Thursday, July 31, 2014

Gateway to Nepal via the roof of the world

Kyirong welcoming China
My article Gateway to Nepal via the roof of the world appeared today in the Edit Page of The Pioneer.

Here is the link...

Chinese plans to improve connectivity between Tibet and the Himalayan nation, by extending the railway network and building a new land-port at Kyirong, should be of concern in Kathmandu and New Delhi

Next week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will travel to Nepal. Can you believe that he will be the first Indian Prime Minister to pay an official bilateral visit to Kathmandu in 17 years? Press reports say that Mr Modi may also travel to Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, and Janakpur, where legend has it, Lord Ram wed Sita.
This is good: India needs to re-establish her cultural, historical, economic and strategic links with Nepal as the Chinese are descending fast on the former Himalayan Kingdom. In September 2013, according to the Nepali publication The Republica, Mr Lobsang Gyaltsen, Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region, told some Nepali officials visiting Tibet that China would extend a rail service to Nepal once the train reaches the southern city of Shigatse. At that time, the Nepali delegation seemed more interested in a Chinese-built railway line from Kathmandu to Lumbini.
Mr Hari Basyal, the Nepalese Consul General in Lhasa, said that Mr Gyaltsen, though non-committal about Lumbini, announced: “Feasibility study is underway for expanding rail service between Nepal and Tibet.” Mr Gyaltsen also expressed China’s commitment “to extend a meaningful support to Nepal for achieving the common goal of socio-economic development.” This is ominous for India. This month, The Global Times made the train story official: “Sky rail to run from Lhasa to south Tibet; further railway expansion to connect Nepal, Bhutan, India by 2020.”
The rail line, linking Lhasa and Shigatse (poetically termed by China as the ‘closest stretch of railway to the sky’), will be open in August. The construction of the extension of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, which started in September 2010, will be 254km long and have 13 stations. Trains will run at a speed of 120kmph and it will take only two hours from Lhasa to Shigatse, the TAR’s second largest city.
Kyirong (Chinese Gyirong) landport
According to Mr Yang Yulin, Deputy Director of the TAR’s railway office, it is the largest infrastructure project in Tibet during the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), with an investment of more than $1.7 billion. The train to Shigatse has three basic purposes: One, to bring more tourists, the TAR’s main source of revenue (15 million will visit the region in 2014); two, to take away minerals to the mainland to feed the Chinese economic machine and three, to ‘strengthen’ the borders with India by allowing quick movement of troops and armament.
But Mr Yang also announced that during the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) period, construction will start on railway line connecting Shigatse with Kyirong in northern Nepal and with Yatung, in the Chumbi Valley located between Sikkim and Bhutan. Xinhua also affirmed that Beijing will soon upgrade the road network in Tibet “to make travels on The Roof of the World much easier”. The Chinese Ministry of Transport said that it will expand its road network to 1,10,000km by 2020 in TAR alone. Should India not be worried? The MOT acknowledged that the development of transport in Tibet was “crucial to China’s national security… and the lasting prosperity in the autonomous region.” ‘National security’ here means the strengthening of the borders with India.
In the meantime, Nepal’s vital economic relations with its giant northern neighbour will receive a tremendous boost when the new Kyirong land-port opens later this year. On April 11, the official China Tibet Online reported: “The Kyirong Port in southwest China’s Tibet bordered with Nepal will be formally opened in October this year.” The opening of the Kyirong Port has been listed as a key element of the Plan for national ports for 2014. A cross-border China-Nepal Kyirong Port Economic Cooperation Zone will soon be established; further, the Kyirong Port will be promoted as a tourist destination for mainland Chinese.
Zham is currently the main land-port between the TAR and Nepal, though historically Kyirong has been important; Xinhua explains: “The Kyirong Port enjoys a long history of being the largest land trading port between Tibet and Nepal. Many shop owners have expressed the hope that the opening of the port can help them get more involved in the border trade.”
Very few remember that during the 1792 Tibet-Nepal War, the Manchu troops called by the Tibetan Government to defeat the Gorkhas used the Kyirong route to invade Nepal. Will the opening of Kyirong mean another ‘invasion’ of Nepal with lakhs of Chinese tourists (and cheap goods!) arriving in Kathmandu?
Economically, the new border infrastructure will undoubtedly benefit both sides of the border. On April 11, Mr Dong Mingjun, a Vice Chairman of the TAR’s Government told the media, “By the end of July this year, construction of roads, [provision for] energy and medical facilities will be completed at the port.” The Kyirong Port will also be equipped with special facilities for monitoring eventual smuggling. Mr Dong also affirmed that, “the Kyirong Port will serve as a link between China and the South Asian countries.” Geographically, it does not make sense for Kyirong to be the link between China and South Asia, but a railway line to Yatung could be this potential link.
It would explain the announcement that the train is being planned for Yatung too. Today the border trade between India and Tibet is minimal, despite the great hopes generated in 2006, when Nathu-la was opened between Yatung and Gangtok. Since then, border trade has stagnated (partly due to the restricted list of items allowed to be traded). Does the new announcement mean that China will like to open the Yatung-Nathula-Gangtok route in a big way? Has Beijing consulted New Delhi on this or is it a unilateral decision?
A Chinese official asserted: “The opening of the Kyirong Port will become a key trading port next to Zham Port, and an important destination for international trekking, folk activities and visitors’ driving tours.” Till now, the transactions in Kyirong represented only a small percentage of it; this will change with the opening of the new land port. The opening of Kyirong will certainly boost border trade between Nepal and Tibet (China).
Chinese tourists and goods will be poured into Nepal through the Lhasa-Shigatse railway line and then the highway between Shigatse and Kyirong (a branch of the highly-strategic G219 highway linking Tibet to Xinjiang, known in India as the Aksai Chin Road) and in a few years, the train will be available.
This will also have serious strategic and security implications for India, as military exchanges are bound to increase between Beijing and Kathmandu. During his visit, Mr Modi will have a hard time balancing the Chinese presence in Nepal, but the fact that he has chosen Kathmandu as his second bilateral destination, shows that he is determined to start on a new footing.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Developing Western Tibet, China secures its border with India

The two parts of Demchok
I have often mentioned on this blog, the unusually-long stay of Deng Xiaogang, Deputy Party Secretary of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and Secretary of TAR’s Politics and Law Committee (in other words, responsible for the law and order, security and police in Tibet) in Ngari Prefecture “to inspect the border security and the People’s Liberation Army bases”.
During the past 2 months, he spent most of his time in Western Tibet, except for one or two times he had to rush to Lhasa to receive VVIPs.
On June 20, an article in The Tibet Daily mentions: "Deng Xiaogang comforts the rank and file of the police in border County", adding that Deng “inspected Rutok, the border county in Ngari Prefecture and conveyed to the rank and file of the border policemen, the Party’s cordial greetings. He cordially shook hands with the soldiers and comforted them.”
Rudok is located near the Pangong Lake (tso) stretching between India and China; it is where Chinese ‘water’ incursions often occur.
Addressing the border guards, Deng Xiaogang stressed: "Tibet is very special strategic location; it is an important barrier for the national security; development and stability in these border areas is an important part of the region's overall situation. In recent years, under the strong leadership of the CPC’s Central Committee, the regional Party committee [of the TAR] and the [local] government firmly requested people to unite and take a lead in the development of the region; they went all out to maintain stability, and improve people's livelihood as much as possible; to build prosperity, harmony, happiness, a place ruled by law, a beautiful new socialist Tibet and [finally] to work hard."
Apart from the usual Communist jargon, the question remains why should a senior, powerful leader like Deng spend weeks in such remote places.
One possibility is that China wants to reinforce its border with India, especially after the Modi Sarkar declared that one of its priorities was the development of infrastructure along the borders (see my interview with Kiren Rijiju).
Deng has not been the only Chinese official to visit the beautiful (and strategic) province of Ngari.
Zhang Yijiong, Deputy Director of the Central United Front Work Department, who is also the interlocutor-designate for eventual negotiations with Dharamsala, followed the footsteps of Deng Xiaogang.
Wu Yingjie, Deputy Secretary of the TAR, Deng Xiaogang and Dong Mingjun, one of the TAR’s vice-chairmen were on Zhang’s side.
When Zhang Yijiong particularly visited Purang County, at the trijunction India-Nepal-Tibet, near Mt Kailash, his trip was of course, not a spiritual one.
He met policemen, firefighters (for preventing immolations?), officers and troops manning the border with India, the SWAT (commandos) and lectured them on the different aspects of ‘counter-terrorism’ and ‘stabilization’.
He praised the troops for remaining ‘steady’ despite the cold and the lack of oxygen, the harsh environmental conditions and complimented them for fulfilling their duties conscientiously without being overtaken by fatigue.
He asked them to continuous keep their fighting spirit "to maintain a sustained harmony and stability of Ngari area and to work for the development and stability of Tibet".
He thanked the soldiers for their important contribution to the Chinese nation: “On behalf of the Central United Front Work Department, my heartfelt gratitude and highest respect for you, I hope you will continue to make persistent efforts, do a solid job for the long-term stability and the overall stability of Tibet”, he told the border troops.
The caring party leader asked the soldiers to look after themselves and pay attention to their health.
More importantly, General Xu Qiliang, a member of the Politburo of the CCP's Central Committee and one of the two vice chairmen of the Central Military Commission (CMC) ‘inspected’ the Xinjiang and Tibet garrisons.
According to a military website: "Xu Qiliang recently [when is not disclosed] inspected the troops of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the People’s Armed Police Force (PAPF) garrisoning Xinjiang and Tibet."
General Xu visited the soldiers and officers stationed in the Aksai Chin and Ngari opposite the Indian troops.
Note that there was a recrudescence of ‘intrusions’ into the Indian territorial waters on the Pangong lake and on the ground (Demchok) around the time of his visit.
No doubt just a coincidence!
On June 24 and 25, the powerful Commander of People’s Armed Police Force (PAPF), Wang Jianping had visited Lhasa and Ngari prefecture ‘to carry out investigations’. The boss of all paramilitary forces in China, an old Tibet hand (he was posted in Tibet between 1996 and 2000), emphasized that the troops should “resolutely complete every task keeping in mind the tasks that are more urgent, working hard to start the new phase of establishing the police team for a new achievement for the developmental breakthrough and long term peace and stability of Tibet.”
In Lhasa, he was accompanied by the TAR Secretary Chen Quanguo, Deng Xiaogang, Choedak (Qizha La), Wang Ruilian, Kelsang Tsering, Dorjee Tsedrub, Lobsang Gyurmey and others.
General Wang Jianping’s visit was followed by the arrival in Lhasa of Meng Jianzhu, Politburo Member and head of the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the Central Committee. Meng spent five days in Lhasa and Lhoka. While in Tibet, he asserted that “local officials should have a profound understanding of the long lasting nature of the anti-secession efforts, and always take them as the primary political task, he said, vowing a harsh crackdown on separatist activities or terror attacks.”
It is not known if Meng had time to drop by Ngari.
Now, on the development side, Shaanxi Party Secretary Zhao Zhengyong also visited Ngari. Shaanxi is one of two provinces that have ‘adopted’ Ngari Prefecture by sending hundreds of cadres to carry out infrastructure and developmental projects.
On July 16, a Chinese website reported: “Zhao Zhengyong [downgraded by the website as Deputy Secretary of Shaanxi] led the team of the party government delegates to Gar [Gartok] county of Ngari prefecture to investigate the project of Shaanxi’s aid to Tibet. They visited and greeted the cadres aiding Tibet. He emphasised that Shaanxi will sincerely implement the orders of the Central Party, regarding the work of giving aid to Tibet. He said that they will incorporate Ngari’s development into the overall plan of the Shaanxi province, start formulating the 13th five-year plan of Shaanxi at the earliest and give impetus to Ngari Prefecture’s new developmental breakthrough.”
Zhao was accompanied by Padma Choling (Chairman of TAR people’s Congress and only Tibetan in the Central Committee) and Jiang Zelin (Standing committee member of CPC Shaanxi Provincial Committee and Vice Governor of Shaanxi Provincial People’s Government).
Lhasa TV showed Zhao’s visit in Ngari.
At the end of 2012, Shaanxi had allocated 4 million US $ to make Demchok, the border town with India [note the traditional Demchok village is in Ladakh, but the Chinese have built/renovated their own Demchok on their side of the LAC] into a ‘model village’.
CCTV showed new homes, a guest house (for future Indian visitors?) and a map of the nearby historical spots.
The TAR website explains: “The border line [with India] passes through Dian-jiao [Demchok] village of Tashigang township, Gar County .On Aug 2011, the Shaanxi Province fund for aiding Tibet donated 21million Yuan to Dian-jiao [Demchok] village for making it a model border village by promoting economic development of the border area, unity among the ethnic groups and consolidation of the border.”
The article continues: “Waking into the Dian-jiao [Demchok] model border village, one can see an irregular arrangement with charming effect which is filled with Tibetan characteristics. There are good water, electricity, road and communication facilities. Facilities like Solar energy street lights and gymnasium equipments are also available. Zhao Zhengyuan had close interaction with the village cadres, members of the working group stationed at the village, the security personnel responsible for guarding the border, to get a detailed understanding of the situation of building of the model village, the situation of the Party branch of the village and the village [Party] Committee. He pointed out that TAR party committee and the government is sincerely implementing every policy that is beneficial to the people and that will bring prosperity to the border areas.”
What to conclude from all this?
These high-profile visits are linked with the railway line soon reaching Shigatse. This will bring a tremendous boost to the region, first around Shigatse and particularly to the new landport in Kyirong which will become the most important link between Tibet and Nepal, but also to Western Tibet (Ngari prefecture).
Beijing seems keen to open the area to large-scale tourism like it was earlier done in Lhasa and Nyingchi.
It will be one way to get more revenues for the region; they can be reinvest later in the ‘development’ of the area.
This, of course, poses serious security problems to China, mainly due to the proximity of the border with India. This explains the visit of General Xu Qiliang [originally, an Air Force officer] and General Wang Jianping, responsible of the paramilitary forces on the border.
The last two visits mean that China remains in a state of alertness and preparedness on its frontier with India. Regular incursions (in the Western and Eastern Sectors, but in the Central Sector too - in Uttarakhand) will probably continue; it is one way for Beijing to test the Indian waters (and the Modi Sarkar).
The visit of Zhao Zhengyong demonstrates that China is keen to invest in the rapid development of the area with the help of other Chinese provinces.
The construction of a new guest house in Demchok is perhaps a sign that China may agree to open the traditional border between Tibet and India; on a very small scale in a first stage, but security issues have to be tackled first.
That is probably what Deng Xiaogang was inspecting.
From the Indian side, the situation is worth watching.

Monday, July 28, 2014

About Reincarnation in the Communist Party

Zhang Yijiong, Ling Jihua (centre) and Sitar (behind)
Communist China is changing very fast.
Even hardcore Marxists of the Central Committee are today interested in the reincarnation system.
In 2012, Hua Jintao's favorite, Ling Jihua did not get the seat in the Politburo which was promised to him.
In an earlier posting, I wrote about his son's Ferrari-accident in which two Tibetan girls (and the boy) were killed. That was the end of Ling's dreams.
He nevertheless became vice-chairperson of the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and minister of the United Front Work Department, in charge of 'Tibetan affairs'.
On July 25, 2014, when he visited the China Tibetology Research Center in Beijing, he showed particular interest in a special exhibition "The Living Buddha Reincarnation System of Tibetan Buddhism" organized by the Center.
Can you believe that the Old Communist Party is organizing exhibition on the reincarnation system? Is is new China?
Mao must be turning in his grave (or mausoleum).
At the Tibetology Center, Mr. Ling gave the usual speech quoting the speeches of his bosses, President Xi Jinping and Yu Zhengsheng, the Chairman of CPPCC. He said that both have given "a series of important instructions on Tibet-related work, pointing out the direction of further development for Tibetan studies".
Ling was accompanied by Zhang Yijiong (Dharamsala's interlocutor in case of talks) and Sitar (a Tibetan) of the United Front Work Department, who recently visited Tibet (particularly the popular Ngari region).
Ling told the officials that he hoped that the China Tibetology Research Center could make "deep investigations and studies, research with great concentration, blaze new trails in a pioneering spirit contribute wisdom and strength for the economic development and social stability of Tibet and Tibetan areas, as well as for the national reunification and ethnic unity."
Well, it is certainly good for today's China to learn about reincarnation.
The study of the reincarnation system might also be good for Mr. Ling.
His end seems to be coming fast.
The South China Morning Post reported last week: "Speculation grows that CPPCC vice-chairman Ling Jihua could be implicated in corruption inquiry as brother-in-law is held in custody."
The Hong Kong daily further believes: "The detention of a relative of Ling Jihua, a former senior aide to ex-president Hu Jintao, has led to speculation the authorities may be building a case against Ling himself."
Wang Jiankang, Ling's brother-in-law is a deputy mayor in Yuncheng in Shanxi province; he was recently been taken into custody.
According to the SMCP, Wang is the latest relative of Ling to be detained: "Last month, Ling's brother Ling Zhengce was taken into custody over allegations of corruption. He is a vice-chairman of the Shanxi CPPCC."
Another source says that Wang's wife, Ling's elder sister Ling Luxian, had also been detained.
Ling Jihua, Hu Jintao's former personal secretary, was once upon the time the rising star of the Party.
The SMCP asserts: "Ling Jihua comes from Shanxi and was said to be a founder of the 'Shanxi gang', officials who either worked their way up the ranks in the coal-rich province or traced their ancestry to there. Several senior officials with links to the province have been detained over allegations of corruption this year."
All this perhaps explains Mr. Ling's interest in 'reincarnation'.
His present political life is probably coming to a close.
It is time to think of 'next one'.

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Chinese Train to Sikkim? For what?

On July 24, The Global Times run a story "Sky rail to run from Lhasa to south Tibet; further railway expansion to connect Nepal, Bhutan, India by 2020."
It announced that the railway linking Lhasa and Shigatse (poetically called by China as the 'closest stretch of railway to the sky') will be open to traffic in August.
In my yesterday's posting, I mentioned that the construction of the 254 kilometers line began in September 2010.
The new  extension of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway will have 13 stations between Lhasa and Shigatse,
According to Yang Yulin, deputy director of the railway office of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) government, it is the largest infrastructure project (in Tibet) during the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) with an investment of more than $1.7 billion.
Zhu Bin, a manager with a mineral company based in Lhasa told The People's Daily that "It will accelerate transportation of the mineral products, which could only be transmitted through highways that often risk being cut off during rainy seasons or see vehicle turnovers."
That is certainly one of the objectives of the train.
A Tibetan writer based in Lhasa, told the Communist newspaper that the railway will help local Tibetans to 'exchange with the outside world' and ...'tourists will be attracted to the area'.
It is clear that China is not investing 1.7 billion US $ for the Tibetans to 'see the outside world'.
The train to Shigatse has 3 basic purposes, one, to bring more tourists, the TAR's main source of revenue; two, to take away minerals to the mainland to feed the economic machine and three, to 'strengthen' the borders with India by allowing quick movement of troops and armament.
Now, more surprising, Yang announced that during the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) period, the construction of a railway connecting Shigatse with Gyirong (Kyirong) in northern Nepal and with Yatung, in the Chumbi Valley between India and Bhutan, will start.
Kyirong is a logical extension of the line as China has extensively invested in this landport to make it the main link between Tibet and Nepal, but why Yatung?
The border trade between India and Tibet is minimal as I showed in a research paper last year.
Wang Chunhuan, professor at the Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences in Lhasa told The Global Times that the railway network in Tibet will play the role of continental bridge in South Asia and promote economic and cultural exchanges.
Does it mean that China woud like to open the Yatung-Nathula-Gangtok route in a big way?
Has Beijing consulted Delhi on this or is it a unilateral decision? 
The Global Times quotes Liu Zongyi, an 'expert' on India, working for the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, saying that the "Indian authorities would certainly care about the operation of the Lhasa-Shigatse Railway that is very close to the disputed area [Arunachal?]. The Indians have lately been working on adding infrastructure in the South Tibet region, in order to strengthen control."
'Southern Tibet' is the Chinese name for 'Arunachal'!!
Liu explains that it is a bargaining chip.
If people on the Chinese side of South Tibet region (Arunachal) see better economic development in southwestern Tibet (Shigatse and Ngari) they will be tempted to join the People's Republic.
This is of course a Chinese Dream.
But the move towards Yatung is indeed a bargaining chip at another level.
Liu admits: "The growing railway network will increase Chinese activities in this area, balancing Indian moves."
China is nervous about the raising a 'mountain strike corps', XVII Corps, with its headquarters at Panagarh in West Bengal, not too far from Sikkim (and Yatung).
When fully operational (by 2018-2019), the Corps, costing some Rs 64,678 crore to the Indian tax-payers, will have 90,274 troops.
The Corps which will be spread on the 4,057-km Line of Actual Control (LAC) from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh; it will have two high-altitude infantry divisions (59 Div at Panagarh and 72 Div at Pathankot) with their integral units, two independent infantry brigades, two armoured brigades.
It will also include 30 new infantry battalions and two Para-Special Forces battalions.
Incidentally, the projected railway line to Yatung perhaps explains the inflated size of the Chumbi Valley in the newly published Chinese maps. Huge chunks of Bhutanese territory have been engulfed in the Chumbi Valley. 

It is a fact that XVII Corps makes China nervous.
China will not certainly not invest billions of dollars to built "a continental bridge in South Asia and promote economic and cultural exchanges", but balancing the developments on the Indian side, is worth a few billions dollars.
On the Indian side, the government is said to have cleared the construction of four militarily strategic railway lines in the Himalayas; 3 of them are in Arunachal Pradesh and one, to Leh in Jammu and Kashmir.
According to the Free Press Journal, the new rail lines will enable rapid deployment and movement of forces across the rugged, inhospitable and mostly snow-bound terrains. This is India’s first foray in the upper Himalayas to match the railway lines built by China connecting almost all areas on its side of the LAC.
The construction is expected to begin next year, though land acquisition and preparation of the detail project reports will be done during this financial year.
Also important to India, the railway linking Lhasa to Nyingchi Prefecture, located north of the McMahon Line, which is expected to start in a few months. It is also part of the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020).
India should watch and act fast.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

General Xu visits the Indian Border

The recent heavy traffic of VIPs/VVIPs in Ngari (Western Tibet)  was not only due to the presence of the Dalai Lama in Ladakh.
It has also to do with Beijing's decision to consolidate its borders, whether there are sea borders in the South China Sea or land borders with India (mainly in Aksai Chin region).
Yesterday, 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 [when is not disclosed] 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.
This means that General Xu inspected troops belonging to 2 separate Military Area Commands (Lanzhou and Changdu).
Xu Qiliang also visited sentries of the 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.
Xu Qiliang went to the barracks of the Khurnak Fort frontier (opposite the Indian troops in Ladakh, north of the Panggong tso) defense company and Banmozhang (near Sirijp on the Panggong Lake where many incursions have taken place) to inspect a water [speed-boats] squadron and inquire about the soldiers’ work, study and life.
According to the same source: "Xu Qiliang also inspected weaponry and equipment and observed training and drills in a training base of a 'Red Army' regiment of the Xinjiang Military Area Command (MAC), an infantry brigade of the Tibet Military Command (TMC) and the First Detachment of the Tibet Contingent of the People's Armed Police Force (PAPF)."
He was accompanied by a battery of generals, amongst them, Gen. Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of general staff of the PLA, Gen. Miao Hua, political commissar of the Lanzhou MAC and Gen. Zhu Fuxi, political commissar of the Chengdu MAC.
This visit is also probably linked to the arrival of the railway line in Shigatse.
Another official Chinese site announced a few days ago that the completion of an extension of the world's highest Qinghai-Tibet railway, Lhasa-Shigatse railway. The construction started on September 26, 2010 will be officially opened in August.
Test trains are already running on the newly-built line, which will have an overall length of 253 km; trains will be able to run at a speed of 120 km per hour. It will take only 2 hours from Lhasa to Shigatse, the seat of the Panchen Lamas' and the TAR's second largest city.
China Tibet Online says that the city already attracts thousands of pilgrims and visitors each year: "In recent years, Panchen Lama's palace, Tashihunpo Monastery in Shigatse has received over 200,000 visitors from home and abroad annually. The opening of Lhasa-Shigatse railway will surely make the journey of worshippers to Tashihunpo Monastery safer and easier."
The first train reached Lhasa in July 2006, and though Beijing says: "it has positively impacted on Tibet's tourism, hospitality and manufacturing sectors", the main beneficiary has been the PLA.
The new line will be another progress for the PLA and PAPF stationed on Western Tibet.
To come back to General Xu's visit, did he come to distribute new accurate maps to the troops?
A Chinese military site recently reported: "A batch of new-version paper-made battle maps with a scale of 1:50,000 obtained by a motorized infantry brigade under the Lanzhou Military Area Command (MAC) of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from a measuring and mapping information center under the PLA Lanzhou MAC were quickly transferred to the frontline troop units participating in the trans-regional base training on the morning of July 9, 2014, marking that the distribution of a total of over 15 million new-version paper-made battle maps to the troop units under the Lanzhou MAC has been completed."
The website added: "This is the first time for the PLA to completely update a single type of map in the past 30 years."
Now the time is ready for Beijing to exchange maps of its 'perceived borders' with Delhi, something it has refused to do till today.
Shenxianwan Frontier Sentry Post
Shenxianwan Frontier Sentry Post
Shenxianwan Frontier Sentry Post 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Missiles permanently stationed in Tibet

Medium range surface-to-air missiles (SAM) have been in the news after the Ukrainian tragedy.
A few months ago, I mentioned their arrival on the Roof of the World: "Recently China tested again its HQ-16/LY-80 Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) Air Defense System  on the plateau and posted pictures of the exercise on its official websites."
I had also mentioned that on July 20, 2012, the PLA had staged a live-fire test of a new high altitude surface-to-air missile (SAM) somewhere in the Tibetan plateau  "in a move intended to prepare for potential US strikes against Chinese interests in the region."
Read my posting of the subject...
Today the China Defence Blog reported: "Back in May 2014, it was reported that the new HQ-16 has been deployed to Tibet for the first time during an anti-air drill, unfortunately the participating military unit was not spelled out...   Fast forward three months and now it is confirmed that the hosting unit was the 651st Independent Air Defense Brigade, organic to the Tibet MD. Yup, that means the HQ-16 is here to stay."
This is not good news!
Though it is not directly related, another news about China's military preparedness appeared today in The South China Morning Post (SMCP).
It says: "Twelve mainland airports, many of them among the busiest, will be hit by widespread delays until the middle of next month because of what are believed to be PLA military exercises."
Can you believe it?
The Hong Kong daily adds: "The mainland's civil aviation regulator yesterday told state radio that flights in and out of airports in the country's east - including Shanghai, Nanjing and Wuhan - would be affected until August 15 by the 'high-frequency drills of another user' [read ...the PLAAF]".
Other affected airports are in Hangzhou, Hefei, Jinan, Wuxi, Ningbo, Qingdao, Lianyungang and Zhengzhou.
The Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines alone is said to have cancelled 22 flights in and out of the affected airports. In 36 hours, more than 290 flights at Shanghai's two airports were delayed or cancelled.
And of course,  the State-run media was mum. Though 'it is widely assumed to be the PLA' says the SCMP which affirms: "Repeated calls made to the Ministry of National Defence and the Civil Aviation Administration of China were not answered."
Can you imagine this happening in India?


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Getting married in Tibet

This is a continuation of my earlier posting Disneyland of Snows: Hijacking Tibet.
CCTV reported last week that 'Couples head to Tibet for wedding photos'.
Can you believe it?
Lhasa has become the 'hottest' place to get married.
CCTV says: "More and more Chinese couples are having their wedding photos shot in Tibet’s stunning scenery, for the natural beauty, as well as the famous cultural sites."
I wonder where this new Chinese scheme figures in the Middle Path approach of Dharamsala.
Supposing that one Beijing agrees to negotiate one deal with the Dalai Lama's envoys, what will be Dharamsala's position for the new craze for 'seeing' the Roof of the World and getting married in front of Tibetan 'heritage' building?
CCTV give examples: "Ms. Liu and her fiance are planning to get married next year. They have decided to shoot their wedding photos at Norbulingka, a park in the city of Lhasa built in 1755. It is no easy task, and they must get up early in the morning to prepare, but they think it is worth it."
The Chinese state TV channel, quoting the same Liu, continues: "I really love this place, many of my friends had their photos taken here too. The photographers here are also very skilled."
Then, the CCTV program cites another couple who has decided to marry in front of the 'famous' Potala palace: "they have wanted to come to Tibet since their childhood. This place is just so beautiful and iconic, and my husband and I want it be a witness of our love."
CCTV says that according to photographers, "this time of year is a booming season for wedding photos, especially for Chinese couples. Photo studios are rolling out new package deals every year to include many of the famous sites in Tibet. Ethnic attire is also a popular feature for customers."
It is not mentioned if the photographers are Tibetans or Chinese.
CCTV concludes: "The booming season is expected to last until October, and that means a lot more hard work ahead for photographers."
The Middle Path is far away, simply because the Chinese are changing the posts every day.
Tibetans will be more and more work-on actors.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Interview Capt. Bharat Verma

My dear friend Bharat Verma is no more.
He left us yesterday morning.
I am republishing an interview which appeared in in 2009.

Here is the original link...

Fault Lines is the title of the latest book by Capt. Bharat Verma, the outspoken editor of The Indian Defence Review, the country's most prestigious defence publication.

The book, a collection of the Review's editorial pieces, demonstrates the depth and consistency of his vision over the last decade.

At a time when very few in the country think of India as a unified whole, and vote banks are the only preoccupation of politicians, Capt. Verma speaks to Claude Arpi about the fault lines, not only in the defence sector but also in the nation's psyche. Excerpts:

Could you explain what the fault lines you have discussed in your book are?

It is said that a long time back, a king with an excellent military machine at his disposal could not stomach the violence involved in winning wars. So he renounced war. This led to the rise of the pacifist philosophies, which created an 'extreme'-where the state either refused to defend itself or neglected the instruments that could defend it.

Pacifist philosophies may be good for the individual's soul, but are suicidal for the nation's security.

Any 'extreme' is dangerous, as it tends to create imbalance in statecraft. We saw that in the unjust unilateral aggression in Iraq. It diminished the American aura.

Pakistan's over-aggressive agenda in the name of jihad haunts it now to the point of fragmentation of the state.

China's compulsory one-child policy seems to be landing it in an extreme position where it will have 15 million young males who cannot find brides. This unnatural tilt in the male population could lead to war with its neighbours!

Similarly, pacifism is the other extreme. If it infects policymaking, then 26/11s will occur on a regular basis. Or a 'Tibet' will happen.

Would you say there is ONE original fault line [the Partition based on a faulty two-nation theory]?

Any thought process with an extreme edge would naturally create multiple fault lines in the subsystems of governance. Therefore, the creation of Pakistan based on an acute purity of thought process, vis-à-vis excessive pacifism of multi-cultural India, is contradictory. Such 'extremes' generate wars.

Armed with an aggressive Wahabi philosophy, Pakistan wants to destabilise a pacifist India. The latter's instruments of state-steeped in pacifism-are unable to rise to its defence!

Have you heard anything about defence matters during the present electoral campaign? If not, is it not worrying?

Mostly, it is in general terms and at a low tactical level of the spectrum. Of course, everyone promises to fight terrorism. But on the night of 26/11, if Home Affairs did not know that it could immediately request the military to activate the regular infantry battalion and the marine commandos stationed in Mumbai, then it is obvious nobody had done their homework in New Delhi!

So without a concrete road map, I doubt these leaders are capable of waging a war against terrorism. It's pure rhetoric meant for the consumption of the voter.

Similarly, exempting income tax of the defence forces or implementing one-rank-one-pension is merely vote bank politics. It does not generate a road map for securing the nation. Frankly, there are just two issues in front of the nation that need attention-the first is development and the second is security. All-round development will generate wealth that is required to be secure. The rest is peripheral!

There is an urgency to particularly ensure rapid development of states located on the international borders. Otherwise, the external actors will continue to undermine citizens' loyalty to the state with ease.

Where is 'India as a whole' in the current election campaign?

India is under major transition on two counts. First, the 'have-nots' are rising. They have been denied their fair portion of the pie for too long. Therefore, there is a major social churning taking place.

They are now fighting their way up-because the system, out of prejudices and lethargy, did not allow them space to grow. This will create a lot of turmoil and political fragmentation in the days ahead, if not handled intelligently!

Second, the change of generation taking place will witness an assertive India from 2012 onwards. The new generation is focused, self-assured, has better vision than the waffling elders of yore and is determined to see India as a strong country.

The first factor will dominate these elections and we will continue to see a fair amount of turmoil till 2012. I think as the national pie gets enlarged in years to come, social harmony will reappear.

Just take a look at America-it provides a great environment for working people. That environment propelled the Indian community to become the highest revenue earners in the United States. Such is the individual genius when given the right environment. China is scared of this Indian talent and has been trying to sabotage it with the help of its proxies!

The magic word for India, therefore, is 'governance'. If New Delhi can offer merely an average stable and secure governance for the next 10 years, India's success story will be unstoppable. In such an eventuality, India will emerge as the most influential power in Asia by 2020!

How do you see the evolution of defence preparedness over the last 10 years? Are you optimistic?

Honestly, we are in poor shape. Portions of meagre budgets that are provided are being returned to the treasury unspent every year because of cumbersome procurement procedures. The huge shortage of officers in the army is breaking down the bonding between the soldier and the officer. This, in turn, is impacting the discipline adversely and is hurting morale.

The lack of a grand strategy at New Delhi is pushing the battle-winning factor of India into a marshy land of insurgency for decades, with no end game planned. Unless we mainstream the military power by bringing it into the decision-making loop and ensuring lateral induction into the civil to keep the military young, I am afraid we will end up losing a fine war machine. The fault will be entirely ours!

Lateral induction will also help in beefing up the weak civil administration at the same time, with skills they badly need. However, I think the trend of declining military power will be reversed by 2012 with the younger generation taking over the reins of governance.

You said that Fault Lines "analyses the security issues that threaten the territorial integrity of the country due to the unstable neighbourhood", but is it not wrong to always point a finger at the neighbour, when Indian politicians and bureaucrats are not doing their own homework?

In Fault Lines, the first finger that I point is at us. I firmly believe in the Chinese proverb, "If he slaps you once, it's his fault. If he slaps you again, it's your fault!" Primarily, fault lines are highlighted to illustrate how we neglected our well-being and others took or may take advantage of our muddle-headed policies.

I am confident Sun Tzu was pointing to Indian politicians and bureaucrats when he said, "If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle!" The importance of this anthology, however, rests on the ability to pinpoint the inherent pitfalls in the strategy adopted by the various actors. Most of it appears to have come true.

That brings me to the last question. How do you view the new American policy on Afghanistan-Pakistan?

President Obama's effort to lower the social temperatures augurs well for the international community. By increasing the focus on Pakistan (where the battle really lies), rebuilding the relationship with Europe, trying to talk to Iran, increasing communications with Russia and many other countries to tackle serious problems the world faces today displays rare statesmanship.

However, it is not true when the Obama administration says that the United States, India and Pakistan face the same threat. The truth is that Pakistan is the threat that India, America, Europe, Russia and others face.

This is particularly true since the Pakistan Army, its ISI and the jihad factory recruit from the same area-Pakistan's Punjab. They also aim to achieve similar politico-religious objectives. The inter-connectivity with one brother joining the Army and the other the Jihad machine cannot be separated. Therefore, nuclear tipped Radical Islam is more dangerous than Nazi Germany.

The success will depend entirely on how honestly and decisively the world community is willing to address the problem. The problem obviously is Pakistan. Therefore, the next battlefield is Pakistan, too.