“Future Scenarios for Tibet – What it Implies for India?” and “China’s Ninth White Paper on Military Strategy”
Report on the Round Table Discussion (RTD) on “Future Scenarios for Tibet – What it Implies for India?”
and “China’s Ninth White Paper on Military Strategy” with Mr Claude Arpi, held at USI on 20 Jul 2015
A RTD on “Future Scenarios for Tibet” (Tibet after the Dalai Lama and Its Implications for Tibet – India-China Relations) and “China’s Ninth White Paper on Military Strategy” with Mr Claude Arpi was held at USI on 20 Jul 2015. The discussion was chaired by Lt Gen PK Singh, PVSM, AVSM (Retd), Director, USI and attended by a focussed group of sinologists comprising serving and retired Armed Forces officers, diplomats and research scholars. The two presentations by Mr Claude Arpi were followed by an interactive session which facilitated an in-depth analysis of the two topics and related issues.
Initial Remarks by Director USI
Lt Gen PK Singh, PVSM, AVSM (Retd), introduced Mr Claude Arpi to the participants and highlighted that during his long stay in India since 1974, he has written regularly on Tibet, China and Indo – French relations; and mentioned two books authored by him recently, namely, ‘1962 and the McMahon Line Saga’ (2013) and ‘Glimpses on the History of Tibet’ (2013). Presently, he is a member of the Editorial Board of the journal Indian Defence Review. His unbiased views on Tibet, China and India would be of great help in analysing the ‘future scenarios’ for Tibet and the implications of ‘China’s Ninth White Paper on Military Strategy’. He then invited Mr Claude Arpi to make his presentations.
Presentation by Mr Claude Arpi (Part I)
Mr Claude Arpi presented his views ‘as seen from Tibet.’ Since 06 Jul 2015, was the 80th birthday of the Dalai Lama, he opined that it would be significant to take a look at the situation now on future relations between India, Tibet and China. He emphasised that this was an important topic for study by think tanks like the USI. Although, Dalai Lama, he hoped would live upto complete 100 years, at the same time, ‘The Tibetan Cause’ has been declining on essentials (issues) and the Chinese have much more strong hold over Tibet now than they had 10 years ago.
He focussed on two visible trends in Tibet today. Firstly, the Chinese are promoting Tibetan Culture (with Chinese characteristics) to boost tourism, not only in the TAR but also in the neighbouring Tibetan inhabited areas of Yunnan, Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai by increasing the number of air flights and rapid roads and railways infrastructure development. In 2014, 50 million Han Chinese tourists visited Tibet which is likely to go up to 70 million in 2015. The implications of this large influx of Chinese tourists can be comprehended by comparing it with the fact that just one hundred thousand Indian tourists visit Leh and Ladakh every year. Secondly, he explained the implications of decline in the frequency of Dalai Lama’s ‘Meetings with Heads of State’ between 2000-2014 with the help of a graph – from the peak of 9 to 11 meetings in 2000, it went down to only one meeting in 2014 and almost zero in 2015.
For several reasons, in 2011, the Dalai Lama retired from political life and passed the baton to an elected leader, Lobsang Sange – the main reason being that, everyone is ‘scared of upsetting China’. Mr Arpi explained this with the example of British Prime Minister David Cameron as he had to pay a heavy price over meeting the Dalai Lama (May 2012) in the form of harming China-Britain relations. He also emphasised this aspect by referring to a Chinese idiom “killing a chicken to scare the monkeys” which means China’s internal situation shapes its external policies and actions. That way the Tibetan cause, on international level, has taken a beating. In his opinion, in the near future, this trend would not change. Recently, the Dalai Lama himself has clarified that now amongst his three commitments: his first priority is to spread Buddhist message of “peace and compassion”; second, “inter-faith dialogue” with older religions (Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Jainism); and the third, “commitment to Tibet”. Despite his old age, he is travelling a lot to propagate his message of “peace and compassion”.
Mr Arpi said that his book Dharamashala and Beijing : The Negotiations that Never Were (2012) explains “how the relations between India and China are inextricably linked to the status of Tibet.’ In 1978, soon after Deng Xioping’s return to power, first contacts were made; but, in last 30 years Beijing has refused to offer any concession on Dalai Lama’s demand for a ‘genuine autonomy for Tibet.’ The present unrest in Tibet renders China unstable and increasingly belligerent towards India as it gave refuge to Tibetans.
Mr Arpi also invited the participants to read the book recently written by Dalai Lama’s elder brother Gyalo Thondup “Noodle Maker of Kalimpong” (2015) which contains all the dialogues he had with Deng Xiaoping. He (Deng) told him that “Everything except Independence was negotiable,” whereas according to some Chinese source, Deng Xiaoping had said that “Everything except Independence was discussable.” Later, declassified US Foreign Policy documents confirmed that Deng Xiaoping was not prepared to negotiate anything on the status of Dalai Lama and he had been very critical about Dalai Lama in his meetings in Washington in 1979.
Mr Arpi used the Map of Tibetan Plateau to focus on ‘50 Years of TAR’ and said that one of the main ‘bone of contention’ is in understanding: what is Tibet? In September 2015, China is set to celebrate ‘50 Years of TAR’ (created in 1965 on the basis of Tibet’s incorporation by the PRC in 1951) on a very large scale. They have already commenced the celebrations by releasing some coins and holding functions in Lhasa.
He highlighted the role played by ‘Five Tibet Work Forums’ in planning systematic development of TAR, by following more or less the same policies for TAR as other Chinese provinces. He explained the composition and economic development achieved by the five Tibet Work Forums between March 1980 (First Tibet Work Forum) and January 2010 (Fifth Tibet Work Forum which formulated the Policy of Tourism). He drew attention to reports that Sixth Tibet Work Forum would be convened in 2015 which does not auger well for the Tibetans because it would probably mean TAR’s final integration with China. It is feared that influx of millions of Han tourists and traders would subsume Tibetan culture.
The Sixth Tibet Work Forum may also take the decision of linking Tibet to the ‘New Silk Road’. The implication of rapid road and rail infrastructure development was highlighted with the help of Maps. This would enhance China’s defence capabilities significantly by facilitating speedy switching of forces besides enhancing trade and economic development in the TAR. Currently, high profile visits by Chinese officials to TAR are an indication of something big being planned in the near future.
Recently, Madam Sun Chunlan, Member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and Minister of the United Front, visited Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces to enquire about the construction of small towns, education, health care and monastery management. She had pointed out that improvement of people’s livelihood is the starting point and focus of the Party and Government’s work.
Mr Arpi also talked about the Chinese apprehensions regarding the controversy arising out of the complexities involved in appointing the 11th Panchen Lama and the next Dalai Lama and their effect on Tibetans in TAR, neighbouring provinces and Dharamshala (India).
He observed that life in Tibet is much better now materially than what it was in 1959. It has become a very fashionable place. The Sixth Tibet Forum is set to improve the road and rail network for linking TAR with the New Silk Road and South East Asia. However, despite the economic and all-round infrastructure development there is much resentment amongst diehard Tibetans because they feel that Tibetan culture is being eroded by coercive Chinese influence. Mr Arpi was, however, not sure of the outcome of this discontentment on the future course because the Tibetans still look up to the Dalai Lama reverentially and are aware that the Tibetan culture is being suppressed with subtlety by the Chinese authoritarian administration and policies.
China’s Ninth White Paper on Military Strategy (Part II)
Mr Claude Arpi commenced Part II of his presentation by referring to his article on ‘China’s Military Strategy’ (USI Journal, Apr-Jun 2015 Issue, pp 196-208) and Maj Gen PJS Sandhu’s Paper on ‘China’s Ninth White Paper (WP)’ available under Strategic Perspectives on the USI website and said that he fully agreed with his analysis. He said that since military strategy was not his forte, he would cover the subject from a civil journalist’s point of view. According to his interpretation the Ninth WP is more inclined towards the sea; because for the first time, ‘open seas’ protection had been included in the WP. The new WP says, “the traditional mentality that land outweighs sea must be abandoned and China should expedite the development of cyber force.” Mao’s old view of PLA being ‘an Army of peasants’ is dead. In the years to come the PLA Navy and Air Force are set to take a more predominant place in Beijing’s defence strategy. The shifting of focus towards the South China Sea also corresponds to the happenings there in the last one year in which the Chinese are seen to be far more assertive against the claimants there and a little less critical of the Japanese.
The main theme of the 9th WP is ‘active defence’ which means ‘China will not attack unless under attack itself.’ The Chinese have not forgotten their sufferings due to foreign aggression in the past and justify ‘active defence strategy’ as reflected in the Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hu Chunying’s statement, “History dictates that we must build a national defence force to match up to our economic development and the need of safeguarding national security.”
The WP goes on to speak of four critical security domains : Oceans, Outer Space, Cyberspace and Nuclear Force. The strategic tasks of the PLA according to the WP are as under :-
(a) To deal with emergencies and military threats to safeguard territorial land, sea and air.
(b) To safeguard China’s unification.
(c) To safeguard China’s security in new domains (such as Internet).
(d) To safeguard China’s overseas interests.
(e) To maintain strategic deterrence and carry out Nuclear counter-attacks.
(f) To participate in regional and international security cooperation.
(g) To fight infiltration, separatism, and terrorism to maintain China’s political security and social stability.
(h) To render disaster relief and rescue while protecting China’s rights and interests.
The emphasis on the ‘security of China’s overseas interests’ translates into more aggressive policies along the Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOC). The US office of Naval Intelligence has confirmed that ‘during 2014 major qualitative improvements had occurred within naval aviation and the submarine force. China, however, promises that it will never enter into a nuclear arms race and keep its nuclear capability at the minimal level for maintaining its national security.
The Chinese worldwide reach was highlighted by showing that ‘rich countries’ led by the US are the major recipients of Chinese investment. In contrast, engineering and construction activity is concentrated in developing countries, topped by Nigeria and Venezuela.
The Chairman thanked Mr Arpi for his two presentations and requested him to share his perceptions on the US interest in Tibet, and contentious issues involving China’s problems with its neighbours and its peripheral regions e.g. Taiwan, Mongolia, Hong Kong and unrest in Xinjiang.
Gyalo Thondup, Dalai Lama’s elder brother, in the Epilogue of his book ‘Noodle Maker of Kalimpong’ has written that his greatest regret in life was to have collaborated with the CIA; because from the Day One i.e. since 1951, when the Dalai Lama fled to Yatung, the Americans helped themselves and had their own agenda. They never really helped the Tibetan cause while engaging with China, yet, he (Gyalo Thondup) contradicted himself by saying that only America could help Tibet. In Mr Arpi’s opinion, the Tibetans still believe that only America could save them, but he personally did not think so, because America does not have a border with Tibet. Despite many resolutions passed in the last 50 years, no significant progress has taken place to meet Tibetan aspirations and cause. Mr Arpi recounted some incidents related to the US and UK leaders from the past in support of his opinion and felt that the US would not be able to do much to help the Tibetan cause.
Is Buddhism becoming more popular in China?
Buddhism is very important for Beijing. Here again there is a dichotomy. They want to take over the leadership of the Buddhist movement in the world and have the means to organise big Buddhist conferences in China to bring people together. The Chinese Communist Party is using Buddhist movement to serve their interests. Currently, the party membership exceeds the number of Buddhists in China.
Nomination of successor of Dalai Lama – what factors would come into play when Dalai Lama decides to name his successor? How would the Indian Government and the rest of the world react to it?
Dalai Lama told the BBC in December 2014 that he would not reincarnate. The power, politics and complexities involved in selection/nomination was explained in detail to highlight the manipulations likely to be resorted to by all concerned with this issue. Mr Arpi said that the Tibetans were very lucky to have had a very wise Dalai Lama for such a long time. Everyone is very apprehensive about the future developments.
1. Can the Tibetan cause be sustained and kept alive and what will it involve? Is there any hope, or is it a dead issue?
2. What is the reaction of Tibetans and minorities in China to the resettlement of Hans Chinese in TAR because lots of incentives are being provided to them?
There is a lot of frustration amongst Tibetans (and other minorities also) because of restrictions imposed on their travelling in China but not for the Hans. Protests and demonstrations in Tibet are tainted with anti-nationalism accusations but the same are viewed differently in mainland China, and the Peoples Armed Police reacts to them in a much harsher manner.
Would the Chinese efforts to propagate the idea that ‘the future of Tibet lies with China’ succeed? What would be the effect of such initiatives on the Tibetans, specially after the Dalai Lama? What kind of restrictions can be imposed on those who oppose Chinese initiatives and propaganda?
Yes, a number of cultural/political delegations from TAR are being sent to influence Tibetans and parliamentarians in other countries but they are not getting influenced by such efforts and initiatives.
What is the impact of Xinjiang unrest on the Tibetans?
Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongols are subjected to close scrutiny which is developing mistrust amongst the minorities. In fact, incentives are announced to gain information about minorities. This has created mistrust and alienation amongst the minorities.
Are there any visible changes in the situation in TAR or in the border areas with India? What indications are discernible from the visits of senior Chinese leaders in these areas?
Recently, both the commanders in Guangzhou and Chengdu have been promoted as Lieutenant Generals which indicated that military leaders in TAR are being given more importance. The Chinese state today is generally ‘very nervous’ because of the anti-corruption campaign and the economy which is not doing as well as it was projected to be. Instability and nervousness is noticeable because of recent increase in visits to Tibet by senior Chinese leaders.
In the WP, while assessing the security situation, there is a specific mention of the ‘separatist forces and unrest in China’s periphery of Xinjiang and Tibet’. There is also a mention of their concern for the perceived threats to the Chinese system. It reflects that their efforts for assimilating the minorities and territories have not succeeded so far. In fact, the alienation of the Uighurs and Tibetans to the Han Chinese has definitely increased. In this context, would the Chinese initiative of ‘New Silk Route’ help in assimilating Tibet and Xinjiang better?
The Chinese are doing a lot for development of Western Tibet in the area called Nari which lies north of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and East of Ladakh. A lot of visits and surveys indicate that they will link up with Xinjiang and Central Asia. So, they believe that by developing these areas (which are very remote) they would be successful in assimilating the minorities inhabiting the remote areas.
Concluding Remarks by the Chairman
The Chairman thanked Mr Arpi for the interaction and taking all the questions and concluded the RTD with the following remarks :-
(a) China, as an emerging world power, would definitely need bases across the world to safeguard its worldwide interests. What we need to examine is the type of arrangements and alliances China would have to sustain such bases. This will happen for sure, and the Chinese will follow the US, Britain and France; who have such bases in the Indian Ocean with the help of friendly countries. Rest of the world will have to find a way to deal with China on this issue whether they like it or not and we will have to find a way for ourselves also and prepare for meeting contingencies arising from that situation.
(b) On the nuclear issue, China will endeavour to have the same number of nuclear weapons or capability as the US and Russia have to assert its world power status. They may, however, decide to keep the number slightly below it to project a ‘good boy’ image for themselves. They would not join the race in the classical sense but would not only keep upgrading their nuclear capabilities but would also look at other technological innovations which would complement their nuclear domain, e.g. it could be space and cyberspace. We need to look at the whole architecture realistically.
(c) China taking to the seas or shifting its focus on to maritime domain does not mean that it would degrade its land based capabilities. So any country having land borders with China needs to take note of this because China would maintain the sanctity of its international borders to assert its world power status.
(d) China would not lower the status of PLA because in case of turmoil inside the country, it is the PLA and the PLAP which would come into play strongly and decisively. The importance of PLA (Army) in comparison with PLA Navy and Air Force would never go down. This is because PLA (Army) has the power to be applied internally, should the things go wrong within the country.
In the end, Lt Gen PK Singh, Director USI thanked everyone for their active contribution in the RTD.
Opening Remarks by Director USI
Speaker – Mr Claude Arpi
Report compiled by Lt Col BS Varma (Retd), Assistant Director and
Major Sonali Gupta, Editorial Assistant at USI.