Friday, July 31, 2015

The dual use of airports in Tibet

This is an update of a two-year old post about the airports in Tibet.
I have often mentioned on this blog the dual-use of the airports on the plateau.
Yesterday, Xinhua announced the integration of civil-military airports to "strengthen aviation safety and combat support capabilities."
A joint statement from the People Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and General Administration of Civil Aviation (CAAC) said that the integration will include joint maintenance of airport support facilities, joint flight safety support and joint airport management.
Interestingly the Lhasa Gongkar Airport in Tibet and Sunan Shuofang International Airport in  Wuxi in Jiangsu province, will be the first two pilot PLA/civil airports to implement the 'integration'.
It will be done during the second half of 2015.
The PLAAF/CAAC circular further affirms that "All the civil-military airports will conduct strengthened integration next year."
Is this decision linked with the 6th Tibet Work Forum?
Probably!
Apparently, the first meeting of the Forum took place yesterday.
Xinhua reported that top Chinese leaders have met "to discuss economic and social development in Tibet, and how to ensure the autonomous region achieve prolonged stability."
The statement of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) further noted: "Safeguarding national unity and strengthening ethnic unity should be highlighted in work involving Tibet."
It added that: "Efforts should be made to unswervingly carry out the anti-separatism battle, promote the region's economic and social development, safeguard and improve people's welfare, and enhance exchanges and integration of different ethnic groups."
The Politburo (or probably an extended Politburo) is said to have agreed that "strengthening Tibetan infrastructure, helping it foster competitive industries while ensuring environmental protection are the means to achieve marked improvement in living conditions and more social cohesion," were the priorities for the restive region.
The PLA/Civil integration of the airports in Tibet will probably help Beijing to 'strengthen the infrastructure' and consolidate its presence on the Plateau, i.e. 'to stabilize Tibet' in Marxist terminology.

(Here starts my old post)
To flood the Tibetan plateau with more and more Chinese tourists, a good infrastructure is required.
Airports and the railway line are the backbones of a booming tourism in Tibet. China is working hard to get the latest facilities in these fields.
Xinhua recently reported that the airport in Chamdo (known as the Bangda Airport) is to be reopened soon after major repairs.
Xinhua says: "The Bangda Airport, the world's highest-altitude civilian airport currently in use, is expected to resume operations after months of repairs, local aviation authorities said."
The Chamdo airfield was closed on June 22 to 'repair' the 19-year-old runway.
The airport operates two flights, one is Chamdo-Lhasa and the other Chamdo-Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province. With an elevation of 4,334 meters above sea level, it is still the highest in Tibet.
The 4,411-metre-high Kardze Daocheng Yading airport, being built in Kardze (Garze) in Sichuan province will become the world’s highest civilian airport when put into operation later this year (a year earlier than planned!!).
The Civil Aviation Administration's officials say that its main purpose is to boost local tourism.
The Yading airport will cost of 1.5 billion yuan ($ 245 million). The Sichuan authorities plan to bring one million tourists (and get 1.5 billion yuan revenue!) by 2015. A quick return on investment!
But as important as tourism, the airport will facilitate the transportation of fresh troops from the Military Area Command in Chengdu to Kardze prefecture in a short time. It has been one of the most restive areas on the Tibetan plateau.
The new Kardze Yading airport will greatly facilitate the transportation of PAP's reinforcements in case of unrest. With one stone, two birds are killed: the Tibetan protesters are 'pacified' and the deluge of Chinese tourists brings hefty revenues.
Has anybody thought of doing something similar in Chushul in Ladakh, of course not to 'pacify' anybody but to bring some revenue for the region and 'occupy' India's territory?
By the way, an article by Virendra Sahai Verma and P. Wangdus appeared in The Hindu last month. It suggested a railway line in Ladakh: "A rail link in the Indus Plains in Ladakh, similar to the Kashmir Railway, will have spin-offs for environment conservation, military logistics, tourism and the local economy."
It explains: "After the Banihal-Baramulla railway, the Indian Railways should now plan to build a line in the plains of Ladakh along the Indus river. Its alignment could be from Batalik-Khalatse-Leh-Karu to Chushul. The stretch, of approximately 500 kilometres, is plain, interspersed with populated and fertile regions and is along an arterial road in Ladakh, from Batalik to Chushul."
Why not? 

Other airports in Tibet


Lhasa Gongkar
Lhasa Gonggar Airport (Chinese: 拉萨贡嘎机场, Tibetan: ལྷ་ས་གོང་དཀར་རྫོང་) (IATA: LXA, ICAO: ZULS) is the airport serving Lhasa, the capital city of the Tibet Autonomous Region, China. It is located about 62 kilometres (39 mi) southwest of the city in Gonggar County of Shannan Prefecture. The airport is close to the road to Tsetang, the capital of Shannan Prefecture.
At an elevation of 3,570 metres (11,710 ft), Lhasa Airport is one of the highest airports in the world. The airport was built in 1965, a second runway was built in 1994 and terminal facilities were upgraded in 2004.

Ngari Airport
Ngari Gunsa Airport
Ngari Gunsa Airport (Chinese: 阿里昆莎机场; pinyin: Ālǐ Kūnshā Jīchǎng) (IATA: NGQ, ICAO: ZUAL) is a dual-use military and civil airport serving the town of Shiquanhe in Ngari Prefecture, in the southwest of China's Tibet Autonomous Region near the Indian border. It started operations on 1 July 2010, becoming the fourth civil airport in Tibet after Lhasa, Nyingchi, and Chamdo airports.
Situated at 4,274 m (14,022 ft) above sea level, Gunsa Airport is the third highest airports in the world after Qamdo Bangda Airport (elevation 4,334 m (14,219 ft)) and Kangding Airport (elevation 4,280 m (14,042 ft)). Gunsa airport has a 4,500-meter runway. It is expected to handle 120,000 passengers by 2020. Construction began in May 2007 and cost an estimated 1.65 billion yuan (241.22 million U.S. dollars).

Nyingtri Mainling Airport
Nyingtri Mainling Airport
Nyingchi [Nyingtri] Mainling Airport (Tib: Nyingtri, simplified Chinese: 林芝米林机场; traditional Chinese: 林芝米林機場; pinyin: Línzhī Mǐlín Jīchǎng) (IATA: LZY, ICAO: ZUNZ) is an airport in Mainling, Nyingchi Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region, China. It is suggested to be one of the most challenging instrument approaches in the world, since the airport is in a winding valley.
Nyingchi Airport is the third airport that Tibet has put into operation. Built at a cost of 780 million yuan (96.18 million U.S. dollars), including investment by the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC), the airport is 2,949 meters above sea level, lower than the other two civil airports, with a designed annual passenger flow of 120,000.

Chamdo Bamda Airport
Qamdo [Chamdo] Bamda Airport (IATA: BPX, ICAO: ZUBD), also known as Changdu Bangda Airport, located in Bamda, Chamdo, Tibet, China.
The airport is the highest airport in the world, at an elevation of 4,334 metres (14,219 ft) and has the longest publicly used paved runway in the world, at 5.5 km (3 mi).
Chamdo Airport
The low air density at this altitude makes a higher takeoff and landing true airspeed necessary, and therefore a longer runway. Also, the aircraft's engines produce less thrust at higher elevation than near sea-level.
The airport is 2.5 hours by mountain road from the county seat of Chamdo. The long commute is the result of no flat land closer to the city being available to construct an airport.
Visitors are warned before landing to move slowly on leaving the plane and that they may feel light headed or dizzy because of the thin air.


Shigatse Airport
Shigatse Peace Airport
Shigatse Peace Airport (IATA: RKZ, ICAO: ZURK), or Shigatse Air Base, is a dual-use military and civilian airport serving Shigatse, the second largest city in Tibet Autonomous Region, China. It is located in Jiangdang Township, 43 kilometers from Shigatse. With an elevation of 3,782 metres (12,408 ft), it is one of the highest airports in the world.
Construction of Shigatse Airport started in 1968 and was completed in 1973. It was solely for military use until 2010, when a 532 million yuan expansion was completed. On 30 October 2010, the airport was opened as the fifth civilian airport in Tibet.

Nagchu Dagring Airport
Nagqu [Nagchu] Dagring Airport (Chinese: 那曲达仁机场; pinyin: Nàqū dárén jīchǎng) is an airport under construction near Nagchu in the Nagchu Prefecture of Tibet. When completed in 2014 it will be the highest airport in the world at 4,436 m (14,554 ft), surpassing Chamdo Bangda Airport as the highest. Construction began in 2011 and is scheduled to take three years. The airport is part of a Chinese government development scheme to build 97 airports across China by 2020. By then, the authorities intend that four-fifths of China's population will be within a 90-minute drive of an airport.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Developed borders are also secure borders

My article Developed borders are also secure borders appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer.

Here is the link...

While China has developed Tibet's infrastructure by leaps and bounds, India has been building up its border infrastructure at snail’s pace. The Modi Government has promised a change but this is easier said than done

The Indian electronic media has developed the art of inconsequence: They take an irrelevant issue and for days at the time, go on and on, repeating the same clichés, while ignoring the vital issues facing the nation. One of the subjects which has been grossly neglected is India’s borders, particularly with China in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh.
While China has taken a great leap forward to develop Tibet’s infrastructure (using the great excuse of having to cater every year for 15 millions Han tourists visiting the Tibetan plateau), India develops its border areas at snail’s pace, struggling to create a semblance of infrastructure.
Soon after he took over as the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, this writer had interviewed Kiren Rijiju, a native of Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh; he had then said, “My immediate concern is to concentrate on the India-China border. That concern means securing our territory. When I say that we must strengthen our position on the India-China border, it’s not in offensive terms. We don’t want any kind of confrontation; by not developing or strengthening our area along the India-China border, we are indirectly conceding these areas to the other side.”
The young and dynamic Minister added, “It means development of infrastructure, roads, communication, other basic amenities; facilities for local people living in the border area. They should be provided with electricity, water, food.”
It is not a glamourous process; indeed perseverance and an unshakable will are required to change the tide. One of the major issues facing the local population along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh or the McMahon line in Arunachal Pradesh, is migration. Why should a farmer living near a LAC in Ladakh, remain in his native village, with the risk of being harassed by the People’s Liberation Army, when he can earn a decent living as a taxi driver or by running a small hotel in Leh? The question of migration is indeed most vital to secure India’s borders.
To change this trend is difficult for the Modi sarkar. It is a long complicated process, not thrilling or ‘scoopy’ enough to be heightened by the media. Despite the declared resolve from the present Government, it may take years for proper roads to reach the remotest districts of Arunachal Pradesh…and stop the Chinese ‘visits’ in what Beijing considers its own territory (they call it ‘southern Tibet’).
It is not an easy challenge, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi had the wisdom to realise that the North-East cannot be developed from Delhi. In his latest monthly radio programme Maan ki Baat, he announced that he was “deputing Central Government officials to find solutions to problems being faced by the region”. He announced that the Ministry of Development of the North-Eastern Region will send officials to hold week-long camps. Mr Modi believes that these officials will realise how beautiful the region is and how warm the people are.
We are far from Verrier Elwin’s A Philosophy for NEFA, so dear to Nehru. Based on French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s theory: “Nothing is so gentle as man in his primitive state, when placed by nature at an equal distance from the stupidity of brutes and the fatal enlightenment of civil man.” This philosophy prevailed in the 1950s. In his foreword to the book, Nehru said that he had “began to doubt how far the normal idea of progress was beneficial for these people and, indeed, whether this was progress at all in any real sense of the word.”
This romantic view of the tribal folks ultimately amounted to the segregation of a large chunk of the Indian population and a total lack of development of the region. Nehru had written, “I am not at all sure which is the better way of living, the tribal or our own. In some respects I am quite certain theirs is better. Therefore, it is grossly presumptuous on our part …to tell them how to behave or what to do and what not to do.” Sixty years later, the population in the North-East remains gentle and special, but like the rest of their countrymen, they aspire to a better material life.
One of the decisions taken by the Union Government has been to modify the guidelines of the Border Area Development Programme drafted some 10 years ago. According to the new notification, “The main objective of the BADP is to meet the special developmental needs and well being of the people living in remote and inaccessible areas situated near the international border and to saturate the border areas with the entire essential infrastructure …(with a) participatory approach.”
The BADP is a 100 per cent centrally funded scheme covering in priority all Indian villages located within 10 km of the International Border. Within the 10 km, some villages are identified by the Border Guarding Forces for most immediate help.
This is one way to counter the Chinese claims on Arunachal Pradesh, which regularly translates into deep incursions into the Indian territory (migration plays into the hands of the Chinese as it then becomes easier for them to intrude). The BADP scheme could hopefully help to reduce the migration from the IB.
Despite these good intentions, one will have to watch during the coming months and years, how the project is implemented in the spot. Delhi has added some of its own ‘central’ schemes to the BADP: The Swachch Bharat Abhiyan, skill development programmes; promotion of sports activities, promotion of rural tourism, protection of heritage sites, construction of helipads in remote and inaccessible hilly areas, etc. This is good.
Another issue is the stagnating petty trade between India and Tibet. While Nathu La is better organised, the traders at Shipki La (Himachal) and Lipulekh La (Uttarakand) face many bureaucratic hurdles. Though border trade is a way to stop migration, the local babus are not really motivated. Recently, a Kinnaur India-China Traders’ Association was formed to seek the Government’s help to address the traders’ problems, in particular their demand for setting up of a single window for clearing their permits and also provision for medical facilities on the way to Tibet, but the local Government often remains insensitive.
Mr RS Tolia, who served as the Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand, has suggested regular visits by the Domain Controller and Additional Domain Controller to the border posts. It is what the Political Officers and Assistant POs of the defunct Indian Frontier Administrative Service used to do in the 1950s and 1960s; and they sent long and most informative reports about local issues to the ‘babus’ in Delhi. One can’t expect young Indian Administrative Service officers to be of the caliber of the old POs, but Mr Modi’s initiative to send officers on the spot, is certainly a great improvement in the correct direction. Even if we don’t read anything in the news, let us hope for the best for Indian borders.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The New Strategic Importance of Tibet?

The Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar Economic Corridor
It is very rare for China to mention the ‘strategic importance of Tibet’, but it is what an article posted on the portal China Tibet Online recently did.
It explains: “Tibet’s strategic status is of great importance. It is an important national security barrier; an important ecological security barrier; an important reserve base for strategic resources; an important base for agricultural products; an important area for the protection of China’s unique ethnic culture and a popular tourist destination.”
It then develops each of these strategic areas.
Why to mention this now?
One of the reasons is the forthcoming 6th Tibet Work Forum which will decide the direction Tibet takes during the next decade.
The ‘opening’ of Tibet towards Central and South Asia will be probably one the main decisions taken during the Forum.
Tibet could become central to the promotion of President Xi Jinping’s pet project, ‘One Belt, One Road’.
The article calls Tibet a ‘strategic focal point’ for the scheme.
Why?
China Tibet Online elaborates: “The ‘One Belt, One Road’ strategy involves comprehensive opening up to the outside world and establishment of lasting peace, universal security and common prosperity”
It quotes an article already published on the same portal in March: "The visions and actions of promoting the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road". With 18 provinces directly involved, Tibet, adjacent to the ‘One Belt, One Road’, certainly holds particular significance, argues the article.
By integrating Tibet to the grandiose project, Beijing believes that it can bring some prosperity to the region and more importantly, the corollary of ‘prosperity’, ‘stability’.
The piece in China Tibet Online first mentions the Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC).
The author reminds its readers that in May 2013, Premier Li Keqiang put forward the BCIM-EC proposal during his visit to India, “asking that India, Bangladesh and Myanmar to respond positively.”
The Old Stillwell Road
The article adds: “The proposal holds great significance for the deepening of friendly relations between the four countries and in driving the joint development of the three economic areas - South Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia. Tibet is an important passage to South Asia and a crucial part of the ‘corridor’.”
But it is not clear how the BCIM-EC will connect to Tibet.
Possibly via Kunming and the Western part of Yunnan province, but it is a long detour to reach Tibet.
The Stillwell Road, from Arunachal to Burma, skirts Tibet, further there is no land port between Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh which would permit the trade to flourish in this remote part of the world.

The Tibetan, Qiang and Yi Corridor
Then the article speaks of the ‘Ethnic Tibetan, Qiang and Yi culture industry corridor’: “Historically, the ethnic Tibetan, Qiang and Yi culture industry corridor has been crucial for the migration and communication of many ethnic groups. It possesses a unique natural environment and rich cultural resources; it is an important historical and cultural deposition zone; and the pattern of development and construction of culture in the region hold a special status. The core area is located at the junction of Sichuan, Guizhou, Yunnan, Tibet, Shaanxi, Gansu and Qinghai.”
A Chinese scholar who wrote a dissertation on the Tibetan-Qiang-Yi Corridor (‘Du Yao Mao’), thus described the area, “[it] comprises the Hengduan Mountains which located in the southeast of Tibet plateau and the high mountains and valleys area among six paralleled rivers of Min River, Dadu River, Brahmaputra, Jinsha River, Lancang River, and Nu River, as well as the adjacent area between Yunnan, Sichuan and Tibet. It’s a natural corridor for the ancient Diqiang, tribes to migrate from northwest to south where some minorities from Zang-Mian of Han-Zang language family live in, such as Zang, Qiang, Yi, Lisu, Bai, Naxi, Pumi, Dulong, Nu, Hani, Jingpo, Lahu and so on.”
Even if China develops that ‘mythic’ corridor, it is not clear once again how it will be linked with the New Silk Road. It might be a branch of the ‘Belt’.

The Source of Rivers Ecological Protection Zone
Strategically and environmentally more important is Tibet, ‘the Source of Rivers Ecological Protection Zone’
China Tibet Online affirms: “The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is not only the source of some of Asia’s major rivers, such as the Yangtze, Yellow, Lancang-Mekong, Ganges and Indus, but it’s also one of the world’s most concentrated areas of biodiversity, so its ecological status is very important. In recent years, due to the combined effect of global warming and human intervention, the ecological environment at the Yangtze and Yellow River source areas has shown signs of serious damage and deterioration. The Source of Rivers Ecological Protection Zone was established to restrict environmental degradation and to restore and conserve the ecological environment.”
It might be one of the policies which will be decided during the Tibet Work Forum, but once again it does not seem to directly affect the ‘One Belt, One Road’ project.
Shangri-la in Yunnan Province

The Shangrila Circle
Then the ‘Shangri-La eco-tourism circle’ is mentioned. Shangri-la is one of the favorite tourist destinations of Eastern Tibet (in today’s Yunnan province).
According to the article, the ‘circle’ includes the triangular border areas of Tibet, Sichuan and Yunnan. Once more it is more an environmental project which is certainly important for the Tibetan plateau. It says: “It is the Yangtze River’s downstream soil and water conservation area and an important ecological barrier for a number of industries. It plays an important role in the modernization and sustainable development of China. It has already been listed as a key national tourist development area and has become a popular destination for domestic and foreign tourists.”
Here too nothing concrete about Xi’s project to link Central Asia and Europe to the mainland.

A Corridor to South Asia?
The last part of the article is more interesting for South Asia as it deals with ‘China-India and China-Nepal border trade zones’.
It says: “Tibet has already opened border ports in Zham [Dram], Burang [Purang], Gyirong [Kyerong], Riwo and Nathu La. These ports are located on the overland route to South Asia and follow the same basic conditions as a comprehensive free trade zone or a border economic cooperation zone. They are the main distribution areas for trade along the China-India and China-Nepal borders.”
While Dram, Purang (the trade via Lipulekh in Uttarakhand also transit via Purang), Gyirong Kyerong and Riwo are all land ports with Nepal, Nathu-la, was opened for trade between India and Tibet in 2006.
If Beijing is serious about linking Tibet with South Asia, more will be required to ‘open’ the borders which is presently limited to Sino-Indian ‘petty’ trade at Nathu-la. Lipulekh-la and Shipki-la (HP).
The article mentions the recent reopening of the Sino-Indian border at Nathu La Pass to Indian pilgrims traveling to Tibet on pilgrimage: “This news was greatly received by Indian pilgrims.”
This will not change anything in the trade and will not bring any serious boost to the New Silk Road.
The conclusions of the article on the strategic location of Tibet are rather misleading in the present circumstances: “Some of the regional strategies mentioned above have already become national strategies; others have entered academic discussion or debate. Tibet is an important player in the history of the ‘Southern Silk Road’, ‘Tang-Tubo Ancient Road’ and the ‘Tea Horse Road’. It is a vital communication hub for the adjacent provinces and autonomous regions on the ‘One Belt, One Road’ strategic belt, including Xinjiang, Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan. It is also an important gateway for exchange with South Asian countries, such as India, Nepal, Myanmar, Bhutan and others.”
The fact is that Beijing is not ready to open land ports such as Demchok and the Karakoram pass in Ladakh, Niti-la, Mana-la in Uttarakhand, Kibutu or Tuting in Arunachal Pradesh. Why in the present circumstances, speak of ‘opening of the ‘new silk road’ to South Asia?
It is more a propaganda gimmick, to test the Indian waters and see Dehi’s reaction.
It is however true that Nepal mainly through Dram and Kyirong land ports will be flooded with Chinese tourists and Chinese goods.
But this is one-way traffic, it will not create places of cultural, spiritual and trade exchanges like the Old Silk Road did.
In other words, it is doubtful if South Asia can benefit from the project.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Communist Reincarnation

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche
My article Communist Reincarnation appeared in The Statesman.

Here is the link...

Was it a coincidence? Tenzin Delek Rinpoche died of cardiac arrest in a county hospital in Sichuan province on 12 July. The Rinpoche, born in 1950 in Litang region of Eastern Tibet, had been awarded the death penalty in 2002 for a crime he never committed - masterminding five terrorist bombings in the province that killed one and injured a dozen others from 2000 to 2002, according to a Chinese Court.
Tenzin Delek’s sentence was commuted to a life term in January 2005, which he served till his tragic heart arrest in the Dazhu County’s Jail. The Rinpoche’s main crime was to have promoted the Tibetan language and culture in Kardze Prefecture of Sichuan; this was too subversive for China. His death comes at the time when Beijing makes renewed efforts to ‘promote’ religious institutions in Tibet. In the process, the Communist leadership has apparently acquired a sudden great knowledge of the most esoteric aspect of Tibetan Buddhism: ‘soul’ reincarnation!
In one day last week, China Tibet Online, affiliated to Xinhua, published five articles on reincarnation of lamas, more particularly on the present Dalai Lama’s reincarnation.
On one side, a senior Lama is left to die in prison, (‘China’s criminal law stipulates that prisoners serving life sentences are not allowed medical parole’, says Xinhua) and on the other, Beijing sponsors the ‘reincarnation’ process. Where is the trick?
According to the Communist regime, reincarnation is “a complete set of religious rites and historical mechanism,” and “as China adopts the policy of freedom to religious belief,” the Communist Party has decided to recognize ‘reincarnations’, but this ‘belief’ must follow the party’s rules and regulations.
That is why Beijing says that the present 14th Dalai Lama living in India has “no authoritative power on his [own] reincarnation issue.” He does not believe in the party.
For Beijing, the Dalai Lama’s recent statements about his reincarnation are “a blasphemy towards the religious rites and historical mechanism of Tibetan Buddhism, a great disrespect to the followers of the religion, and an absolute provocation towards the authority of the central government.”
Beijing seems increasingly nervous as it is unable to control the restive populations living on the Tibetan Plateau and once the Dalai Lama departs for the Heavenly Fields, the situation may degenerate further. The Communist leadership wants to prepare the stage for a ‘safe’ Chinese Dalai Lama, fully under the party’s control. The Communist Government is banking on the Golden Urn process to turn the tide in its favour.
Beijing’s tainted version of history is that sometimes “several ‘soul boys’ appeared at the same time; it indubitably aroused disputes between different sides.” To solve the problem, Emperor Qianlong would have invented the Golden Urn lottery.
Though Beijing says that the Golden Urn was regularly used to ‘test’ the right choice of candidate, interestingly, Beijing admits that the present and previous (13th) Dalai Lamas were ‘exempted’ from the test.
The Golden Urn was used by Beijing to select Gyaltsen Norbu, its own Panchen Lama candidate, while for the past 20 years, the boy selected by the Dalai Lama continues to languish under house arrest somewhere in China. How Norbu was selected is recounted by a Tibetan Lama, who participated in the ‘test’ and later managed to escape China.
The Lama, Arjia Rinpoche, the Abbot of the Kumbum monastery in today’s Qinghai Province, was part of the great tamasha to ‘select’ the 11th Panchen Lama in 1995. The process is explained in his book, Surviving the Dragon: A Tibetan Lama’s Account of 40 Years under Chinese Rule.
In 1995, Beijing, furious that the Dalai Lama had ‘unilaterally’ decided on the new incarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama, decided to use the Golden Urn.
In November 1995, an emergency meeting was called in Beijing to ‘clarify’ the Communist Party’s position: “We must not allow the Dalai’s separatist clique to interfere.” To avoid the Dalai Lama being involved in the selection process, the Golden Urn was the best method, it was decided. A few days later, some party cadres and high Lamas were called to Lhasa.
The test was to be held in the Jokhang Cathedral: “We landed at Gonggar airport in Lhasa, which was tightly guarded by People’s Liberation Army soldiers and armed policemen.  Soldiers were lined up along the entire route ‘for our protection’. At the Lhasa Hotel, I saw squads of PLA soldiers with machine guns, as well as regular police, surrounding the hotel so that no one could slip in or out,” recalls Arjia. The Communist officials told the Rinpoches:  “The Golden Urn Ceremony will take place tonight, please be prepared. If a separatist clique (followers of the Dalai Lama) attempts any disruption of the ceremony, everyone will be protected.”
The ceremony took place on 29 November, 1995 at 2 am.
Luo Gan, a Minister (later, a member of the Politburo’s Standing Committee) presided over the ceremony: “Inside the gold urn was a small case, which contained three ivory lots, an inch wide and seven or eight inches long. The names of the three candidates were written on three separate pieces of paper. The three ivory lots were placed into the Golden Urn.”
The name of the ‘selected’ candidate was Gyaltsen Norbu. An official present later told Arjia: “When we made our selection we left nothing to chance. In the silk pouches of the ivory pieces we put a bit of cotton at the bottom of one of them, so it would be a little higher than the others and the right candidate would be chosen.”
That was it.
There is no doubt that the selection of the next Dalai Lama will be done in the same manner, if Beijing is allowed to have its way. Though not mentioned in the recent articles, there is another factor that Beijing is aware of - the Panchen Lama has traditionally to affix his seal on the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation discovery. To make sure that their protégé obeys, President Xi Jinping gave him an ‘audience’ at Zhongnanhai in Beijing on June 10.
Apparently Gyaltsen Norbu, though selected by Beijing in a dubious manner, needed to be briefed: could he rebel like his predecessor and refuse to follow the diktats of the party? Everything is possible in the Middle Kingdom. During the ‘audience’, Norbu was probably told what he should do …in case a new Dalai Lama needs to be ‘recognized’ by the Communist Party.
Gyaltsen Norbu has also been promoted as China’s leading Buddhist leader.
A few weeks ago, he visited the Zongfo Temple in Jinghong (in Xishuangbanna Prefecture of Yunnan province). This monastery, located close to the Thailand border, is not a Tibetan but a Theravada centre. The visit was clearly a political move by Beijing which is keen to show that the young Lama is able to lead not only the Mahayana school, but the Hinayana too. Xinhua mentioned that while in Jinghong, Norbu participated in Theravada rituals or debates.
On July 15, the same Gyaltsen Norbu met with an eight-member delegation of Mongolian Buddhists headed by the Chairman of the Mongolian Buddhist Association at the Xihuang Buddhist Temple in Beijing. Xinhua says: “The Panchen Lama warmly welcomed the Mongolian delegation, accepted their worships and gifts, offered his gifts in return and gave them head-touching blessing, according to the religious ritual of Tibetan Buddhism.”
Obviously, Beijing wants their candidate Panchen Lama to play a more and more active political role in the Buddhist world, while those like Tenzin Gelek, who do not obey, will be left to their fate. However Gyaltsen Norbu’s popularity amongst the masses remains very low. His visits to Tibet have to be stage-managed. To manipulate an urn is easier than to win hearts. When will China learn this?

Friday, July 24, 2015

General Zhao Zongqi: from Tibet to the CMC?

General Zhao Zongqi
A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece The Chinese who matter in Tibetan Affairs. Since then, several officials who ‘mattered’ have lost their job or have disappeared from the Chinese political scene.
The prime case is of course Ling Jihua, who from 2007 to 2012 served under President Hu Jintao, as Director of the General Office of the CPC Central Committee and in 2012, became Head of the United Front Work Department, dealing with Tibet amongst other subjects.
His son's car accident (with two Tibetan girls) signaled the beginning of his downfall.
Jia is now investigated for six violations of law and Communist Party discipline, including taking bribes, adultery and illegally acquiring a large number of ‘core secrets’ of the State and Party. It is what a Politburo statement, relayed by Xinhua, said.
The South China Morning Post rightly says: “The accusation that Ling illegally obtained the secrets surprised some observers, who said he was supposedly entitled to access to the information”.
This is one of the mysteries of Chinese politics.
Another Chinese who matters(ed) is/was General Wang Jianping, a member of the 18th CCP Central Committee. In 2009, he became Commander of the Chinese People's Armed Police Force with a bigger budget than the PLA.
His name has often been mentioned on this blog. (A good chess player takes the initiative?)
Apparently, in January 2015 Wang was ‘transferred’ as deputy head of a coordinating group on military training; it is obviously a great fall.
Interestingly on July 17, The Hong Kang Oriental Daily published an article on the military leadership changes in China. It was titled, “Three Phenomenon at the Center of Army Restructuring.”
It was later republished in the Mainland under a different title, “Xi Jinping’s Big Move: Jiang Zemin’s Closest Army Allies Are No longer in Power.”
The article says that Xi has assigned several senior military generals to insignificant positions: "Over the last six months, those in the most important leadership positions in the armed forces have all been replaced. Those officials who were close to Xi were promoted."
Wang Jianping is one clearly one of those who lost their seat.
Another powerful figure who has disappeared from my list is Lieutenant General Yang Jinshan. In October 2014, I wrote about The Fall of a Powerful General.
After serving as Commander of the Tibet Military Area, in June 2013, General Yang was transferred (on promotion) to Chengdu as a Deputy Commander of the Chengdu Military Region. He was one of the rising stars in the PLA
His fall is probably related to Xu Caihou’s case.
He was even demoted from the Party's Central Committee.
And there is also the case of Le Dake, the head of External Intelligence in Tibet. A few weeks ago, Reuters had reported that the former top Chinese security official in Tibet was being investigated ‘for suspected graft’.
The news agency explained that it is “a rare example of corruption busters going into the restive and remote region.”

The new rising star: General Zhao Zongqi
While some officials have sunk into oblivion, some are rising very fast.
It is the case of the Jinan Military Region’s Commander, Lieutenant General Zhao Zongqi, who, earlier in his career spent 20 years in Tibetan Military District.
Recently, General Zhao went on an inspection trip with General Fan Changlong.  
The South China Morning Post reported: “A top leader from the Jinan military area command accompanied Fan Changlong, vice-chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission, on an inspection trip to the northwest, raising speculation over a personnel reshuffle.”
According to The PLA Daily, Lieutenant General Zhao Zongqi accompanied Fan to inspect garrisons in Gansu, Xinjiang and Ningxia.
The article says that “Zhao, 60, is the youngest commander among top leaders from the key military areas. He is also one of a handful of senior military officials who took part in China's border conflicts with Vietnam in the late 1970s.”
His long stint in Tibet is not mentioned.
However, the Chinese press parried: “The pairing of the two [Fan and Zhao] on the trip fueled speculation over whether Zhao would be promoted to even higher rank.”
'Higher rank' can only mean 'Central Military Commission'.
Last year, I mentioned on this blog a high level tour of General Fan Changlong in Tibet. He was then accompanied by three Military Region Commanders (Lt. Gen. Liu Yuejun, commander of the Lanzhou Military Region, General Li Shiming, Commander, Chengdu Military Region and Lt. Gen. Zhao Zongqi, Commander, Jinan Military Region).
I then wondered what was the Jinan MR Commander was doing there.
This was soon after the Chumur incident in Ladakh during the visit of President Xi Jinping in India.
I then wrote: “The main purpose of General Fan's Tibet tour was most likely to convince the PLA officers that they should follow Xi Jinping in his crusade against corrupt officers.”
At that time, Xinhua reported that General Fan told the army to firmly obey the command of President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee.
China's senior-most general told the troops that “the army and the armed police should resolutely implement the strategies made by the CPC Central Committee and Xi, also the CMC Chairman, and uphold the correct decisions to investigate Zhou Yongkang and punish Xu Caihou.”
To follow the orders of Chairman Xi was important, said Fan; the defence forces should implement the instructions by achieving ‘Four [questions] to Ask’.
One of the ‘Four to Ask’ was “To ask oneself whether one follows the correct guiding ideology in training, whether the practices followed are correct to [avoid] other negative phenomena [i.e. corruption?]”.
Apparently General Zhao got it right; he probably answered the question the correct way.
As the result, he may soon be the first Chinese ‘Tibet hand’ reaching the PLA’s Heaven (the Central Military Commission).

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Reincarnation with Marxist Characteristics

Propaganda photo of the Golden Urn recognition of the Chinese Panchen Lama.
Party officials are watching!
The Communist leadership has recently developed a great knowledge about ‘soul’ reincarnation!
Poor Karl Marx!
Though probably he never heard about the possibility to ‘reincarnate’, he would have certainly disapproved and considered this a bourgeois revisionist ideological concept. But the times have changed.
This week, on the same day, China Tibet Online affiliated to Xinhua, published 5 articles on reincarnation of lamas, more particularly on the present Dalai Lama’s reincarnation.
One of the pieces explains that reincarnation is “a complete set of religious rites and historical mechanism” and “as China adopts the policy of freedom to religious belief,” the Communist Party accepts ‘reincarnations’. Of course, the recognition process must follow the Party’s rules and regulations, which prime over religious belief.
One of the articles goes into history and explains that the title of ‘Dalai Lama’ was conferred by the Central Government (China); it has a history of over 400 years, beginning in 1587 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The author conveniently forgets to mention the fact that ‘Dalai’ is a Mongol name meaning ‘Ocean’ (of Wisdom).  But probably, Mongolia belonged to China too!
The article mentions ‘The Regulations on Religious Affairs’ and ‘Tibetan Buddhist Reincarnation Management Approach’ enacted in 2007 by the atheist Party in Beijing; it stipulated that “the Dalai Lama should follow the religious rites, historical mechanism and the national laws and regulations.”
Today, Beijing says that the present 14th Dalai Lama, living in India has “no authoritative power on his [own] reincarnation issue”, it adds, quoting some of the Tibetan leader’s recent declarations, that the Tibetan leader even thought of appointing his own reincarnation while he was still alive, or reincarnating as a foreigner or a woman…”.
The article calls the Dalai Lama’s recent statements “a blasphemy towards the religious rites and historical mechanism of Tibetan Buddhism, a great disrespect to the followers of the religion, and an absolute provocation towards the authority of the central government.”
Why this virulent campaign in favour of a reincarnation process ‘with socialist characteristics’ at this point in time?
Beijing is becoming increasing conscious that it is unable to control the restive populations living on the Tibetan Plateau and once the Dalai Lama departs for the Heavenly Fields, the situation may degenerate further. The Communist leadership wants to prepare the stage for a ‘safe’ Chinese Dalai Lama, under the Party’s control. It will help the Communist cause, they believe.
The present leader has repeatedly made it clear that the final decision about his future life(s) remains his own. Beijing however believes that it is the Party’s responsibility.
Another reason for urgency is the 50th anniversary of the Foundation of the Tibetan Autonomous Region which will be celebrated in 2015, as well as the Sixth Tibet Work Forum which will decide the policies for the Roof of the World for the next 5 or 10 years, which will be held in the coming weeks.
The Communist Government is banking on the Golden Urn process to turn the issue in its favour.
Though historically wrong, another article affirms: “the procedure of drawing lots from the golden urn is the most significant religious rite and historic mechanism.”
Beijing’s tainted version of the history is that sometimes “several ‘soul boys’ appeared at the same time, it indubitably aroused disputes between different sides. To solve the problem, Emperor Qianlong granted two golden urns in 1792, one placed in the Lama Temple of Beijing and the other in the Jokhang Temple of Lhasa.”
The Golden Urn was indeed used a very few times in history, especially when Tibet was too weak to resist China’s bullying tactics (interestingly, Beijing admits today that the present Dalai Lama was ‘exempted’ of the test).
Now, Beijing would like to use the Golden Urn again for the next Dalai Lama, as they have done for their Panchen Lama candidate, Gyaltsen Norbu (for the past 20 years, the boy selected by the Dalai Lama is still languishing under house arrest somewhere in China).
How Norbu was selected is recounted by a Tibetan Lama, who participated in the ‘test’ and later managed to escape China.
The Lama, Arjia Rinpoche, the Abbot of the Kumbum monastery in today’s Qinghai Province, was part of the great tamasha to ‘select’ the 11th Panchen Lama in 1995.
The process is explained in his book, Surviving the Dragon: A Tibetan Lama's Account of 40 Years under Chinese Rule.
In 1995, Beijing, furious that the Dalai Lama had ‘unilaterally’ decided on the new incarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama, decided to use the Golden Urn.
In November 1995, an emergency meeting was called in Beijing to ‘clarify’ the Communist Party’s position: “We must not allow the Dalai's separatist clique to interfere.” To avoid the Dalai Lama being involved in the selection process, the Golden Urn was the best method, it was decided.
A few days later, some Party cadres and high Lamas were called to Lhasa.
The test was to be held in the Jokhang Cathedral: “We landed at Gonggar airport in Lhasa, which was tightly guarded by People's Liberation Army soldiers and armed policemen. …Soldiers were lined up along the entire route ‘for our protection’. …At the Lhasa Hotel, I saw squads of PLA soldiers with machine guns, as well as regular police, surrounding the hotel so that no one could slip in or out,” recalls Arjia.
The Communist officials told the rinpoches:"The Golden Urn Ceremony will take place tonight, please be prepared. …If a separatist clique [followers of the Dalai Lama] attempts any disruption of the ceremony, everyone will be protected.”
The ceremony took place on November 29, 1995 at 2 am: “As we walked toward the statue of the Buddha [the famous Jowo], we saw undercover policemen standing in every corner and shadow.”
Arjia Rinpoche continues the narration of the dramatic event: “In front of the statue of Sakyamuni Buddha was a large table covered with a yellow silk cloth. Alone on the table stood a golden urn about 15 inches high, surrounded by seated high officials.”
Luo Gan, a Minister (later, a member of the Politburo’s Standing Committee) presided over the ceremony: “Inside the gold urn was a small case, which contained three ivory lots, an inch wide and seven or eight inches long. The names of the three candidates were written on three separate pieces of paper, each of which was then slipped into a tightly fitted pouch of yellow silk. …The three ivory lots were placed into the Golden Urn.”
Arjia remembers: “I expected him to lift the vessel and shake one of the lots out of the urn, but instead he passed his hand quickly over the lots and pulled one out.”
The name of the ‘selected’ candidate was Gyaltsen Norbu
An official present later told Arjia: “When we made our selection we left nothing to chance. In the silk pouches of the ivory pieces we put a bit of cotton at the bottom of one of them, so it would be a little higher than the others and the right candidate would be chosen.”
That was it.
There is no doubt that the selection of the next Dalai Lama will be done in the same manner, if Beijing is allowed to have its way.
There is another factor that Beijing is aware of, though not mentioned in the recent articles.
Traditionally, the Panchen Lama has to put his seal on the entire process. To make sure that the Chinese protégé obeys, President Xi Jinping gave him an ‘audience’ at Zhongnanhai in Beijing on June 10. The encounter looked more like summons-cum-lecture than an ‘audience’. Xinhua announced that the meeting showed that the Party “has consistently given a high level of attention to Tibet.” It also indicated, said the news agency, “the great importance that the Central Committee attaches to the religious work.”
Apparently Gyaltsen Norbu, though selected by Beijing in a dubious manner, needed to be briefed: could he rebel like his predecessor and refuse to follow the diktats of the Party?
In all probability Norbu was told what he should do …in case of a new Dalai Lama needs to be ‘recognized’ by the Communist Party. 
But, will this solve the Tibetan issue? Certainly not!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Xi Jinping is a Worried Man

My article Xi Jinping is a Worried Man appeared in NitiCentral.

Here is the link...

During the BRIC and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summits at Ufa, the capital of the Russian Federation’s Republic of Bashkortostan, President Xi Jinping of China looked tired.
True, he spoke of a new international order, of a multi-polar world while asking his colleagues from the BRICS and SCO to look at their relations from a ‘strategic and long-term perspective’, but the Chinese President had certainly China’s difficult internal situation in mind, while delivering his speeches of the New Silk Road and other Chinese mega projects.
The state of affairs in the Middle Kingdom is indeed worrisome, most immediately, because of the collapse of the Chinese stock exchange. But that is not all.
On July 2, 2015, several overseas Chinese websites published an article which had appeared in the Cheng Ming Monthly magazine in Hong Kong on the possible collapse of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
It argued that the Party is “so corrupt that it has come to the verge of disintegration. Even top Party leaders could not avoid speaking of the possibility of the death of the Party.”
Accordingly to the same source, mid-June, the Politburo’s Standing Committee held a two-day expanded meeting to discuss the stern political and economic situation facing the Party.
Though it is difficult to confirm the information contained in the article, it appears that the Standing Committee was joined by the State Councilors (cabinet ministers), senior members of the Central Committee’s Secretariat, members of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress and the People's Political Consultative Conference, members of powerful Central Military Commission and top bureaucrats of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), responsible for the anti-corruption campaign; in other words, the cream of the Party.
Xi Jinping asserted, "We must have the courage to face, acknowledge, and accept the harsh reality that the Party has become so corrupt and degenerated that it could trigger the Party's downfall."
The same source said that a report was distributed during the meeting. The research listed six ‘crises’ in the fields of politics, economy, society, faith (religion), which could lead to the Party' collapse.
The report showed that only 25% of the senior officials of the Central Committees and local governments have successfully gone through the CCDI's review; 90% of Party committees at grass-roots or county levels have failed in the review of their performance and needed to be ‘reorganized’, whatever that means.
The next day, China Gate, a Chinese website based in the US, republished another article from Cheng Ming Monthly magazine, this time about the power struggle between different factions within the CCP.
Apparently former President Jiang Zemin and his close associate, Zeng Qinghong, will be the next target of Xi Jinping's and Wang Qishan’s anti-corruption campaign. Once Zhou Yongkang, the former Security Tsar was arrested, the unspoken rule, that no punishment could be imposed on members of the Politburo’s Standing Committee, did not exist anymore.
All this comes at the time of the worse crack in the short history of the Chinese stock exchanges. The South China Morning Post in a commentary said: ‘Future shock: China's market turmoil poses a challenge for Xi Jinping’, adding that “the market instability threatens to be a major setback for President Xi Jinping and his authority.”
The Hong Kong daily rightly argued “stock market crashes inevitably lead to unwanted consequences” and it quoted the Black Tuesday in Wall Street on October 29, 1929 which sent the US into the Great Depression and the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, which left deep scars on the economy of the Asian nations involved.
The SCMP asserted: “Analysts cannot accurately assess the damage that the mainland's stock market turmoil will cause while it continues to roil despite the government's rescue efforts. Yet they all agree that it will have a profound impact on the future of the nation's economy, society and politics.”
Since the stock market started crashing, the loss has been evaluated at $3 trillions; it means that some 30% was lost since June 12, when the exchange was at its peak value.
One of China’s problems is that it is not the institutional investors which hold most of the shares; the stock market is dominated by small individual investors, holding more than 80 % of shares.
The SCMP reported: “It is believed that many of the 90-million-strong investors were burned because they often increased their stakes when prices were high. …Some might well have lost their entire life savings as they used margin loans to bet on the wild market.”
This explained why Xi is a worried man; economic instability could bring along political instability, the ‘investing’ middle-class on which the leadership was banking to bring economic, political and social stability in the Middle Kingdom, may become dissatisfied with the regime; after losing most of their life-earnings in the present crash, will they invest again?
The deep-rooted corruption, the vested interests in the Party and the dissatisfaction of the masses, could make an explosive cocktail.
Today, sorting out the economy in a sustainable manner will need much more than a reform here and there: the future of the Party is indeed at stake.
The Wall Street Journal sees the crash triggering ‘rare backlash’ for President Xi: Jeremy Page explains: “Vibrant stock markets are at the center of Mr. Xi’s plans for an economic makeover, intended to help companies offload huge debts, reinvigorate state enterprises and entice more foreign investment. …Investors talked of ‘the Uncle Xi bull market.’ …the government appearing to panic in its response to the drop, some people are starting to voice doubts about Mr. Xi’s autocratic leadership style.”
And this is happening at a time when Xi faces resistance in the anti-corruption campaign and a serious slowdown of the economy.
Chinese-language news portal Aboluowang commented: “China's struggling stock market could turn into a major collapse …If China's stock market continues to nosedive, it could spark a chain reaction that may lead to a political crisis threatening the authority of the Communist Party and the stability of the country's top leadership.”
It is too early to predict what will happen in the months to come, but the situation is perilous, even if the latest news speaks of a stabilization of the markets.
A compounded element is the new draconian national security law which creates fears among foreign companies; it was openly mentioned by Michael Clauss, the German ambassador to China in a recent interview.
On July 1, the National People's Congress passed a controversial national security law defining threats to the Chinese State's power and sovereignty. For example, a vetting scheme will be introduced to scrutinize any foreign investment that posed a risk to national security’. The NPC is also debating three other laws on foreign investment, cyber security, and foreign NGOs.
Clauss explains that “foreign companies feared the laws might be used to keep certain overseas competitors out of the market. …In China the notion of national security [covers] a very wide range - from culture, technology, food safety up to religion. You can hardly find a field that is not relevant to national security concerns.”
This too does not help to create an atmosphere of trust, which China needs so desperately, if it wants to be a ‘normal’ country.