Tibet: Connectivity, Capabilities and Consequences
Speakers: Rukmani Gupta, P Stobdan, C Rajamohan and Dr. Srikanth Kondapalli
The seminar focused on Chinese infrastructural developments in Tibet, with particular reference to the construction of the Golmund-Lhasa railway, and their significance for India. Amidst infrastructural developments and issues of connectivity, what should be India's strategic response ?
Maj. Gen Dipankar Banerjee (Retd.), Director, IPCS
Roads and connectivity are crucial issues around which nations develop strategic plans. Capabilities create situations which provide opportunities and challenges to which nations must respond. Major infrastructural developments, such as in Tibet in recent years, have led to such changes and these need to be addressed. These cause anxiety though, at the same time, they also provides opportunities to address afresh some of our basic border policies. Development of our border areas is abysmal and the neglect is almost criminal. Minimal infrastructural developments have taken place in all the years since independence, and even after 1962. Our border roads are perhaps some of the worst in the world and state highways cannot even be described as roads. They are rather more suitable as tracks for 'motocross'. In Ladakh, for instance, in the last two decades conditions have become worse than what they were 20 years ago. On the other hand, some remarkable things have taken place in Tibet with the construction of the Golmund-Lhasa railway which was inaugurated on 1 July 2006. So, what are these developments in Tibet and what are the implications for India?
Rukmani Gupta, Research Officer, IPCS
Infrastructural developments in Tibet may be divided into three phases. In the 1950s, the emphasis was on rural development and the setting up of primary infrastructure. 1978 onwards, with the PRC opening up to the west, the Central Committee made a decision to extend assistance towards 43 major projects including the Yanghu Hydroelectric Plant and the Gonggar Airport. In the 1990s, a development program for the western regions of China was initiated and 30 billion Yuan were invested by the Central Government towards the Three Rivers project and infrastructural development. 2005 marked the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region and 24 development projects were undertaken. It was decided that over six billion Yuan will be invested in renovation and the construction of infrastructure. This was aimed at facilitating economic development and integration, though problems relating to Han migration into Tibet and the marginalization of the Tibetan people continue to persist.
China has made tremendous investments in developing infrastructure in Tibet and the sheer capital investment is enormous. Significant investments have been made in water, solar and wind energy. Relating to hydro energy, the Yarlung Zangbo River stores half of Tibet's waterpower resources and its main stream and five branches have a theoretical waterpower reserve of 100 million KW. Since 1951, the state has invested ten billion Yuan in building small and medium-sized hydro power stations and, during the Ninth Five-Year Plan period, a batch of large hydropower stations, including the Yamzho Yumco Hydropower Station, the Oiga One-Stage Hydropower Station, and the Mainla Water Control Project were built. These increased the installed capacity by 150,000 KW. Further, a giant hydropower station is to be built in the Jinsha-Lancang-Nujiang area in southeastern Tibet and an electricity grid is being constructed at a cost of 2.53 billion Yuan.
The utilization of solar energy saves Tibet 127,000 tons of coal annually. This is equivalent to 100 million Yuan. Also, since the 1980s, Tibet has implemented the Sunlight Plan. The Ngari Photo electricity Plan was set up with a total investment of 100 million Yuan while, at present, the total installed capacity of photoelectric equipment in Tibet is 2,000 KW. Amdo Power Station is the largest photovoltaic station in China and the total capacity of solar facilities in Tibet exceeds 2 MW.
With regard to air links, by 2003, the China Southwest Airline had opened 10 domestic air routes in Tibet, including those from Lhasa to Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Xi'an and Xining, as well as one international air route from Lhasa to Kathmandu. In 2002, there were a total of 3864 air passengers marking a 17.1 per cent increase from the previous year. The goods and mail handling capacity also increased by 18.2 per cent, amounting to 15400 tons. After reconstruction and expansion, Gonggar Airport can now accommodate large aircrafts such as the Boeing 767 and the A340. Further, in September 1994, Bamda Airport was built with an investment of 250 million Yuan. It is known to have the highest elevation in the world. Chinese civil aviation officials have given their approval for the third civil airport in the TAR and the construction of Nyingchi Airport started in October 2004, costing more than 700 million Yuan. The airport is expected to have an annual passenger flow of 120,000 and is situated near Nyingchi in Nyingchi Prefecture, which shares borders with India and Myanmar.
As far as road links are concerned, a highway network covering the whole TAR has taken shape. Since 1989, the state has invested 1.71 billion Yuan in the overhaul of the Qinghai-Tibet Highway, which has improved the transportation conditions significantly. Sections on the Sichuan-Tibet Highway like the part from Qamdo to Bamda Airport have been paved with asphalt, as has the road from Lhasa to Gonggar Airport and the Quxu-Xigaze section on the China Nepal Highway. While road transportation still accounts for over 80 per cent of Tibet's passenger and good transportation, 92 per cent of the townships and 70 percent of the administrative villages in the autonomous region have access to roads. The following are the major highways:
? Qinghai-Tibet Highway: Running from Dining in Qinghai to Lhasa in Tibet, the highway is known as the "lifeline" of the autonomous region. The 2122-km highway carries more than 80 percent of goods into or out of Tibet. It is paved with asphalt and crosses the Kunllun and Tanggula mountains.
? Sichuan-Tibet Highway: Running from Chengdu in Sichuan to Lhasa in Tibet, it extends 2413 km and links Tibet with various provinces in southwest China.
? Xinjiang-Tibet Highway: Running from Yecheng in Xining to Ngari in Tibet, it extends 1179 km and is the highest highway in the world.
? Yunnan-Tibet Highway: Running from Xiaguan in Yunnan to Mangkam in Tibet, the highway extends 315 km.
? China-Nepal Highway: Running from Lhasa to the Friendship Bridge in Zham, Xigaze in Tibet to Kathmandu in Nepal, the highway extends 736 km.
Regarding railway links in TAR, the Golmud-Lhasa rail link became operational on 1 July 2006. It is the highest railroad in the world and the highest point in the railway is the 5,072 metre (16,640 ft) high Tanggula pass in the Kunlun mountain range. China has also unveiled plans to extend the Chinese National Rail Network to the border with India. The railway line will reach the Tibetan town of Dromo near Nathu la and Sikkim. Further, up to US$1.2bn dollars will be invested in building new railways in the Tibetan region in the next 10 years. These will include a line extending west from Lhasa to Shigatse and another heading east from Lhasa along the Yarlung Tsangpo River (Brahmaputra) to Nyingchi (Kongpo). The line to Dromo will extend from the Lhasa-Shigatse Line.
Lastly, pertaining to the future development of TAR, the latest geological survey of Tibet completed in September 2005 has led to the discovery of three large iron ore deposits, each of which are between 50-100 million tons. There also exist oil reserves in the region, exceeding 10 billion tons.
The Lhasa - Golmud Railway has been the most important strategic development since the 1950s. It alters the military balance and, while it concerns the US, it has been ignored in India. The issue has been overshadowed by distant events like the Indo-US nuclear deal and India has subsequently failed to notice crucial developments in Tibet. There is no transport logic or profit motive behind the construction of the railway. Rather, there are strategic and political reasons behind the construction of the railway that have been disguised in the name of development. Its economic value is rather doubtful. Rather, this project - valued at $23.7 billion- is intended to boost the "Go-West" campaign under the 10th Five Year Plan. There was, however, great internal opposition in China about the feasibility, cost, and sustenance of the railway. Further, there is a South Route , a South-North Water Diversion Project as well as an energy pipeline to coastal China.
The military implications for China include a reduction in military expenditure and an easing of the logistical difficulties faced by the PLA, in terms of supplies and garrisons along the frontiers. It also allows a feeder line, service bases, and airfields. China will now be able to transfer 12 divisions in 30 days to meet pre-positioned equipment. Tibet's missile launch brigades include the Da Tsaidam 412 Brigade; the Datung - Wulan 408 Brigade; the 9th Academy (Factory 211) in Amdo area; an Anti-frigate Missile Centre at Drotsang; a Missile launch site at Terlingka; a new site launch site in Amdo; bases at Risur in Nagchuka; and bases at Tago Mountain. There is also an underground site at Lhasa and Kangpo.
With regard to demographic pressure, 4000 people a day are expected to enter TAR and by 2015 there will 20 million Han Chinese in TAR, subsequently shifting the cultural boundaries between the Tibetan people and the Han Chinese. The 'Go-West' campaign also includes sending Chinese graduates to Tibet. Such movement will tighten China's grip over Tibet. The fragile environment is also in danger as an alarming number of crises have been reported. Problems include deforestation, shrinking of grasslands, soil erosion, logging, damming of rivers, uranium-related activities, mining ($54 billion timber in four decades), a decrease in the amount of frozen soil, and global warming leading to ozone layer depletion.
The implications of such activity for India are significant. A cursory glance at a relief map of Tibet shows the strategic importance of Tibet. China is soon going to control Asia's principal source of water. Nearly half (47%) of the world (10 countries) depends on Tibetan water for its sustenance. China will use water as a strategic commodity and as a tool for energy & economic diplomacy with neighbors. There is a Western Route Transfer Project , a South - North Water Diversion Project, and a West - East Power Transfer Project.
With 22 dams under construction, Tibetan water will be diverted to Northern China to places like Gansu, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia etc. A major $13 billion project to divert Yangtse (Drichu) to the Yellow river (Machu) through a series of tunnels & dams is underway. The earlier proposal for 13 dams along Salween was suspended due to pressure, but is being revived again.The alternatives include diverting Brahmaputra to Three Gorges via Salween and Mekong to enrich reserves and to divert it to the Yellow River through dams along Brahmaputra, Salween and Mekong. Further, and most significantly, the U turn of the Yarlung Tsangpo - or the 'Great Bend' - descends 300 meters and has enormous hydropower potential - twice that of the Three Gorges Plant.
In addition, the Main station at Pema Koe, near the Indian border, is to be operational by 2009. Scientific America in 1996 quoted a study by the Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics about the possibility of using Peaceful Nuclear Explosion (PNE) for diverting Brahmaputra water - altering a 16 km gorges area- and the Science Journal of London described the area as a major earthquake prone area. It is also of spiritual significance as the home of Dorje Phagmo.
A barrage near Tsamda gorge near Guge kingdom could disturb the Sutlej flow and enable China to control and regulate the flow of water into India. China could simply hold water during the dry winter and release it during flood seasons, and this could cause catastrophic consequences. Similar things could also happen in Lohit (Zayul Chu) Subansiri and Indus amongst others. The hydrological threat from Tibet in the form of manmade dams, Glacier Lake outbursts etc. could become a virtual liquid bomb.
Essentially, while China launches a new unconventional/non-linear war the question that must be asked is whether India is prepared to respond.
Developments on the ground are fascinating and have huge consequences for India. India needs a balanced perspective in order to seriously address the situation and must see it in a larger perspective. Even facts have to be collected more accurately and clearly, and it is very easy to get lost in grand sweeping statements. Further, it is important to step back from some of the emotive issues related to Tibet and China.
Roads and access issues are classic geopolitics. The connectivity of Tibet is going to be inevitable and we have to accept Chinese infrastructural development in Tibet. If something is inevitable we must recognize this rather than protest the facts. How do we deal with this situation? For China, road construction has always been of paramount importance and earlier the strategic problem was the lack of roads to Tibet. Even in 1950, integration of the outlying regions with the mainland was important for China though now there is also an economic dimension that has its own dynamic. The Chinese economic strategy demands connectively across its borders.The historic significance of what China is doing is in that it is taking capitalism to the most interior parts of the Asian landmass with the purpose being to make these regions world markets. Many more consumers will be brought into this world market.
Road connections are logical in that the ports closest to China are in South Asia. If China develops Tibet, China will look for ports southwards and this is makes perfect economic sense. While it might have some strategic complications, one cannot deny the logic of these infrastructural developments, as in the case of the Karakoram highway. The Dalai Lama, in fact, had the correct approach to the railway when he said that he was not opposed to the railway line itself, but rather wanted to see what happens. Tibet needs modernization and it should not be denied access to the world. There is no running away from the fact that Tibetan growth was 14 percent in the last year and that a new middle class is emerging in Tibet.
What are the consequences for India? Does it pose a threat to India? Essentially, a train that comes in also has to go out; if goods are being brought into Tibet they must also go out of Tibet. People in Lhasa are very enthusiastic about doing business with China. The problem with India is that we have been playing on the back foot for so long with China that we are willing to forgo our gains just so that China also doesn't gain anything. Unfortunately, there is a defensive, defeatist mentality in India with regard to China. Also, in terms of demography, it is not a one sided story as there are many Indo-Tibetans in TAR.
What should be our strategy? We cannot stop China from building roads and so we must also build roads. China has not stopped us from doing this and - as a consequence of our defensive mentality- since 1962 we have decided to keep certain regions underdeveloped in order to prevent access. This was a conscious decision. However, finally, a section of the establishment has realized that India must also build roads and develop these border areas. Moreover, India is not an upstream country and there are going to be problems with water. How do we deal with this on a cooperative basis? We need new mechanisms, though so far we are not even willing to talk to China about river mechanisms. We must engage in dialogue with China.
India must seek connectivity itself rather than deny connectivity to China, and we have not thought strategically about rail links in the North. It is a historic opportunity for India. India can gain access to Tibet, Yunnan and other western regions. Why have we sacrificed our access to these regions till now? We must increase connectivity to Western China with the building of roads.If globalization is inevitable, the prevalent logic must deal with this reality and constant adaptation is essential. The game must be played on the front foot instead of on the back foot. It is important that we do not generalize at this point and examine each project separately. The pace of innovation is going to change with China in the Himalayas and we must adapt to this instead of being opposed to it: India needs, in this regard, to alter its mindset.
Dr. Srikanth Kondapalli
A number of issues have emerged relating to infrastructure and connectivity. The question that arises is whether these developments lead to modernity and whether it suggests gains or losses for India. The Eighth and Ninth five year plans in China laid out several projects in Tibet for agriculture, water conservation, hydroelectricity, airfields and highways. About 90 per cent of the Tibet Autonomous Region's budget is subsidized by the Central government. They have spent roughly 40-45 billion Yuan in the last 40 years and they are planning to spend another 40 billion Yuan under the 11th Five year plan (2006-2010).
The Qinghai-Tibet Highway is the most crucial highway of Tibet connecting Xining and Lhasa. Chinese military documents mention that the Indian Air Force has plans to block this road so that all transport gets disrupted. The Chengdu to Lhasa road is very patchy, the Xinjiang-Tibet road is not that important anymore and the Yunnan-Tibet road is also not very significant.The Kodari Road (736 km), which connects Lhasa to Kathmandu, is more important in connecting this part with South Asia and facilitating Tibet's trade with neighbouring countries. However, with the reopening of Nathu la , the significance of the Kodari Road will decline. This is a concern for Nepal. There are plans to build Kodari Road II and also a railway line from Lhasa to Shigatse and then from Shigatse to Kathmandu.The Chengdu Military Region controls the entire Tibetan Autonomous Region, except for western Tibet which is under the Lanzhou Military Region. Five Reserve Divisions are present for any contingency.
As far as modernity is concerned, in front of the Potala Palace, there used to be kiosks run by Tibetans. During the construction of these roads, all those Tibetan structures were demolished and now new malls have come up which are owned by Han businessmen. This is one consequence of connectivity.
Initially, when the Xining to Golmund railway line was constructed in the Tsaidam Basin during 1955-84, there was a proposal to extend it from Golmund to Lhasa. However, that was shelved in 1984 because several economists advised the State Council against the railway project. It was revived in 2001. Justin Yifu Lin, a known economist from Beijing University, is against this project. He says that China is spending money on a project that is economically useless. The development of the Tibetan Railways was a Hu Jintao project. He served as party secretary till 1988 and was the driving force behind the railways, despite all the opposition. It was he who flagged off the train from both ends. Whenever the railways were constructed in the western region, whether it was the Urumqi Railway in 1960 or the Kashgar Railway in 1999, 60 per cent of the local population was displaced by the Han nationals in Urumqi, Xinjiang or Tibet.
The Tibetan Railway has cost 3.1 billion dollars . It is approximately 4000 meters above sea level and . Approximately 2.18 per cent of the 1118 kilometers long railway is made up of tunnels. However, once the construction of these tunnels was completed, they were kept unused for several months. Why? It has been speculated that these are probably missile bases.The most difficult area is in the Kunlun Mountains which is approximately 100 long. It is a permafrost area and Professor Wu Chenghu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has mentioned that, by 2050, the Tibetan Railway could face major difficulties by heat generated on the Tibetan Plateau. This could cause the Railway to collapse. There are three other railway lines that will come up in future namely, the Yunnan Route, the Sichuan Route and Kam fu-Tibet route. The strategic significance of this railway is that, in the 19th century, the Indian government thought of Tibet as a buffer zone between the Indian Empire, the Chinese Qing Dynasty and Czarist Russia. However, this railway is shifting that buffer zone, in all probability, to Kathmandu.
What are the prospects for the future? After the extension of the Golmund-Lhasa line, there are also plans to extend this line to Shigatse and then to Yatung. The Chinese Ambassador to India, Sun Yuxi has also mentioned a Shigatse-Yatung extension. This has been denied by the Chinese Ministry of Railways because the 11th five year plan does not have any provisions for the Shigatse-Yatung rail construction.
The proposed routes are very important. The railway line from Lanzhou to Golmund will extend the Lanzhou Military Region's reach. There are 30 regiments of the People's Liberation Army present at Golmund which can use the railway line and reach Lhasa, Shigatse and other feeder lines. The Chengdu to Lhasa line can bring five more divisions of PLA to the border.Apart from the three Canadian Firms- Power Corporation, Bombardier and Nortel- that jointly developed the Lhasa Railway, Bell Helicopters will provide aerial surveillance and sky patrolling services for the Tibet Railway.
According to a survey conducted by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, this railway can carry three million tons of cargo and approximately 800,000 passengers per year. These 800,000 passengers are mostly visitors and the number who will permanently settle in Tibet is unknown. By 2010, the number of visitors is expected to increase to more than five million. A Beijing University Professor suggested that there are three forms of migration to Tibet: firstly, seasonal migration which lasts for one-three years , secondly , there is five year migration ,and thirdly there are the cases of permanent migration. According to his survey, permanent migration is minimal. In the past, seasonal migration has been the most common form of migration.
The $3.16 billion spent on the railway line is to be recovered by 2010 through the sale of tickets alone, which at present amounts to $725 million per year. About 1800 mines are located in Tibet, out of which 900 are already functional. China wishes to pump out approximately $80 billion worth of minerals from Tibet in the near future. About 3000 tons of mineral water will be transported from Qinghai to Lhasa which will then be transported to the mainland through the Tibetan Railways. So, if all this is compared to the cost of construction of the railways, the cost is actually rather low.China has also built settlements every 60 kilometers of this 1118 kilometer long railway line. These settlements, which will have a Han population, will be used for repair and reconstruction in times of attack on the railways by Tibetan Guerrillas.
There are 15 airfields in and around Tibet out of which only three are open for civilian activity. The Chinese Air Force faces problems in terms of fuel, oxygen and the runway length. The airlift capability, as well as the load that can be carried by these aircraft, is limited and they must decide between fuel and armaments . .Su-27s have recently been deployed in the Chengdu Military Region and they might, in the future, also be deployed in Tibet. The airfield which is being constructed 30 km away from Shiquanhe is a major military installation . It is also a few kilometesr from Demchok, on the path to Mount Kailash. The Chinese have objected to the reconstruction of the Chushul and Fukche airfields, and their use by the Indian side in the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1990s, as part of the Joint Working group meetings, China objected to any construction or air activity in the Laddakh Region. Now, an airfield is being constructed and there is no protest from India. Moreover, at Shiquanhe, China is building a nuclear power plant.
Regarding other aspects of connectivity, about 60,000 subscribers with mobile phone capacities of 85 channels were counted in 2000 and this could have gone up to 100,000 by now. Two radio stations, two T.V. stations, program controlled telephones and SATCOMs are being setup and 80 per cent of the counties are connected to the network. Several post offices and airmail routes have also opened up. The Tibetan railways are using GSM-R communication lines and even lamas are using mobile phones. Lhasa is connected to Shigatse through fiber optical lines and China wants to extend these lines till Shiquanhe. With this, China will observe a quantum jump in communication technology and also in C4ISR in the near future.
China's military concentration is on the eastern seacoast. The Chengdu Military Region has two Group Armies, two tank brigades and one artillery division. No airborne divisions are present in Chengdu or Lanzhou. The 13 and 14 group armies, which are present in Chengdu, are called monkey troops in China. They can climb the mountains very fast like Ladakh Scouts and are very amenable to weather. The 13 Group Army is a Rapid Reaction Force (RRF) , and this is an important concern for India. The Indian Ministry of Defence has mentioned that there are about 50-60 missiles targeted at India. There is no de-targeting agreement between India and China despite all the CBMs and agreements. China has refused to sign this agreement because China does not accept India as a nuclear state. China has conducted several counter terrorism operations and exercises near the Line of Control, which have included the participation of 2000 PLA forces. Pakistan has also participated in an operation in Tazik County, Xinjiang, with 200 soldiers.
Lastly, with regard to water, 36% of the water from the Tibetan Rivers flows into India and only 24% goes into China. Approximately 354 billion cubic meters of water flows to India and despite all claims, the dependence of China for water from Tibet is less than India.
Questions and Comments
1. Is there any census of Tibet available and what is the population of Tibetans and Han Chinese in Tibet? Also, one can start with the assumption that there could be a threat from China and then try to eliminate the threat with various policy options.
2. One of the major impediments from the Indian side for road building in the Himalayas is that these mountains are young. Most of the time avalanches hit these roads and maintenance becomes very difficult. On the Tibetan side, what is the nature of mountains? Are they young? Do avalanches take place? What are the natural difficulties for the Tibetan Railway?
3. It is true that the Himalayas on the Indian side are young and the mountain ranges on the Tibetan side are old and more stable. Also, the terrain makes it much easier to build roads on the Tibetan side. However, the presence of permafrost raises certain questions for ChinaThere is no doubt that the Border Roads Organisation has done a commendable job of building roads though, to date,19th century road building techniques are being used by India. Compared to this, all roads by China are built mechanically and under modern conditions. This is much quicker and faster in not only road building but in preventing against road slides. India uses an ancient technique that results in the roads remaining out of use for a significant part of every year. There should also be more tunnels ensuring shorter distances and longer availability.
4. China's foremost concern now is on peaceful reunification with Taiwan. Its National Security Objective is to remain prepared for forced reunification. If it is assumed that in the next 30 years China resolves the Taiwan issue, then what will be the new focus of all the troops that it has built up? Where will their focus shift? Is there any possibility that they can move southwards?An assessment was made in the past that it will take at least two summer seasons to bring 25-30 infantry divisions and necessary supplies in Tibet for any meaningful attack on India. However, with the opening of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, this can now be done in a single summer. Better connectivity is no doubt good for trade but it also creates capabilities and this is dangerous as intentions can change. The territorial dispute along the border with China remains unresolved and China is in no mood to resolve this quickly. Deng Xiaoping even said that it's a dispute leftover from history and should be left for future generations to resolve. When that future generation comes into being, the military asymmetry between China and India could have grown asymmetrically.
5. Strategic specialists are in unanimous agreement on the point that it is unlikely that a war will occur in this century between major powers. The conflict will most likely be economic and not territorial or military. The focus should be on remaining strategically prepared while simultaneously engaging in economic cooperation.
6. It is not that the Tibetan Population is against the development of Tibet. Rather, they are scared that these developments are not benefiting Tibetans but Hans and other nationalities. Further, though the construction cost of this railway is not very high the maintenance cost will be very high due to the permafrost and other difficult conditions.
7. The problem India had about 30 years back of low self-confidence still persists. The apprehensions surrounding the opening of Nathu la demonstrates this insecurity. As far as this railway line is concerned, even in the early seventies, India knew that this construction would take place. All evaluations were done in terms of the strategic consequences for India. There is nothing new in this threat. Moreover, the Chinese threat is being exaggerated and there is a danger that this will then turn in to a self fulfilling prophecy. The major threat is the feeling that is likely to arise amongst the local people along the border : they will begin to feel sidelined and sense that they being over taken by China. They will see development on the Chinese side and backwardness in India.There has been a dispute from time immemorial between upper and lower riparian states. Under international law, lower riparian states also have rights like upper riparian states and subsequently, joint management of the entire river bed is required.
8. Literature on disaster studies shows that Chinese activities pose a threat to India through ecological disasters and both sides may become vulnerable in the process. The railway lines can be disrupted. However, the question for China is not the reunification with Taiwan or any external military threat but rather the threat from within, in the form of Chinese Communist Party losing its legitimacy.
Dr. Srikanth Kondapalli
Apart from the two schools of thought which have come up here - namely, the development school and the threat school- there is also a third dimension pertaining to the whole discourse of development, At the time of the Nathu la / border trade agreement, signed between Prime Minister Vajpayee and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao in June 2003, approximately 250 Lepchas and Bhutias came to the border to protest against the opening of the pass. Their argument was that, with the opening of Nathu la, the Marwaris will benefit and they , the Lepchas and Bhutias, will get displaced.
In military terminology, China is currently a low level threat. It is not mobilizing any troops in Tibet but once the Taiwan problem is solved its focus could shift to India. This will depend on India-China relations at that point in time. It is more important to develop economic relations with China than it is to increase our defence budget at present.As per PLA Official Statistics there are 180,000 troops in the Chengdu Military Region, and 220,000 troops in the Lanzhou Military Region. Chengdu also caters to South East Asia and Lanzhou to Central Asia and Aksai-Chin. That means there are 400,000 troops, in Tibet, that face India and other countries. On the contrary, India has 11 mountain divisions in four corps, which is roughly 210,000 troops against the Chinese troops and this is a mismatch. The Tibetan Government-in-Exile in Dharamshala estimates that there are about 500,000 troops alone in Tibet in the form of the People's Armed Police, the Chinese Frontier Guards and the Garrison Duty Forces.
On the question of the census, there are Tibet Statistical Yearbooks of different years which are very thorough in terms of the profile of households and other data. Even though there is slight exaggeration of Chinese development in Tibet in the reports, it is a good source of data. The income of Tibetans is just 14% of that of the Han migrants which clarifies that the argument that it is Han or mainland driven development that doesn't benefit Tibetans is correct. The population ratio of Tibetans to Han migrants is 1:3 in the cities of Tibet but in rural areas, Tibetans are in a very large majority. The Tibetan population in the Tibetan Autonomous Region is 2.7 million but if Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan are included then it amounts to 5.4 million. In comparison, the Chinese population is 7.2 million.
Maj. Gen Dipankar Banerjee (Retd.)
As far as the Chengdu Military Region is concerned, its focus is towards South-East-Asia and marginally towards the Tibet Autonomous Region. Lanzhou Military Region is overwhelmingly turned towards Central Asia and Mongolia and minimally towards Ladakh. The overall strength of the Chinese forces, including the People's Armed Police , is in the region of 100,000. The original eleven mountain divisions of India, meant for the northern borders, have over the years been largely diverted to other sectors and been dual tasked. Therefore, Indian military capabilities have been substantially depleted over the years. The reality today is that this reduced force deployment by both sides, along with the substantial confidence building measures in place along and the frequent border meetings, have led to stable, friendly and cordial relations along the border.
Although there are some Nepalese in Lhasa, there are more Hans in Kathmandu. This year in Amravati, deep in Andhra Pradesh, His Holiness, the Dalai Lama celebrated Kalchakra which 8400 Tibetans attended. Additionally, 4000 Tibetans came for His Holiness the Karmapa's ceremony in Bodhgaya. All these people, who were technically Chinese Nationals, came without any documents. Can India send one Indian to China without any document? Each year Indian pilgrims go to Mount Kailash but they are escorted by MEA Liaison officers. They are kept miles away from Mount Kailash. It is a question of principle for nation states and it is a violation of Indian laws.
Questions and Comments
1. Can India expect a military threat from China in the next 10 years or so? If yes, then the type of preparation can be discussed but, if not, then what kind of threat can India expect from China in the future?
2. To ensure that India faces no war in the future, it has to have both a nuclear and conventional deterrence capability. It is this deterrence capability which will convince an adversary that it is pointless to fight a war.
3. Overdoing the military threat from China is not necessary. India has enough deterrence capabilities. A simple border conflict will not spill over into a major conflict. There is sufficient communication between both forces to take care of this matter.
4. China's GNP is three times the GNP of India. Last year, Chinese Scholars published 45000 papers in International Technical Journals while Indians published only 27000. In other areas as well, the gap has opened up and after a while, the time will come when India won't be able to match China economically. So, India will need to first address basic issues of economic growth.
Dr. Srikanth Kondapalli
The issue is that China has never recognized India or Japan as a major power. China will never accept the rise of another power in Asia. China was at the forefront of Resolution 1172 in 1998. It was the one who opposed the expansion of the UN Security Council and the inclusion of Japan and India in it, despite all its rhetoric. As far as military matters are concerned, India is not on the Chinese radar at the moment though this could happen perhaps in 2012 or 2015. This depends on the Taiwan question, issues in the South China Sea and other factors.
The Chinese can defeat India through environmental and cultural means - they don't need to use their military forces. Last year, in a seminar in Beijing, scholars pointed out that the Dalai Lama had done fantastic job by Tibetanising the entire Himalayas and diluting Indian influence. Since China controls Lhasa, it also controls the Himalayas. In a scenario where the next Dalai Lama is in Lhasa the people of the Himalayas will look towards Lhasa and not Delhi. China could consequently culturally defeat India.
Maj. Gen Dipankar Banerjee (Retd.)
Since 1986, there has been no military conflict between both armies. In the presence of all these infrastructural developments and issues of connectivity, what is India's strategic response ? Should India regard China as a strategic threat and end all types of cooperation? Regarding environmental and cultural issues as well as river water issues, India needs to engage with China so that these issues do not become a source of confrontation in the future. If the war with China in the future is not going to be a military war then, to match China's growing influence and its economic growth and capability, what should India do?
India has to develop its own comprehensive capabilities. It was decided this year to focus on the development of border areas. The people of Tawang, Chushul and other places have both a very low per capita income and standard of living. These places can become enormously rich if basic infrastructure is developed and if tourism is allowed and border trade develops. These places would then remain an integral part of India both in fact and spirit. There are thus no answers to many of the questions raised here today. It is a developing and an ongoing situation with enormous possibilities for cooperation and favourable interaction.