Tuesday, December 30, 2014

China’s inroads in Nepal

Wang Yi with Nepali Prime Minister
My article China’s inroads in Nepal appeared today in NitiCentral.

Here is the link...

At the end of November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Nepal and held important talks with his Nepali counterpart Sushil Koirala. Not only did they discuss strategic issues, but India and Nepal signed 10 bilateral agreements.
Further, India offered a line of credit (LoC) of US$ 1 Billion to be utilized for hydropower, irrigation and infrastructural development projects. After the meeting, Narendra Modi commented: “When we trust each other, we can move forward very quickly.”
Though that sounded very positive, these developments may not have been appreciated on the other side of the Himalayas. According to Reuters, “China will increase official aid to Nepal by more than five times from fiscal 2015-16.” China wants “to develop infrastructure in the landlocked nation where regional rival India has long wielded political influence,” says Reuters which further reported: “The jump in assistance was announced after talks between visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Nepali counterpart Mahendra Bahadur Pandey, part of a deepening engagement which is expected to lead to a visit by President Xi Jinping next year.”
China has two main stakes. One, Beijing wants to control the Tibetan refugees living in Nepal and make sure that their ranks do not increase in the coming years. Two, the Communist leadership wants to render Kathmandu economically dependent on the trade with Tibet (read China).
According to Xinhua: “Wang expressed his gratitude toward Nepal for its firm and precious support in China's core interests, including the issue of Tibet, …China and Nepal should not only be friends of mutual trust and mutual support, but also should be good partners of common development and common prosperity.”
On the first issue, Tibet, China has already acted. During his visit to the former kingdom, Wang Yi laid the foundations of a ‘police academy’ to train officers of Nepal’s Armed Police Force to guard the districts bordering Tibet. The new police academy is a ‘gift’ to Nepal, on top of the annual aid of US $128 million. The Chinese Foreign Minister told reporters: “As neighbors China and Nepal have common security needs ... we need to work together to crack down on illegal border crossings and transnational crimes.”
The Nepali leaders are not concerned as to why so many Tibetans try to escape Tibet. In the past, tens of thousands of Tibetans crossed over the Himalayan passes; once they reached Kathmandu, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees would use issue them passes for their onward journey to Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh where the Dalai Lama lives.
Beijing calls these refugees, ‘illegal migrants’ and has decided to ‘help’ Kathmandu (with ‘gifts’ such as the Police Academy) to stop the hemorrhage of Tibetan through the Himalayan passes; as a result, the number of Tibetans ‘migrants’ has fallen from about 2,500 six years ago to about 200 last year.
On the second issue, China wants to increase manifold the trade between Tibet (China) and Nepal. Wang proposed to “widen pragmatic cooperation in nine sectors, namely trade, investment, agriculture, infrastructure, science and technology, interconnection and intercommunication, tourism, cultural and educational exchanges, security and law enforcement.”
The Foreign Minister stated that the two nations should fully implement the ‘three supports’, namely funds, talent and geography.
About geography, new facilities at the China (Kyirong) Nepal (Rasuwa) Bilateral Port have been opened on December 1. The China Daily says that it will “to boost business between China and Nepal and benefit nearby residents.”
The Kyirong port is an old gateway between Tibet and Nepal; the present border post was opened in 1962, when the traditional trade between India and Tibet stopped due to the Sino-Indian conflict.
The China Daily admits that the trade through Kyirong “began to drop off in the mid-1980s and continued to decline through 2006,” but in the recent years, exchanges between China and Nepal have increased so much that the Zhangmu Port, Tibet's largest land port, could no longer cope with the demand.
Penpa, director of the Tibet Autonomous Region's Department of Commerce explained: “Since 2008, preparatory projects to expand the [Kyirong] port have been launched, including equipping the port with inspection and support services."
Wang Long, the director of the new Kyirong Customs said that the extension of the Qinghai-Lhasa Railway line to Shigatse (opened in August) will be a bridgehead towards South Asia; he added: “There will be an increase in the categories of products and the quantity of exported electronic products, and there will be a rise in trading volume as well."
Does it mean that China is planning to flood India with consumer goods through the porous Indo-Nepal border in the Terai? This could be a very serious issue for India.
Su Yuanming, director of Tibet’s Port Administrative Office also told The China Daily: “Operation of the port means a solid foundation for China to build the South Asia trading area, and it will help to promote trade between China and South Asian countries in the near future."
It is time for India to wake up to this new threat.
From January through November 2014, trade volume through Kyirong Port reached 1,600 metric tons for a value of US $ 4.5 million, double the value of the past three years combined. With the formal opening of the new facilities, these figures are bound to increase manifold in 2015.
The China Daily emphasizes that it will greatly improve the lives of the local population on both sides. It quotes Lhakpa, a Tibetan from Kyirong Township, who worked as a driver since the age of 15, and now, at the age of 34, owns a small transport company: “I have long been waiting for this day, and I believe it will boost my business." Lhakpa explains: "With improved traffic conditions and a better electricity network, our villagers have begun to enjoy the advantages brought about by the government."
It is true that the residents of Kyirong have been trading with Nepal since ancient times, though the quantity of products has always been limited. Following the opening of the new port, it may not the case anymore.
In November 1950, a few days after China invaded Tibet, the young Editor of Mother India, (published in Mumbai) asked Sri Aurobindo, the great Indian freedom fighter and yogi about these ominous happenings in the Himalayas. The sage gave his views; in his next editorial, K.D. Sethna, the journalist wrote: “Let us not blink to the fact that Tibet is useful to China principally as a gate of entry to India. Nepal …appears to be the most likely objective;” Sethna further explained: “An extension of Mao’s rule to Nepal will lay India open to easy attack by him [Mao]”.
It is what is happening 64 years later.
The new port and the arrival of the train in Shigatse (and later in Kyirong) will also have strategic and security implications on India, especially if the military exchanges between Beijing and Kathmandu keep increasing.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

President Xi Jinping Comes Calling-On

One of the most important event of the year 2014 has been the State visit of President Xi Jinping to India in September.
My article President Xi Jinping Comes Calling-On, published in The Indian Defense Review (Issue Vol. 29.4 Oct-Dec 2014), is reproduced below.
As I concluded, it was a mixed bag.

Here is the link to the web edition of the Indian Defence Review...

All started well when President Xi Jinping of China landed at the Sardar Vallabhbhai International Airport at Ahmedabad on September 17. He and Peng Liyuan, his beautiful wife (and renowned former Opera singer) had a taste of Modiland. They seemed to enjoy the dynamism and culture of Gujarat as well as its delicacies on the banks of a clean Sabarmati river.
Both India and China wanted to show the world that the two most populated countries of the planet can work together harmoniously. Modi Sarkar had done its homework by sending National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval to Beijing. After meeting President Xi, Doval told the Indian media that the bilateral relations were poised for an ‘orbital jump’. A good sound bite indeed!
The day he arrived, President Xi wrote an op-ed in The Hindu: “As the two engines of the Asian economy, we need to become cooperation partners spearheading growth. I believe that the combination of China’s energy plus India’s wisdom will release massive potential.”
The bar seemed to have been placed very high.

Was Ambassador Wei Wei sacked?
In Ahmedabad, everything went as scripted, though nobody noticed an extraordinary event which occurred a few days before the President’s arrival. Wei Wei, the Chinese Ambassador to India was suddenly transferred (or sacked?) and replaced by Le Yucheng from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
To replace the chief emissary a few days before his Head of State arrives for such a crucial visit must be a first in the annals of diplomatic history. What was behind this abrupt move? Although it may never be known, this happened at a time when speculations were rife about the fate of the Chinese Ambassador to Iceland who ‘disappeared’ somewhere in China. He was apparently too close to the Japanese. There is probably no link between the two but Wei Wei’s sudden ‘departure’ is rather strange.

The Border Issue
The second issue which did not go according to the planned programme was the sudden deterioration of the situation on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Chumar in Southern Ladakh. Differences in ‘perception’ about where the LAC lay were known to exist, particularly in this area but as Xi arrived in Ahmedabad, more than one thousand five hundred Chinese troops belonging to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the People’s Armed Police Force (PAPF) crossed the LAC and stood a few metres away from the Indian jawans. The situation has never been so tense for years. Why this show of force at a time Xi Jinping, who is also Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), was trying to instill trust in the bilateral relations? Was there a better way to sabotage the Presidential visit?
Selling the Chinese Dream
President Xi’s visit to India was the last leg of a four-nation journey. The visit to Pakistani was called off due to internal turmoil there. The Chumar intrusions were all the more surprising after Xi had gone around selling “The China Dream”.
He had announced the tenor of visit in his The Hindu op-ed, when he wrote, “As two important forces in a world that moves towards multi-polarity, we need to become global partners having strategic coordination. According to Prime Minister Modi, China and India are ‘two bodies, one spirit’. I appreciate this comment. Despite their distinctive features, the ‘Chinese Dragon’ and the ‘Indian Elephant’ both cherish peace, equity and justice. We need to work together to carry forward the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence (Panchsheel) and make the international order more fair and reasonable.” He concluded, “I look forward to an in-depth exchange of views with Indian leaders…and to injecting new vitality to our strategic and cooperative partnership for peace and prosperity.” It is also clear that President Xi was keen to sell the ‘China Dream’, an important component of which appears to be that China is a peaceful and reliable neighbour.
If this was the case, then why to blatantly cross the LAC on the second day of the visit? This has remained unexplained in the unfolding of the events. In Sri Lanka too, Xi spoke of “The Dream” and in an article in The Daily News, Xi affirmed, “Let Us Become Partners in Pursuit of Our Dreams.” In the recent months, whenever he got a chance, Xi spoke of “The Dream”. For example, at the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), he said, “The Chinese people, in their pursuit of the Chinese dream of great national renewal, stand ready to support and help other people in Asia to realise their own great dreams.” So, why send 1,500 soldiers across the LAC in Southern Ladakh?

The Border Issue
Many observers said that Xi wanted to press some ‘acupuncture’ points on the border, to make his Indian interlocutors aware that the issue is still pending. The border issue is indeed not a new one, it is ‘left-over from history’, as Chinese leaders say. In The Hindu, President Xi had however asserted, “Progress has been made in the negotiations on the boundary question, and the two sides have worked together to maintain peace and tranquility in the border area.” It is true that there is a historical background.
In April 1960, the Chinese Premier Zhou En-lai had spent a week in Delhi to discuss with Prime Minister Nehru “certain differences relating to the border areas which have arisen.” The Joint Communique issued on April 26, 1960, had stated, “The two Prime Ministers had several long frank and friendly talks between themselves.”
It was decided that Chinese and Indian officials would “meet and examine, check and study all historical documents, records, accounts, maps and other material relevant to the boundary question, on which each side relied in support of its stand, and draw up a report for submission to the two Governments.” Five rounds of extensive discussions took place during the following months, with no progress. For the past 54 years, nothing seems to have changed, though as Xi arrived, the situation suddenly took a turn for the worse.

Did Something Go Wrong?
Last year, at the time of the Depsang incident, it was believed that Chinese intrusions could be due to the unfortunate initiatives of some local PLA commanders. I was then told, “It cannot be. PLA generals are a disciplined lot and Chairman Xi is fully in command.”
This time, the same thought again came to my mind. Were some very senior PLA generals unhappy about the thaw between India and China? Or perhaps disturbed about Xi’s fight against corruption? And does it mean that Xi Jinping, the Chairman of the CMC, does not have full control over his Generals? Is it possible that China was speaking with different voices?
An indication that everything may not be rosy for Xi is General Fan Changlong’s visit to Tibet. The General is the Senior Vice Chairman of the CMC and a Member of the Politburo of Communist Party of China. On August 17, The Tibet Daily carried an article saying that General Fan had come for an investigation tour to Qinghai and Tibet. The newspaper reported that Fan “emphasized that the entire army and the armed police must further implement the spirit of the series of important talks by Xi Jinping, must stick to the goal of strengthening the army in this new situation, concentrate on developing skills of war…”
However the main emphasis of his visit (only very briefly reported in the Chinese press in English) was that, “the entire army and the armed police must resolutely implement the strategic deployment by the Central Party and Xi Jinping, staunchly endorse the investigation of the case filed against Zhou Yongkang and the right decision made by the Central Party after carrying out investigation on Xu Caihou.”
Why come to Tibet, just to tell the officers posted on the Plateau to, “…be in unanimity with the Central Party in your thoughts and actions and obey the orders given by the Central Party and the CMC?” while opposing Zhou Yongkang.
The unusual part of the semi-clandestine visit was that Fan was accompanied by no less than three Military Region (MR) Commanders, Lt. General Liu Yuejun, Lanzhou MR, Lt. Gen. Zhao Zongqi, Jinan MR and General Li Shiming, Chengdu MR. What the Commander of Jinan MR was doing there is not clear, though having been earlier posted in Tibetan Military District, Zhao certainly understands the ground reality on the plateau. The point is that this trip to the “Roof of the World” was important enough to bring along three MR Commanders.
Fan admonished the officers posted in Tibet, “make full efforts to correct and control all the inappropriate activities around you, fight corruption, punish corruption severely, always maintain the characteristic, objective and the inherent quality of the people’s party. The leaders among the cadres must build the pillar of a strong ideological line and spread the glorious tradition of our party and our army.”
It means that there are probably senior followers of Zhou Yongkang in Tibet, and they may not be easy for Xi to control. Interestingly, Chinese media reports did not mention which units General Fan visited, how long he stayed in Tibet, where he went. The semi-clandestine visit could be another indication that something is not well in the Middle Kingdom.
A month earlier, China Military Online had reported that Xu Qiliang, the second CMC Vice Chairman had inspected some garrisons in Xinjiang and Tibet, “General Xu Qiliang visited the officers and men in frontier areas, and held talks with the leaders of the units garrisoning in Hotan [near the Aksai Chin], Ngari [near Demchok] and Lhasa areas,” said The Tibet Daily. Xu Qiliang also paid a visit to Shenxianwan (North of the Karakoram Pass and the Depsang Plains) at the altitude of 5,380 metres and the Khurnak Fort (opposite the Indian troops posted on the Panggong tso) where he inspected a squadron of speed boats and inquired “about the soldiers’ work, study and life.”
What is the significance of these visits? It is difficult to give a definitive answer, except that the seniormost Chinese generals are aware of the situation on the Indian front. For India, the question mainly revolves around the exchange of maps of the LAC. Coming out of the meeting with Xi, the Indian Prime Minister suggested, “…a clarification of LAC would greatly contribute to our efforts to maintain peace and tranquility. I have requested President Xi to resume the stalled process of clarifying the LAC.” Xi answered about finding an agreement on the border, but nothing about the LAC. It is telling.
 ‘Exchange of maps’ of the contentious LAC was also not mentioned in the Joint Statement and Xinhua just said that both sides “agreed to properly manage and control the border disputes between the two nations, maintain peace and security in the border regions, and find a solution at an early date.” This does not augur well for the future.

Meetings of the Chief of Staff
A couple of days after his return from India, President Xi Jinping met with the PLA’s Chiefs of Staff in Beijing. He stressed again the loyalty of the senior officers, “Headquarters of PLA forces must have absolute loyalty and firm faith in the Communist Party of China, guarantee a smooth chain of command and make sure all decisions from the central leadership are fully implemented”, he said. Since this came soon after the Delhi visit, the Indian press emphasized only his words about a regional war, “All PLA forces should improve their combat readiness and sharpen their ability to win a regional war in the age of information technology.” But this is not a new doctrine as it has been expounded in detail in successive White Papers published by the Chinese Ministry of Defence.
Perhaps more interesting is one of the latest statements, “Military commanders should have a better understanding of international and domestic security situations as well as the latest military development.” It signifies that some commanders needed to be briefed about the international situation and the relations with the neighbours. A statement issued by the Ministry also said, “All PLA forces should follow the instructions of President Xi and update their operations to meet new goals and missions set by the CMC.” Once again, does it mean that some officers do not follow the instructions of Chairman Xi? Could some commanders have taken initiatives on their own when their Supreme Commander was on a diplomatic trip? It is difficult to be affirmative but certainly a possibility to envisage.

Purging General Xu Caihou’s friends
And then the heads started rolling! On October 01 this year, The South China Morning Post reported that two generals close to General Xu Caihou – Major General Gao Guanghui and Major General Xu Yuanlin, “…have been moved from their posts, possibly for failing to pledge allegiance to Xi Jinping.” What does ‘fail to pledge allegiance’ signify?
It is difficult to say for certain but a Hong Kong paper elaborated, “The fate of two major generals linked to a high-ranking PLA officer under investigation for corruption is in doubt amidst a reshuffle of personnel that suggests that disloyal officers are being purged.” For us in India, the most interesting case is that of Major General Xu Yuanlin who was, till recently, posted in the political department of the Lanzhou Military Command (MR). Nobody seems to know his whereabouts. Just three months ago, he had succeeded Lt. Gen. Fan Changmi as Head of Ideological Education for Lanzhou MR.
On conditions of anonymity, a retired PLA Colonel told The South China Morning Post that for Xu and Gao had been forced in to retirement to assist the investigation of Xu Caihou or they may be undergoing shuanggui themselves, as many senior officers promoted by Xu Caihou. Shuanggui is an internal disciplinary process for party members suspected of corruption.
The same Colonel stated, “But I don’t think all senior military officials promoted during Xu’s era will be kicked out. Some were elevated on account of their personal capabilities but I think Xu and Gao were purged for refusing to show allegiance to President Xi Jinping.”
Another possibility is that the leadership has decided to “kill a few chickens to scare some monkeys.” It is a well-known strategy leaders go after ‘lower’ cadres/officers in order to control more powerful leaders. In this case, the monkey is probably Zhou Yongkang, the former security czar and previously member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo.

Promotions and Demotions
In the meantime, China is slowly but surely tightening her grip on Tibet. The latest sign is the ‘elevation’ of the status of the Political Commissar of the Tibet Armed Police. On October 07, The Global Times announced, “China’s Central Military Commission upgraded the political status of the Political Commissar of the Armed Police Corps of the Tibet Autonomous Region, indicating the central government’s determination to safeguard regional stability.”
Major General Tang Xiao, the Political Commissar of the Tibet Armed Police Corps, under the People’s Armed Police (PAP), will now enjoy enhanced powers and status. He will be treated on par with the Head of a Corps-sized military body i.e. he will gain one star and don the rank of Lieutenant General. The Tibet Corps itself will not be upgraded.
The Global Times explains to its readers, “Under the dual leadership of the State Council and the Central Military Commission, the Chinese People’s Armed Police is composed of internal security forces and various police forces, including border security, firefighting and security guard units.” Niu Zhizhong, Chief of Staff of the PAP announced Tang’s promotion at a press conference on October 03. Niu said that ‘better treatment’ for the Head of the Armed Police in Tibet “is a major decision made by Central Military Commission based on the special environment and strategic position of the Tibet Armed Police.” The objective of Tang’s promotion is to better safeguard regional stability.
With the October 3 announcement, Tao Xiao now has official military rank and receives regular military salary. Nothing has been said about the PAP Commander in Tibet, Maj. Gen. Song Baoshan. Why to promote the Political Commissar only? It sounds like a demotion for Song.

Changing Role of the Border Forces
Another indication that the Chumar incident is rather strange is the current propaganda in the Chinese press that the PLA/PAPF were disengaging from the border issue to concentrate on the law and order situation (terrorism) in Xinjiang Military District. On October 10, the China Daily mentioned the changing role of the border defense forces, “The Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps is altering its focus from frontier defense to maintaining social stability as China builds good relations with its neighbors to the West, according to Cheng Jiazhu, Deputy Commander of the Corps.”
While celebrating the Corps’ 60th anniversary on October 10, the Chinese newspaper explained, “Founded in 1954, the Corps took on the mission of guarding border areas. Now, it has 176 regiments in 14 divisions scattered throughout Xinjiang’s 14 prefectures and cities. … In pursuit of its initial mission to provide border security, regiments of the Corps settled in the most remote and wild places of the country. It was to fulfill the mission of consolidating border defense, while avoiding commingling resources with locals.” It probably signifies that some of the border forces will be diverted to law and order duties as ‘China builds good relations with her neighbors.’
The incident at Chumar is all the more incomprehensible under these circumstances except if the PLA/PAP knew that it was a short-term operation to frighten some Indian monkeys. If that was intended, the Chumar operation was clearly a failure, as India could react quickly and amass more than 1,000 jawans in a few hours in the newly ‘disputed’ area.

Conclusions
At the Indian Council of World Affairs, the Chinese President hoped that China and India would be the ‘express trains’ driving regional development as well as the ‘twin anchors’ of regional peace. “When China and India join hands for cooperation, it will benefit not only the two countries but also entire Asia and the world at large,” he said adding that, “Nothing is more imperative than to deliver a more comfortable, more secure and happier life to the people.”
Once again, the President’s words do not tally with the situation on the ground, though the issue came to a close on September 30, when the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a press release, “The two sides have reached a consensus on properly resolving the recent stand-off between the frontier defense troops at the border of the two countries. On September 30, the frontier defense troops of the two countries completed simultaneous withdrawal according to the steps formulated by the two sides and restored peace and tranquility in the area.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry stated that both sides understood that friendly cooperation conformed with their common interests and peaceful and tranquil borders are important for the growth of bilateral relations, but sometimes, there is a gap between the words and the deeds, especially, if there is disagreement amongst the senior officers and if all the generals do not follow the ‘instructions’ of Chairman Xi. This seems to be a serious problem in the Middle Kingdom.
Indeed, Xi Jinping’s visit to India is a mixed bag.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Mondays for flies, Christmas for tigers in the PLA

Wang Jianping behind Chairman Xi Jinping
The South China Morning Post last week asserted that the 'big changes' in China always occurred in Friday or Saturday: "For the past two years it has been accepted – almost as a rule of thumb – among China’s media and interested mainlanders that Fridays and weekends are the likely time for senior officials to fall from grace over allegations of corruption. Yet few observers could tell why – until now."
The Hong Kong newspaper added: "People have described the pattern as 'Mondays for flies, Weekends for tigers' ever since President Xi Jinping launched his anti-graft campaign against both low-level officials and those in the most senior roles."
The 'big change' for the PLA Tigers has happened on the Christmas day.
Want China Times, the news website based in Taiwan has announced the replacement of 40 senior commanders of China's armed forces. The Taiwanese paper reported: "China's president, Xi Jinping, has replaced 40 senior military commanders including the head of the People's Armed Police according to a new nomination list posted by a Chinese internet user."
It added: "Communist Party of China on June, Xi has continued his purge of PLA generals whose loyalty to him may be questionable. The nomination list released on Dec. 20 suggests that various key positions within the Chinese military will be taken over by Xi's close associates."
Apart from Lt. Gens. Qin Weijiang, Hu Yishu and Li Shangfu nominated as the deputy chiefs of the General Staff, General Logistics and General Equipment departments respectively, Lt. Gens. Yin Fanglong and Miao Hua were named as the political commissars of the Second Artillery Corps and Navy, while Lt. Gens.Wang Weiming and Wang Dengping are to be the deputy commanders and deputy political commissars of the PLA Navy. Lt. Gen. Zhang Junxiang and Zhou Yaning will now served as the Second Artillery Corps' new deputy commanders.

Wang Jianping, commander of the People's Armed Police
More interestingly to me is the fate of Lt. Gen. Wang Jianping, who has apparently lost his job to Wang Ning, a deputy chief of general staff of the PLA.
I have often mentioned Wang Jiangping's name on his blog, mainly because he was an old Tibet-hand.
A few words about his career:
Wang Jianping (Han nationality) is a native of Hebei province. He was born in 1953, joined the Army in 1969. In 1997, he was promoted to major general; he became lieutenant general in 2007. He served as deputy commander for one year before becoming Commander of the Chinese People's Armed Police Force (PAPF) in 2009. He is a member of the 18th CCP Central Committee.
He has also been a member of the Central Working Coordination Small Group on Tibet. He served as Commander of the Tibet Autonomous Region's (TAR) PAPF from 1996 to 2000. He knows Tibet well and particularly the Ngari region.
When Wang visited Tibet in June 2014, the TAR's entire Standing Committee was in attendance to receive him.
I then wrote in detail about his visit.
While in Lhasa,he inspected the TAR’s People’s Armed Police training base, a Traffic police detachment, Tibet’s Forest Armed Police Corps, the 117 Police Division, a detachment of Ngari Police.
According to The Tibet Daily, he wanted to get a detailed understanding of the situation. For the purpose, he called on officers and men of the People’s Armed Police.
The Chinese newspapers reported that Wang Jianping acknowledged the success achieved by the Armed Police's Tibet Corps and the Armed Police Forces in every work and asked all the armed police officers and men to understand the serious and complicated situation that they are facing at present. He told the local Party cadres to strengthen the police force for war preparation and continue the good job of building up the police forces.
He said a good chess player takes the initiative.
Well, he was probably too close to Zhou Yongkang, the former member of the Politburo's Standing Committee, who is now 'investigated'.
That was not a good move on the chessboard for Wang.

Will his transfer bring a change in Tibet where the self-immolations continue?
We will have to wait several months to see.
Just before the 'reshuffle' in the PLA, Senior Colonel Yang Yujun, the spokesman of the Ministry of National Defense addressed his regular monthly press conference in Beijing. When asked:
India and China on the military front had a very eventful year this year. There are several interactions at various levels and they have dealt with several issues of differences over the line of actual control. What is the outlook for the next year? Are there any new exchanges in the pipeline? Can you give some details on how you see the next year coming?
He answered:
This year is the year of friendly exchange between China and India. There are several important cooperation programs between the two militaries. For example, there have been frequent exchanges of high-level military delegations. Both sides held defense consultations and joint counter-terrorism Army training. At the same time, neighboring military commands as well as the border defense troops of the two sides conducted meetings and regular exchanges. Both sides also properly handled issues of encounter at the line of actual control and maintained peace and stability in the China-India border.
Next year, the Chinese and Indian militaries will continue to strengthen dialogue, exchange and cooperation, and push forward bilateral military relationship. In particular, we should focus our attention on the implementation of the Border Defense Cooperation Agreement signed by the two governments and ensure peace and stability along the China-India border.
On the specific exchange programs of the two militaries for the next year, both sides are still in the process of discussion.
To focus on the implementation of the Border Defense Cooperation Agreement' does not mean that there will no Chinese intrusions on Indian soil in 2015, he just signifies: "we will tackle these issues through the Border Agreement."
In the meantime, the 'training' of the different units based on the plateau continues.
According to The PLA Daily: "a battalion successfully conducted a tactical drill at the foot of Mount Tanggula in Tibet on Dec. 20, 2014. It’s a great challenge for soldiers to complete missions in the severe cold of a 5000-meter-high plateau."
Tangulla or Tangkha is located at the border between Qinghai Province and Nagchu Prefecture of the TAR. It is important railway station (the highest in the world?) midway between Xining and Lhasa.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Invading Tibet is a way for China to wipe its tears: Vajpayee

Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the 1950s
Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has been conferred India's highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna.
The announcement came yesterday, a day before Vajpayee's 90th birthday.
It is a welcomed development, hailed by practically all political parties.
On this occasion, I post an article which appeared in 'Swadesh', a Hindi journal published from Lucknow.
It is dated October 26, 1950, the day after the invasion of Tibet was reported in the news.
Vajpayee was then a journalist  working for several publications linked to the RSS.
A Rajya Sabha intervention of the new Bharat Ratna about Tibet (in April 1989) is also posted below.

English translation of the 'Swadesh' article:
The 'Shanti Path' of the 6th anniversary of the UN was not even finished when we heard of a new invasion. The armies of communist China were ordered to invade Tibet. Although behind the iron curtain they try to hide all news, the news of the invasion, even before being received officially from Peking, was sent by China News Agency  [Xinhua] and it is why the world received the first news of the invasion of Tibet not from Peking but from London.
Some people did not believe in these news, because several times in the past there had been rumours of invasion of this kind. So much so that the Tibetan representatives who had arrived in India also said that they did not believe in the truth of these news. One reason for this disbelief was that the negotiations between China and Tibet. The Indian government had arranged for the talks through the Ambassador to India of Communist China. But he declared that not Delhi but Beijing was the proper place for the talks. And the delegation of Tibetan representatives was thus today to go to Peking via Calcutta. On one side, peace talks, on the other side invasion, naturally nobody could believe it, but with the Peking government officially announcing the invasion has removed all doubts.
With the announcement of the invasion the communist government has thrown some light on its causes and its aims. Yet the causes and the language are the same as those of all invaders, that is to say, the aggressor is never attacking for egoist purposes, he attacks to liberate the people of the attacked region. And they had to take this step to save the people from the evil conspiracy of imperialist forces. The communist China invades also for this same reason -- to save the people of Tibet from the grip of imperialist forces, the communist armies marched in Tibet. But the efforts it made till today for getting the membership of UN surely put on them some moral responsibility to respect the principles of UN. China can reject it saying that it is an internal matter, but Tibet is a free country, even if at the time of imperialist China there were sovereignty in name of China over it. Communist China which is so opposed to imperialism surely is not bound by this tradition, nor can it be a ground for declaring legal this invasion of the independent state of Tibet. More than Tibet Formosa is a part of China, but nobody included America would accept its invasion. If an invasion of Formosa is considered as contrary to the ideals of the UN, then how much more for Tibet? Will the UN pay attention and help Tibet? It is possible that the powers, trapped each one in its own interest, will not pay attention to Tibet. The reason for the invasion of Tibet is not the discovery of uranium and the greed of the imperialist powers for it; it is an attempt to strengthen the moral of the communist block. The invasion of South Korea by North Korea and the initial victory over the army of UN had given a boost to the communists of all countries. But the victory of UN has put cold water on their enthusiasm. The influence of Russia has diminished somewhat. When the question came on the UN armies crossing the 38° latitude, then China warned that if it happens then she will attack the UN armies. But the UN did not worry and ordered its armies to get full victory. Russia felt that with the cold war becoming hot they had to suffer defeat.  Seeing the state of North Korea, China did not have the courage to up its army against UN army. In consequence it was not possible for the Chinese armies to advance towards Formosa and Korea…
Invading Tibet is a way for China to wipe its tears.

Prime Minister Vajpayee
receives the Dalai Lama

Atal Bihari Vajpayee's intervention in the Rajya Sabha on April 28, 1989:
The Prime Minister [Rajiv Gandhi] went to China, he went to Pakistan. There is a bitter chapter of our relations with China. Myself I went to China in 1978, the talks were good, but during that time they attacked Vietnam and that spoiled the whole trip. This time there was nothing of the sort, I am happy about it. But how many minutes this leader's hand remained in that leader's hand, this cannot be the touchstone of the success of a foreign tour...  Whether the  Prime Ministers, the Presidents of two countries address each other by their first names, cannot be a criteria of the fruitfulness of the relations. As if I would say: "Narasimha Rao, how are you?" And then Narasimha Rao would say: "Atal, I am all right. How are you"
The other day I had raised also this question in the advisory committee: when the Prime Minister went to China and the leaders of China raised the question of Tibet, they had given us the opportunity to say something about Tibet. I am an admirer of Nehru but in accepting that Tibet is a part of China, he made a Himalayan blunder. I don't want to go into detail in the reason why he made that mistake. Tibet has also the right to be free. But the mistake was done. China had recognised Tibet as an 'autonomous region'. Today where is the autonomy? There is violation of human rights, martial law has been proclaimed, there is repression on a big scale, there is terror. Now the leaders of China raising the question of Tibet themselves had given us an opportunity to raise the issue of human rights, to draw the attention of the Chinese leaders on this, and to talk in an atmosphere of friendship. We did not seize this opportunity. There has been a change in the point of view of the Dalai Lama.  Peking should have welcomed this change. But the Tibetans fight for their recognition, for their honour. There is an effort to rectify the mistakes that were committed during the days of the Cultural Revolution -- the mistakes that were done in the internal affairs. China should also rectify the mistakes that were committed in the foreign affairs. We should encourage them on this. But if we remain silent about Tibet, we will neither do justice to Tibet nor to ourselves.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Ling Jihua haunted by Tibet

I am reposting an article written in June 2013 about Ling Jihua who has yesterday been put under investigation for 'suspected serious disciplinary violations'.
Now, the media says that the two girls in Ling Gu's car where Tibetan and Uyghur. At the time of the accident, both were Tibetans.
Today, The South China Morning Post comments:
Intriguingly, a few days after the accident, mainland media reports went quiet about the incident. The South China Morning Post broke the story, naming Ling Gu, six months later.
It later also emerged that Ling enlisted the help of the former oil company chief Jiang Jiemin.
Jiang, then chairman of the state-run China National Petroleum Corporation, paid hefty compensation to the families of the two female victims in the crash, a Tibetan and a Uygur, to stop details being made public.
The families of the two young women, both university students, each pocketed tens of millions of yuan, sources said, which was transferred to their banks from China National Petroleum.
More importantly, what is now happening to the United Front Work Department headed by Ling?
The work of assimilating Tibetans and Uyghurs within the Great Chinese family will certainly continue.
Yesterday, Beijing released a document called a 'guideline' (it is a Guideline, not a White Paper), promising "to cultivate and appoint more officials from minority groups and ensure they are given full trust."
If implemented, it will certainly makes a difference. But it could be just propaganda.
According to Xinhua, the document entitled, 'Opinions on Strengthening and Improving Ethnic Work in New Situations' gives special attention "to the cultivation of intellectuals in ethnically-diverse regions, especial those from minority backgrounds."
In other words to the Tibetans and the Uyghurs.
It also promotes understanding among different ethnic groups and the cultural identity of the Chinese nation. This is more ominous. How can someone be a Han (the 'identity' of the Chinese nation) and a Ughyur or a Tibetan at the same time?
The Guideline, issued by the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the State Council, asserts, that it will: "vigorously foster, audaciously select, fully trust and use officials from ethnically-diverse backgrounds, and cultivate experienced Han officials in ethnically-diverse regions."
The document called on ethnic minority officials to master Mandarin Chinese, while urging Han officials to learn the local dialects of the areas where they work.
The real test: will China increase the number of 'minorities' senior officers in the PLA? This is doubtful.
According to the official communique, the 'guideline' stresses "an overall language education in ethnic regions, [it] laid out policies to help bilingual teachers who can teach students Mandarin while respecting the local tongue."
The conclusions of the document are: "China is a country built by all ethnic groups of the nation; Chinese culture is made up of the culture of all 56 ethnic groups; Chinese civilization is created by all ethnic groups; and the Chinese nation is a community of all ethnic groups."
With Han characteristic, one could add.
Hu Yaobang made similar promises in May 1980; nothing happened thereafter. Will this time be different?
Let us keep watching!
In the meantime, Beijing will have now to find a new Director for the United Front Work Department to implement this audacious project.

[My post dated June 4, 2013]
Remember this article in The South China Morning Post.
One night of March 2012, Ling Jihua, aide and confidant of President Hu Jintao lost his son and a seat in the coveted Politburo.
The South China Morning Post reported:
The 25-year-olds were pulled half-naked from a car smash. The two young women at the centre of the Ferrari crash that killed the son of high-level Communist Party official Ling Jihua have been named.
In its latest issue, Hong Kong-based news magazine Asia Weekly writes that the two young women in the vehicle when Ling Gu died upon impact after crashing his Ferrari were Tashi Dolma (Zhaxi Zhuoma), daughter of a deputy director of the Qinghai Provincial Public Security Department, and Yang Ji, then a student at China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, reportedly the daughter of a well-known living Buddha also from Qinghai.
According to Asia Weekly, Yang passed away unexpectedly last month despite showing signs of positive recovery from the serious injuries she sustained in the accident. It is claimed she felt unwell and was given an injection last month, after which she fell into a coma and later died.
High-level Communist Party official Ling Jihua lost his son in the accident.
The magazine, citing 'informed Beijing sources', claims both the women are ethnic Tibetans and were each 25 years old at the time of the accident.
The accident happened in the early hours of March 18 when the speeding Ferrari smashed into a wall, rebounded and crushed a railing on the opposite side of the road. One naked body and two half-naked bodies were thrown from the wreckage. A half-naked man Ling Gu died immediately while two young women – one naked and one half-naked – were seriously injured.
Photos of the wreckage circulated online and many Internet users took it as another drink-driving accident involving the "second-generation rich".
Wild stories began to spread that the trio were playing sex games in the car when the accident took place. Different versions of who was driving and who was in the front and back seats became the subject of gossip in Beijing's corridors of power.
The accident would come to affect behind-the-scenes political jockeying in the run-up to next month’s 18th party congress – which will produce China’s new generation of leaders.
Ling Jihua is considered an important member of Hu's camp and was being groomed to become one of the People's Republic's sixth generation of leaders in another 10 years.
This was more than a year ago.
Since then, Ling Jihua, who did not make it in the Politburo, looks after the less-glamorous United Front Work Department and particularly the volatile Tibetan affairs.
For the past two weeks, Tibet has been on the boil and Mr. Ling must bear the brunt. Tibet is haunting him once again.
As reported on this blog, sometimes in May, Yu Zhengsheng chaired his first Central Tibet Work Coordination Small Group in Beijing.
Chen Quanguo, the TAR's Party Secretary was one of the attendees.
On his return to Tibet, Chen immediately went for an inspection tour of the Nagchu Prefecture (from May 21 to 24); the day he was returning to Lhasa (May 24), thousands of Tibetans gathered in Driru county, one of the largest demonstration in years.
For the Party, it is an extremely serious incident; particularly as it came at the time of the visit of the powerful Party Secretary in Nagchu Prefecture.
The situation was so serious that on May 25,  Ling Jihua rushed from Beijing to Lhasa for an 'investigation/research mission'. It appears that Ling stayed nearly a week in Tibet.
There is no doubt that his visit is linked with the incidents in Nachu
During his stay, the United Front Department's boss met most of the senior Party cadres of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, including Chen Quanguo.
Since then, officials in Tibet are repeating that everybody should study and follow the directions given by Comrade Xi Jinping in March when he met the Tibetan delegation on the side of the National People's Congress.
See my posting on the subject.
Will it help?
In the meantime, a strange news appeared in a Hong Kong publication.
A religious group would have invited the Dalai Lama to visit Hong Kong in September.
Philip Li Koi-hop, chairman of the Hong Kong Tibetan and Han-Chinese Friendship Association, said he has visited the Dalai Lama four times in India between 2009 and 2011 and invited the Tibetan leader to come to Hong Kong. Li affirmed that he was confident that the trip will go ahead, and this, despite the tensions between the Tibetan spiritual leader and the mainland's government.
Li declared: "One time I asked him if he wanted to come to Hong Kong. He answered 'Yes', and said a University of Hong Kong professor had invited him earlier. But the Hong Kong government rejected the visit."
Is it a trail balloon sent by Beijing, realizing that their minorities' policies in Tibet have failed. Reading and even putting in practice Xi Jinping's speeches does not seem to help.
It is too early to say, but the fact remains that if Ling had to rush so quickly to Lhasa, it proves that there is a serious problem on the Roof of the World.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

PLA's winter training on the Indian borders

Year 2104 has seen a heavy traffic of VIPs/VVIPs in Ngari (Western Tibet).
One of the reasons is that Beijing has decided to consolidate its borders, whether sea borders in the South China or East China Seas or land borders with India (mainly in Aksai Chin/Ladakh region).
In July, China Military Online reported that Xu Qiliang, a member of the Politburo of the CCP's Central Committee and also one of the 2 vice chairmen of the  Central Military Commission (CMC) inspected Xinjiang and Tibet garrisons.
According to the official website: "Xu Qiliang recently inspected the troops of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the People’s Armed Police Force (PAPF) garrisoning Xinjiang and Tibet."
The article adds: "During the inspection, General Xu Qiliang visited the officers and men in frontier areas, and held talks with the leaders of the troop units garrisoning in Hotan [Xinjiang, near the Aksai Chin], Ali [Ngari or Gar] and Lhasa [in the Tibetan Autonomous Region or TAR] areas to discuss the development and reform of frontier troop units.
Xu Qiliang also visited sentries in Shenxianwan (just north of the Karakoram Pass and the Depsang Plains) frontier defense company who were performing duties at the altitude of 5,380 meters.
Now the winter has set on the high plateau.
It is cosier for the VVIPs to remain in Beijing, while the frontier guards continue to live in the rarefied altitude of the Xinjiang Military District opposite the Indian troops in Ladakh.
The PLA websites published a photo feature of the life of the PLA soldiers in Shenxianwan.
Shenxianwan-Karakoram pass area
Incidentally, the PLA made another incursion in Ladakh last week.
The Times of India reported: "Barely two months after a fortnight long stand-off between Chinese and Indian forces was resolved in Ladakh, China's PLA made another incursion leading to a standoff for over three hours. While the last standoff (in September) took place in Chumur area, the latest one has been reported from near Chushul which is reeling under -30 degree celsius temperature."
An official of the home ministry told The Times of India: "This was not the same as the September standoff when matters had really escalated. But given that Chinese continue to come in despite unfavourable weather shows their intent to continue to needle us. Earlier incursions were never heard of in winters. For the past couple of years, they have become common. Our forces, however, are prepared and have been responding with equal force."
Here are some pictures of the training of the PLA on the Xinjiang's side of the border, not far from the Karakoram pass (see map above).
Though the military website said that the pictures were taken from the same area, it appears that some pictures are not from the Aksai Chin area (i.e. snow on the trees).
Propaganda is not always factually correct!
 
 
 
 
On December 19, in another 'photo op', China Military Online shows 'Troops in Tibet brave in winter training'. This time in Chengdu Military Region.
The caption says: "A soldier is eating dry provisions with snow as his lunch [sic]. A troop unit under the Rikaze [Chinese for Shigatse] Military Sub-command of the Tibet Military Command (MC) of the Chengdu Military Area Command (MAC) of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) organized its troops to conduct cold-resistance and anti-anoxia training on a winter field training ground at an altitude of 4,500 meters on the early morning of December 15, 2014."
"The soldiers are in winter training",says China Military Online.
This series is clearly for the show.

 
 
 
 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Xi and his rogue Generals – Will PLA cleanup spillover borders?

My article Xi and his rogue Generals – Will PLA cleanup spillover borders? appeared in NitiCentral.

Here is the link...

A few days ago, The PLA Daily announced that there will be no sanctuary for corruption in the Chinese defence forces.
Quoting the flagship newspaper of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Xinhua explained that “in the battle against corruption, there will be no privilege or sanctuary of impunity for anyone.”
The PLA strongly denied that “continuing the campaign against corruption could destabilise people’s morale and public trust.”
On the contrary, it asserted that the campaign would continue: “The battle against corruption has entered a crucial tug-of-war stage; the anti-graft campaign is in line with the people’s expectations and as the campaign deepens, …the Communist Party of China (CPC) and political environment in China will become even healthier. The anti-corruption efforts will only boost the morale among the Party, the military and the public; not undermine it.”
The message is clear, the cleansing campaign in the PLA is here to stay; moreover, in the present battle, there cannot be any safe haven for the corrupt.
Bill Bishop, the author of the The Sinocism China Newsletter argued that it is not a usual purge campaign: “I am quite convinced it is a mistake to call the corruption crackdown under Xi a ‘campaign’. …I think people have been far too dismissive of some of the changes Wang Qishan [Politburo’s Standing Committee member] is making within CCDI [Central Commission for Disciple Inspection] system. …Xi and Wang are less than 24 months into this and can’t hit everything at once, especially as Xi is still consolidating power. It may fail, but the crackdown is already much deeper and longer than almost anyone expected, and the signs are that it is intensifying, not slowing, and looks to be still in its early days inside the PLA.”
The battle is indeed intensifying; the Xinhua piece noted “the anti-decadence movement is still grave and complicated and will inevitably meet some kind of resistance.”
President Xi Jinping knows very well that the question is not to fix one or two adversaries, such Bo Xilai or Zhou Yongkang, the former Chongking Party boss and security Tsar respectively; the present move has to go much deeper, if the CCP is to survive. Many historical studies have shown that it the crucial point where the former Soviet Union collapsed; it is the struggle for survival of a system. It is even more vital for the defence forces.
Whether Xi and Wang will succeed or not is another issue. The PLA Daily threatens: “The anti-corruption campaign has already touched senior ‘tigers’ like Zhou Yongkang and Xu Caihou, and who will be left untouchable?”
General Xu Caihou was the Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission before retiring in 2013; he has now been booked as one of the main culprits.
Reuters wrote about the modus operandi: “Luxury cars filled with gold bars were given away as bribes by a former senior military officer implicated in a graft case investigators say involves 30 billion yuan (5 billion US $).”
An assistant of Xu Caihou, Gu Junshan who was deputy director of the PLA’s logistics department, is now suspected of having ‘offered’ hundreds of military positions on behalf of his boss.
Quoting the Phoenix Weekly, a magazine with close ties with the Central government, Reuters says: “Sources close to the top of the logistics department said Gu took bribes worth about 600 million yuan (US $ 100 million) in return for his part in a scam involving a total of 30 billion yuan.”
General Gu was apparently obsessed with gold, especially gold statues of Buddha. The magazine found out that when he wanted to offer a gift, Gu would load up a Mercedes with gold bars and then simply send the car keys to the beneficiary; up to 100kg of gold could be ‘offered’ that way.
If some generals have contributed to Xu’s and Gu’s schemes, it means that they had ways to recover their ‘investment’.
According to the Chinese press, Gu’s and Xu’s cases are closely connected.
Another general under investigation is Maj. Gen, Dai Weimin, vice-president of the PLA Nanjing Institute of Politics. Caixin, the Beijing-based financial publicationsaid that Dai was detained around mid-November for allegations related to land and infrastructure projects at the institute’s Shanghai campus. According to the same publication, housing and infrastructure contracts are the most common areas where ‘gifts’ take place.
While recently inspecting the Nanjing Military Area Command, Xi Jinping, who is also CMC’s Chairman, warned that the PLA should ‘fully clear up the bad influence left [by Xu] in the army’s ideological, political and organizational work as well as the style of work.”
Can China defend its borders with this style of work?
That is why President Xi will do everything to change the current state of affairs. While naming Xu and Gu, Xi said: “officers and soldiers should firmly follow the command of the CMC at any time and under any circumstances”. Follow the Party is the recurrent motto! But will the Party survive? It is too early to say.
The same Caixin.com announced that the first female ‘tiger’ was under investigation on suspicion of bribery. Maj. Gen. Gao Xiaoyan used to be political commissar and CCDI’s representative in the PLA Information Engineering University before her arrest.
She is suspected of taking big amounts while serving as political commissar at the PLA’s 309th Hospital from 2005 to 2012. Some rumors said that she was also intimately close to Gu Junshan.
A native of Shanxi, the province which is topping arrests for corruption, Gao joined the army when she was 17. She had been responsible for major construction projects at the hospital. It included building 15 dormitories and a garage, which could accommodate 1,000 vehicles.
If many of the senior posts have been ‘purchased’, this does not speak well for the level of preparedness of the Chinese Armed Forces.
Closer to us in India, is Lt. Gen. Yang Jinshan, who for years commanded the Tibet Military District, opposite the Indian troops posted in Arunachal. He ‘did’ so well that he reached the ‘Marxist’ heaven, the Central Committee of the CCP.
In 2005, Yang (a Han, like all the senior PLA officers) was promoted to the rank of major general and in July 2011, he became a lieutenant general. He took over the Command of the Tibet Military District in 2009 and 3 years later, he was elected as a member of the powerful Central Committee.
In June 2013, General Yang was transferred on promotion to Chengdu as a Deputy Commander of the Chengdu Military Region, from where he oversaw the operations in Tibet.
In October 2014, he was suddenly expelled from the Central Committee ‘for serious disciplinary violations’.
Apparently, General Yang’s arrest is also linked to Xu Caihou’s wrongdoings.
In the meantime, the CMC warned that ideological struggles within the PLA were ‘acute and complicated’. The Global Times asserted: “Military reform has entered ‘uncharted waters’ with concerns growing that reform could be impeded by ‘structural problems’.”
Quite worrying!
One should not be surprised if some disgruntled generals try to enter into Indian Territory in Ladakh or Arunachal, just to divert the attention of the leadership.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

40 years in Eternal India

On the way to Pondicherry (photo courtesy: Michel C.)
My article 40 years in Eternal India, on the occasion of my arrival in India. It appeared in Rediff.com

Here is the link...

Often when I meet a new Indian friend, who is not aware of my background, he exclaims: "So many years in India! but why, why? I can't understand! My dream is to go to the States or Europe and you are living in 'this' country!"
Claude Arpi, who was born a Frenchman, looks back on his 40 years in India.


Forty Years is a long time!
On December 20, 1974, after more than two-and-a-half months on the road, travelling from Paris to South India, crossing Italy, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, I arrived in Auroville, near Pondicherry.
What a journey!
Since then, I have adopted Bharat as my home and Bharat adopted me (I hope).
Often when I meet a new Indian friend, who is not aware of my background, he exclaims: "So many years in India! but why, why? I can't understand! My dream is to go to the States or Europe and you are living in 'this' country!"
I appear to them a strange creature, going against the tide (indeed, it was against the tide in 1974!).
His next question is: "What do you find in 'this' country? It is dirty, hundreds of millions are poor, nothing works, please explain, I want to understand."
It is not an easy proposition to explain what attracted me to India and why I have stayed here all these years. An easy answer could be: Karma (bad karma to my questioning new friend, good to me).
It is true that in Asia, this word can explained many things. It is a very practical concept which elucidates happenings that cannot be understood otherwise.
Some 42 years ago, when I first visited India, it was probably my karma to encounter smiling Tibetans on Himalayan roads! In Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, I met their leader, the Dalai Lama and I began to understand something that I had not grasped so far: The refugees had lost their material wealth, their family and their country, but they had not lost the deeper human qualities called peace of mind or compassion; their leader was the living example of these qualities.
That is one of the reasons why I decided to settle down in India.
I had also come across the writings of Sri Aurobindo, the Great Rishi, who fought hard for the Nation's Purna Swaraj from the British ('The most dangerous man we have to reckon with,' wrote Lord Minto) and later from his room in Pondicherry, for a new step in the Evolution of Mankind.
Just like 40 years ago, his words continue to echo in my mind: '(Don't) let worldly prudence whisper too closely in thy ear; for it is the hour of the unexpected.'
In 1974, I left France because these words resonated in me, despite the often frustrating slow motion of the Elephant.
Of course, there are many, many things that I don't like in India. Several years ago, I wrote for Rediff.com, The 10 things I hate in India. Some readers commented, 'Go back to France, if you don't like India.'
They missed the point.
Retrospectively, one of the darkest times for me was when the government trumpeted 'India is Shining!' There was, of course, some truth in the slogan, but so many aspects of 'Incredible India' still belonged to the middle ages: Child marriage, rape, corruption, filth, to cite a few. How can one show only one side of the coin while neglecting the rest?
During these 40 years, one great moment has been when the present prime minister decided to 'Sweep India.' Narendra Modi dared to tell tens of thousands of NRIs assembled at the Madison Square Garden in New York: 'Yes, India is dirty, but we shall all clean India together.' We all can imagine what India would be if it was spot clean like Switzerland. It would be incredible!
Only when India tackles evils like babudom, bigotry, casteism, lack of innovative spirit, etc (I could name many more), will the nation find her true place in the concert of the nations.
Though many things have to change in the land of Bharat, some remain the same. Take the principle of 'seniority' which prevents the emergence of merit and of a greater dynamism.
Isn't it ironic that the US Senate just confirmed Dr Vivek Murthy, a person of Indian origin, as US Surgeon General. At 37, Dr Murthy will be the youngest surgeon general, and the first of Indian-American descent. Could this happen to India?
Here, we have witnessed generals going to court to affirm their 'rights' to promotion, just because they are a couple of weeks older than luckier colleagues. What nonsense!
I remember telling an Indian Air Force officer that General Denis Mercier, the present French chief of the air staff, has reached the top at the age of 53. When my friend asked: 'How did he make it?' I answered: 'Because he was found to be suitable for the job.' His reply was: 'But in India, that it would be very dangerous, politicians would nominate their friend for the top slots, imagine the consequences.' This has to change.
Politicians -- who, let us not forget it, are elected by The People of India -- need to put the Nation's interests before theirs. The old trend to think of one's pocket first has to go.
Observing the political scene for decades, I have time and again noticed that the Electors are no fools, but they need alternatives. Once they have it, they will not cast their votes on empty promises anymore.
Ditto for corruption. The electorate is able to recognise between 'corrupt' and honest politicians. The last election brought some hope that things can be different. Let us cross our fingers.
India, 40 years ago, like today's India, is a land of possibilities. Despite a bloated bureaucracy and the 'chalta hai' attitude, if you really want to realise something (and if you are tenacious enough), you can fulfill your dream.
In my own case, how could a dentist (that was my profession!), become a writer and political analyst? In France or in America, no doubt I would have remained what I was trained for, to pull out teeth, for the rest of my life.
In the early 1970s, before settling in the South, I extensively travelled in the Himalayas. I remember staying a week or so in Manali, Himachal Pradesh. I was the only tourist in the then peaceful mountain village. There was no hotel, no travel agency, no guide; I used to sleep on a charpoy, eating tasty momos from Tibetan refugees, who were not yet rich.
The tiny village was an oasis of peace surrounded by high peaks and although the inhabitants, local paharis or Tibetans, were poor, they knew the meaning of hospitality; they were content, to use a Buddhist term (santosham).
Today, after being put on the tourism world map, Manali is a different world. Is it progress? Are we losing the Himalayas?
I also remember staying for several days in a tiny Himalayan village, with just a Rs 100 note. As nobody had change for the amount, I was provided free lodging and boarding till the day I could 'break' my note and pay my debts. Trust was a way of life. I am not sure if it is still so.
Whatever the way India has evolved, I believe it is ultimately for the good. Personally, I have never thought for a second to return to my native douce (sweet) France, though I am proud to have taken birth in the land of Joan of Arc, Napoleon and Descartes (Cartesianism would sometimes not be bad for India).
Forty years down the line, I am content with my life in India, these words of Sri Aurobindo continue to accompany me: India of the ages is not dead nor has she spoken her last creative word; she lives and has still something to do for herself and the human peoples.
It is Eternal India which called me here long ago.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

China’s dam dreams, India’s water worries

My article China’s dam dreams, India’s water worries appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer today. 

Here is the link...

As a lower riparian country, Delhi has often taken up the issue of launching the first unit of the run-of-river hydropower plant with Beijing, which has repeatedly assured India that no such project is on the cards

It took some 16 days of talk in Lima, Peru, for the international delegates to approve a framework for setting national pledges to be submitted to the conference in Paris next year. Environmental groups say that the deal was a bad compromise, as divisions between rich and poor countries over how to fulfil carbon-emission pledges persist. This is very ominous for the planet in 2015.
As the new year approaches, let us take a look at some other issues related to climate change and water in the subcontinent and beyond, particularly on the Tibetan plateau.
A few days ago, Xinhua spoke of the ‘domino effect on water supply’, after a comprehensive study into China’s glacial ice shows an average a 244 sq km of glaciers disappearing every year; the news agency added: “China’s glaciers have retreated by 18 per cent over the past half century”. The Chinese glaciologists “warn of ‘chain effects’ that could have an impact on water supplies in the country’s western regions” …and India, one should add.
The figures come from the survey of China’s glaciers conducted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which found that, “China had 48,571 glaciers in its western provinces, including Xinjiang, the Tibetan region as well as Qinghai, Sichuan and Gansu provinces (also part of the Tibetan plateau).” This is not encouraging news. Despite a shortage of water in the long-term, China nevertheless continues to dam rivers originating from the third pole (as Tibet is known in environmental parlance).
In November, the Indian Press reverberated with anxiety on the launching of the first unit of the run-of-river hydropower plant at Zangmu on the Yarlung Tsangpo, (which becomes the Siang and later the Brahmaputra). Xinhua announced: “Tibet’s largest hydropower station became partly operational, harnessing the rich water resources of the Yarlung Zangbo (Tsangpo) River to develop the electricity-strapped region.”
The power plant (costing $1.5 billion) is located at 3,300 meters above sea level; once completed, it will have a height of 116 metres for a length of 390 meter; it is 19 meter wide at the top and 76 meter wide at the bottom.
Other generating units are due for completion in 2015. Xinhua asserted that the entire project, which “straddles the middle reaches of the roaring Yarlung Tsangpo River, will have a total installed capacity of 510 megawatts upon completion”.
Liu Xiaoming, an official of the State Grid’s Tibet Electric Power Co affirmed: “The hydropower station will solve Tibet’s power shortage, especially in the winter.” But what about the environment? And what about India downstream?
Lobsang Gyaltsen, the head of the Tibetan Government in Lhasa affirmed: “The region has strived to protect the environment throughout construction. The hydro-plant is a good example of clean energy development.”
Mr Gyaltsen is probably not aware that run-of-river plants are not today considered ‘clean’ anymore, as the life of the river between the ‘intake’ of the diversion and the power station downstream gets badly affected. The Indian Government has even admitted that the run-of-river plants exacerbated the outcome of the disastrous floods in Uttarakhand last year.
Zangmu, the only hydro-power plant on the Yarlung Tsangpo, once completed, would probably be acceptable to India, but China plans to have a cascade of five other dams along the river at Jia Cha, Lengda, Zhongda, Jie Xu and Lang Chen.
In April 2013, the Indian Inter-Ministerial Expert Group on Brahmaputra stated: “Jia Cha could be the next hydroelectric project on the mainstream of Brahmaputra river. It may be followed by hydroelectric projects at Lengda, Zhongda, Langzhen, where dam related peripheral infrastructural activity (including four new bridges) has gathered speed.”
More frightening is the possibility of a mega-dam on the Great Bend of the Yarlung Tsangpo, the IMEG warned: “China is carrying out series of cascading run-of-river projects in the middle reaches of Brahmaputra, the same may be replicated in the Great Bend Area as a viable alternative to a single mega project.”
For China, it probably makes sense, technically and economically. The opening of the tunnel to Metok, near the Indian border, in November 2013 is another part of the gigantic puzzle; it may have been the turning point for the proposed mega project.  As a lower riparian country, India is rightly worried. Delhi has often taken up the issue with Beijing which has repeatedly assured India that no such project is on the cards.
In the meantime, India should carefully and scientifically monitor, not only the flow of the Siang, but also the quality of the waters. Article 12 of the ‘Implementation Plan’ signed in June between Indian and China for providing ‘Hydrological Information of the Yarlung Tsangpo/Brahmaputra river in flood season by China to India’ says that “after mutual consultation through diplomatic channel, the parties may dispatch hydrological experts to each other’s country to conduct study tour”.
Why can’t Delhi ask Beijing’s permission to send a team of hydrological experts to visit the dam and get some clarity on what is going on? Another worrying event is the launching of a new electricity grid linking the Tibet Autonomous Region to Sichuan Province. The ceremony was presided over by Yu Zhengsheng, the member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo.
Xinhua reported that the $1.08 billion project, linking Chamdo in the Tibet Autonomous Region to Garze in Sichuan Province, aims at “putting an end to the electricity shortages of the 5,00,000 residents of the Chamdo region and ease power strain in Tibet as a whole”.
Why does Tibet require so much electricity, if Tibet produces its own? Could this investment be used to build the mega-dam? Another alarming news! Some Chinese researchers have thought of a smaller ‘pilot’ project: To divert the Indus river towards Xinjiang. The project is posted on sciencenet.cn, a science blog launched by Science Times Media Group and supported amongst others by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The blogger quotes some Chinese researchers who argue that the big planned ‘diversions’ require large investments, long construction periods and face a lot of engineering problems. They suggest a ‘small-scale’ scheme, with low investment, which could be quickly realisable.
They would add a western segment to the western diversion route, by diverting waters from the Indus river, north of Ladakh to the Tarim Basin in Xinjiang. This would meet, according to them, the requirements of a ‘pilot’ scheme.
The blog mentions some preliminary survey, the size of the diversion and describes today-parched Xinjiang after the water transfer. Their main conclusion is that the diversion will help maintaining long-term stability in Xinjiang; it also suggests some more surveys. This ‘easy’ pilot project does not, of course, take into account what the neighbours (including China’s all-weather friend, Pakistan) will have to say.
All this does not bode well for 2015.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Romance of Hostile Borders

My article Romance of Hostile Borders appeared in the Opinion page of the The Statesman today.

Here is the link...

Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau said once: “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. Therefore, it is grossly presumptuous on our part to approach them with an air of superiority, to tell them how to behave or what to do and what not to do. 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, acting as agent to the President of India, seconded by a senior officer (often from the ICS), designated as Advisor 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.
In his Foreword to the book, which became the Bible of the officers serving in the NEFA, Nehru asserted that he “began to doubt how far the normal idea of progress was beneficial for these people and, indeed, whether this was progress at all in any real sense of the word.”
Sixty years later, one realizes that this romantic view of the border population amounted to the segregation of a large chunk of the Indian population.
It has been the tragedy of the North-East, particularly Arunachal Pradesh.
With the invasion of Tibet at the end of 1950, followed 9 years later by the Tibetan uprising in Lhasa and the consequent flight of the Dalai Lama to India, the relations between the border populations and Tibet were discontinued, while Delhi’s romantic policies led to their neglect.
Verrier Elwin and Nehru could only see the anthropological side of the problem, forgetting the strategic as well the economic aspects of the border development; it resulted in a huge development gap between the frontier areas and the rest of India.
The first Prime Minister took however an excellent initiative: he created a separate cadre for India’s frontiers, namely NEFA, Tibet, Sikkim and Bhutan.
On April 4, 1952, Nehru wrote to Jairamdas Doulatram, the Governor of Assam, mentioning the need a ‘special’ cadre for the border areas.
A few weeks later, the Prime Minister Nehru told the Foreign Secretary: “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.”
The idea of a separate cadre was not appreciated by all. First the Assamese realized that the move to have a special cadre would further separate the NEFA from Assam.
Finally in 1954, the first batch of officers was posted on the frontiers and two years later, the ‘special cadre’ was officialized.
These officers were at first drawn from All-India services such as the ICS or IPS; others had served in the Army earlier.
The initial recruitment to the Indian Frontier Administrative Service (IFAS) was made by the Central Government through a Special Selection Board with representatives from the MEA, the MHA and the MoD, along with an expert in tribal affairs (often Verrier Elwin).
K.C. Johorey who later became Chief Secretary in Goa was one of the first pioneers who joined the IFAS. He still remembers what Nehru told his batch: “The staff must go along with the flag and the typewriters can follow later on.”
Johorey recalls his first posting in Along in the Siang Frontier Division: “There were two houses, one for the burra sahib [for Yusuf Ali, his boss], and behind another smaller hut. The houses were really huts made of bamboos, palm leaves and canes. Even the tables and the beds were of bamboos. There were no mattresses, no electricity and no furniture. The houses were very clean and airy. That was all,” says Johorey.
One of the most famous members of the IFAS is Maj. Ranenglao ‘Bob’ Khathing who single-handedly brought Tawang under Indian administration in February 1951.
Another officer Maj. S.M. Krishnatri has left an extraordinary account of his ‘tour’ report in what is today the Upper Subansiri district of Arunachal. Krishnatry and his wife Geeta provide a detailed description of their adventures. Krishnatry who had earlier been posted in Tibet for 7 years, explains how his expedition was different from the British’s: “Most exploratory expeditions in the tribal frontiers have been armed or armoured with heavy escorts much to the cost and suppression of human rights, occupation of their lands, burning of villages, molestation of women, looting of livestock, crops and banning of trade.”
Geeta Krishnatry religiously took notes of her encounter with the villagers on the way to the border, entering in her diary every detail of their perilous tour. It is a most remarkable anthropological and strategic document.
The former officer of the Maratha Light Infantry officer explains: “I felt that a woman was a more secure safeguard against tribal onslaught, while Geeta was firm she would rather trust peace with tribals than with armed escort in our company.”
Another remarkable IFAS officer is Col. Rashid Yusuf Ali who is today 92 year-old and lives in Shillong (Meghalaya); he has lived an extraordinary life. His father, Abdullah Yusuf Ali was a reputed Islamic scholar of Indian origin who translated the Qur'an into English. Abdullah married an English woman. Their young son studied in England, Greek and Latin amongst other subjects.
In 1941, Rashid was commissioned in the Indian Army, and fought for the British in Burma. Like several other frontier officers, he resigned from the Army to join the newly-created ‘frontier’ service. He believes that what characterized IFAS officers, was their long tours; they used to walk over long distances (sometimes for weeks) to visit remote villages near the Indo-Tibet border. Ali, a Christian, also remembers walking with his wife from the plains of Assam to Sepla (today’s Seppa, in East Kameng district).
Ali is modest when he says the IFAS officers had not much work to do; he thus explains why on their return from the annual tours, they used to write long and delightful reports, very much enjoyed by the Prime Minister.
These officers, like Brigadier (Justice) D.M. Sen, the first Judge Advocate General of India, who is now 100 years old, have still fond memories of their days in NEFA.
But when one looks at the events before the 1962 war, one realizes that ‘the philosophy of NEFA’, though based on genuine human concerns, did not take into consideration the military and strategic aspects the region.
After all, Dr. Verrier Elwin, the guru of the NEFA, was an anthropologist, and it was certainly not his task to consider other aspects of the border areas. After 1962, Nehru probably greatly regretted to have neglected the preparation of the border defence for a romantic preservation of the ‘tribal life’.
It is sad that the IFAS, an adhoc creation by the Prime Minister, was dissolved in the mid-1960s and the intrepid IFAS officers were ‘merged’ into the more boring IFS, IAS or IPS. The fact remains that these officers who decided to sacrifice their careers to join the IFAS were all remarkable personalities, and even though the cadre does not exist anymore, these individuals should be role models for young IAS/IPS officers.