BENGALURU: The over six-month-long standoff between India and China “could be the new normal,” says well-known author, historian, Tibetologist Claude Arpi. In an exclusive interview with The New Indian Express, Arpi spoke about Beijing’s plans to develop Xiaokangs (moderately well off and tech connected villages), most of which are along the LAC, to have a safe base for its military operations and to “appropriate the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama process.” Arpi is the author of a quadrilogy on the India-Tibet relations (1947-1962) and holds the Field Marshal KM Cariappa Chair of Excellence at the United Service Institution of India for research on the subject. Excerpts from an interview:
How long do you think the India-China standoff will last in East Ladakh?
I think it will go on till at least the end of the winter, if not beyond that. It may be permanent (perhaps on a smaller scale), a new normal. It is difficult for Xi Jinping to publicly lose face and go back to the April position. The most pressing issue for India is to hold its position in Ladakh and not go for any type of compromise.
China has developed around 200 villages along the LAC. Is this a move to keep the border under control?
In 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping mentioned his well-known theory about the border areas. He said, “governing border areas is the key for governing a country, and stabilising Tibet”. Since May this year, we have understood that China wants to stabilise and control its borders with India, to have a safe base for its military operations.
The Sixth Tibet Work Forum (TWF), held in August 2015, had also decided on several poverty alleviation schemes, particularly the construction of hundreds of Xiaokangs (moderately well-off villages), some particularly close to the border with India. Tibetans call them ghettos. Beijing’s rationale behind developing the border villages is that it is easier to control sedentary ‘masses’ in well-connected villages, that is, via wi-fi and surveillance cameras.
It is a fact that today the whereabouts and actions of all the ‘resettled’ villagers can be controlled through their mobile phones and other surveillance gadgets. The development of these strategic villages is a crucial way to ‘govern the borders’ and has serious implications for India’s defence, as the demography of the border areas will be slowly changed by this. Many of these villages are located all along the Indian border from Rutok in Ngari Prefecture in the West to Rima (opposite Kibithu) in the Lohit valley in the East. A few model villages have been built on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh, others north of the McMahon Line in Tsona area.
Besides using muscle and money power, is China now trying to appropriate ancient Tibetan medicinal and cultural heritage by going to UNESCO for a certificate?
China believes that Tibet belongs to it since immemorial times (at least since the Yuan dynasty, which ironically, was Mongol and not Chinese). Therefore, everything Tibetan is Chinese. Whether it is medicine, architecture, opera, literature or even the reincarnation system, it belongs to China. Beijing is keen to get this recognised by an international institution like UNESCO. But the Tibetan system of medicine - ‘Sowa Rigpa’- is far more Indian than Chinese, by its origin, concept and philosophy.
Is China working on a post-Dalai Lama era? Who will fill the vacuum after the present His Holiness the Dalai Lama?What will it mean for India?
China is definitively working hard on the post-Dalai Lama period. The atheist Communist Party wants the Dalai Lama to be reborn in China. Beijing plans to appropriate the reincarnation process. We can only hope that the Dalai Lama will leave clear instructions. He has said many times that he wants to come back in a free country. See how the Chinese Panchen Lama was selected, while the rightful one is still kept in custody somewhere in China. Photos of The Dalai Lama are banned in Tibet; he is shown as a villain. For India, the Dalai Lama is important, first because he represents the Nalanda Buddhist tradition, and also because he is the symbol of the kinship between the people of Tibet and India.
How important it is for India to keep alive the occupation of Tibet by the Chinese a world issue?
India has 4,056 km of border with China. It is not easy, especially in the present time, to open a new front. But India should have a proper Tibet policy and promote Tibetan culture, arts, medicine, spirituality, etc. It should give greater official pre-eminence to the Dalai Lama.
I think it is important for India to watch China’s Information Warfare (IW). All over the world, Beijing tries to influence people, through an organization called the United Front Work Department. Billions of dollars are poured to ‘influence’ people, in the media, universities, etc. This is bound to increase. It should be watched carefully.