Tuesday, December 6, 2016

New Terminal for Lhasa Airport

Recently, the design of Terminal 3 of the Lhasa Gongkar has been made public.
It is said that the design was inspired by “traditional Tibetan culture in the pursuit of  the heart of the sun and the moon - the eternal Shambhala". 
What does this mean? Is not clear.
China Tibet Net added that this project will “not only meet its functional purpose, but also perfectly combine architectural style and regional culture".
I leave it to the readers to decide if the culture of Tibet is represented in the model.

Importance of Gongkar Airport
On July 1, China Military Online had reported that new steps had been taken to “help PLA Air Force (PLAAF) cope with emergencies.”
A joint meeting on the development of military-civilian integration of dual-use airports of the PLAAF had been held in Beijing on June 17.
On the agenda was the "Interim Provisions of Operation Security at Dual-use Airports of the PLA Air Force." The PLA website said that it is based on win-win principles for both the military and civilian sides.
The new arrangement, to integrate the development of military-civilian airport resources between the PLAAF and civil aviation is being implemented, noted the website, which further explained: “Its main purpose was to establish a complementary management mechanism with smooth coordination and shared resources to gradually form a support capability that guarantees flight safety at peace times and meets combat needs at wartimes.”
Beijing believed that “two [first] airports [Lhasa and Sunan Shuofang] are good examples of dual-use airports.”

Why Lhasa Gonggar Airport?
As it provided “important support for Tibet's economic development and national security in China’s Southwestern region.”
Lhasa Airport has always been the hub to ‘defend' China’s borders …against India.
China Military Online remarks: “On the one hand, as an important force in Tibet’s transportation, the airport has made great contributions to Tibet's economic construction. It has safely transported more than six million passengers in total since it was put into use. The cargo throughput also surpassed 140,000 tons.”
It adds: “On the other hand, the airport is an important channel to transport the PLA's new recruits and strategic materials to Tibet. The airport is also a major ‘airborne bridgehead’ in Southwest China.”

Today, Xinhua announced that the number of passengers 'handled' by Lhasa Gonggar Airport will exceed 3 million in 2016: "it shows the rapid development of its civil aviation industry," says the agency.
For the first time in 2006, the Lhasa airport saw the number of passengers crossed 1 million and in 2013, it reached 2 million.
A senior regional civil aviation official told Xinhua: "The rapid growth in passenger numbers at Lhasa airport shows people's confidence in Tibet's social stability, and is a symbol of the rapid economic development of Tibet."
For the Chinese authorities, the so-called stability of the plateau is clearly linked to the number of passengers using the 71 routes from the Mainland to Lhasa.

Incidentally,  on November 25, China Daily announced that more than 20 new highways will be built in the TAR in 2017 (with a total investment of more than 33 billion yuan or 5 billion US dollar).
Among them, a highway between Lhasa and Shigatse Airport and the one between Gongkar Airport to Tsethang.

Monday, December 5, 2016

‘New normal’ in form of old for Beijing?

My article ‘New normal’ in form of old for Beijing? appeared last week in the Edit Page of The Pioneer.

Here is the link...

China has been asserting itself globally. The US's possible withdrawal from the TPP will help Beijing.  Can China be a champion of ‘globalisation' and yet remain an authoritarian regime internally

The new Literature Nobel Prize laureate once sang, “The Times They Are a-Changin”. Lately, they have been changing even faster. Realignments are swiftly taking place, creating a sense of planetary incertitude. Take the example of US President-elect Donald Trump’s announcement that the US would pull out of the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); it could undoubtedly create a void that Beijing is dreaming to fill. New York University professor Ian Bremmer noted that “officials in China are excited about Trump’s plan to withdraw from the US’s participation in the planned TPP”.
The New York Times report headlined, ‘China’s Influence Grows in Ashes of Trans-Pacific Trade Pact’, remarked that an apparent defeat was “an unalloyed triumph for China”. There is no doubt that we may soon witness a considerable realignment in Asia, with China taking the lead.
During his keynote speech at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Lima in Peru, Chinese President Xi Jinping renewed his call for ‘globalisation’; he pushed for the construction of a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP). While the new US dispensation preaches protectionism and is crusading against economic globalisation, Xi plays the ‘global’ card: “We should firmly pursue the FTAAP as an institutional mechanism for ensuring an open economy in the Asia-Pacific”, he said. Were Mao Zedong to come out of his mausoleum, he would not believe his ears.
But nothing is simple in today’s world. The TPP was to promote fairer and freer trade with far-reaching provisions for labour and environmental protection. The US withdrawal may trigger a halt of domestic reforms in the Middle Kingdom. The fact that China will face no restriction anymore, will not help Beijing become a ‘normal’ state. The South China Morning Post (SCMP) pointed out: “The scale of the pact was expected to put external pressure on Beijing to lift its own standards.”
Zhao Minghao, a researcher with the China Centre for Contemporary World Studies, told the SCMP that “the TPP’s demise would be a ‘double-edged sword’ for China”. It pointed out that other deals such as the FTAAP “did not require the Central Government to make painful domestic changes”.
Can China simultaneously promote free-market and remain an authoritarian regime, controlling its own people in a repressive manner? In this context, it is interesting to look at the new counter-terrorism law which came into effect on January 1, 2016. The new law consists of 97 Articles in 10 chapters, covering issues such as terrorism designation, prevention, intelligence gathering, investigation, emergency response, international co-operation or legal liabilities.
While one can rejoice that China has decided to become a ‘normal’ state ruled by law, one is forced to notice that general repression of individual freedom of speech and thought, has dramatically increased since the 18th Congress in November 2012. Though Rule of Law is one of The Four Comprehensives, President Xi’s new mantra (namely build a moderately prosperous society; deepen the reform; govern according to law; govern strictly under the direction of the Party), it is feared that the last ‘comprehensive’ will not be in accord with the third one. Can a state be governed without checks and balances and at the same time follow the Rule of Law?
Moreover, the new federal Anti-Terrorism Law will be part of a ‘package’ which will include a National Security Law, a Non-Governmental Organisations Management Law and a Cyber-Security Law, amongst others. How far can the new law become a tool to further contain the resentment of the people? Will the Internet and social media networks be an instrument of information or repression?
A few months ago, David Shambaugh, a respected Chinese watcher, who is director of the China Policy Program at George Washington University, wrote a Saturday Essay entitled, ‘Coming Chinese Crackup’. It was published in The Wall Street Journal, but circulated widely on social media. Later Shambaugh, elaborated his theory in a 203-page new book, China’s Future, where he argues that “China is in a state of ‘atrophy’ and ‘decline’, which will continue if no major political reform takes place in the near future”.
It is certain that the new law will engender more fear among the so-called minorities and though, like everywhere on the planet, religious extremism may exist in China, ‘regionalism’ in Xinjiang or Tibet is always assimilated to separatism and terrorism. The question remains: Can China become a normal state?
Xinhua had reported: “The regional Government of Xinjiang unveiled China’s first local counterterrorism law. Based on China’s Counterterrorism Law, passed in December 2015, the regional law details and supplements the national law in defining terror activities and terrorists, security precautions, intelligence, investigations, countermeasures and punishment.”
The fact that a ‘counter-terrorist law’ was immediately enacted in Xinjiang (it will probably happen in Tibet soon) makes the future of human rights in China quite disquieting. Once again, it is too easy to associate regional resentment with terrorism. Authoritarianism has other implications.
The Diplomat recently published an article titled, ‘China and Germany: The Honeymoon is over’. It said, “The prolonged honeymoon between China and Germany has come to an abrupt halt. In Berlin, awareness has grown that Beijing has moved from being an economic partner to a serious global competitor.” It cited the recent visit to China of Sigmar Gabriel, the German Economy Minister, which “came in the middle of an atmosphere of crisis in German-Chinese economic relations” It added,  “Instead of attempting to improve matters, however, Gabriel set out to teach the Chinese a lesson.”
Gabriel is also Vice-Chancellor and Chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and is a possible candidate for the next chancellorship.
The Diplomat explained that Gabriel burst out by quoting the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), “China is by far the most restrictive industrial country in the world. Unlike the freedom of maneuver Chinese companies enjoy in the West, foreign firms in China are not allowed, for instance, to invest in the banking, telecommunication, or media industries. Public tenders usually are awarded to Chinese companies rather than to foreign ones.”
All this together creates a rather confusing situation; it shows that China is far from stepping into the US’s shoes as the world leader.
Indeed the question is: Can China be a champion of ‘globalisation’ and yet remain an authoritarian regime internally? The answers are not easy to get.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Serene French Elections?

I had written this before the televised announcement by President Hollande that he will not stand for next year Presidential Election. 
His withdrawal does not change much the analysis.

The French are known for their revolutionary spirit. One could have expected a lots of patakas during the Primaries of the Republican Party (Les Républicains), knowing that the winner of the contest will have good chances to win the Presidential elections next April.
After having watched for months the ugliness of the US Presidential campaign, it was a bit of a surprise (and comfort) to see that the seven candidates engaged in the first round kept a rather decent attitude.
Not only did the main contenders: Nicolas Sarkozy, the energetic former president, Alain Juppé, the mayor of Bordeaux and François Fillon, who served as prime minister under Sarkozy, discuss their respective programs of how to take France out of the current depressing slump, in a composed way, but there was hardly any viciousness in the debate.
However, this time again, like during the US election or the Brexit vote, the surveys went completely wrong. They had predicted an easy victory for Juppé, with Sarkozy closely coming second.
But on the ‘E’ Day of the first round, Fillon, who had been catching up in the last leg of the campaign, won with a hefty margin against Juppé.
The former PM won 44 % of the votes, while Juppé obtained 28 %. Sarkozy came third with 20 %, while the four other candidates finished with less than 3 percent (the only lady, Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, coming 4th with 2.6 %).
Sarkozy immediately accepted the verdict. It is probably the end to his political career. Voters were certainly ‘tired’ of Sarkozy’s ‘hyper’ style of functioning and his harsh words for those who did not agree with him (he once told someone who refused to shake hands with him, “get out of my way, poor asshole”).
While millions of voters apprehend the extreme right of Marine Le Pen, (who was not part of the Republicans primary), during the first round, the ‘anything but Sarkozy’ was prevalent: the former President is under several investigations, including over allegations of receiving funds from former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi for his 2007 presidential campaign.
As he was leaving the political scene, Sarkozy advised his supporters to vote for Fillon in the second round: “[he] seems to have understood best the challenges that France faces."
Thereafter, the second round was a formality for Fillon who gathered 67% of the votes to be the presidential candidate for Les Républicains.
He is now the great favorite for the ‘real thing’ in April next year. With his radical rightist, though softer program, he will appeal to a larger electorate and probably defeat Marine Le Pen.
President François Hollande’s Socialist Party is in total disarray and divided over who should run for the 2017 elections. Hollande has beaten all the records of unpopularity (only 4% of the French approve his policies). It is mainly due to his lack of charisma and some blatant mistakes; for example things that a president should not do: riding on a bike behind his bodyguard to visit his girl friend or confiding State secrets to journalists for a book. Though he does not want to quit, Hollande is considered a definite looser.
To compound the President’s problems, his Prime Minister Manuel Valls is a likely candidate to the Socialist primary, while Emmanuel Macron, a close protegé of Hollande not long ago, has already announced that he will be a candidate for the top job.
The 38-year-old former Economy Minister (who worked as an investment banker for Rothschild) believes that he has witnessed the ‘emptiness’ of France’s political system; he wants now to ‘bring optimism’ to the country. Today, Macron’s party ‘En Marche!’ (‘On the Move!) directly challenges Hollande’s candidature.
The Time wrote: “In his position as Economy Minister, which he resigned from in August, Macron becomes an unlikely champion to many ‘outsiders’, like youth, immigrants and minorities.”
However, he is considered by others part of the ‘establishment’ due to his banker’s past. His candidature has certainly created further confusion in the left.
After winning first round with a large margin, Fillon declared: “My project will trigger a new hope," adding: "everywhere my fellow citizens told me they wanted change, authority and being respected."
These three points may take him to Elysée Palace a few months from now.
What really differentiates him from his opponents (Juppé and Hollande in particular), are his views on Russia.
During Hollande’s presidency, the Russian President has been made a demon. Fillon asserted that it was "ridiculous to portray Putin as a monster with hands full of blood". The presidential candidate also called for an end of EU sanctions against Russia as he sees Putin as an ‘indispensable ally’ against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria, advocating that France should support Bashar al-Assad against IS while helping the Syrian Christians.
Hollande’s anti-Putin campaign had taken such proportions that two Mistral-class helicopter carriers, which had been ordered (and paid for) by Moscow were never delivered to the Russian Navy. The deal had been signed in January 2011 by …Alain Juppé, then Defence Minister.
Hollande decided to refund Moscow and eventually, the two Mistrals were resold to Egypt (did Saudi Arabia paid the bill?). The latest gossip is that Egypt will sell them back to Moscow because the ships were fitted to Russian specifications. What an irony it would be.
After the second round, Fillon told his electors: "I will take up an unusual challenge for France, to tell the truth and completely change its software."
He will probably succeed to become the next French President; to change the software may not be so easy.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Connecting Heavenly Tibet

The Tibetan plateau is witnessing a great deal of infrastructure development. This is not new, but the Chinese investments have taken much larger proportions in the recent weeks.
According to the website en.tibetol.cn, the Government of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) has vowed to invest 543.1 billion yuan (88 billion US dollar) “to improve transportation conditions and promote the economic and social development during the 13th five-year period (2016-2020).”
What does it means?
Undoubtedly, it will bring tens of millions Chinese tourists on the plateau.
One hundred million soon?

The 12th Five-Year Plan
During the previous five-year period (2011-2015), 300 kilometers of high-level roads were built in the TAR while the Lhasa-Shigatse Railway started its operations in 2014; further 63 new airlines have been opened, linking 40 cities in China.
By the end of the current Plan (13th), the total mileage of highways in Tibet will reach 110,000 kilometers.

New Developments
On November 25, China Daily announced that “more than 20 new highways will be built in the TAR next year, with a total investment of more than 33 billion yuan (5 billion US dollar)”.
According to Ge Yutao, head of the TAR’s regional transportation authority, the new routes will include Lhasa to Nagchu; Derge to Chamdo; Chamdo to Jaka; Lhasa to Shigatse Airport; and Gongkar Airport to Tsethang, as well as the Nyima-Aso section of National Highway 317.
Ge added that 54 billion yuan (8.8 billon US dollar) from the TAR’s coffers will be spent on Tibet's transport infrastructure during the current year: “The total length of roads has reached 82,000 kilometers, and it's expected to reach 89,000 km next year. Next year, we will finish constructing 864 km of highways and 5,500 km of rural roads, and reconstruct 4,310 km of national and provincial trunk highways."
Ge spoke during the recent TAR Congress in Lhasa.
The TAR plans to spend 15 billion yuan (2.4 billion US dollar) from the State resources and 40 billion yuan (6.5 billion US dollar) from bank loans to further improve Tibet's transportation network next year.
It is not said who is guarantying the loans. Probably the Central Government as these investments will also be useful to ‘defend the borders’.
On November 15, while presenting the TAR’s ‘Work Report’ to the regional Congress, Wu Yingjie, the new TAR Party boss mentioned the improvements in road, rail and aviation networks planned for the next five years.

The second ‘Sky Road’
During the current Five-Year Plan, Tibet will particularly speed up the construction of its second ‘Sky Road’, the Sichuan-Tibet Railway.
The 1,838 km railway will run from Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province to Lhasa. The first ‘Sky Road’ on the plateau was the Qinghai-Tibet Railway opened in July 2006, linking Golmund to Lhasa.
‘While the first section of the second ‘Sky Road, between Chengdu and Ya'an, began in 2014, the second part, from Lhasa to Nyingchi, started in 2014. 
Wu affirmed that “The section inside Tibet is expected to be finished by 2020.”
He told the delegates to the Congress that the preliminary work on the Yunnan-Tibet Railway and flights between Ngari and Purang, in Ngari prefecture, will start in the next five years.
Incidentally, Purang is located near Mt Kailash, just north of Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand.
Wu added that “Tibet has plans to build airports in densely populated and developed cities and prefectures. The progress of an elaborate transportation system of highways, railways and air routes in the coming years will lay a foundation for Tibet to blend in with the Belt and Road Initiative. [One Road One Belt scheme]"
According to the TAR’s Work Report: “Tibet has witnessed rapid development in transportation construction in the past five years, with the total length of the highways increasing by 33 percent. In that time, the 300-km Lhasa-Nyingchi Highway was completed, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway was expanded and the Lhasa-Shigatse Railway went fully operational.”
All this has brought millions of tourists from the Mainland to the plateau, with the consequences often mentioned on this blog.
Xu Ance, an engineer with Qinghai-Tibet Railway Co, told The China Daily: “Over the past 10 years, the number of tourists visiting Tibet has increased every year, while our passenger and cargo flow has grown annually, too,"
The railway line is being used for transporting basic goods, coal, cement and construction materials …and troops and military equipment.

The world’s highest tunnel
The Chinese press reported that China completed the work on the world's highest road tunnel, costing about US dollars 170 million on the Sichuan-Tibet highway.
The seven-km long tunnel, situated 6,168 metre above sea level (the tunnel or the mountain?), passes through the main peak of Chola Mountain. It shortens the time from Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, to Nagchu in Tibet by two hours, and avoiding the most dangerous section on the highway.
The four-way lanes tunnel has been under construction since 2012. It will open to traffic next year.
The seven-km long tunnel has been built at a cost of 1.15 billion yuan (US dollar 170 million). It takes only takes 10 minutes to drive through. The highway will accommodate 4,000 to 5,000 vehicles a day, as compared with around 1,500 now.

Feasibility of Kangding to Nyingchi railway
According to China Tibet Online, the pre-feasibility study report of the Kangding to Nyingchi segment of the Sichuan-Tibet railway was ready by the end of October this year.
The China Railway Eryuan Engineering Co. Ltd asserted that it is the longest and toughest segment of the Sichuan-Tibet railway line. National Development and Reform Commission is planning to start the construction of this section in 2017. The expected construction time should be seven or eight years
The Sichuan-Tibet railway starting from Chengdu will serve Ya'an, Kangding, Chamdo, Nyingchi, Lhoka and Lhasa. The total length of the operation route will be 1,838 kilometers, out of which 1,738 kilometers of new track will be built. The total investment will reach be 216.6 billion yuan (35 billon US dollars). 
It should shorten the traveling time from 43 hours and 7 minutes now to 13 hours while providing for ‘bidirectional rapid trains’ and inject “double momentum for Tibet's economic development. Over five million people will benefit from this railway project,” according to one report.

Preliminary work of Yunnan-Tibet

The new Yunnan-Tibet Railway to Shangri-La and Dechen County of Yunnan province crossing to the TAR’s Markam and Zogang counties will connect with the Sichuan-Tibet Railway in Bamda Town. The line will be 415 kilometers long; 265-kilometer being in TAR. The total investment has been evaluated to 43.6 billion yuan (7 billion US dollar); the Tibet section alone will cost about 27.8 billion yuan (5 billion US dollar). The preliminary work for the alignment of the line has started. The main work will begin during the 14th Five-Year Plan period.
China Tibet Online says that the railway in Tibet “is gradually approaching perfection with the operation of Qinghai-Tibet Railway and Lhasa-Shigatse Railway as well as the construction of Lhasa-Nyingchi Railway. Since the Qinghai-Tibet Railway is put into operation, [in 2006] Tibet's freight transportation has increased rapidly and it has become the main freight channel."
And let us not forget, it also takes care of the PLA’s requirements.
The Chinese site added: “The construction of Yunnan-Tibet Railway will bring more convenient transportation conditions for the passenger and cargo circulation between TAR and Yunnan Province;” it concludes: “The Yunnan-Tibet Railway is a critical part of China Western Development, which is meaningful for the leapfrog development and long-term peace and order of Tibet.”
In other words it will be useful to control the restive Tibetans.

On October 31, Kangba TV announced, the opening ceremony of Baima (Pema?) Snow Mountain tunnel on the G214 national highway from Shangri-la to Dechen in Yunnan province.
Kangba TV said that the Shangri-la-Dechen secondary highway is extremely difficult to build “with the high altitude, the worst environment and the most complicated geological landscape in Yunnan Province.”
The project consists of three tunnels, all above 4,000m altitude. The length of the three tunnels totals 19,5 kms. The project started its construction in March 10, 2010 (incidentally, the Tibetan Uprising Day).
The Baima (Pema?) Snow Mountain tunnel should boost the local economy and help the transportation network in Dechen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.
In Amdo/Qinghai
In the north, in the Amdo province of Tibet, the construction of the Delingha-Xiangride Highway has been completed; the road is 176.48 km long. The 72.75 km-long Ebao-Qilian Highway is also in operation.
The Delingha-Xiangride Highway is a special one.
Historically, Delingha has been the launching sites for many Chinese ballistic missiles. Located in the Haixi Mongol and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai Province, the project’s ending point will be connected with the planned Beijing-Tibet Highway (G6), and to the beginning of the Xiangride-Huashixia Highway.
It has a complex geographical environment, crossing the Gobi Desert, salt-marsh, and water meadows.
According to the Chinese media: “It will create a combined transportation network featuring the Beijing-Tibet Highway (G6), National Road 214, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, and the Qinghai-Xinjiang Railway.”
This expansion is part of the national highway project linking Delingha to Maerkang in Sichuan (G0615). The entire highway will be built to the latest standards and will be designed for vehicles to run at a speed at 100 km/hr.
In the Qilian County, the Ebao-Qilian Highway starts from Ebao Town. It connects to National Highway 227 as well as the Zhangye-Henan Highway, ending up in Qilian County. The road further connects to Provincial Road 204 and the planned Qilian-Chamdo Highway.

Other developments
China Tibet News reported that at the beginning of 2016, all cities in China's have access to the fiber-optic broadband. During the current Five-Year period, China Telecom will promote the development of basic information resources, making the fiber-optic broadband faster: “Internet will integrate with more traditional industries, accelerating the construction of broadband Tibet, intelligent city, intelligent industry and intelligent family. It also makes the poverty alleviation work more efficient.”
The website says that there are 82 mobile phones and 11 fixed phones for every 100 people in China's Tibet. The Internet penetration rate reaches 60 percent: “Internet not only improves Tibetan people's livelihood but also shortens the distance between Tibet and the outside world. As Internet integrates with traditional industries such as tourism and agriculture, work efficiency gets great improvement.”
It cites the Qionglin Village in Nanyi Township of Menling County, Nyingchi (north of Aurunachal Pradesh). It has been provide fiber-optic broadband connection by China Mobile. Out of 47 households in the village, 40 have access to broadband and Wifi access is available in the village.
The same website says that “during  the 12th Five-Year Plan period, China's Tibet built 3,000 rural comprehensive information service stations, covering 57 percent of administrative villages and 62 percent of farmers and herdsmen.”
Tibet branch of China Mobile has invested 14.29 billion yuan (about 2.14 billion U.S. dollar) and built 12,600 base stations: “long distance optical cable reached 51,900 sheet km. In Tibet, there are already 4,440 administrative villages that have access to mobile Internet, with the coverage rate of 84 percent. 693 towns and more than 4,000 administrative villages are connected to optical fiber cable, lying a solid foundation for the proliferation of optical fiber cable in all farming and pastoral areas.”
It speaks of ‘Heavenly Tibet’: “an intelligent tourist product, providing tourists with one-stop information service encompassing eating, accommodation, traffic, traveling, shopping and entertainment. It is the same as the newfangled online tourism service.”
The Nyingchi Prefecture has invested 1.33 million yuan (about 199,445 U.S. dollars), to develop the ‘transparent kitchen’ which is a food safety monitoring project integrated with the Internet: “Currently, 25 school cafeterias and hotels have been monitored by this system. Besides, more than 400 restaurants will be put into this item.”
The Disneyland of Snows will become a cool connected place, but it may lose its soul in the process.
Lamas in their mountain caves were also ‘connected’, but in a different way.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Chinese tourists arrive on the Indian border

Le (or Legbo) village north of the McMahon Line
While Delhi remains stuck with its ‘colonial’ system of Inner Line/Protected Area Permit system, China has opened its side of the frontier to hordes of tourists coming to the Mainland.
Yesterday, China Tibet News reported that “Legbo Valley creates ‘natural oxygen bar’ tourism brand.”
The catchy title is not very clear, but the location of the ‘Legbo Valley’ is speaking. ‘Legbo’ or ‘Le’ (or Lepo’) village is located just a few kilometers north of the McMahon Line (LAC) in Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh.
One still remember the Thagla ridge, the site of the Namkha chu battle during the 1962 conflict with China.
Le village is situated on the Tibetan side of the ridge, not far from Khinzemane, the last Indian post on the Namjiang chu (river).
Today, Le village comes under the administration of Tsona County/Dzong of Lhoka City, Southern Tibet.
China Tibet News says that the area is not only renowned “as natural oxygen bar; but it is also the settlement of Monpa people with simple and unique ethnic customs.”
‘Natural oxygen bar’ is just a gimmick to attract tourism, as the altitude is not so high (Zemithang, the last big village on the Indian side is at 2,100 meter asl) and the area is afforested, with plenty of oxygen.
The Chinese site says: “To create the tourism brand of ‘natural oxygen bar’, by centering [sic] on the Legbo [Le] Valley scenic spot, Cona [Tsona] County strengthens the construction of tourism infrastructures, improves tourism services, explores unique folk customs, develops characteristic local products, and builds tourism leisure resort destination.”
All this on the Chinese side of the LAC!
China Tibet News gives figures: up the beginning of 2016 up to November “the number of tourist reception in Legbo Valley is 46,242 passengers and tourism revenue is 15.929 million yuan, increasing 20.4% and 18.5 respectively.”
It is not clear what a ‘passenger’ is, but it seems a lot of visitors for such a small border village.
Beijing is said to be ready to invest some 89 million yuan (14.5 million US dollars) to have “an ecological civilization site”.
Ecological site or military base?
Probably both!
Like most of the places in Southern Tibet (particularly in the Nyingchi prefecture) local farmers (and even herdsmen) are encouraged to open up ‘Inns’ (family hotels). The Chinese site speaks of promoting “a combination of characteristic culture and tourism.”
The nearby town of Tsona is ‘the site of commodity’ [sic] and is where the Tsangyang Gyatso Festival [takes place].
Let us remember that Tsangyang Gyatso, the Sixth Dalai Lama was born in Urgyeling, a hamlet south of Tawang. Tsona is not the birthplace of the ‘Indian’ Dalai Lama, though he stayed there for a short time while on his way to Lhasa; strangely the town is today promoted as Tsangyang Gyatso's place.
China Tibet News reports that during a first phase of investment (77 million yuan or 6 million dollars poured into the area), a ‘characteristic’ small town project is being launched in Le village: “The overall planning project of Kyipa and Gomri Monpa nationality township has been completed. At present, the Legbo Valley tourism leisure resort has been basically formed, attracting tourists with unique charm.”
All this would be fine, it was not happening a few kilometers away from the LAC.
Beijing has used a similar tactic in Metok County, located near the Indian border (Upper Siang). This small country, with a population of hardly 11,000 inhabitants received over 70,000 visitors in 2015.
China Tibet Online, an affiliate of Xinhua reported last year that since a highway reached the village of Metok in 2013, “tourism industry has seen rapid development”. In 2015, Metok officially welcomed some 70,800 tourists. For the first time in 2014, the authorities of the county started selling tickets for entrance to its scenic areas; in 2015, total ticket sales have exceeded 5 million yuan.
The propaganda invites the Chinese tourists to see the Galongla Waterfall, the wonder of Swallow Pond, the Metok Waterfalls, the Menba suspended tower and other scenic sites, “as well as ‘plant fossil’ spinulosa trees and other such thousands of kinds of plants and animals.”
The potential tourists in China are told that Metok “is famous for its natural ecology and highland tropical climate. The drop in elevation here is huge, with both brilliant snow mountains and tropical and subtropical plants existing side-by-side, and it is knows as a hiker’s paradise.”
I wonder how many Indian tourists are allowed to Zemithang or Tuting/Geling (Metok is located just north of these villages on the Yarlung Tsangpo river — the river becomes the Siang in Arunachal and later the Brahmaputra in Assam).
Incidentally, was the visit of the Party boss of the Tibet Autonomous Region, near the LAC north of the Upper Subansiri district, linked with a similar scheme to 'occupy the frontiers with tourists' north of the Upper Subansiri district?

India to emulate China
Delhi should perhaps emulate China and open the Indian borders to tourism.
Would it not be the best way for the Government of India to demonstrate that Arunachal is part of India?
For Beijing, the trend is bound to continue; the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been told that all new infrastructures built in China should be able to be used for civilian and military requirements.
According to Xinhua, on November 10, President Xi Jinping called for the building of strong and modern logistics forces that will guarantee the realization of the Chinese dream as well as the dream of a strong army.
Xi said: “As the international military competition situation experiences profound changes, and national interests and military missions develop, logistical construction is becoming an increasingly crucial factor that affects wins or losses in battle... and occupies a key place in the development of the Party, the country and the military."
Xi added that “more efforts should be made to use state-level resources and enlist the help of local governments as well as social groups and individuals to develop a series of innovation projects that cater to both military and civilian uses.”
As the result in 2016, 50,000 ‘passengers’ will come a few kilometers from the Indian border.
India should start thinking about the implications of this development.
Incidentally, Lt Gen Devraj Anbu, the GOC of 4 Corps called yesterday on Arunachal Chief Minister Pema Khandu. According to press reports, the discussion centered on construction of roads in the border areas and land acquisition for army use; Gen Anbu also suggested having an Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) in the Tawang-Kameng area.
How many years it will take, nobody knows; India is not China.

For information, I am reproducing an extract of the Diary of Capt Frederick Bailey during his journey in the area in 1913. Based on this report, McMahon drew the famous Line.
20th October, Shakti, 11 ½ miles, 7,250 feet. We had a good view down the valley of the Tawang Chu this morning and were shown the frontiers of Bhutan. Our road left the Tawang valley and went up the Nyamjang valley. We had to change our coolies at several villages and were delayed each time. We passed some terraced rice cultivation at Gyipu. The hills were covered in forest. We stopped in a house in the village of Shakti. No rain.

21st October, Le, 19 miles, 8,350 feet. We made a very late start as were again had trouble with our local coolies. Two miles from Shakti we crossed to the right bank of the river and six miles further we came to a large [Gorsam] chorten of a peculiar design having a base of over 50 yards. A mile beyond this was Pangchen on the left bank above which the river has been dammed up by a landship and there are marshy flats [near Zemithang]; at other places the river flows in a very valley with steep sides covered with forest. At Shoktsen where we changed transport we again had trouble with the coolies who threw our loads down and bolted into the jungle. The road is in places over galleries and causeways built up in from the river. We crossed the river 3 tames by good wooden bridges. We arrived after dark, the villagers of Le coming out to meet us with torches of dried bamboo. We stopped in a house. No rain.

[And then Bailey and his colleague Henry Morshead continued towards Tsona]

22nd October, Trimo, 10miles, 10,700 feet.-We went up the valley all day crossing the river 3 times. After going 5 ½ miles we suddenly came on Lepo Tsukang or custom house astride the road where we found an agent of the Tsona Dzongpons who took us in and gave us tea. He collects a tax in kind of 10 per cent on all merchandise which goes up into Tibet from the lower lying Monba country. He also collects 1 tanka on each animal and ½ tanka on each man who passes his post. At Trimo we found the people, though still Monbas, to be very Tibetan in their appearance; they grow crops of barley and turnips but maize and other Himalayan crops have been left behind. Their cattle are dzos. No rain.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

One more airport on the plateau

Karze (or Garzi or Kardze) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture is situated in Western Sichuan, in the historical Kham province of Tibet.
Today, the so-called autonomous prefecture covers an area of 151,078 square kilometres with a population of approximately 880,000 (according to Chinese census). The Tibetans are said to represent some 78% of the total population. The capital city of prefecture is Kangding (traditionally known as Dartsedo or Tachienlu).
In the fall of 1950, the People's Liberation Army took over area. It was one of the bases chosen by Mao for the Battle of Chamdo (October 1950).
It has always been one of the most restive areas of the plateau inhabited by the Khampa tribes; Karze still has large monasteries such as Dzogchen, Dzongsar, Palpung, Sershul and more recently the Larung Gar Buddhist Institute, which has recently been in the news.
For Beijing, the best way to pacify the area is probably to bring millions of tourists.
The ‘restive’ Khampas will be then be used as tourist guides.
The immediate solution is to make Karze accessible by air.

Karze (Garzi) Gesar Airport
The new Karze (Garzi) Gesar Airport is located at the border of Laima Township of Karze County and Cuo’a Township of Derge County.
The Airport is built at 4,068m above the sea level, 52km away from the closest city in Karze County and 150km away from Derge County’s capital.
The new airport got the approval from the National Development and Reform Commission in October 2015. The projected cost is 2.26 billion yuan (US dollars 414.7 million).
The 4,000-meter-long and 45m wide runway (class 4C) is designed to handle 220,000 passengers and 660 tons of freight every year. Boeing 737 and Airbus A319 aircrafts will be able to land on the runway.
A 3,600 square meters terminal will serve the passenger.
It will be the third airport in Karze Prefecture, after Kangding Airport and Daocheng Yading Airport.
The construction has started on April 15, 2016.
First trials were scheduled for 2017, but on November 15, Kangba TV reported that sources closed to the contractor, the Kangding Airport Group Co Ltd affirmed the Karze Gesar Airport’s trial section had been completed end of October (probably ahead of schedule).

The J-20 case
Incidentally, on September 5, a photo showing China's stealth fighter J-20 was spotted on the Internet at the Daocheng Yading Airport. China Military Online commented that it “triggered the sensitive nerve of Indian media, who claimed that the ‘deployment of J-20 in Tibet’ is a counter measure against India's plan to deploy the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile along the China-India border. “
The same website explained that according to ‘Chinese experts’: “the time when the picture was taken is not clear, and even if the J-20 is put into service, it is not likely to be deployed first on the China-India border. Moreover, even if J-20 really appeared in the Daocheng Yading Airport, it may turn out to be a high altitude performance test.”
Well, either it was a J-20 or a dummy, the Chinese authorities should know.
NDTV had reported on September 2: “The image of the stealth fighter appeared on Twitter and on two defense websites, days after China warned India against deploying the supersonic BrahMos missile along the Himalayas."
The Indian media had further commented: "J-20 is a twin engine fighter with stealth features which enable it to sometimes go undetected by radar, an enormous advantage in air combat over conventional fighter jets which can be tracked on radar. The supersonic J-20 is thought to have gone into low-rate production this January.”
China Military Online remarked: “Indian media is deeply worried about the appearance of J-20 in Tibet.”
The image of the J-20 showed the fighter covered in tarpaulin. The Daocheng Yading Airport is located at an altitude of 14,000 feet, far higher than the new Karze airport; in fact, the Daocheng Yading is the world's highest civilian airport.
And of course, there no such things as ‘civilian’ airport in China.
Whatever is the truth about the J-20 in Daochen Yading Airport, the new Karze Gesar airport will be of much easier access, being at 'only' at 12,000 above sea level.
The new airport will be used of course for ‘civilian’ requirements, but also to tackle internal disturbances …and in case of a conflict with India (Arunachal is not far).

Saturday, November 19, 2016

'Hot' visit in Ulaanbaatar

'Hot' visit in Ulaanbaatar
China is again upset.
Simply because the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan religious leader, has been invited for a four-day visit to Mongolia.
According to China Radio International (CRI), Beijing has strongly urged Mongolia “to stick to its commitment to Tibet-related issues for maintaining the sound development of bilateral ties.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang too sees red: “the Dalai Lama is a political refugee who has long been engaged in activities to split China and alienate Tibet from China in the name of religion.”
Geng added:
China resolutely opposes the Dalai Lama visiting any country to carry out anti-China separatist activities in any name or in any capacity. We also stand firmly against all forms of contacts between officials from any country and the Dalai Lama. We strongly demand that Mongolia, for the purpose of maintaining the general picture of a sound and steady development of bilateral ties, earnestly stick to its commitment on Tibet-related issues, do not allow the visit by the Dalai Lama and do not provide any form of support and convenience to the group of the Dalai Lama.
It usually works: it is enough to persuade leaders of Buddhist countries to desist inviting Tibet’s popular religious leader.
No visit takes place.
Not this time.
Associated Press quoted Davaapurev, a monk from the Gandan monastery in Ulaanbaatar, saying that Dalai Lama was on a four-day visit “with purely religious purposes.”
According to Davaapurev, one of the organizers of the visit, the Tibetan monk is to receive an honorary degree, take part in different religious functions and meet with academics and representatives of the nation’s youth: “the visit is separate from politics and for religious purposes only,” the organizer explained.
The Chinese do not believe this.
For Radio Free Asia (RFA), in the past Beijing “used the Mongolian economy’s heavy dependence on trade with China as leverage, cutting off rail links and disrupting air travel during a visit by the Dalai Lama in 2006.”
The Dalai Lama has visited Mongolia several times; his first journey to Ulaanbaatar was in 1979.
But the Chinese lobby in Mongolia has been active. It used the abbot of the rival Ikh Khuree monastery, Sanjdorj Zandan, to point out at the visit was an interference in Mongolia’s internal affairs. Zandan said that the Dalai Lama planned to name the new head of Mongolian Buddhism (Davaapurev denied that such appointment would take place).
RFA reported that when the Dalai Lama arrived in Mongolia on November 18, he was welcomed at the airport by government representatives, senior monks of Mongolian monasteries …and the Indian ambassador.
For India, the Dalai Lama is not only a respected guest of the country but a venerated religious teacher.
Today (November 19), he will bless the Gaden Thekchen Choeling, Mongolia’s largest monastery and speak to the abbots and other Mongolian senior religious teachers.
He will then visit the monastery of the Kalkha Jetsun Dampa, the ninth head of Mongolia’s Buddhists (the Mongolian ‘Dalai Lama’).
In countries where religious and politics are so closely intermingled, it is bound to infuriate China’s further.

Mongolia's courage
Mongolian leaders have been quite courageous to dare facing Beijing’s ire. The country’s President, Prime Minister, and Speaker of Parliament admitted that they supported Gaden monastery’s invitation, though no meetings with government officials would take place.
RFA says: “Beijing often berates foreign leaders who host the Buddhist leader, last month telling Slovakian President Andrej Kiska that his lunch meeting with the Dalai Lama had “broken the political basis of China-Slovak relations.”
It is interesting to see that the Indian Ambassador had the clearance from South Block to go at the airport.
While China promotes religious tourism on the Tibetan plateau in a big way, it is surprising that Beijing is more and more inflexible on the Dalai Lama issue, though the Tibetan leader is probably the only person who could help the Communist Party to sort out the Tibetan issue.
Let us hope that the example of Mongolia will be an example for other Asian Buddhist countries such Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Thailand or Burma.
Bullies should not dictate their rule forever.

Post scriptum
On November 20, two days after the arrival of the Dalai Lama in Ulaanbaatar,
China urged Mongolia “to eliminate the negative impacts of the Dalai Lama's visit and refrain from disturbing the healthy development of China-Mongolia ties.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang admitted that “regardless of China's repeated dissuasions, the Mongolian side insisted inviting the Dalai Lama for visit.”
Geng added: “China is firmly opposed to the anti-China secessionist activities by the Dalai Lama in any capacity and under any name, as well as any contacts between the Dalai Lama and the authorities of any countries.”
Though the Dalai Lama is already preaching (under the snow) in Mongolia, Beijing continues to ask Ulaanbaatar “to recognize the separatist nature of the Dalai Lama clique, show respect to China's core interests and major concern, and take effective measures to remove the negative impacts of the Dalai Lama's visit, so as to avoid disturbing the sound development of China-Mongolia relations.”
It is doubtful if Mongolia will be convinced now.