By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd Oct 13
It is never easy to read the Chinese tealeaves. On Tuesday, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived in China from Moscow for a two-day state visit, Beijing released a White Paper on Tibet that accuses “the 14th Dalai Lama and his clique in exile” in India of conducting separatist activities against China.
Dr Manmohan Singh’s visit to Beijing coincides with that of Russian PM, Dimitry Medvedev, and the Mongolian PM, Norovyn Altankhuyag.
Last week, Indian officials who were setting up the visit were talking up the hospitality that Beijing was extending to the PM, with President Xi Jinping breaking protocol by inviting him for a meal. In addition, the PM is invited to address the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, a training ground for China’s rising stars.
Now China watchers are wondering whether the grouping of Dr Singh’s visit with two others, and the release of the Tibet White Paper constitute a slight.
Few in New Delhi have forgotten then Foreign Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to China in 1979, which China marked with a surprise military invasion of Vietnam. Mr Vajpayee cut short his visit and returned to Delhi.
Noted China watcher, Professor Srikanth Kondapalli of the Jawaharlal Nehru University says it is not unusual to have a crowd in Beijing’s visitors’ room. “China receives about 150 heads of state every year, which is almost one leader every alternate day. Besides, the Indian PM’s visit was scheduled at relatively short notice. I would not read a slight into the presence of others.”
On the timing of the White Paper on Tibet, there is speculation that Beijing put that out in a hurry after a Spanish court agreed on Oct 11, 2013 to hear charges of genocide against former Chinese president, Hu Jintao, allegedly committed in 2008, after widespread protests on the 50th anniversary of the uprisings in Kham and Amdo in 1958.
The Spanish judgment, which related to legal proceedings initiated by Tibetan exile groups, came at a time when Hu Jintao’s official immunity had expired, theoretically exposing him to extradition proceedings when he travelled abroad.
China has strongly condemned the court judgment. And now the Information Office of the State Council, China’s version of a cabinet, has released the White Paper, entitled “Development and Progress of Tibet.” This marshals a formidable array of development statistics to argue that Chinese rule has transformed Tibet from a squalid and exploited backwater into a more progressive region of China.
In this official Chinese narrative, Tibet’s deliverance from exploitative Lama rule began in 1951 with the signing of the “Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet”, or the 17-Point Agreement. At that time, with Tibet facing invasion by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and India unwilling to provide assistance, Tibet’s rulers effectively surrendered to China in exchange for autonomy and protection of their Tibetan identity.
The White Paper sees a watershed in the 1959 uprising in Tibet, and the Dalai Lama’s escape to India, which many consider a breaking point in Sino-Indian relations. It says: “In that year the reactionary upper ruling strata of Tibet failed in an armed rebellion to perpetuate feudal serfdom…. Meanwhile the people of all ethnic groups in Tibet launched a sweeping democratic reform to overthrow Tibet's feudal serfdom system under theocracy that had been in place for hundreds of years, ushering in a social reform that was considered the most extensive, profound and progressive in Tibetan history.”
Since that time, says the White Paper without a tad of irony, Tibet has progressed “From traditional agriculture and animal husbandry to a modern market economy, from the integration of political and religious powers to their separation, from autocracy to democracy, superstition to science, and isolation to openness.”
The White Paper meticulously quantifies Tibet’s development. “The Gross Regional Product (GRP) of Tibet rocketed from 129 million yuan in 1951 to 70.1 billion yuan in 2012, representing an annual growth of 8.5 percent on average. The per capita GRP reached 22,900 yuan. Since 1994 Tibet has realized double-digit growth for 19 consecutive years, with an annual growth rate of 12.7 percent on average,” it notes.
One of the bitterest sources of Tibetan resentment has been Beijing’s drive to end the freewheeling, pastoral lifestyle of herders and graziers, forcibly resettling them into cinderblock communities that are intrusively policed. The White Paper paints this as a development success.
“By the end of 2012, a total of 408,300 low-income houses were built, providing housing to 88.7 percent of local households of farmers and herdsmen. All farmers and herdsmen will have moved into safe modern houses by the end of 2013. In 2012, the per capita floor space of farmers and herdsmen was 28.77 sq m, and that of urban dwellers 36.14 sq m (sic),” says the document.
The White Paper takes justifiable pride in Tibet’s new infrastructure. “Some 90 percent and 99.7 percent of Tibetan townships now have access to postal service and road network, respectively, and 94.2 percent of administrative villages could be reached by road. A total of 1.93 million farmers and herdsmen now have access to safe drinking water, and 150,000 rural households are using clean biogas,” it says.
Contrasting with India’s laboured efforts to connect border areas, the White Paper says: “In 2012 Tibet had 8,896 km of roads with sub-high-grade surface or better, and the total length of road opened to traffic reached 65,200 km. Every county and township now has access to road transportation. Sixty-two counties are accessible by tarmac roads. In 2006 the Qinghai-Tibet Railway began operation, introducing railway transportation into Tibet for the first time in history. The construction of the railway line connecting Lhasa and Shigatse will be completed in 2014.”
The Indian PM’s official meetings in Beijing commence on Wednesday. A centerpiece of the visit is expected to be the signing of a Border Defence and Cooperation Agreement (BDCA), which aims at defusing day-to-day tensions on the border.
Dr Singh is receiving favourable press coverage, with Xinhua crediting him with improving ties with China. The state-owned China Central Television has referred to him as “the father of India’s economic reforms.”