March 21, 2014
Originally published in The New Indian Express, March 20, 2014, by colleague Jayadeva Ranade.
After a hiatus of many months, there are indications to suggest that Beijing could be contemplating some initiative on the Tibet issue. These could comprise overtures to the Dalai Lama’s establishment in Dharamsala in conjunction with the ongoing efforts to acquire and consolidate influence among Tibetan Buddhists in Nepal and the Indo-Himalayan border belt, and efforts to strengthen the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) grip on the troubled Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan areas in adjoining provinces.
Reports indicate channels have been activated between Beijing and the Tibetan establishment in Dharamsala. At least three were active in the past few months. One was direct, one was via Taiwan and the third, which was finally aborted, was through a South East Asian capital.
The CCP leadership under Xi Jinping also continues to accord priority to the Tibet issue. Interesting was the 7,500-word article written by Xi Jinping’s mother Qi Xin on the occasion of the birth centennial of Xi Jinping’s father and former Chinese Vice Premier Xi Zhongxun. Publicised by Zhongguo Qingnian Bao (China Youth Daily) and the official People’s Daily on November 6, 2013, just prior to the Third Party Plenum, Qi Xin’s article was laced with subtle references suggesting Buddhism’s influence on Xi Jinping’s family. The Third Party Plenum, incidentally, saw the further accretion of authority by Xi Jinping, who will head the newly created apex security organisation—the National Security Committee (NSC). There is speculation in Beijing that the NSC could usurp the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC)’s jurisdiction over the Tibet issue.
Internal intellectual debate on the issue is also discernible. Wang Lixiong, the Han Chinese husband of well-known Beijing-based Tibetan blogger Woeser, commented on an article by Liu Junning published in the Chinese edition of the Wall Street Journal on March 4, 2014. In his article entitled Rethinking the Policy of Regional Nationality Autonomy in Light of the Kunming Incident, Liu Junning, a researcher at the Institute of Chinese Culture, a subsidiary of China’s ministry of culture, blamed China’s worsening nationality problem on the disparate treatment of the minorities. He said regional nationality autonomy and demarcations between nationalities had resulted in their estrangement. Earlier, Ma Rong, a Chinese scholar of the department of sociology, Peking University, had urged the elimination of regional nationality autonomy and distinctions between nationalities. Describing these as “root causes” for the “escalation in nationality enmity and conflict”, Wang Lixiong argued that special safeguards for minority nationalities cannot be disregarded. Citing differences in their characters, he said “the character of the Han is to pursue profits first, while Tibetans, Uyghurs and Mongols are more inclined to pursue religious beliefs and happiness. This doesn’t allow them to mix well in the big market economy pot with over a billion Han; it’s like forcing monks to fight with soldiers”. Recommending immigration controls, safeguarding the environment, continuing cultural traditions and safeguarding religious beliefs, Wang Lixiong asserted that without the protection of regional nationality autonomy “any one of China’s nationalities would be hard pressed to avoid being wiped away without a trace by the Han who outnumber them by a hundred thousand to one”.
He cautioned if regional nationality autonomy is abolished then the “Middle Way Approach” advocated by the Dalai Lama for decades will be meaningless, and a future democratic China will have nothing with which “to dispel the nationality hatreds that have been engendered by autocratic oppression”. Stating that Uyghurs believe the “Dalai Lama has caused Tibetans to waste 30 years without achieving any results”, he said the recent arrest of Uyghur professor Ilham Tohti confirmed to them that the “Middle Way Approach” is just wishful thinking.
There has also been a loosening of restrictions, apparently with Beijing’s tacit approval, on Tibetan Buddhist sects organising functions in Nepal. The Sakya tradition and all its various sub-sects was, after many decades, permitted to organise Monlam celebrations in Lumbini. This is the only Tibetan Buddhist sect to so far have been granted such permission. The gesture would be aimed at accentuating the divisions among the different Tibetan Buddhist religious sects. It implicitly undermines the authority of the Dalai Lama by drawing attention to Kathmandu’s unwillingness to allow him to visit Buddha’s birthplace till he effects a reconciliation with the CCP leadership in Beijing.
China’s abiding interest in Nepal and, particularly the Buddha’s birthplace of Lumbini on the India-Nepal border, is evident in the China Buddhist Association’s decision to redevelop Lumbini. This follows the failure of the Chinese government-sponsored Asia-Pacific Exchange and Co-operation Foundation (APECF) to obtain approval for its US$3 billion project for Lumbini’s re-development. The project envisages monasteries, hotels and an airport.
For detailed information about the APECF proposal, link to my series of Lumbini articles and interviews here: LUMBINI
An important development reinforcing Beijing’s authority in the selection of high ranking lamas and “reincarnates” is Beijing’s recognition of the reincarnation of Penor Rinpoche of the Nyingmapa tradition and approval for his enthronement. The information was first disclosed in a statement issued on December 5, 2013, by the Namdrol Ling Monastery in Bylakkupe. It revealed that the reincarnation of Penor Rinpoche, former head of the Nyingma sect which is the oldest school of Tibetan Buddhism, was found in Tibet five years after his passing. The reincarnation was found by a senior lama in Tibet at a sacred location near Lhasa, based on a “prophecy letter” sent by 100-year-old Jadrel Rinpoche. The new reincarnation will be formally enthroned in Tibet’s Palyul Monastery as its 12th throne-holder on July 31. Beijing’s move leaves the Dalai Lama, who has no formal authority to approve the heads of other Tibetan Buddhist traditions, with little choice but to acknowledge the new Beijing-recognised reincarnate Penor Rimpoche. China will undoubtedly cite this as a precedent for any future case relating to the Dalai Lama.
December 2, 2013
For the first time, scientists have uncovered archaeological evidence of when the Buddha's life occurred. Excavations completed in Nepal, have positively dated a Buddhist shrine in Lumbini that dates back to the sixth century B.C.
Lumbini was the birthplace of the historical Buddha.
The research, published in Antiquity Journal, describes the remains of a timber structure about the same size and shape as a temple built at the same site in the third century B.C.
From Antiquity Journal, December 2013 issue: Key locations identified with the lives of important religious founders have often been extensively remodelled in later periods, entraining the destruction of many of the earlier remains. Recent UNESCO-sponsored work at the major Buddhist centre of Lumbini in Nepal has sought to overcome these limitations, providing direct archaeological evidence of the nature of an early Buddhist shrine and a secure chronology. The excavations revealed a sequence of early structures preceding the major rebuilding by Asoka during the third century BC. The sequence of durable brick architecture supplanting non-durable timber was foreseen by British prehistorian Stuart Piggott when he was stationed in India over 70 years ago. Lumbini provides a rare and valuable insight into the structure and character of the earliest Buddhist shrines.
"This is one of those rare occasions when belief, tradition, archaeology and science actually come together," Professor Robin Coningham of Durham University in UK and co-director of the archeological team working in Lumbini, said at a press briefing Monday.
It is a very significant contribution in verifying that the Buddha's actual life overlapped with the popularly recognized time frame of 563-483 B.C.
"We know the entirety of the shrine sequence started in the sixth century B.C., and this sheds light on a very long debate," Coningham added.
Kosh Prasad Acharya (former Director General of Nepal’s Department of Archaeology, and currently Executive Director of the Pashupati Area Development Trust) said that in order to establish the actual date of the timber shrine and a previously unknown early brick structure above it, his team had tested fragments of charcoal and grains of sand from the site, using a combination of radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence techniques.
Geo-archaeological research has confirmed the presence of ancient tree roots within the temples central void. They had also sent fragments of the charcoal and the sand grains to a laboratory in the UK for cross checks and final confirmation.
Evidence of a shrine revering a tree is extremely significant, from a Buddhist point of view: According to Buddhist tradition, Queen Maya Devi, mother of the Buddha, gave birth to him while holding on to the branch of a tree at the Lumbini gardens, midway between the kingdoms of her husband and her parents.
“With the help of these findings, many other historical facts can come out,” said Acharya. “And I do want to clear the misconception of a few who think Buddha was born in India, as such discoveries at Lumbini will make it easier for them to accept the reality.”
Click here for my interview with KSOH PRASAD ACHARYA
Until now, the earliest Buddhist temples have been attributed to Emperor Ashoka, who in the 3rd century BC spread Buddhism across the region, as evidenced by his Pillar and brick built temple in Lumbini, a UNESCO World Heritage property since 1997.
“For the first time in South Asia, excavations have revealed a pre-Ashokan temple of brick, which itself was built over an earlier one of timber”, explained Professor Coningham at a press conference held in Kathmandu last week.
A team of Nepali and international experts worked together within the framework of a UNESCO project funded by the Government of Japan through the Japanese Funds in Trust for the Preservation of the World Cultural Heritage to UNESCO. The first phase of the project was completed this month.
Coningham also said that even older remains of a village dating back to as early as 1300 BC were found a few hundred meters south of Lord Buddha’s birthplace, pushing the date of the settlement of the region back by a thousand years.
“We have now very robust proof that Lumbini’s history extends far before the visit of Emperor Ashoka. The government of Nepal will step-up its efforts to preserve the outstanding universal value of the site”, says Sushil Ghimire, Secretary of the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation.
“I am pleased that the project that the UNESCO Office in Kathmandu has implemented in close cooperation with the Lumbini Development Trust and the Department of Archaeology has resulted in such important discoveries”, says Axel Plathe, Head of the UNESCO Office in Kathmandu and UNESCO Representative to Nepal.
Click here for my interview with AXEL PLATHE
The Lumbini site in Nepal is one of four principal locations that are believed to be connected with the Buddha's life. Bodh Gaya is where he is became enlightened, Sarnath is where he first preached and Kusinagara is where he died.
July 17, 2013
Below is Jayadeva Ranada’s latest article, first published in Hindustan Times earlier this month. Ranade is a member of the National Security Advisory Board and former additional secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India.
The Dragon's Steely Grip
After the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Beijing has renewed its focus on Tibet, forced by the fact that discontent among Tibetans in the country is growing.
While some sections of the exiled Tibetan community speculate that Chinese President Xi Jinping would adopt a 'softer' policy towards them and the Dalai Lama, there are no indications that would happen in the near future.
On the contrary, the party's renewed emphasis on loyalty and political reliability has had an impact on the representation of Tibetans in the party. In 2011, Chen Quanguo, party secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), confirmed that resource-rich Tibet would remain under central control.
He disclosed that surveillance has been strengthened across Tibet, financial inducements are being offered to monks and nuns and campaigns are underway in monasteries to help them adapt to a socialist society.
Security has been tightened and political power has been strengthened at all administrative levels by recruiting new party members from each village every year.
Despite these measures, the number of self-immolations in TAR and the Tibetan areas continue to mount, suggesting that Tibetans inside China are desperate. This has confused the Chinese leadership.
An analysis of the self-immolations by Wang Lixiong is revealing.[Wang Lixiong is a Chinese writer and scholar, best known for his writings on Tibet and provocative analysis of China's western region of Xinjiang. Wang is regarded as one of the most outspoken dissidents, democracy activists, and reformers in China. He is married to Woeser, the Tibetan poet and essayist.] It highlights that "courage and resilience" and "prayers for the Dalai Lama" are major motivating factors. It underscores that the core of the protest movement has shifted to Tibet and that Tibetans inside China have taken it up as their struggle.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) understands that there is a potential for increased unrest inside China and apprehend that the sentiments expressed by the protesting Tibetans could spread to the rest of the six million Tibetans.
It could as easily influence the majority Han population, notwithstanding the divide between them and the Tibetans, because of other existing dissatisfactions. An example is the essay by Tang Danhong, a Han Chinese poet and film-maker who now lives in Israel, which went viral on Chinese cyberspace in January. Her essay sought to express the desperation felt by the Tibetans in TAR.
To defuse the tension, Beijing has launched initiatives to win over Tibetan Buddhists settled in the Himalayan region with material inducements, undermine the Dalai Lama's influence and create schisms within the Tibetan community.
Two recent events indicate that China is probably reviewing its policy on Tibet and the Dalai Lama. On June 3, the Hong Kong Tibetan and Han-Chinese Friendship Organisation invited the Dalai Lama to visit the city.
A suspected pro-Beijing front, it is headed by Philip Li Koi-hop, bankrupt former head of the Hong Kong North West Express Shipping Company and now reportedly a marine inspector.
The other is the interview of Jin Wei of the CCP Central Party School in Hong Kong's Asia Weekly on June 6. Under the direct control of the Politburo Standing Committee, the Central Party School is the institution for training upwardly mobile party cadres and those who teach there are routinely tested for 'political reliability'.
Jin Wei, who has a background in minority nationalities issues, reveals important aspects of the Chinese leadership's thinking on the Tibet issue and the Dalai Lama. She recommended re-starting of talks between the CCP and the Dalai Lama's representatives — suspended since 2010 — and blamed the anti-religious bias of several TAR party secretaries for the discontent.
She suggested a separation of religion from politics but by describing the CCP's differences with "the Dalai Lama Clique" as "antagonistic and irreconcilable", she endorsed the continuation of Beijing's tough policy on Tibet.
She justified the resumption of talks, saying that the Dalai Lama is considered a 'living god' by six million Tibetans and China cannot 'treat him as an enemy'. Asserting that it is imperative to ensure the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama in China, she cautioned that a failure to achieve this would have a "great impact on the stability and security of the Tibetan region".
She recommended tackling easy issues first while setting aside the 'Middle Way' and others. The Dalai Lama's visit to Hong Kong or Macau and even to Tibet could be considered at a later stage.
Commenting on the feelings of Tibetans towards the Dalai Lama, she disclosed that people had told her: "In this life I depend on the Communist Party, in the next life I depend on the Dalai Lama!"
She interpreted the worship of the Dalai Lama as something without any political significance and "Tibetan independence" as an empty phrase. Perhaps for the first time providing an insight into the CCP leadership's thinking on self-immolations, she admitted they had mutated into an ethnic conflict between the Chinese and the Tibetans.
Jin Wei's interview suggests that the CCP could project flexibility in policies primarily to ensure the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama inside China. At the same time, Xi Jinping defined the parameters for negotiations, including on Tibet, by declaring in January that "no foreign country should ever nurse hopes that we will bargain over our core national interests" and "nor should they nurse hopes that we will swallow the bitter fruit of harm to our country's sovereignty, security and development interests".
May 16, 2013
Recently, the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) published Jayadeva Ranade’s analysis of China’s “Defense White Paper 2013”. Ranade is a member of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) and Distinguished Fellow, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.
China issued its eighth bi-annual Defense White Paper entitled: ‘The Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces’, on April 16, 2013. The last White Paper, pertaining to 2010, was published in 2011. China’s Defense White Paper, 2013, is a 47-page document with five sections and 3 short appendices listing: joint exercises and training with foreign armed forces from 2011-2012; participation of China’s armed forces in international disaster relief and rescue (2011-2012); and China’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations (2011-2012).
The Defense White Paper, 2013, makes it apparent that the Asia-Pacific region currently dominates Chinese military thinking. This Defense White Paper is at once an expression of the Chinese leadership’s self-confidence and its confidence in the capabilities of its armed forces. After the ritual assertion that China will “not seek hegemony, behave in a hegemonic manner or engage in military expansion” and brief token acknowledgement of the importance of international cooperation, it states clearly that the military build-up and modernization will continue. There is discernible emphasis on expanding the capabilities and operational reach of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and PLA Air Force (PLAAF) together with increased investment in domestic R&D to upgrade the indigenous defense industry.
China started to fall in line with international practice on matters relating to military transparency since 1998, when it first began to publish Defense White Papers. Issued with the twin objectives of meeting international demands for a degree of transparency with regard to its defense modernization programmed as well as wanting to stay engaged with the international community, China has, of late, also begun using the Defense White Papers to publicise its national objectives and worldview, albeit in a very cautious way. In this, it follows the practice of other nations.
Though they avoid specifics, China’s Defense White Papers nevertheless do offer an insight into the broad thinking of senior echelons of the Chinese political and military leadership associated with matters of national defense. Unlike Western documents that also focus more on detail and specific capabilities, China’s Defense White Papers gloss over specifics and reveal few details of expenditure or weapons acquisitions or manufacture. China’s record of transparency in these matters remains opaque, though there has been slight incremental improvement over the years. As could be expected in a country where the armed forces are subordinate to the ruling political party, namely the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), China’s Defense White Papers blend political thinking with the broad plans for the armed forces. The leadership’s thinking on a range of issues including: the future plans and role of the armed forces; anticipated areas of conflict; levels of suspicion of other countries; areas of China’s interest; and the extent of military cooperation with foreign nations, are discernible in the present Defense White Paper, 2013. China too uses the Defense White Papers as instruments of politics and diplomacy.
China’s worldview outlined in the latest Defense White Paper clearly highlights its preoccupation with the developments in the Asia-Pacific region, especially the role of the US, and identifies potential anticipated threats to China’s ambitions. In the initial two paragraphs of its first Section captioned: ‘New Situation, New Challenges and New Missions’, the Defense White Paper singles out the Asia-Pacific region as having become “an increasingly significant stage for world economic development and strategic interaction between major powers”. Hinting at Beijing’s concern about US interference it says, “The US is adjusting its Asia-Pacific security strategy, and the regional landscape is undergoing profound changes”. A blunt, yet thinly veiled, comment follows in the very next paragraph with the assertion that “Some country has strengthened its Asia-Pacific military alliances, expanded its military presence in the region, and frequently makes the situation there tenser.” The implied reference to the US is unmistakable.
The next sentence in the same paragraph makes specific mention of Japan as one among “some neighboring countries” that are taking actions to exacerbate the situation and cites its “making trouble over the issue of the Diaoyu islands” as example. Affirming that the threat from the “three forces” of terrorism, separatism and extremism is increasing, this White Paper in language almost identical to that used in the Defense White Paper of 2010, describes “Taiwan independence separatist forces” as “still the biggest threat to the peaceful development of cross-Straits relations”. Security risks to China’s overseas interests, it concludes, are on the rise.
Clarifying the role of the armed forces as “to win local wars under the conditions of informationisation”, it listed among the tasks for the armed forces the containing of “separatist forces”, safeguarding border, coastal and territorial air security, and “protecting national maritime rights and interests” and “national security interests in outer space and cyber space”. Significant are the independent references to the armed forces providing “reliable support for China’s interests overseas” and “firmly safeguarding China’s core national interests”. These “core national interests” are neither defined nor elaborated.
Of particular concern to China’s neighbors with unresolved, or overlapping, territorial claims are the portions relating to the PLAN and PLAAF in the section on ‘Building and Development of China’s Armed Forces’. The PLAN, it affirmed, will accelerate its pace of modernization and develop advanced submarines, destroyers and frigates and develop blue-water capabilities of conducting mobile operations. It described the development of an aircraft carrier as having a “profound impact on building a strong PLAN and safeguarding maritime security”. Interestingly, the release of this Defense White Paper coincided with the official disclosure the same day -- incidentally also PLA Navy Day -- that China’s new aircraft carrier ‘Liaoning’ would go on a long voyage on the high seas later this year. Separate reports suggest it could sail from its present berth at Qingdao’s military dock within about 3 months up to Okinawa or Guam.
The PLAAF, it said, is developing advanced weaponry and equipment such as new-generation fighters, new-type ground-to-air missiles and radar systems, improving its early warning command and communications networks and “raising its strategic early warning, strategic deterrence and long distance air strike capabilities”. There is no mention of the 3-phase R&D effort underway to indigenously develop advanced jet engines for the PLAAF, disclosed in mid-March 2013 and for which a huge budgetary allocation has already been made.
A novel feature of China’s Defense White Paper this year is the disclosure of troop strengths of the PLAA, PLAN and PLAAF. It was accompanied by a sketchy outline of the deployment of their formations and, in the case of the PLAA, the identifying numbers of the Combined Armies located in each of the seven Military Regions (MR), which the Defense White Paper called Military Area Commands (MAC). The PLAA’s troop strength was disclosed as 850,000. Listing the MRs in order of seniority, it disclosed the following Combined Army deployments: Shenyang (16th, 39th, and 40th); Beijing (27th, 38th, and 65th); Lanzhou (21stand 47th); Jinan (20th, 26th, and 54th); Nanjing (1st, 12th and 31st); Guangzhou (41st and 42nd); and Chengdu (13th and 14th). The disclosure in the White Paper 2013, confirms the deployments estimated by foreign analysts.
The total strength of the PLAN was stated to be 235,000, while that of the PLAAF was declared to be 398,000 with an Air Command at each of the MRs. This official revelation of troop strengths has helped correct international estimates that were in use till now. These estimates placed the PLAN’s total strength as ranging between 255,000 and 290,000 with that of the PLAAF ranging between 300,000 and 330,000. China’s Defense White Paper 2013, now shows that estimates for the PLAN were low while those for the PLAAF were high. China’s strategic missile force, or the PLA Second Artillery Force (PLASAF), continues to stay shrouded in secrecy and no details of its strength or deployments have been disclosed.
A close reading of this Defense White Paper reveals certain possible policy level statements. Specifically, these pertain to the use of missiles and nuclear weapons. It described China’s strategic missile force, namely the PLA Second Artillery (PLASAF), as a “core force for China’s strategic deterrence”. It disclosed that the PLASAF will use nuclear missiles to launch a counter-attack either independently or in conjunction with “the nuclear forces of other services”. It added that the PLASAF’s conventional missile force can shift “instantly” from peacetime to wartime readiness “and conduct conventional medium- and long-range precision strikes”. Absent in the White Paper were the routine references to non-first use of nuclear weapons by China, though while referring to the PLASAF’s role the terms “strategic deterrence” and “nuclear counterattacks” were repeatedly used. The assertion that the PLASAF will use its nuclear missiles in conjunction with those of other services makes clear that all the services of the PLA are operationally nuclear capable. That the PLASAF will engage in conventional conflict is made clear in the White Paper, which raises the risk of miscalculation by the adversary.
As in the Defense White Paper, 2011, which used the acronym for the first time, this White Paper also refers to the PLA’s ground forces as the PLAA. There has, however, been scattered mention of the PLAA in China’s official media through 2012.The Defense White Paper 2013, similarly placed the PLAA, or PLA Army, first followed by the PLAN, PLAAF, PLASAF and the People’s Armed Police Force (PAPF). Details of the role and functions of the PAPF, militia and border militia, and the Hong Kong and Macao garrisons are additions in this year’s White Paper.
Repeated usage of the acronyms PLAA, PLAN, PLAAF and PLASAF indicates that these services are increasingly acquiring independent identities and coming out from under the dominance and control of the PLAA or the PLA’s ground forces. The composition of the new Central Military Commission reinforces this view. The moves would be part of the leaderships’effort to professionalize the armed forces, inculcate ‘service pride’ in each service and encourage each of them to generate their own doctrines, or theories, of war and battle plans.
Nevertheless as the large number of PLAA personnel present among the Delegates and Deputies to the 18th Party Congress and 12th NPC reveals, the status and influence of the PLA ground forces remains unaffected, though they have probably dropped more to the level of ‘primus inter pares’. Furthermore, the Military Region Commanders are all from the ground forces and the PLAAF and PLAN personnel are placed under their command. PLA General Departments too continue to be staffed mainly by personnel from the ground services and they are the ones who plan, formulate and issue central directives.
China’s Defense White Paper 2013, touched on the other roles of the armed forces including Military Operations other than War (MOOTW), joint exercises and training with foreign forces and international disaster relief. It dwelt at some length on the contribution of the Chinese armed forces to international peacekeeping where Africa came into focus.
Finally, this Defense White Paper contained two references to India in one paragraph and in the same context. This was in the context of the observation that “since January 2012, independent deployers such as China, India and Japan have strengthened their convoy coordination”.
May 13, 2013
Two very different news articles circulated in Asia this week. Both focused on the increased difficulty facing foreigners who are in Nepal without proper visas. The forces at work are external and internal and the non-Nepalis in question range from Americans to Tibetans:
Nepal to blacklist foreigners working without permit
Beijing, May 9 (Xinhua-ANI): Nepal's Department of Labor (DoL) is going to strictly regulate the non-diplomatic foreign workers working without employment permit in the country, according to a government official.
The non-compliant workers, if found, would be blacklisted, said Krishna Hari Pushkar, director general of the department.
"Some 50,000 foreign nationals are working here without official work permits, which could pose threats to our national sovereignty, integrity and even job creation for Nepalese youths. Se we have decided to strictly impose the work permit system as per the Labor Act 1992," he told Xinhua in an interview on Wednesday.
Only 9,119 foreigners working in various hydropower projects, construction companies, telecommunications, banking and hospitality sectors, among others, have been granted official work permit, according to DoL statistics.
There are mostly Chinese nationals among the foreigners who have obtained the official employment permit to work mainly in infrastructure and communications sectors in Nepal.
A team led by DoL officials, comprising representatives from the Ministry of Labor and Employment, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Department of Immigration, will start on-the-spot monitoring of the non-diplomatic foreigners working in different sectors such as social organizations, charities and diplomatic missions from next week, the official said.
The DoL has planned to put the names of non-compliant foreigners who will continue their jobs without official work permits finally in the blacklist and such individual will have to leave the country.
Likewise a separate team will conduct the status assessment study of the informally working foreigners in Nepal that is expected to reveal the facts.
Assessing primarily that Nepal is losing some 46 million U.S. dollars annually due to tax avoidance by foreigners working informally in Nepal, the DoL has begun scrutinizing the applicants ' details before issuance of the work permit.
The DoL has initiated the process of interviewing respective candidate who seeks employment permit to work in Nepal.
During the interview, one must justify his/her compatibility to Nepal's national interest, correlation between the academic certificate and nature of job along with the necessary approval from other concerned authorities according to the job specifications.
Though the DoL received some two dozens of applications for work permit in the last fortnight, it has approved only four of them after successful completion of the interview.
Most of the foreigners working without official permit in Nepal are from Bhutan, South Korea, Europe, the United States and Australia, according to the DoL.
Bhutanese nationals are informally working in the education sector largely whereas the South Koreans and Europeans are illegally working in various charities. The citizens of the U.S. and Australia are found to be working in several nongovernmental organizations, international nongovernmental organizations and even in some diplomatic missions.
"The donor agencies such as UNDP, DFID, ADB and the like are also hiring non-diplomatic staffs for very common job positions like computer operator or vehicle driver which is against the provision in section 4(a) of the Labor a Act 1992 given that foreigners can be hired for high level technical jobs only," Director General Pushkar stated.
Any individual working in Nepal for more than 180 days must pay the income tax as per the Income Tax Act 2002. But most of the illegally working foreigners are supposed to receive their benefits directly at their bank account in their home countries.
"If any foreigner generates income here in Nepal, he/she must obtain a permanent account number and paying the income tax, rental tax and other necessary taxes, which is mandatory by law," said Bishnu Nepal, deputy director general of the Inland Revenue Department, adding, "We will coordinate with the DoL to investigate the issue further." (Xinhua-ANI)
China 'crushing’ Tibetan dissident groups in Nepal
Bharti Jain, TIMES OF INDIA | May 12, 2013
NEW DELHI: Wary of dissident Tibetan groups making Nepal a hub for their anti-China activities, Beijing appears to have taken to squeezing the Himalayan nation on the issue by using its developmental initiatives there as a counter-pressure tactic. China, which already boasts of a wide involvement in Nepal that covers all critical areas including defence, infrastructure development and cultural activities, is now focusing on taking up development initiatives across Nepalese villages adjoining Tibet, besides liaisoning with Nepalese border authorities and security officials to enhance border security and upgrade police stations at points used by Tibetans to cross into Nepal.
Recent intelligence assessments by the Indian security agencies have drawn the government's attention to attempts by China to "crush" Tibetan activities in Nepal. Nepal is a major shelter destination for Tibetans who cross over in large numbers before proceeding to India or elsewhere. Over the years, many Tibetans have settled in Nepal, leaving Beijing worried that the dissident elements among them may be working against China's interests.
In a bid to thwart such designs, China has proposed to develop some village development committees (VDCs) contiguous to Tibet, jointly with the Nepalese ministry of physical planning. As per the proposal sent recently to the Nepalese government, China would support basic infrastructure building in some of these VDCs. The project, Indian intelligence agencies' warn, would enable a sizeable Chinese presence in these border VDCs and also let Beijing to exercise control over the crucial border link used by Tibetans to cross into Nepal.
Under the proposed "nationwide assistance programme" awaiting clearance of Nepalese authorities, the Chinese would also provide basic supplies to VDCs in at least 15 border districts.
Incidentally, the Chinese have gone beyond development initiatives to counter the alleged Tibetan dissident activities in Nepal. Chinese Embassy officials based in Kathmandu have been regularly visiting border areas, including remote north-western districts like Humla and Mustang to check the security situation and use their interaction with the Nepalese border authorities to push for tighter monitoring of the Sino-Nepal border. The Chinese officials seek to know the equipment and support mechanism needed for better border security and convey these requirements to Beijing so that they can be factored in future agreements with Nepal.
Another key initiative aimed at greater control over areas bordering Tibet, is China's offer to upgrade police stations along the Sino-Nepal border. Chinese embassy officials, intelligence reports say, had lately visited police stations along the border and made a proposal to renovate them, which is now under consideration in Kathmandu. If accepted, the Chinese side would get a significant say in policing in sensitive border areas. However, what may be more worrisome for India is if China's focus shifts to modernizing police stations along other borders as well.
New Chinese ambassador Wu Chuntai's security background may only help to step up vigilance and counter-efforts against the Tibetan population in Nepal, feel Indian intelligence experts. Chinese security officials have been apprising the Nepalese authorities to be on the lookout for Tibetan groups from India visiting Nepal to "influence" Tibetans settled there.
May 9, 2013
On May 7, 2013, Kathok monastery in Derge (Kham) caught on fire. Contrary to earlier reports, it was not burned down to the ground: According to Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC), which has been in contact with the monastery, the extent of the fire was exaggerated. TBRC reports that a fire did break out in the apartment of one of the Lamas. Apparently, the Kathok edition of the Nyingma Kama is safe. It has not been determined whom or what started the fire. As of yet, there is no information on injuries or fatalities.
Having said that, the photos that were forward to me, would seem to indicate that there was considerable damage to the building -- certainly more than one apartment is seen in flames. This needs to be further clarified.I will add details about injuries and damage, as it becomes available.
Kathok Monastery is listed in various enumerations as one of the six principal Nyingma monasteries, one of the main lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. It is also where, historically, one of the most important printing presses in Tibet operated, printing sacred texts and thangka line-drawings from huge woodblocks.
The Kathok Gonpa main monastery, (Kathok Dorje Den), is over 840 years old. It was established sometime around 1159-1162 c.e.. The monastery’s founder was Kathok Kadampa Deshek, (1112-1192 c.e.) Among his immediate successors were Tsangtun Dorje and Jampabum.
After centuries of carrying on the lineage, in the seventeenth century, the great treasure revealer, Ringdzin Duddul Dorje and his disciple, Vajradara Longsal Ningpo renewed the energies of the great lineage. Of the many great disciples of Duddul Dorje, Kunsang Sherab began Payul Monastery, which later on became a very important lineage in Nyingma tradition. Another follower, Pema Ringzen, created the Dzogchen monastery.
Perhaps Kathok’s greatest master, however, was the treasure revealer, Longsal Nyingpo. According to tradition, through his past life connections with Guru Rinpoche, (and as Guru Rinpoche prophesized), Longsal Nyinpo revealed many sacred texts and substances and carried on the lineage accordingly. It is widely believed that on the original spot where Kathok Gonpa is located, Guru Rinpoche and his 25 disciples practiced for 25 days and consecrated the ground 13 times. There are many miraculous signs there such as the handprints and footprints of Guru Rinpoche in solid rock. Also, the great translator, Vairotsana, when he was exiled to Gyarong, practiced at the future site of Kathok Gonpa for one month.
According to The Tibetan Buddhist Resource Centre, disciples of Kenpo Munsel and Kenpo Jamyang at Katok Monastery in 1999 compiled a Katok edition of the 'Kama' (Wylie: bka' ma shin tu rgyas pa (kaH thog)) in 120 volumes: "...twice the size of the Dudjom edition, it contains many rare Nyingma treatises on Mahayoga, Anuyoga, and Atiyoga that heretofore had never been seen outside of Tibet."
I had the privilege of visiting Kathok monastery in 2001, just as its famous woodblock printing operation was getting back into full swing -- after the horrendous destruction and vandalism of Mao’s 1960s “Cultural Revolution”. The burning of the building would be a great loss to Tibetan Buddhist practitioners worldwide.
May 6, 2013
“How do you translate “conservation” into Tibetan? The word doesn’t exist.”
For years, I’ve heard about the conservation work that Luigi Fieni has conducted in Mustang. Documentaries have been made – and countless articles published – about his groundbreaking restoration of Tibetan Buddhist murals dating back to the 15th century. I’ve followed Luigi’s work with more than casual interest. In the 1990’s, I served as artistic director for the painting of Tibetan murals in two newly constructed temples – one in Sarnath, India and one in the Catskills. But it wasn’t until last month that I met him at a party in Kathmandu. He’s currently stuck in the Valley, pending the Home Ministry’s signing off on his work-visa, a permit he has to attain before he can legally return north to Mustang. Regrettably, this has become an annual ritual: Luigi waiting for the Home Ministry to grant him a work-visa for a project that has been internationally hailed – for well over a decade.
In any case, Luigi’s interminable wait became my stroke of good fortune. A few days after our initial meeting the following interview ensued, conducted in Raju Bikram Shah’s Shangri-la Hotel garden.
DUNHAM: From Rome to Mustang. There’s a story here. Let’s begin with your childhood.
LUIGI FIENI: I came from Cisterna di Latina, a little town near the seaside, a half-hour drive from Rome. I started drawing when I was five actually. But following my parent’s advice, I studied science, so I never studied art. Instead, I studied aeronautical engineering, all the while drawing, just for myself, trying to refine my skill – painting as well. But after a couple of years of engineering I said, “OK, this sucks. This is not what I want to do.” So I quit university and entered a kind of psychological war with my parents and all my relatives, because I was giving up something that would give me a secure future. At least in Italy, there is this stereotype that doctors and engineers are respectable and going to be privy to the top-paying jobs, while artists…
But I quit school. And I didn’t know what I was going to do. I just started airbrush painting for myself and for – not companies, but – individuals who wanted their objects painted: trucks, surfboards, snowboards helmets, bikes – whatever I could do to make money. But I was still wondering what I was going to do when I “grew up”.
Anyway, through this work I realized that I was very good at copying styles. Because usually for this kind of work, the client would give me a photo from a magazine and they wanted an exact replica. So after a couple of years of this half-job-half-despair, I thought, “Well maybe this could be linked to some kind of conservation.” So I enrolled in the Conservation Institute in Rome and, all of sudden, life became easier.
Unlike when I was studying engineering, I comprehended the academic aspects of conservation immediately. And coupled with my drawing skills I became one of the top students in the school.
As it happened, just before my graduation, in 1999, there was this professor in the school who was just about to start a project in Mustang: Professor Rodolfo Lujan Lunsford. He used to be a conservator for UNESCO and many international organizations. He had worked in Cambodia, Ajanta in India, Burma, Mongolia – many renowned places. I was very lucky because the only year that the professor taught at my school was the year I graduated.
The professor was in contact with John Sanday Associates, an architecture and conservation company, here, in Kathmandu, run by John Sanday. Sanday got the funding from the American Himalaya Foundation for the project in Mustang. John and Rodolfo had worked together ten years before. John contacted Rodolfo about the Mustang project and that’s how it got off the ground. John told him to bring an assistant, Rodolfo selected me … and here we are. That’s how this became a reality. Super cool the way this whole thing interlocks.
Later, when I told this story to some of the monks in Mustang – it was quite sweet – they said, “Oh, you must be a reincarnation of one of the old painters.”
DUNHAM: It does seem karmic. When did you first go to Mustang?
FIENI: 1999. One week after graduation.
FIENI: Yeh, it all happened very quickly. I went from very low self-esteem to feeling like I had the dream job – all in a very short timespan. At that time, there was no Internet – no google earth search for me – so I went home and got some books to find out about Mustang and I thought, “Oh shit, that’s far away.”
I served as Rodolfo’s assistant for four years. Then in 2004, he left the project and I became in charge. And from 2004 forward, I have been leading the conservation in Mustang.
DUNHAM: Let’s talk about the actual coservation.
FIENI: The idea is restoring wall paintings from the 15th century, in Lo Manthang [the capital of Mustang]. The pilot project was Thubchen Monastery, built in 1472. Since our sponsor, the American Himalayan Foundation, wanted to have a development project, this plan required the training of a lot of the local people in Mustang. The idea was to take farmers from Lo Manthang and slowly transform them into restorers – to give them the knowledge and skills to take care of their own cultural heritage.
DUNHAM: Were there no local artists – thangka painters – living in Mustang?
DUNHAM: The tradition had been lost?
FIENI: That’s right.
DUNHAM: What were the conditions of the Thubchen murals in 1999?
FIENI: Oh, I still had hair at that time. I pulled them all out when I saw the poor condition of the murals. It was a disaster. Damaged wall paintings – OK, darkened by varnish, age, grime and butter-lamp smoke – but that was the least of our problems. That’s easy to fix. The real problems were with the structure of the building and the fact that the wall paintings were detaching from the walls. In many areas, the paint layer was flaking off. There was water leakage from the ceiling and rising dampness from the floor. So there were a lot of challenges. Whatever you studied in conservation textbooks – the case histories, the bad conditions analyzed – they were all there in Thubchen. Mold, biological attacks – whatever – it was all there.
DUNHAM: Describe what Mustang was like in 1999.
FIENI: Before I do that, I should describe how I got there in 1999. From the maps, you couldn’t tell how many roads went up there, or what kind of roads. I had no idea. From here, in Kathmandu, we took a plane to Pokhara. Then we took a plane to Jomsom.
DUNHAM: Oh god, I’m familiar with the flight from Pokhara to Jomsom. It is … memorable.
FIENI: Yes. I was 25 at the time and maybe at that age, you aren’t so aware of the risks. But flying in a twelve-seat plane up through the deepest gorge in the world [the Kali Gandhaki], where there is fierce wind almost 24-7, and the plane is just bouncing around all over the place –
DUNHAM: Like riding in the belly of a deranged hummingbird. There’s Nilgiri coming straight at you and Dhaulagiri on the left and Annapurna I on the right and –
FIENI: And even more stupefying, you don’t see the trees…you see the leaves of the trees. And you say, “Maybe we are flying a bit too close.” So for the twenty-minute flight, you are frozen.
Then you land in Jomsom and you ask, “OK, where’s the monastery?” And the guide answers, “Actually, we are going tomorrow and it’s three days on horseback.” Indiana Jones style.
DUNHAM: Italian cowboy heading up the mountain.
FIENI: Yeh, exactly. I had ridden horses a couple of times before but never on a mountain trail at 4000 meters and especially with the kind of tackle the locals used for riding. You see horses in Europe with nice saddles. In the first years especially, the Mustang saddles were made out of wood – just four small planks of wood, two carpets on top of that and your butt on it … for three days.
DUNHAM: How much equipment did you have to take with you?
FIENI: That was one of the biggest challenges at the beginning. You had to plan so carefully. The exact amount you needed – not too little but not too much, either, because we were going up with caravans of many horses and porters. Once you were up there, you couldn’t call the conservation shop and say, “I forgot something.” Even if you forgot something, you had to make do with what you had brought. No second chances. I learned a lot from that.
I’ve also been working in Italy – I split my year between Mustang and Italy. In Italy, if you don’t like your paintbrush, you just walk to the shop and buy another one. But in Mustang, you improvise all the time: “OK, see that guy over there with the beard? He hasn’t shaved. We’ll shave him and use some of his hair for a brush.” That’s the way it is in Mustang. Or when the paintings are detaching from the walls, you have some special conservation tools in Europe you can use just for propping. These things don’t exist in Mustang. And the walls are 8 meters high.
DUNHAM: Did you use bamboo scaffolding?
FIENI: No, we got wood from China. And at that time, there wasn’t yet a road from China. We had hundreds of porters carrying logs over the Himalaya from Tibet. Sounds crazy, but it was the easiest way to carry wood because from Jomsom or Pokhara it would have been too expensive.
We really had to be innovative on every level. Sometimes we used mattresses or plywood to prop things up. Here’s another example: We had to detach a wall painting from a wall. It was a relatively newer painting, but someone during the history of the monastery had built something on top, which forced us to use honeycomb panels [auxiliary support replacements]. In Italy, you just go buy the panels. Here, we had to build the large panels in Kathmandu and transport them all the way up to Mustang.
DUNHAM: What about the challenge of lighting the interior of the monastery? There are very few windows – if any – in Tibetan gompas.
FIENI: It was a big challenge. When you are studying conservation, you concentrate on the importance of replicating daylight to determine the exact colors of the painting. So we brought a couple of those special lights over from Italy, but it was difficult because of the generators available here in Nepal. They were quite unreliable. We needed a lot of power – 20,000 watts – so we had to use tractor-driven dynamos and, even if the Nepali generators were powerful enough, they were too heavy to transport to Mustang. So we purchased some from China – supposedly brand new generators. We started them up and after a couple of hours they broke down. And I thought, “Oh, shit, these are brand new.” So our guy took them apart. Well, on the outside, they were brand new but inside? I don’t know how old they were. These were the kind of unexpected problems we encountered but somehow we managed.
DUNHAM: Did the locals really understand what you were trying to do? Some of them must have found all the activity and equipment disturbing – especially in regard to their holy site.
FIENI: When we first arrived, we had all the working permits, the Department of Archeology approval – all that – but locals were like, “Who are you? What do you want to do? You want to touch our monasteries?" Even though they could see very little of the interior of the monastery because it was so dark inside – and it was practically not used at all – the locals felt attached to their temple and wanted to know, “What is it that you are doing that we can’t do ourselves? What does ‘conservation’ mean, anyway?”
How do you translate “conservation” into Tibetan? The word doesn’t exist.”
The conversation – or you could say the questioning -- actually started a couple of years before we arrived. The locals had been convinced that it would be OK to have us come up to the site. But once they saw us unpack syringes and drills, things like that, they became concerned.
FIENI: One of the operations used, when the wall painting is detaching, is that you knock on the wall; you understand, by the sound, if there is a void behind that wall. So you drill there and inject a special mortar. The locals interpreted this operation as, “You are piercing our gods! They are not images, they are our gods! They are going to be harmed, defiled! You cannot do that!”
So the Mustang community insisted on performing a ceremony of de-consecration. With a mirror, they captured the life or soul of each image in the monestary – transforming them from gods into mere drawings, lines and colors. Only after the ceremony were we allowed to try some small cleaning samples. And they were still very suspicious about our work.
DUNHAM: What about the king of Mustang? [Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista, born in 1933. Officially, the monarchy ceased to exist on October 7, 2008, by order of the Government of Nepal. Nevertheless, many Mustang residents still regard Bista as king.] The king must have been supportive of your work, otherwise the project would have never taken off.
FIENI: Actually, the king was the guy who initiated the restoration.
DUNHAM: His approval was key.
FIENI: That helped, yet the community of Lo Manthang and local monks ran the monastery, so everyone had a say in the matter.
Anyway, after we managed this trial, this small rectangle of restoration – we cleaned a square meter – the king came to examine our work.
That square meter was pretty impressive: All of these amazing colors were shining back! After removing the varnish and dirt, the patch looked like it had been painted yesterday. The king was very impressed. He said, “Wow, you guys are such talented artists. How did you paint this?”
And we said, “No, we didn’t paint. We just removed the dirt. This is from the 15th century. Your ancestors did this.”
And that was the day that everything changed in Lo Manthang. After the locals realized that we were involved with cleaning only, they said, “OK, we need the help of these foreigners." And all the population of Mustang turned in our favor, and we were allowed to start working.
DUNHAM: Pigment: What pigments had been used by the artists in the 15th century?
FIENI: Actually, the most expensive ever used in history. In Mustang, we can make a parallel with what Michelangelo was using.
DUNHAM: The original Mustang artists and Michelangelo could have talked to each other and been on the same page.
FIENI: Exactly. It was more or less the same period – well, Michelangelo was a bit later but – and they were using the same minerals to make their pigment: malachite, azurite, lapis lazuli, cinnabar –
FIENI: Yeh, and all these semi-precious stones, which are very expensive –
DUNHAM: And very poisonous –
FIENI: Very poisonous, yes, all of them are from metal – from arsenium to mercury to copper, to…what else?
FIENI: Yes, lead for the orange. So all of those pigments were there in the most beautiful shapes and forms and shadings.
DUNHAM: And because they were real pigments, there was limited deterioration in their intensity.
FIENI: Exactly and they had been protected by varnish.
DUNHAM: What kind of varnish?
FIENI: We made some analysis and it was a mixture of oil and tree resin. It’s kind of common, at least in Europe – in Asia it’s less common to varnish, but in the monasteries I have worked on in the Himalaya, I have often found varnish. In some cases, it had been applied long after the painting was executed.
In the case of Mustang, the varnish was from the same period as when the paintings were executed. This was an important distinction to be made. If the varnish had been applied much later, the colors would have shown a certain aging. Or there would have been darkening from the smoke emitted from butter lamps, which was the only kind of illumination used in the temple. In the case of the paintings in Mustang, there was nothing between the pigment and the varnish.
All varnishes are transparent when applied, but with aging they turn brown, red, black – according to the nature of the varnish. And they practically hide the paintings. But when we removed the varnish, the colors just shone back. And because of the quality of the pigments, they were incredibly stable, especially in that dim light. They looked like they were painted yesterday.
DUNHAM: Let’s break down the colors for my readers. Malachite for the green –
FIENI: Yes. Azurite for light blue. Lapis Lazuli for the very dark blue. It was generally thought that lapis had not been used in Tibetan wall paintings. There was a legend surrounding the use of lapis but it wasn’t found in the old masterpieces from Ladakh, Gyantse, or wherever. But in Thubchen we found lapis lazuli. In fact, we found something that we had never seen before: The Mustang artists had mixed azurite and lapis lazuli together to create a medium blue. Super rare. For historians, this was a very exciting discovery.
DUNHAM: In the restoration process, did you use real pigment?
FIENI: No. In our conservation, we don’t work with pigments. When we are touching up, we use watercolors. Conservation teams from different countries have different philosophies about this. I come from the Italian school of thought that, maybe, in fifty or a hundred years, something better might come along. So that the next restorer that comes along in the future, they have to be able to remove whatever you added extra on the wall painting.
There is this concept of restorability, which is very strong in our Italian point of view.
You never reconstruct what has already been destroyed.
And I was convinced that this was the right path. But when we “finished” Thubchen monastery in 2004, the monks said, “What do you mean ‘you’re finished?'” You see, all the lower portions of the paintings had been destroyed by dampness, so we hadn’t worked on the lower areas. It was all missing and the monks simply could not comprehend that we considered our work completed.
DUNHAM: Another non-Western concept you must have encountered up there was that Tibetan practitioners envision the murals as the Pure Land. Cracks, missing areas, aberrations of any description are regarded as bad.
FIENI: Exactly, because Tibetan Buddhist practitioners are looking at real gods. They are not images. They are truly the gods. And they have been consecrated. But it took me many years to understand that concept. I resisted also because I was breaking the rules of what I had studied in Italy. It took time for me to be able to adapt what I had studied in Rome to the Tibetan way of seeing things. For the people of Mustang, re-painting the lower walls was extremely important. But for me it was all new. Reconstructing something so big? In Italy, they would chop off my hands. In Mustang, it was their number one requirement of restoration.
Anyway, I slowly began to understand their priorities. And I think that there should be a new theory of conservation adapted for countries in Asia, Africa, South America – places where the soul or religiosity is very strong. Whatever notions Western countries may have developed, when working on non-Western religious buildings, those notions should not be applied.
DUNHAM: I agree. At what point did you begin training the locals in Mustang to help with the restoration?
FIENI: From the beginning. All of them were farmers with no previous training. We didn’t even have time to test who were the most suitable to work with us. The project was created, in part, to distribute wealth homogenously throughout the village. Also, the external architecture: We employed 230 locals in carpentry, labor, etc. But there was no pre-selection. The rule was that one person from each family could get a job with us. When you were lucky, you had a very good employee. When you were unlucky, then you had to improvise a job for them that would benefit the project. 90% of them were illiterate – never touched a pen and yet we were giving them paintbrushes. It was an incredible challenge.
Also, there was the limitation of language – the language barrier. We had an interpreter, which was helpful, but luckily, in conservation, there is a lot of information that can be shared by miming. We were all Italians so [waving his hands] – miming: That’s our thing.
Little by little, one by one, we showed them how to fill up a syringe with mortar and inject it, or how to clean a surface, over and over, until they were confident in doing this. We began the learning process on empty walls. If mortar was spilled, no paintings were damaged. We had to avoid any mistakes occurring on 15th century paintings. But my point is that we were teaching them technique by mime, not language. And, over time, language was no longer an issue as we all kind of created a new language made up of Nepali, Tibetan, English and Italian.
Another challenge was the caste system. In Tibetan Buddhism, it shouldn’t exist. But in Mustang, there are three identifiable castes: the royal family, the middle class and the lower caste made up of inherited professions like blacksmiths and musicians. The latter live outside the city of Lo Manthang on the riverside.
DUNHAM: And you had the three castes were working side-by-side?
FIENI: Yes, but the problem wasn’t working side-by-side. The problem was when they worked on scaffolding. If a lower caste worker was on top of the scaffolding and a higher caste worker was below his feet, it always ended up in fights. So where people worked in relation to other workers had to be carefully planned to avoid this vertical placement issue.
DUNHAM: It’s now 2013. How close are you to completing the project?
FIENI: At Thubchen, the conservation part is finished. We worked on two major structures in Lo Mantang: Thubchen, which is a monastery and Jampa, which is a temple, with three stories and all the mandalas. We finished the conservation of Thubchen in 2004. In Jampa, we finished the conservation in 2009.
But then the locals started looking for money to complete all the paintings by themselves.
At that moment I got a bit worried: OK, they learned, but they still had limitations and still needed guidance, especially if they also wanted to do additional reconstruction. I sort of shut down all my Westerner ethics and said, “OK, I want to do it and I convinced the American Himalayan Foundation to accept this additional reconstruction program.
We went back to work on Thubchen in 2010. We began working on approximately 350 square meters of wall. And in some cases, we are using real pigments: lapis lazuli, azurite, malachite, cinnabar –
DUNHAM: 350 square meters is huge. Have you completed it?
FIENI: In theory, we should have completed by the end of this year. But we’ve been confronted with unforeseen problems. Rising dampness had returned to the walls. Mold stains. So we had to remove a lot of what we had reconstructed. We had to call in new architects because the original architectural company hadn’t finished the job correctly.
DUNHAM: What had the architectural firm failed to do?
FIENI: OK, on the lower sections of the walls there were no paintings so who cares? But rising dampness can go up very high, and that was what was happening – encroaching on work we had originally done. Luckily, the original 15th century painting was unharmed, just the work we had done in the last decade. Still, because of this, we won’t be able to finish the reconstruction this year.
DUNHAM: How many locals from Mustang will you be employing this year?
FIENI: Thirty-five. The team has shrunk a bit. Some passed away, some moved to the U.S. and Korea.
DUNHAM: But both structures have been re-consecrated? Are the local Buddhists worshipping inside?
FIENI: Yes, since 2004, when there was the first ceremony. The monks use the buildings for their most important events: the creation of the mandalas for the end of the summer, the religious dancing in May – the major ceremonies are being held again there since – I don’t know how many centuries.
DUNHAM: For interior lighting, are they still using yak butter lamps?
FIENI: Ah, the butter lamps. Originally, it was very difficult for them to understand a concept, which, for us, is very easy. When we told them that the butter lamp smoke darkened the paintings, they said, “Oh really? Never seen it.” So we dropped the subject but after three or four years of them using the butter lamps, I went back to confront them about the lamps.
There are special sponges called Wishab. They absorb the grime and soot – whatever is deposited on the surface and is not yet glued to the painting, which was the case of the smoke. So I took the monks and some local people inside and we did some cleaning with Wishabs and then I pointed out the difference. I said, “Look, this cleaned area is what the whole wall looked like four years ago. Now compare it to the part of the wall that hasn’t been cleaned.” They recognized the problem.
So they decided to build some rooms outside the monastery where worshipers who want to light a butter lamp are free to do so. Naturally, since the monastery is a religious space, the Tibetan Buddhist tradition demands that there are a couple of butter lamps to serve religious purposes. But compared to the 500 or 600 that had been burning four years before – cutting it down to two or three – has been a successful change, especially because it was the local’s idea to build the extra rooms outside. When the idea comes from the community, it’s 99% probable that everyone will follow the leader’s example. If a foreigner comes in and says, “Do this, do that,” they won’t give a shit.
DUNHAM: The interior – with just a couple of better lamps lighted – must be much dimmer now. The locals are OK with that?
FIENI: Yes, especially now, when everybody has a flashlight or battery-powered headlamp. If they really want to see the murals, they can use their flashlights. It also depends on the area of the interior. In Thubchen, there is a kind of skylight. If you go during the day, you can see the walls.
DUNHAM: Traditionally, temple skylights were just wide-open rectangles cut out of the roof, allowing snow and rain to come in. Is that the kind of skylight in Thubchen?
FIENI: When we first arrived, it was: The ceiling was open to the elements and direct sunlight flooded in. We had to make an adjustment. Now there is a flat ceiling over the opening, slightly elevated above the rest of the rooftop, with windows placed horizontally to prop up the top. The elements are now sealed out and there is no direct sunlight.
DUNHAM: You mentioned that, in some cases, you were using real pigment in Mustang. Do you start from scratch? Are you grinding your own pigment?
FIENI: Yes, because if you buy the pre-ground pigments, the costs are astronomical. So I trained my guys how to grind, how to prepare the pigments out of the stone.
DUNHAM: That’s straight out of the Italian Renaissance: “Come on, Leonardo, share your secret – what mixture are you using to get that green?” Sitting around the fire, artists pumping each other for inside information.
FIENI: Yes, exactly, “What did you put in that blue?” – that sort of thing.
DUNHAM: In Mustang, mixing hues to match the original 15th century hues must be very tricky.
FIENI: We don’t try to match the hue immediately. Because when you have a huge white space, you start incorrectly guessing the colors. The white will trick the eyes. First we make the drawing.
DUNHAM: With what?
FIENI: Pencil, charcoal. Then we use a snapping cord for the grid and a kind of compass for the circular shapes. And we mainly copy the original. Say we are copying a Medicine Buddha: We copy the original but with different decorations. Otherwise, it becomes clear that you are just copying—it’s not fresh. So we create a new Buddha based on the old standard iconometry.
As for matching hues, we begin by applying a solid layer of lighter color. Let’s say we’re beginning with malachite for green. Malachite is a very, very light hue. To get it a bit darker, we mix it with the opposite – either a little red or a little brown. It gives a bit of aging to the color. But it will still be a light green. Once the solid color is applied over the entire white surface, then, with watercolors, we start shading in until we match the original paint.
DUNHAM: Let’s get really basic, here. I’ve got a big chunk of malachite. What do I do next?
FIENI: You wrap the stone with several layers of cloth. Then you put the wrapped stone into a large but shallow stone vessel with a lip all the way around it. Then you slowly start hammering the malachite until it has been reduced to a mass of small pebbles. Then you remove the pebbles from the cloth wrapping and take a rectangular stone and start grinding – forward and backward – over the pebbles until the pebbles have been reduced to a powder. Then you transfer the powder to a mortar and you add a bit of hot water. Hot water will help – not micronizing, exactly – but it does get the pigment very, very fine. And you do that process for months. The whole process from stone to pigment can easily take two months.
Then, it depends on the hue. Malachite, for example: The more you grind, the lighter the green. You have to monitor the grinding every day, to make sure it’s not too light. In the case of lapis lazuli, if you over-grind, it becomes transparent.
The key for the grinders is to be patient. Incredibly patient.
DUNHAM: Once you have arrived at the correct hue, is the next step heating the glue?
FIENI: We use animal-skin-based glue. In Italy, we use rabbit. Here, it could be buffalo, cow – it could be whatever. I don’t know. I went to one of the thangka painters here in Kathmandu and asked for the best glue. There is a stamp on the container. It say’s “Made in India.” But nobody could tell me what it is. I just know that it comes as a protein gel. When you need to use it, you boil water, then add the glue, and when the consistency is just right –
DUNHAM: What is the right consistency?
FIENI: That’s difficult to explain. This entails the artistic side of process. You put your forefinger and thumb in the hot glue and put them together and you know by its stickiness if it is too strong or too weak. When you’ve got it right, you pour that into the mortar with the pigment. And you mix them together for a couple of days before it is ready to be used. Also, after a week or so of usage, you may have to add some heated water.
DUNHAM: Where do you get the gold for the embellishments? Is it legal to buy it here? It used to be that it wasn’t.
FIENI: Yeh, yeh, it’s legal as long as it’s not smuggled.
DUNHAM: 22 carat?
FIENI: I’m not sure because it’s not stamped. Judging by the look I would say around 22 carat. 24 carat is very warm looking. This is a bit colder in appearance. And the glue that has been mixed with the gold can influence the hue.
DUNHAM: My teacher [thangka master Pema Wangyal of Dolpa] used to test everything on his brush by putting it between his lips: That’s how he got the exact pointed-ness of his brush – not exactly a healthy procedure given the toxicity of the paints.
FIENI: I do the same thing. But for the pigments I have to warn my guys, “Guys, be careful.” Because even with watercolors, to test the thickness of the line either by using your lips or by painting a line across the top of your hand – when you are using cinnabar (mercury-sulfide), malachite (copper carbonate hydroxide), copper-arsenite, it’s not very wise to be painting your hands. And my friends here in Kathmandu – quite famous thangka painters – they keep preparing the point of the brushes by painting a line on their hands, and they’ve been doing this for ages, but…
DUNHAM: They’re not going to change.
FIENI: They’re not going to change. And they say, “Hey, look at me. I’m fine. It’s not so toxic.” OK, maybe they are lucky but it’s better not to risk the lives of my trainees.
DUNHAM: In the case of my teacher, he died of liver cancer when he was about 50.
FIENI: I can understand. In Italy, in past generations of artists – there are all the stories about them dying from tumors because of the chemicals they came in contact with. Here, in Mustang, we push a lot for the guys to take precautions and to use anti-gas masks.
DUNHAM: Gas masks?
FIENI: Here’s an example: We were in Lo Gekar. We were using a very strong chemical called Dimethylformamide [usually shortened to DMF – a solvent for chemical reactions, linked to cancer in humans, and thought to cause birth defects] and you need to wear a mask; it’s heavy stuff. And we were working in a small room and there were two clay statues that needed to be cleaned. Those statues had been historically placed near the entrance of the monastery. They were considered to be protector demons -- dharmapalas. My trainees were scared of working on them. I said, “Come on, guys, the monastery has been de-consecrated. The dharmapalas won’t harm you. Just wear the masks.
But the guys didn’t believe me.
Anyway, I had to be away for a week and when I came back, the guys hadn’t touched the statues except for one tiny area – about three square inches. I asked, “What happened?” And they said, “We told you, the statues are dangerous. The minute we started working on them, we got headaches and started vomiting.” I asked, “Did you wear the masks?” And they hadn’t. When I tried to explain that they vomited because they hadn’t worn the masks, they still wouldn’t believe me. So I put on a mask and worked on the statues for three hours, with them watching in the background. When they saw with their own eyes that the demons didn’t kill me because I was “defiling” them – then and only then did the guys work on the statues.
DUNHAM: How old were the statues?
FIENI: Well, Lo Gekar supposedly predates the structures in Lo Manthang. Supposedly dating back to the 7th-8th century. If you follow the legend, it had to be built in order that Samye could be built.
[The legend of Lo Gekar begins with a demon, which was destroying the foundations of Samye Monastery, under construction, located in south-central Tibet. Guru Rinpoche, who had just brought Buddhism to Tibet and was overseeing the construction of Samye, pursued the demon southwest, deep into Mustang. The two fought among Mustang’s snow peaks, desert canyons and grasslands. Guru Rinpoche prevailed, and he scattered the demon’s body parts across Mustang. The intestines fell down to where there is now the famous Mani wall. The heart fell down to where Lo Gekar is now. They built shrines all over Mustang to commemorate where the body parts of the demon fell and to celebrate Guru Rinpoche’s victory over the demon.]
DUNHAM: Yeh, I know that story. Guru Rinpoche was in a lot of places – a busy man.
FIENI: Well, he could fly. I would have done the same.
DUNHAM: And he didn’t need a visa.
FIENI: Yes, that too. And if you believe in the legend, Lo Gekar dates back to the 7th-8th century. But from what we could determine, the paintings we were working on were not 7th century at all – they were painted much, much later: 19th century. However, through the cracks, we could see that there were at least two layers of older paintings.
And this was a common custom in temple painting. The painters didn’t know about restoration. They didn’t know that there were methods of cleaning dirty wall paintings. So if the paintings were not clean anymore, they would either just destroy them or paint on top of the old paintings. As I said, we found evidence of older paintings behind the newer ones, but we could not gamble with what we already had – to take down the 19th century paintings, only to find a tiny area of older painting worth restoring – that would have been terrible.
DUNHAM: What’s left to do in Lo Manthang?
FIENI: My hope – apart from completing the project – is to create an example for Westerners by training and using local teams.
We already started this some years ago in China. There was a selection of five guys, who were the best in Sichuan, and they were training conservation techniques to Chinese locals. Unfortunately, we were kicked out about the time of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games because of the Tibetan riots in Lhasa and other places. I had projects in Lhasa and in the Chengdu area. Both projects were closed immediately. Americans have funded all of my projects and you know how sensitive the Chinese are about that. But the local people I had been working with proved that they could train other people, even after I left. They trained the locals, worked together, lived together – just as I had done in Mustang – they were getting along very well with each other, and with great results.
So I believe in this process and that it should be spread all over Asia. I am hoping to get more projects and train the teams as future teachers. In this way, slowly-slowly, the knowledge of conservation can be passed on and spread throughout Asia.
DUNHAM: It’s a damn shame you were kicked out of China.
FIENI: Especially since China could be a very good propellant for this sort of work. China should be happy with the kind of work I’m trying to do in Asia. I’m really trying to concentrate on respecting the local cultures, against the Western theories and the Western colonization mindset. I’ve tried to say as much, when documentaries were made about the Mustang project, but the filmmakers invariably edit out all my political anti-colonial statements.
FIENI: They say it isn’t “nice” to be critical of China.
To visit Luigi Fieni’s website
To view an eight-minute documentary about the Mustang project, produced in 2005
To view the trailer of a later documentary, MUSTANG – JOURNEY OF TRANSFORMATION, narrated by Richard Gere
March 29, 2013
By Nitin A. Gokhale, senior Editor Defence & Security NDTV
For the past decade or so, much of Indian strategic thinking and discourse has visibly shifted from its Pakistan-centric focus to study Sino-Indian relations. The rise of China and its implications for India is now a preferred area of serious study.
At the same time Chinese inroads into India's strategic neighbourhood, Beijing's continuing attempts to use Pakistan's as cat's paw against India and New Delhi's balancing act of evolving a strategic partnership with the United States even while keeping a dialogue going with China are some of the highlights of the past decade. Many authors write about India-China relations, the emerging US-India-Japan trilateral compact but there are very few authoritative and knowledgeable Indian writers who have a deep insight into Chinese strategic thinking and the internal dynamics within China.
Jayadeva Ranade, a former Additional Secretary in India's Cabinet Secretariat, an euphemism for the country's external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), is one such analyst. A frequent writer in leading newspapers and regular panelist on Indian Television channels, Ranade was also associated with the Centre for Airpower Studies (CAPS) for a couple of years after he retired from active service. As the foremost China hand in RAW, Ranade was engaged in keeping a close watch on day to day developments around China and its implications for India.
After retirement however he was not constrained by the compulsions of government policies and requirement. Freed of encumbrances, Ranade has utilised the luxury of being an independent analyst in his post-retirement writings for CAPS as well as for different newspapers. The sum total of all his writings in the 2010-2012 period has resulted in a book China Unveiled: Insights into Chinese Strategic Thinking.
Released by National Security Adviser (NSA) Shiv Shankar Menon, himself a China thinker, the book is a valuable asset for every serious student of China. Ranade's vast experience in dealing with China both from the ground (he was in Beijing when the Tiananmen Square incident happened in 1989) and from his perch as the leading analyst in the agency, shines through the book.
Unlike most Indian writers, Ranade has chosen to write on China and Chinese leadership as a standalone subject rather than through the prism of Sino-Indian dynamic. So you have a great insight into Hu Jintao's rise and his real power. By tracing his roots, his rise and his tenure through little known facts, Ranade draws a completely refreshing profile of Hu, who has just handed over the reins of power to Xi Jingping. In the first chapter Hu's in charge? Ranade states "though Hu's tenure has been dogged by comments that he is not powerful as his predecessors, his career path shows otherwise. It is likely that Hu Jintao's influence will, in fact, continue to linger well after he steps down from office (January 2011)."
In less than three months after profiling Hu Jintao, Ranade wrote at length on Xi Jingping in the chapter China's Next Chairman: Xi Jingping. And again broughtout unknown facts and anecdotes. His prognosis of Xi's likely stand (March 2011)--"What can be inferred with reasonable surety is that Xi Jinping’s military affiliations and pronounced linkages with senior PLA officers will influence his policies. The military will receive high budgetary allocations and the focus on the PLA’s modernisation will continue. ‘Integrated joint operations’ and preparations for fighting ‘short duration regional wars under hi-tech informatised conditions’ will remain a feature. He is likely to stay with the current policy, which combines diplomacy with a strong suggestion of military muscle"--is bang on. All developments in recent months after Xi has formally taken over confirms what Ranade predicted two years ago!
The strength of this compilation in fact remains in its accurate prognosis.
For instance in the chapter entitled India and China: The way forward (December 2010) he correctly assesses how the relationship will pan out. "India-China relations specifically need to be viewed in this backdrop. The Chinese leadership’s view of India is significant. While discussing India in interactions with foreign strategists and diplomats, Chinese officials and members of Chinese government-controlled think-tanks list three main items as issues of concern. These are, in the Chinese-listed order of priority: the Dalai Lama and Tibet issue; the border dispute; and India’s geopolitical ambitions. These can be classified as tactical and short-term, medium-to-long term and strategic.
"For example, during the US-China Strategic Dialogue in Washington a few months ago, when the US proposed a US-China-India trilateral, China vehemently rejected the idea and questioned how the US could place India anywhere near on par with China when the two were not at all comparable. Noteworthy also is the omission by China of vital natural resource issues like water and food, which will become serious factors that bedevil the relationship in the next ten to fifteen years."
China's new leader Xi Jingping and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in fact met at Durban during the BRICS summit in South Africa on 27 March 2013. Just days before that meeting the Chinese had suggested a five point formula to take forward the Sino-Indian relationship. Much of the proposal is old but it very much resembles what Ranade said over two years ago!
Although the book deals with a range of subjects, its main focus remains contemporary China. The 32 essays that comprise the book presents a comprehensive 360 degree look at present day China dealing with subjects ranging from rapid modernisation of the PLA, the changing nature of China's Communist Party, environment to China's maritime ambitions and cyber strategy.
If there is one drawback in the book that serious scholars of India-China relationship will complain about is the lack of citations and references. But as the publishers and author himself have clarified, the book is meant as an easy reading and not a heavy tome full of notes and index!
Anyone interested in today's China, must read this book if only to understand the complex challenge that the middle kingdom poses to strategic thinkers.
Title: China Unveiled Insights Into Chinese Strategic Thinking
Author: Jayadeva Ranade
Introduction: Air Commodore Jasjit Singh AVSM,VrC, VM (Retd)
Publisher: KW Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
ISBN 13: 9789381904435
ISBN 10: 938190443X
Printed INR: 860.00
Binding: Hard Cover
March 20, 2013
“Beijing moves to safeguard strategic interests in South Asia”, written by Jayadeva Ranade, was published yesterday by DNA. The last half of the article should be of particular interest to those who monitor the precarious status of Tibetans living in Nepal.
There are discernible moves by China in recent weeks to safeguard its strategic interests, especially in South Asia. These are part of adjustments that the new Chinese leadership, prompted by its assessment that China is facing an adverse international environment, is carrying out. China’s policy towards Asia will become evident as senior foreign ministry appointments approved by the National People’s Congress (NPC) are implemented.
Meanwhile, Beijing posted a new ambassador to India this January, reportedly for the first time with the rank of vice minister. The recent ambassadorial appointments to Myanmar and Nepal, however, attract special attention. These portend that Beijing will pursue its foreign policy objectives in these countries of strategic importance in a more determined fashion.
Fifty seven-year old Yang Houlan, till recently China’s Ambassador to Nepal, had his tenure cut short and was posted to Myanmar earlier this February. Reports assert that the work done by him in Nepal was appreciated in Beijing and he was specially selected for the assignment in Yangon.
China has had decades-long close ties with Myanmar’s military junta and these are now getting loosened. Over the years, China has made sizeable strategic investments in Myanmar, including the almost completed oil pipeline from Kyaukpyu Island in Rakhine to Kunming, capital of China’s Yunan province. It is currently in the process of constructing a gas pipeline along the same alignment. The restoration of normal ties between the US and Myanmar, soon to be followed by the likely ingress of US companies is a serious concern for Beijing.
An additional complication is Tokyo’s interest in Myanmar. China’s influence in Myanmar is now at risk.
Yang Houlan’s main task in Myanmar will be to preserve the close ties between the Myanmar and Chinese authorities and ensure continued Chinese influence. Reflecting Beijing’s concern at the developments in Myanmar, China’s foreign affairs establishment has taken the unusual step of appointing retired 71-year-old vice foreign minister, Wang Yifan, as its special envoy for Myanmar. He will reinforce Yang Houlan’s efforts from Beijing.
The appointment of China’s new ambassador to Nepal, Wu Chuntai, is more interesting. Nepal has been the focus of Beijing’s attention for a few years now because of the activities of the Tibetan refugees. Chinese influence has spread rapidly throughout Nepal coinciding particularly with the political ascendance of Pushpa Kamal Dahal, chairman of the UCPN-Maoist, better known by his nom de guerre ‘Prachanda’.
Prachanda is well known to the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department (UFWD). He is a vice president of the Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation (APECF) managed by Xiao Wunan, a Chinese communist cadre reputedly close to Chinese President Xi Jinping. The APECF is actively involved in trying to co-opt Tibetan Buddhists and persons of Tibetan origin in Nepal to prevent ‘anti-China’ activities and undermine the Dalai Lama’s influence. It has plans to broaden its range of activities to include Tibetan Buddhists residing in other areas along India’s vulnerable Himalayan border and is especially targeting the Tibetan Buddhist clergy. The APECF last year proposed a capital-intensive plan to develop Lumbini, which is the Buddha’s birthplace and a town situated on Nepal’s border with India.
[For more information on APECF click on my "Lumbini: Birthplace of Buddha" file.]
China’s new ambassador, Wu Chuntai, brings special skills to his assignment. Immediately prior to being posted to Kathmandu, he was the deputy director general of the department of external security of China’s ministry of foreign affairs. The department is headed by Quo Guohong, a former ambassador to Nepal. This department handles counter-intelligence, protection of Chinese personnel posted in embassies overseas, and security-related work relating to Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan. Usually the heads of chancery, or officials in-charge of administration in Chinese diplomatic missions abroad, handle such work and report to this department.
While Wu Chuntai, who joined the foreign service 27 years ago, has never done an assignment as ambassador, he has been posted to Turkey, the UK, Northern Ireland and as first secretary in Hong Kong. He has extensive experience relating to Tibetans-in-exile.
Wu Chuntai received a positive reception on arrival in Kathmandu and, after presenting credentials to Nepal’s President Dr Ram Baran Yadav on March 11, met Prachanda the following day. During the meeting he discussed the political situation in Nepal and matters relating to Tibetan refugees and Tibetans resident in Nepal. He indicated that China would invest in communications infrastructure projects.
With the arrival of Wu Chuntai, the Tibetan community in Nepal can expect to come under increased pressure in the coming months. The Chinese embassy in Kathmandu is also likely to become more pro-active in infiltrating the Tibetan community in India.
Jayadeva Ranade is a member of the National Security Advisory Board and former additional secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India.
March 12, 2013
China's ambassador to Kathmandu was recently pictured in a traditional Nepali cap and silk scarf, digging with a spade to symbolise the laying of the foundations of a new dry port near the Tibet border.
The photo opportunity marked the latest in a series of major projects that underscore China's growing economic influence in Nepal, where it is building roads and investing billions of dollars in hydropower and telecommunications.
Other Chinese projects in its impoverished, electricity-starved Himalayan neighbour include a $1.6 billion hydropower plant which is expected finally to end power outages which extend to 14 hours a day in winter.
Meanwhile China recently completed a 22-kilometre (14-mile) stretch of road in central Nepal connecting the country's southern plains with the Tibetan county of Kyirong, to form the shortest motorable overland route between China and India.
Analysts have questioned whether Beijing's largesse is a gesture to a neighbour in need, or the result of a foreign policy which increasingly sees Nepal's roads and dry ports as a doorway to the huge markets of India.
"I am sure that these infrastructure projects will help win influence in Nepal but they will serve a dual purpose," said Purna Basnet, a Nepalese political commentator who frequently writes on Chinese influence in Nepal.
"It will be easier for China to supply goods to India via Nepal. There is even a talk of connecting Kathmandu with their rail networks in Tibet.
"The Shigatse-Lhasa railway will be completed in a couple of years. From Shigatse, they have plans to connect Kathmandu through railways."
India has traditionally exerted huge political influence and is Kathmandu's biggest trading partner and sole provider of fuel.
Since the end of a bloody decade-long civil war in 2006 and the emergence of the Maoist rebels who fought the state as the largest political party, China has been gradually -- and literally -- making inroads as a counterweight to India.
Chinese ambassador Yang Houlan outlined his country's vision of Kathmandu as a trade gateway to New Delhi in a recent op-ed article in Nepal's English-language Republica newspaper.
"From an economic viewpoint, Nepal links China (with 1.3 billion people) with South Asia (with 1.5 billion). The huge common market provides great opportunities for both China and South Asia," he wrote.
"China is pushing its Develop West' strategy, and South Asia represents one of the main overseas investment opportunities. Nepal could provide China the much-needed overland channel to South Asia."
February 21, 2013
The following analysis, written by Jayadeva Ranade for DNA, was published February 20, 2013.
On January 29, 2013, Lobsang Gyaltsen was appointed the new Governor of China’s Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), dampening hope in certain quarters of the Tibetan community in exile that China’s new leadership might opt for a ‘softer’ policy towards Tibetans. The post of governor is typically reserved for Tibetans who are loyal apparatchiks of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and Lobsang Gyaltsen is no exception.
The optimism among Tibetans was sparked by the family background of the new CCP General Secretary, Xi Jinping. His father, Xi Zhongxun, served as interpreter to the Dalai Lama’s special envoy Lodi Gyari. Well into his twilight years, Xi Zhongxun wore a wrist watch that was previously worn by the Dalai Lama and later presented to him. He was a friend of the late 10th Panchen Lama and, as if to underscore this connection, a letter written by Xi Zhongxun to the 10th Panchen Lama was published quite inexplicably in China’s Mainland media in September last year just prior to the 18th Party Congress.
There are also reports that Xi Jinping’s wife, Peng Liyuan, a well known Chinese opera singer who holds the rank of major general in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), is a practicing Buddhist. There was an expectation that this background would influence Xi Jinping’s policy towards Tibet and Tibetans.
Xiao Wunan, a Chinese cadre affiliated with the CCP’s United Front Work Department (UFWD) and reportedly with connections to Xi Jinping, sought to heighten this anticipation. During his one day visit to Dharamsala in mid-August 2012, he met the Dalai Lama, Karmapa Ugyen Thinley Dorje and the Sikyong, or ‘Senior Leader’, of the Central Tibetan Administration, Lobsang Sangay.
[For more information about Xiao Wunan, see my article on Wunan’s role in exploiting Lumbini, the historical Buddha’s birthplace in Nepal:]
However, this optimism had overlooked the CCP doctrinaire approach and emphasis placed on the loyalty and political reliability of Party cadres at its 18th Congress. It also ignored the absence of representation for China’s minority nationalities in the two recently-constituted top bodies of the CCP, namely the 25-member Politburo (PB) and seven-member Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC).
The 55-year old Lobsang Gyaltsen’s rise in the TAR Party hierarchy has been steady since he joined the CCP in 1978. In fact, the former hard line TAR Party secretary Zhang Qingli had made clear in 2010 that Lobsang Gyaltsen, who till last August was seventh in the TAR hierarchy,would be groomed for the number three position -- that of governor -- in TAR.
Born in 1957, Lobsang Gyaltsen started his political career by joining the Communist Youth League in TAR in 1978 and completed his post-graduate degree from the CCP Central Committee’s Central Party School.
A Khampa from Dragyab in Chamdo Prefecture, Lobsang Gyaltsen is described by persons who have met him as a dour, humorless person and an ideologue.
His work experience has been confined to TAR, where he has served at the prefectural level, Lhasa municipal level, the TAR United Front Department, the TAR People’s Political Consultative Conference (PPCC), the TAR Political and Legal Committee -- which oversees public security — and the TAR Government.
Though Lobsang Gyaltsen’s visibility appeared to have decreased under new TAR Party secretary Chen Quanguo, there were indicators that his rise in the hierarchy would be unimpeded.
He was selected a Delegate from TAR to the 18th Party Congress and, later at the Congress, elected an alternate member of the 18th CC. His elevation as governor of the sensitive border Autonomous Region suggests that he could play a more important role in Tibetan affairs in the years to come.
Possibly less known is Lobsang Gyaltsen’s involvement in recent efforts to quell the self-immolations in TAR. After the self-immolation by 43-year old Gudrup in Nagchu Prefecture on October 4, 2012, Lobsang Gyaltsen spent three weeks in Nagchu impressing upon local cadres the paramount importance of maintaining ‘social stability’ and vigilance against the efforts at infiltration by the Dalai Lama’s group.
He visited six of the ten counties in the Prefecture. However, this appeared to have little effect since as soon as he left Driru County, where he had spent four days, instances of double self immolations by monks occurred in the County on October 25 and November 7. Sog County, which also he visited, witnessed a similar scene. Driru County is, incidentally, next-door to Lhari County in Nagchu which is home to both, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, recognized by the Dalai Lama as the XIth Panchen Lama and Gyaincain Norbu, the Panchen Lama appointed by the Chinese authorities.
There is little to suggest any change in China’s policy towards Tibet or Tibetans and this is reinforced by Lobsang Gyaltsen’s appointment. China’s leaders are nevertheless concerned that the continuing self-immolations and restiveness among Tibetans could spread throughout the country. This may prompt them to initiate overtures limited to defusing internal tensions.
February 14, 2012
JIM YARDLEY of the New York Times filed this report:
Feb. 13, 2013 – A Tibetan man walked onto a street Wednesday morning in Katmandu, the capital of Nepal, poured gasoline over his body and set himself on fire. Engulfed in flames, and writhing in pain, the monk became the latest Tibetan to self-immolate as part of a protest campaign against Chinese rule in Tibet.
In Nepal, a small Himalayan nation that is home to thousands of Tibetan exiles, authorities said the monk was hospitalized in critical condition. Witnesses told The Associated Press that the man, who was dressed in the robes of a Buddhist monk, shouted slogans against China before falling to the ground, as others quickly put out the flames and called for help.
Photographs showed Nepalese security officers arriving as the protester stood in the middle of the street, his body consumed by flames and black smoke.
This latest self-immolation comes at a wrenching moment for Tibetans inside and outside China. Desperate to focus global attention on political and religious repression inside Tibet, yet barred by Chinese authorities from holding any political protests there, a growing number of young Tibetan men and women have set themselves on fire during the last three years.
The protest campaign is now approaching the grim milestone of 100 self-immolations in Tibetan areas of China: Exiled Tibetan political leaders in India, as well as the advocacy group, Save Tibet, have documented 99 such incidents inside China since February 2009. A handful of Tibetans outside Tibet also have self-immolated, including a man who set himself afire in March 2012 during a pro-Tibet protest in New Delhi. His image, captured by a news photographer, ricocheted around the world.
The protester in Nepal has not yet been identified but he timed his self-immolation to coincide with the important Tibetan festival of Losar, the Tibetan New Year, during which the government in exile has asked Tibetans not to celebrate in solidarity with Tibetans still in Tibet.
The protester set himself on fire near a major Buddhist stupa, or religious structure, that is located in the Boudhanath section of Katmandu, where many Tibetan exiles live.
A waiter at the Golden Eye Café told The Associated Press that the Tibetan man used the bathroom in the restaurant before stepping outside onto the street. Later, the waiter found a bottle of gasoline and clothing in the bathroom.
“He looked like the hundreds of Tibetans who came to Boudhanath today and I did not suspect he was going to set himself on fire,” the waiter, Prasant Tamang, said.
The Chinese government has condemned the self-immolations as criminal acts and has been waging a police crackdown. Last week, Chinese state media reported that at least 70 people had been arrested or detained in a Tibetan region of the province of Qinghai and accused of inciting others to self-immolate. Last Friday, a Chinese court sentenced a Tibetan man to 13 years in prison on similar charges.
Lobsang Sangay, the prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile, expressed sadness about the self-immolation in Nepal and said his administration has asked Tibetans not to take drastic actions, including self-immolation. But he also placed the blame for such acts on the Chinese government.
"The occupation of Tibet and repression of Tibetans are the primary reason for the self-immolations inside Tibet," Mr. Sangay said by email on Wednesday, while he was visiting the United States. "The solution to the tragedy in Tibet lies with Beijing and my administration is fully committed to dialogue and to address the issue peacefully."
For decades, Chinese leaders have vilified the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, and the country’s state-run media have recently been blaming him for orchestrating the self-immolations. Tibetans have dismissed such claims as blatant propaganda and argued that the self-immolations are the result of repressive Chinese policies that have sharply restructured political and religious rights in Tibetan areas.
“Why do the Tibetans burn themselves?” asked Penpa Tsering, speaker of the exiled Tibetan Parliament, which is based in Dharamsala, India, in a speech earlier this month. “Political freedom in Tibet is nonexistent.”
Nepal is pinched between China and India and for decades as served as way station for Tibetans escaping from Chinese rule. In recent years, Chinese leaders have pressured Nepal’s government to choke off this flow of refugees and to also limit political protests by Tibetans living in Nepal.
February 5, 2013
CHINA’S 18th PARTY CONGRESS:
(Nov 8-14, 2012)
TRENDS AND ANALYSIS
by JAYADEVA RANADE
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s week-long (Nov 8-14) 18th Congress, which concluded on November 14, 2012, marked an important milestone in the evolution of the CCP. It saw the smooth transfer of power to leaders of the next generation despite the severe political disruption caused by the unbridled ambition of Bo Xilai, the now ousted former Politburo (PB) member with unimpeachable ‘Red Revolutionary’ lineage. The disruption impacted, however, on the composition of the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) where the preference was for stolid apparatchiks bound by traditional Party ideology and discipline. The Party Centre was also able to ensure that an acceptable political document was approved, namely Hu Jintao’s Work Report, a key Congress document which was drafted from the beginning under Xi Jinping’s leadership. Most importantly, the Congress oversaw the hand over of power to a pair of new leaders who had not been selected by ‘Long March’ veterans, and a set of PBSC and PB members who have entirely different academic and social backgrounds than their predecessors and all of whom grew and joined the CCP during the tumultuous Cultural Revolution years.
Indirectly acknowledging the growing popular discontent caused by a variety of factors including corruption, rising income inequality, pollution and food adulteration, the 18th Party Congress opened in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on November 8, 2012, amidst unprecedented high security. 1,704 journalists covered the event attended by 2,280 Delegates and 20 special invitees like Song Ping, Qiao Shi, Li Peng and Jiang Zemin, who also cast votes. Heating was turned up in Beijing since the end of October for comfort of the 2,270 Delegates and 1.4 million ‘volunteers’ were mobilized for security work in Beijing. Irate ‘netizens’ complained that over 660 persons had been assigned to protect each Delegate. China sealed its borders with Myanmar, India and Nepal and put security forces on higher vigil in the Tibet and Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Regions. The opening and closing ceremonies were marred, however, by news of the self-immolation of five Tibetans across China’s Tibetan populated areas on November 7 and some more on the closing days of the Congress.
Reflecting the CCP’s increased strength of 82.6 million, 2,270 Delegates, each representing 38,000 Party members, were selected for the 18th Party Congress. 50 additional Delegates represented ‘businessmen’. The CCP’s changing complexion was evident in the inclusion among the Delegates of 160 of China’s 1,024 wealthiest men. The number of Delegates representing the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) registered a slight increase at 251 against 249 for the 17th Congress. Hinting at the deleterious impact of the Bo Xilai incident on the PLA, China’s official news-agency ‘Xinhua’, while reporting that the PLA’s list of Delegates had been finalised, specifically observed that all 251 had been hand-picked for their blemish-free political reliability and record.
The strength of the Party’s 18th Central Committee (CC) registered a marginal increase from 371 to 376. The average age of the new 18th CC, however, dropped to 56.1 with 166 of the 205 full members born in the 1950s. The number of women reduced to 33. There are 39 ethnic minorities represented in the CC, though the number of Tibetans in the CC has dropped from 2 to 1. Interestingly, the number of Tibetans among the alternate members of the CC, at the same time, rose to an all time high of 4.
Notable is the reduced size of the PBSC, from 9 to 7. Reliable reports circulating in Beijing claimed that the size of the PBSC was conclusively decided only on November 14 evening. The reduced size meant that unlike in the earlier PBSC no leaders from the successor ‘sixth generation’ were inducted, though at least 9 potential candidates for the top jobs are present in the PB. Ethnic minorities are not represented in the PBSC or PB, perhaps suggestive of an increased emphasis on political reliability and loyalty to the Party.
The 7-member Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) led by 62-year old Xi Jinping with Li Keqiang comprises dependable apparatchiks who adhere to the Party line and discipline and will neither brook any violation. Four of them are ‘princelings’.
[Note by Dunham: The Politburo Standing Committee membership is as follows:
Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party
Li Keqiang, Vice Premier of the People's Republic of China
Zhang Dejiang, Communist Party Committee Secretary, Chongqing
Yu Zhengshen, Communist Party Committee Secretary, Shanghai
Liu Yunshan, Director, Propaganda Department
Wang Qishan, Secretary, Central Commission for Discipline and Inspection
Zhang Gaoli, Communist Party Committee Secretary, Tianjin]
Liu Yunshan is a conservative and has been uncompromising in controlling and implementing the Party’s approved narrative even when it meant excising portions of speeches made by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. He effectively managed the propaganda apparatus during the riots in Tibet in 2008 and drove a wedge between the Han majority and Tibetans. As PBSC member he continues to oversee Propaganda, Culture and Education, implying that strict policing of the media and cyberspace will continue combined with strenuous propagation of Party ideology. He is also President of the Central Party School and Executive Secretary of the influential 18th CCP CC Secretariat, indicating he could be appointed Vice President by the National People’s Congress (NPC) this March, when Xi Jinping is confirmed as President.
1947-born PBSC member Zhang Dejiang, a ‘princeling’ and son of former PLA Major General Zhang Zhiyi, is a disciplinarian and was educated in economics in North Korea. He will be appointed NPC Chairman this March and is likely to be the link between the Chinese and North Korean leadership. Yu Zhengsheng, is another ‘princeling’ and as CPPCC Chairman will guide matters relating to China’s ethnic minority nationalities and non-communist parties with a firm, conservative hand. His record is that of an orthodox Party administrator.
The appointment of Wang Qishan, a ‘princeling’ and son-in-law of former PBSC member Yao Yilin, as Chief of the Party’s anti-corruption watchdog body, the Central Discipline Inspection Commission (CDIC), has prompted persistent speculation in Beijing that a crackdown on corruption will get underway early in 2013. Hong Kong‘s ‘South China Morning Post’ on November 26, observed that Wang Qishan’s skills would be put to the test as “the state will collapse if the Party does not tackle corruption, but the Party will collapse if the anti-corruption push is too hard”. Wang Qishan is respected internationally as a tough economic administrator. The appointment of Wang Qishan as CDIC Chief removes a potential rival in economic administration to Li Keqiang, and will dilute efforts to reduce the economic empires of the SoEs.
The new Executive Vice Premier in charge of Economic issues, Zhang Gaoli, is fond of large government guided projects and has a reputation of working with powerful business interests rather than challenging them. He is unlikely to downsize SoEs. At the same time, he has the reputation of being a stern taskmaster and is credited with promoting the retail sector as a way of creating jobs other than in the construction and manufacturing sectors.
All of them except Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang will step down in 2017, reinforcing the assessment that they have been inducted into the PBSC to strengthen Party ideology, and provide stability and continuity to the Party at a time when it has been severely bruised by the Bo Xilai incident.
The other important facet of power for the CCP is the PLA and here too the power transition was smooth. In a major departure from past practice, except for the top post of Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), China’s top military leadership line-up was formally announced before the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s 18th Party Congress opened. The unusually early announcement of key appointments, including those of the Beijing Military Region Commander and Commander of the 38th Group Army based at Baoding both of whom have traditionally been individuals in whom the Party Chief reposes confidence, indicates that Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping are firmly in charge of the PLA and that Hu Jintao’s influence will continue. It confirms earlier indications that Hu Jintao and his designated successor had a close, collaborative working relationship, undoubtedly facilitated by Hu Jintao’s friendly ties with Xi Jinping’s father, Xi Zhongxun. In apparent confirmation of reports emanating from Beijing since July 2012, that Hu Jintao was reluctant to retain office, Hu Jintao handed over charge of the powerful post of Chairman of the CMC to Xi Jinping on November 11. The authoritative ‘Global Times’, a subsidiary of the official Party mouthpiece ‘People’s Daily’, on November 18, 2012, heaped fulsome praise on Hu Jintao for setting a “healthy” precedent. Xi Jinping, declared that “Chairman Hu’s important decision fully embodies his profound thinking of the overall development of the Party, country and military. The decision also embodies his exemplary conduct and nobility of character. “
The theme for the Congress had been set a day earlier with Party spokesman Cai Mingzhao asserting that “inner-Party democracy” would be promoted but that “the leading position of the CCP in China is a decision made by history and the people”. A banner wrapped around the inner walls of the room in the Great Hall of the People reading: “Hold high the banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics, use Deng Xiaoping Theory, the Three Represents and the Scientific Outlook on Development as our guidelines!”, echoed the sentiment.
Important political documents relating to the Party Congress are: Hu Jintao’s 30,000-character, 12-part, Work Report to the 18th Party Congress and Xi Jinping’s speeches of November 16 and 17, 2012.
Hu Jintao’s Work Report had a strong undercurrent of Marxist and Maoist ideology. It included references to Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, twice mentioned the ‘Four Cardinal Principles’-- a phrase coined by Deng Xiaoping but usurped by the ’Leftists’-- and spoke of strengthening “core socialist values”. He used the phrase associated with Mao Zedong of “let a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred thoughts contend” and spoke of continuing to adapt Marxism to China’s conditions. The Report mentioned reform 86 times and called for doubling GDP by 2021 from 2010 levels. The Report said “economic entities under all forms of ownership have equal access to factors of production in accordance with law”…”and are protected as equals”, but the emphasis was noticeably on “common prosperity” and economic policies that benefit peasants and rural folk. Emphasising gradual reform it cautioned that “in economic structural reform how to strike a balance between the role of the government and that of the market…” must be examined. Taking note of popular discontent, an entire portion of the 12-part report discussed ‘social management’, the euphemism for domestic security. It also simultaneously addressed popular concerns. For the first time ever a Work Report contained a section on ‘Ecology’ and referred to the need for “resource conserving” and need for an “environmentally friendly society”. It was acknowledgement of popular concern and the efforts of the 3000 environmentalist groups in China. As anticipated an entire section dealt with ‘Defence’ and emphasized that the “most important” task for the armed forces “is to win a local war in the information age”. It said “China should strengthen the armed forces, protect its maritime interests and be prepared for ‘local war’ in the information age”. “We should enhance our capacity for exploiting maritime resources, resolutely safeguard China’s maritime rights and interests and build China into a maritime power”. Other areas of equal importance were identified as cyber and space.
Hu Jintao’s Work Report made some important observations on corruption and political reform. Referring to corruption, he was explicit in his warning that “if we fail to handle this issue well, it could prove fatal to the Party and even cause the collapse of the Party and fall of the state”. On political reforms, which were advocated by ‘liberal’ Chinese intellectuals in a series of articles and speeches in the months before the 18th Congress, Hu Jintao was categoric in imposing limits. He said “reform of the political structure is an important part of China’s overall reforms. We must continue to make both active and prudent efforts to carry out the reform of the political structure and make people’s democracy more extensive, fuller in scope and sounder in practice”. Setting out the Party line, he declared that “we will take neither the old road of closed door and ossified politics, nor the wrong path of changing our banners”. As usual there was minimal reference to foreign policy issues in the Work Report, where only Hong Kong and Taiwan were mentioned by name.
Xi Jinping’s first speech as Party General Secretary to a ‘collective study session’ of the Politburo was also high in ideological content. Xi Jinping, incidentally, has a doctorate in Marxist Philosophy. It emphasized the need to “uphold and develop socialism”, “uphold and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics as the focus, priority…” and “make sure the 18th CCP National Congress guidelines become a powerful ideological weapon”. He asserted that “the theoretical system of socialism with Chinese characteristics is the latest achievement in applying Marxism in China. In contemporary China, to uphold the theoretical system of socialism with Chinese characteristics is to truly uphold Marxism”. Xi Jinping clarified that the CCP will be the sole ruling party in China for a long time. Stating that the CCP’s task is to “make the Chinese people rich, build a strong and prosperous country and rejuvenate the great Chinese nation”, Xi Jinping declared “our Party will always be a strong leadership core in the historical course of upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics”. He listed “combating corruption” and “preventing degeneration” as priority tasks. He has followed this up over the past couple of weeks, including over the New Year, by often citing quotes and excerpts from Mao’s poems.
Speaking at an enlarged meeting of the Central Military Commission (CMC) on November 16, Xi Jinping stressed the need to “take ideological and political building as the top priority in army building” and ensure the Party’s “firm grip over the troops ideologically, politically and organizationally”. He reiterated the importance of “the Party’s absolute leadership over the armed forces”. Xi Jinping announced the criteria for promotions in the PLA: "The military must promote and appoint cadres based on their political performance and guarantee that 'guns' are always controlled by reliable people with loyalty to the Party." He ordered the military to ‘always put the country's sovereignty and security first, comprehensively improve the military's deterrent power and capability of real combat to protect China's sovereignty, security and development interests at an information-based age’. He pledged to enhance the anti-corruption effort and called on senior military officers to take the lead in obeying rules and regulations for self-discipline. A circular issued on December 4, detailed stringent guidelines restricting the hospitality and entertainment offered to senior PLA officers visiting subordinate formations.
The 18th Party Congress has sent out three clear messages. These are of: continuity, re-assertion of the Party’s traditional orthodox values and discipline, and retention of focus on domestic issues including gradual economic reforms leading to “common prosperity”. Domestic security will receive greater attention of the Party General Secretary. The issue of the restive ethnic minorities, and particularly Tibetans, will be a high priority. This portends an increase in China’s activities in Nepal and among Tibetan Buddhists.
On issues concerning sovereignty or maritime and land territorial claims, the new leadership, many of whom have been moulded by adversity during the Cultural Revolution and are mentally tough, will be less flexible and less willing to compromise. China will not resile from its stance on claims in the South China Sea and push the limits to attain its objective, but stop short of triggering conflict. It will exert military pressure including using economic levers. For Beijing, the issue is not merely one of territory, but of regaining its status as the pre-eminent power of the region. To reinforce this the New Year celebrations organized by the CCP in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on Jan 1, 2013, staged “The First Annual ‘Ocean China’ New Year’s Concert”, when the audience was assured that the ocean was “China’s blue-colored territory”. Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream” outlines his ambitions. #The new 7-member PBSC exudes these themes. China’s neighbours, including India and Japan, should be prepared for increased pressure.
Jayadeva Ranade, author of the report, is a former Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India.
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December 7, 2012
Since Mao assumed power mid-20th century, manipulating history as a means of expanding territorial rights has been a consistent theme in Chinese politics. It happened in 1950, when China invaded Tibet. It happened in Yunnan Province in 1954. It happened along India’s border in 1962. Currently, it is happening all over the South China Sea. The communist propaganda that accompanies these disputes is impressive in its intellectual contortions, its unrelenting iron-fist insistence, its weaving into the mix blatant ethnic misrepresentations and “scientific” legitimizations – and the final result is China’s extremely successful concretization of their own version of historic and ancestral rights, with few left who have the nerve or fortitude to question the veracity of Beijing’s totalitarian stance.
The methodology of their propaganda continues to fascinate.
The latest ploy is the new Chinese passport.
Jayadeva Ranade’s “China Reasserts its Self-Perceived Territorial Limits” in yesterday’s DNA sheds new light on China’s continuing flair for elbowing its way onto foreign soil, while distorting history and subduing external objections:
Beijing’s decision to issue new bio-metric passports since May this year, representing what it considers to be the genuine territorial boundaries of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), is not a mere administrative measure. It is an important overt and escalatory step towards the fulfillment of intent.
China followed this up by adding muscle to intent. On October 10, this year the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece, ‘People’s Daily’, publicised Beijing’s plans to use unmanned aerial vehicles to “increase surveillance over its coastal waters, expand its marine surveillance scope, and enhance overall management and control over its territorial waters. A new muscular law, which becomes effective from the beginning of the New Year, now comes in its wake and designates large areas in the South China Sea as part of China’s southern Hainan County and authorises it to take punitive measures to safeguard the country’s sovereignty.
Significantly, Beijing has unveiled its ambitions at a time when its economic and military might is rapidly increasing and it is straining to become the pre-eminent power in the Asia-Pacific.
Neither is this latest move restricted to reassertion of rights over disputed maritime territories such as in the South China Sea or Sea of Japan and depiction of the South China Sea as the PRC’s “national” territory. Reports state that each page in the new passport has a different background, with pictures provided by the Chinese media showing one of the pages containing a map depicting Taiwan and another showing China’s claims along the land borders with India like in Arunachal Pradesh and the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh and the Aksai Chin area of Jammu and Kashmir are shown as within China’s boundaries.
Predictably, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan and India have protested China’s action but none has yet barred entry for holders of these passports. India began reacting from this September by affixing special visas, which show the country’s official territorial boundaries. By this action it has forced holders of PRC passports visiting India to implicitly accept India’s version of its borders!
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying confirmed at the regular press briefing in Beijing that these maps, or background motifs as they are called by the Chinese authorities, were carefully chosen by the Chinese government. Hinting that Beijing will not recant from its position and, in a thinly concealed attempt to shift blame for any turbulence in bilateral relations caused by China’s provocative action, he added “we hope that the relevant countries take a rational and sensible attitude ... to avoid causing interference with normal Sino-foreign personnel exchanges”.
The passport is actually a restatement of China’s perceived territorial limits and appears to mirror the extent of the Chinese nation as envisioned in the maps published by Beijing in 1954, and which continue to be taught in China till today. The map, which was part of a textbook titled “A Brief History of Modern China”,claimed to show nineteen of “the Chinese territories taken by the Imperialists in the old Democratic Revolutionary Era (1840-1919)”. These included Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, India’s north-east comprising the former states of Assam, NEFA and Nagaland, the Andaman Islands and Burma.
In this context the remark in New Delhi on November 28, 2012, by Li Junru, former vice president of the Central Party School and presently a member of the Chinese Peoples’ Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), is revealing. He said: “For us Chinese, starting from primary school students, we all know that from history, from a long time that these are ours, these are our territory and other people say no, it is ours. So what can we do? We are trying to have negotiations and dialogue with relevant parties concerned, and we wish to have dialogues and negotiations in a one-on-one manner. And we don’t want to use force or to intimidate others by our economic or military pressure.”
He added “We want to resolve the issue in a better way … but that does not mean that if somebody flexes muscles, we will just idle and do nothing. China will not act recklessly, but that does not mean that we will give in”.
China has been reviewing its “neighbourhood” policy since last year, with Chinese military strategists and political analysts asserting that the policy of “appeasing” neighbours and “setting aside disputes” is not working. They recommended it be replaced by one which combines cooperation with credible commitments to use of force. The principle of sovereignty and long-term national interests, they affirm, is China’s top priority. China’s new military leadership has already indicated it favours such a policy.
Jayadeva Ranada is a former additional secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India.
November 26, 2012
Below, Jayadeva Ranade’s “Bright Red Future” was first published in DNA on Nov. 23, 2012:
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s week-long (November 8-14) 18th Congress concluded on schedule after tough, protracted negotiations on personnel appointments stretching up to November 14th. It elected a seven-member Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) led by 62-year-old Xi Jinping. Setting speculation to rest, Xi Jinping succeeded Hu Jintao to all his posts including, significantly, to that of Chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission (CMC).
Notable is the reduced size of the Party’s highest body, namely the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) from nine to seven. The number of Politburo (PB) members is constant at 25, but the strength of the Party’s Central Committee (CC) increased from 371 to 376. The PBSC’s reduced size meant that unlike in the past no leaders from the successor ‘sixth generation’ were inducted. Unlike the previous PBSC or PB, neither of them include a representative of China’s ethnic minorities, though there are 39 ethnic minorities represented in the CC. The number of Tibetans in the CC dropped from two to one, however, there are four Tibetans among the alternate members of the CC. The number of women has reduced to 33. The new CC is younger with 80%, or 166 of the 205 full members, born in the 1950s. There are nine who were born in the 1960s and it is from among these nine ‘sixth generation’ leaders that successors to Chinese president Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang will emerge by 2022.
Three clear messages have been sent out by the 18th Congress. These are: continuity, re-assertion of the Party’s traditional values and discipline, and a focus on domestic issues including graduated economic reforms leading to “common prosperity”. The new seven-member PBSC exudes these themes.
Continuity implies little change from the policies followed by Hu Jintao during his tenure. That the Party’s traditional values will be emphasized was evident in the speeches of Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping, both of whom stressed the validity of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought and referred to the ‘Four Cardinal Principles’—a phrase coined by Deng Xiaoping but later usurped by the Leftists. Xi Jinping’s speech at the Politburo’s first collective study session on Nov 17, in fact, contained numerous phrases and references from Marxist ideology and emphasized the importance of communist ideology.
Serious domestic issues confront the new Chinese leadership. There is widespread popular discontent generated by a variety of issues like widening income inequality, rampant corruption, pollution and food adulteration, non-payment of salaries and arrears, lay-offs etc. Popular tension is exacerbated by China’s ‘netizens’. The level of discontent is evident from the rising incidence of protests, which in 2010, were estimated at 1,80,000 and anticipated to increase by 8-12% each year, prompting an increase in the country’s security budget -- to higher than the national defence budget -- for the past two consecutive years.
The issues were reflected in Hu Jintao’s Work Report to the 18th Congress on November 14, his last to a Party Congress. The Work Report candidly highlighted that the Party’s very survival was in danger if corruption remained unchecked. The theme was reiterated by Xi Jinping in his very first speech. For the first time ever a Work Report to the Party Congress also referred to environment and ecology. The issues have sparked numerous protests across China over the past three years and a lot of unrestrained discussion on China’s cyberspace. They are kept alive by the 3000 Chinese environmentalist groups.
All members of the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) are stolid, dependable apparatchiks who adhere to the Party line and discipline and will neither brook any violation. Their selection is evidence of the Bo Xilai incident’s impact on the Party. It is reinforced by the elevation to the PBSC of Party propaganda chief Liu Yunshan, who has been uncompromising in controlling and implementing the Party’s approved narrative even when it meant excising portions of speeches made by president Hu Jintao and premier Wen Jiabao. Liu Yunshan will continue to oversee Propaganda and Education, which suggests that media and cyberspace will be strictly policed and Party ideology more strenuously propagated.
All members of the PBSC, which includes four ‘princelings’, joined the CCP during the Cultural Revolution despite many having personally suffered. They have a mental toughness moulded by adversity. The ‘princelings’ especially feel that China must regain its rightful place in the world. They will not compromise on matters of sovereignty or territorial integrity. The issue of ethnic minorities, and particularly Tibetans, will be a high priority. This could portend an increase in China’s activities in Nepal and among Tibetan Buddhists. On the South China Sea they will steadily push the limits, but stopping short of conflict. These policies will result in increased pressure on India and Japan.
The author is a former additional secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India.
October 29, 2012
The following is an Oct. 26 DNA article written by Jayadeva Ranade, originally titled “A concerned dragon: China’s fresh overture to Tibetans”
As China prepares to usher in a new leadership at the 18th Party Congress scheduled to open in Beijing on November 8, there is mounting concern in senior echelons of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at the rising resentment in the ethnic Tibetan minority.
Particularly worrying would have been the self-immolation on October 15, by the grandfather of the 10-year old Beijing-recognised VIIth Gungthang Rinpoche, which highlights the strained relationship between Tibetans and Communist authorities. A new feature is that recently thousands of Tibetans, disregarding heavy armed police presence, assemble at sites of the self-immolations to pray for the deceased and mark the spot.
[Note: Voice of America’s Tibetan service is reporting that Tamdrin Dorjee killed himself near the Tsoe monastery in northwest China’s Gansu province. Witnesses say after setting himself on fire, he shouted “long live Dalai Lama,” “free Tibet” and “let the Dalai Lama return to Tibet.” This latest protest raises the number of self-immolations in Tibetan regions of China to 55 since February 2009. The Tibetan government-in-exile says 45 of those cases have resulted in deaths.
China accuses Tibetan exiles of self-immolating as part of a separatist struggle. But representatives of the Dalai Lama say protesters are driven to self-immolate largely because they cannot tolerate China’s policies in Tibet.]
In a recent apparent bid to ease these tensions, Chinese authorities quietly sent an emissary and contacted Tibetan leaders in Dharamsala. Thinly cloaked as a venture of ‘Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation’ (APECF), a Chinese government-sponsored NGO manned by Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cadres, the initiative seeks to revive plans to consolidate and expand China’s presence in Nepal and ingress India and its border regions, ostensibly by encouraging Buddhist tourism in Lumbini in Nepal. At least one executive director of APECF has links to China’s military establishment.
Xiao Wunan, a senior CCP cadre and executive vicepresident of APECF visited India and was received in Dharamsala on August 16 by the Dalai Lama, Lobsang Sangay, then ‘Kalon Tripa’ (prime minister) of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) and Ugyen Thinley Dorjee, who is formally approved by the Dalai Lama and Beijing as the XVIIth Gyalwa Karmapa, or head of the Karma Kargyu sect. Xiao Wunan was accompanied byGong Tingyu, a Deputy Secretary General of APECF and Simon Kei Shek Ming, reportedly a journalist of the Hong Kong magazine Yazhou Zhoukan.
During his meeting with the Dalai Lama, Xiao Wunan probably carried a personal message from a senior Chinese leader, possibly Xi Jinping. He could have informed the Dalai Lama that he was welcome to spend his last days in Beijing provided he gave up ‘anti-China’ activities and expressed support for the Communist regime.
Xiao Wunan’s meeting with Lobsang Sangay, elected head of the CTA, is significant. It suggests Beijing may be willing to talk to its representatives. Lobsang Sangay is also ‘known’ to the UFWD for facilitating contacts between Chinese academics and the Dalai Lama. Coincidentally, within a month of the meeting the designation of the Head of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) was changed from ‘Kalon Tripa’ (or prime minister) to the less controversial — from Beijing’s perspective —’Sikyong’ (or political leader).
Xiao Wunan’s meeting with Ugyen Thinley Dorjee reportedly ended abruptly when the monk took offence at the tenor of his questions. Xiao Wunan’s photograph with Ugyen Thinley Dorjee is, however, posted on APECF’s website.
Xiao Wunan also visited Nalanda when he met officials of the proposed university and assured financial assistance. In Delhi he met officials in the Ministries of Culture and Tourism. Returning to Kathmandu, Xiao Wunan disingenuously announced that APECF now has the support of the Government of India and would be organising three and four-day package tours for Buddhist pilgrims travelling from Lumbini to India.
Interestingly, Xiao Wunan separated from an official Chinese delegation visiting Kathmandu to visit India. The Chinese delegation included Zou Lanming, vice general manager of the Lanzhou-based China Railway 21st Bureau. Xiao Wunan’s presence could suggest China plans to extend the railway from Xigaze to possibly Lumbini, on the border with India. A month later Xiao Wunan announced that APECF had signed an MoU with UK’s Vertical Theme Park (VTP) Group for a Lumbini Cloud Tower project, with the Nepal Government’s approval.
Nepal’s My Republica on October 11, reported the Nepal Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation’s denial that it was aware of any deal to develop Lumbini as an ‘international peace city’. Prachanda, leader of the Unified Communist Party-Marxist Leninist (UCP-ML), however, continues to be a vice president of APECF.
Meanwhile the CCP’s policy governing Tibetans, of combining economic incentives with intense political persuasion, remains unchanged. In an unusually candid interview to the Party mouthpiece People’s Daily on September 21, 2012, Chen Quanguo, party secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), enumerated the economic benefits extended to the people of Tibet. Disclosing measures to ensure ‘social stability’, he listed that 21,804 cadres had been sent to work in 5,451 administrative villages, that the Party had compiled complete sets of files and that 698 police stations had been established. All monasteries and temples now have photographs of the ‘four leaders’ (Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao), the national flag and a copy each of the People’s Daily and Tibet Daily. A project has also been started to ‘cultivate’ 100 senior monks and ‘guide’ Tibetan Buddhism to ‘adapt itself to socialist society’.
Jayadeva Ranade is a former additional secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India.
September 15, 2012
Tibetans living in the Himalayan country go undocumented due to pressure from China.
The United States made a fresh plea to Nepal this week to provide identification papers to Tibetan refugees living in the country, but its request was flatly rejected by the government, which cited “geopolitical sensitivities” in an apparent reference to pressure from China.
Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake urged Nepal’s government to regularize the status of the country's Tibetan community during talks with Nepalese deputy prime minister and minister for foreign affairs Narayan Kaji Shrestha on Tuesday.
Nepal should “provide them documentation that would allow them to get jobs, to travel, and so forth,” Blake said in Kathmandu after the talks.
“We believe strongly that Tibetan refugees, like all people, deserve to lead lives of dignity and purpose,” he said, according to a text of his remarks provided by the State Department.
About 20,000 Tibetan refugees have fled Chinese rule to live in Nepal, but many now lack the official refugee identity cards that would allow them to pursue opportunities for work, travel, or education.
And Nepal’s powerful northern neighbor China has in recent years become more aggressive in urging Kathmandu to restrict the refugees' activities and help control the movement of Tibetans in both directions across the countries’ shared border.
In his talks this week, Blake urged Nepal to grant “refugee identity” to Tibetans living in the country, according to Nepalese press report accounts of his meeting with Shrestha.
But Shrestha rejected the request, declaring that Nepal is not bound by international conventions on refugees and has “its own values” in dealing with them, the reports said.
“We will extend the refugee status or take other necessary actions based on our own laws. We have our own values regarding the policy on refugees,” Shrestha said.
“It is necessary for our foreign friends to appreciate that our policies are guided by geopolitical sensitivities,” said Shrestha, apparently referring to Nepal’s reluctance to offend China.
Speaking to RFA, Mikel Dunham, a writer and expert on Nepalese politics, called Shrestha’s statement a “shorthand” description of a Nepalese policy of abject surrender to Beijing.
“[This] means that Tibetans in Nepal must remain silent, passive wards of a hostile China-controlled policy of repression,” Dunham said.
“Without identity cards, Tibetans living in Nepal are deprived of education, health care, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, and other basic services and human rights.”
Calling the United States’ commitment to protect Tibetans stranded in Nepal “commendable,” Dunham said, “The bottom line is that no progress has been made.”
Though Nepal refuses refugee status to Tibetans fleeing China’s rule, it does permit them in a so-called “gentleman’s agreement” to travel through Nepal on their way to India, with the help of the Kathmandu-based Tibetan Refugee Reception Center and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Speaking to the press in Kathmandui on Tuesday, Blake hailed Nepal’s “good record” in observing the arrangement.
Reported by Richard Finney.
Copyright © 1998-2011 Radio Free Asia. All rights reserved.
September 1, 2012
Filed by Radio Free Asia Aug. 30. 2012
In what appears to be a growing trend, Chinese border police have deported to Nepal two groups of Tibetans who had sought to re-enter Tibet, some in hopes of reuniting with family members, according to Tibetan and Nepalese sources.
One group of 11 men was forced over the border to Nepal on Aug. 29, while a second group of four men and one woman was sent back on Aug. 23. All had been held by Chinese police at a detention center in Shigatse, Tibet, after being detained at border crossings with Nepal at Dram, Nangpa La, and Nyalam.
Six of the men in the first group are married and have children living in Tibet, sources said.
On their return to Nepal, both groups were taken to the Tibetan Refugee Reception Center in Kathmandu with the assistance of United Nations refugee workers.
After a short stay at the refugee center, the group of five who were sent back to Nepal on Aug. 23 paid fines and were released, and have now traveled into India, sources said.
One, a businessman, had left Tibet earlier in the year to attend religious teachings given in India by exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama. The others—three men and a woman—had lived and studied in India for several years, and had attempted to rejoin their parents and families inside Tibet.
The group of 11 who were sent back on Wednesday, though natives of Dingri county in Tibet, are now stateless, having had their residency papers for Tibet confiscated by Chinese police at the border with Nepal.
Move kept secret
Speaking to RFA from the refugee center in Nepal, one of the men said that their forced return to Nepal came as a surprise.
“Initially, they kept our deportation very secret. [The Chinese] didn’t say anything to us in Dingri or Shigatse,” he said.
“Then, at Nyalam, the Chinese police informed us that they were carrying out official orders from the Tibet Autonomous Region to return us to Nepal.”
“They didn’t give any reason for confiscating our Chinese personal identity papers,” another returnee said. “They just said that those were not going to be of any use to us.”
The men are now worried about trying to cross again into Tibet without papers, and feel they have been left in a limbo, several said.
In June, Chinese border police forced back into Nepal a group of Tibetan pilgrims seeking to re-enter Tibet after confiscating their Tibetan residency permits and detaining them for a week, also in Shigatse.
About 20,000 Tibetan refugees live in Nepal, and Beijing is becoming more aggressive in urging Kathmandu to restrict their activities and to help control the movement of Tibetans in both directions across the countries’ shared border.
Reported by Thupten Sangyal and Lumbum Tashi for RFA’s Tibetan service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.
July 20, 2012
China’s economic retaliations against foreign countries that officially greet the Dalai Lama have ramped up dramatically since 2002. Below is Jayadeva Ranade’s superlative analysis of this trend and its negligible results.
Sentiments of Tibetans inside China and elsewhere would have undoubtedly received a boost with recent developments indicating an apparent turn around in policy and fresh international support for the Dalai Lama. This coincides with the suspension of regular channels of contact between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Dalai Lama and rising incidence of self-immolations by Tibetans — which number has now reached 39 — including for the first time in front of the Jokhang Temple in central Lhasa.
In mid-May when the Dalai Lama travelled to the United Kingdom to receive the Templeton Prize, British Prime Minister David Cameron met him privately in the basement of St Paul’s Cathedral. Cameron was accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
The meeting took place despite Beijing’s warnings that it could adversely affect Sino-UK relations. A Chinese foreign ministry official said it “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people” and “seriously damaged the relations between China and the UK”. The UK was additionally asked to “stop conniving and supporting Tibetan separatists.” The Global Times, a subsidiary of the party newspaper People’s Daily, went to the extent of demanding suspension of all diplomatic relations with UK ‘for a while’.
Chinese Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) member, Wu Bangguo, cancelled an official visit to the UK scheduled for late May. Wu Bangguo is due to retire at the upcoming 18th Party Congress to be held this October. China also flexed its economic muscle and Britain’s trade and investment minister, Lord Green and foreign office minister, Jeremy Browne, who had travelled to Beijing, were unable to meet any of the Chinese ministers with whom meetings had been scheduled. A cloud also hangs over the British prime minister’s visit to China later this year. A possibility that British companies may be targetted could be offset, however, by ongoing discussions between British and Chinese officials, including on London becoming a major trading hub for the Chinese yuan and bid by a Chinese state-owned power company to build nuclear power stations in the UK.
The British prime minister’s meeting follows one earlier this April in Ottawa between Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Dalai Lama. The European Parliament too is active. On June 14, it adopted a resolution urging the European Union (EU)’s vice president of the Commission for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to appoint a special coordinator with a mandate to report regularly on Tibet. It asked the EU vice president’s office to address the human rights situation in Tibet at every meeting with representatives of the Chinese government. The EU is on the verge of appointing a special representative for human rights. Taiwan, Japan and South Korea also recently received senior representatives of the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala.
Of major significance, though, is the meeting between Myanmar opposition leader and practicing Buddhist, Aung San Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama. This ‘private’ meeting, details of which are scanty, took place in London on June 19, when the Dalai Lama was back in the UK for a pre-Olympic tour of various British cities. Tibet supporters have planned protests during the Olympic Games.
Especially worrying for Beijing would be that the meeting represents incrementally increasing contacts between Myanmar’s Buddhists and the Dalai Lama. The first hint was an article in Myanmar Times in September 2009, which passed the official censors. The article, which reported on the Dalai Lama’s visit to Taiwan, assumes relevance as it was the first mention of the Dalai Lama in Myanmar’s official media in 20 years. Later, in November 2011, Myanmar’s Buddhist ecclesiastical hierarchy was represented at the Global Buddhist Congregation held in New Delhi by a strong contingent of its senior-most leaders who remained present throughout the proceedings and met the Dalai Lama. The possibility that Myanmar’s Buddhist clergy might now invite the Dalai Lama to visit Myanmar for a religious function, which initiative the new Myanmar government would find difficult to reject, must worry Beijing. China would perceive such a development as making its south-western flank more vulnerable.
In this backdrop three reports attract notice. A study released late in 2010, by a European university observed that while the Dalai Lama commenced travelling abroad since 1967, China began retaliating to his reception by senior world leaders with punitive economic measures only from 2002. Analysing trade trends between China and 159 countries in the period 1991-2008, it assessed that exports to China from countries where senior leaders received the Dalai Lama declined between 2002-2008, or during Hu Jintao’s term. In such cases there was a drop of 8.1 per cent to 16.9 per cent in the exports of these countries to China. Machinery and transport equipment were mainly affected. The adverse impact lasted, on average, about two years. The study concluded that as China’s economic power grows, it will increasingly use trade as a foreign policy tool. It suggested that if countries receiving the Dalai Lama coordinated policy the economic impact would be lessened.
These findings are contrasted by a report released a month ago by the New York-based Rhodium Group. This reveals a surge in outbound direct investment by Chinese firms in Europe. From less than $1 billion (€700 million) each year between 2004-2008, China’s annual OFDI flows to Europe tripled to roughly $3 billion (€2.3 billion) in 2009 and 2010 before tripling again to almost $10 billion (€7.4 billion) in 2011. China’s OFDI is directed mainly towards France, the UK and Germany. The majority of Chinese OFDI investors are privately-owned companies motivated by the compulsion of surviving in an increasingly competitive domestic market. They want to acquire reputed international brands and high technology. The study discerned no evidence of OFDI declining where nations run afoul of China politically over issues such as Tibet or arms sales. It concludes that, while Chinese officials might threaten to withhold direct investment, Chinese firms are less subject to Beijing’s directions than believed.
Finally, the UN’s new ‘Inclusive Wealth Index’, which faults calculation of national wealth only on the basis of GDP, suggests that China’s economic strength is exaggerated. It places China in third position globally far behind the US. The US is assessed as the world’s biggest economy with an inclusive wealth of $118 trillion in 2008. Japan comes second with $55 trillion and China third with an inclusive wealth of $20 trillion, equivalent to Germany.
With the economic downturn beginning to affect China, Beijing might find that using trade as a coercive foreign policy tool may no longer get major countries to reduce pressure on Tibet and human rights issues.
July 3, 2012
Ai Ping – Vice Minister of the International Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Beijing’s point man on South Asian affairs -- paid a weekend visit to Kathmandu. He conveyed China’s growing concern over Nepal’s governmental quagmire, the country’s economic instability and the dubious political promotion of ethnic federalism.
Obviously, it’s to China’s advantage to have a politically, economically and socially stable southern neighbor. But China’s core issue with Nepal remains unchanged: Tibet.
According to Beijing-based analyst Hu Shisheng, Deputy Director of the Institute of South And South Asian Studies in the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, China fears that Nepal’s current impasse sets the stage for new free-Tibet activities.
JUNE 9, 2012
Chinese border police detain pilgrims and refuse them entry into Tibet.
In a rare move, Chinese border police have forcibly sent back a group of Tibetan pilgrims seeking to re-enter Tibet from Nepal after confiscating their residency permits and detaining them for a week, according to Tibetan and Nepalese sources.
One analyst called the move “puzzling” and “a new development” in China’s handling of Tibetans wanting to return from Nepal to their homes.
May 13, 2012
China’s attempts to play Buddhist politics and further its strategic agenda, by concurrently organizing two international conferences last month in Lumbini in Nepal and Hong Kong both failed. They also revealed a schism within the CCP’s United Front Work Department (UFWD).
Important factors contributing to this setback are the CCP’s apparent unwillingness to address the growing incidence of self-immolations among Tibetan Buddhists; inability to calm restiveness in Tibet and Tibetan-populated areas in China; and the policy of consistently excluding the Dalai Lama. Reports filtering out of Beijing cite factional in-fighting within the UFWD, which handles all matters relating to China’s non-communist entities and ethnic minorities, including Tibet and the Dalai Lama, as a concern.
Panchen Lamas: A Reporter Looks Back – OpEd
China has introduced its hand-picked Panchen Lama for the first time outside mainland China.
Media attention naturally focused on an April 26 speech given in Hong Kong by 22-year-old Gyaincain Norbu, whom Beijing named to be the Panchen Lama 17 years ago.
But the move underscores a larger issue: Beijing’s attempts to gain control or at least more influence over Buddhism not only inside Tibet but also throughout the Himalayan region.
It seems not to matter to Beijing that many Tibetans were distressed when China installed the then six-year-old Gyaincain Norbu as the Panchen Lama in 1995 while ignoring another boy chosen by the exiled Dalai Lama.
That boy quickly disappeared from sight and is believed to be under a kind of house arrest somewhere inside China.
April 28, 2012
From Radio Free Asia: The Beijing-appointed Panchen Lama makes his first appearance outside mainland China.
The Chinese government paraded its handpicked Panchen Lama in Hong Kong on Thursday, on his first trip outside mainland China, as Beijing grooms him to succeed Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama when he dies.
The controversial Gyaincain Norbu delivered a keynote speech in Mandarin at the Third World Buddhist Forum, a showcase for China's cultural diplomacy, attended by more than 1,000 monks and scholars from 50 countries.
April 11, 2012
In its latest April issue, the monthly magazine “Defense and Security Alert” focuses on Tibet. Below, is Jayadeva Ranade’s contribution to the issue, an extremely interesting essay on China’s Tibet strategy called “Undermining the Dalai Lama”.
UNDERMINING THE DALAI LAMA
by Jayadeva Ranade
China perceives the present time as opportune to undermine the position and influence of the Dalai Lama and compel the 14th Dalai Lama’s successors to find new methods at accommodation. It has accordingly stepped up efforts to sow division in the Tibetan religious ecclesiastical hierarchy and divide the exiled Tibetan community. Invitations to the World Buddhist Forums, TAR anniversaries etc. are all calibrated to weaken the unity of Tibetan Buddhist monks. China’s moves are of considerable significance for India. They represent a currently incipient, but potentially serious source of concern since India’s Himalayan belt is inhabited mainly by Buddhists.
April 1, 2012
Honorable Prime Minister,
A remarkable meeting co-organized by the HAA, the International Association for the Study of Traditional Asian Medicine (IASTAM) and each of the undersigned, [recently] took place in December 2011 in Kathmandu. More than 30 practitioners of Sowa Rigpa (also known as the Tibetan “science of healing”) gathered for this eight-day workshop focused on the production of efficacious medicines. This unique event brought Sowa Rigpa medical practitioners from Nepal, India and China together in new ways, enabling them to share their knowledge and experiences of pharmacology, materia medica, medical history, ecology, and botany with a view to improving the quality of the medicines they produce and safeguarding practices of medicine production that are, we argue, critically endangered, particularly without state recognition and support in Nepal.
March 30, 2012
OFFICIAL PRINCE CLAUS FUNDS STATEMENT
The Prince Claus Funds regrets that Tsering Woeser is denied the opportunity to receive the 2011 Prince Claus Award from the hands of the Dutch Ambassador in China today. Tsering Woeser is a courageous Tibetan writer whose work offers unique perspectives on the complexity of present-day Tibet. According to Christa Meindersma, director of the Prince Claus Fund: “the fact that Tsering Woeser is not free to leave her home and freely express herself, demonstrates once again the importance of her voice.”
Tsering Woeser, a 2011 Prince Claus Laureate, made public via Twitter that she cannot leave her home in Beijing to receive the Prince Claus Award. Her husband and friends were also warned not to attend the ceremony. According to her tweets, Tsering Woeser has been placed under house arrest for one month and police are stationed downstairs in her apartment building. Tsering Woeser would have been presented the Prince Claus Award tonight by the Ambassador Bekink during a private ceremony at his residence.
Tsering Woeser is presented the 2011 Prince Claus Award ‘for her courage in speaking for those who are silenced and oppressed, for her compelling combination of literary quality and political reportage, for recording, articulating and supporting Tibetan culture, and for her active commitment to self-determination, freedom and development in Tibet’. In response to the granting of the Prince Claus Award Woeser said in interviews that the award offers protection.
Through the Prince Claus Awards, the Fund annually honors eleven cultural pioneers: courageous and engaged people who stand up for their ideas and who are an inspiration for others. At this moment, the safety of Tsering Woeser and her family are the Prince Claus Fund’s first priority.
LETTER OF PROTEST SIGNED BY PRINCE CLAUS LAUREATES
Allow Woeser the freedom to express and to travel
March 29, 2012
China’s Buddhist politics now includes Nepal
by Jayadeva Ranade
There is renewed activism in recent months in Buddhist politics or, more aptly ‘kasayapolitiks’. Two large-scale events, both inextricably linked with Buddhism, are being sponsored by China’s communist regime next month. One of them, which demonstrates Beijing’s continuing interest and expanding influence in Nepal and its exiled Tibetan Buddhist community, will, quite oddly, be attended by UN Secretary General, Ban ki Moon.
China’s new initiative comes in the midst of growing discontent among Tibetans inside China and imposition of stringent security measures in the Tibet Autonomous Region and Tibetan areas inside China. CCTV cameras and armed police have been deployed outside sensitive monasteries like Drepung, Sera and Kirti since February this year. The security budget of Sichuan province’s Aba Prefecture, which has a sizeable Tibetan community, was doubled last year. Especially since last September, at least thirty Tibetans, almost all former monks and nuns below 30 years of age, have committed self-immolation. A sign of their desperation was shockingly manifest for the first time in Delhi on March 26, on the eve of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s arrival for the BRICS summit, when a 26-year-old Tibetan refugee immolated himself.
March 27, 2012
The huge Chinese offer to develop Lumbini, birthplace of Lord Buddha, has been shelved. The Hong Kong organization behind the $3 billion offer, the Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation (APECF), has regrouped in the wake of outcry over the paucity of its credentials, evidence that China’s government was behind the scheme and the questionable suitability of Prachanda being named co-chairman in the first place.
This week, APECF signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Nepali government to spend US$ 100,000 a year for the next five years -- a far cry from the original $3 billion but still a significant sum.
And still, the tainted scent of the APECF model lingers. APECF has not gone away. APECF hasn't changed. The forces behind APECF haven't changed. Only the amount it intends to spend in Lumbini has changed.
What is really behind Beijing’s interest in Buddhism and Lumbini? What would Lumbini look and feel like if China were given free reign?
I asked Jayadeva Ranade, one of India’s leading strategic analysts to discuss these questions in a recent interview.
March 15, 2012
For almost a month now, I’ve posted exhaustive interviews with experts and stakeholders in the development of Lumbini, a topic that has gained increasing international attention since a Chinese-funded development offer came to light in July 2011. The Hong Kong-based organization in question calls itself the Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation (APECF). It’s pedigree is nebulous; even its address and telephone number listed on its website have proven to be phony. Ex-Prime Minister and Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” was named Co-Chairman of APECF, a detail that immediately raised eyebrows in regard to the appropriateness of a leader of a ten-year armed struggle taking the reins of a site that universally symbolizes non-violence. In the event, the gist of the controversial offer (now on hold, if not permanently debunked) was to pour an unprecedented three billion dollars into and around the Sacred Garden, where the historical Lord Buddha was born.
Regardless of APECF’s legitimacy, coming to terms with the finalization of a master plan before additional development resumes in Lumbini seems to have been ratcheted up in recent months. Only last week, it was announced that the UN’s General Secretary Ban Ki-moon would visit Lumbini on April 29, at the bequest of Prachanda and his recently-created “Greater Lumbini Development National Steering Committee.” And the three billion dollars, which probably never existed except in the fantasy world of Chinese businessmen – a staggeringly tantalizing sum for a nation in which three billion dollars equals 10% of Nepal’s annual GDP – has opened Nepal’s eyes concerning the very real value, (at least monetarily), of Lumbini as a tourism bonanza.
Experts and stakeholders recently interviewed by me include publisher-author KANAK MANI DIXIT, seasoned diplomat and civic leader KUL CHANDRA GAUTAM, internationally renown tourism consultant LISA CHOEGYAL, Greater Lumbini Development National Steering Committee member MINENDRA RIJAL, UNESCO Representative to Nepal AXEL PLATHE, Vice-Chairman of Lumbini Development Trust (LDT) ACHARYA KARMA SANGBO SHERPA, and long-time Lumbini archeologist KOSH PRASAD ACHARYA.
February 21, 2012
The Nepalese government is yet to respond to a December 2011 letter written by three members of the U.S. House of Representatives pushing for the implementation of a stalled Tibetan refugee resettlement program to the US.
The letters dated December 9, 2011 were addressed to the President and Prime Minister of Nepal, and were written by Representatives James McGovern (D-MA) and Frank Wolf (R-VA), co-chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, and Representative Joe Pitts (R-PA), a member of its Executive Committee.
The letters posted on the Commission’s website last week had prominently asked for the rights of Tibetan refugees in Nepal to be protected, and urged the Nepalese government that it assent to resettling Tibetan refugees in the United States.
February 19, 2012
Human Rights Watch issued the following report this week:
(New York) – The Chinese government should immediately release Tibetans who have been detained by local police and are being forced to undergo political re-education after travelling to India to listen to religious teachings there, Human Rights Watch said today.
Many have been detained since February 6, 2012, in ad hoc detention centers in Lhasa and other areas. Multiple sources told Human Rights Watch that several hundred Tibetans may have been detained in the current sweep, but the exact number is not known. The same sources described the political re-education the detainees are subjected to. No information is available about how long the detainees will be held, but people with knowledge of the detentions in Lhasa say the detentions are expected to last from 20 days to three months.
January 29, 2012
In the third such incident in Tibet this week, police fired into a crowd of Tibetans yesterday, resulting in the death of a Tibetan student (January 26) in Dzamthang County (Chinese: Rangtang) county, Ngaba Prefecture(Chinese: Aba), according to Kirti monks in exile and other sources in contact with Tibetans in the area.
As reported by International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), the young Tibetan, identified as a 20-year old student named Ogyen, was part of a crowd of Tibetans who had gathered to protest the detention of another young Tibetan, identified as Tarpa, who had posted leaflets in the early afternoon – posters in support of a recent string of self-immolations by Tibetans condemning Chinese repression.
January 25, 2012
Remembering Juchen Thupten Namgyal and Donyo Jagortsang
Two more veterans of the Tibetan resistance passed on in 2011: Juchen Thupten Namgyal on August 31, and Donyo Jagortsang on December 19. Both were from Derge, a kingdom in the Kham region of Eastern Tibet. And both were part of Tibet's underground resistance army backed by the CIA, the Chushi Gangdruk.
January 16, 2012
The following is a four-part journal written for Radio Free Asia (RFA) by freelance correspondent Maura Moynihan and documented by one of the most gifted photojournalists in South Asia, Thomas L. Kelly. Thanks to RFA and special thanks to Thomas for granting me permission to use unpublished photographs.
PART ONE: Pilgrims Converge on Bodhgaya
Tens of thousands of Buddhist pilgrims from around the world traveled this week to Bodhgaya, a town in northern India, to hear exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama give the "Kalachakra" religious teachings.
At least 9,000 Tibetans traveling on Chinese passports, along with an estimated 1,200 Chinese Buddhists from the mainland, are among those who have registered with the event authorities.
January 11, 2012
On January 8, Sonam Wangyal,also known as Sopa Tulku, a respected lama (believed to be a rinpoche, or reincarnate holy man), drank kerosene and set himself on fire. His self-immolation was said to be linked to lack of religious freedoms in the area. Radio Free Asia reported that before he set himself ablaze, he climbed a local hill to burn incense and pray before distributing leaflets saying he would act "not for his personal glory but for Tibet and the happiness of Tibetans. His body exploded in pieces [and the remains were] taken away by police." The deceased was in his 40s.
The incident took place in Darlag county, Golog (Chinese: Guoluo) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai province (the Tibetan area of Amdo). He died shortly afterwards. The self-immolation in Golog significantly broadens the geographical spread of the Tibetan self-immolations into Qinghai, Sichuan, and the Tibet Autonomous Region.
Only two days before, on January 6, two young Tibetans self-immolated in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba), as confirmed by Xinhua, Chinese state media. According to information from Tibetan exile sources, two Tibetans, Tsultrim and Tennyi, both around 20 years of age, set themselves on fire in the courtyard of a hotel in the center of Ngaba town and ran into the street shouting “His Holiness the Dalai Lama must return to Tibet” and “May His Holiness the Dalai Lama live for 10,000 years!” Tennyi, who is believed to be a monk from Kirti monastery, died on January 6, and Tsultrim, a lay person who may have been a former Kirti monk, died on January 7, according to the same sources.
January 6, 2012
Peter Lee writes on East and South Asian affairs and their intersection with US foreign policy.
As baseball's New York Mets struggled toward their historic 120-loss season in 1962, their manager, Casey Stengel, famously lamented of his feckless team: "Can't anybody here play this game?"
The same might be asked of the various players in Nepal's carnival of political and diplomatic dysfunction: the dominant United Communist Party Nepal (Maoist), the pro-Indian Nepali Congress, the Madhesi parties representing the interests of the ethnically Indian lowlanders of the Tarai, and even the ostensible grownups in the geopolitical game, the diplomats of India and the People's Republic of China (PRC).
Nepalese politicians dramatically describe their nation as "a yam between two rocks" to illustrate the vulnerable circumstances of a small nation trying to maintain its equilibrium and independence between two overbearing regional superpowers.
It would seem that Nepal could plausibly regard itself as the mountain maiden wooed by two determined and deep-pocketed suitors, instead of an imperiled potato.
However, halting efforts to exploit Sino-Indian rivalry to Nepal's benefit have been consistently frustrated by Nepalese weakness, exacerbated by the factionalism, opportunism and corruption endemic in local politics.
January 3, 2012
Today, Republica published an editorial by Arun KR Shrivastav, which, as far as I know is a first in methodically questioning the wisdom behind the Nepali government kow-towing to China’s position on Nepal’s Tibetan refugee community. Highly recommended reading.
CHINA, TIBET & NEPAL: Until that Happens By Arun KR Shrivastav
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s upcoming visit to Nepal purportedly to put bilateral relations irreversibly in the perspective of Tibet is the last masterstroke by the outgoing leadership in China to link its relations with Nepal firmly and solely with the Tibet issue. The current leadership is scheduled to demit office in less than a year. Nepal has adopted a One-China Policy that accepts both Tibet and Taiwan as integral parts of China—a Chinese claim that rest of the world perceives as its insatiable aggrandizement boosted by its sheer size of population, geography and now the economy, ranked number two in the world. So, when it comes to bilateral relations or its worldview, Nepal has no opinion on any of the matters that the world finds wrong with China. And, with a Maoist-led government in power, the differences between the two nations on issues of ideology and therefore, the worldview, perhaps do not exist at all.
December 17, 2011
On September 10, 2010, a commemoration ceremony took place in Colorado at the site once known as Camp Hale, a CIA training ground for Tibetan freedom fighters. A handful of Tibetans, who had been trained by the CIA in the early 1960s, attended the ceremony, which included the installation of a plaque in honor of the Tibetans.
Filmmaker Lisa Cathey was there to shoot footage for her upcoming documentary “CIA in Tibet”. Now, she has added an interview with Tashi Paljor, who attended the ceremony and reflects on what it meant to be a Tibetan warrior trained by the United States in the hope of reclaiming his land usurped by Mao Zedong’s People’s Liberation Army.
December 6, 2011
By Saransh Sehgal
DHARAMSALA, India - Tibet's government in exile says there has been a sharp drop in the number of Tibetans fleeing to join the refugee community in Dharamsala.
According to records provided by the reception center for new arrivals from Tibet in Dharamsala, there have been just 2,500 arrivals since 2008. In the years 2004 to 2007, new arrivals totaled 12,000, while this year there have been only 600.
November 26, 2011
Conditions for Tibetan in Nepal continue to deteriorate amidst growing Chinese pressureNepal police forcibly returned a young Tibetan man who was escaping from Tibet to the Chinese authorities in September, according to information that reached ICT on November 23. According to the same Tibetan sources, the Tibetan - whose full name is known to ICT - is now in detention in Tibet. It is the first known case of the refoulement of a Tibetan from the border areas of Nepal since June 2010.
The return of the Tibetan, Tashi, was in contravention of established protocol between the government of Nepal and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) that provides for the safe transit of Tibetan refugees through Nepalese territory and onward to India. These measures were put into practice after 1989 when Nepal stopped providing refugee status to new arrivals from Tibet. The 20-year old Tibetan who was sent back to Tibet is from a nomadic family in rural Biru County, Nagchu (Chinese: Naqu) Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region. He was traveling into exile in mid-September with a group of five other Tibetans from his village of around the same age, two of whom were interviewed by ICT after they arrived safely in India some weeks later.
The six young men each paid 6000 yuan (approximately US $943) for a guide to take them from Lhasa to the Nepal border. After the group arrived on the Nepal side of the border in mid-September they stayed the night with a local family. The next day, three members of the group left with the guide to travel to Kathmandu, but were detained by Nepalese police on around September 11-13. Also detained were a group of 20 other Tibetans in the border area; all 23 were handed over to Nepal's Department of Immigration in Kathmandu. These 23 Tibetans were held in custody for at least 12 days before being handed over to the UNHCR, despite pressure from the Chinese embassy to return them to the PRC.
In the meantime, Tashi and two of his friends set out on a separate journey to Kathmandu on two motorbikes. But along the route to Kathmandu, two of the Tibetans were stopped by Nepalese police at a road checkpoint and detained in a police vehicle. They did not see what happened to Tashi, but said that the last time they saw him he was en route to Kathmandu by motorbike with a guide. They later learnt that he had been apprehended by police too and had not reached Kathmandu.
One of the Tibetans told ICT: "I was not afraid but very confused, because we didn't know where the Nepalese police will take us and what they would do with us. The police drove back for quite a long time in the dark and the road was very bumpy. After a while we saw many lights through the trees. There were around four armed police in the back of the jeep with us. Suddenly, the in-charge of the police yelled at us to jump and we jumped out of the jeep and ran up into the forest on the mountainside. We never stopped to rest until we reached the top; it was past midnight already. Our clothes were completely wet. We tried to spend the rest of the night at the top of the mountain, and next morning we saw that there was a family house and we went there to ask for something to eat and hot water to drink. Fortunately, the family gave us space to rest as well as food and drink. Then we asked them where we were and how far it was to Kathmandu from there. The mother told us that it will take more than two days to walk to Kathmandu, more than 150 kilometers."
The two Tibetans reached Kathmandu on September 24, after their departure from Tibet on August 28. It was only after reaching the Tibetan Refugee Transit Center in Kathmandu that they learned that their friend Tashi had been been detained by Nepalese police after crossing the border and handed over to their Chinese counterparts on the Tibet side. According to several sources connected to the incident, Tashi is now being held in detention in Lhasa.
Although Nepal is not a signatory to international refugee conventions, the forcible return or refoulement of refugees to a place where their lives or freedoms could be threatened violates a fundamental norm of international law. However, there is no recourse for refoulement and Tibetans that are forcibly returned face torture and harsh prison conditions. That details of Tashi's refoulement are only now coming to light, nearly three months later, speaks to the increased difficulty in ascertaining information on refoulements and possible refoulements.
The last known refoulement from Nepal occurred in June, 2010, when two Tibetan monks, 20-year old Dawa and 21-year old Dorjee, and a 22-year old woman called Penpa, were detained by Nepalese police in Nepal's Humla district bordering Purang (Chinese: Burang) county in Ngari prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region. The three Tibetans were held at the police post in the village of Muchu, about a day's walk from the Tibet-Nepal border. According to ICT sources, Chinese border police were in touch with the Nepalese police, and the three Tibetans were taken by helicopter to the border at Hilsa, accompanied by a Nepalese politician and a policeman. Chinese security personnel collected them there and took them back into Tibet. According to the same sources, two of the Tibetans, one of the monks and the young woman, were jailed and would serve around six months. The second monk was allowed to return to his monastery.
Tashi's two Tibetan friends who are now safely in India said that they and his family are now very worried about his safety and welfare. Tibetans who have been caught escaping from Tibet are known to have undergone torture and hard labor while in custody. One of his friends said: "Since our arrival [in exile] we have learned many stories about the new arrivals being handed back to Chinese border security after being arrested in Nepal. Very sad stories." They also described their own feelings on being in India, saying: "We already had an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and it was very great and we had that kind of feeling we are not be able express in words. Now we are dreaming and excited to join the Tibetan Transit School in Dharamsala. And also we are very keen to learn Tibetan and English. We don't have a specific dream for the future, but we definitely want to be real Tibetans."
Tashi's two Tibetan friends said that Tashi had similar reasons for leaving Tibet to theirs - a desire to see the Dalai Lama, to have a good education, and to escape from the strictures of the Chinese authorities' policies in rural areas, affecting their livelihoods. One of them told ICT: "My family had 80 yaks, 200 sheep and five horses before, and I was grazing them together with other people in the village. Before 2005, our land was not divided or fenced at all, but since 2005, the local government set up fences and divided the land according to the number of family members. Now we cannot graze livestock freely as before, because, you can only graze on your own land, and it is not really necessary to watch the livestock as closely as before. But the problem that so many families face is shortage of grazing, and the only option is to reduce the number of your livestock or rent the land of other families who have few livestock. Most people choose the first option. Now my family has 60 Yaks, 120 sheep and 4 horses."
Tashi's other Tibetan friend said: "We grew up together and were always together with the livestock on the mountains back in Tibet, so we had plenty time to discuss going to India so on. Particularly, we spoke many times about His Holiness, and the massive protest in 2008 in Tibet. We heard from elderly people in the village that His Holiness is in India plus we had much more information about the Tibet issue since 2008. We used to listen to Radio Free Asia on the mountains with our livestock sometimes. Finally, we made the decision to leave Tibet and go to India, since then, I became more interested in education than before."
As Nepal-China relations develop, Tibetan refugees in Nepal face increasing dangers both on the journey into exile and within the long-standing Tibetan community in Kathmandu. In one recent incident on October 17, four Tibetan community leaders were detained by Nepalese police following a speech by China's Ambassador to Nepal Yang Houlan on October 16, in which he blamed "international and domestic forces" for "coordinating [anti-China] activities in Nepal".
The refoulement comes at a time when Nepal's treatment of Tibetan refugees are coming under greater scrutiny by the United States government. Two U.S. Congressmen visited Kathmandu in late September and October with the situation facing Tibetan refugees on their agenda. On November 20, U.S. Ambassador Scott DeLisi authored an article in the Kathmandu Post urging the government to continue to protect Tibetan refugees. The opinion piece came days before Nepal's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha visited Lhasa, Tibet, where he reportedly thanked the Government of China for its support and pledged to not allow any "anti-Chinese activities" on Nepali soil.
November 8, 2011
Today is the pub date for my newest book, a project that began more than three years ago. I gave digital cameras to Tibetan refugees stranded in Nepal with the task of documenting their daily lives in their settlements. Caught in Nepal is the result of that joint effort. The book includes my essay on the 2000-year-old relationship between the people of Nepal and Tibet.
The book is now available. If you are not in Nepal you can still purchase a copy directly through the Nepali publisher’s website, (located in Kathmandu), or, if you prefer, through amazon.com.
Vajra Publisher's Link
October 18, 2011
A former Kirti monk set fire to himself in a protest on the main street in Ngaba (Chinese: Aba) county town just before noon on October 15, according to exiled Tibetan sources. Norbu Damdrul, a 19-year old former monk at Kirti monastery in Ngaba, shouted “We need freedom and independence for Tibet,” and called for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet as his body was burning, according to the same sources.
Norbu’s body was badly burned, but according to the same sources he was still alive when police stationed on the street extinguished the flames and kicked Norbu before taking him away. According to at least one source in the area, the vehicle transporting Norbu Damdrul left the scene headed in the opposite direction of the local hospital. Norbu Damdrul’s current whereabouts and well-being are unknown, according to the same sources. A large crowd of Tibetans who had gathered at the scene was dispersed at gunpoint by security personnel, according to the same sources.
Kirti monks have been restricted from making traditional prayers for those who have died, and officials have announced that anyone who showed sympathy and support for the families of the Tibetans who immolated themselves would be detained.
Norbu Damdrul is from Cheji township, Ngaba county, Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province, the Tibetan area of Amdo. His protest is the eighth self-immolation protest in Ngaba since 2009, seven of which have occurred since March 16, 2011. Norbu Damdrul is a former monk at Kirti monastery and has lived with his parents since June, 2010, according to the same sources. It is not known whether Norbu Damdrul chose to disrobe, or was expelled from the monastery by government authorities.
Norbu Damdrul is the ninth Tibetan monk or former Tibetan monk to self-immolate since a young Kirti monk named Tapey set fire to himself on February 27, 2009 after monks at the monastery were told by the local authorities that they were not allowed to observe Monlam, a traditional prayer festival that is held after Tibetan New Year (Losar). Tapey was shot by security personnel before they put out the flames. Eight of the self-immolations have taken place in Ngaba, while one, by a Nyitso monastery monk named Tsewang Norbu, took place in neighboring Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province.
The Ngaba area has been under military lockdown since major protests were held in the area following the spread of protests across the Tibetan plateau beginning in March, 2008. Earlier this year on March 16, a 20-year old monk named Phuntsog died after setting fire to himself in a protest held on the 3rd anniversary of a protest at Kirti in 2008 during which at least 10 Tibetans were shot dead. A stepped-up crackdown by authorities in the area ensued, in which hundreds of Kirti monks were detained, many were expelled, and several received prison sentences varying from 10 to 13 years. During a vigil held by local Tibetans at the main gate of Kirti monastery on April 21 amidst the crackdown, two elderly Tibetans were beaten to death by security personnel.
Of the nine self-immolation protests, four are known to have died. Most recently, two former monks died following their self-immolation protest on October 7, 2011. Choephel, age 19, and Kayang, age 18, clasped their hands together and set fire to themselves along the main street in Ngaba county town, according to exile Tibetan sources in contact with Tibetans in the area. According to at least one source, both may have been expelled from Kirti during the current crackdown.
There are unconfirmed reports that Kesang Wangchuk, who is in hospital after committing self-immolation protest on October 3, has been subjected to interrogation and torture.
October 8, 2011
Two former monks from the embattled Kirti monastery set fire to themselves today in Ngaba county town, according to exile Tibetans in contact with Tibetans in the area. There have been five self-immolations in Ngaba county town in less than two weeks, and seven since February, 2009.
The two Tibetan teenagers, Choephel, age 19, and Kayang, age 18, staged their protest this morning on the main street in Ngaba county town, Ngaba county, Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province (the Tibetan area of Amdo), according to exile Tibetan sources.
The two young men clasped their hands together and set fire to themselves before security personnel extinguished the flames and took the two to the county’s government-run hospital, according to the same sources. Their current whereabouts and well-being has not been confirmed, but according to at least one source, Choephel may have died shortly after the protest.
Kayang and Choephel were both former monks at Kirti monastery in Ngaba, but have since disrobed, according to exile Tibetan sources. The Ngaba area has been under military lockdown since major protests were held in the area following the spread of protests across the Tibetan plateau beginning in March, 2008.
In one major demonstration in Ngaba in 2008, at least 10 Tibetans were shot dead by security forces. According to the Tibetan exile sources, Kayang’s cousin, a Tibetan named Tashi, was one of the Tibetans killed in the Chinese government crackdown in Ngaba in 2008.
Dharamsala-based Tibetan researcher Zorgyi, who works for International Campaign for Tibet, said, “This sort of committed decision (self-immolation) can only be made under such suffering and pain caused by the Chinese government’s restrictions and repression. Normally, these people would not have taken this sort of action. Therefore, through their decision to self-immolate, we can understand what sort of situation Tibetans in Tibet are in. Tibetans are deeply religious, and they are willing to pay the ultimate price for their religion and freedom.”
The Ngaba region has faced intense security pressure since protests occurred across the Tibetan plateau in 2008 and were quickly followed by a military crackdown by Chinese officials. More recently, monks at Kirti monastery in Ngaba have faced particularly harsh security measures following the self-immolation by a monk named Phuntsog, who died after setting fire to himself in a protest earlier this year on March 16.
Protests by local Tibetans in the area have been violently put down, including one incident in which two elderly Tibetans were killed by paramilitary police on April 21 while they took part in a standing vigil at the gate of Kirti monastery by a group of laypeople – mainly in their sixties or older – in an effort to prevent monks from being taken away by security forces in a raid on the monastery.
For a detailed history of the suffering of Tibetans in the Ngaba region of Chinese-occupied Tibet, and to learn how you can help, link to:
October 4, 2011
A 17-year old monk from Kirti monastery immolated himself in Ngaba county town at approximately 2:00 pm local time yesterday, according to Tibetans in exile in contact with Tibetans in the area. The monk, Kelsang Wangchuk, carried a photo of the Dalai Lama and was shouting slogans against the Chinese government when he set fire to himself along the main street in Ngaba county, Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province. Full details of the incident have yet to emerge, but some exiled sources say that he was immediately surrounded by security personnel, who extinguished the fire and beat Kelsang Wangchuk before taking him away. Kelsang’s current wellbeing and whereabouts are unknown.
According to the same Tibetan sources, people in the street and surrounding area began to gather at the scene and prepared to protest, but the crowd was quickly dispersed by security personnel. Shortly after the immolation, additional security forces were deployed in Ngaba county town and at Kirti monastery, increasing an already tense security atmosphere in an area known for its outspoken expression of the Tibetan identity and frequent peaceful protests.
According to monks from the re-established Kirti monastery in exile in Dharamsala, India, pamphlets were distributed and posted around Kirti monastery and the market place in Ngaba county town a few days ago, stating that if the current security crackdown in the area were to continue, “many more people were prepared to give up their lives” in protest.
Kelsang Wangchuk, who is from Tsaru’ma village, Chujee’ma township in Ngaba county, is the third monk from Kirti monastery to set fire to himself in the past week. On September 26 Lobsang Kelsang and Lobsang Kunchok, both believed to be approximately 18-years old, set fire to themselves while shouting “Long live His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” in a protest also held in Ngaba county town. After extinguishing the flames, police took the two young monks into custody. Their current whereabouts and wellbeing remain unknown.
On February 27, 2009, a Kirti monk in his mid-twenties named Tapey set himself on fire in protest after local authorities told monks at Kirti monastery that they were not allowed to observe Monlam, a traditional prayer festival that is held after Tibetan New Year (Losar). According to several sources from the area, police shot Tapey before they extinguished the flames and took him into custody. His whereabouts and current condition remain unknown.
In nearby Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province, a 29-year old monk named Tsewang Norbu died on August 15 after drinking petrol and setting fire to himself while calling for freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet. Tsewang Norbu was a monk at Nyitso monastery in Tawu (Chinese: Daofu) in Kardze, an important historic center of Tibetan religious culture that was surrounded by military troops following Tsewang Norbu’s protest.
August 18, 2011
Detentions reflect growing Chinese influence in Nepal
Nepalese police detained eight Tibetans in Kathmandu this week in a bid to block anti-China protests during the visit of a high-level delegation from Beijing, sources said.
The delegation, led by Chinese Communist Party Politburo security chief Zhou Yongkang, arrived in Nepal’s capital on Tuesday for a three-day visit, where it announced a $50 million aid package to the impoverished Himalayan country.
August 12, 2011
A Chinese NGO has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with UN Industrial Development Organization to transform Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, into a mega-complex of international tourism. The problem is that the Nepal government wasn’t notified of the project. To make matters worse, it now has been revealed that Maoist Supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” is co-chairman of the controversial (and up until now little known)NGO.
Since when did the Chinese and the Maoists in Nepal get to decide what’s best for Nepal without bothering to confer with the government of Nepal?
The NGO in question is the Hong Kong-based Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation and Exchange Foundation (APECEF).
August 10, 2011
To Order Link here: PASEKA PUBLISHERS