Tuesday, May 24, 2016

France strikes again

In France, May is traditionally the month of pleasant weather, but also the period when the French go on strike.
Considering that as a student I lived through the momentous month of May 1968, I should not have overlooked this detail when I booked a ticket to visit my family.
This year, the French confront a new wave of strikes; this time it is against a new Labour bill, known as the ‘El Khomri Law’ after the lady minister who introduced it.
For the CGT, the hard-line trade union, like every spring, the ‘rolling strikes’ are a ‘make-or-break’ situation. Why?
Francois Hollande’s government has invoked Article 49.3 of the Constitution, allowing the government to bypass the parliament to get the new labour law through.
The Government used this rare procedure because part of the ruling Socialist party were ready to vote against their own government and like in India, whenever the Government proposes a reform, the opposition does everything to block it …for the sake of opposing something they would have liked to propose themselves.
You may ask what a ‘rolling strike’ is.
It is a French specialty, when truckers, then rail workers, then dockers, then airport staff, etc, go on strike one after the other.
President Hollande, whose popularity has rock-bottomed in recent months, has remained firm: “Too many governments have given in, that’s why the country was in the state we found it in 2012. A compromise has been reached, a balance has been found, the pro-reform unions and the majority of Socialist supporters are behind this reform,” he said in an interview, though more than 1000 protesters have already been arrested and 300 people have been hurt in clashes with the police.
But despite the periodical turbulences and the seasonal depression, France is doing ‘better’, in Hollande’s words.
Not everybody is convinced, but some facts speak for themselves.
Take the order from MSC Cruises, signed in April with STX of Sant-Nazaire, for four new cruisers. The 200,000 tons ships will be able to carry 5,400 passengers each; the first one, based on a next-generation technology, will be delivered in 2022.
Then Australia selected DCNS, the French shipbuilding giant, to build 12-ship submarines. Many analysts were caught by surprise as the state-owned company — which is building 6 scorpene submarines in India with the Mazgaon docks — was in competition with the Japanese and Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS). The contract is said to be for US $38 billion.
In his April 26th announcement, the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that the decision was ‘unequivocally’ in favour of the French: “This was the absolutely unambiguous recommendation from the Department of Defence that came through the competitive evaluation process.”
And of course, there is the Rafale combat aircraft which has done rather well last year: 24 planes were sold to Egypt and 24 to Qatar, and despite the prevarication of the Modi Sarkar (probably due to political considerations after the publicity around the Augusta-Westland scan), Delhi will sign for 36 pieces.
France however remains hardly attractive for Indian investments. A few months ago, Business France, the national agency helping the international development of France’s economy, released its 2015 Annual Report: Foreign investment in France. It analyzed foreign investments in France and their contribution to the French economy. Though over 120 Indian companies are operating in France, employing some 7,000 people, it is not much despite companies like Aequs, a Belgaum-based company specializing in developing and producing engineering solutions for the aerospace, automotive and oil sectors, acquiring the Besançon site of the French company Sira which employs 320 people.
Due to several factors such as the tough French visa policy, the labour laws (pre the 49.3 procedure), the difficulty of the language (compared to UK for example), and also the lack of knowledge about India in general, the investment climate is not rosy.
Another sign: last week, the daily Le Monde published a study showing that the brain-drain from France is becoming an inescapable trend.
Prepared by the Council of Economic Analysis, a report entitled “Préparer la France à la mobilité internationale croissante des qualifies” (Prepare France for qualified people’s mobility) speaks of the exodus of French brain power. According to the National Institute of Statistics, between 3,3 and 3,5 million people, born in France and aged between 25 and 55, live abroad.
The rate of expatriation has doubled between 1980 and 2010, and though the emigration is less than in countries like Germany and the emigration and immigration of qualified people more or less balances, the worrying aspect is that the incoming brains do not settle in France for long; they usually return to their country after a few weeks.
Despite all this, France is the world’s top tourist destination (with 84.7 million foreign tourists in 2013) and tourism is a key sector of its economy, accounting for more than 7% of GDP and two million direct and indirect jobs.
There are indeed many great eatable and drinkable goodies which we can’t advertise in these columns, and though the state of Emergency is still in force after the terrorist attacks of November 2015, the picturesque villages, the old manors, the quiet rivers and the inimitable capital, Paris with its cafes, museums or shows, remain very special.
My country of origin (and Asterix’s too) remains “Douce France, doux pays de mon enfance’’ (Sweet France, Sweet Country of my childhood). My parents’ generation loved these lyrics of the famous French crooner Charles Trenet.
Changing France, even if not always innovative France (mainly due to the seasonal strikes), remains charming France.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Dharamsala and Beijing: the negotiations that never were

Phayul.com reported that the Tibetan edition of my book Dharamsala and Beijing: the negotiations that never were was launched yesterday in Dharamsala by the Library of Tibetan Works & Archives (LTWA), which edited the translation.
The Dharamsala-based webiste said: "The Tibetan translation of the book Dharamsala and Beijing: The Negotiations That Never Were by noted scholar Claude Arpi was launched today by the Minister of Education (Kalon) Ngodup Tsering at the LTWA in Gangchen Kyishong."
Geshe Lhakdor, the LTWA's Director noted: "It may sound simple and insignificant if we just see it as a work of translation. However, we know that even translating a thin book take a lot of effort. Therefore we need to appreciate such hard work and efforts.”
While thanking those who helped make the book a reality, Yeshi Dhundup, editor at Tibet.net, took around two years to translate the book, using his after office hours and holidays; he explained: "I translated the book with a hope that it would be of some help to those who want to read about the Tibet-China bilateral dialogues in Tibetan and I hope that it would be useful to all the Tibetans.”
Kalon Ngodup Tsering remarked: "It is imperative that we know in detail about the Tibet-China Negotiations, which we often speak on. However, there are not many who have full in-depth knowledge about it. So this book may help especially those doing research works or for anyone willing to know.”

Here are a few comments about the English version:

The book is enriched by the author’s deep access to all the Tibetan principals involved in the dialogue process and the actual negotiations. It is also enriched by the author`s own extensive research on a subject much commented but little researched on. The Negotiations that Never Were will form the basis of future Sino-Tibetan negotiations literature because the book's enduring contribution to this literature is the blow-by-blow accounts it gives of all the contacts and discussions between Dharamsala and Beijing.
www.sify.com

The Negotiations that Never Were will form the basis of future Sino-Tibetan negotiations literature because the book's enduring contribution to this literature is the blow-by-blow accounts it gives of all the contacts and discussions between Dharamsala and Beijing.
In reviewing this book one marvels at the fact that these negotiations took place at all. In international politics, diplomacy is always backed by military force. In conducting such relations among sovereign nations, the unstated message always is, negotiate, or else. The option of war is used as a compelling argument for concerned parties to choose negotiations as a less expensive way to settle outstanding disputes. Tibetans, committed to non-violence, do not have the military option. Despite this, why did the negotiations take place at all? That these negotiations took place is a reflection of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's hold on his people and the quality of leadership he has provided.
A welcome addition in the book is the author's examination of the attitude of individual Chinese to the Tibet question. Although official China says there is no problem in Tibet, un-official China, that vast interlocking network of human rights and environmental activists, writers and scholars who form the country's nascent but growing civil society, sees that there is a big problem in Tibet and the government is mishandling it.
www.tibet.net

The annexation of an independent Tibet is irrefutably outlined in Claude Arpi’s book, Tibet: The Lost Frontier, which was published last year. Arpi, a Frenchman based in South India, is arguably India’s most effective communicator of the Tibetan cause. He displays the research of a scholar and the insight of a strategist. This year he has written a follow-up book, Dharamsala and Beijing : The Negotiations that Never Were, published by Lancer Publishers. The book is an eye opener. It meticulously describes the entire farcical engagement since inception between Beijing and the Dalai Lama’s aides.
www.boloji.com

In 1947 there was no India-China border. There was only the India-Tibet border. Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai hoodwinked Pandit Nehru. From then up till now the Chinese brazenly lied, indulged in doubletalk and blandly denied self-evident truths. From then up till now India and America lamely accepted such contemptuous treatment. In 1954 India and China signed a treaty for eight years by which among other things India recognised Tibet to be part of China. Beijing violated the assurances given in that treaty by transgressing the border. A confused Nehru decided to keep Parliament in the dark. He persisted with secrecy about Chinese encroachments during the following years.
That was when this reviewer through an article in 1960 demanded Nehru’s resignation. As a junior he made this reasonable demand when media doyens critical of Nehru’s China policies such as S Mulgaokar and Frank Moraes could not bring themselves to state this. No wonder it took a child to blurt that the Emperor wore no clothes! Zhou told Nehru that he was ignorant about the McMahon Line until he studied the border problem. And today China claims Arunachal Pradesh to be part of China! Beijing and Tibet broke ice. Beijing allowed fact-finding missions from Dharamsala to visit Tibet and view its progress. The Chinese genuinely thought that better roads and infrastructure had made Tibetans happy. The frenzied reception given to the Dalai Lama’s representatives by the Tibetans stunned them. Four succeeding missions were doomed to fail. I think the Chinese fail to empathize with Tibet because Tibetans believe in God. Most Chinese don’t.
In 2005 former Defence Minister, Army Chief and Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Chi Haotian, said in a speech: ‘Maybe you have now come to understand why we promulgate atheism, if we let all Chinese people listen to God and follow God, who will obediently listen to us and follow us?’
Claude Arpi’s book exposes the painful repetitiveness of all contacts between China and Tibet, between China and the rest of the world. Tibet was like a woodpecker trying to penetrate a block of steel. The Chinese refused to countenance the slightest change in Tibet. In 1988 Dalai Lama made the Strasbourg Proposal and adopted the Middle Way, demanding autonomy instead of independence. Beijing kept calling him a ‘splitter’. China continued to lie and deceive the world to keep talks going. Only once in 60 years did a senior Chinese official speak the truth. In 1980 CCP General Secretary Hu Yaobang admitted: ‘Our party has let the Tibetan people down. We feel very bad!’ Very soon he had to eat his words and fall in line. The world kept hoping for China to change. It was a futile hope.
The Statesman

The book
In October 1950, Communist China invaded Tibet. After nine years of difficult co-habitation with the occupiers, the Dalai Lama, the young temporal and spiritual leader of the Tibetans, had no choice but to flee his country to take refuge in India.
It took 20 years for the Tibetans to renew a dialogue with the leaders in Beijing. Soon after Deng Xiaoping’s return to power in 1978, the first contacts were made. Using rare documents, this is the story of thirty years of encounters between the Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala and Beijing.
Today the stalemate continues; Beijing refuses to offer any sort of concession to the Dalai Lama’s demand for a genuine autonomy for Tibet. Just like the border ‘talks’ between India and China, the negotiations with Dharamsala have never really started.
Reading through this book one understands how the relations between India and China are inextricably linked to the status of Tibet. Further, the present unrest in Tibet renders China unstable and increasingly belligerent towards India which gave refuge to the Tibetans.

Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Prelude
  • The Last Bridges are Cut
  • The First Contacts in the Seventies
  •  Seeking the Truth from Facts
  •  Return to Tibet?
  •  Internalization of the Tibetan Issue
  • Second Uprising and Border Build-up
  • The Nineties, the Difficult Years
  • Dharamsala and Beijing: Renewed Contacts
  • Eight Round and A Special Meeting
  • A Different Interpretation : The Case of Bapa Phunsok Wangyal
  • China's Voices of Dissent
  • Where Do We Go From Here?
  • Postscript
  • Annexure I
  • Annexure II
  • Index

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

'Rude China’ is driven by sense of power

My article 'Rude China’ is driven by sense of power appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer.

Here is the link...

Chinese arrogance is worrisome for India because China remains and will remain a hegemonic state, even if benevolently hegemonic. The Modi regime should speak a firmer language…with (sweet) characteristics

While speaking at a garden party at Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth said that certain Chinese officials had been ‘very rude’ during President Xi Jinping’s State visit to UK in October 2015; it was supposed to herald a ‘Golden Era’ in the bilateral relations.
When introduced to the Queen, Lucy D'Orsi, a senior police officer responsible for the security during Xi’s visit, described her dealings with Chinese officials as ‘quite a testing time’, the 90-year-old Queen retorted: "They were very rude to the ambassador."
The video of the monarch, who never makes political comments, went instantaneously viral. Though termed as a ‘gaffe’ by the media, the clip was made public by the Palace.
The Queen spoke a truth that not many heads of state can afford to utter; in fact the Chinese always get away with it.
Why are the Chinese so rude?
Simply because Beijing believes that China is the greatest world power with the United States …and that there is no harm in showing it.
As China’s economic clout vanishes, one of the most serious problems that Xi Jinping will be facing in the years to come is to show that the Middle Kingdom is a ‘normal’, not a rude, nation.
Beijing today speaks of the ‘new normal’ to describe the fact that the Chinese economic machine runs slower than earlier; however, as far as Beijing’s behavior is concerned, it may take decades for China to be ‘normal’.
What is happening in the South China Sea will convince even hard-core sinophiles. In its recently-published annual report to the US Congress, the US Defence Department described how China, with its rapid military growth, is using ‘coercive tactics’ to foster regional tensions.
Can China become normal? In modern times, it is one of the most fascinating evolving political scenarios to watch.
The leadership in Beijing is clearly aware of the dichotomy: the impossibility to become a ‘normal’ State and simultaneously continue to bully the rest of the planet, excepting a few nations (mainly the US and in a few cases, India).
After the Buckingham incident, The Global Times, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, said it would be ‘truly boorish and rude’ if British officials had intentionally leaked the video; it added that the Western media is “full of reckless 'gossip fiends' who bare their fangs and brandish their claws and are very narcissistic, retaining the bad manners of barbarians."
But counteraccusations, mainly for internal consumption, do not help restore Beijing’s image.
With its declining economical power, what is the way forward for China to command ‘respect’?
One way is to reform the military and make Beijing truly a bully.
The last war fought by China (against Vietnam in 1979) showed the weaknesses of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA); since then the situation has further deteriorated with corruption creeping in: during the last 2 years, more than 50 officers of the rank of major general and above have been purged.
Xi Jinping, who cumulates all the positions in the Party, the State and the PLA, knows that if China wants to be taken seriously (and the rudeness ignored), it needs to be strong, very strong. It is not the case today.
On May 12, the Central Military Commission (CMC) released a 13th five-year military development plan (2016-2020). Xinhua said that China’s aims were to complete military reforms and have armed forces capable of informationized warfare by 2020. It asserted that in the next five years, the PLA will realize a significant increase of key combat capabilities.
All the resources will be directed to projects that “enhance combat readiness, facilitate major reforms and improve benefits for servicemen and women,” says the paper.
The Chinese President often speaks of the Chinese dream: “a dream for harmony. Unfair and unreasonable old international order which has not been fundamentally changed is the most important cause of world chaos and dilemma.”
Though according to Xi, the new world order will be based on peaceful settlements of global disputes, the Middle Kingdom will be at the center of these new arrangements.
It is worrying for India, because China remains and will remain a hegemonic State, even if benevolently hegemonic.
Last week, The Global Times mentioned the new importance of the Tibet Military Command’s (TMC), which will now function directly under the jurisdiction of the PLA Army, the ground forces’ central command; the TMC won’t be a district of the defunct Chengdu Military Command Areas (MAC) anymore.
An ‘analyst’ told The Global Times: “China continues to strengthen its military presence in the autonomous region and aims to allow the military command to shoulder more combat assignments.”
Against whom? India?
China Youth Daily had earlier reported that the TMC's political level will be elevated to a higher rank than the other provincial military commands; it added that it marks a "new journey for the Tibet military command's construction."
What does it means for India?
The first radical change was the remoulding of the 7 MACs into 5 Military Theater Commands, with the entire Indian front, from Arunachal to Ladakh coming under the same command (Western Theater), instead of two MACs (Chengdu and Lanzhou MACs).
The Global Times noted that border disputes between China and India have not been completely resolved, though last month Chang Wanquan, the Chinese Defense Minister, reacted positively about setting up a military hotline with India when Manohar Parrikar visited Beijing.
Song Zhongping, a Beijing-based military expert, told the Party’s mouthpiece that the TMC promotion “will significantly improve the command's ability to manage and control the region's military resources, as well as provide better preparation for combat."
Song added that the TMC has the great responsibility to prepare for possible conflicts between China and India, and currently it is extremely difficult to secure all the military needed resources: "Military action in the TMC requires specialist mountain skills and long-range capabilities, which need the deployment of special military resources."
The ‘expert’ further noted: "The promotion of the command's authority level shows the amount of attention China places on the defense of its southwestern borders. The higher the authority level, the more military resources the command can mobilize."
Zhao Zhong, deputy director of the Political Work Department of the TMC, remarked that the move to place the TMC directly under the PLA Army, “suggests that the command may undertake some kind of military combat mission in the future."
This shows that the raising of the Mountain Corps should be a priority for India, despite the financial constraints.
In the meantime, Beijing will probably continue to be rude, when required, with its friends and foes. The Queen’s remarks should be emulated and fingers should be pointed at China when its behavour is not acceptable.
The Modi Sarkar can certainly speak a firmer language …with Indian (sweet) characteristics.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The UN is wrong about Bhutan. It really is one of the happiest places on earth

My article The UN is wrong about Bhutan. It really is one of the happiest places on earth appeared in Mail Today.

Here is the link...

Bhutan was recently in the news when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited the ‘Land of Happiness’ and trekked up to the picturesque Tiger’s Lair, also known as Paro Taktsang in Dzongka.
The monastery complex, hanging on a cliffside of the upper Paro valley, was built during the 17th century on the spot where the Swat-born Guru Padmasambhava meditated for three years, three months and three days. Paro Taktsang is one the 13 ‘taktsang’ caves which were blessed by the Master of Supreme Happiness.
Variables William and Kate had to walk for nearly two hours to reach the gompa.
Looking at the photographs taken by the journalists who followed them half-way, it reflects that the royal couple must have experienced some bliss during the unusual trek.
Their visit and encounter with the charming royal couple of Bhutan (sometimes patronisingly called, ‘The Himalayan William and Kate’) were moments of rare happiness.
A few weeks earlier, data collected by the United Nations from people in 156 countries had surprisingly ranked Bhutan 84th in the list of Happy Nations.
Different variables were used: real GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make choices, generosity and perceptions of corruption.
The fact that Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Finland are the five toppers shows that these variables are based on Western values.
Can you believe that China is listed 83, while India is 118?
Each country is also compared against Dystopia, a hypothetical nation characterised by human misery, oppression, disease, overcrowding and pervasive fear, a place where everything is wrong.
Dystopia is the opposite of Utopia, synonymous for an ideal society with no crime or poverty.
Despite the Western prejudice in the data collection and analysis, it is interesting to see that the UN has begun studying the concept of ‘happiness’ which has been central to the Indian and Himalayan culture (including in Tibet before the Communists ‘liberated’ the Roof of the World in 1950).
Whether on the Roof of the World, in Sikkim or in Bhutan, Padmasambhava has played a crucial role in this search for a deeper meaning in life and ultimately ‘sustainable happiness’.
It is significant that Bhutan Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay recently gave a most inspirational TED talk at Vancouver, Canada.
Tobgay spoke with great eloquence of the special culture of the Land of the Dragon, its concept of Gross National Happiness, climate change, environment and free education for all. Tobgay said: “Of the 200-odd countries in the world today, it looks like we are the only one that’s carbon neutral. Actually, that’s not quite accurate. Bhutan is not carbon neutral. Bhutan is carbon negative.”

Environment
The ‘Happy’ prime minister asserted: “But it is our protected areas that are at the core of our carbon neutral strategy. Our protected areas are our carbon sink. They are our lungs. Today, more than half of our country is protected, as national parks, nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries.”
The latter are connected through a network of biological corridors: “Our animals are free to roam throughout our country,” Tobgay added.
Even animals should be happy.
Just before 175 countries signed the COP21 agreement, Topgay mentioned his country’s participation in safeguarding the planet; projects such as ‘Bhutan for Life’ intend to improve the country’s environment… for the benefit of the earth.
With its 70 per cent forest cover (it is the highest proportion in Asia), Bhutan has almost five million acres of protected land, rich in forests, pristine rivers and thriving wildlife.
The question is: can it last? If one believes news reports, dam companies will soon rule the Land of the Dragon. With ‘development’ becoming the universal god, can the society remain ‘happy’ and contented?
Two years ago, the Royal Institute for Governance and Strategic Studies (RIGSS) invited former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran for a lecture — “Why Bhutan should worry more about climate change”.
The talk touched some serious issues such as hydropower, national revenue, biodiversity, livelihood and, indirectly, ‘happiness’.

Glaciers
Shyam Saran spoke of the climate change taking place in Bhutan, which accelerates the melting of glaciers: “This risk, at any time, can lead to landslide, avalanches and glacier lake outburst floods (GLOFs),” he added.
He mentioned other vulnerabilities, particularly the hydropower plants on which Bhutan is heavily dependent to balance its budget.
Some of these dams, if not properly conceived, could speed up the destruction of natural resources. But, what is this true happiness that everybody is speaking about?
A friend, who often visits Bhutan, told me that on his first visit, he was surprised to see everywhere ‘general stores-cumbar’, ‘hardware store-cum-bar’, even ‘medical shop-cum-bar’.
It is true that the 14thcentury saint, Drukpa Kunley, the Mad Yogi who introduced Buddhism in Bhutan, was an adept of the good things in life and he is still revered by all in Bhutan.
On April 23, the Queen Mother, along with a royal princess and several ministers, trekked for four hours along a 21-km trail where Drukpa Kunley meditated, drank, hunted and subdued demons; it is still a place of pilgrimage with a number of sacred spots linked to Kunley.
I sometime wonder how Padmasambhava would have fared under the UN criteria.
Strange, isn’t it? Ban-Ki-moon should visit the place.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Don’t rock the boat

In November 1949, the Tibetan Cabinet in Lhasa wrote to the American Secretary of State, requesting the US’ support for Tibet’s admission to the UN: “As Tibet being an independent state, we have no dangers from other foreign countries but in view of the spread of communism and their successes in China, there is now an imminent danger of Communist aggression towards Tibet.”
Lhasa was advised by the Americans not to ‘rock the boat’.
Later, an officer of the Ministry of External Affairs told Loy Henderson, the US Ambassador to India: “[India] feels that making issue of Tibetan question at present might precipitate Communist decision invade pursuant their declared intention liberating country.”
Around the same time, a cable from Henderson to Dean Acheson, the US Secretary of State stated, “during the conversation, Mr. Graves [of the UK High Commission in Delhi] showed me a Hansard report [verbatim report of proceedings of the British Houses] of December 14, 1949,” to which was attached a 1943 memorandum mentioning the British position with respect to Tibet; the memorandum stated the Tibet was a ‘de facto independent’ country.
However the British too did not want to ‘rock the boat’.
This came back to mind, when the controversy erupted regarding the cancellation of a ‘tourist visa’ for Dolkun Isa, Executive Chairman of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress. Isa was to attend a ‘conference’ at Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh.
The media immediately took up the issue: why was the visa suddenly revoked without reason? Soon the Modi Sarkar was accused of behaving like its predecessors.
Most observers saw a retaliation against China’s decision to put a hold India’s request to add Masood Azhar, head of the Pakistani-based group Jaish-e-Mohammad, to the UN’s blacklist.
On the Isa issue, China was quick to respond: the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that the Uyghur leader was under a ‘red-corner’ Interpol notice and should be arrested as he was a terrorist.
The restive province of Xinjiang is an extremely sensitive issue for China, as Beijing believes that Islamist militants and Uyghur dissidents are colluding to establish an independent state, Eastern Turkestan.
Though the Ministry of External Affairs was apparently not aware of the Conference and the visa given to Isa, most observers first thought that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was finally decided to ‘rock the boat’.
It may not be that simple.
First, could Isa have attended the ‘conference’ on a tourist visa (or e-visa)?
Whoever has organized this type of event in India, knows that foreign participants need a ‘conference visa’ which is not easy to obtain.
Further, the Dharamsala ‘conference’ was bound to be controversial; it was organized by the US-based Citizen Power for China, a group led by Yang Jianli, one of the protagonists of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests (incidentally Yang was present in Dharamsala).
Granting Isa an electronic visa made it easier to cancel the permission to visit Dharamsala at short notice. The MEA could show its ignorance of the event.
Cancelling the visa while still holding the meet, even in camera, indicates that the Indian Government was keen to convey the message to Beijing, ‘don’t play with fire concerning terrorism’, and at the same time, allowed Delhi a strategic retreat.
Delhi wanted to ‘rock the boat’ to a certain extent only. It is why visas granted to other Chinese dissidents like Lu Jinghua and Ray Wong were also cancelled.
Lu, also a participant in Tiananmen protests, figures on a Chinese list of ‘major criminals’. She learnt of the withdrawal of her visa only after reaching JFK to enplane for India on April 25. The visa for Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Ray was also reportedly withdrawn around the same time.
Delhi later said that Lu’s visa was withdrawn because her documents were ‘ineligible’ and there was an ‘inconsistency’ about the purpose of her visit. Obviously, she was not going to Himachal for ‘tourism’.
According to the Chinese website of Radio Free Asia, several other activists were banned from the meet, in particular five individuals associated with the World Uyghur Congress.
Hong Kong activist Alex Chow, who co-organized the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement in 2014, told Quartz that he too was denied a visa.
But it is not the point; the important point is that the gathering took place.
One may well ask: has Delhi become an adept of Sun Tzu’s Art of War?
The Chinese Master in one of the 13 chapters of the book, writes about ‘Variations and Adaptability’, emphasizing on flexibility during a conflict.
Mao himself explained: “People may ask if there is contradiction to abandon a territory gained by heroic battle. This is to put the wrong question. Does one eat to no purpose simply because he relieves himself later?”
Delhi needed to use flexibility after the high profile visits of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval to China (and before President Prabab Mukherjee’s trip to Beijing later this month).
To cancel a ‘tourist visa’ was abandoning a bit of territory, but the main ‘battle’ was won; the ‘conference’ was held, though informally and amidst media blackout.
And before that, 60 participants were granted a two-hour audience with the Dalai Lama to discuss …China and democracy.
Edward Leung Tin-kei of Hong Kong Indigenous was one of them.
Hong Kong radical activist described the encounter with the Tibetan leader as a ‘rare opportunity’: “I’ve never thought I could meet Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader. This doesn’t happen every day,” Leung told The South China Morning Post.
Chow Hang-tung, working for an Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China was another Hongkonger attending the closed-door meet. “It was very inspiring”, Chow said.
Ursula Gauthier, the French correspondent of L’Obs, who was recently expelled from China for questioning China’s interpretation of ‘terrorism’ and Anastasia Lin, Miss World Canada, were also present.
In the meantime, Beijing is nervous about the democratization of the Tibetan society. The Global Times commented on the recent Tibetan elections for a Prime Minister and Deputies: “Although the [Tibetans] resorted to ‘democratization’ after fleeing, this did not mean they would give up their original characteristics. …After all, feudal serfdom under theocracy has long been abandoned by Western countries.”
Who takes this Cold War language seriously today?
Participating in the 5th Moscow Conference on International Security, China’s Defense Minister Chang Wanquan also lectured on terrorism: “a comprehensive approach should be taken through political, diplomatic, economic and cultural means in order to eliminate the root of terror.”
General Chang obviously forgot ‘democratic means’ in his list.
Though the perception in India was that the Modi Sarkar had retreated, it may not be the case. Beijing has got the message loud and clear: India can do it again and the next time, with proper ‘conference visas’.
Beijing knows this.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Living Communist Buddhas

The Chinese Panchen Lama
Soon after the name of the new elected Tibetan Prime Minister was announced and as Lobsang Sangay pledged to be more active on the Tibetan front, the Communist government in Beijing once more demonstrated how hard it works to prepare the post-Dalai Lama era.
One of the modus operandi of the Communist regime is to flood the media with information showing that the Communist Party is a great supporter of ‘pure’ Buddhism.
Of course, ‘pure’ means, a Buddhism non-contaminated by what China calls the ‘Dalai’s Clique’.
The Communist government, through the Buddhist Association of China (BAC) has awarded certificates of ‘Living Buddhas’ (or reincarnated lamas or tulkus) to over 1,300 chosen individuals.
I have already written about Fake Lamas, Communist Lamas.
The biographical details of these Living Communist Buddhas should help the followers of Buddhism in the Mainland to check their authenticity, says Xinhua.
A few months ago, the BAC had released a first list of 870 ‘selected’ ones.
At that time, the BAC had argued that the growing number of frauds was a problem as a number of 'fake lamas' were trying to cheat the Buddhist followers.
The list was intended to tackle this issue.
However the main purpose of the exercise is obviously to keep the Dalai Lama and other high lamas in exile, out of the ‘holy’ list.
Xinhua says that the biographical information of the second batch of 441 Rinpoches “brings the publication of the information of Rinpoches in China almost to an end.”
The Dalai Lama did not make it.
According to Xinhua, it is “a concrete step to implement the guidelines of the national conference on the work of religions held recently.”
The Guidelines say that it is the Party who decides who is a reincarnation and who is not.
Since then the list is online at:
www.chinabuddhism.com.cn,
www.sara.gov.cn
and www.tibet.cn,
According to the BAC, these sites receive an average of 98,000 hits per day.
It shows that China is interested by Buddhism. Isn’t it?
China Tibet Online asserted that the publication of the list will safeguard “the rights and interests of Tibetan Buddhists and also increased public understanding about living Buddhas.”
The 441 lucky new entrants are mainly from Sichuan Province, while the first 870 were from Tibet, Yunnan, Gansu, Qinghai, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and Liaoning.
China Tibet Online noted that the publication brought about strong repercussions in religious circles. It quoted Drukhang Thubtan Khedrup, the BAC Vice Chairman saying that: “it helps promote the understanding of the public on Tibetan Buddhism and rinpoches.”
Interestingly the BAC pledged that no major adjustment will be made on this inquiry system in the future: “only the information of the newly reincarnated and deceased Rinpoches will be updated to make the information of every true Rinpoche known to the public.”
Beijing will probably be the first to enter the name and details of the 15th Dalai Lama; it will obviously be Beijing’s own choice …a reincarnation with Chinese characteristics.
Let us hope that Dharamsala will react and publish a White Paper on the issue.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Tibetan Democracy: random thoughts

Democracy: something one may not see in Tibet soon
Some thoughts about the recent Tibetan elections

Elections for the post of Sikyong (Prime Minister of the CTA) as well for Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies were recently held.
As someone who has been following ‘Tibetan affairs’ for the last 45 years, I wish put down in writing some my thoughts on the recent election of the Sikyong, which has attracted a lot of ink in the media (and keyboarding on the Net).
Let us start by a small telling observation: the social networks have played a role like never before in the election process. This can have negative or positive features, but, overall, it should be seen as a sign of growing awareness and active involvement of the Tibetan society in their leader’s election. As Tibet-in-exile is a free society, this should be encouraged, with self-restraint, of course.
Looking back, since 1959, His Holiness the Dalai Lama (HHDL) can claim, in my opinion, three great achievements in the political field:
  • HHDL reunited the different parts of Tibet (let us not forget that in October 1950, when the Communist troops entered ‘Tibet’, they crossed the Upper Yangtze (Drichu). It means that, territories east of the Drichu were not de facto under the control of Lhasa). Today, the map of Tibet with the 3 provinces of U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo is accepted by all Tibetans; it was not the case in the 1950s. It is a historic achievement.
  • HHDL reunited the different schools of Buddhism. Historically, Tibet has witnessed a lot of conflicts between the different religious schools. HHDL has given a voice to all the schools (including the Bon faith). This is an important progress.
  • In March 2011, HHDL offered full democracy to the People of Tibet. This is an earth-shaking change for the Tibetan nation.
The recent elections are the result of this gift from HHDL.

Democracy as a system
Democracy cannot be said to be a perfect system, but it has good features as well as not so good ones. It is however far superior to the one-party system prevalent in Modern China.
Beijing is often pointing to the failures of the Western democracies, but its own system is today on the brink of collapsing; as a result, more and more repressions have to be applied to keep it going.
Democracy is sometimes chaotic (we can see this every day in India), but it ultimately brings a sort of stability in the society and the possibility for what Communist China calls ‘the masses’, to express themselves and change their leaders when they are unhappy or deceived. In other words, the voice of the ‘common men and women’ can be heard.
The system of rule by reincarnations was a poor system of governance:
  • It left a gap of 20 odd years between two reincarnations/political leaders
  • It was subject to manipulation by external forces (eg: the cases of the 10th and 11th Panchen Lama)
  • In the interregnum, Tibet has often had mediocre regents, unable to give a lead to the nation (during the interregnum of the 14th Dalai Lama, the power struggle between 2 regents was so bad that it nearly lead Tibet to a civil war).
  • Just take the 19th century, the Manchus fully used the fact that the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th Dalai Lamas passed away too early to rule, to ‘return’ to Tibet.
A modern nation can't afford such an antiquated system.
Therefore ‘democracy’, though imperfect, is the best system until the human society reaches the level of a Gnostic or Spiritual Society, where the ‘wisest’ will automatically come to the fore to organize the public life. It may take some time.

Present Sikyong Elections
  • Tibet had the good luck to have a remarkable man elected as the first Kalon Tripa. It was Tibet’s good karma.
  • It is important to keep in mind that this does not mean that the ‘best man’ is automatically and always taking the right decision for his people (remember the Greek Gods who often led their people to their doom).
  • On the other hand, even if an elected leader is not perfect, it does not mean that the system is not good and in this particular case, that Tibet should not continue with this system of governance.
  • Usually, in other societies (for example in India), anti-incumbency plays an important role to bring fresh blood into the system.
  • Things are different in the Tibetan society where there is an immense respect for the established hierarchy. In fact, many believe that the Dalai Lama had to ‘force democracy’ down reluctant Tibetan throats; everybody was quite happy to depend on their wise leader to guide and tell them what to do with their lives; ultimately, it does not empower the ‘people’.
  • It is true that even in exile, a deep veneration for the leader/lamas has remained ingrained in the Tibetan psyche. It should not stop people to have an independent thinking of their own.
  • At the beginning of the campaign of this election, it is interesting to note that there was no anti-incumbency vote; this partially explains Lobsang Sangay’s high score in the first round.
  • During the campaign for the second round, it is regrettable that the debate did not reach the expected level; however, on the positive side, it has been one of the few opportunities for the Tibetan society to debate the functioning of its administration and point a finger at what was considered wrong or unacceptable.
  • At the same time, the election process should not be an excuse for ‘regionalism’ to return as a plague for the Tibetan nation. Regionalism apparently played an important role in the recent election. There is nothing wrong in regional representation, but regional favoritism should be avoided at all cost by the new leadership. It has not always been the case. I believe HHDL said this to the 2 candidates in no uncertain terms.
  • To an outsider, the CTA seems to be a very opaque organization. Instead of openly debating serious (and sometimes negative) issues facing the society in general, these problems are often kept under wraps (I remember the case of a Tibetan who had raped a girl in a Tibetan settlement; the first ‘official’ reaction was to hush up the incident, because “it is not good for the cause”. But a rape is a rape, whether committed by a French, a Chinese or a Tibetan and it should be denounced with full vigour). One could give many other such cases.
  • It is true that some of the arguments/points mentioned during the campaign should have come out earlier during the term of the Sikyong (particularly the issues raised by Kasur Dicki Chhoyang). However, apart from the debate at the Assembly, there are very few opportunities for the ‘common man’ to express himself or know what is happening behind the opaque curtains of Gangkyi.
  • In this context, it is interesting to note that the incumbent Sikyong did not fare well in Gangkyi area. There is obviously a trust issue which needs to be looked at and ironed out.
  • In the future the press should take a more active role and openly speak of the thorny political issues facing the society. For example, the problem of ‘health services’ recently brought up by HHDL should have been raised long ago by a vibrant media.
  • Old Tibet had ‘street songs’ making fun or criticizing the leaders/lamas, what is replacing this today?
  • Personally, I feel that it is wrong for the gods or the ‘protectors’ to interfere in the ‘common man’s elections. Without judging the former’s competence and knowledge of geopolitics (or just in politics), the time has come for ‘common men’ to think for themselves; keeping in mind that in some cases they may take the wrong decisions, the ‘masses’ should be empowered (even if that means having different perspectives than HHDL). It is what China will never be able to do; the present regime can built beautiful modern airports, safe highways or comfortable five-star hotels, but people are not allowed to think on their own.
  • More important than to take the right or wrong decisions, it is essential to learn from past errors and avoid the same mistakes in the future.
  • The Buddha taught his disciples: 'As the wise test gold by burning, cutting and rubbing it on a piece of touchstone, so are you to accept my words only after examining them and not merely out of regard for me."
  • Democracy likewise should be burnt, cut, rubbed and tested again and again and ultimately perfected. External interference cannot help much the empowerment of the Tibetan society.
It may be possible to avoid the ‘boxing’ encounters during the campaign; it is happening in most democracies: just look at the present US Presidential Elections campaign. It is part of the ‘imperfection’ of the system, simply because our societies (and the human composing them) are imperfect.
One has to make with it, and just get the best of it.

How to make the Tibetan Administration more transparent?
  • The Tibetans should have a vibrant, independent and fearless press (including investigative journalism). For this, the Tibetan mindset has to change; criticism should be taken as an occasion to ‘change’. The society does need to wait to receive ‘critics’ from HHDL or other religious leaders; the Tibetan should become more ‘positively’ critical.
  • Take the example of the recently released ‘Panama Papers’, it is ‘positive’ criticism, which will hopefully help the world to be more just.
  • Implement an RTI Act for the CTA. It would go a long way to better understand the opaque functioning of the CTA. Once again, cases such as the one mentioned by HHDL for the health facilities in the Tibetan settlements could have been raised much earlier and taken care of.
  • Women should play a more important role in the Sikyong elections (why not have 50% female Kalons?). In a modern society, women are often able to give a lead that a man is unable to provide.

Tasks in front of the new Sikyong
  • Hopefully the new Sikyong will be able to fit the description given by Kasur Dicki Chhoyang at the time of her resignation. The Kasur also raised the issue of regionalism vs unity of Tibet; this should be taken seriously.
  • The new Sikyiong’s choice for the next Kalons should be dictated only by what is the best for the Tibetans in exile and the Tibetans inside Tibet and not by personal acquaintances or personal preferences.
  • The new Kalons should be role models for the Tibetans inside Tibet (and the Chinese government).
  • The new Sikyong should establish a close connection and understanding with the Government of India at all levels, in all domains.
  • He should be in touch with what is happening in Tibet and China and provide an alternative to the Chinese schemes or at least comment on it (for example when the Chinese provide a database of the ‘Living Buddhas’ or when the Chinese invade Tibet bringing tens of millions of tourists on the plateau).
  • Why not have a Department headed by a Kalon for ‘Inside Tibet’ Affairs?
  • And if the Chinese do something good, why not say it!
  • Since several years, the Chinese have always been a few steps in advance on Dharamsala in terms of information/propaganda. It is sad.
  • The new Sikyong should take more responsibilities; since HHDL has delegated his political power, the new elected leader should act as a leader on his own (always keeping the general good in mind).
  • Human resources should not vanish under the US/European sky, but remain in India and work for the general good of the Tibetan community.
  • The CTA needs to have a think-tank which ‘thinks’ of solutions for the future of the Tibetan nation
  • The CTA also needs a good professional spokesperson who will be able to articulate the policies of the CTA (after these policies are decided); particularly the policies vis-à-vis China. He should also be able to tackle difficult questions on the life of the society in exile.
These are some of my thoughts.
Tibetan democracy is clearly going through a period of apprenticeship; overall it is doing fairly well.
The most important task is to empower the ‘common man/woman’.