Friday, February 24, 2017

A Train to Chumbi Valley?

A Tibetan website has just announced that the Mila (spelt ‘Mira' by the Chinese media) tunnel will be opened on June 30.
According to, at an average altitude of 4,740 meters, this will become the world's highest highway tunnel. It will eventually cut the journey between Lhasa and Nyingchi (or Nyingtri) by some four hours.
The website says: “The tunnel has a longer-than-average length with 5,727 meters on the left and 5,720 meters on the right.”
The Mila Mountain lies at the border between the Lhasa Municipality (Meldro Gungkar County or Mozhugongka Xian in Chinese) and the Nyingchi Prefecture (Kongpo Gyamda County).
Located at an elevation of 5013 meters above the sea level, it is the highest point on the Nyingchi–Lhasa highway, a section of National Highway 318 (the 5400-km road between Shanghai and Zhangmu at the Tibet-Nepal border).
The plan to build a tunnel on this section of the road was announced in January 2015. Construction started just after. adds: “Affected by the high altitude, the tunnel project encountered many difficulties during the construction process. Rocks surrounding the tunnel's exit are very loose, and it is very cold in the tunnel with considerably thin oxygen. The minimum temperature in winter reaches minus 30 degrees Celsius.”
Wang Liang, chief engineer of the project affirmed that the travel time between Lhasa and Nyingchi will be reduced from eight hours to three or four hours, after completion of the project.
Can you believe it? Quite a feat.
Wikipedia described the area thus: “The west of the mountain is dry and cool, while the east side is warmer and has more moisture, and therefore has richer vegetation. The foothills have natural pastures and farmland. Trees include Yunnan pine birch and fir. Wildlife includes roe deer, antelope and bear.”

More and more tourists on the plateau
A few days back, Kangba TV reported that “over 23 million domestic and foreign tourists visited Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) in 2016, up by 14.8%, creating a tourism revenue of 33.075 billion yuan, up by 17.3%.”
Whether the figures are accurate or not, it is certain that Tibet is very popular with the Chinese holiday-goers.
The government in Lhasa also announced that in 2017, it will give “priority to building 4 national region-based tourism demonstration areas, including Lhasa City, Nyingchi City, Shigatse City and Purang County in Ngari area as well as 4 TAR-level region-based tourism demonstration areas, including Chengguan and Tohlung Dechen districts in Lhasa, Kongpo Gyamda County in Nyingchi and Pome County.”
It has to be noted that Purang is near the trijunction between India, Tibet and Nepal. The Kailash Yatra via Lipulekh-la passes via Purang (also known as Taklakot).
There is no doubt that Ngari will be the next area to be developed on a grand scale for tourism.
Lhasa also said that in 2017 the TAR plans to receive at least 25 million tourists, providing 380,000 people with jobs in the tourism sector.
But jobs for whom?
For Han migrants or local Tibetans?
It is obviously not mentioned by the authorities in Lhasa.

Tibetan Culture and Infrastructure
Interestingly, Communist China has recently discovered Tibetan culture.
The Chinese embassy in Kathmandu even hosted a special function for celebrating Losar, the ‘Chinese Tibetan Losar’ (sic).
Chinese Ambassador Yu Hong said that Losar is the most ‘ceremonious’ traditional festival of Tibetan people; she extended her “sincere wishes and greetings to all the Tibetan compatriots living in Nepal, and pay tribute to all the friends for your care and support for the development of Tibet."
Interestingly Madam Yu spoke of the railway connectivity between Nepal and China and noted that a train recently operated between Guangdong province, Tibet and Middle-South Asia; it started from Guangzhou, went to Lhasa, Kerung [Kyirong] to Kathmandu, covering a total length of 6,070 km and becoming the first highway-railway combined transport channel linking Guangdong, Tibet and Nepal.
She told the Tibetan 'community' in Kathmandu: "Our fellow Tibetan compatriots, despite living in a foreign land, always concerned about the progress and development of the motherland, and have made contribution to national unity and ethnic solidarity.”.
Another website quoted figures from the TAR’s Development and Reform Commission: “Data show that Tibet speeds up and strengthens quality of traffic construction.”
It says that the TAR has spared “no efforts to solve the bottleneck problems restricting the development of traffic infrastructure.”
In 2016, the total distance of road opened to traffic in Tibet reached the staggering figure of 82,500 kilometers; the website also mentions the work on the Sichuan-Tibet Railway and the Yunnan-Tibet Railway undertaken during the 13th Five-Year Plan: “the Civil Aviation opened 71 air routes of domestic and international with 41 navigable cities, significantly increasing comprehensive transport capacity. The fixed-asset investment of Tibet's communication and transportation accumulatively achieved 40.21 billion yuan."
In 2016, China started to build 44 key highway projects.
It also asserts: “Tibet's railway construction projects invested about 8.5 billion yuan in 2016, of which the work of Nyingchi-Kangting section of Sichuan-Tibet Railway [in fact probably the Chengdu-Ya’an section of the line], Lhasa-Meldro Gungkar Railway [part of the Lhasa-Nyingchi line], Shigatse-Gillon [Kyirong at the Nepal border] Railway, Bomda [Pome]-Shangri-la section of Yunnan-Tibet Railway, and the earlier stage of Shigatse-Yadong [Yatung] Railway is proceeding orderly.”
It means that the project to take the train to the Indian border near Sikkim (in the Chumbi Valley) is still on, though at its ‘early stages’.
The website continues: “For Civil Aviation's part, Tibet has 5 navigable airports, 9 aviation companies operating in Tibet. It safeguarded 39,000 sorties of take-off and landing flight last year, received 4.05 million of the annual passenger and 30,000 tons of cargos and parcels.”
The shortening to the journey between Lhasa and Nyingchi, the new railway lines to Yatung and Kyirong have serious strategic implications for India.
Why is the Indian press keeping silent about this?
The answer is that many in India believe that if China dares to cross the McMahon line and walk down in Arunachal, it will 'break its teeth' in the Indian roads.
It is not 100% sure.
Chegdu-Ya'an railway line

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Defence Minister India should not have had

My article Defence Minister India should not have had appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer

Here is the link...

The Himalayan blunders of Krishna Menon are many. He humiliated competent Armed Forces’ officers and backed his cronies, though they were less capable. One of the results was India’s humiliation in the 1962 war

It is impossible to rewind history.
What happened has happened.
It is however always possible to learn from past successes, victories, as well as defeats. In fact there is certainly more to learn from blunders.
One, called by one of the main actors, ‘The Himalayan Blunder’ relates to the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict.
It is difficult to imagine that 54 years after Lt Gen Henderson Brooks submitted his report of the 1962 War, the document is still ‘classified’. Prepared for the government in 1963 the report went into the reasons for India’s defeat in the 1962 border war with China.
One could also learn from the report written by Lt Gen SPP Thorat, then Army Commander, Eastern Command, about the ‘Chinese Threat’ on India’s borders.
On 8 October 1959, Thorat sent his paper on the defence of NEFA to the Army Chief who forwarded it to Krishna Menon. Thorat’s findings were rejected: Thorat was accused of being an “alarmist and a warmonger”.
The report began thus: “Previously, the only real threat against India which merited consideration was from Pakistan. To this now has been added the threat from China.  …This is primarily due to the claim made by China upon large territories which are clearly ours. … (China) has also refused to recognise the McMahon Line as the international boundary and has made deliberate incursions into our territory in Ladakh, Uttar Pradesh and NEFA (North- East Frontier Agency)”.
In May 1957, General Thimayya took over as Chief of Army Staff and around the same time, VK Krishna Menon became the Defence Minister. But differences soon cropped up between Menon and Thimayya, forcing the latter to send in his resignation, (which he unfortunately withdrew later). Thorat too fell out Menon’s favours; in particular, the Defence Minister did not agree on Thorat’s suggestions on the way to reorganize the defence of the Sino-Indian border.
Maj Gen VK Singh, who wrote Thorat’s biography noted that the Army Commander: “clearly brought out that with the troops, weapons and equipment available at that time, a Chinese attack could not be contained or defeated, and the 'forward policy', being advocated by Menon was not practicable.”
Thorat also provided a time table showing “how the defences would fall day by day in case the Chinese attacked.”
VK Singh writes: “When Thimayya retired in May 1961, it was expected that Thorat would succeed him as the Army Chief. He was highly decorated, had combat experience, and was held in high regard in the Service. Most important, he was GOC-in-C Eastern Command, and was familiar with the situation on the borders with China.” Unfortunately (for India) Gen PN Thapar got the top job; though senior, he had little field experience. We know what happened next.
An exchange between Gen Thapar and Lt Gen Thorat which has recently come to light, shows the pettiness of the then leaders; it occurred as Thorat was in the process of retiring.
At 8 am on June 24, 1961, Lt Gen Thorat received a letter from the Army Chief and by the evening he had replied to all the points.
Thapar had been ‘asked’ by the Prime Minister “to request you [Thorat] for your comments on the following allegations against you which have come to his notice.”
The first allegation was about a speech given by Thorat in Ranikhet where the Army Commander would have said that “Indian Officers were seeking promotions through political influence which was disrupting our army — or words to that effect.”
Thorat replied that he had only said that “officers must give their loyalty to their superior Commanders and through them, to the COAS whoever he may be. Any tendency to look in other directions for early advancement was likely to ruin the discipline of the Army.”
But the habit of finding other ways of ‘advancement’ had already sneaked into the Army, mainly due to the Defence Minister’s ways of working.
The second allegation was that Thorat would have told a senior IAF Officer that he was “allergic to the Defence Minister whom [he] could not stand and who was disrupting the army.” There is no doubt that many in the Army thought that way. Had Thorat said it openly? And if he did, who denounced him to Menon and Nehru?
Thorat answered to Chief: “I recollect that some IAF officer possibly at Jorhrat or Tezpur asked why I had not been appointed COAS. To the best of my memory, I remember having replied that you were senior to me and also that the Hon'ble Defence Minister and I were not very fond of each other. I realise now that it was not proper for me to make a statement of this nature and am sorry for it.”
This exchange however shows the small-mindedness of those who asked these questions, a few days before Thorat’s retirement,.
The next query was worse: “your Headquarters spent large sums of money on the farewell parties, functions and parades for General KS Thimayya in Lucknow during his visit earlier this month. How much money was spent, and how many vehicles were employed under the items mentioned above?”
The Army Commander listed ‘his’ expenses during the farewell functions:
(a) At Home - 26 Apr Nil
(b) Guest Night - 29 Apr Nil (About Rs.450 may be spent from the Mess Entertainment Fund)
(c) Parade - 1 May Rs.450
He went on to provide the details for the Rs 450.
He was then accused to have said in Korea in 1954 that “India would not have survived after independence but for the many sided assistance she received from the Americans.”
Thorat just said he denied the allegation “which I am supposed to have made seven years ago.” In a professional manner, he went through the press clippings of that time which proved that he never made any such statement.
Thorta’s conclusions were: “Should [the PM] not be satisfied with my explanation, I request that I may be given an opportunity to clear myself in person, in the presence of those who have made these allegations.”
Thapar had nastily told him: “these are serious allegations and cannot be ignored.”
After the 1962 War, the Prime Minister realized that Thorat had written a detailed report of the Chinese threat. “Why was it not shown to me?” Nehru asked.
According to Maj Gen VK Singh: When Thorat suggested to the Prime Minister that the Defence Minister could perhaps answer the question, Nehru exploded, "Menon, Menon! Why have you got your knife into him? You people do not realise what an intellectual giant he is."
It was too late for India.
One can only hope that the VK Krishna Menon Papers will one day be available to the Indian public; then we may be realize all the blunders committed by the arrogant Minister.

Here is the correspondance:

From P.N. Thapar to S.P.P. Thorat: Allegations
Lt Gen PN Thapar
23 APR 61

GOC-in-C Eastern Command


I am directed by the Prime Minister to request you for your comments on the following allegations against you which have come to his notice.

2. In a speech in the Kumaon Regimental Centre Mess at RANIKHET, in the presence of several foreigners, including Major General JILANI of the Pakistan Army, Colonel M Iqbal, Pakistan's Military Attache, Brigadier Newton Dunn, UK Military Adviser, and Mr BOWES of the British Chamber of Commerce, you stated that Indian Officers were seeking promotions through political influence which was disrupting our army — or words to that effect. You may like to say why you thought it necessary to make such a statement in the presence of foreigners.
3. Some months ago, somewhere in ASSAM, you stated in the presence of a senior IAF Officer that you were allergic to the Defence Minister whom you could not stand and who was disrupting the army.

4. It is stated that your Headquarters spent large sums of money on the farewell parties, functions and parades of General KS THIMAYYA in LUCKNOW during his visit earlier this month. How much money and POL was spent, and how many vehicles were employed under the items mentioned above?

5. In KOREA in 1954, in the presence of many Americans and South Koreans, whilst addressing them, after a lunch engagement, you said, within the hearing of many Indians, that INDIA would not have survived after independence but for the many sided assistance she received from the Americans (or words to that effect). What was the need of such a statement in the presence of so many foreigners, including South Koreans, who were so hostile to us at the time.

6. You will appreciate that these are serious allegations and cannot be ignored. The Prime Minister is, however, anxious that every opportunity should be given to you to clear up your position in the matter before Government decided what further action should be taken.

7. This letter is being sent to you through the safe hands of Major PK SIBAL, who has instructions to bring back your reply as soon as possible.

Sd/- P.N. Thapar


From S.P.P. Thorat to P.N. Thapar: Reply to Allegations 

No 750113/AC
Headquarters Eastern Command, Lucknow
24 Apr 61

Lt Gen P N Thapar
Offg: Chief of the Army Staff
Army Headquarters
DHQ PO New Delhi - 11

Subject: Allegations

Reference your DO No. PNT/1, dated 23 Apr 1961.

1. I am very grateful to the Prime Minister for giving me an opportunity to clear my position in regard to the matters reported to him.

2. My explanation is as under:

Your para 2 I have been incorrectly quoted.
3. In the speech at RANIKHET, what I said was that officers must give their loyalty to their superior Commanders and through them, to the COAS whoever he may be. Any tendency to look in other directions for early advancement was likely to ruin the discipline of the Army. (As this speech was not reported in the press I am unable to quote the precise words). However, I have repeated similar statements elsewhere also. I have been able to get some of the PRO's press releases and quote the relevant extracts below. The originals are available for inspection if desired –

MOKOKCHUNG dated 11 Feb 1961
"... Lt Gen THORAT said that the entire structure of every army was based on discipline—the two ingredients of which were implicit loyalty and unquestioning obedience of legal orders. He deprecated the tendency of questioning and arguing about decisions, about orders and urged officers to trust in their superiors, have confidence in their fairness and above all, to give unswerving loyalty to the Chief of the Army Staff. ... "
TEZPUR dated 14 Feb 1961

"... He urged officers and men alike to maintain the glorious traditions of the Indian Army by remaining disciplined soldiers, by having complete faith in their superior officers and giving them loyal obedience...."

Your para 3
4. I do not know where in ASSAM I am supposed to have made this statement. However, I recollect that some IAF officer possibly at JORHAT or TEZPUR asked why I had not been appointed COAS. To the best of my memory, I remember having replied that you were senior to me and also that the Hon'ble Defence Minister and I were not very fond of each other. I realise now that it was not proper for me to make a statement of this nature and am sorry for it. However, I most emphatically deny having said that I was "allergic to the Defence Minister whom I cannot stand and who was disrupting the Army". In this context, before your appointment was made public, whenever anyone asked me about the future Chief, my invariable reply was that you were senior and should, therefore, be appointed to that post. You will recollect that a statement of this nature made by me at WELLINGTON was reported to you.

Your para 4
5. Please see Appendix ‘A' attached.

6. HQ Eastern Command have arranged the following farewell functions for me.-
Likely Expenditure
(a) At Home - 26 Apr Nil
(b) Guest Night - 29 Apr Nil
(About Rs.450/- may be spent from the Mess Entertainment Fund)
(c) Parade - 1 May Rs.450/- (excluding transport for tps)
I shall be grateful if you could indicate whether these functions should be held or not.

Your para 5
7. I emphatically deny this allegation concerning  a statement which I am supposed to have made seven years ago. I cannot now remember which party it was, but looking through my file of press cuttings, I see that at one of the parties given just before the Custodian Force left for INDIA, I paid a tribute to the British. The relevant para as reported by Hindustan Times dated 7 Feb 1954 states -

"In reply General Thorat said that the Indian Army owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to the British Army. We were taught by you to be soldiers, to fight and to behave. If you are giving us 'a pat on the back' today, then we believe that you equally deserve a 'pat on the back' ".

8. At this or on some other occasion, I also remember having paid a tribute to the Americans for the administrative help which they had given us and for having stood by us whenever the then President of South Korea threatened the Custodian Force.

9. It is evident from your Para 1 that certain allegations have been made against me to the Prime Minister by some persons. Should he not be satisfied with my explanation, I request that I may be given an opportunity to clear myself in person, in the presence of those who have made these allegations.

10. I have already written to MS requesting your permission to be allowed finally to leave LUCKNOW on the 1st of May. I would, therefore, be very grateful if I may know the Prime Minister's verdict before then so that I can proceed on pension with an easy mind after 35 years' service.


Appendix "A" to HQ Eastern Command
letter No 750113/AC dated Apr 61
Reference your Para 4

The money spent on farewell functions for the retiring COAS by this Headquarters is as under:

  1. Reception by Citizens of LUCKNOW Cantt Paid for by the citizens and members of the Cantonment Board.     …    Nil
  2. At Home
    Every one except the guests paid for his/her own Tea. The amount spent by this Headquarters (Army Commanders Fund) is Rs.158.96.  
  3. Guest Night
    Every one except the guests paid for his/her own dinner and drinks. The guests’ expenses were met from the Mess Entertainment Fund which is maintained for this purpose. In addition, Rs.448.18 are being shared by 183 officers on a sliding scale. Thus Headquarters, therefore, has incurred no expenditure on the Guest Night.    Nil
  4. Token presentation
    A token present (HQ Eastern Command Crest mounted on a wooden base) was presented to retiring COAS. Rs. 50.00 (approx)

    Note – It was intended to present a small silver On advice from Army HQ, this was not presented to the COAS and has been retained in the Mess as Mess property.    …   
  5. Expenses for the stay of the Chief’s party at the MES Inspection Bungalow (Army Commanders Fund).    Rs. 146.82
  6. Parade
    This amount includes hire of furniture, printing of invitation cards etc. and is being paid out of army Commander’s Fund. The total expenditure incurred by HQ Eastern Command on the farewell visit of the COAS amounts to       Rs. 503.08

    Total  Rs. 858.86

I hope you will agree that this is not an unduly large expenditure to be spent on the farewell visit of the retiring Chief, from the Army Commander's Fund which is not a Public Fund.

The details of transport are as under:

(a) Vehicles used for conveyance of the COAS from the AMAUSI Air Field to LUCKNOW, in LUCKNOW and for the Parade etc. is as under:-

  • Staff Cars    2-mileage for both =185 mls
  • 3 Tonners for the carriage of Troops
    and equipment for the Parade 42  mileage = 886 mls
  • 15 cwt    7  =  363 mls
  • Jeeps     2   =  84 mls

Owing to the urgency of replying your letter today, I have not had the time to check the accuracy of the figures given to me. It is possible therefore that there may be some minor inaccuracies in these figures.

Note:- The transport used by the Chief of the Naval Staff, Chief of the Air Staff and other guests who had come to attend the AMC Corps Day is not included in the above.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Chinese dogs to patrol Lhasa

Police dogs will now patrol the streets of Lhasa, the Tibetan capital; it was announced yesterday.
It is a first.
For the first time on February 16, the Tibet Autonomous Region's Public Security Bureau (PSB) used dogs for patrolling the streets of Lhasa.
According to China News Network, the dogs will “enhance the actual capacity and level of the Tibetan police force.”
Pictures of the dogs in front of the Potala Palace Square were released for the occasion.
Police dog's instructors ‘displayed’ the skills of the new ‘patrol’.
The same source reported that the security guards’ dogs will patrolled different areas of the City, such as the Potala Palace Square, the Jokhang Temple Square, the Barkhor Street, the railway station and major streets of the Capital.
The PSB, responsible for the security in Lhasa, said that the dogs can serve for security duty, patrols, vigilance, hunting and other tasks, ...and comprehensively enhance the effectiveness of public security as well as achieve deterrence of crime and enhance people's sense of security.
It looks like China does not feel secure?

Explosive situation in Xinjiang
But Tibet is still far better than Xinjiang.
The Chinese media reported that eight people were killed in a violent attack in Hotan in Xinjiang on Wednesday.
Hotan is located just north of the Aksai Chin on the NH 315.
According to the news portal of the Hotan local overnment, three knife-wielding men attacked and stabbed several people in Pishan county.
Finally, the Police shot dead the three attackers.
Some ten people were injured in the attack. Among them, five were declared dead after being sent to hospital.
The Chinese media added: "Order has been restored and an investigation is ongoing. The identity of the attackers were not disclosed."
The were obviously Uyghurs.
A few days earlier, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported "scenes reminiscent of China’s Cultural Revolution."
Uyghurs have been called to meetings to confess their 'crimes'.
Those whose misdeeds come to light in other ways, will be punished, declared the Police.
According to RFA, these meetings are part of a campaign called “Revealing Errors”. They were held in Xinjiang’s Aksu Prefecture "to uncover behavior considered politically destabilizing in the restive, mostly-Muslim region in China’s far northwest."
A letter from an Aksu resident received by RFA mentioned: "Village residents from 18-65 years of age are being brought to their village office every day to admit to their mistakes or to point out mistakes they have seen others make."
The same source added: "Residents are called to a podium one by one to confess these errors after they have listed them on a 39-question form. They are also told they will face legal consequences if they attempt to cover up their own or anyone else’s anti-state activities.”
It really sounds like the return of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
Where is China going?
It is quite frightening to think about it.

Monday, February 13, 2017

New Highways in Xinjiang ..for Pakistani fish?

Beijing has decided to invest US $ 24.8 billion (170 bn yuan) for constructing a network of highways in Xinjiang …for improving connectivity with Pakistan. This is the official justification.
China plans to also use this huge amount (some 50% the amount of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor) to build a “trade hub by linking countries along the Silk Road Economic Belt.”
Xinjiang will further invest some US $ 1.18 bn (8.1 bn yuan) in railways construction and US $ 0.7 bn (4.8 bn yuan) in civil aviation projects. It is said to be an increase of 50 per cent compared to 2015.
Zhang Chunlin, director of the Xinjiang Development and Reform Commission stated that the region “has never seen such a huge investment in road construction.”
This investment should surpass the total funding from 2011-2015 for transportation infrastructure in the restive Uyghur-dominated region.
Zhang added that building a highway network in a region, one-sixth of China's territory, is a priority: “Without the highways, oil, coal and agricultural products of Xinjiang cannot be shipped out of the region smoothly and logistics costs will remain high.”
Zhang remarked that Beijing “sees Xinjiang, which borders countries including Kazakhstan, Pakistan and Mongolia, as a key trade centre for the economic belt.”
In the mind of Beijing’s leadership, this massive investment is also linked to the presumed ‘separatist’ activities of Uyghur leaders such as Rebiya Kadeer, as well as the presence of the Indian front nearby.

Doubtful benefits
In the meantime, The Global Times, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party reported that for the first time, the Uyghurs will be able "to eat seafood imported from Pakistan by container cars through the Khunjerab Pass in January. This successful trial is expected to improve overland trade between China and Pakistan via the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which accounts for 2 percent of the overall trade between the two countries."
But are the Uyghurs eating fish?
Nobody has asked this question.
The Global Times explains that the first batch of Indian Ocean seafood shipped by container cars arrived in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region through the Khunjerab Pass on January 13, marking the first time that ­Taxkorgan Tajik Autonomous county, ­Kashgar prefecture, has received imported seafood.
The article adds: "The highway, also known as China-Pakistan Friendship Highway, which connects Xinjiang and northern Pakistan, stretches more than 1,000 kilometers across the Karakoram, Himalayas and Hindu Kush mountains."
It also admits that though the CPEC is supposed "to bring earth-shaking changes to Pakistan's economy," it has yet to do so "due to factors including lack of necessary infrastructure and low consumer demand in western China."
It gives an example: "an oil and gas pipeline in Pakistan linking the Middle East and China has not been connected, and thus the country can't get oil transit fees, ...though the Karakoram Highway is expected to boost overland trade between the two neighbors, objective factors make it hard to measure to what extent the corridor will contribute to its bilateral trade," it concludes.
It is rather a frank assessment.

Restiveness in Xinjiang
Recently, the spokesperson of the Minister of Foreign Affairs stated that China ‘resolutely’ opposes the visit of Rebiya Kadeer, the Uygur leader to Taiwan and her participation ‘in any activities on the island.’
An Fengshan, spokesperson for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, had mentioned earlier China’s opposition to the Taiwan Solidarity Union’s invitation Kadeer to Taiwan in March: “It is a well-known fact that Rebiya Kadeer is among the heads of the separatist 'East Turkistan' forces. …The invitation by the 'Taiwan independence' secessionist force is intended to make trouble and will certainly harm cross-Strait relations."
Restiveness of the local Muslim populations is certainly one of the reasons for the mega infrastructure, but it is also necessary for Xi’s Dream project, i.e. the new Silk Roads, particularly a better connectivity between the Mainland and Central Asia …and Pakistan.
Xinhua admits: “Currently, there is one highway linking Xinjiang and other parts of China to the east.”
Does the news agency mean the NH 219 linking Xinjiang to Tibet?

The Defence of India's border
In any case, the strengthening of the defence of the Middle Kingdom, particularly the Western Theater Command facing India, is a vital issue for Beijing.
As mentioned a few weeks ago on this blog, Beijing plans a second highway between Tibet and Xinjiang. It will link the NH 219 to the NH 315 running south of Xinjiang towards Qinghai (via the ‘nuclear’ sites in Lop Nor).
It will be a game changer, but the Indian media and the government seem to be sleeping.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

China’s plans for ‘Asia’

The Himalayan forgotten?
My article China’s plans for ‘Asia’ appeared in The Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle

Here is the link...

China has decided to pump $24.8 billion into laying new highways in Xinjiang region to improve connectivity with Pakistan.

In the recent weeks, one question has often been raised by Indian think tanks: should India participate in the new trade routes initiated by China?
Before answering, let us look at some facts. On January 17, something quite exciting happened: a freight train arrived at Barking, a suburban town east of London. The British media titled that it signalled a “new chapter in the history of the centuries-old trading route”.
After travelling for 16 days, the East Wind train became the first direct freight train linking China and the UK. With 34 wagons, the train was carrying 68 containers loaded with household goods such as clothes, socks, suitcases, purses and wallets worth  £4 million.
This is not exciting in itself, but more remarkable, it had travelled 7,456 miles, the longest train journey in the world, said the British media.
Nobody dared to question the viability of such a project, probably because it was part of the dream of President Xi Jinping; he has envisioned a mega “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) project to connect Asia (read China) with Europe and Africa via the ancient trading centres of Central Asia and Eastern Europe, a modern Silk Road.
Although only indirectly part of the OBOR, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has created a lot of thrill too, but mainly with India’s western neighbour.
In April 2015, when Mr Xi arrived in Islamabad, he brought with him a munificent gift for Pakistan: An eye-popping $46 billion worth of planned energy and infrastructure investment to boost Pakistan’s flagging economy. This included 10,400 megawatts to Pakistan’s national grid through coal, nuclear and renewable energy projects. It sounded like a Chinese dream for the Pakistani leaders who marvelled at Beijing’s kindness. They may soon discover that Chinese generosity will first and foremost benefit Beijing, but it is another story!
However, as the project crosses Indian territory in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir it is unacceptable for India, which has presently no say in the Chinese “initiative”, even though New Delhi has been invited to a conference on the subject in May in Beijing. The question remains: in these circumstances should India “participate” in the Chinese schemes?
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Mr Xi at the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China, in September 2016, he  raised the topics of terrorism originating from Pakistan as well as the CPEC project. He emphasised that New Delhi and Beijing must be sensitive to each other’s “strategic concerns”.
But there is another aspect to the grandiose Chinese schemes; one has the tendency to forget that for centuries, India had traditional trade routes with Tibet, as well as Xinjiang and Central Asia.
China is not ready today to implement what it is preaching; it pleads for globalisation, it wants to reopen ancient routes, but the traditional ones between India and Tibet or Xinjiang remain closed. And China is adamant about it.
After Tibet was invaded by China in October 1950, the Himalayan passes fell progressively in disuse. An effort was made in 1954 to regulate the flow of people and goods through the “agreement on Trade and Intercourse between the Tibet region of China and India”, known as the Panchsheel Agreement, however China was not ready to implement it and the spirit of the accord eventually lapsed in 1962; the Five Principles had, in fact, the reverse effect; the trade stopped over the Himalaya.
The 1954 agreement stated: “Traders of both countries known to be customarily and specifically engaged in trade between Tibet region of China and India may continue to trade.”
Although a number of trade marts were named, as China increased its physical grip on the plateau, the trade progressively became thinner, more complicated, the Chinese authorities started harassing the Indian traders until finally in 1962, the trade exchanges completely stopped.
The entire Himalayan belt from the Karakoram Pass to eastern Arunachal had lived for centuries from the trade with Tibet. Is Beijing concerned about this?
As the result of the 1962 border war and the non-renewal of the agreement earlier in the year, exchanges between Tibet and India came to an end (the closing of the Indian Consulate in Kashgar had killed the trade with Xinjiang and Central Asia, nine years earlier).
It is only after the visit of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to China in December 1988 that a “Protocol for Resumption of Border Trade” was signed. In July 2006, Nathu La in Sikkim was added to Shipki La and Lipulekh Pass, which were opened in the 1990s. Although Nathu La is doing much better than the two others ports, trade remains rather limited while the rest of the Himalayan belt is hermetically closed.
Nawang Rigzin Jora, the Leh MLA admitted that it is China, which blocks the issue: “(China) may have their own reasons.” However he noted, “The safest route (to the Kailash via Demchok) is through Leh. You can fly to Leh, take one or two days to acclimatise and then drive up to Kailash Mansarovar.” Why not open Demchok? Ask the Chinese!
While China is speaking of “soft borders” and “ancient trade routes”, Beijing is tightening its grip on the Himalaya: A new “Border Resident New Identity Card” (BRNIC) for people living near the Indian borders (as well as on the frontiers of Korea and Nepal) has been introduced. The BRNIC can be obtained online, its introduction will strengthen the Chinese control in the region .
In the meantime, China has decided to pump $24.8 billion into laying new highways in Xinjiang region to improve connectivity with Pakistan.
Zhang Chunlin, director of the Xinjiang Development and Reform Commission recently stated, “Without the highways, oil, coal and agricultural products of Xinjiang cannot be shipped out of the region smoothly and logistics costs will remain high.”
There is another aspect to it; China is planning a second highway linking Tibet to the restive Muslim province of Xinjiang. The new road will link the NH 219 cutting across western Tibet and Aksai Chin and the NH 315, running through southern Xinjiang to Xining in Qinghai province. It has serious strategic implications for India as a couple of roads branch off to the Indian border (to Purang at the trijunction between Tibet, Nepal and India in particular).
Before discussing any Indian participation to the OBOR or the CPEC, the issue of reopening the Himalaya for trade and pilgrimage should come on the negotiating table.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

China’s new-found but fake love for religion

The Happy Mr Luo with the Bhutanese PM
My article China’s new-found but fake love for religion appeared in the Edit Page of The Pioneer

Here is the link...

Double standards on religion is not new in China. In 2016, while people were forced to attend a Kalachakra initiation in Tibet, devotees were threatened if they participated in a similar ceremony being held in India
Today’s world is confusing. Take China. It is an atheist Marxist regime, with a strong allergy to religion, but it is sponsoring religion. During a recent visit to the Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan, Chinese Ambassador to India, Luo Zhaohui told Kuensel, a local newspaper, that China was a Buddhist country. Explaining to the reporter that, though divided by the Himalayas, the Chinese have friendly sentiments towards the Bhutanese people. The Ambassador mentioned the engagement of the two countries whose “history can be traced back a few thousand years.” He added, “We share quite a similar history, culture, religion and even some languages.”
Luo went on to speak about religion: “We know that Bhutan is known for the Kagyu sect and China is also following Mahayana Buddhism.” The Ambassador remarked that last year, “a very high level Chinese Buddhist delegation visited Bhutan and we also invited a Buddhist delegation from Bhutan to visit China”.
Are you not confused? China, a Buddhist country having similar history, culture, religion and even some languages with Bhutan? Modern China is full of such dichotomies. At the same time, in Afghanistan, China is busy destroying the ancient Buddhist city of Mes Aynak, for mining copper.
A film, Saving Mes Aynak, recently showed the Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) and Jiangxi Copper digging an open-pit copper mine located 40km from Kabul. According to the documentary, the two Chinese state-owned mining companies are planning to destroy the ancient site to extract copper.
Under Hamid Karzai’s administration, the MCC agreed to lease the Mes Aynak area from Afghanistan for 30 years for three billion dollars. Once the project is fully functional, MCC expects to extract more than $100 billion worth of copper. While archaeologists have started campaigning to save the site, Zabih Sarwari of the Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, asserted that the project was slated to start soon.
The South China Morning Post reported that about 2,300 items have already been removed from the site to the National Museum of Afghanistan. But many are not satisfied. The residents of a dozen villages have been permanently shifted to clear the way for the mining, adds the documentary.
Zhengou Liu, MCC’s deputy president, claimed that the villagers were informed in advance: “MCC has outsourced some jobs to Afghan companies and is providing jobs to Afghans.”
All this does not seem very Buddhist. Afghans still remember the fate of the famous giant Buddhas at Bamiyan, which were destroyed in 2001 by another atheist regime; for the Taliban, it was simply because the statues were blasphemous. The destruction attracted world condemnation and the site was ‘posthumously’ awarded UN world heritage status.
Double standards in the field of religion is not new in China. In 2016, while people were forced to attend a Kalachakra initiation in Tibet, devotees were threatened with dire consequences if they participated in the same ceremony in India. In July 2016, Beijing supported a Kalachakrapuja performed by Gyalsten Norbu, the boy selected by the Party (in doubtful circumstances) as the Eleventh Panchen Lama.
While Norbu officiated in Shigatse, the boy recognised by the Dalai Lama as the Panchen Lama, languished under house arrest ‘somewhere’ in China.
One more dichotomy: The atheist Party, suddenly greatly knowledgeable in religious affairs, explained: “The Kalachakra ritual is the highest level of rituals in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, and only high monks and lamas with profound attainments in Buddhist philosophy can hold the ritual.” The fact that Gyaltsen Norbu is highly inexperienced didn’t bother Beijing.
The Chinese media reported that more than 100,000 Buddhist followers, some 100 ‘high’ lamas and 5,000 monks and nuns attended the function. The truth is that many ‘devotees’ were coerced to be present. Beijing has not become enamoured of religious practices. Six months later, the communist authorities were quick to denounce the Bodh Gaya Kalachakra event as ‘illegal’.
Though some 1,75,000 devotees from nearly 90 countries around the world assembled in Bodh Gaya to get the blessings of the Dalai Lama, Tibetans (from Tibet) and their families were threatened in case they chose to attend it. The communist leadership just can’t stomach the Dalai Lama’s popularity.
Radio Free Asia reported: “Thousands of pilgrims from Tibetan-populated areas of western China, who had hoped to attend, have been forced to return home, while others have been blocked from leaving China.”
The dichotomy extends to Islam. Last year, a White Paper asserted that freedom of religious belief in Xinjiang “cannot be matched by that in any other historical period, and is undeniable to anyone who respects the facts.” Though sounding good, it is only official rhetoric: A ban on fasting was declared on several categories of people. “Party members, cadres, civil servants, students and minors must not fast for Ramzan and must not take part in religious activities”, said a notice posted on the Government website. It added, “During the month of Ramzan, food and drink businesses must not close.”
Another example is The Larung Gar Buddhist Academy located in Serthar county of Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, in Sichuan Province. According to Radio Free Asia, Beijing has decided to bring down large sections of the monastery: “Massive cuts are being planned for the number of monks and nuns allowed to live at a large Buddhist study centre.”
The institute probably enjoys too great a popularity among the Chinese: Between 20,000 and 30,000 monks and nuns, (a large proportion from the mainland) had joined the institute over the years. Now the institute’s population will be capped at 5,000.
But there is worse. The University of California San Diego (UCSD) has recently announced that the Dalai Lama will visit the university in June and speak at an event on campus. The Global Times, the mouthpiece of the Party asserted: “The announcement has triggered strong opposition from students from the Chinese mainland at the university.”
There was a veiled threat: “The university needs to bear any negative consequences which may be brought by the Dalai Lama’s (visit). It is hoped that the US and its institutions will not pointedly work at odds with China’s concerns but should learn about Chinese history to better bilateral relations.”
Once again, such type of threats does not sound very Buddhist; but it is perhaps Buddhism with Chinese characteristics.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

'So it was all for nothing': The Aksai Chin road

Here is another article posted 5 years ago on the Aksai Chin.

Sydney Wignall is dead. He died on April 4 in London.
But who is Sydney Wignall? Very few have ever heard of him in India!
His obituary in The Telegraph (London) says: "Sydney Wignall, who has died aged 89, was an adventurer who, in 1955, led the first Welsh Himalayan Expedition with the intention of climbing Gurla Mandhata, at 25,355ft the highest peak in Chinese-occupied Tibet; in his book Spy on the Roof of the World, he recounted how he was captured by the Red Army and held in jail accused of being a CIA spy."
He was not a CIA agent; though he worked for the Indian Military Intelligence.
The Economist also remembers him: "Few things annoyed Sydney Wignall more than the thought that the world’s least accessible places were divided up among the great powers. To go where he wanted among the wilds and snows—to cross that pass undetected, to find lakes unmarked on charts, to see what lay on the other side of the hill—was a fever in him.”
Though he died unknown in India, Wignall has done something great for India.
In 1955, Wignall led a Welsh Himalayan expedition to climb the Gurla Mandhata, a peak dominating the Manasarovar and Rakshastal lakes, not far from Mount Kailash, near the tri-junction between Tibet, Nepal and India.
The expedition was officially sponsored by the Liverpool Daily Post and Life magazine.
 Unknown to the public, Wingnall had agreed to collect information on the strategic road bordering India’s northern borders.
Already during the mid-fifties, the Indian army strongly suspected the Chinese of wanting to construct a road linking their new acquired provinces of Tibet and Xinjiang. Was the road crossing Indian territory?
It is in London that Wignall was first contacted by Lt.-Col. H. W. Tobin, the Vice-president of the Himalayan Club and editor of the Himalayan Journal. Tobin asked Wignall if he would “do some friends a favour”. He was later introduced to an Intelligence officer, code-named ‘Singh’ from the Indian High Commission in London.
Wignall was briefed by ‘Singh’ about the Chinese presence in Western Tibet and the possibility of the existence of a military road.
Different incidents occurred in the early fifties which should have woken the Government of India out of its soporific Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai dream-world.
First, the harassment of the Indian Trade Agent in Gartok which was without doubt linked with the work which had started on the Tibet-Xinjiang highway; in 1953, the Chinese even forced Nehru to close the Indian Agency as the presence of an Indian official was embarrassing for the PLA.
Then Brig S.S. Mallik, the Indian Military Attaché in Beijing made some references to the Chinese road-building activities in a report to the Government around that time; a year later, the Military Attaché would confirm the construction of the strategic highway through Indian territory in Aksai Chin.
The mission given to Wignall by the soon to-be Indian Army Chief, General K.S. Thimayya to Wignall, was to check this information. It was thought that the Chinese would not suspect an innocuous group of foreign mountaineers.
Let us remember that at that time, there was no NTRO with sophisticated satellites able to follow the movement of vehicles in these remote areas; ‘human intelligence’ was still the prime source of information. Wignall was therefore asked to get proof of the existence of the road.
Unfortunately, Wignall and his companions were captured soon after they crossed the border town of Taglakot (known as Purang in Tibetan).
They however had the opportunity to witness the Chinese road-building activities.
Although the Official Report of 1962 War prepared by the Ministry of Defence mentions the famous road, it does not give any detail about Nehru's biggest blunder: ignoring for several years that a road being built on Indian territory.
The Official Report states: “China started constructing motorable road in summer 1955. …On 6 October 1957, the Sinkiang-Tibet road was formally opened with a ceremony in Gartok and twelve trucks on a trial run from Yarkand reached Gartok.”
It was Wignall who had informed the Government of India about the Chinese scheme.
Wignall was eventually caught by the Chinese Army, interrogated and kept prisoner for several weeks.
He was later released in the midst of winter in a high altitude pass. The Chinese thought he would never survive the blizzard or find his way back to India. After an incredible journey, he managed to reach India and was able to report to Lt-Col ‘Baij’ Mehta, his contact in the Military Intelligence.
The army authorities in turn, informed the Prime Minister and V. K. Krishna Menon, the arrogant Defense Minister.
Wignall was later told by his army contact: "Our illustrious Prime Minister Nehru, who is so busy on the world stage telling the rest of mankind how to live, has too little time to attend to the security of his own country. Your material was shown to Nehru by one of our senior officers, who plugged hard. He was criticised by Krishna Menon in Nehru's presence for ‘lapping up American CIA agent-provocateur propaganda.’ Menon has completely suppressed your information.”
'So it was all for nothing?' I [Wignall] asked.
'Perhaps not,' Singh, Wignall's contact, responded. 'We will keep working away at Nehru. Some day he must see the light, and realise the threat communist Chinese occupation of Tibet poses for India.
Nehru saw the Light on October 20, 1962. Unfortunately, it was way too late.
General Thimayya, who became Army Chief in 1957, was forced to retire in 1961. He said in his valedictory address to the Indian Army Officer Corps: “I hope that I am not leaving you as cannon fodder for the Chinese communists.”
The Government of India did not acknowledge that already in 1955, it had information about the Aksai Chin road. The issue was discussed for the first time in the Lok Sabha in August 1959 only.
Wignall later wrote that he was interrogated by General Zhang Guohua, the Commander of the Tibet Military District who later took an active part in the 1962 war with India.
Wignall and his companions were beaten up; they were told: “You intended disguising your illegal armed invasion of China.” Wignall was asked to: “sign the confession that you are a Western Fascist Lackey Imperialist Running Dog of the American CIA and we will be very good to you. Otherwise you will be severely punished.”
It is from General Zhang that Wignall heard that Beijing claimed the Aksai Chin, the NEFA, as well as parts of Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan.
Several years ago, I had the occasion to correspond with Wignall about his master coup, I realized that the Chinese interrogation techniques remained the same. Other prisoners, like Robert Ford, the British radio operator in Chamdo, Eastern Tibet who spent 5 years in Communist jails, reported the same way of interrogating prisoners, the same psychological tactics to break the morale of the ‘imperialist spies’.
Some Indian PoWs’ account, after 1962 Chinese attack are also similar.
One of the most distressing parts of this story is that when Wignall offered his manuscript to Indian publishers, he was politely told they could not publish 'this stuff' in India. He had no other choice but to publish his book in the UK.
The only reward he received was “profuse thanks” from his Indian Army contact and some cricket bats and balls for the children of a Nepalese village school that the expedition team visited before entering Tibet.
That is not much for helping India.