China is Reinforcing its Border with India
The Middle Kingdom is winning the trust of the locals to safeguard its border. This must worry India. But can China win over the Tibetans who have largely been sympathetic towards India?
At the end of the 19th Congress, Chinese President Xi Jinping appears to emerge the winner on most fronts. First and foremost, the 19th Congress approved an amendment to the Party Constitution, enshrining ‘Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Er’.
Though the new Central Committee and Central Commission for Discipline Inspection were more or less along the expected lines, the Politburo and the Standing Committee brought some surprises. Apart from these party issues, in his three and half hour speech, President Xi mentioned several times “border” and “minorities” areas.
Xi particularly asserted: “We will devote more energy to speeding up the development of old revolutionary base areas, areas with large ethnic minority populations, border areas, and poor areas. We will strengthen measures to reach a new stage in the large-scale development of the western region [ie Tibet and Xinjiang].”
To start implementing his policy, the Chinese President sent a personal letter to two young Tibetan herders soon after the conclusion of the Congress. They had written to him introducing their village, north of Indian border.
According to Xinhua, Xi “encouraged a herding family in Lhuntse County, near the Himalayas in southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, to set down roots in the border area, safeguard the Chinese territory and develop their hometown.”
Safeguarding China’s territory against whom? India obviously!
Xi acknowledged “the family’s efforts to safeguard the territory, and thanked them for the loyalty and contributions they have made in the border area. Without the peace in the territory, there will be no peaceful lives for the millions of families,” he wrote.
The two Tibetan girls, Choekar and Yangzom, had told the Communist Party of China’s (CCP) Secretary General about their “experiences in safeguarding the border area and the development of their township over the years.”
Interestingly, the girls’ village, Yume, is located a few kilometers north of the McMahon Line, not far from the remote Indian village of Taksing.
Xi also hoped that the girls’ family could “motivate more herders to set down roots in the border area ‘like kalsang flowers’, and become guardians of the Chinese territory and constructors of a happy hometown.”
Yume is said to be China’s smallest town in terms of population. In the years to come, Beijing will undoubtedly put pressure on India not only by using Tibetan populations living north of the McMahon Line, but also by influencing the Indian tribes south of the Line, enticing them with a better life on the Chinese side.
Can this letter from Xi Jinping be considered as an acknowledgment of the McMahon Line, as the Indo-Tibet border? From the reporting of Xinhua, it seems so. Xi clearly thanks the two herders for ‘guarding’ the border?
Already in November 2016, China Tibet Online had mentioned Yume ‘town’ on the southern slope of the Himalayas as the border area of China and India: “If driving, you had to go south 400 km from Lhasa to Lhuntse in Shannan (‘Lhoka’ for the Tibetans) City, then there was another 200 km of muddy mountain roads before you reached Yume.”
The official website asserted that “It is the least populous administrative town in China. With an area of 1976 square km, Yume has one subsidiary village, and only nine households with a total of 32 people. Yume has very few residents, but it is not impoverished, nor backward.”
The article concluded: “For a long time, there was only one family in Yume. After the Tibet Autonomous Region Government dispatched officials and doctors, built the roads, and added a power station and a medical clinic, Yume became more and more lively. In 2015, the annual average per capita disposable income in Yume was 26,000 yuan.”
On October 12, 2016, the powerful Tibetan Autonomous Party Secretary, Wu Yingjie, surprisingly landed in the area. According to The China Daily, Wu met frontier troops posted in this remote area: “[Wu] conducted a field survey on how to promote development and stabilisation of the border region, people’s livelihood, grass-root-level Party building and poverty alleviation.”
Wu told the local residents: “You defend the border areas of our country and protect our country from being nibbled or divided. I salute you.” A flag raising ceremony was held in Yume on the occasion of the party boss’ visit.
Why so much interest in this tiny border community? Just to protect the border against India?
The China Daily notes: “Frontier soldiers and local residents patrol in the township. Every resident of the township has a strong awareness of border defense and make it part of their life.”
On the other side of the McMahon line is Taksing; it is the last village in Upper Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh and …certainly the first place susceptible to be invaded in case the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) decides to retaliate after the recent confrontation in Doklam.
The problem is that the village still has no access road and the local inhabitants believe that it will take at least five to 10 years to see a road reaching Taksing.
It is not that nothing is happening. On April 6, 2017, the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) managed to open a new section connecting Tame Chung Chung (known as TCC) and Nacho. The inhabitants living in the TTC’ vicinity had dreamed of seeing this road for decades, but like many other things for the border population, it had remained a dream.
A BRO’s communiqué explained: “The area is located in an extremely remote area with rugged terrains, thick vegetation and inhospitable weather. The place has remained inaccessible since 2009.” The road was to be opened in 2009.
As an aftershock of the Doklam incident and the subsequent ‘speeding’ up of the border projects, the TTC-Taksing road may hopefully be opened in two years.
In October 2014, The Deccan Chronicle reported that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had been focusing on the Taksing area: “After the recent Ladakh incursions, frequent intrusions by China’s PLA in Arunachal Pradesh’s Taksing region have come to the notice of the security agencies.”
At that time, some local villagers had managed to shoot a short video on their phones of the PLA ‘visiting’ their village.
In the meantime, China is building up pressure by enticing and cajoling the Tibetan population on their side of the McMahon Line.
In several places, China has started developing ‘border’ infrastructure on fast track, bringing large number of Chinese tourists; not only to Yume, but also in Metok County, north of Upper Siang district or Lepo village, near Khenzimane on the McMahon Line.
Xi’s letter tends to show that Beijing has decided to use more and more the local Tibetan populations in border areas to ‘defend’ the Middle Kingdom’s borders. This should deeply worry Delhi; so far the Tibetan population has been sympathetic towards India, can China manage to change this?