Saturday, October 25, 2014

An important Visit to Tibet ... with Chinese Characteristics

Guo Jinlong in front of the Potala
Here is a report published in The Tibet Daily on the visit of Guo Jinlong, a member of the Politburo who was in Tibet between October 15 to 18.
The news has not appeared in the English-language Chinese press.
It was not only one of the most important visits of the year, but it took place just before the crucial Fourth Plenum of the 18th Congress which discussed 'the rule of law' in China.
Are the two events linked?
The timing of the visit is also surprising  because Guo, as Beijing Party Secretary is responsible for some of the arrangements for the forthcoming APEC meeting. He may have come to 'learn from Tibet': how to have a clear blue sky during an important function!!
Three other members of the Politburo ‘inspected' Tibet during the last 4 months (General Fan Changlong, General Xu Qiliang and the security boos, Meng Jianzhu came earlier).
Guo Jinlong, also Beijing Party Secretary, was accompanied by a delegation from the Chinese Capital to look at the Tibet Aid Work, a scheme which encourages Chinese provinces to help Tibet. The objective of Guo's tour was to “further deepen exchanges and cooperation between the Tibetan Autonomous Region and Beijing, as well as promote common development.”
What is interesting is that Guo Jinlong served more than 10 years in Tibet and was Party Secretary in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) between 2000 and 2004.
During his visit, Guo spoke of thoroughly implementing the decisions of the Central Work Forum on Tibet (held in January 2010) and mentioned the importance of the 20th anniversary of the Aid Tibet program.
The Politburo member was accompanied by all the TAR big bosses: Party Secretary Chen Quanguo; Padma Choling, Chairman of the TAR People's Congress; Lobsang Gyalsten, the Chairman of the TAR’s government; Wu Yingjie, deputy secretary and Deng Xiaogang,  secretary of the Politics and Law Committee (and also deputy secretary).
As he arrived in Lhasa, Guo Jinlong was escorted by Chen Quanguo and Padma Choling to the residence of the old CPPCC Vice Chairman Pagpalha Delek Namgyial (Rinpoche). Guo formally briefed Pagpalha about Beijing support to Tibet.
Pagphala remains a father-figure in Tibet, though he plays only a ceremonial role in the Party today.
The next day (October 16), the Beijing delegation visited the Lhasa Beijing Experimental High School. In September, the first group of students joined the institution. The school facilities are said to favorably compare with a middle school in Beijing; Beijing has sent teachers and the management from Beijing “so that students can enjoy Tibet quality educational resources”.
Guo Jinlong had a cordial exchange with the teachers and students: “I hope that the students learn the knowledge to serve the motherland,” he told them.
Beijing also funded Lhasa cultural and sports center with a total investment 735 million yuan; it is the largest engineering project funded by a province; it has greatly improved the local sports facilities of the Tibetan capital, says The Tibet Daily.
Later in the day, Guo Jinlong inspected the stadium, gymnasium as well as the Yak Museum and a children's playground.
The local press reported that Beijing has adopted Tamar Village, in Chengguan District of Lhasa Prefecture and invested 13 million yuan for proper pavement, installation of lighting facilities, water supply, etc.
Having a cup of 'fragrant' tea
Guo Jinlong met (by chance?) a villager Dawa, walked to his home, met his whole family and had a cup tea; Guo commented: “It feels particularly fragrant.”
Then the Beijing delegation visited the new campus of the Tibet University, the Lhasa Urban Planning and Construction Exhibition Hall and the Potala Palace Square police station.
All dignitaries have to visit this Police Station. It must be particularly well kept.
On the 17th, Guo Jinlong and Chen Quanguo took a ride on the train to Damchung County (North of Lhasa); Guo met nomads who have apparently been resettled near the National Highway.
Beijing spent 30 million to reconstruct local houses for the project, “so they lived on a spacious two-story, in addition to raising yaks”. The Tibet Daily reported that one of the Tibetans, that Guo met, ran an outside transport company and get two three hundred thousand yuan annual income from his new occupation.
I have discussed elsewhere the horrendous scheme to ‘park’ nomads in cubic houses.
Guo Jinlong said: “you now have to follow a scientific development [path], I really sincerely feel happy for you.”
Nomadic life was probably not ‘scientific’ enough.
Guo also visited Damchung County People's Hospital, where more than half of doctors come from Beijing (since 2007 Beijing has sent 19 doctors to work in this hospital).
Guo spoke highly of the doctors in Tibet “who are not afraid of hard work, who are willing to sacrifice the life.” He told them to reasonably rest and to take care of themselves.
He also visited the Duilongdeqing (Doilung Dechen?) Industrial Park, Guo Jinlong said: “Seeing comrades in Tibet was particularly nice. I have spent here eleven years on the magical snow-covered plateau. This has become part of my life forever and I remain nostalgic.”
He said that he was happy to return to Tibet ten years later and see by himself the sustained and healthy economic development which has taken place; the great improvement of the infrastructure; that the people's life has significantly improved; the construction of an ecological civilization is remarkable, he added.
He sincerely admired the sustained overall social harmony and stability of Tibet, and was happy to see the results of the ‘reform and development’ program. He added that he deeply felt that these achievements demonstrate the successful practice of solving ethnic issues with Chinese characteristics; Tibet is on the right path, he concluded.
Addressing a Forum, Guo Jinlong quoted President Xi Jinping.
First, we (Beijing and Tibet) should work together to build the roof of the world; work together to maintain stability of this 1.2 million square kilometers sacred territory.
Second, we should take a long-term view on Tibet; the target should be a well-off society; one should focus on the weak links in economic and social development
Third, one needs to promote Aid Work (with Beijing and other provinces) with the same standards than the capital city. One needs to adhere to a high starting point, to have high-level planning, quality construction, to make aid work stand the test of history and the people, he argued.
Fourth, you should serve the Tibetan people heart and soul. Get things done with your heart, so that it will benefit people of all nationalities.
Guo affirmed that on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Aid Program, he wanted to open a new era for Beijing Aid Work.
First, focus on improving the livelihood of the people; adhere to the support of the grassroots, of the farmers and herdsmen; focus further on their education, employment and health care, so that the masses directly benefit (from the Aid Work).
Second, Guo asserted, “we should build a moderately prosperous society by doing Aid Work; deepen the introduction of technology in Tibet; encourage and support collaborative innovation; promote scientific and technological achievements for Tibet; increase industrial efforts to support the development of tourism and culture, health and ‘Pure Land’ industries (mineral water bottling?)."
He argued: "Tibet needs to take advantage of its own characteristics and utilize this to help local industry to brand ‘Tibet’ in order to expand its own market."
Third, focus on infrastructure to do Aid Work; focus on improving transport infrastructure to facilitate the travel of the masses; to support the construction of drinking water safety in rural and pastoral areas, so that the people drink safe water; actively participate in Lhasa urbanization work to help grasp the transformation of old villages and housing construction, so that more people of all nationalities enjoy the results of leapfrog development.
Fourth, blend well with the rest of the nation through contacts and exchanges; increase cultural links and strengthen the protection of Tibetan culture, promote cooperation and exchange, etc., to promote rich cultural life of the people of all ethnic groups; promote the ‘Beijing Tibetan family’, he empathized.
Guo also said that one should have a high political consciousness, to establish long-term mechanism and then pay close attention to implementation of the tasks.
Beijing follows the central demands, to do the work of their counterparts in Tibet to further strengthen exchanges and cooperation between the two provinces, and strive for Tibet and support leapfrog development and long-term stability.
Chen Quanguo extended a warm welcome to the delegation and thanked Beijing for its old, strong and selfless support.
Chen Quanguo said in recent years, following the orders of Xi Jinping, "Tibet continued efforts to achieve stable, long-term stability, and overall stability".
Chen Quanguo pointed out that Beijing has always attached great importance to Aid Work, Beijing's assistance to Tibet is an important political responsibility.
During the forum, Beijing Municipal Committee, vice mayor Li Xiang also spoke while Lhasa Party Secretary, Choedrak gave a description of the economic and social development of the Tibetan capital.
On the 16th, Guo Jinlong listened to reports and gave another speech ...with Chinese characteristics.
Guo emphasized that the Aid Work is an important strategy to implement the central government policies: “We need to learn from each other and provide mutual support.”
He added that “there should be no sense of superiority. To fully understand our counterparts in Aid Work is our duty; it should be done with a sincere heart as a sincere service. To get this done with one’s heart, will further enhance the nation's solidarity and cohesion.”
All this sounds nice, but is the reality matching with the speeches is another question.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Fall of a Powerful General

Sacked Lt. Gen. Yang Jinshan
It is the end of the road for Lt. Gen. Lt. Yang Jinshan, a former Commander of the Tibet Military District of the Chengdu Military Region (MR).
He lost his membership of the Central Committee of the CCP.
Lt. Gen. Yang Jinshan (Han nationality) is born in August 1954. He joined the Communist Party of China in May 1972. In December 2005, he was promoted to the rank of major general and in July 2011, he became a lieutenant general.
From 2007 to 2009, he served as the Head of Armament Department of Chengdu MR.
In 2009, he became Commander of Tibet Military District.
In November 2012, he was elected as Member of 18th CPC's powerful Central Committee.
Lt. General Yang Jinshan had an Air Force background; this may explain the repeated 'air exercises' in the Tibet District, facing Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim  during the last few years.
In June 2013, General Yang was transferred to Chengdu as a Deputy Commander of the Chengdu MR.
Yesterday, he was formally expelled from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China 'for serious disciplinary violations'.

Lt. Gen. Yang, as one of 41 members of the PLA in the Central Committee, was 'senior' in the Party to his direct boss, Lt. Gen. Li Zuocheng, the Commander of Chengdu MR.
In July 2014, The South China Morning Post (SCMP) had reported "One of the top PLA officers leading the Chengdu military area command has been detained amid graft allegations making him the latest high-ranking officer to fall in a sweeping effort to clean up the image of the world's largest fighting force."
The Hong Kong newspaper quoting four different sources said: "Investigators took Yang Jinshan, a lieutenant general, to Beijing last week as part of a corruption investigation. His family members and secretary were also detained."
Apparently, the arrest of General Yang, 59 was part of the wider inquiry into Xu Caihou, the former Central Military Commission (CMC) vice-chairman.
Xu has been accused of accepting very large bribes.
In June, Xu was himself expelled from the Communist Party. Yang has now walked into his mentor's steps.
Further, Yang was probably connected with the disgraced Politburo leader, Bo Xilai, as Yang served in the 14th Group Army, based in Kunming, Yunnan province (under the Chengdu MR). One of the founders of the Group Army was Bo Yibo , Bo Xilai's father.
The SCMP suspects: "Bo Xilai visited Yunnan not long after his right-hand man Wang Lijun sought refuge in the US consulate in Chengdu in February 2012. Since that visit, some of the senior officers of the corps have been replaced, prompting speculation about whether the reshuffle was linked to Bo."
Again according to the SCMP: "Two PLA major generals with backgrounds that overlap Yang's were detained previously". It names Ye Wanyong , retired commissar of the Sichuan provincial military area, and Wei Jin, a deputy commissar of the Tibet military area."
Ye would have offered large amount of gold to Xu Caihou.

Acute Ideological Struggle
In the meantime, the Central Military Commission (CMC) warned that ideological struggles within the PLA were 'acute and complicated', and called for the military to remain loyal to the Party's leadership.
According to The Global Times, the CMC published an article in The PLA Daily which says that the PLA should be run according to rules and regulations of the Party.
It was the main theme of the Fourth Plenum of the Central Committee of the 18th National Congress, which focused on strengthening the nation's governance through the rule of law.
The Global Times asserts: "Military reform has entered 'uncharted waters' with concerns growing that reform could be impeded by 'structural problems'."
The CMC admits that among the problems facing the army, "the struggle over ideology has been exceptionally acute and complicated."
Apparently, "different ideologies and new ideas that have emerged in Chinese society have penetrated the military, and will have a disruptive impact", says the CMC.
It quotes Maj. Gen. Luo Yuan: "There have been some public intellectuals advocating the nationalization of the army through disaffiliating it from the Party's leadership."
Xu Guangyu, another military expert and senior consultant at the Chinese Military Disarmament Control Council explained that "some young military leaders may have been influenced by these ideas, and warned that they could cause a split within the army."
The CMC asked the PLA to be 'steadfast in their actions' and submit to the Party's authority and to the CMC.
It clearly means that they not always do.
Quite worrying!
Probably new Chumar episodes in the pipeline!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reforms in academic research, scholarship

Nehru visiting the Library in Yatung, Tibet (1958)
My article Reforms in academic research, scholarship appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer today.

Here is the link...

The opening of the Nehru Papers would be the greatest homage to Nehru and an exceptional opportunity for scores of young scholars to see what went right (and also what went wrong) in Modern India

As India prepares to celebrate the 125th birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru, the incumbent Prime Minister of India, Mr Narendra Modi, announced that he will head the national committee to commemorate the occasion. A Prime Minister’s Office release said the first meeting of the committee will be held “soon after Deepawali”.
The media was surprised as no one from the Nehru-Gandhi family was included in the committee which has six Cabinet Ministers; however senior congress leaders such as Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mr Mallikarjun Kharge and Mr Karan Singh have been called upon to participate.
A host of other eminent academics, scholars, retired bureaucrats and Army officers will take part in the deliberations of the committee, which will also have the Director General  of National Archives of India as a member.
It is an interesting inclusion, though the fact that there is no permanent DG since professor Mushirul Hassan left in May 2013, shows the lack of interest of the previous Government for scholarly work and research. Hopefully, this will change under the new dispensation.
The Nehru celebrations would be the ideal occasion to open up to research, what is known as the Nehru Papers (also referred to as the JN Collection) kept in Teen Murti Bhavan, and this without any restriction.
It has been one of the greatest enigmas of ‘modern’ India: How come the correspondence, notes, speeches of the first Prime Minister of India are considered ‘private’ and why should it be kept under the custody of one ‘private’ person (Ms Sonia Gandhi)? The state’s papers should never be privatised.
Apparently, Nehru had willed all his papers to an organisation to be created after his death (the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund). However, Nehru did not specify that thereafter, special permission of the custodian would be required to access any file/document.
Apparently, his daughter, Indira Gandhi, added this odd rule that they should remain in the custody of her family.
The end result is that the Nehru Papers do not come under the Public Record Rules, 1997, which states that records that are 25 years or more must be preserved in the NAI (and that no records can be destroyed without being recorded or reviewed).
While legally, it is mandatory for each Government’s department to prepare a half-yearly report on reviewing and weeding of records and submit it to the NAI, the Nehru Papers are exempted. It would be fine to keep the Papers as a ‘collection’, if they were openly available to the general public. The Nehru Papers are an invaluable collection dealing with all topics under the Indian sky, looked after by the Prime Minister (Nehru was also Foreign Minister from 1947 till his death in 1964).
One can argue that the JN Collection is not completely closed; if one is ready to follow the cumbersome process and write to the 'custodian', one has technically a chance to have a darshan of the said file/letter. But why to always complicate the researcher's life?
I have always wondered if those who have practically closed the Nehru Papers to the public of India, have ever read what Nehru wrote about the secrecy? On August 27, 1957, in a note to his Principal Private Secretary, he commented about some persons having been refused access to the National Archives of India: “I am not at all satisfied with the noting on this file by Intelligence or by the Director of Archives. The papers required are very old, probably over thirty years old. No question of secrecy should apply to such papers, unless there is some very extraordinary reason in regard to a particular document. In fact, they should be considered, more or less, public papers. …Also the fact that a Communist wants to see them is irrelevant. I do not particularly fancy this hush hush policy about old public documents. Nor do I understand how our relations with the British Government might be affected.”
One can hope that the committee for the 125th anniversary of Nehru will put this issue first on its agenda and as an offering to the memoirs of the first Prime Minister, will make his fabulous collection of historic documents available to each and every one in India (and abroad), wanting to study Nehru’s works.
It can be argued that the Nehru Papers have been partially declassified through the publications of more than 55 volumes of the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru (1947-1960), but for a researcher, this selection cannot replace the ‘real thing’. Further, though the policy has been changed for the most recent volumes, the editor used to resume with a few words the letter/event/note which had triggered the Prime Minister’s answer; to read Nehru's interlocutor full questions/queries helps to better understand Nehru’s answer. The newly-appointed committee would do India a great favour in opening the entire collection to the public.
Recently speaking at the 42nd annual convocation of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences , the Prime Minister said, “While Indian doctors have made a name for themselves across the world, the country needs to step up medical research, to keep pace with fast-changing world. We should focus on research, particularly on case history. This can be a big contribution to humankind.”
It is not only in the medical field that research should be supported, but in the historical one too. Young (and older) Indians should be encouraged to research and dig in the past (the glories as well as the goof-ups) in order to better face today's reality.
Let me tell you my personal experience in the National Archives of India which I have been frequenting for the past 15 to 20 years. Every two years, I have to re-apply from scratch and prove again that I am still a ‘scholar’. Being born in France, I have to bring a certificate from the French authorities ‘proving’ that I’m still a ‘researcher’. Though the French Embassy has always readily obliged, why can’t I be a ‘scholar’ for life? When I ask the NAI staff, I am invariably told: “No sir, this is the rule in India’ you can be a scholar for two years only.’ What a nonsense!
If the Prime Minister wants to build a nation of researchers, there are many rules to drop and many vaults to open. Today, a string of antiquated rules and regulations, red-tapism and an obscurantist mind-set not worthy of a dynamic country like India, remains in place. As a result, Indian history continues to be buried. Is it the hallmark of a mature nation?
The opening of the Nehru Papers would be the greatest homage to Nehru and an exceptional opportunity for scores of young scholars to see what went right (and what went wrong) in Modern India.
Please, Mr Prime Minister, encourage historical research too.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Who is Living Buddha Number One?

The Dalai Lama's Summer Palace
Xinhua recently reported that "the 11th Panchen Lama, Bainqen Erdini Qoigyijabu, [Panchen Gyaltsen Norbu] concluded two and a half months of religious activities in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region and returned to Beijing."
The young lama selected by Beijing (the Dalai Lama's candidate has been  under house arrest for nearly 20 years) pays every year such a visit to Tibet. This time he spent more time in 'his' Tashilhunpo monastery in Shigatse.
But what was most interesting were Xinhua's comments : "Bainqen Erdini Qoigyijabu, one of the two most revered 'Living Buddhas' in Tibetan Buddhism, left Tibet on Monday after giving blessings and presiding over a series of religious rituals at several monasteries in Xigaze [Shigatse] Prefecture."
Though the communique speaks of 'two' revered Living Buddhas, only the Panchen Lama's name is mentioned.
It is left to you to guess who is the second, whose name (and photo) are banned in Tibet.
Why to mention 'two' Living Buddhas, if the existence of the second one is not even acknowledged on the Plateau?
What an irony! While the Dalai Lama lives in the heart of each and every Tibetan, his name cannot be printed in Tibet (and China).
Another example, China Tibet Online just published a series of beautiful photos of the Norbulingka, the Summer Palace of the Dalai Lama in Lhasa.
The caption reads: "Norbulingka meaning 'Treasure Park' in Tibetan, is one of national key cultural relics protection units. Situated in the western suburb of Lhasa city, Norbulingka Summer Palace covers an area of 360,000 square meters with more than 100 kinds of plants in it."
Whose Palace it is, is not mentioned!
The name of the Palace's owner is banned!
In the meantime, Chinese cadres have started studying Tibetan Buddhism. Can you believe it?
China Tibet Online announced that on October 20,a seminar on the doctrines of Tibetan Buddhism was held at the China Tibetology Research Center in Beijing. The theme of the in-depth discussion was 'Tibetan Buddhism and Equality'. It was a two-day seminar sponsored by the China Tibetology Research Center and the High-level Tibetan Buddhism College of China.
Lhagpa Phuntshogs,the director-general of the China Tibetology Research Center explained that "the seminar is aimed at promoting Tibet’s economic and social progress by giving a full play to the role of religious figures and followers. It is the key subject for furthering the sound development of Tibetan Buddhism in the new century and an important channel to adapt Tibetan Buddhism to socialist society."
Of course, 'giving full play to the role of religious figures' is understood minus Monk Number One.
The seminar's objectives were to integrate Buddhism and Marxism. The communique says: "the Tibetan Buddhism doctrine is mainly focused on discovering, summarizing and advancing the fine traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, and integrating the idea of progress to serve the society and the people."
The seminar promoted books on four themes such as patriotism,belief in Tibetan Buddhism,establishment of the ethnic standard and commandment, and harmonious progress, for the country,the people and the religion.
But was not an ordinary religious teaching for Chinese citizens turning towards spirituality, as the research group participating to the exercise will submit the outcome of its research to the Communist Party.
The report will be titled 'Anthology of the Research results and Interpretation of Tibetan Buddhism—Special Edition on Tibetan Buddhism and Equality.'
Who were the students?
The organizers says: "Over 70 people attended the meeting, including leaders of the United Front Work Department of the CPC, revered lamas of the Tibetan Buddhism, scholars and experts in the area of Tibetan Buddhism research, leaders of the departments concerned of the Tibet Autonomous Region as well as the sutra teachers and students of the 12th 'Tho Ram Pa' [Geshe Lharampa students,  equivalent to a PhD in Buddhism]."
In other words, senior Party cadres are learning Buddhism ...without, of course, ever referring to Living Buddha No One.
To be followed...
In the meantime, envoy pictures of the Dalai Lama's Summer Palace, the Norbulingka.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Who wants to unify under the central leadership?

Yesterday, The South China Morning Post reported that a directive had been issued by the Party “for higher education entities to unify under the central leadership”.
The Hong Kong daily affirms that the Communist Party is tightening “its grip on Chinese universities by reaffirming the party secretary’s leading role in them.”
The ‘directive’ was released by the General Office of the Communist Party of China.
It says that after the fourth Plenum of the 18th CPC Central Committee (to be held next week) “all departments at universities across the country shall conscientiously make implementations that adhere to the party’s leading core position”.
You can understand why the students in Hong Kong are increasingly nervous about the 'One Country' scheme, in which the 'Two Systems' will go to the trap.
In the meantime, Zhang Xiaoming, director of Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong stated that the ‘Occupy Central’ movement is “a serious social and political event in that it violates the ‘one country’ principle, challenges the central authority, ignores the Basic Law, and is an illegal activity in flagrant violation of the existing laws of Hong Kong.”
He does not even speak anymore of 'Two Systems'.
Very surprising is the silence of the Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala, which has kept completely quiet.
Perhaps they have also become believers of ‘One Country’!
It would be sad!
Zhang Xiaoming, as usual, described the ‘Occupy Central’ movement as an attempt by the West to trigger a new ‘color revolution’ and “to pressure the Central Government and the HKSAR Government, and to require the NPC Standing Committee to rescind the decision that has been in force and the Chief Executive and SAR government officials to step down.”
But it is simpler than that: the Hong Kong students are just fighting for their freedom of speech, of thought, for their future.
Last month, in an editorial in the Party Journal, Qiushi (‘Seeking Truth’), it was announced that Peking University had directed its students and professors to “fight against speech and actions that criticise the Communist Party”.
It is what might happen to the students in Hong Kong in a few years from now, as ‘One Country’ will always prevail on ‘One System’.
The directive mentioned above directed Chinese universities “to establish a unified leadership under the party committee, cooperate and coordinate with the party and seriously carry out the essence of democratic centralism within the party.”
It is what the Hong Kong students do not want to happen in 5 or 10 years time.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Who is complicating what?

Amazing Chinese!
They are unhappy about India’s plans to build a road on the southern side of the McMahon Line in Arunachal Pradesh.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei stated that India should not “take any actions that may further complicate the situation.”
"The boundary issue between China and India is left by the colonial past. We need to deal with this issue properly. Before a final settlement is reached, we hope that India will not take any actions that may further complicate the situation”, Hong said.
He added: “We should jointly safeguard peace and tranquility of the border area and create favourable conditions for the final settlement of the border issue.”
The proposed billion-dollar project on the Indian side of the India-Tibet border was announced by Kiren Rijiju, the Minister of State for Home Affairs during a visit to his home State.
Rijiju hoped that the construction of the 1,800km long road could begin soon. The Minister also said that the road would be the “biggest single infrastructure project in the history of India.”
One could ask Mr. Hong: when China decided to build a road through the Aksai China plateau in the early 1950s, was not Beijing ‘complicating’ the issue with India.
Yesterday on this blog, I mentioned two roads (today highways) which in the 1950s changed the military and strategic stakes on the plateau (the Qinghai-Tibet and the Sichuan Tibet highways).
At a time when China criticizes New Delhi for planning a road on India’s own territory, The China Daily assets that “The nation [China] has the capability to build an expressway linking up Tibet Autonomous Region and Qinghai Province in west China if major technical barriers are overcome.”
The newspaper quotes Wang Shuangjie, Party's chief of the CCCC First Highway Consultants Co., Ltd., a technical consultant for the planned project, who affirms: “Technically, we have the confidence to build the Qinghai-Tibet Expressway."
Wang and his team believe that the main technical barrier lies in the 500-km frozen earth belt along the planned 1,900-km expressway that links Lhasa with Qinghai’s provincial capital Xining. The Chinese engineers are aware of the extreme conditions on the Plateau, i.e. high altitude, low oxygen content, strong solar radiation and freezing temperature, which are serious technical challenges for the expressway's construction.
Wang said that the expressway will span over areas where the average altitude is above 4,500 meters and annual average temperature below zero.
The China Daily believes that Wang and his team need also to address problems concerning the possible environmental consequences of the construction (melting of permafrost?) and come up with proper technology to take care of the fragile ecological environment.
China has already completed the construction of the roadbed of the expressway's 300-km section between Xining and Caka in Qinghai, while construction of the 400-km section linking Xining with Golmud is also under way. The Chinese newspaper adding: “The rest of the 1,100-km section remains a hard nut to crack for engineers.”
China already ‘complicated’ the situation for India by bringing the train to Lhasa in July 2006 (and now to Shigatse); the express-highway from Xining to Lhasa will further tilt the strategic balance.
But that it not all, to complicate the situation further, Beijing plans to invest 278 million yuan (US $ 45 million) for expanding the Mainling (Nyingtri) airport. The Central Government has already allocated 139.5 million yuan (US $ 23 million) and the balance will be provided by the civil aviation development fund.
China Tibet Online says: “The abundant tourism resources and many famous scenic spots in the region attract more and more tourists to Nyingtri [Chinese Nyingchi] as their first stop for Tibet. In the first half year of 2014, Nyingchi totally received 836,200 tourists from home and aboard.
This airport is located north of the McMahon Line.
The Nyingtri Development and Reform Commission announced that, from January to September 2014, the Nyingtri/Mainling airport transported 246,611 passengers, up 17.5% from the same period in 2013.
Meanwhile, the airport handled a total of 2,734 takeoff and landing flights and 961.8 tons of cargo, up 17.7% and 74.6% from 2013 respectively.
Nyingtri/Mainling is the second largest (and lowest airport with an altitude of 2,900 meters) in Tibet.
It is built on the banks of the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra), north of the McMahon Line.
For India, it is extremely worrying and it definitively complicates the situation on the north-eastern frontiers.
The train to Nyingtri in 2020 will further exacerbate the border row.
And then, the train to Chumbi Valley!
And of course, the train to Kyirong (see yesterday's post)
Mr. Hong Lei should check his facts before making statements.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Highways to Lhasa ...Kathmandu ...and India?

In the recent weeks, China has been 'selling' the ‘Sichuan-Tibet’ and the ‘Qinghai-Tibet’ Highways. These road-links between Tibet and China have received a lot of media coverage.
The China Daily explained why: “In December 1954, the Qinghai-Tibet and Sichuan-Tibet highways were officially put into service, ending Tibet's reliance on men, horses and ropes to transport goods. More than 3,000 people died during their construction. The opening of the two highways has played an important role in Tibetan economic development.”
It was indeed crucial for Mao’s troops to occupy the Tibetan plateau and come closer to India’s frontiers.
The Chinese media pointed out that the Sichuan-Tibet Highway was originally called the Kangding-Tibet Highway:
[It] is a high-elevation road starting from Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, on the east and ending at Lhasa, capital of Tibet Autonomous Region [which was not existing in 1954], on the west. The highway has two routes. South Line has a length of 2,115 kilometers, while North Line is 2,414 kilometers long.
The China Daily further asserts:
Construction of Sichuan-Tibet Highway started in April 1950, when the road builders cleaved mountains and controlled water, and finally opened for traffic on December 25, 1954, together with Qinghai-Tibet Highway. With high elevation and harsh geographical conditions, the building of Sichuan-Tibet Highway was an unprecedented challenge to Tibet's highway construction. The Ya'an-Lhasa section covering a total length of 2,255 kilometers was completed on a high mountain range.
Ya’an is located in Sichuan province on the Tibetan marches.
Why were these roads (today, highways) so important?
As The China Daily puts it: “Before Sichuan-Tibet Highway and Qinghai-Tibet Highway opened to traffic, it took six months to a year for human or livestock to cover a round trip trudging through from Lhasa to Chengdu, or Xining, Qinghai province.”
Today, it only takes a few days by bus.
To understand better the situation, one should read the 1952 Annual Report from A.K. Sen, the India Consul-General in Lhasa. Without these roads, Tibet would have starved (like it did in 1952-53) and the Chinese occupation of the plateau impossible.
The Indian Consul informed the Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi:
The inevitable economic distress in the wake of Chinese occupation was fast affecting the people’s livelihood. Food supplies became inadequate, prices soared up to astounding heights, even the poor man’s food – the tsampa (barley flour) – could not be easily procured. In short, the Tibetans, completely confused, failed to discern the various benefits that were to be derived from the liberation of their country. As a protest against the disastrous economic trends, the villagers round about Lhasa rose up as a body, probably inspired by some disgruntled monks who made an effort to oppose communist ideology, petitioned to the Kashag [Tibetan Cabinet] that the resources of the country not being enough to cope with such large concentrations of Chinese troops, they should be withdrawn from Tibet, leaving a small force as was maintained during the time of the Chinese Amban. The political implications of this appeal for the amelioration of people’s hardships, in that it demanded the reduction of troops, were seized by the Chinese to implicate the Prime Ministers as instigators of the move. Curiously enough, a day after the petition was presented an incident took place most conveniently which further helped the Chinese to assume a threatening attitude to deal with these ‘rebels’.
Tibet had never witnessed a famine before.
The only solution for Communist China was to expedite the construction of roads leading to Tibet (from Qinghai and Sichuan) in order to feed their occupying armies (to ‘liberate’ Tibet, in Communist jargon).
Sen’s report continues:
The upshot was, the Chinese denounced the Prime Ministers to be anti-national, abettors of the rebels and uttering the most truculent threats to the Kashag that liberation of Tibet would be implemented by force if they failed to restore normal conditions by rounding up the malcontents, demanded the immediate dismissal of the Ministers as well. Having displayed such wrathful temper, they reinforced the Lhasa garrison by a couple of thousand troops and pointing their guns towards the Potala awaited the compliance of their command.
Ultimately, the two courageous Prime Ministers, Lukhangwa and the monk Lobsang Tashi were forced to resign. It was the beginning of the end of ‘independent’ Tibet. Nobody had the courage to oppose the Chinese anymore in Lhasa.
Sen wrote:
The resignation of the Ministers had to be accepted by the Tibetan Government on the 27th April [1952]. Next came the turn of the villagers’ delegates. A special tribunal set up by the Chinese for trial of the six peoples’ representatives, passed judgement accusing them to be agitators, led astray by foreign agents. They and the public were warned that they had no right to submit ‘unlawful demands’ and that similar performances in future should not be repeated. The Tibetan Government issued orders to all Dzongpons to watch the activities of village assemblies. All meetings and careless political talks were banned. Thus with one adroit stroke the Chinese broke the backbone of Tibetan obstinacy.
The Chinese, who had come to ‘liberate’ the ‘masses’ (with the cowardly support of many in the aristocracy), began punishing the ‘masses’ which had dared protesting.
In the meantime, India started supplying rice to the PLA soldiers stationed in Tibet.
At the same time, another highway was built, the Qinghai-Tibet Highway. According to The China Daily:
Starting from Xining, capital of Qinghai province, the Qinghai-Tibet Highway stretches 1,947 km (about 1,210 miles) into Tibet with an average elevation of above 4,000 meters. Winding along the Kunlun Mountain, Tanggula Mountain, Tuotuo River, and vast grassland, the Qinghai-Tibet Highway amazes travelers with its appealing landscape along the plateau. Being the world's longest asphalt road and at the highest altitude, it reaches its top point at the 5,231-meter-high Tanggula Pass. About 980 km of the road is more than 4,500 meters above sea level, and 630 km of its length is bedded on permafrost, soil that is permanently below the freezing point.”
The China Today says that since the road was opened to traffic in 1954, the central government (i.e. Beijing) spent nearly 3 billion yuan ($362 million) on three major overhauls; it was asphalted in 1985: “Freight transportation still relies on the road.”
Quoting one Sonam, director of the Qinghai-Tibet Highway Management Bureau, the daily says: “More than 80 percent of goods still go via the highway, while people mostly take the train."
For the website China Tibet Online affirms that, even today, the two highways “not only accelerate the social and economic developments in Tibet but is of great significance to link the plateau with the rest of the world.”
The publication quotes Ma Jiali, a researcher of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, (Ma is also a well-known ‘India expert’ in Beijing); for Ma Jiali, the two highways are crucial for the national unity: "I think it's safe to liken the two highways to blood as they hold Tibet and the inland cities together. So, the running of the two highways, in a sense, has held the central government and Tibet together."
But there is another aspect to it: these 2 highways (and a few years later, the Tibet-Xinjiang Highway cutting across the Aksai Chin), helped China consolidate its military position on the Tibetan plateau and by the end of the 1950s, Beijing was ready to take on India which had dared to give asylum to the Dalai Lama.
Highways on the Plateau, let us not forget it, always have a strategic importance, though there are today extensively used for tourism development (but this too has perhaps strategic implications).

More on the West, China Tibet Online reports that China is planning to open the Kyierong (Chinese: Gyirong) landport to the outside world in October.
The website asserts: “At that time, Kyierong will present a feature with multiple elements including ‘ancient path culture, port culture, and folk culture’ on the basis of its unique geographical advantages and become an important channel for international tourists to China.”
In clear, China will pour millions of tourists in Nepal, which has a mostly unguarded border with India. No need to explain the danger for India’s security.
China Tibet Online says:
The Kyirong Port is 78 kilometers away from the south of Kyirong County in the Shigatse Prefecture and 24 kilometers away from the Rasog Village located in the border of China and Nepal. In the history of China, the Kyirong Port is one of the biggest overland trading ports between China and Nepal, and is renowned as the ‘commercial road’, ‘official road’ and ‘war road’ because of its long history of foreign trade. In October of 1961, the State Council of China decided to set up Kyirong Customs as well as gave permission to the port's opening.”
‘War road’ refers to the Manchu invasion of 1792.
The Master Plan of Kyirong Port will make of Kyirong County a great montain resort, ideal for tourism.Therefore, tourists could have multiple travelling experiences in Kyirong”, says the website which emphasizes:
the Kyirong Ditch was the only way which must be passed in the ‘ancient road connecting Tubo [Tibet] Kingdom and Nepal when the pedestrians headed for Nepal from Lhasa. The ancient road an important channel for the culture and trade exchange of central plains and South Asia. In history, this ancient road had welcomed Princess Bhrikuti from Nepal who married Songtsen Gampo …as well as Shantarakshita and Padma Sambhava who both went to Tibet for preaching Buddhism.
Further Kyirong, is the backyard garden for Mt. Everest, it ‘integrates the elements of snow-mountains, pastoral forests, lakes, canyons, rivers and pastures.”
It sounds great ...for the Chinese tourists.
It is indeed a very dangerous development for the security of Nepal ...and India, because once millions of Han ‘tourists’ arrive in Kathmandu, they will be only one step away from India.
Who will monitor the whereabouts?
Certainly not the Nepali government, which is only too happy to harvest a few Yuan more from the Chinese tourists.

Here are some recent photos of Chinese tourists on the Qinghai-Tibet highways.
Tomorrow, we will have the same on the Lhasa-Kathmandu road and then...