Thursday, February 28, 2013

Time for Outrage

I repost an old-article published in the DNA about Stéphane Hessel who passed away yesterday.
During World War II, he served with the Central Bureau of Intelligence and Action of General de Gaulle's government of Free France and fought against Nazism. 
After the War, he continued to fight many battles for freedom and respect of human dignity.
He was a great human being.

Very few in India have heard of Stéphane Hessel, though the 94-year old former diplomat and Buchenwald concentration camp survivor has been selected as the Man of the Year by a serious survey in France.
Born in Germany from Jewish parents, Hessel was a naturalized French citizen in 1939; two years later, he joined General de Gaulle in London and entered the French Resistance. Back in France, he organized the Resistance’s communication networks, but was later captured by the Gestapo and deported to Buchenwald concentration camp. He was lucky to be able to escape during a train transfer in 1944.
In the West, he is today an icon, not because of his war deeds, but for an insignificant-looking booklet that the old man wrote in October last year. At first only 6,000 copies of Time for Outrage! (Indignez-vous! in French) were printed. In a matter of weeks, it was translated in several languages and more than 3 million copies were sold worldwide.
He was even named as one of the top global thinkers by the Foreign Policy magazine in the US: “for bringing the spirit of the French Resistance to a global society that has lost its heart”.
While some only saw left-wing propaganda, others highlighted the lack of literary values: “It is repetitive, unoriginal, simplistic and frustratingly short,” wrote The Independent. But ‘Indignez-vous’ symbolizes more, much more than its 14 pages. It has become a symbol of the ‘outrage’ of modern society against many crying injustices and the pervasive power of money.
Hessel strongly believes: “When something outrages you, as Nazism did to me, the time has come when you should become a militant, fervent and engaged. …You should join the great current of history which continues to flow only because of the engagement of each and every one of us.”
This may remind you of some revolutionary movements, but Hessel insists that the ‘indignation’ should be strictly non-violent; he had witnessed enough violence during WW II.
In 4,000 words, Hessel caught something more universal, the outrage of the youth against injustice, servitude, inequality and a society uniquely based on false values.
In 2011 in Spain, those who protested against the Government’s economic politics became known as Los Indignados (The Outraged Ones). Hessel’s pamphlet inspired other protests across the world, whether it is in Greece, UK, Chile, Israel, or the Occupy Wall Street movement.
The great merit of the old Resistant is that he was able to catch a planetary wind of change, as did Bob Dylan (another Jew) in the 1960’s when he sang “The Times are a-Changin”.
Hessel based his arguments on the spirit of the Resistance. Youth should have the courage to be ‘outraged’ and stand up against the society’s ills (in his case, it was against Hitler’s philosophy and methods). The Resistants fought, according to Hessel not only for freedom from the Nazis’s yoke, but also for a more just society with higher economic, social and democratic values.
In the Indian context: the Hazare Movement, with all its limitations, symbolizes the outrage of the people of India vis-a-vis the pervading corruption of its political leaders. And if millions are ready to follow the old Gandhian leader in his crusade against illicit money, it is not because they believe in Anna Hazare’s life style, but because they don’t accept any more the ‘fait accompli’ that the powerful can loot the State and manipulate the democratic set up of the nation.
For Hessel, the worst attitude is ‘indifference’. He writes: “the reasons to be indignant can seem today less obvious [than during the Resistance]. … [because] we live in an interconnected world like never before, but in this world there still are intolerable things.”
These ‘intolerable things’ should trigger youth’s outrage, whether in the West, in emerging nations or in poor continents like Africa. While Hessel applies his argument primarily to Europe and France, the principles that he expounded in a few pages are universal: “I say to the young people, the worst of attitudes is indifference, to say ‘I can do nothing, I'll just manage to get by’ …You lose one of the essential elements that makes human being [different]: the faculty of indignation.”
A few weeks ago, in another context, using other ways, thousands of villagers of Wukan in South China stood up against the ‘intolerable’ land-grabbing practices of the local Communist authorities and for the first time in decades, the Power backed down. ‘Outrage’ worked.
Hessel concluded: “I wish for you all, each of you, to have your own motive for indignation”.
While some have prophesized that 2012 will mark the end of the world, let us hope that we will simply see the end of Indifference. It is perhaps the first step for a better world to manifest.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Great India in Space

In recent months India has been a depressing country to observe. One scan follows another; the latest being the chopper scam for the procurement of 12 AW101 helicopters from the Anglo-Italian firm Agusta-Westland.
It is all the more disheartening because before any proof is made available, the MoD has already indicated that India will ‘ban’ the British and Italian companies.
It is depressing because for the faults of a few, it is the country which is penalized. Remember L’Affaire Bofors? India preferred to punish the bribe-giver company and let free the bribe-taker; ultimately, the country suffered for many years due to a lack of spare parts and ammunition.
The choppergate is the symptom of a deeper malady; corruption is increasing by the day. Last week I had to get my driving license, I was told that to ‘make it smooth’, some contribution has to be ‘offered’ to the licensing authorities; no way to only put the blame on the ‘voracious foreign’ arm dealers.
I need not further detail some other curses of modern India such as the way rape victims are treated…
I was in this dark mood when I got an invitation to attend the launch of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) C-20 in Sriharikota, 100 km north of Chennai.
Having followed President Hollande’s visit to India earlier this month, I thought that, if successful, this would be the cherry on the Indo-French partnership cake.
Apart from the Indo-French collaborative effort, Saral, which is to study the ocean surface and environment using two French devices — ARgos and ALtila, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) was to put into orbit six other satellites, UniBRITE and BRITE from Austria, AAUSAT3 from Denmark, STRaND from the UK and NEOSSat and SAPPHIRE from Canada.
ISRO had postponed its 23rd launch of a PSLV rocket a couple of times since December due to detected technical malfunctions; this provided a unique occasion for President Pranab Mukherjee to witness the event at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre on the Sriharikota range.
I had no hesitation to jump at the occasion for another reason: the Indo-French collaboration in the domain of space had intrigued me from the time the romantic French President Nicolas Sarkozy decided to visit the Satellite Centre of ISRO in Bangalore before taking his wife to the Taj Mahal.
Was space collaboration more glamorous than the Mumtaz’ mausoleum?
It is true that Indo-French cooperation in the domain of space is one of the oldest, even if not the best-known.
Already in May 1964, the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) of France and the Indian Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) “embarked upon a programme of continuing cooperation in space research of mutual interest for peaceful scientific purposes.” ISRO did not exist as yet.
The DAE agreed to manufacture, under license in India, the Belier and Centaure probing rockets developed by the French firm Sub-Aviation. The CNES supplied to DAE four Centaure rockets used for vapour cloud experiments.
The Indian space program continued to develop smoothly, often with French collaboration.
Of course, India has gone a long way since. The present PSLV C-20 weighed 229 tones for a height of 44.4 meters and was able to carry a payload weighing 668 kg.
A couple of hours before the launch, Yannick d’Escatha, the CNES President told me how important the cooperation with ISRO has been for the CNES, particularly after the Megha-tropiques project initiated in 2003.
Not only did the bilateral relations take a new turn, but the joint venture was an occasion to deepen the friendship between the scientists of the 2 countries; and ‘friendship’ means trust, he said.
Launched on October 12, 2011 by PSLV C-18, the objective of the Megha-Tropiques was to study intra-seasonal and inter-annual variations of the energy and water budget of the land-ocean-atmosphere system; all linked with global warming.
On 14 February 2013, President Hollande and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh witnessed the signature of a Statement of Intent for long-term cooperation in space between ISRO and CNES; President d’Escatha said a third joint mission will soon be planned, again in the field of environment and climate change.
For me, the launch of PSLV C-20 was a ‘comforting’ experience.
One hour before the expected time of ignition, one could feel the tension (if not the anxiety) mounting among the French, Canadian and Indian engineers gathered in the special gallery above the control room in which 5 giant screens were installed. On each screen were given details of the countdown, including the IST and GMT timings. Several cameras focused on different parts of the rocket as well as the control room.
As The Hour approached, a silence descended on the range; even the thousands of flamingos, herons, egrets or pelicans populating the Pulicat lake seemed to know that the time had come. The full moon was a bonus organized by ISRO for its Indian and foreign guests.
As the ‘10 minute’ countdown was announced, the remaining tasks (shown on the screens), one by one turned from red to green when successfully completed; the silence was then complete. A Canadian scientist who had worked for 12 years on the NEOSSat satellite and who witnessed several launches at Baikonur (in today’s Kazakhstan) or at Kourou, in French Guyanna, advised me to stay outside during the first 2 minutes (the separation of Stage I occurred after 113 seconds after the initial ignition). I did not regret heeding to him; later I felt sorry for the President and the poor VVIPs inside the enclosure who could only see the screens. Outside, it was grandiose, as twilight descended, the PSLV majestically rose; first in a leisurely manner, then the rocket took a slow turn towards the south. It was worth watching. As the Stage I and II separated, one could see the Stage I slowly being left behind (before falling into the Bay of Bengal); all those present started clapping enthusiastically.
And then, everyone rushed into the gallery to follow the rocket’s trajectory on the radars. After each announcement, visible on the screens: the separation of a stage, ignition of the next one and then separation of each successive satellite, the scientific staff (including ISRO’s Chairman who had abandoned the President of India to be with his scientists) and the other lucky witnesses would clap.
Our hands were red after 22 minutes when it was announced that the launch had been a success; all the satellites had been placed on their proper orbits.
Then everybody started to congratulate his or her neighbours. Some even congratulated me, just because I happened to be born in France?
The tension was then transferred from ISRO to their partners whose job was to link their respective satellites with different earth stations. For Saral, it happened immediately; but the poor Canadian of the SAPPHIRE project had to wait 2 hours for the confirmation that the link was established; they could then join the celebrations.
It was a great clean success for India.
No question of bribery, of ‘cheating’ the system here, of replacing ‘cement by sand’ to cut down the cost. One can’t cheat at this level of technology.
The ‘foreign’ witnesses were impressed by the demonstration of technical skills and precision of the entire operation. At that minute, India was truly one of the major powers of the planet.
I thought to myself, India can do it! Why does one still need Czech trucks or Swedish howitzers? India can do them!
But the other India, the India of middlemen and their political sponsors seems to need always more money to run the largest democracy in the world. That is the problem.

Monday, February 25, 2013

China disarming India without fighting

My article China disarming India without fighting
appeared in

More than 2,000 years back, Sun Tzu, the author of the Art of War wrote, “For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill; to subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”
If I was a Chinese general and keen to defeat India without combating, do you know what I would do?
I would provide ‘proofs’ that foreign arms dealers have corrupted some Indian officials or politicians by paying hefty ‘commissions’. I would repeat this for each and every armament deal.
The result would be terrific. The Indian Ministry of Defence would immediately cancel all the deals, no more arms for the three Indian services! It would be rather easy to realise. One just has to ‘inform’ the Indian Government that something has gone wrong in the procurement process, and ‘someone’ has taken money.
So easy to do and easy to believe! The reverse would be unbelievable.
A few days ago, a US company, Mandiant, identified the People’s Liberation Army’s Shanghai-based unit 61398 as the organisation behind most computer attacks against the United States. Through Unit 61398, I would leak some ‘details’ about the bribes to the MoD or better, to a gullible ‘breaking news’ channel.
Mandiant’s detailed 60-page study tracked individuals of a sophisticated hacking group, known in the United States as ‘Comment Crew’. The report said, “The activity we have directly observed likely represents only a small fraction of the cyber espionage that APT1 has conducted.” APT1 stands for ‘Advanced Persistent Threat’, the most dominant being termed APT1.
The report continues, “We have analysed the group’s intrusions against nearly 150 victims over seven years. We uncovered (in Shanghai) a substantial amount of APT1’s attack infrastructure, command and control, and modus operandi (tools, tactics, and procedures) Our research found that People’s Liberation Army (PLA’s) Unit 61398 is similar to APT1 in its mission, capabilities, and resources.”
Further, it was discovered that PLA Unit 61398 is located exactly in the place from which APT1 activity originates.
As a Chinese general, I would have the perfect tool to win the war. Let us take an example, the latest scam or Choppergate.
In 2010, the Government signed a Rs 4,000 crore contract for procurement of 12 AW101 helicopters from the Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland for the use of Indian VVIPs. Three of the 12 helicopters ordered have already been delivered (and an advance of 40 per cent has been paid).
Citing an ‘integrity clause’, Defence Minister AK Antony immediately announced that the contract will be cancelled and a show-cause notice was sent to the company to this effect.
Defence expert, Ajai Shukla commented in Business Standard, “Defence Minister AK Antony’s ‘strong action’ against Italian defence giant Finmeccanica, and its Anglo-Italian helicopter subsidiary, AgustaWestland, is aimed at making him sound like a man of steel.”
Now, Antony has no proof of any offence as yet, as the Italian prosecutors in Milan have refused to share incriminating documents with India. This is logical as the trial has not yet started, but it does not matter as, in India, loud voices have started asking for a ban. One commentator even suggested cancelling the deal for 126 Rafales because the fighter planes of Dassault Aviation were armed with missiles manufactured by the European company MBDA, of which Finmeccanica is a minority shareholder.
The rule, say the babus, is when a defence firm, Indian or foreign, comes under a corruption cloud, not only are all its contracts, present and the future, cancelled, but the entire group of companies are blacklisted and they can’t work in India for a minimum of 10 years.
According to this thinking, Dassault would be banned because Rafale may use weapons made by MBDA; the French firm being owned by BAE (37.5 per cent) and EADS (37.5 per cent). The Rafale’s rival Eurofighter would also be banned as Finmeccanica is part of the Eurofighter GMBH consortium, etc, etc, etc.
At the end, I, the Chinese general will effortlessly win the war, because India will not get a single piece of armament required for its defence and this, for the next one or two decades. I would merely have to leak some credible information into a few Indian computers.
Some will say, “It is a good thing; we shall now indigenise the defence production.” Faster said than done, the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft has been on the HAL drawing table for the past decades. Air Chief NAK Browne recently declared, “By my estimate the Initial Operational Clearance should be by the end of 2013 and the Final Operational Clearance (FOC) should take another year-and-half more.” Ditto for many DRDO projects.
So, as a Chinese general, I would used Unit 61398 or any other ‘research labs’ to pass on to South Block the information that there is something ‘fishy’ in each and every armament deal and the trick will be done.
The next day, the MoD will ‘cancel’ the deal using the ‘termination clause’.
I would subdue my enemy without a fight! That’s skill! India’s tragedy is that it prefers to punish the bribe-givers and leave free the bribe-takers and then ban the former in order to look honest. Unless the rotten apples are booked, the Chinese generals will keep laughing.
Separate issue: I am wondering what the Ministry of Defence is doing against Unit 61398 or its sister/brother concerns? Whether one likes it or not, cyberwar will be tomorrow’s war; the Chinese are far in advance on us in this field.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

More on Xi Jinping in Gansu

Labrang monks enrolling a giant thanka on February 22
After posting Why Xi Jinping did not visit Tibet? I came across a communique from the Hong Kong Information Center for Human Rights & Democracy, a Hong Kong-based service which reports on dissidence in the mainland. It asserted:
It has been learned that Xi Jinping's inspection tour of Gansu from 2 to 5 February was not for 'poverty alleviation' purposes as the official media reported but for 'making arrangements to maintain stability' in Tibetan areas of Gansu. Since Xi left the province, the Gansu authorities have arrested over 100 Tibetans - who may be prosecuted for 'inciting subversion of state power' - and more mobile armed police forces have been transferred to Gansu.
The Hong Kong Center is not always accurate in his predictions.
In fact, the information that 100 Tibetans were arrested from Gansu has never been confirmed. On February 7 (a day after Xi Jinping left Gansu province), a Xinhua article mentioned some arrests in Qinghai province, not in Gansu. These arrests probably occurred a couple of days before Xi's arrival in Gansu. Xinhua says:
A total of 70 criminal suspects have been captured by police in Huangnan of northwest China's Qinghai Province in connection with a string of self-immolations that have occurred since November 2012, a senior police officer.
Lyu Benqian, deputy chief of the Qinghai Provincial Public Security Department, said 12 of the suspects were officially arrested over the self-immolation cases in the Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.
Police will exert more efforts to thoroughly investigate the cases and seriously punish those who incite innocent people to commit self-immolation, he said.
The Dalai Lama clique masterminded and incited the self-immolations, said Lyu, who is also head of a special police team investigating the self-immolations. Personal information, such as photos of the victims, were sent overseas to promote the self-immolations, he added.
"Some of the victims were frustrated and pessimistic in life, and they wanted to earn respect by self-immolation," Lyu said when analyzing the motive for the self-immolations.
This is the usual Chinese propaganda.
What could have happened is: a large delegation of Labrang and Gannan Prefecture may have called on Xi during his stay in Gansu and briefed him about the prevalent situation. He probably wanted to be acquainted with the issue (by a large number of people, larger than if the encounter had taken place in Beijing).
He may have decided not to 'provoke' the Tibetans and take hasty decisions, without himself being fully settled in his seat. This is a speculation.
Monks carrying the thank in Labrang
Yesterday, China Tibet Online mentioned: "On February 22, 2013, Lamas unveil a gigantic Buddha tangka alongside a hillside for disciples' worship in Labrang Monastery in Xiahe [country of Gannan prefecture], northwest China's Gansu Province. The Buddha tangka display or "the basking of Buddha" is a Tibetan tradition praying for a good year. As one of the six leading monasteries of Tibetan Buddhism, Labrang Monastery built in 1709 is home to more than 1,000 lamas and is another center of the Gelug Sect, also known as the Yellow Sect, of Tibetan Buddhism outside the Tibet Autonomous Region."
Interestingly, during his visit to Gansu, Xi was accompanied by Wang Huning, the new Foreign Affairs star (and member of the Politburo).
A few months back The South China Morning Post reported: "Wang Huning often goes unrecognised despite being a trusted adviser to two presidents, but his cool demeanour hides a sharp political brain."
Now, he is following the new new boss and with his seat in the powerful Politburo he will be give a greater credibility to Foreign Affairs than his predecessor.  
In November, The South China Morning Post explained:
Wang Huning behind Xi in Gansu
Whether Hu Jintao is visiting farmers in remote villages or meeting heads of state, Wang Huning is usually by the president's side.
He was usually there with Jiang Zemin, too, during the latter's decade at the helm.
In fact, Wang has probably appeared in public more often than any other top official in recent years, although he rarely speaks and often goes unrecognised.
For two decades, Wang, 57, has served as a trusted adviser and wordsmith to the country's most powerful men.
He now heads the party's Policy Research Office, where his role is like a combination of national policy adviser and chief speech writer.
After becoming the mainland's youngest university professor - he stayed on after graduating from Fudan University to teach international politics in 1981 - Wang gained respect in leadership circles for his academic depth, neutral political stance and cautious working style.
...Before entering Zhongnanhai - the party headquarters in Beijing - Wang Huning advocated continued authoritarian rule to maintain political stability while gradually introducing democracy inside the party and expanding it to the outside. Jiang, who rose to power in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, was particularly taken by Wang's book, New Authoritarianism, which contained ideas Jiang thought suited the country at the time.
...Due to his close ties to Jiang, many observers consider Wang a member of the former president's "Shanghai gang". But his political savvy and knack for negotiating internal debate have allowed him to thrive under Hu.
An interesting question remains unanswered: will Wang wears two hats after the Two Meetings: Foreign Minister in the State Council and Special Representative. It is rumoured that he could take Dai Bingguo's job with, among others, the responsibility to negotiate the border dispute with India (with the National Security Advisor Menon).
We will have to wait a couple of weeks to know for sure.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

France-India: Special Relations

One French presidential visit to India follows another and although they can’t be more different in style and appearance, the essence of the Indo-French relations remains the same, based on trust and history.
Nine months ago, François Hollande became President of the French Republic. He took over from the flamboyant and hyperactive Sarkozy justifying the French press calling the new President, ‘Mr. Normal’.
It turns out that after all, Hollande is not that ‘ordinary’. As France was busy with a hot debate over gay marriages, Hollande suddenly became a chef de guerre, a Commander-in-Chief when he sent French troops to Mali.
Moreover, the new President had scored over his predecessor even before reaching Delhi. While Carla Bruni did not get the coveted status of ‘spouse’ during Sarkozy’s first visit in January 2008, Hollande's partner, Madame Valerie Trierweiler, was treated as such during Hollande’s State visit to India, being officially received at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
But the Indo-French relations go far beyond society gossip or the tight MEA protocol.
In December 2010, as I was in the bus with the French journalists returning from Hyderabad House (where Sarkozy and Dr. Manmohan had issued a Joint Statement) to the Media Center in the Maurya Center, everyone was busy with calculators to check the ‘total’ of the agreements signed. President Sarkozy’s tally reached 17 billion Euros; this was including 9 million for two Areva nuclear plants in Jaitapur, Maharashtra (not yet started), the refitting of the Mirage 2000 and other sundries.
This time, there was no big money contract ‘signed’ during Hollande’s visit, but the new President took time to speak to his interlocutors, whether they were businessmen, researchers, journalists or ordinary French citizens. Never, did I got the impression of a man in a hurry, a big difference with his predecessor.
The four agreements, signed at Hyderabad House after a meeting with the Indian Prime Minister, included initiating a Cultural Exchange Programme between India and France (exchanges between artists, architects, cultural stakeholders, students, teachers, researchers, etc.); a Letter of Intent on the Intensification of Cooperation in the Fields of Higher Education and Research; a Statement of Intent for long-term cooperation in Space; and a Joint Statement to strengthen co-operation in the railway sector.
The agreements signed are not as ‘tangible’ as those inked by Sarkozy in December 2010, but signal a close and long-term partnership in diverse fields such defence, civil nuclear energy, space, economic and scientific exchange or culture.
What emerged clearly from the presidential visit is that the relation between France and India is ‘historic’, old, stable and based on trust. This was repeatedly mentioned during his two-day stay in Delhi and Mumbai.

The Defence Sector
In the critical domain of defence, the Joint Statement affirms: “the Leaders noted that the projects for the Scorpene submarine and upgrade of the Mirage 2000 are moving forward and steps are being taken for early finalization of the SRSAM Project [between MBDA and DRDO]. Both sides noted the ongoing progress of negotiations on the MMRCA [Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft] programme [Rafales] and look forward to their conclusion.”
‘The mother of all deals’, the supply of 126 MMRCA to the IAF, for which the Rafale of Dassault Aviation has been selected, was, of course, at the heart of the visit.
Someone noted that if Dassault’s karma is good, the deal may be signed before the summer. A week earlier at the Bangalore airshow, the Indian Air Chief had confirmed that the file would be sent to the Finance Ministry sometime in April/May and if it comes back with favorable notings, the deal may be signed soon after.
The main issue seems to be a lack of ‘understanding’ between Dassault and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL). News had circulated that Dassault was keen to have a deal with Reliance Industries to build 108 Rafales in India (18 will be directly supplied from France). Defence Minister A.K. Antony had to clarify that Dassault could not decide on the quantum of work taken up by HAL in the deal, as the tender mentions that HAL will be the Indian partner of the French firm. The Anglo-Italian choppergate will certainly not incite the Government to change the rules of the game.
As per the Joint Statement, the two nations have decided “to promote an ambitious and balanced Free Trade Agreement between India and the EU; establish an annual bilateral dialogue on economic and financial issues; facilitate and support investments from French companies into India and Indian companies into France; foster people mobility between the two countries and twining of higher education institutions...”
It is rather ambitious.
President Hollande even spoke of Bollywoood; a joke which was lost to many: he asked: “who invented cinema, is it France or India?” and added that it would be finally decided during the next Cannes Festival which will be consecrated to the 100th anniversary of Indian Cinema.

Economic perspectives
An important part of the State visit was consecrated to economic cooperation. On the first day, addressing the Economic Forum held at the Taj Hotel, President Hollande gave a business perspective to the Strategic Partnership between the two nations.
Hollande pointed out that France is ranked 9th as an investor in India, “It is not enough”, he said, adding, “…India is ranked 13th as an investor in France, it is far too little.”
He regretted that the bilateral exchanges have been stagnating at 7.5 billion Euros, the objective of 12 billion (fixed by Sarkozy in 2008) not having been reached. In his own style, he asserted: “Me, I don’t want to fix objectives with figures, but what I know is that we have large domains of collaboration, great potentials and [possibility] of common development”.
He mentioned amongst others, the fields of energy, transport, audiovisual, culture and large retailing.
On the second day, the French President travelled to Mumbai where he toured the Lafarge Research and Development Centre and later addressed a number of CEOs of Indian companies. He told them: “Mumbai is India’s economic heart; I can feel it pulsating at high speed. It is India’s industrial, commercial and financial centre; the first port of your great nation. It is therefore the privileged place to speak about the future economic relations between France and India”.
The Mumbai leg of the visit was clearly to invite businessmen of both countries to develop closer contacts and eventually invest in each other’s economies. Indian CEOs were told: “More than ever we have to be partners, partners for growth.”
A day earlier, The Times of India had asked the President why France trails other European countries in trade with India? He had answered: “In France, as in India, we wish to boost growth. The development of our bilateral trade must contribute to that goal. But to state things frankly, Indian customs duties are very high in certain areas, such as the food-processing sector. The entire challenge of the Free Trade Agreement under discussion between the EU and India is to give fresh impetus to our trade both ways.”
Several times, Hollande mentioned Europe: “Our interests are linked. We, in Europe, want to create stability, trust, but also growth. You, here in India, like every important emerging nation, you should take part in the world’s growth.
He firmly added: “I can tell you, the crisis in the Euro zone is over”, but [to grow] France needs the help of the great emerging economies like India.”
A few days later, Prime Minister Cameron would speak the same language, minus mentioning Europe, of course.
While pointing out that French companies employ more than 2,40,000 skilled Indian workers, Hollande said that the trade should be balanced and mutually beneficial.
During the two days, whenever he had the occasion, the President invited Indian companies to invest in France: “You are welcome. You will find the best technologies in France, very good infrastructure, a workforce of exceptional quality”.
During a working breakfast, when senior heads of the Indian industry asked him if investing in France could be a window on Europe, he answered (in English, can you believe it!): “it is not a window, it is an open door”.
He insisted that he was not only addressing the large enterprises, but also the medium and small-scale industries.
He introduced to the audience the Special Representative for economic relations with India, Paul Hermelin, the Chairman of the large IT firm Capgemini. Hermelin’s job will be to try to bring some vitality to the relatively slow economic relations.
Hollande recalled several times that there are today 750 French companies working in India; he particularly mentioned the Banque Nationale de Paris which came 150 years ago to Mumbai.
But everything is not rosy. It is not always easy for French companies to ‘settle’ in India (that is perhaps why Dassault seems nervous). Take Snecma, a French multinational aircraft engine manufacturer based in France. For several years, Snecma worked with Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE), a lab under the DRDO for the joint development of the Kaveri engine for India's Light Combat Aircraft. The Business Standard recently reported that the Ministry of Defence “will no longer ask French aircraft engine builder Snecma to help it in resurrecting the indigenous Kaveri jet engine, which has reached a dead end in development”.
Despite the goodwill and the trust, joint or single ventures are bound to face difficulties.
It is however worth mentioning an issue which has remained rather discreet, but which is the oldest collaboration between India and France; it is the cooperation in space.
During their discussions at Hyderabad House, President Hollande and Dr Manmohan Singh mentioned: “the success of Megha-Tropiques satellite launch in October 2011 and the upcoming SARAL satellite launch. Both satellites contribute significantly to environmental and maritime survey purposes.” The SARAL satellite was successfully launched on February 25 from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh.
The maiden visit of President Hollande in Asia could be best described as more than ordinary; it reveals a meaningful and trusted partnership. It does not mean that the road will not be bumpy.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Is Zhu Weiqun back in action?

It appears that Yu Zhengsheng is settling in his new job, even before been officially anointed: he will be responsible of the United Works Department in the Standing Committee of the Politburo. 
This article of The South China Morning Post says that Yu will certainly becomes the Chairman of the Leading Group for Taiwan affairs, which means that he will also chair the Tibet Work Coordination Small Group as both issues are under the same umbrella.
Interestingly, when he visited Tibetan areas in Sichuan, Yu was accompanied by Zhu Weiqun, the former Executive Vice Minister of the United Front Work Department. Does it mean that Zhu is teaching Yu the intricacies of United Front policies and politics. 
Two years ago, I published an interview of Zhu Weiqun on this blog.
Zhu explained: "The peaceful liberation of Tibet is a milestone in the national liberation undertaking of the Chinese people under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party as well as in the entire Chinese nation's century-long struggle for national unity".
A year ago (on February 19), I mentioned an article written by Zhu Weiqun, in The Study Times (Xuexi Shibao) which has hardly been noticed by the Indian press, though it has serious implications for India. Zhu, then interlocutor of the Dalai Lama's Envoys in the Beijing-Dharamsala negotiations, argued that China must change some aspects of its present political and educational system in order to achieve 'national cohesion'. 
He wanted a discussion on this issue to take place at the last National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference annual meetings in March 2012. The discussion was apparently not held and Zhu in the meantime lost his United Front job.
He seems to be back in action.

Taiwan media speculate on Beijing's picks for cross-strait relations
The South China Morning Post
Lawrence Chung in Taipei
Taiwanese media buzzing over the key officials likely to represent Beijing in Taipei affairs
With the mainland's cabinet reshuffle taking place next month, Taiwanese media have begun speculating on who Beijing will appoint as its top officials responsible for cross-strait affairs.
Speculation is rife that Yu Zhengsheng, a member of the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, and Commerce Minister Chen Deming are two officials being considered for cross-strait posts.
Taiwanese media carried reports yesterday that Yu spoke at the Communist Party's 2013 annual work session on Taiwan affairs, held in Beijing on Tuesday, suggesting that he might be named deputy head of the party's leading group for Taiwan affairs. The group is generally headed by the party secretary.
Jia Qinglin , chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, is the current deputy head of the group, with outgoing president Hu Jintao being the leader.
Both had stepped down from the Politburo Standing Committee in November's party congress and will retire at next month's annual meetings of the National People's Congress and the CPPCC. Meanwhile, Yu is the only Politburo Standing Committee member in the upcoming CPPCC session, suggesting he would almost certainly head the CPPCC.
On Tuesday, Yu stressed the mainland would strive to increase mutual political trust across the strait, expand exchanges at grass-roots levels and speed up cross-strait co-operation in the industrial and financial sectors.
Taiwanese media focused on Yu's call for academic circles on both sides to begin dialogue on resolving cross-strait political issues. He also said that peaceful relations was the only path to peaceful unification.
Taiwanese media have also speculated on the possibility that Chen could be named head of the Beijing-based Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (Arats), which was formed in the 1990s to represent Beijing in dealing with Taiwan, in the absence of formal ties.
The Taipei-based United Daily News reported that Chen, who failed to be elected as a member of the party's Central Committee, was likely to replace the current head of Arats, Chen Yunlin , who will reportedly retire soon.
If Chen Deming joined Arats, the newspaper said, Beijing's cross-strait work policy would likely become even more resourceful, given his rich experience in international trade talks.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Why Xi Jinping did not visit Tibet?

This map shows Gansu province. 
According to The China Daily, Xi Jinping, CCP's General Secretary and Chairman of the Central Military Commission paid a visit ('an inspection tour') to Gansu from February 2 to 5. 
The Chinese paper says: "During his visit, Xi also extended Spring Festival greetings to all Chinese people as the Spring Festival, or the Chinese Lunar New Year, approaches."
But what about the Tibetans?
The monastery of Labrang Tashi Kyil, where several self-immolations were reported is located some 100 km from Dongxian Autonomous County, where Xi spent some time with another minorities', the Hui Muslims.
The Chinese article affirms: "[Xi's] remarks reflected the new leadership's determination to boost the image and working style of the Party and the government."
Why did he choose not to address the Tibetan issue, while he was so close?
Some guesses: one, the Tibetan self-immolations and the situation on the Roof of the World is not Xi's priority. His first priority seems to fight against corruption in the Party.
Second guess: Xi may not be 'settled' enough in his new chair to tackle such a tricky question as Tibet.
The leadership change will only be completed next month and Xi is perhaps unwilling to put his fingers in the Tibetan problem too early.
Another possibility is that Xi prefers (or is forced) to let Yu Zhengsheng, his colleague in the Standing Committee of the Politburo to handle the Tibetan affairs. Read my earlier posting on the subject.
One has to wait and see what will happen after the Two Meetings.
But he was so close!

Xi makes inspection tour to Gansu, stressing official's integrity
China Daily
Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and also chairman of the CPC Central Military Commission, visits a major water diversion project in the Weiyuan County of Dingxi City, northwest China's Gansu Province, Feb. 3, 2013. Xi Jinping visited villages, enterprises and urban communities, chatting with impoverished villagers and asking about their livelihood during an inspection tour to Gansu from Feb. 2 to 5. During his visit, Xi also extended Spring Festival greetings to all Chinese people as the Spring Festival, or the Chinese Lunar New Year, approaches.
A down-to-earth attitude, a good work ethic and an ability to stay away from empty gestures are some of the key characteristics officials require for promotion, top leader Xi Jinping said during a visit to Gansu province.
Officials who are out for pleasure and love formality must be told their behavior is unacceptable and reprimanded, he said.
Party chief Xi urged officials to spend more time with the public to address their problems and concerns, and work harder to develop poverty-stricken regions.

His remarks reflected the new leadership's determination to boost the image and working style of the Party and the government.
A good work ethic and personal integrity should be the key criteria in selecting, evaluating and promoting officials, Xi said during his four-day visit to the province, which started on Saturday.
The comments came against a backdrop of a number of recent scandals that have involved officials suspected of abusing their power or embezzling taxpayers' money.
Several officials across the country have been placed under investigation following allegations they owned property worth far more than they could afford on their official salaries.
Another case involved 10 officials in Chong-qing who have been removed from their posts after a whistleblower revealed a sex scandal.
"China has entered a crucial period that means the government and local authorities have to narrow the gap between developed and underdeveloped regions," Wu Hui, a deputy professor of Party building at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, said on Tuesday.
"This task demands officials at all levels have a good work ethic and maintain close ties with the general public.
"To achieve the goal of building a prosperous society, the government must make sure that residents in the remote, impoverished areas can enjoy a rapid increase in their income in the coming years, and the key lies in the work of local officials," Wu said. "That is why Xi emphasized work ethics and integrity in Gansu."
Bordering the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the Inner Mongolia Plateau and the Loess Plateau, Gansu is one of China's poorest provinces. The annual net per capita income of local farmers in 2012 stood at 4,507 yuan ($723).
"The fundamental problem behind incompetent officials is that there are loopholes in the selection and promotion mechanism," Wu said.
If there are those who think they can bribe their way up, then the public will lose confidence in the Party and the government, Wu added.
"Officials at the grassroots level must use wisdom to improve the standard of living of their communities and strengthen links with the people."
During his visit, Xi met with villagers and migrant workers and asked about their lives.
On Monday, Xi visited Xihu community in Lanzhou.
The community has created a mechanism that collects public opinion and suggestions, deals with problems people are most concerned with and releases the results to the public.
Xi praised them for establishing such a platform.
On Sunday afternoon, Xi went to a reconstruction site in  autonomous county, where a landslide triggered subsidence in March 2011.
Chatting with migrant workers, he said a prosperous society could not be realized without the contribution of migrant workers

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Return of Hua Guofeng

Hua Guofeng
The Epoch Times, the publication of the Falun Gong Group compares the fall of the Gang of Four after Mao's death in 1976 and the current removal from power of former Party boss Jiang Zemin, Bo Xilai, former mayor of Chongqing, Zeng Qinghong,a former vice-president of the PRC and Zhou Yongkang, former member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo and security czar.
Xi Jinping may have met Han Zhijun, the wife of Hua Guofeng who was instrumental in arresting the Gang of Four, but it does not mean that a purge like like in 1976 will occur. 
The fact that the three associates of Jiang Zemin are 'formers' shows that they already are out of the way for Xi Jinping and the new team.
It is however true that they can continue manipulate behind the thick curtains of Zhongnanhai. 
Another article of The Epoch Times mentions another 'purge': hundreds of officials from the powerful Communist Party organ that controls almost all aspects of domestic security would have been secretly arrested in Party leader Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption sweep.
New Epoch Weekly has learned from a highly placed official in Beijing. The ultimate goals of this purge are the arrest of former security czar Zhou Yongkang and the dismemberment of the organization he headed.
According to the source, a former senior official of the Political and Legal Affairs Committee (PLAC) recently delivered copies of a report to former party heads Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, informing them of mass arrests within the PLAC during the past three months.
The report stated that 453 PLAC officials from all levels have been detained for interrogation, including 392 from the Public Security Bureau, 19 from the Procuratorate, 27 from the court system, and 10 from nonpublic security bureaus.In addition, it said that 12 high-level officials had committed suicide.
...Since taking over as head of the Party, Xi Jinping has repeatedly talked about reform and the need to root out corruption in the Party, in particular speaking of the need to target both 'flies' and 'tigers'. Though a few arrests have been made publicly, they seemed scattered and unable to accomplish anything substantial. However, the large-scale secret arrests of PLAC officials suggest that Xi has chosen the PLAC as his specific target.
The Beijing source said that many observers believe that this is a purge of the PLAC by the new leadership. Many public security police and cadres are unsure of the spirit of the anti-corruption drive, and the arrests have caused a huge shock inside the PLAC and the “stability maintenance” system, the source said.
One will have to await further confirmation to see if we are witnessing a real purge; in any case, it is clear that the power struggle will continue for a few more weeks, at least until the end of the Two Meetings (the National People's Congress or NPC and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference or CPPCC).

Chinese Regime’s Xi Prepares to Deal With New ‘Gang of Four’
The Epoch Times
Cheng Jing
February 14, 2013
Communist leader Xi Jinping invoked memories of the “Gang of Four” at an official Chinese New Year’s eve event, when he honored the wife of Mao Zedong’s short-lived successor with a handshake and bow. Commentators are speculating on the meaning of what was undoubtedly a carefully orchestrated act.
With over 2,000 senior Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials gathered for a Chinese New Year’s celebration at the Great Hall of the People on Feb. 8, Xi extended a high-profile greeting to Ms. Han Zhijun, the elderly wife of late Chinese leader Hua Guofeng.
Hua succeeded Mao in October 1976. He played a major role in ending the Cultural Revolution, and helped begin what has been called the “reform era.” He was also a key figure in arresting the “Gang of Four,” a group of Party officials, including Mao’s last wife Jiang Qing, who controlled the CCP’s power organs during the latter part of the Cultural Revolution. The four were tried for treason, labeled a major counter-revolutionary force, and blamed for deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.
On Feb. 10, Chinese New Year’s day, Yanhuang Chunqiu, a liberal political journal, carried a lengthy article on Hua Guofeng, including how he orchestrated the arrest of the “Gang of Four” after Mao’s death.
Many observers have identified a new “Gang of Four”: ousted princeling Bo Xilai, former Party leader Jiang Zemin, ex-Politburo member Zeng Qinghong, and Zhou Yongkang, former security chief.
Sun Wenguang, a former Professor of Shandong University, told the Sound of Hope (SOH) Radio Network: “There are now struggles going on inside the CCP, such as the arrest of Bo Xilai. Can this sort of thing be extended to others? Can it bring about similar effects as the arrest of the ‘Gang of Four’ did in the past? There are still some higher ups in the CCP who adhere to the conservative ways. Bringing out Hua Guofeng is a reflection of such changes. So I think it could have very symbolic significance.”
Hua Po, a mainland political analyst, says a massive cleansing within the Party is inevitable.
Hua Po told SOH: “Xi looks very composed right now. I think this is the calm before the storm. Within the CCP, the corrupted elements are in fact a vested interest group; they’re the biggest enemy on the path to reform. They are mainly from Jiang Zemin’s faction. But there are great difficulties associated with such a Party cleansing before the storm, so Xi is sitting tight and is trying to first win the majority public opinion—so he shakes hands with Han. First is to win the leftists and some moderates, second is to make friends with many others in preparation for the massive cleansing.”
Epoch Times commentator Zhou Xiaohui interprets the event as an attempt by Xi to win over Party moderates and combat conservative forces. He also predicts that the Party is likely to start cleaning out the remnants of the Jiang faction...

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Money or Love? What is lacking in China

On the occasion of the New Year (Spring Festival), the Chinese media has tried to find out what ordinary people needs the most.
The South China Morning Post said it is 'overwhelmingly money'.
The Hong Kong newspaper quotes from survey conducted by a research firm TNS, which polled 5,000 people in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore about how people spend their money and what they would like for the Festival.
Here are the results: "In mainland China, 45% of consumers said they preferred to get money, 22% said they most wanted electronics and 5% said they hoped to get tea or coffee".
It appears that "the urge for cash was higher in Singapore, where 69% said they most wanted money for Chinese New Year, while 13% preferred food and 4% had their eye on electronics. In Taiwan, too, the ratio of the cash-hungry was high, with 65% saying they’d rather get money than anything else."
The Spring Festival is the main gift-giving season in China and other countries where important ethnic Chinese population live.

Hongbao or cash-stuffed red envelope are still extremely popular. 
The TNS survey says that people put aside an average of 3,668 yuan ($588) to stuff in Lunar New Year hongbao. 
The average amount given to close family members in China is 1323 yuan ($212), while other relatives are given around 890 yuan, the survey says.
Friends can expect to collect an average 432 yuan while colleagues get around 235 yuan. 
Perhaps more interesting is a series of CCTV street interviews conducted by ChinaNews Video and Chongqing Television.
It is published (and commented) on
Some interviewees lack money, some love; a wise old man even says: "Lack and don't lack is all in one's mind", he is perhaps right.
'Lacking' is no doubt subjective and relative. 
I would be interested by the results of such survey in India.

CCTV Street Interviews “What Do You Lack?”, Passersby Say They Lack Money, Love, and Women
Chongqing (ChinaNews)
“2013, what do you lack?, the question asked by ChinaNews Video and Chongqing Television reports on the streets and alleys throughout Chongqing prompted many Chongqing residents to reflect on what they “lack or don’t lack” in their lives.
An old granny says she doesn’t lack anything, just a water meter.

A young Chinese woman interviewed by CCTV News on the street about what he "lacks" replies with "money and a man".
What do you lack in 2013? [Young woman replies: "I lack money, lack a man."]
A Chinese man interviewed by CCTV News on the street about what he "lacks" replies that "everything we lack and don't lack are just delusions".
What do you lack in 2013? [Man replies: "Lack and don't lack is all in one's mind."]

Since late January, many reporters have tossed out the question of “2013, what do you lack?” to nearly 1000 people on Chongqing streets. The people interviewed are normal office-workers, retirees, migrant workers, street cleaners, as well as members of the CPPCC, writers and entrepreneurs.
The various answers have made people laugh out loud or led people to think deeply, while netizens have mocked this question as another “godly question” following the previous “are you happy?”
[Note: The above refers to a previous CCTV street interview project that was conducted and broadcasted nationally around last year's 18th National Congress, asking "everyday people in China" if they were "happy", as noted in previous chinaSMACK reports. Netizens widely considered the entire thing an out-of-touch propaganda stunt. "Godly" as used here is a little difficult to translate, suggesting something as incredible or mocking it with a measure of incredulity.]
“Lack money” was the most common of the responses. Facing the ChinaNews camera, an “office worker” sighed that housing prices are too high, that wages aren’t rising, so he can’t afford to buy a house. Migrant worker Zhang Fu complained that he didn’t get much business last year, and wasn’t able to save much. A man in front of Southwestern Hospital said with worried face that his wife’s sickness cost him hundreds of thousands, and what he now lacks the most is money. A young guy working in sales hoped for more RMB. A man who dreams of winning the lottery rushed in front of the camera and shouted, “I lack 5 million!” “Chongqing Good Man” Zheng Dingxiang, who makes a living carrying goods on his shoulders said loudly, “I lack money not morals!”
“Lacking sleep” was also a common complaint among the interviewees. Taxi driver Zhang Wei said that he works 12 hours a day and that lack of sleep is a big concern. Chongqing news media reporter Shan Shibing who often pulls all-nighters said in his microblog that he’s a person who lives in the dark but lacks sleep, that hearing his mobile phone ring right after falling asleep is a frequent nightmare. 37-year-old Huang Guohui often relies on doing push-ups to keep himself awake on night shifts, looking forward to his rest day to get some more sweet sweet sleep.
“Lack energy/spirit” was another frequent reply. One retired old lady said she felt her current life was boring/tedious, lacking spiritual and cultural content. Chongqing writer Mo Huaiqi said he lacked youthfulness. Administrative staff Wang Li felt a shortage of happiness and emotion. Securities company employee Sun Hongtai said with a serious face that he currently lacks opportunity and platform [for success] the most. 21-year-old, 1.4-meter-tall “Dwarf Kindergarten Teacher” Yan Feng said what he lacks most is experience, because experience is his invisible wealth.
Likewise there were people “who are content with what they have”, who no matter how the reporters asked the question insisted they do not lack anything. Yuan Zhengwan, a retired worker currently opening land to grow produce, said he has a place to live and a pension to collect, so he doesn’t lack for anything. Street cleaner Chen Daofen also said with satisfaction that her danwei [workplace, employer] was not behind on paying their wages this year and will even be increasing their wages this year, so she has been very content.
One of the organizers of this “godly question” and Chongqing media worker Fu Liao told this reporter that there is no right answer to the question of whether one lacks or doesn’t lack anything. In this day and age where material abundance increases daily, perhaps perhaps only when we don’t lack anything in our hearts are we truly no longer lacking. He hoped that this “down-to-earth” series of interviews can reflect the real living conditions and psychological hopes of grassroots society.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Indian Space Mission: The French Connection

My article on the Indo-French collaboration in space, published on the occasion of the State visit of President François Hollande in India is posted on
During François Hollande's visit, one of the 4 agreemnents signed between India and France was a "Statement of Intent for long-term cooperation in Space".
It was inked by Yannick d’Escatha, President, Centre National d'Études Spatiales and Dr. K. Radhakrishnan, Chairman, Indian Space Research Organisation.
It says: "ISRO and CNES have jointly identified the following means to pursue further cooperation including possibilities through Missions, Payloads and Applications; exchange of young Scientists and Professionals in France and in India; conducting thematic workshops etc..."

My Rediff Article:
Indo-French cooperation in the domain of space, which began in the 1960s, is one of the oldest and most stable facets of the relationship, even if not the best-known, says Claude Arpi, as French President Francois Hollande begins his first official visit to India..
As French President Francois Hollande arrives in India on Thursday, February 14, many will remember his predecessor's first visit in January 2008.
Even serious newspapers, without the famous page 3, speculated: Would President Nicolas Sarkozy's first companion be on the presidential plane? Would she join 'Sarko' for a memorable and romantic darshan of the Taj Mahal.
After the visit, I remember writing: 'In this sense, the presidential visit was a great success; whether or not orchestrated, Sarkozy's trip got hundred-fold more publicity than Francois Mitterrand's in 1982 and 1989 or Jacques Chirac's in 1998 and 2006.' Thank you, Carla!
One could have thought that returning to India, the French president would rush to Agra with Ms Bruni, now Madame Sarkozy.
No, he first landed in Bangalore and visited the Indian Space Research Organisation's Satellite Centre. This stop-over at ISRO, before the Taj visit, always intrigued me.
I later realised that Indo-French cooperation in the domain of space is one of the oldest and most stable facets of the relationship, even if not the best-known.
In May 1964, France's Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales and India's Department of Atomic Energy 'embarked upon a programme of continuing cooperation in space research of mutual interest for peaceful scientific purposes.'
The DAE agreed to manufacture, under license in India, the Belier and Centaure types of sounding rockets developed by the French firm Sub-Aviation. CNES eventually supplied to DAE four Centaure rockets with payloads used for vapour cloud experiments. The programme started at the end of 1964.
The main protagonists were the legendary Professor Jacques Blamont of the Aeronautic Laboratory of the Centre National de la Research Scientifique and Dr P D Bhavsar of the Physical Research Laboratory in Ahmedabad.
The CNES and DAE wanted not only to encourage exchanges of scientists and engineers between the two countries, but also to share scientific and technical information for some joint (cooperative) experiments.
It was none other than Homi Jehangir Bhabha, the celebrated Indian nuclear physicist and founding-director of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, who signed the first agreement for India; the Department of Space had not yet been created.

Read on ...

Thursday, February 14, 2013

An all-weather friend of great substance

My article in the Edit Page of The Pioneer this morning.

The India-France relationship may not be particularly glamorous, but it is old and stable. And, these main traits characterise bilateral collaborations, be they in the field of defence, civil nuclear energy or culture

President Francois Hollande of France has scored a point on Mr Nicolas Sarkozy, his rival during the last French presidential election in May 2012. Mr Hollande’s partner, Madame Valerie Trierweiler, will be treated as his ‘wife’ during the President’s ongoing state visit to India. However, Ms Carla Bruni did not get this coveted status during Mr Sarkozy’s short first visit in January 2008 (though she got it in December 2010). It is a good personal start for Mr Hollande, but the Indo-French relations go far beyond society gossip or the often-rigid Ministry of External Affairs’ protocol.
When in May 2012, Mr Hollande, the ‘normal’ Socialist candidate, defeated Mr Sarkozy, the ‘hyper-President’, many asked: Will the new incumbent in the Elysée Palace have a different foreign policy from that of his predecessor? To be honest, one of the main characteristics of last year’s presidential campaign was the total lack of interest in foreign affairs; both candidates were also not too apart as far as France’s foreign relations were concerned. Take Afghanistan: Both Mr Hollande and Mr Sarkozy agreed to withdraw French troops, and the difference was just on the question of timing. Mr Hollande promised the departure of the French forces before the year-end (which he did), while Mr Sarkozy preferred to wait till 2013.
The relations with India are nevertheless exceptionally important for Paris. It is why Mr Hollande has chosen India for his first visit to Asia, even before visiting the economically powerful (and sometimes scary) China. The relations between France and India may not be as glamorous as with some countries, but they are old, stable and based on trust. For most observers, these are their main traits, whether it is in the domain of defence, civil nuclear energy, space, economic and scientific exchange or culture. ‘The mother of all deals’, the supply of 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft to the Indian Air Force, for which the Rafale of Dassault Aviation has been selected, will be at the centre of the visit. Though the negotiations appear to have reached a final stage, the contract will not be signed immediately.
Mr Hollande certainly remembers that on May 22, 1981, the day after his political guru François Mitterrand was elected as the first Socialist President, the French Press announced, “India chooses the Mirage 2000 to modernise its Air Force”. One can be certain that Mr Hollande is keen to follow in the footsteps of his mentor and ensure that the contract for the 126 MMRCA is concluded at the earliest. It is in the interest of both France and India.
The French bird was the star of the Aeroshow 2013 held recently at Yelahanka Air Force Station, near Bangalore. Before the event, news had circulated that Dassault was keen to have a deal with Reliance Industries to build 108 Rafales in India (18 will be directly supplied from France). A communique announced that Dassault and Reliance Industries had signed a partnership, “for pursuing strategic opportunities of collaboration in the area of complex manufacturing and support in India.” During his Press conference, Union Minister for Defence AK Antony clarified that Dassault could not decide on the quantum of work by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd in the Rafale deal, as the Request for Proposals had clearly laid down the parameters under which the deal for the 126 aircrafts would be awarded. Though Dassault was rather mute during the show, the presence of its newly appointed chairman, Mr Eric Trappier, showed the vital importance of the contract for the French side. Union Minister for External Affairs Salman Khurshid, who visited Paris early January, had told the Press: “We know good French wine takes time to mature, and so do good contracts … just wait a little for the cork to pop and you’ll have some good wine to taste.”
Dassault is perhaps not ready to wait too long for the wine to mature , nor is the Indian Air Force, for which the deal is vital as many of its planes (such as the MIG 21) are soon due to be phased out. Someone noted that if Dassault’s karma is good, the deal may be signed before the summer. The Indian Air Force chief confirmed during his Press conference that the file would be sent to the Union Ministry of Finance sometime in April or May, and if it comes back with favourable notings, the deal may be signed soon after. During an informal talk with the French Air Chief, General Denis Mercier, I asked him to characterise the Indo-French relations. He just said ‘trust’ and quoted the example of the Garuda joint air exercises between France and India. He explained that with very few countries was France so confident to ‘share’, and this translated into meaningful joint exercises.
With Dassault, the collaboration has been long and uninterrupted (not interrupted even after India tested a nuclear device in Pokhran in 1998). The French company supplied the Ouragan (‘Toofani’ for the IAF), the Mystere IV, the Alizé (with Bréguet), the Jaguar and then the Mirage 2000 in the 1980s. During his last visit to India in December 2010, Mr Sarkozy signed an agreement for ‘refitting’ (or modernising) 51 Mirages for some two billion dollars. As a Socialist leader, one issue that Mr Hollande could ‘diplomatically’ broach with his Indian interlocutors is the fact that India seems to still live in the Soviet era where the defence industry has to be owned by the State. If the private sector enters the defence market in a direct manner, it would be a win-win decision for all.
In Bangalore, doubts were raised whether the two mastodons (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and Defence Research and Development Organisation) could cope with modern requirements. If Dassault or Safran of France, Boeing or Lockheed-Martin of the US or Rafael of Israel are able to serve their respective states well, why can’t the Tatas or the Reliances do so in India? Will Prime Minister Manmohan and his Defence Minister listen to a Socialist leader?
If President Mitterrand laid the foundation of a solid friendship, the regular dialogue was institutionalised during President Jacques Chirac’s visit in 1998 through a ‘strategic’ partnership. This is still the base of the ‘trusted’ relationship. During the visit of Mr Singh to Paris in September 2008, France was the first country to ink a civilian nuclear deal with India. In December 2010, during Mr Sarkozy’s second visit to India, New Delhi and Paris decided to build two European Pressurised Reactors of 1650 MW each for an estimated cost of about 9.5 billion dollars. A framework agreement was signed but due to the complexity of the project on the Jaitapur site in Maharashtra (and the vital security issues involved), Areva and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India need some more time to reach a final agreement.
While the bilateral economic relations are growing smoothly, a domain which still lags behind is educational exchange. In 2007, Ms Valerie Pécresse, the then French Minister for Higher Education, had announced a target of 4,000 Indian students going to France for higher studies. When Mr Sarkozy visited India in 2010, the target had not been reached; it is still an objective today.
As for cultural relations, they will go on regardless of who is at the helm of India or France. As Mr Hollande will say “Bonjour India”  in New Delhi, for India, a trusted partner has come.
(The accompanying visual is of French President Francois Hollande with his partner Valerie Trierweiler)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tibet Indpendence was not a farce, it was real

In an Opinion article published by Xinhua, The Chinese Communist Party refute the declaration of Independence by the 13th Dalai Lama. 
Beijing conveniently forgets another crucial document, the Treaty between Tibet and Mongolia signed at Urga in Mongolia in January 1913.
I post here the first articles: 
Whereas Mongolia and Tibet, having freed themselves from the Manchu dynasty and separated themselves from China, have become independent States, and whereas the two States have always professed one and the same religion, and to the end that their ancient mutual friendships may be strengthened: on the part of the Government of the Sovereign of the Mongolian people Nikta Biliktu Da Lama Rabdan, acting Minister of Foreign Affairs and Assistant Minister-General and Manlai Caatyr Bei Tzu Damdinsurun; on the part of the Dalai Lama, Ruler of Tibet - Gujir Tsanshib Kanchen Lubsan Agwan, Donir, Agwan Choinzin Tschichamtso, manager of the bank, and Gendun-Galsan, secretary, have agreed on the following:
ARTICLE I The Dalai Lama, Sovereign of Tibet, approves of and acknowledges the formation of an independent Mongolian State, and die proclamation on rise 9th day of the 11th month of the year of the Pig, of the master of the Yellow Faith Jetsun Dampa Lama as the Sovereign of the land.
ARTICLE 2 The Sovereign of the Mongolian people Jetsun Dampa Lama approves and acknowledges the formation of an independent State and the proclamation of the Dalai Lama as Sovereign of Tibet.
ARTICLE 3 Both States shall take measures, after mutual consideration, for the prosperity of the Buddhist faith.
ARTICLE 4 Both States, the Mongolian and the Tibetan, shall henceforth, for all time, afford each other aid against dangers from without and from within.
Click to read the entire Treaty... 

The Chinese propaganda also forgets to mention that the Tibetan Empire once upon a time extended to Baltistan and Gilgit and Central Asia. This article by Salman Rashid in the The Express Tribune (on September 26, 2011) is telling:
Tibetans in Baltistan
Until the beginning of the 8th century CE, Baltistan was a country inhabited by the Indo-European Shin tribe. This was a time when the superpowers of the region were China and Tibet, both vying for supremacy in High Asia. Only shortly before, the Chinese had ousted the Tibetans from what is now the Chinese province of Xinjiang. But then the T’ang Dynasty was briefly interrupted by the New Zhou Dynasty (690-705) and Chinese imperial aspirations were laid low for the time being.
Emboldened by the situation, the Tibetans began to expand westward. They annexed Ladakh and following the Sindhu River reached Baltistan. For the next five decades this country remained under their firm control. Intermarriages between the new comers and the original tribes were common to such an extent in the next fifty years that there arose a race of a fine mix of Aryan and Tibetan blood — the current people of Baltistan. It was for this reason that an anthropologist of the mid-twentieth century called Baltistan ‘a living anthropological museum’.
The original Shina, the language of the Shins that sounds so very like Kashmiri and Punjabi, was almost completely swamped out of existence by Tibetan. Modern Balti, spoken over most of Baltistan, is therefore an archaic form of Tibetan. Shina continues to hold out in pockets across the country, however.
Aside: until some years ago Balti was under threat. Then one proud Balti — and he has my deepest gratitude — Hussain Singghe, worked very hard to revive the old Tibetan script. It is now coming back into vogue and signs in the streets of Skardu and Khaplu are frequently written in the old script.
Not content with holding Baltistan alone, the Tibetans expanded westward. They took Gilgit and advancing along the Ghizer River, went up the Yasin valley. The head of this valley, north of the little village of Darkot, is blocked by a huge mass of snowy mountains. In their midst there hangs a glacier among several others which can be traversed due north to reach what we now know as Upper Chitral.
The icy grip of the Darkot Glacier gives way in the north to an area that suddenly reminds one of the title Bam-e-Dunya — Roof of the World — that the high Pamirs are known by. Here on the fringe of the Pamirs, the landscape consists of rolling downs, lakes and peaks which, after the jagged towering crags of the Yasin valley, seem deceptively low giving one the impression of being on the roof. The rock wall to the north is cleaved by a saddle that has for a very long time been known as the Broghal Pass.
It was to this country that the Tibetans came by way of Yasin and Darkot. Then across the 3,800-metres-high saddle of Broghal, they reached Wakhan, the home of Tajik and Kirghiz herdsmen. Here in the bleak and wind-scoured landscape where the Oxus River is but a piddling stream, the Tibetans established a large garrison to stake out their claim to the land.
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The present exercise by Xinhua is probably mainly to deny the existence of a delineated border between India and Tibet (i.e. the McMahon Line).
Whether Beijing likes it or not, the McMahon line is a historical which Zhou Enlai himself was ready to accept in the 1950's.

Opinion: Tibet's "independence day" just a farce
February 11, 2013
BEIJING, Feb. 11 (Xinhua) -- As Tibetans in China bask in festivity to celebrate the "Water Snake Losar", or the Tibetan New Year's Day, some separatists are inciting commemorations of Tibet's so-called "100th Independence Day".
Propaganda for the planned Feb. 13 commemorations have appeared on websites of Students for a Free Tibet, a New York-based organization of exiled Tibetans advocating "Tibet's independence", "Tibetan Youth Congress" as well as popular social networking sites such as Facebook.
Such fanfare is just a farce in the present tense, and a slap in the face in retrospect of foreign aggression to China's modern history -- including that of Tibet.
"Solid" evidence the "Tibet independence" advocates cited was the so-called "Tibetan Proclamation of Independence", which they claimed to have been issued by the 13th Dalai Lama in 1913.
As a matter of fact, the document unveiled by Students for a Free Tibet last May was sheer fabrication, way apart from the original document, which was an internal speech on Buddhism and published in the form of a letter in 1932.
Re-creation of the "independence proclamation" was just a copycat of Dutchman Michael Walt van Praag's misconception in his 1987 publication, "The Status of Tibet".
In this book, van Praag said Tibet gained independence in 1913, marked by the 13th Dalai Lama's signing of the document.
The Dutchman attributed this piece of information to Tsepon Wangchuk Deden Shakabpa, a former aristocrat and official of Old Tibet who published "Tibet, A Political History" in English in 1967.
In this book, Shakabpa, who was for Tibet's independence, said the 13th Dalai Lama described Tibet as a "small, religious and independent nation" in a 1913 declaration of Buddhism.
But researchers on modern history and Tibetan studies claim the exact word the Dalai Lama used in this all-Tibetan declaration was "region" (bodljongs in Tibetan) instead of "nation" or "country" which translated into "rgylkhab" in Tibetan.
Historical facts over the past centuries provide evidence against the "Tibet independence" myth.
Tibet came under the direct rule of the Chinese central government during the Yuan Dynasty in the 13th century. In 1288, the Yuan regime formalized a ministry-level agency to administer the entire Tibetan region.
During the Qing Dynasty, all the Dalai Lama reincarnations required approval from Beijing.
After the Republic of China was founded in 1911, it reaffirmed the central government's authority over Tibet in the republic's first constitution.
Tibet elected 20 delegates to the national congress in 1913.
The 13th Dalai Lama and the 9th Panchen Lama both sent representatives to the national leadership conference of the Republic of China in 1931.
In 1940, the national government set up its Lhasa branch of the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission.
The "Tibet independence" myth was just a fantasy that evolved during the late 19th century as a product of imperialist invasion -- particularly by the British invaders.
In 1888 and 1904 British troops invaded Tibet twice and were resisted by local Tibetan people.
At least four times during the Kuomintang's rule, the British offered military supplies to Tibet's local government to instigate uprisings.
Representatives of Great Britain and China met in 1913-1914 to negotiate a treaty marking out the boundary lines between India and its northern neighbors.
But the Chinese government never recognized the Simla Convention, which attempted to grant China secular control over "Inner Tibet," while recognizing the autonomy of "Outer Tibet" under the Dalai Lama's rule.
Behind the back of the Chinese delegates, the British created the notorious "McMahon Line" in an under-the-table deal with Tibetan representative Xazha, which the Chinese government never accepted.
According to the deal, Tibet was to cede 90,000 square kilometers of Chinese territory to Britain in exchange for further British pressure on China to seek Tibet's independence.
The "McMahon Line" was never accepted by the Chinese government. But foreign intervention continued until after Tibet's liberation in 1951.
Looking back on history, it's easy to see what the "Tibet independence" myth is all about and who is behind the fantasy.
It is therefore ridiculous for the overseas separatist forces to play up the farce and expect applause from the audience.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Bangalore Aeroshow 2013: Musings

Tiger Moth aircraft trainer (in the 30s & 40s)
My refections on the Bangalore Aeroshow 2013 are posted on the site of the Indian Defence Review.
The press reported that Air Vice Marshal Zheng Yuanlin was leading a five-member delegation at the Aeroshow, following a formal invitation extended by India a month earlier.
But, who is Zheng Yuanlin?
According to "The Chinese Air Force: Evolving Concepts, Roles, and Capabilities: Evolving Concepts, Roles, and Capabilities" published by the Department of Defence of the United States: "Major General Zheng Yuanlin (郑元林) is also a rising star in the PLAAF, as seen from his fast upward advancement in the last 3 years."
The US publication informs us further:
In 2008 he was commander of the 13th Division (the PLA’s strategic transportation division). The next year he became commander of the PLAAF’s Wuhan Base at deputy corps rank. The following year he was appointed deputy chief of staff of the PLAAF Guangzhou MR. He was in Guangzhou for barely a year before being brought back to Beijing to be an assistant chief of staff of the Air Force.
Zheng has excelled both as a transport pilot and transport commander.
He was selected as one of the best air force commanders in 2007, following his command of Il–76s deployed in the Sino-Russian Peace Mission 2007 exercise in Russia. During the catastrophic snow and ice storm in South China in January 2008, he was placed in charge of the PLA’s air relief missions. In a week, the 13th Division’s Il–76s conducted 75 emergency sorties and carried about 800 tons of goods to 19 airports in eight provinces. In the Wenchuan earthquake rescue operations, the 13th Division made a huge contribution.25 It was very difficult for large transports to take off and land in concentrated sorties, in tough weather conditions (e.g., visibility less than 100 meters), and on airports with only rudimentary facilities. Even so, operations were conducted with complete safety. Just days after he arrived in Beijing to take his current job, the Yushu earthquake struck; again the PLA entrusted him to command relief operations by both the 13th Division and the Chengkong Division.
Given that he is both in his early 50s and in the right place at the right time — on the verge of the forthcoming massive leadership reshuffle — it might be expected that his future is a bright one. But he faces a serious obstacle: in the entire PLAAF history of pilot cadre management, an airlift pilot has never risen very far in the leadership. As in other air forces, young and accomplished fighter pilots form the traditionally favored cadre. Within the PLAAF, the fighter divisions comprise over 55 percent of the total, attack aircraft divisions 30 percent, and bomber/transport divisions just 15 percent. Three transport divisions (the new division in the Chengdu AF Region, and the 13th and 34th Divisions) form a “minority” in the PLAAF structure. As a result, given the PLAAF’s past tradition, it will be interesting to see how far Zheng goes.
Major General Zheng was very discreet during the show,
Officials attending the inauguration

My article: The Bangalore Aeroshow 2013: Musings
The thought that kept coming to my mind while walking kilometers under the hot sun of the Yelahanka Air Force Station, near Bengaluru (where the 9th International Exhibition on Aerospace, Defence & Civil Aviation was held between February 6 and 10), was what happened 50 years ago on the Himalayan slopes.
India was taken by surprise and treacherously attacked by the People’s Liberation Army and badly thrashed in the NEFA sector as well as in Ladakh. Mao Zedong used the pretext that India would have crossed the McMahon line in the Tawang area to teach Nehru (and India) a lesson.
One of the features of this tragic event was that India did not use its Air Force during the one-month conflict.
Why? Some historians have said that it was because the ‘leaders’ in Delhi feared that Kolkata (Calcutta then) would be bombed; others wrote that the services of the IAF were not utilized in the combats because the ‘leaders’ thought that China, a friend, a brother, would never attack India. The argument did not hold, as even after the attack, the IAF was not used.
The truth is probably that the ‘generals’ in the Army Headquarters (as well as the IV Corps Commander in Tezpur) were so arrogant that they believed that the Indian Army did not need the ‘external aid’ of the Air Force to capture the Thagla ridge. Such foolishness!
We know what happened on October 20 and the following weeks.

Rafale from Dassault Aviation
While walking from stand to stand at the Aeroshow, I kept reflecting about those dark days and feeling that India has taken a great leap forward since then.
Today, in case of a conflict, the Air Force would certainly make a difference and though both A.K. Antony, the Indian Defence Minister and the IAF boss, Air Chief Marshall N.A.K. Browne denied that the Air Force modernization and build-up was directed at anybody in particular, it is clear who is India’s main potential enemy and in which direction, the defence preparedness needs to be focused.
One of the principal lessons of this Aeroshow is perhaps that India is now a major world power, forcing major foreign armament suppliers to line up to offer their latest gadgets which could make a difference in case of a conflict with China (or even Pakistan); and now, the Air Force would be used.

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Two ways to behave: India's and China's

Here are two ways to rewrite history: first, the Chinese one.
It is illustrated in this article of Bill Hayton in The South China Morning Post. Hayton explains that a translation error, some 80 years ago, helped the Chinese to conquer a non-existing island, officially the southernmost point of the Middle Kingdom, the James Shoal. It lies 22 metres below sea!
Then, the Indian way. 
It was the work of K.M. Panikkar, the first Indian Ambassador to China who changed the relationship between China and Tibet from 'suzerainty' to 'sovereignty', offering Tibet, a de-facto independent nation to Communist China and changing the course of history.
I quote here from my book, Tibet, the Lost Frontier.
The following incident more than anything else demonstrates Panikkar’s character.
On 26 August 1950, in an aide-memoire, Panikkar defined India's policy vis-à-vis Tibet as "autonomy within framework of Chinese sovereignty". Following this note, discussions with the Chinese authorities were based on the same terminology which was a radical change in India’s Tibet policy. In fact, many believed that it helped China justify its military action in Tibet.
Though an Indian note of November 1, 1950 tried to rectify the ‘oversight’, it was too late and hereafter China kept on using ‘sovereignty’ for ‘suzerainty’. It went a step further when Beijing attributed the rectification (of November 1) to ‘outside influence’.
The Statesman in Calcutta reported its own version of the incident: according to them, it was the result of a careless slip in transcribing a coded message in the diplomatic communication from New Delhi to Beijing in 1950:

A corrigendum did follow after the mistake (or mischief) had been detected, and was traced to inadvertence in transmission of a coded message. It was K.M. Panikkar, then Indian Ambassador to China, who held back the correction on the ground that it would mean discomfiture for the Indian Government. As the matter stands now because of this blunder, (a permanently sad commentary on the functioning of the Foreign Service), India remains committed to ‘Chinese sovereignty’ over Tibet.
…For all that Nehru wondered from whom Tibet was being ‘liberated’, it passes understanding how his government could write ‘Chinese sovereignty’ when it meant ‘Chinese suzerainty’ in a reply to Beijing, and then not bother to inform the Chinese formally that the mistake had been spotted and corrected.  
The Statesman may have not known that a ‘correction’ was eventually sent, but the fact that more than two months passed before the Chinese received it, was translated by Beijing more as an encouragement to go ahead with their ‘liberation’ of Tibet.
But the truth is that it was certainly not an ‘oversight’.
John Lall, a former Diwan of Sikkim (1949-1954) and ex-ICS officer, wrote in his book,
Aksai Chin and the Sino-Indian Conflict that he had been told by a ‘senior member’ of the Indian Embassy in Beijing that the change to ‘sovereignty’ had been deliberately introduced by Panikkar.
A few months later, the deliberate ‘lapsus’ landed in the Indian Parliament with Nehru stating in a light vein: “Prof. Ranga  seems to have been displeased at my occasional reference to Chinese suzerainty over Tibet. Please note that I used the word suzerainty, not sovereignty. There is a slight difference, though not much.”
It is certain that Panikkar had a lot of influence on Nehru with regard to Chinese affairs.
For the Chinese, it was more than enough.

How a non-existent island became China's southernmost territory
The South China Morning Post
February 7, 2013
Bill Hayton
Bill Hayton says records show that a translation error some 80 years ago may be to blame
Where is the "southernmost point of Chinese territory"? It's a controversial question and the least controversial answer might be Hainan Island . More controversial options would be the Paracel (Xisha) islands or the Spratlys (Nansha). But officially the southernmost point is even further south - as far south as the James Shoal, about 100 kilometres from the coast of Borneo. What's more surprising is that this piece of the motherland is actually invisible. There's nothing there to see, unless you have diving equipment.
The James Shoal lies 22 metres below sea. Yet this inconvenience doesn't prevent PLA Navy ships visiting the shoal from time to time to demonstrate Chinese sovereignty over it. This ritual involves heaving a large piece of engraved stone over the side of the ship. There is now a small collection of Chinese stelae gathering organic encrustations on the sea floor, more than 1,000 kilometres from Hainan.
How did the Chinese state come to regard this obscure feature, so far from home, as its southernmost point? I've been researching the question for some time while writing a book on the South China Sea. The most likely answer seems to be that it was probably the result of a translation error.
In the 1930s, China was engulfed in waves of nationalist anxiety. The predation of the Western powers and imperial Japan, and the inability of the Republic of China to do anything meaningful to stop them, caused anger both in the streets and the corridors of power. In 1933, the republic created the "Inspection Committee for Land and Water Maps" to formally list, describe and map every part of Chinese territory. It was an attempt to assert sovereignty over the republic's vast territory.
The major problem facing the committee, at least in the South China Sea, was that it had no means of actually surveying any of the features it wanted to claim. Instead, the committee simply copied the existing British charts and changed the names of the islands to make them sound Chinese. We know they did this because the committee's map included about 20 mistakes that appeared on the British map - features that in later, better surveys were found not to actually exist.
The committee gave some of the Spratly islands Chinese names. North Danger Reef became Beixian (the Chinese translation of "north danger"), Antelope Reef became Lingyang (the Chinese word for antelope). Other names were just transliterated so, for example, Spratly Island became Sipulateli and James Shoal became Zengmu. And this seems to be where the mistakes crept in.
But how to translate "shoal"? It's a nautical word meaning an area of shallow sea where waves "shoal" up. Sailors would see a strange area of choppy water in the middle of the ocean and know the area was shallow and therefore dangerous. James Shoal is one of many similar features in the Spratlys.
But the committee didn't seem to understand this obscure English term because they translated "shoal" as " tan" - the Chinese word for beach or sandbank - a feature which is usually above water. The committee, never having visited the area, seems to have declared James Shoal/Zengmu Tan to be a piece of land and therefore a piece of China.
In 1947, the republic's cartographers revisited the question of China's ocean frontier, drawing up what would become known as the "U-shaped line". It seems that they looked at the list of Chinese names, assumed that Zengmu Tan was above water and included it within the line. A non-existent island became the country's southernmost territory.
But in a parallel process around the same time, the republic government gave new names to many of the sea features. Spratly Islands became Nanwei (the noble south), for example, and James Shoal was changed from a sandbank ( tan) into a reef ( ansha). Perhaps, by this time, the authorities had realised their mistake. Nonetheless Zengmu Ansha retained its official southernmost status.
By now, the translation error had become a fact, setting the region on course for conflict 80 years later.
This is more than a piece of historical trivia; James Shoal is a test of whether Beijing really is committed to the rule of international law in the South China Sea. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, no state can claim sovereignty over an underwater feature unless it lies within 12 nautical miles of its land. James Shoal is over 1,000 kilometres from undisputed Chinese territory.
Last month, the Philippines government announced it would seek a ruling from an international tribunal about whether China's claims in the sea were compatible with the UN convention. James Shoal would be a clear example of a claim that is not compatible. Perhaps this might be a good moment for Beijing to review how it came to claim this obscure piece of submarine territory in the first place.
Bill Hayton is writing a book on the South China Sea for publication later this year