Round Table Discussion with Mr Claude Arpi at USI
On 23 Sep 2014 – A Report
A Round Table Discussion (RTD) with Mr Claude Arpi, a well-known Sinologist was held at USI on 23 Sep 2014. The RTD was Chaired by Lieutenant General Vinay Shankar, PVSM, AVSM, VSM (Retd). Mr Claude Arpi made a presentation on “Recent Developments in Tibet” which was followed by an interactive session. Lieutenant General PK Singh, PVSM, AVSM (Retd), Director USI welcomed Mr Claude Arpi and introduced him to the participants.
Introductory Remarks by the Chairman
Lieutenant General Vinay Shankar said that in view of the recent developments in the background of Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi’s visit to Japan and President Xi Jinping’s visit to India, followed by Mr Modi’s forthcoming visit to the USA later this week, it would be of great interest to hear Mr Claude Arpi’s views based on his personal experiences and interaction with the Chinese. The topic further gains importance in view of the ongoing stand-off in Ladakh.
Presentation by Mr Claude Arpi
The salient points covered by Mr Arpi during his presentation are given in the succeeding paras.
It is important to study original documents in ‘character based’ Chinese language to draw the right conclusions. The information given out by the Chinese in English version is different (in sense) to the one in Chinese language. This creates misunderstandings and wrong interpretation on both sides. The Chinese inscrutability is attributable to this phenomenon because the English writers have been unable to discern the true intent of the Chinese in their dissertations and comments in the media.
Enhanced infrastructural activity and recent visits by high ranking PLA dignitaries to the Ngari region of Tibet indicate some bigger designs on the part of the Chinese. Rapid development of roads, railways and airports in Tibet region suggest a three pronged strategy; firstly, economic development of the region to assimilate the Tibetans fully into the Chinese fold; secondly, to link Tibet to different Military Regions (MR) to facilitate quick switching of forces without disturbing the ‘static’ Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) and Peoples’ Armed Police (PAP) forces; and lastly, secure land routes across Pakistan to Gwadar port, and through Nathu La (Sikkim) to South Asia across Bangladesh and Myanmar to provide energy security in case the sea routes across the Indian and Pacific Oceans get disrupted.
Recently, General Fang Changlong, the Central Military Commission’s (CMC) Senior Vice Chairman accompanied by three MR Commanders : Lieutenant General Liu Yuejun, Lanzhou MR; Lieutenant General Zhao Zongqi, Jinan MR and General Li Shiming, Chengdu MR had visited Tibet to inspect the forces stationed in the frontier regions. The presence of the Commander of Jinan MR was a surprise. He might have been there because of his earlier posting in the Tibet Military District and being familiar with the ground situation. General Fang told the PLA troops to firmly obey the command of Mr Xi and the CCP Central Committee. This could be an indication that something is ‘amiss’ in the chain of command.
Earlier, Mr Xu Qiliang, a Vice Chairman of the CMC (CMC has two Vice Chairmen) had inspected some garrisons in Xingjiang and Tibet, and held talks with the leaders of the units garrisoned in border areas. What was the significance of these visits? It is difficult to give a definitive answer, except that the visits were meant to familiarise the top brass of the PLA with the situation in the border regions.
It also needs to be noted that while Mr Modi spoke about ‘Clarification of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), Mr Xi spoke of a ‘Border Agreement’ only and not about the LAC. This was significant. ‘Exchanging’ of maps was not mentioned in the Joint Statement too. Also, the choice of Nathu La, located far from the Kailash-Mansarovar area, instead of Demchok in Ladakh (as proposed by India), which was the natural and traditional point of entry for the pilgrimage, demonstrates that the PLA/PAP are not keen to normalise the situation on the Ladakh border.
Tibet Forum is being encouraged to showcase Tibetan culture to develop Tibet as an attractive tourist destination for the Chinese as well as foreign tourists. This again is aimed at assimilating Tibet into China both physically and culturally.
The recent stand-off at Chumar is strange because historically there has been no dispute around this place in the past with Tibet, and later with China. This is a totally new claim without any historical basis. Hence, the intrusions in Chumar area seem to be “pure land-grabbing by China” to keep the LAC in perpetual turmoil and delay the settlement of boundary dispute between India and China.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India seems to have had mixed results; possibly because of some kind of power struggle and internal differences between the Party and the PLA. The PLA generals and Communist Party of China headed by Mr Xi Jinping, seem to have differing views on relations with India. Possibly, some very senior PLA generals were unhappy about the thaw between India and China, or perhaps disturbed by Mr Xi’s fight against corruption.
Proper study of Ladakh history should be encouraged. This would help the locals to better understand the boundary issues with China.
The important points that emerged from the discussion are given below :-
(a) China’s long term strategy of opening up ‘land routes’ to link up with the Middle East and South Asia to meet its energy requirements, in case of disruption of SLOCs across Indian and Pacific Oceans, is clearly discernible in its agreement to open up trade and pilgrimage route through Nathu La.
(b) China is procrastinating on settling the boundary issue with India deliberately as part of a long term strategy to maintain pressure and thus restrain India from developing alliances with countries who are viewed as China’s adversaries.
(c) The rising nationalism and aspirations of the Chinese youth in the wake of economic development and prosperity in the globalised world, influenced by the global media and informationisation seem to have unnerved the PLA and the CMC leadership. Therefore, they are very sensitive to internal dissensions and disturbances within the country. They come down very heavily on any signs of dissent and exercise strict control on the means of communication and foreign media.
(d) China is very suspicious and fearful of Japan, possibly because of the past history between the two. Japan is considered ‘Enemy Number One’ and any country befriending Japan through economic and military cooperation is viewed with suspicion.
(e) Presently, there seems to be a power struggle between the PLA and the Party because of the increased military power of the PLA and aspirations of a ‘Rising China’. However, the growing corruption involving a few senior PLA generals has unnerved them because CMC Chairman Xi Jinping seems determined to act against them. This seems to be causing unease all around.
The Chairman thanked Mr Claude Arpi for his insightful presentation and analytical responses to various questions and comments. Lieutenant General PK Singh, PVSM, AVSM (Retd), Director USI thanked the speaker and presented him the latest Issue of USI Journal.
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