Thursday, December 18, 2014

China’s dam dreams, India’s water worries

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

Here is the link...

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

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Romance of Hostile Borders

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

Here is the link...

Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau said once: “Nothing is so gentle as man in his primitive state, when placed by nature at an equal distance from the stupidity of brutes and the fatal enlightenment of civil man.”
Jawaharlal Nehru too was a romantic; he wrote thus about the inhabitants of the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA): “I am not at all sure which is the better way of living, the tribal or our own. In some respects I am quite certain theirs is better. Therefore, it is grossly presumptuous on our part to approach them with an air of superiority, to tell them how to behave or what to do and what not to do. There is no point in trying to make of them a second-rate copy of ourselves.”
Though constitutionally a part of Assam, in the 1950s, the NEFA was administered by the Ministry of External Affairs, with the Governor of Assam, acting as agent to the President of India, seconded by a senior officer (often from the ICS), designated as Advisor to the Governor.
In 1955, Dr. Verrier Elwin, the famous British anthropologist who had just taken Indian citizenship, joined as Adviser for Tribal Affairs; Verrier’s concept of the development of these areas was expounded in his celebrated book, The Philosophy of NEFA.
In his Foreword to the book, which became the Bible of the officers serving in the NEFA, Nehru asserted that he “began to doubt how far the normal idea of progress was beneficial for these people and, indeed, whether this was progress at all in any real sense of the word.”
Sixty years later, one realizes that this romantic view of the border population amounted to the segregation of a large chunk of the Indian population.
It has been the tragedy of the North-East, particularly Arunachal Pradesh.
With the invasion of Tibet at the end of 1950, followed 9 years later by the Tibetan uprising in Lhasa and the consequent flight of the Dalai Lama to India, the relations between the border populations and Tibet were discontinued, while Delhi’s romantic policies led to their neglect.
Verrier Elwin and Nehru could only see the anthropological side of the problem, forgetting the strategic as well the economic aspects of the border development; it resulted in a huge development gap between the frontier areas and the rest of India.
The first Prime Minister took however an excellent initiative: he created a separate cadre for India’s frontiers, namely NEFA, Tibet, Sikkim and Bhutan.
On April 4, 1952, Nehru wrote to Jairamdas Doulatram, the Governor of Assam, mentioning the need a ‘special’ cadre for the border areas.
A few weeks later, the Prime Minister Nehru told the Foreign Secretary: “These primitive people especially have to be dealt with care and friendliness and require expert knowledge which our average administrator does not possess. Hence the necessity for a specially trained cadre.”
The idea of a separate cadre was not appreciated by all. First the Assamese realized that the move to have a special cadre would further separate the NEFA from Assam.
Finally in 1954, the first batch of officers was posted on the frontiers and two years later, the ‘special cadre’ was officialized.
These officers were at first drawn from All-India services such as the ICS or IPS; others had served in the Army earlier.
The initial recruitment to the Indian Frontier Administrative Service (IFAS) was made by the Central Government through a Special Selection Board with representatives from the MEA, the MHA and the MoD, along with an expert in tribal affairs (often Verrier Elwin).
K.C. Johorey who later became Chief Secretary in Goa was one of the first pioneers who joined the IFAS. He still remembers what Nehru told his batch: “The staff must go along with the flag and the typewriters can follow later on.”
Johorey recalls his first posting in Along in the Siang Frontier Division: “There were two houses, one for the burra sahib [for Yusuf Ali, his boss], and behind another smaller hut. The houses were really huts made of bamboos, palm leaves and canes. Even the tables and the beds were of bamboos. There were no mattresses, no electricity and no furniture. The houses were very clean and airy. That was all,” says Johorey.
One of the most famous members of the IFAS is Maj. Ranenglao ‘Bob’ Khathing who single-handedly brought Tawang under Indian administration in February 1951.
Another officer Maj. S.M. Krishnatri has left an extraordinary account of his ‘tour’ report in what is today the Upper Subansiri district of Arunachal. Krishnatry and his wife Geeta provide a detailed description of their adventures. Krishnatry who had earlier been posted in Tibet for 7 years, explains how his expedition was different from the British’s: “Most exploratory expeditions in the tribal frontiers have been armed or armoured with heavy escorts much to the cost and suppression of human rights, occupation of their lands, burning of villages, molestation of women, looting of livestock, crops and banning of trade.”
Geeta Krishnatry religiously took notes of her encounter with the villagers on the way to the border, entering in her diary every detail of their perilous tour. It is a most remarkable anthropological and strategic document.
The former officer of the Maratha Light Infantry officer explains: “I felt that a woman was a more secure safeguard against tribal onslaught, while Geeta was firm she would rather trust peace with tribals than with armed escort in our company.”
Another remarkable IFAS officer is Col. Rashid Yusuf Ali who is today 92 year-old and lives in Shillong (Meghalaya); he has lived an extraordinary life. His father, Abdullah Yusuf Ali was a reputed Islamic scholar of Indian origin who translated the Qur'an into English. Abdullah married an English woman. Their young son studied in England, Greek and Latin amongst other subjects.
In 1941, Rashid was commissioned in the Indian Army, and fought for the British in Burma. Like several other frontier officers, he resigned from the Army to join the newly-created ‘frontier’ service. He believes that what characterized IFAS officers, was their long tours; they used to walk over long distances (sometimes for weeks) to visit remote villages near the Indo-Tibet border. Ali, a Christian, also remembers walking with his wife from the plains of Assam to Sepla (today’s Seppa, in East Kameng district).
Ali is modest when he says the IFAS officers had not much work to do; he thus explains why on their return from the annual tours, they used to write long and delightful reports, very much enjoyed by the Prime Minister.
These officers, like Brigadier (Justice) D.M. Sen, the first Judge Advocate General of India, who is now 100 years old, have still fond memories of their days in NEFA.
But when one looks at the events before the 1962 war, one realizes that ‘the philosophy of NEFA’, though based on genuine human concerns, did not take into consideration the military and strategic aspects the region.
After all, Dr. Verrier Elwin, the guru of the NEFA, was an anthropologist, and it was certainly not his task to consider other aspects of the border areas. After 1962, Nehru probably greatly regretted to have neglected the preparation of the border defence for a romantic preservation of the ‘tribal life’.
It is sad that the IFAS, an adhoc creation by the Prime Minister, was dissolved in the mid-1960s and the intrepid IFAS officers were ‘merged’ into the more boring IFS, IAS or IPS. The fact remains that these officers who decided to sacrifice their careers to join the IFAS were all remarkable personalities, and even though the cadre does not exist anymore, these individuals should be role models for young IAS/IPS officers.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Diverting the Indus River to Xinjiang: a 'pilot' project!

Yesterday, the BBC reported that: “China inaugurated one of the biggest engineering projects of all time: the South-North Water Diversion, a £48bn, 2,400km network of canals and tunnels, designed to divert 44.8bn cubic metres of water annually from China’s humid south to its parched, industrialised north. At 2.32pm, the project’s ‘middle line’ officially began carrying water from the Danjiangkou reservoir in central China’s Hubei province to Beijing – the distance from Corsica to London.”
Chinese officials believe that the diversion can save China from “a water crisis that could set its development back years.”
The Henan Daily explained the 'frugal' launch: “engineering project, in keeping with a frugal and pragmatic working style, celebratory activities will be kept as simple as possible. No officials will take part in the ceremonies.”
Jennifer Turner, director of the China Environment Forum at the Wilson Center in Washington DC, told the BBC that though the project could provide some much-needed relief, it “will never solve north China’s water problem”. It is a “Band-Aid, rather than a long-term solution.”
There is no doubt that the issue will be debated again and again in the months and years to come.
In the meanwhile, some researchers in China have thought of something else, a smaller ‘pilot’ project: to divert the Indus river towards Xinjiang.
It is posted on a Chinese blog, ScienceNet.cn (Chinese: 科学网).
Wikipedia says that:
ScienceNet.cn is a science virtual community and science blog. It is launched by Science Times Media Group (STMG) and supported by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Chinese Academy of Engineering, and the National Natural Science Foundation of China with the mission of establishing global Chinese science community. Since its launch on January 18, 2007, a total of 5,553 scientists and graduate students have blogged on ScienceNet. According to the editorial board of ScienceNet, it has been ranking the top one among Chinese science websites."
The blogger quotes some Chinese researchers who argue that the other planned 'diversions' require extremely difficult construction work, large investments, long construction periods, face a lot of engineering problems due to the complexity of the issues (one could add, and 'millions of displaced people'). It makes these projects difficult to undertake, while a small-scale, with low investment and a quickly realizable scheme, could be an ideal pilot project.
These researchers propose to add a Western segment (a diversion from the Indus river in western Tibet to the Tarim Basin in Xinjiang), to the Western Diversion Route.
This would meet, according to them, the requirements of a pilot scheme.
Their summary is given below (here is a very rough translation):
From the Tibetan Plateau in the West to the Tarim Basin, the water diversion project referred in this article is called ‘the South Western part of Western Route Project’. The full text describes the preliminary survey of the South Western part of the Western Route Project. The size of the diversion program and a brief introduction on China’s northwest after the large-scale water transfer, are given.
The main conclusion is that the diversion will help maintaining long-term stability in Xinjiang.
The paper also suggests deepening the researches and an early implementation of the South Western part of the Western Route Project.
This ‘easy’ pilot project does not, of course, take into account what the neighbours (including China’s all-weather friend, Pakistan) have to say.
That may not make the pilot project so simple after all!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Buddhist China and Tibetan Lamas: win-win equation? Not sure!

As often mentioned on this blog, China is fast becoming Buddhist …with Chinese characteristics.
The China Daily, which has the widest circulation for English-speaking newspaper in China, yesterday published an article entitled, ‘A monk for all seasons’.
It is consecrated to Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche.
The Chinese newspaper describes the lama: “He goes to the gym, makes use of business lingo. ‘It's a win-win-win-win situation’, he says, adding, with childlike exuberance, two more ‘win’s to the regular catch phrase. Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche is, evidently, a monk for all seasons,” concludes The China Daily.
All season includes a Chinese season.
And his visit to Hong Kong is a great win for Beijing!
Let us look at the facts.
Right now the Rinpoche is ‘trying to promote Buddhist philosophy through the appreciation of fine art’ in the former British colony.
He displaying some 100 Thangka paintings from Nepal at L'hotel Nina. According to the Chinese newspapers, Shyalpa has invited many ‘friends’ to experience how proximity to these sacred paintings could be ‘transformative’; as the lama adds: “great art brings those who experience it closer to their own sacred selves.”
That’s sounding cool!
The mainland newspaper asserts: “you might catch him running up a narrow, single-track road on his way to the Peak, if you are really lucky. It's probably easier to find him addressing a class in some of the world's finest schools, Harvard, Yale and Wesleyan. He is like a high-profile academic, invited to lecture in universities across continents and probably busier than the CEO of a multinational company. He is the founder of several centers focused on humanitarian activity.”
The question however remains: why is Communist China so interested in this lama?
The Rinpoche is indeed eloquent about Buddhist tenets: "You have to seize the moment spontaneously, without hoping for the consequences, like the bee digs inside a flower without caring that the petals will close at the end of the day, suffocating it to death. Real enjoyment is about accepting who you are, knowing your own abilities and doing what comes naturally."
The catalog of the exhibition, The Art of Thangka: A Himalayan Spiritual Legacy deals “with the intricacies of the thangka tradition and the various schools of Buddhist philosophy using these paintings.”
The Rinpoche affirms that the power of the Thangka is that: "it can arouse a spiritual quality in us. It brings on the realization that we are greater than what we think we are. Thangka can inspire hope in people. It radiates with hope."
What are the win-wins?
For Shyalpa, the exhibition is a great win as a fund-raiser.
He says that the money generated from the sales of these ‘gorgeous’ images will go to the Shyalpa Ladrang Trust Fund to support monks and nuns in Nepal.
The secret of China’s love for the Rinpoche can be found in another article in the same China Daily which gives more personal information on Shyalpa: “[After] he was recognized as a holy child, he trained to become a Buddhist monk since he was four, ultimately receiving guidance from his guru, Chatral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche.”
Shyalpa’s website site also gives details: “His Eminence Shyalpa Tenzin Rinpoche was born in the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains where he was recognized as a holy child and began training as a Lama at the age of four. Rinpoche attended the Buddhist University in Sarnath, Varanasi, and later received transmissions and empowerments from many of the greatest Nyingma and Kargyu masters of our time. Rinpoche is a lineage holder of the Great Perfection (Dzogchen) tradition — his primary root teacher is His Holiness Chatral Rinpoche."
The Communist newspaper says that the mention of his guru’s name brings a twinkle to Shyalpa's eyes: "He is 104 - a strong, vibrant personality, living a full life."
Then comes the reason why Beijing is interested by the Lama: the alumni of Sarnath discreetly sides with China against the protesting students in Hong Kong.
The China Daily writes: “[A] ray of optimism extends to young people who engage in rash and mindless acts, as Hong Kong has seen in recent times,” adding:”It's important to abide by the rules and regulation of the land, respect your culture and civilization.”
In other words, abide with the rules dictated by Beijing, respect the Party, and don’t engage in mindless protests!
It is really a win-win situation; Beijing receives the support of an influential lama and the lama get a lot of good publicity for his exhibition.
To ‘convert’ a few lamas to its cause, seems the best way for China to become a world leader in Buddhist affairs.

Postscript

Chatral Sangye Dorje Rinpoche
There is a postscript to the win-win story; it is about ‘Karmic win’.
A few years ago, the now 104-year old Chatral Rinpoche, who lives as a hermit in Nepal, published a ‘Declaration’; he informed all his disciples:
  1. If you are a serious Buddhist student and Zogpachenpo's practitioner [Dzogchen], one should spend your life in retreat with minimum comfort and giving up all luxuries attachment.
  2. Do not waste your time in touring all foreign countries including Taiwan which is fruitless.
  3. Do not tempt for begging donations under different excuse such as construction of a big monastery, Stupa, Zangdogpelri [special offering of copper coloured mountain], Bumtsog [extensive offerings puja] or big offerings or setting-up of a new Buddhist center etc.
  4. Do not sell out Zogpachenpo under different pretext for your own personal benefit.
  5. Always be humble and do not try to expose yourself in front of others even you may have little knowledge in Buddhism.
  6. Do not cheat others in the name of Zogpachenpo by giving initiations or teachings which you have never received and not done practice by yourself from a legitimate high Lama or Guru.
  7. Finally, I myself never have any slightest desire to visit any foreign country nor I have any specific reason.
The old wise man adds: “In the past, I have experienced several occasions that despite of my unwillingness and objection, re-incarnate Lama, yogis, khenpos [abbots] and monks those who have come to see me are taking photographs with me by force under different pretext. Due to electronic supremacy people are coming with different types of electronic equipments so as to record my voice or photograph me which are not easy to detect by a people of my age. Hence, I notify all the Buddhist followers all over the world do not repeat do not believe on the person who is possessing such photographs or making tall claim that he or she is my student in the past or present.”
To follow the old Rinpoche would certainly provide a great karmic win; without mentioning Beijing, however, all his disciples may not be ready to understand this basic truth.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The CIA and China

The much-awaited report (summary) from Senate Intelligence Committee on the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program is finally in the public domain.
Its conclusion are clear, the Intelligence Agency misled the US Congress and the President about the effectiveness of the methods adopted by the CIA.
The report takes to pieces the 20 most frequent CIA claims that torture helps to stop terrorist plots.
The National Security Archive, which promotes the transparency, writes: “describing in more than 500 pages a dysfunctional agency so unprepared to handle suspected terrorist detainees after 9/11, that the CIA bought into private contractors' proposals for torture, and then lied to Congress, President Bush, the Justice Department, the public, and to itself about the purported effectiveness of the program.”
The released documents includes a 6-page foreword by Senate’s committee chairperson Diane Feinstein, a 19-page list of 20 specific Findings and Conclusions, and a 499-page Executive Summary detailing the development of the torture program after 9/11.
It details, for example, the ‘job’ of the outside contractors, with no prior experience in interrogation, running the torture programs and earning $1800 per day, (overall it cost the Agency $ 81 Million).
The CIA documents also shows that several CIA officers at the secret detention sites repeatedly protested the torture program, but CIA successive directors such as George Tenet, Porter Goss, and Hayden, overruled the objections and continued.
That’s bad.
But the most ironical is that, as The Guardian puts it: “China and North Korea, two of the nations most often criticised by the US over human rights, have lined up to return fire after the Senate published its damning report on the CIA’s use of torture to interrogate captives suspected of terrorist involvement.”
Hong Lei, the spokesperson of the Chinese foreign ministry affirmed that the US should ‘correct its ways’; he dares to say: “China has consistently opposed torture. We believe that the US side should reflect on this, correct its ways and earnestly respect and follow the rules of related international conventions.”
The Chinese press spoke of “double standards for presenting itself as a defender of human rights while committing gross abuses.”
Xinhua’s website dedicated an entire page to the US Report: ‘How long can the US pretend to be a human rights champion?’
The pro-Beijing Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao writes that the report shows that some of the CIA methods were ‘almost medieval’.
In prevision of the release of the report, Xinhua had an editorial asserting that the US “should clean up its own backyard first and respect the rights of other countries to resolve their issues by themselves. …America is neither a suitable role model nor a qualified judge on human rights issues in other countries, as it pertains to be. …Yet, despite this, people rarely hear the US talking about its own problems, preferring to be vocal on the issues it sees in other countries, including China ... What the US appears to be doing is defending its own national interests and wielding human rights issues as a political tool.”
The Chinese news agency added: “All countries, of course, have civil liberties and human rights issues, including the United States. Many of us have followed recent events back home, which have sparked conversations that we hope will bring about positive change. That dialogue is made possible by our enduring respect for freedoms of expression and assembly.”
Apart of the raging battle, ‘you are worse than us’, who is going to suffer at the end of the day?
It is not the ‘contractors’ who pocketed hefty packets of dollars or the Chinese Peoples’ Armed Police or the torturers of the Ministry of Internal Security of China.
While one can expect the next US Administrations not to repeat the crimes of its predecessors, torture will continue in China and the so-called minorities will be at the receiving end.
Recently Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that “A Tibetan political prisoner has died less than six years into his 15-year jail term after suspected beating and torture by Chinese authorities”.
It quotes a report of the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) based in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh.
Tenzin Choedak, also known as Tenchoe, 33, died in a hospital in Lhasa, just two days after he was released in an extremely weak condition: “Due to beating and torture during the past six years, his chances of survival became slim," said TCHRD researcher Tsering Gyal.
Tenchoe would have sustained fatal injuries “while in police custody following his arrest for leading landmark protests against Chinese rule in Lhasa in 2008. He did not recover from the injuries,” stated TCHRD.
A source in Tibet told TCHRD that Tenchoe was recently brought to one of the hospitals: “He was almost unrecognizable. His physical condition had deteriorated and he had brain injury in addition to vomiting blood.”
Tenchoe was a social activist working for a European NGO affiliated to the Red Cross. He had been jailed for 15 years by the Intermediate People’s Court of Lhasa in September 2008, for participating to street protests.
For Tsering Tsomo, the executive director of TCHRD, the modus oparenadi is always the same: “The death of Tibetan prisoners resulting from their treatment in detention shows efforts by prison authorities to cover up the deaths by releasing the prisoners, thus contributing to a culture of impunity where torture is allowed to flourish.”
Instead of pointing the finger at the CIA, the leadership in Beijing should check what is happening in its own backyard.
It is also ironical that the Tibetan Diaspora sees the United States as the paradigm of freedom and democracy.

Monday, December 8, 2014

One more railway on the Tibetan Plateau

According to Xinhua, the construction of a new railway line has started on the Tibetan plateau: "Construction begins on Chengdu-Ya'an section of Sichuan-Tibet railway," titled Xinhua.
The Chinese news agency announced that the work has begun on the rail line from Chengdu, capital of southwest Sichuan Province to Ya'an, a city located west of the capital.
Xinhua says: "The 42-km Chengdu-Ya'an section is an important part of the Sichuan-Tibet railway, and will have a journey time of about eight hours from Chengdu to Lhasa, capitals of Sichuan the Tibet," adding the usual rationale: "Transport is a bottleneck for tourism in Tibet and currently, there is no direct railway service between the two cities. After completion, the Sichuan-Tibet railway will connect with the Qinghai-Tibet railway."
It has, of course, important strategic implications for India as the new railway will run north of the McMahon Line (Arunachal Pradesh).
Once the first segment is completed, the next stage will probably be Ya'an-Dartsedo (or Kangding), the seat of Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in western Sichuan.
The town, which is administratively part of Kangding County, has a population of more than 100,000 inhabitants.
It is also one of the most restive parts of Kham.
The Chinese planners certainly believe that the railway will greatly help to 'stabilize' (Chinese euphemism) the volatile political situation in Eastern Tibet.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Will China take the leadership of the Buddhist World?

The Chinese Panchen Lama addressing the WFB Confrence
On October 27, 2014, The Buddhist Channel, a global news platform which provides news on Buddhism, reported the recently-held Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB).
The Channel titled “China lays claims to Leadership of the Buddhist World”.
Is it a correct assessment?
According to Xinhua, China’s official news agency: “Hundreds of the world's Buddhists gathered at an ancient temple in northwest China's Shaanxi Province to open the World Fellowship of Buddhists' 27th general conference. Congregating around a relic said to contain one of the Buddha's finger bones at the Famen Temple in Baoji City, more than 600 representatives from 30 nations and regions were in attendance.”
It is not new that Communist China believes in the Buddha’s relics. Remember in 1957, Zhou Enlai brought some relics to India on the occasion of the 2500th anniversary of Gautam Buddha’s birth.
It was however the first time that the three-day event, organized by the Bangkok-headquartered WFB met on the Chinese soil (from October 16 to 18).
Xinhua says: “Buddhist leaders at the opening ceremony included the 11th Panchen Lama, Bainqen Erdini Qoigyijabu [Gyaltsen Norbu], and Nichiyu Mochida, chief abbot of Japan's Sogen-ji Temple.”
Dr Kalinga Seneviratne, who attended the WFB on behalf of the German Dharmadutta Society delegation from Sri Lanka, commented on the impressive display of Chinese Buddhist culture and hospitality.
There is no doubt that the Chinese are good hosts.
Like many other delegates, Seneviratne praised China: “Though not officially acknowledged, China is today home to between 200-300 million Buddhists thus making it the country with the world’s largest Buddhist population. The restored grand Buddhist temples in Baoji and in close by Xian, and the impressive Buddhist cultural display at the opening ceremony of the WFB meeting is anything to go by, it indicates that Chinese Buddhism has undergone a remarkable revival, after Buddhist temples were destroyed and Buddhist practices disrupted during the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s.”
Interestingly, according to the Buddhist Association of China (BAC) – the Conference’s co-organizer with the Shaanxi Province – there are only 240,000 Buddhist monks and nuns in China, living in some 28,000 monasteries (over 3,000 in Tibet alone) – and 38 Buddhist Academies.
These 240,000 practitioners are officially registered followers of the Buddha Dharma. What about the non-registered monks and nuns?
For example, it is said that Larung Gar monastery in Eastern Tibet hosts more than 30,000 monks and nuns, while the official ‘government quota’ is 10,000 only. We shall come back on these discrepancies.
Lou Qinjian, the Governor of Shaanxi Province opened the conference by stating: “Buddhism has become an important part of Chinese civilization for over 1800 years [sic] and Shaanxi has been the gateway for the flow of Buddhism from India to China. …Over this period Buddhism has spread the ideas of equality, benevolence and harmony that have become important parts of Chinese civilization.”
Lou affirmed that the Chinese government has been renovating many historic Buddhist monuments in recent years and has also been encouraging the development of Buddhist cultural practices.
It is not what the Tibetans say.
Radio Free Asia (RFA) recently reported that the Chinese authorities have expelled more than 100 Tibetan nuns from a convent in a southwestern Tibetan county near the border with Nepal, sending them back to their family homes and forcing them to wear lay dress.
The same source affirmed that the Party has “tightened restrictions on monastic life in a restive county in Tibet [Driru in Nagchu prefecture], expelling 26 unregistered nuns from a nunnery and study center offering courses in Buddhist philosophy,” adding that “the nuns were not among the 140 allowed to live in Jada nunnery.”
The authorities had only approved 140 nuns to reside at Jada. Only ‘official’ nuns were permitted to continue their studies.
At the WFB's conference, Lou Qinjian praised the Buddhist community in the Shaanxi Province “for practicing Buddhist charity and carrying out many charitable activities outside China”. He concluded by hoping that: “with the new project of the Chinese government to revitalize the Silk Route that originates from here [Shaanxi] , the conference will help to carry forward the virtues of Buddhism to contribute to social harmony and peace in Asia.”
This was a small ‘political’ aside and indirect praise of President Xi Jinping, who is very promoting the Silk Road project (for economic reasons).
At the Conference, many speakers pointed out that Shaanxi was the native place of the famous Buddhist monk-pilgrim, Xuanzang, “who took the Silk Route to India in 605 AD and spent some 12 years at Nalanda University to bring back Buddhist scriptures to China. …Over 20 years, he translated these into Chinese and other languages, which helped to spread Buddhism to other parts of China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam”, wrote a commentator.
The organizers took the international delegates on a special tour to the newly renovated temple in Xian, about 150 km from Baoji, where the famous pilgrim lived and translated the Buddha's words.
In a message to the Conference, Yu Zhengsheng, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) said: “Buddhism, which extols peace, compassion and virtue, has been an example of the exchange and two-way learning of different civilizations.”
Yu mentioned Xuanzang’s journey as one of the wonderful episodes of ‘cultural exchange’ (with India?). The member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo looking after religious affairs (as well as Tibet and Xinjiang), declared that “Buddhist tenets can help mankind tackle current challenges and hoped that Buddhist circles in various nations could make concerted efforts in promoting the mutual understanding of people in different nations and contribute more to lasting peace and prosperity in the world,” adding that “the focus of the conference on charity and good will, is significant because it reflects the shared attentions of Buddhists in different nations on enhancing the well-being of mankind.”
Du Qinglin, vice chairman of the CPPCC's National Committee and a former interlocutor of the Dalai Lama’s envoys affirmed that “China supports Buddhist circles to play a positive role in shoring up economic development and social harmony and encourages Buddhists and other religions to promote cultural exchange with other nations.”
Of course, there was no question or even a mention about the Dalai Lama, a taboo subject for the Party.
More interesting was the speech of the Chinese-selected Panchen Lama Gyalsten Norbu. He said that the WFB as an organization has strengthened Buddhists' communication and the development of different schools of Buddhism.
Norbu urged Buddhists worldwide to jointly strive for deepened exchange and cooperation and work together to boost environmental protection and safeguard world peace. He also told the international gathering that the Chinese government’s support for this conference was “a proof that religious freedom which exists in the country.”
In this case why not inviting the Dalai Lama?
The young Lama added: “Buddhism has already integrated into the Chinese culture and it is recognized by the Chinese government. For over thousand years Tibetan Buddhism has become the precious gem of the Chinese nation.”
But there is another side to the coin.
While Buddhism is promoted for ‘political reasons’, it is banned for entire sections of the Chinese society.
Zhu Weiqun, chairman of the ethnic and religious affairs committee of the CPPCC and former senior official of the United Work Front Department wrote an op-ed in the Global Times soon after the visit to Tibet of an inspection team of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).
The team had criticized local party members for following religion and taking part in religious activities: “Communist Party members cannot follow any religion – this is the important ideological and organisational principle which has been upheld since the founding of the party. There is no doubt about it,” affirmed Zhu who continued: “Without the foundation of the worldview, the mansion of the party’s ideologies, theories and organisations will all collapse. We could no longer be called the ‘Chinese Communist Party’.”
Zhu affirmed: “If the stronger the religion is, the higher a society’s moral level is, then Middle Ages Europe under the influence of the Vatican should have been the golden age of human morality, and there would have been no need for the Renaissance”. Zhu denounced scholars “who advocate that party members should be free to follow religion”.
As mentioned on this blog, last month The Tibet Daily had had reported a speech of Chen Quanguo, the Party Secretary of the Tibetan Autonomous Religious (TAR). He had vowed to severely punish Communist cadres in Tibet who 'harbor fantasies' (or illusions): "As for cadres who harbor fantasies about the 14th Dalai [Lama] Group, follow the Dalai Group, participate in supporting separatist infiltration sabotage activities, (they will be) strictly and severely punished according to the law and party disciplinary measures."
Reuters had commented that "Chen's denunciation of the Dalai Lama signals a hardening stance against the Nobel Peace Prize winner whom they label a 'wolf in sheep's clothing'."
China today faces a serious dichotomy.
On one side, Beijing would like to become the ‘World Buddhist Leader’, but on the other hand, the Party which leads the nation bans Buddhism for its members on ideological grounds.
One understands that 200-300 million ‘official’ Buddhists could be very subversive for the regime. Today, the membership of the Communist party is a small percentage of these figures, how could Buddha be more popular than Karl Marx?
And if Party card holders are not allowed to practice, does it mean that for the Party, there is something wrong with these practices.
This half-hearted promotion of the Buddha Dharma is certainly an obstacle to the rise of China as the world leader in this field.
Then, the continuous denigration of the Dalai Lama is also an impediment to become ‘the leader’.
Who in the West (and in India) is going to follow China when it constantly bashes the revered Tibetan leader?
Beijing’s famous hospitality may get China a few 'pliable' delegates to attend a Conference in China, but more is required to take the leadership of the Buddhist movement.
This is true for China’s ‘soft policies’ in general.
Veteran China watcher, Willy Lam wrote in the latest volume of the China Brief of the Jamestown Foundation, 'China’s Soft-Power Deficit Widens as Xi Tightens Screws Over Ideology'.
Lam explained his point: “Even for a country that is notable for its myriad contradictions, the gap between China’s hard and soft power has never been more pronounced. The year 2014 has witnessed the kind of global hard-power projection that is unprecedented in recent Chinese history. The two-year-old Xi Jinping administration has used China’s growing economic and military might to impose its stamp on the world order. Yet the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) increasingly draconian efforts to impose ideological control on 1.3 billion Chinese has not only stifled their creativity but also detracted from the worldwide appeal of the ‘China model’.”
China can’t be a hard power and a soft power at the same time.
In the meantime, some participants to the conference they that they would like to develop a global voice for Buddhists, something like the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) for Muslims.
A Chinese Dream which will never manifest.