Friday, July 31, 2015

The dual use of airports in Tibet

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

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

Other airports in Tibet


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

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

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

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


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

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

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Developed borders are also secure borders

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

Here is the link...

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

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

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The New Strategic Importance of Tibet?

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 27, 2015

Communist Reincarnation

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

Here is the link...

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

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Reincarnation with Marxist Characteristics

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Xi Jinping is a Worried Man

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

Here is the link...

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

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Can South Block’s babudom change?


It appeared as great news from the most powerful babudom’s fief in the Government of India. On June 29, 2015, the Administration Division of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) issued a notification inviting applications for filling up of posts of consultants: “The selected consultants will be required to work as International Relations Expert in the Policy Planning and Research Division of the Ministry. Their duties will entail regular monitoring of specific geographical or thematic areas relevant to foreign policy formulation, and providing knowledge-based inputs for the same. They will be required to summarize and analyse published material in the areas assigned to them.” Revolutionary changes in offing in the MEA?
With the prospect of jaunting aspect around, it could certainly enthuse many bored scholars in Indian Universities and think-tanks: “They will also be required to attend important seminars and conferences relevant to the work of the Policy Planning Division, and submit reports on them.”
The idea that academicians and experts get a ‘lateral entry’ into the MEA is not new and recently suggestions were made by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs, which discussed the possibility to expand the recruitment of the IFS cadre.
Nobody can deny that the Indian Foreign Service has too few officials to cope with the new imperatives of Delhi’s foreign policy.
Shashi Tharoor, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee, a regular tweeter, announced: “Foreign Secretary informed us that Government was finally implementing one of our recommendations for lateral entry into MEA.”
A second tweet followed: “Good2let new thinking into MEA.”
The former Minister of State in the MEA spoke of filling up the gaps and bringing ‘different expertise’; a move which could later be emulated by other ministries, he said.
One of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s objectives has been to make of India a major world power. Behind his numerous foreign trips, this thread has always been present. But does India have today the means to assume this new status?
Is the present Foreign Service an effective tool for a ‘major power’? It depends, of course, on how a ‘major power’ is defined.
Is it a moral power (like Nehru wanted India to be in the 1950’s); a scientific/innovator power (like Finland and the Noika experience); a soft cultural power (like Buddhist India during Ashoka’s times); a military power (like the US or China) or an economic power (like several emerging nations)?
In today’s world, it is not really enough to be ‘soft’ or ‘moral’; a truly powerful nation needs to be all the above simultaneously.
In the early 1990s, out of the straitjacket of Soviet-type planned economy, India started blooming. The nation soon emerged as a power to reckon with. Another turning point was Pokharan II.
By that time, Western nations had begun then to dissociate India and Pakistan; earlier, the equation had been purposefully kept alive to serve ‘powerful’ nations, such as the United States to create a ‘balance’ in the subcontinent.
Nobody can deny today that India is a great power.
A few years ago, an interesting research was published by Daniel Markey, a Senior Fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington DC. Markey pointed out some of the issues which prevent India’s diplomacy to grow:
•    expand, reform, pay, and train the Indian Foreign Service to attract and retain high-caliber officers.
•    encourage the growth of world-class social science research and teaching schools in India through partnerships with private organizations.
•    invest in Indian think-tanks and exchange programs that build capacity for foreign policy research.
•    bring non-career officers into the Indian Ministry of External Affairs and other parts of the foreign policy establishment as term-limited fellows to improve outside understanding of the policy process.
Apparently, the new Mandarins under the Prime Minister’s active direction have started working on these issues and the recent notification is hopefully a first step in this direction.
A few years ago, Shashi Tharoor, already wrote an interesting report on the subject; he noted: “India is served by the smallest diplomatic corps of any major country, not just far smaller than the big powers but by comparison with most of the larger emerging countries. At just about 900 IFS officers to staff India’s 120 missions and 49 consulates abroad, India has the fewest Foreign Service officers among the BRICS countries. …It is ironic that India — not just the world’s most populous democracy but one of the world’s largest bureaucracies — has a diplomatic corps roughly equal to tiny Singapore’s 867.” No further comment is required.
The lack of ‘vision’ or ‘plan’ for the next 20 or 30 years has been a serious difficulty which has hindered the advent of a powerful diplomacy. South Block today does not have a 5-year or 10-year ‘diplomatic vision’.
India needs a consistent and clear foreign policy, with India’s national interests clearly defined; short term opportunism gets neither respect nor lasting friends.
In 2008, Shivshankar Menon, then Foreign Secretary, prepared a note for the Cabinet in which he proposed doubling the Foreign Service strength. It was agreed that the cadre would be increased by 320 officers in the IFS category and 200 in the support staff. The move was however blocked by some serving officers, too jealous of their privileges.
The main problem is the mindset of the babu who ‘knows everything’. This has to change; it is the only way for India to become a truly ‘major’ power.
An interesting point in the MEA notification is the following sentence: “From time to time, the [consultants] may also be asked to undertake historical research on specific foreign policy related issues.”
One of the greatest tragedies of modern India is that history has been kept under wraps by the successive governments. Will the Modi Sarkar be better than its predecessor?
Markey had written that steps should be taken to “support the efforts of Indian researchers to maximize public access to material related to the history of India’s foreign policy.” There is no move in this direction.
Can you imagine that there is no Historical Division today in MEA today? It means that the Mandarins in the ministry have no reference point to check on a historical event or prepare a note on it. Can a ‘major power’ like India be dispensed of knowing its history?
I thought that the issue was on the way to be solved when, a few years ago, a group of 15/20 retired ambassadors started going through lakhs of old files. After reading them, they were to decide if the files could be destroyed (after being digitalized), remain classified or sent to the National Archives of India (as required by the Indian laws).
Unfortunately, the experiment was stopped. Why? I don’t know. Probably the babus have as usual prevailed.
Is it the sign of a mature democracy, a ‘major power’?

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Dalai Lama: Three Commitments and Three Choices

As Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama celebrates his 80th Birthday today, let us come back on his Three Commitments and Three Choices he made in his life.


The Dalai Lama’s Three Commitments
The Dalai Lama has 3 commitments in life.
The first one is the promotion of human values such as compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment and self-discipline. He often speaks of ‘secular ethics’. For the past 2 decades, wherever he travels, he shares these human values. One remarkable fact about the Dalai Lama is that he is able to place ‘humanity’ before his own self, before his own community and even his own nation.
For his second commitment is not Tibet, he wants to work for the promotion of religious harmony and understanding among the world’s major religious traditions. Are there many religious leaders in today’s world who are ready to admit: ‘several truths, several religions are necessary?’
His country is only his third commitment (he always insists on this order); he says: “as a Tibetan [who] carries the name of the ‘Dalai Lama’, Tibetans place their trust in me. Therefore, [my] third commitment is to the Tibetan issue.” It is however true that for the past 50 years, the Tibetan issue, though a cause célèbre, has not progressed much.
Apart from these 3 commitments, the 14th Dalai Lama will go down in history for three bold, one could say visionary, choices he has made for Tibet.

His first gift to the Tibetan Nation: Democracy

Following the Tibetan Uprising of March 1959, the Dalai Lama secretly left Lhasa and took the direction of India. He crossed the border at Khenzimane, north of Tawang on March 30, 1959.
During the following months, some 80,000 Tibetans joined him and settled in India, Nepal and Bhutan.
On April 29, 1959 from the hill station of Mussoorie, the Dalai Lama formed a Tibetan Government-in-Exile, also known as the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA); a year later the CTA moved to Dharamsala, where it is still located.
The process of democratization then started. What he couldn’t do during the 9 preceding years in Tibet due to Chinese objection, the Dalai Lama could now work on: insufflating modern democratic practices into the old theocracy; the Tibetan leader did not want to be the last word for each and every political decision. As a first step, on September 2, 1960, the Tibetan parliament-in-exile, then called ‘Commission of Tibetan People’s Deputies’, came into being.
On 10 March 1961, the Dalai Lama formulated a draft Constitution of Tibet, incorporating traditional Tibetan values and modern democratic norms. Two years later, it was promulgated as the Tibetan Constitution-in-Exile.
The process continued during the following years; in 1990, the Tibetan Parliament was empowered to elect the Kashag or the Council of Ministers, and was made answerable to the Parliament. A Supreme Justice Commission was also instituted.
The newly-empowered Parliament soon drafted a new Constitution, known as the Charter of the Tibetans in Exile. Today, the CTA functions as any democratic government. This fact deeply irritates China, which is still governed by a one-Party system.
The Tibetan Charter adheres to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and provides equal rights for all, without discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, language and social origin. It also defines the role of the three organs of the government: judiciary, legislature and executive as well as the statuary bodies, namely the Election Commission, the Public Service Commission and the Office of the Auditor General.
In March 2011, the Dalai Lama renounced temporal power and handed it over to an elected leader.
What is remarkable through this process is that the Dalai Lama has had to fight to ‘impose’ these democratic institutions on the Tibetan ‘masses’, who often thought that “the Dalai Lama is wiser, why do we need a human governance, when we have a divine one?”
But it shows the wisdom and the vision of the Tibetan leader, who knows that in the long run, democracy is a more stable system.

Stopping divisive sectarian practices
A not-too-well known choice that the Dalai Lama made was to stop the cult of Dorje Shugden. You may have seen pictures of vociferous and excited groups of Westerners, dressed in Tibetan monks, shouting slogans against the Dalai Lama, wherever he goes in Europe or America (and more recently in Australia). People often ask, but who are they? They are the followers of an old Tibetan spirit called Dorje Shugden, who worked for the supremacy of the Dalai Lama’s Yellow Sect over other schools of Tibetan Buddhism.
The Dalai Lama has always professed that the 4 Buddhist schools in Tibet and the indigenous Bon faith should be treated at par.
It was a courageous choice, because some conservative forces believed that the supremacy of the Yellow Sect should continue.
There is another interesting aspect to the issue.
Who is behind these well-organized sectarian groups?
It is necessary to go to Tibet to understand.
The Dungkar Monastery is located some 13 kilometers north of Yatung, where the Kailash yatris recently spent a night. Last year, Xinhua reported: “In June 2014, with the support of the local government, 7.9 million yuan was allocated to repairing the monastery.” In other words, the monastery has been rebuilt by the Chinese government. Interestingly, the Dungkar monastery has traditionally been a center for the Dorje Shugden cult in Shigatse Prefecture.
But Dungkar is not the only monastery to have been ‘renovated’. Last month, the Chinese-selected Panchen Lama (Gyalsten Norbu) spent time at the Ganden Sumtsenling Monastery in Gyalthang (Shangrila), the largest Tibetan-Buddhist temple in Yunnan. The monastery has also been restored with government’s funds; here too, it is closely associated with the Shugden practice. But that is not all.
Last year, the Lhasa government announced that the ‘maintenance’ of the Chamdo Jampaling Monastery, which had received some 90 million yuan (14 million U.S. dollars), was nearly completed. Xinhua then explained: “It is one of the key projects in Tibet during the 12th Five-Year Plan.” And guess what? It has been the main centers for the Shudgen cult in the Chamdo Prefecture of the TAR.
Obviously, Shugden centers have some sort of priority for funds allocations under the Chinese Five-Year Plan.
Many believe that the demonstrations by Western monks are also sponsored by Beijing. It is difficult to prove, but it needed courage on the part of the Dalai Lama to renounce the supremacy of his own sect. Here too, Beijing does not appreciate the fact.

The Last Dalai Lama

A third important choice was his decision to terminate the lineage of the Dalai Lamas.
In December 2014, the Buddhist leader told the BBC that it “would be better that the centuries-old tradition [of having a Dalai Lama] ceased at the time of a popular Dalai Lama.”
The present Dalai Lama knows that the rule of the Dalai Lamas over Tibet, is a flawed system of governance for a modern State. In the past, it has failed Tibet for several reasons.
First, one is never sure that the choice of a new reincarnated lama is the right one. During some troubled periods of Tibetan history, the Mongols or the Manchu dynasty did use their influence for imposing ‘their’ choice.
Then, there is a gap of 20 odd years, between the death of a Lama and the time when his reincarnation is able to take over the job; during the interregnum, the Tibetan nation was often left without governance.
Should the system continue, it is certain that there will be 2 Dalai Lamas a few years after the death of the present hierarch: one enthroned by the Party in Beijing and one recognized by the Tibetans. The temptation will be too strong for the political leadership in Beijing not to choose ‘their’ candidate. But it needed guts to take this decision.
The 3 choices made by the Dalai Lama during his life in exile will help Tibet to become a truly modern nation in the future. Not surprisingly, these choices are not acceptable to China.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Shugden trail in Tibet

Renovated Chamdo Jampaling monastery
You may have seen pictures of vociferous and exited groups of Westerners, dressed in Tibetan monks, shouting slogan against the Dalai Lama, wherever he goes in Europe or America (and more recently in Australia).
Who are they?
They are the followers of an old Tibetan spirit called Dorje Shugden.
A good scholarly analysis is available on the Dalai Lama's website. It gives the background of this sectarian cult.
A question remains: who is behind these well-organized groups who 'receive' the Dalai Lama when he goes abroad?
It is perhaps necessary to go to Tibet to have an idea.

China renovates Tibetan monasteries
The new route to the Kailash pilgrimage via Sikkim and Chumbi Valley has lately been the news.
The first town, after crossing the Nathu-la pass between Sikkim and Tibet, is Yatung, where an Indian Trade Agency was located before the 1962 conflict with China.
Today Beijing would like to promote Yatung (Yadong for the Chinese) into a touristic place and eventually in a few years time, bring a branch of the train from Shigatse.
It is certainly a lovely place, but does India crave to see hordes of Chinese tourists so close to the ‘Siliguri corridor'? The issue will have to be debated in India. In the meantime, Xinhua thus promotes the place: “Located at the southern foot of the middle part of the Himalayas, Yadong County features a very agreeable climate and abundant water resources. The northern and southern Yadong, with the boundary marked by Phari Town, have formed a completely different landscape and climate because the average altitude of the northern part is above 4,300 meters while that of the southern part is only about 2,800 meters. Driving from Shigatse south towards Yadong in July, yellow fields of blossoming rape crops greet you along roads peppered with red-walled and golden-roofed temples.”
Then, follows a description of the idyllic surroundings.

The Dungkar Monastery
What is more interesting is the mention of the Dungkar Monastery, located some 13 kilometers north of Yatung.
The Chinese website explains that it was:
built in the early 16th century. It is the largest and the most influential Gelukpa monastery in Yadong County. From 1950 to 1951 the Dalai Lama stayed here, and this spot is where General Zhang Jingwu, a delegate of the central government, presented him with a personal letter from Chairman Mao Zedong and a duplicate of the agreement for the peaceful liberation of Tibet. A stele that marked the meeting was established in front of the monastery and stands there today.
The Dungkar Monastery has recently been rebuilt by the Chinese government. Xinhua says:
In September 2011, was badly affected by an earthquake that caused the monks’ dormitories and some other buildings to collapse; the main shrine of the temple was severely damaged. In June 2014, with the support of the local government, 7.9 million yuan was allocated to repairing the monastery, adding, now, the maintenance work has almost been completed.
The monastery is not only famous because the Dalai Lama stayed in Dungkar for a few months in 1951. The Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer had written:
After a few weeks the Dalai Lama moved to the Dungkar Monastery where he currently lives in sun-warmed peace. There last month he received the holiest Buddhist relics in all Asia, bodily remains of the original Gautama Buddha (circa 500 BCE), brought from India for his veneration by a military guard. How long the Dalai Lama will stay in Yatung in uncertain.
Dungkar monastery has also been the center of Dorje Shugden cult, the object of the above mentioned controversy.
Renovated Dungkar monastery
Dromo Geshe Rinpoche (1866—1936), the abbot of Dungkar was one of the well-known practitioners of the Dorje Shugden cult at the beginning of the 20th century. The monastery and particularly his oracle have always been linked with the sectarian cult.
Why is Beijing putting so much money to ‘restore’ the Dungkar monastery?
Read on, you will understand.

The Ganden Sumtsenling Monastery
Last month, I mentioned on this blog, that the Chinese Panchen Lama (Gyalsten Norbu) spent time at the Ganden Sumtsenling Monastery in Gyalthang (Zhongdian/Shangrila), the largest Tibetan-Buddhist temple in Yunnan.
The monastery, which was also restored by the Chinese government, is also closely linked to the Shugden practice denounced by the Dalai Lama.
In May 2014, Yu Zhengsheng, the CPPCC Chairman (and No 4 in the Party) also paid a surprise visit to the monastery.
Renovated Ganden Sumtsenling monastery
Is the visit of Gyaltsen Norbu to Ganden Sumtsenling Monastery just a coincidence at a time when Shugden followers are more and more vociferous wherever the Dalai Lama goes?
Xinhua had reported that Gyaltsen Norbu “worshiped a Buddha statute, chanted sutras and prayed for all living beings. …At a local Buddhist college, he sat in on classes where teachers and students debated Buddhist doctrine and called on the students to study hard.”
Gyaltsen Norbu also “pledged to uphold patriotism and make contributions to national unity, ethnic solidarity, religious harmony and social stability.”
That is not all.

The Chamdo Jampaling Monastery
Last year, according to Cultural Relics Bureau of Chamdo Prefecture in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), the ‘maintenance’ project of Chamdo Champa Ling (Jampaling) Monastery received some 90 million yuan (14 million U.S. dollars) for the completion of the renovations which was scheduled for June 2014.
Xinhua then said: “It is one of the key projects in Tibet during the 12th Five-Year Plan and is also the first large-scale relic conservation project in Chamdo Prefecture.”
According to the Chinese news agency, “The Champa Ling Monastery was established in 1473 and is the largest Gelug [Gelukpa] monastery of Tibetan Buddhism in Kham Area.”
And guess what? It has been one of the main centers for the Shudgen cult in the TAR.
A Tibetan official then explained: “During the first period started on March 8, 2013, the project focused on ancient architecture maintenance with a total investment of 31.78 million yuan (5 million U.S. dollars), mainly strengthening and retrofitting the Du Kang [Dukhang] Hall (the assembly hall), the Holy Shrine and the Scripture Printing Lamasery. By far the first period has been basically completed. Now the second period of the project with pre-investment of 62 million yuan (10 million U.S. dollars) has been started its four sections one by one, including gate of bounding wall, fire pile, censer, square, inside and outside circumambulation, water supply and drainage.”
Renovated Chamdo Jampaling monastery
The official also asserted that “the construction won't change the architecture's original state and its primary design will be kept by traditional handicrafts and materials.”
The news agency added: “The Chamdo Prefecture has started the special investigations since 2008 to record the important historical relics, ancient buildings, ancient sites, ancient books and movable cultural relics.”
Obviously, Shugden centers have some sort of priority for funds allocations under the Five-Year Plan.


The Chamdo clique
Regarding the renovation of the Chamdo Jampaling monastery, there is some ‘political’ logic too. Today, the 'Chamdo clique' plays an important role in Communist Tibet.
On March 14, 2013, Jampa Phuntsok was appointed as Vice Chairman of the National People’s Congress. As Bhuchung Tsering of International Campaign for Tibet noted: “it completes an interesting development in the regional representation in the top Tibetan leadership in Lhasa.”
Pema Thinley (alias Padma Choling) became Chairman of the TAR People’s Congress; further, he is the only ethnic Tibetan, seating as a full member in the CCP’s Central Committee.
The clique also comprises Phakpalha Gelek Namgyal, vice chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and head of the TAR PPCC, who is the reincarnation of the head lama of the Jampaling Monastery - he is also known as Chamdo Phakpalha.
Lobsang Gyaltsen, the head of the TAR Government and an alternate member of the Central Committee, is also from Chamdo.
Pema Thinley, Phakpalha and Lobsang Gyatsen are the highest ethnic Tibetan cadres in the Communist hierarchy in Tibet today. They are all from Chamdo Prefecture.
If you add Jampa Phuntsok, posted in Beijing, you will understand how much the 'Chamdo clique' is powerful.
Bhuchung Tsering writes: “The fact that they are all from Chamdo region could be coincidental, but if we look at popular perception of Tibetan history in modern times we see that there have been periods when elites from a particular area dominated the leadership positions in Lhasa.”
Would they be supporting the Shugden cult by chance?
Le Dake, the recently fallen Tiger, and head of the external intelligence in Tibet, has certainly an answer to this question.

Friday, July 3, 2015

The monk who thinks Indians are his gurus

The Dalai Lama in 1972 in Dharamsala
My article The monk who thinks Indians are his gurus is posted on Rediff.com

Can you find a world leader who has met generations of Indian politicians, most US Presidents, European head of States, several Popes, celebrated cricketers, Hollywood and Bollywood stars, some of the greatest scientists and many ordinary people, including what he calls, 'Chinese brothers and sisters?'
Claude Arpi salutes His Holiness the Dalai Lama as he turns 80.


Nothing speaks more about the Dalai Lama's predicament than his recent visit to the UK. WantChinaTimes, a Taiwanese publication, reported rumours in the Chinese media: Chinese President Xi Jinping's UK visit scheduled for October may be cancelled or delayed as an echo of an earlier controversy in which British Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to delay a planned trip to China.
In May 2012, Cameron had dared to receive the exiled Tibetan leader in London. The Taiwanese Web site explains: 'The Chinese government is vehemently opposed to the religious leader's political and religious authority; it cannot tolerate any challenge to its power.'
This time, the Dalai Lama did not meet any British political leaders. London was not ready to spoil the grand reception planned for the Chinese president later in the year.
The other side of the coin is that the Dalai Lama received an ovation at the Glastonbury music festival, where he spent an hour telling the large crowd of tens of thousands waiting under the rain, how the world could be a happier place if human beings were more compassionate.
The Tibetan leader also called for a more 'holistic education' which should bring 'a sense of care and human love.' To the delight of the festival-goers, he asserted, 'Everyone has the right to achieve a happy life.'
The crowd wished him, 'Happy Birthday' for his 80th year; he responded by asking everyone 'to think seriously about how to create a happy world.'
On one side, you have London's changed attitude towards the Dalai Lama, mainly due to the heavy (economic and political) price paid earlier, and on the other side tens of thousands of 'common men,' cheering one of the most charismatic leaders of the planet, a man who speaks of human values such as compassion, non-violence and the oneness of humanity.
What can one conclude, except that there is a serious widening gap between the political leadership (anywhere in the world) and ordinary citizens.

My first encounter
This reminds me of the first time I met the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (of course, at that time, there was no question of a Nobel Prize).
It was in 1972, at the hill station of Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama had been relocated by the Government of India after his flight from Tibet in 1959.
The Lama was truly a 'simple' monk. I remember him, walking from his 'Palace' to the School of Buddhist Dialectics to check on the ongoing construction. He was accompanied by one or two attendants and a security officer. No advance notice, no heavy security, just a smiling monk, looking after the rehabilitation of his people, particularly his monks.
Everyone could approach him and bow down to receive his blessings. Over the years, his popularity increased. He still smiles, but he is now under Z+ security cover, making him more difficult to approach.
In 1974, I was at Geneva airport when he landed in Europe for the first time; here too, no special fuss over the monk. Switzerland had been the first country to grant him a visa, despite Beijing's protests. Over the years, China's muscle power grew stronger, so did the Chinese 'orders.'
Sometimes, I am nostalgic of those old days, when he was so approachable, though he did not have the world dimension he has today.


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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Chinese diplomacy is a culinary delight

Chinese 'sailors' on the 'Yongshu' Reef in the South China Sea
My article Chinese diplomacy is a culinary delight appeared today in the Edit Page of The Pioneer.

Here is the link...

Beijing can't afford to have many enemies. When it becomes too ‘hot' on one front, it needs to make friends on another. It is making friends the way that one slowly cooks seafood to make ‘Buddha jump over the wall’

News agency Xinhua recently admitted that the ‘rift’ over the South China Sea between Beijing and Washington has heightened tensions in the region, “but dispute over this body of water is only ‘an episode’ in China-US relations, instead of a flashpoint as portrayed or feared by many”.
The Chinese news agency further commented: “At a time when the futures and fortunes of China and the United States are more closely intertwined than they have ever been, it is imperative for them to always look for the bigger picture, and prevent such solvable tensions evolving into dangerous tinderbox.”
Behind these words, it is clear that Beijing can’t afford to have too many enemies at the same time and when it becomes too ‘hot’ on one front, Beijing needs to make friends on another.
What about the Middle Kingdom’s other foes, namely, individuals or groups opposing the party within China? Beijing is trying to deal with them in a novel way, which might also apply to ‘external unfriendly’ powers.
In your opinion, what could make Buddha jump over a wall? According to a Chinese saying, it is a special stew made of seafood and poultry: It is apparently so yummy that even Buddha would jump over a wall to taste it.
Why is it so tasty? Simply, because the ingredients have slowly simmered for a long, very long time over a low flame. President Xi Jinping recently mentioned the famous dish: “Make friends, the way that one slowly cooks seafood and poultry stew to make ‘Buddha jump over the wall’,” he advised.
He was then speaking about ‘internal friends’ during a United Front Work conference. The UFW Department is a party organ which makes the link between the Chinese Communist Party and non-party organisations, including business people like Mr Jack Ma’s Alibaba, but also Tibetans, Uyghurs or ‘compatriots’ from Taiwan.
During the conference, Mr Xi explained that the UFW aims at making more friends, adding: “However, in order to make this kind of friend, you can’t hurry it as if you are cooking fast food, but rather you should put in the kind of effort as if you are slowly cooking the famous Chinese dish.”
To demonstrate his point, the Chinese President cited the case of former Premier Zhou Enlai and his ‘friendship’ with the 10th Panchen Lama: “On April 27, 1950, when the Panchen Lama arrived in Beijing for the first time: that night he was received by Premier Zhou and invited to dinner. They discussed everything from customs, traditions, and daily life to the victory of the Chinese revolution and the future of Tibet. Premier Zhou’s openness and sincerity deeply influenced the Panchen Lama.”
Mr Xi then compared the Panchen Lama and the Dalai Lama: “In 1956, the Indian Government invited the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama to India to participate in celebrations for the 2,500th anniversary of Sakyamuni Buddha achieving nirvana. The Panchen Lama fought against separatist forces and returned home on schedule, in a sharp contrast to the Dalai Lama who delayed his return.”
This example means that ‘friends’ have to obey to the party; the Dalai Lama did not. Before returning to Tibet, the Dalai Lama attended a religious function in Kalimpong and this despite the objections of Zhou Enlai who considered Kalimpong ‘a nest of spies’. The Panchen Lama ‘obeyed’ and immediately returned to Tibet.
Mr Xi’s conclusion is interesting, prospective friends “should be treated with the same effort required to make the dish, with more contacts, more close talks, more assistance and emphasising respect, equality and sincerity”. But like the Panchen Lama, they should listen to the party.
China’s ‘external’ neighbours too should ‘listen’ to Beijing, for the purpose, they may need to be ‘cooked’ over a long time. In recent months, China has been extremely aggressive in the South China Sea, extending her territorial waters by nearly 1,000 kilometers.
Beijing pretended to be furious when Washington sent a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft to monitor China’s deployments in the region; land-reclamation however relentlessly continued.
Attack being the best defence, Liang Fang, a professor at China’s National Defence University, violently accused the US ‘of launching its Asia’s repivot’ in The Global Times and “blockade China and unite with its allies Japan and the Philippines against China”, though he said that “China’s land reclamation efforts on disputed islands and reefs in the South China Sea will reduce the US’s projection power in the region.” He also added: “This makes the South China Sea a major strategic hotspot, which will decide the new world order.”
In other words, China is fighting a battle to dominate its close neighbours and stop the US from any interference in these designs.
In the meantime, sina.com published a sideshow with pictures taken on one of the reefs in the South China Sea. It shows good-looking female sailors (most probably models) posing on ocean breakwalls, while watering vegetable gardens, with pigs in a pen in the background. The title is “Gratifying results on China’s Yongshu Reef: Building vegetable greenhouses and growing fruit trees.”
It means that China had already succeeded in establishing its presence far away from its coastal areas; now, the next stage: To make friends, starts. General Fan Changlong, the powerful vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, visited Washington for the purpose and after a meeting with the US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, he declared: “The two nations should take the higher ground to look into the far future by paying more attention to other, more important regional and international issues.”
As Xinhua nicely put it, the relationship between Beijing and Washington has matured; the news agency spoke of “a new type of major-country relations, which features mutual benefits and a win-win cooperation.” Obviously, as the Chinese girls/models show, Beijing’s work on the reefs is over.
While taking on the US in the South China Sea, Beijing has been ‘cooking’ Tokyo. Reuters reported that in July, Japan and China “will conclude an agreement to define procedures for communication between their naval vessels and military aircraft during unexpected encounters to reduce the risk of confrontation.” One way to make friends without renouncing any claims!
What about India? Here too, Beijing wants to gain time. While turning down Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposal to exchange maps of the Line of Actual Control, a move which seemed most reasonable, Beijing has started speaking of a new sauce, ie comprehensive measures. Mr Huang Xilian, an official in the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs told a group of Indian journalists in Beijing: “We have to seek some kind of comprehensive measures, not only one measure to control and manage the border to ensure peace and tranquility along the border.”
But does it make sense to be cooked into becoming China’s ‘friend’, when LAC maps can’t even be exchanged?