Wednesday, 12 April 2017

The Politics of Reincarnation

          The vast extant of the spiritual power of His Holiness the Dalai Lama [HHDL] was recently on display for all to see, when he visited various monasteries in Arunachal Pradesh. People came in huge numbers not only from local areas, but as far away as Bhutan and the Himalayan sub-region. No doubt that the Chinese would have taken due note, for no matter however much the Chinese authorities may have tried, the messages contained in HHDL’s sermons would have resonated with most of the Tibetan population in Tibet. And this is where the crux of the matter lies. No matter how much the Chinese authorities try, political repression or economic development, they have just not been able to shake the abiding faith of the Tibetans in the persona of HHDL. The Tibetans give to HHDL, a faith and a belief and trust that is unparalleled anywhere else in the world.
     The Chinese authorities realise that as HHDL advances in years, it is only a matter of time before they would be faced with the awkward dilemma of his reincarnation as the 15th Dalai Lama. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a written response just last week, said that the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama should follow religious rituals, history rules and national regulations. The reincarnation of the Dalai Lama should be conducted according to tradition of drawing of lots in front of the Golden Urn Shakyamuni in Dachau Temple, Lhasa [Jokhang Monastery]. The Chinese Foreign Ministry made it unmistakably clear in various forums that the next Dalai Lama can only assume his role after their approval [emphasis added]; a practice that was established in 1793. The problem is that no one believes them nor would the Tibetans ever accept that the next Dalai Lama be approved by Beijing. Therefore an awkward situation may arise, when there maybe two Dalai Lamas; with no one paying any reverence to the Beijing approved one. It would indeed be a scathing loss of face for the Beijing authorities. It would seem that the Chinese authorities have already identified Gyaltsen Norbu [the Chinese appointed Panchen Lama] as a key player in the pivotal role of helping the Chinese authorities to impose the next Dalai Lama on the hapless Tibetans. On 10 June 2015, the Chinese President Xi Jinping received Gyaltsen Norbu at the Zhongnanhai, at which point the latter swore ‘undying loyalty’ to the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] as also to Xi personally. The CCP also issued a White Paper on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Tibetan Autonomous Region [TAR], in which it hopes of ‘identifying and appointing the 15th Dalai Lama’.
     The present HHDL is very firm on the question of the next Dalai Lama. He described the Chinese view point as “quite nonsense”. In a March interview with John Oliver of HBO, HHDL said “ As far as my own birth is concerned, the final authority is my say, no one else’s”. Earlier HHDL had issued a public statement on the issue on 24 September 2011, in which he explained the issue as follows:

       When I am about ninety, I will consult the high Lamas of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions, the Tibetan public and other concerned people who follow Tibetan Buddhism and re-evaluate whether the institution of the Dalai Lama should continue or not. On that basis we will take a decision. If it is decided that reincarnation of the Dalai Lama should continue and there is a need for the 15th Dalai Lama to be recognised, responsibility for doing so will primarily rest on the concerned officers of the Dalai Lama’s Phodrang Trust. They should consult various heads of the Tibetan Buddhist traditions and the reliable oath bound Dharma protectors who are linked inseparably to the lineage of the Dalai Lama. They should seek advice and direction from these concerned beings and carry out the procedures of search and recognition in accordance with tradition. I shall leave clear written instructions about this. Bear in mind that, apart from the reincarnation recognised through such legitimate methods, no recognition or acceptance to a candidate chosen for political ends, including those in the PRC.

     The Chinese certainly see that the issue of the next Dalai Lama will resonate in Sino-Indian relations. Although over the years, India has officially accepted that Tibet is an autonomous region of China, yet doubts about India’s intentions continue to linger in the Chinese mind. Even the Chinese military action in 1962 was attributed not to the legality or otherwise of the McMahon Line, but as Mao Zedung told a Nepalese delegation in 1964; to the fact that ‘in the opinion of the Indian government, Tibet is theirs.’ Further, China justified military action in 1962 by observing that ‘the Indian ruling circles had taken the mantle of the British Imperialists’ and had begun to ‘regard China’s Tibet as an Indian sphere of influence’ [emphasis added]. This Chinese paranoia about India’s intentions towards Tibet continues till present times, for whenever a Sino-Indian joint statement is envisaged, the Chinese insist that a sentence be incorporated stating that Tibet is a part of the People’s Republic of China. 
      Despite enormous efforts put in over the years, China has still not been able to pacify Tibetan aspirations for complete autonomy or even independence. China has tried everything from brutal crackdowns to economic sops and yet the Tibetan yearning for independence just has not died down to China’s utter exasperation. China faces a crisis of credibility in Tibet even after a half century of so-called ‘democratic reforms.’ Sometimes even Chinese officials, in candid moments, admit that although their economic strategies have been a success, yet their political strategy for ensuring stability has been a dismal failure. The Chinese received a rude awakening just prior to the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008, when extensive disturbances erupted in Tibet. The Tibetan protests in 2008 were the largest and most widespread since the exile of the Dalai Lama in 1959. Since 2009 over 150 Tibetans have self- immolated in protest against Chinese rule. Sometimes Tibetan protests are subtle, such as displaying pictures of the Dalai Lama in prayer rooms, writing protests in poetry and music  or turning towards the south [Dharamsala where the Dalai Lama resides], in the presence of Chinese officials, and bowing their heads in silent prayer. Nothing irritates Chinese officials more!
        China realises that the Sino-Indian boundary is in actual fact largely the Tibet-India boundary; except for a short length that abuts Xinjiang. There are no old Tibetan maps that show the southern boundary of Tibet with India! However much China may obfuscate the issue today, but for the period 1911 to 1951, China was totally absent from the scene and Tibet was independent all but in name. There was not a single Chinese soldier or administrator present in Tibet and that there was no effective Chinese control anywhere near the Tibet-India boundary. China is aware that the majority of the Tibetans still yearn for such a period to return. 
         History shows that Inner Asia with Tibet located at its strategic epicentre has suffered from periodical political upheavals. In the past, Tibetan cultural and religious influence in Central Asia was significant. This was largely excised through the persona of the Dalai Lama. The stage is thus set for a clash of wills for the selection of the next Dalai Lama. It promises to be a high stakes issue, in which India is bound to be heavily involved as an interested party. Apart from the obvious religious angle, India is bound to be as deeply involved as the Chinese, for it is quite possible that the next Dalai Lama may be reincarnated within the Tibetan community in India. After all it was the great 5th Dalai Lama that founded an important Monastery in Tawang that is connected to the famous Drepung Monastery in Lhasa!

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

The Dalai Lama in Arunachal: Why Are the Chinese So Angry?

           The recent visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama [HHDL] to Arunachal Pradesh has brought forth a torrent of protests from Beijing; each becoming shriller by the day. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswomen, Hua Chunying went so far as to say that HHDL’s visit had “severely damaged China’s interests and China-India relations” and further that “China expresses firm opposition to this visit and will lodge stern representations to the Indian side”. The Chinese press was no less virulent with the Global Times going so far as to say that “New Delhi may have under- estimated Beijing’s determination to safeguard core [emphasis added] interests…” The question is why is Beijing so deeply riled and its reaction so virulent and why has it taken such a hard line position? 
       There is no doubt that Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of the Indian Union and as such HHDL is free to visit any apart of India, particularly if his mission is concerned with religious affairs. No government in India in the past has ever relented on this aspect, although sometimes discretion has been exercised. It would, however, be worthwhile also to examine the issue from China’s perspective; so as gain understanding on what can be expected from India’s northern neighbour, with whom we share a long and an un-demarcated Line of Actual Control [LAC] on our northern borders.
     It is not the first time that the Chinese have expressed their ire at HHDL’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh and particularly to Tawang. This is HHDL’s seventh visit. In the past Chinese protests have died down once the visit was over and things have returned to normal. The sensitivity of the Chinese to this territory and happenings there is also not of recent origin.As far back as 8 September 1959, PM Zhou wrote to Nehru that “this piece of territory corresponds in size to Chekiang province of China and is as big as 90,000 square kilometres. Mr. Prime Minister, how could China agree to accept under coercion such an illegal line that would have it relinquish its rights and disgrace itself by selling out its territory —and such a large piece at that?” If Mao and Zhou in 1959, at the height of their power, could not contemplate abandoning claims to NEFA [as it was then known] in favour of India unilaterally; it becomes exceedingly difficult for the present Chinese rulers to act otherwise. But much has happened since then and circumstances change as do policies.
   The present rulers of China base their acceptability and legitimacy to rule on the promise of rejuvenating China, both economically and politically and by stressing that never again would the Chinese people have to face a century of humiliation as they did in the past. The century of humiliation is the period commonly referred to from 1840 to 1949; when the People’s Republic was founded. The key point being that China is now politically united under a strong government and in economic terms it is the second largest economy in the world. It aspires to a status of equality with the US and be recognised along with the US as the two great powers of the day. Recently Fu Ying, the Chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People's Congress [NPC], speaking in the US had this to say about China's present attitude on territorial disputes.
       “China stumbled into the 20th Century with its capital under occupation of Imperialist armies and for over a century China suffered the humiliation of repeated foreign aggression and bullying. That is why the Chinese people are very sensitive about anything that is related to the loss of territory and would never allow such recurrence even if it is an inch of land [emphasis added]. This is something that the outside world needs to keep in mind when trying to understand Chinese behaviour.”
      The present Chinese leadership under President Xi Jinping faces multiple domestic challenges at home, as well as an uncertain US attitude on its eastern seaboard. Domestic challenges range from a slowing economy, an ageing population, wide income disparities and environmental degradation. The Chinese are unsure on whether Trump might push them towards a trade war; particularly since he refuses to back down on alleged Chinese currency manipulation and unfair trade practices. The Chinese leadership is also heading towards the 19th Party Congress later this autumn, where the leadership for the next five years is nominated/selected. Although Xi Jinping’s leadership is by no means under challenge, yet he cannot have his way in the run up to the Party Congress, unless he is seen to be a “strong” leader.
       Thus when the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs takes a stern position and its protests are rather virulent in tone; these are not only meant for India to contemplate, but are also designed to show the Chinese government’s domestic audience on how “tough” its stand has been on the issue of Chinese territorial integrity. The Chinese see the visit of HHDL to Arunachal Pradesh and particularly Tawang as a challenge to their territorial integrity. It is for this reason HHDL is dubbed as a “splitist” and they know that his visit even for religious purposes has political overtones that resonates amongst the people of the sub-Himalayan region.The Chinese leadership cannot afford to be seen as “weak” on a matter considered by them to be a core issue. Strategically it makes no sense for the Chinese to open yet another front on its South-Western borders at this stage, when it is faced with far more pressing issues on the South China Sea and on the issue of Taiwan. But there are limits to Chinese patience. We have to keep in mind that China’s economy is five times larger than India’s and its military expenditure three times as large. China is capable of initiating action in all five formats; land, sea, air, space and cyber.
    It is well within our sovereign rights to invite HHDL to visit any part of India, including Arunachal Pradesh. What we should be careful about is not to give un-necessary provocations to the Chinese while asserting our rights. And pique over the Chinese attitude to our membership of the NSG or the Chinese behaviour over Masood Azar are much better dealt with in other forums. It is in our strategic interest to see that the Sino-Indian border remains peaceful, as it has over the last several decades. 

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Trump-Xi Summit:Chinese Grievances and Bargaining Chips

        On the eve of the meeting between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping; the Chinese delegation are bound to carry a long list of grievances against the US, but none stands out more starkly than the alleged widespread belief within Chinese governmental and society at large that US intentions were perverse and that its objective was to abort China’s rise, so as to prevent it from becoming a rich and a powerful first class world power. This effort was entirely due to the US desire to maintain its hegemony and global dominance. Chinese cynicism about US intentions has not abated since the assumption of power by President Trump, but has only exacerbated due to Trump’s inconsistent pronouncements, his blistering Twitter handouts and some of his bizarre pronouncements during the election campaign that seem to accompany him to the White House.
     The Chinese belief is that the main  objective of the US was to overthrow the Chinese social system and the rule of the Chinese Communist Party [CCP], so that China would once again become faction ridden, its society divided and thereby would be unable to continue down the path of rapid development and thus present no challenge to the US. The main instrument that the US was using was the issue of Human Rights in China, so as to create disorder and chaos and malign China’s image before the world. The US strategy of subverting rivals and bringing states under its domination, in Chinese eyes, had a proven record of success. The Chinese often cite as examples the events that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the “colour” revolutions of post Soviet Central Asia and the Arab Spring. The Chinese authorities are extremely suspicious and sensitive of the activities of several western sponsored NGOs, who they feel are only to happy to promote western “values” that undermine the cohesiveness of Chinese society.
       This sinister and cynical view of US policies may not be entirely without foundation. While the US has sought co-operation from China in areas of common interests in order to build a long term, stable and an amicable relationship; yet the US has tried to nudge China towards political liberalisation and ultimately a basic political change. Of course, this was couched in language to make China a “responsible stakeholder” and that the US was not intending to “weaken” China, but to make its government more responsible and accountable to its people. The US also tied to sell the idea that “relationships built on shared interests and shared values [emphasis added] are far more long lasting than those built on a coincidence of interests. Nevertheless while the US leadership continues to say that it welcomes China as a “prosperous and a successful” power, yet they also continue to seek “strategic reassurance” from China. In other words, largely maintain the status quo.
    What has added to Chinese perceptions about the malign intentions of the US, is the insistent belief that exists within Chinese society that China is intrinsically a peaceful, defence oriented and ethically minded state. The US in particular and the western powers are seen as intrinsically aggressive, militaristic and commercially selfish. Therefore since China cannot by its very cultural self perception give offence; conflicts with the US must therefore arise only as a consequence of US aggressiveness. While these perceptions may be very Confucian in thought, yet lingering Marxist thought also leads to the conclusion that the US is trying for world domination and that only China stands in its way.               
     Most Chinese are convinced that liberal democracy would not work for them. They saw that even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the western powers did not come to the assistance of the new Russia, but tried to curtail its power and damage its economy. Even where discontent exists in China, it does not get translated into a desire for a regime change. Take for example the year 2012. There were reportedly about 150,000 protests regarding state seizure of property, police brutality, environmental degradation, wage and pension disputes and official corruption, but the anger underlying these disputes did not translate into a demand for a regime change. Nonetheless, the CCP leaders seem transfixed that this might lead to a popular uprising against them. The CCP leadership is conscious that the ultimate arbiter of their fate remains the PLA and therefore nothing is done to undermine its credibility as a formidable fighting force. The PLA’s views are listened to as one of the determining factors when eventual policy formulations are made. Doubtless when Xi Jinping visits Trump, the PLA’s inputs would be decisive. The CCP leadership also knows that the only state capable of interfering in its internal affairs to cause significant disaffection is the US. The whole internal security apparatus in China seems designed to prevent such a happening.
      The main Chinese objective in the forthcoming talks would be to establish a kind of “parity” with the US, as also to seek “assurances” that the Trump Administration would not try to subvert their system, or to move away from the established policy of “One China”.  In order to achieve these goals the Chinese leadership had earlier conceptualised its ideas in an article entitled “Innovations in China’s Diplomatic Theory and Practice Under New Conditions” that was published as a signed article in Qiushi [Seeking Truth]. The main points were [a] A policy of non-conflict and non-confrontation. This policy requires the two sides to view each other’s strategic intentions in an objective and sensible way [b] Mutual respect. This requires the two sides to respect each other's choice of social system and development path, respect each other’s “core” interests and major concerns and [c] Win-Win cooperation.
     Of particular interest is the fact that Trump already seems to have conceded on Taiwan by reiterating the “One China” policy. The fact is that on Tibet the US clearly recognises Tibet as a part of the People’s Republic and ever since the Nixon visit in 1972 has shown no inclination to meddle in Tibet.The Chinese are aware and know this. It would be interesting to watch what the Chinese have in mind. By introducing Tibet as a “core” issue are the Chinese trying to extend the concept to mean a joint Sino-US co-operative effort for South Asia as also for the Af-Pak region? The US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley’s recent remark about the US playing a role to “de-escalate” Indo-Pak tensions, is a clear pointer that South Asia may also figure in the Trump-Xi Summit. The US too would have its own list of issues, not the least the North Korean nuclear issue which would probably be top of the agenda.
     The Chinese are also very wary of the demands that Trump might raise on economic issues. The huge US trade deficit, alleged Chinese currency manipulation, IPR and the bilateral Investment Treaty all are likely to be the focus of intense bargaining. No wonder this Summit has been dubbed as a transactional Summit. 
       As US press reports indicate the Chinese have been quick off their feet. The help received from Henry Kissinger has been invaluable. It was Kissinger who on a recent visit to Beijing help set-up the “special” Chinese link with the White House, by bye-passing all other departments of state. The fact that Trump chose his son-in -law, Jared Kushner to head the White House end of the link, shows the importance of the Sino-US relationship. There is no doubt that both sides are approaching the Summit with extreme care and by the indications available it promises to be a very transactional. Let us wait and see.