now develop with eco-tourism.
In Ladakh too, the UT administration along with the Indian Army and the ITBP are making all-out efforts to change the trend to stop the out-migration. For example, on July 15 and 16, a Nomadic Festival 2023 took place not far from the Line of Actual Control in Hanle, famous for its observatory and white cranes. It was open to any visitor who could witness cultural troupes from different villages in Changthang presenting dance, songs and traditional sports: "The main focus of the festival was to present a kaleidoscopic view of the nomadic lifestyle and traditions of the people of the region… Nomadic communities in Ladakh lead a challenging but self-sufficient lifestyle, adapting to the harsh climatic conditions and high altitudes. They have a deep connection with nature and maintain a strong sense of community and cultural identity," said a release.
A couple of months later, Umling-la, the world’s highest motorable road at 19,024 feet, entered a Guinness World Record by hosting the World’s Highest International Fashion Runway, under the Vibrant Ladakh Festival.
All this is good for the local population as well as the defence forces: a populated border is a stronger border.
But the real factor that the Government of India, the UT administration and other stakeholders should not forget to keep in prime focus is the environment. Nobody wants to see another Joshimath or Chunthang (Sikkim), where a number of people lost their lives due to man-made disasters.
And perhaps the government should also think of re-creating an IFAS cadre, with motivated and dedicated officers ready to serve at the remote borders of India.