As Comprehensive National Power (CNP) of China is growing, its strategy to impose its national will (as perceived by its few key leaders), exercise its power through its behavior in the international arena is undergoing noticeable change. Besides unprecedented economic growth in last few decades, its technological advancement gave significant boost to its soft as well as hard power.
PLA celebrated its 90th anniversary on 01 August 2017, demonstrating its strengths through various parades, provocative statements, military posturing, live fire exercises, psychological warfare, and propaganda. The obvious question is that does it have sufficient confidence to be able to meet the goals set for it, as laid out in China’s Military Strategy document released in early 2015? Is its ambition moving much faster than its capability development (considering the fact that US defense budget is many times more than China)? Has China started giving teeth to its ‘Active Defense Strategy’ by ‘Incremental Encroachment’, based on extending its sovereignty claims on her one sided historical perspective (South and East China Sea, and Doklam Plateau Standoff being cases in point)? Is it that the goal which China had set for itself for 2049, President Xi Jinping wants to achieve by 2021, or in his next term itself? The article attempts to analyse some of these issues.
Chinese Active Defence Strategy turning into Incremental Encroachments
If threats, strategic and military posturing has been going on in South and East China Sea for few years now, Doklam Plateau is a recent incident, involving limited players as compared to South China Sea (SCS). What is significant is that China is increasing its territorial claims based on its own version of history as it suits them. It declares it as its sovereign territory, and resorts to creeping encroachment over a period of time, stopping just short of war, thereafter continue holding it, thereby resulting in expansion of its territory. Recently, after some increase in its CNP, China has started talking about global role, and its last Military strategy and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) documents published in 2015 give adequate indicators of its expansionist design, ascribing an expeditionary role for PLA, which has influenced China in working out its restructuring plans. China is crafting its strategic design for ‘China centric Asia’ through its assertive behavior. China used this strategy in SCS, attempting to convert atolls into islands in a manner that SCS becomes a “Chinese Lake”, ignoring international and legal opposition. China attempted to adopt the same strategy in Doklam Plateau also and expected that it will work as per its design, till it met a road block called “India of 2017”.
Why Doklam Plateau was Chosen for Ingress by China?
The events leading to Doklam Plateau stand-off and India China differences prior to that, have been widely covered by numerous authors, but the possible reason of China selecting it as the point to needle India could be:-
India and Bhutan boycotted Belt and Road Forum (BRF) for International Cooperation, the Doklam ingress could embarrass both the countries simultaneously.
Stressing on 1890 Treaty by China ( Signed between China and British India) takes away the logic of Tibet, as a player in dealing with India, thus a subtle message to Dalai Lama that he is not a stake holder in Tibet.
Test the depth of Indo- Bhutanese security relationship.
The area being too close to Siliguri Corridor/Chicken’s Neck, India had to be concerned and had to decide whether to intervene or otherwise in India’s own national interest, thereby conveying a message of standing up or not standing up to a challenge from Beijing in future too.
As the construction activity was in Bhutanese Territory, a strong Indian reaction was not expected.
In case India takes action, China can proclaim itself as an innocent victim and blame India to be an aggressor.
China was however surprised by an unexpectedly strong Indian reaction, and then it realized that the point chosen was such, where it had strategic and tactical disadvantages in escalating it. China was also surprised that in multiparty democracy like India, all parties are on the same page as far as stand on sovereignty and Doklam Issue is concerned. The end result is that China is extremely disturbed about it, and churning out fresh provocative statements almost on daily basis, launching psychological and propaganda war, war of words, and resorting to every possible means short of war to put pressure on India to withdraw its troops. The continuation of stand-off is exerting domestic pressure and rattling Chinese Government, which has painted larger than life image of its own power to make everyone follow its dictate. The Indian side on the other side has been relatively balanced, but firm in its stance, making very few statements.
Demarcation of Border/ Defining of LAC Inescapable to avoid Face-offs
Out of 14 countries with which China had border issues, it has resolved with 12 except India and Bhutan, With India, China has been delaying settling the border issue on some pretext or the other, and with Bhutan it has been shifting its claim lines many times. Even if resolution of boundary is considered to be a complex problem, the demarcation, delineation and defining of Line of Actual Control (LAC), (which is not a mutually accepted line as of now), is an inescapable necessity. It needs to be understood that with un-demarcated LAC, troops of both sides will patrol as per their own perceptions of LAC; some areas will be common which both sides will patrol to be its own. Every such patrol will be called as intrusion by the other side, hence such face-offs will continue till it’s demarcated, and the identification of its demarcation is made known to troops manning the borders. The incident of Chinese attempted intrusion on August 15, foiled by Indian troops leading to a short face-off in Ladakh, is one such common incident. Similarly the faceoff in Pongong Tso ( A lake which extends in India as well as China), is a result of non demarcation of boundary between both making resolution of the problem more complex.
Although China has resorted to adopting Sun Tzu principle of ‘winning without fighting’, or make India withdraw its troops without fighting in this case, through psychological and propaganda war, provocative statements, military posturing, exercises, cyber power, but India as a country, with strong leadership and operationally experienced military, is well placed to resist any action, without making much noise and maintaining its balance. Military threat or provocative statements cannot be an answer to this problem. The history can be interpreted by both sides to suit their claims, threat to revise policies can be from both sides (if China can talk about rethinking Sikkim/Kashmir policy/ or intervening in Nepal triangle,India can also talk about rethinking Tibet/One China policy or establishing diplomatic relations with Taiwan). The militaries have grown on both sides, the escalation dynamics of conflict will block growth and economic dreams of both countries, and the reality is that none can deter another.The mistrust between India and China is fueled by irresponsible so called Chinese media, publishing articles with vituperative rhetoric, Think-tanks and some ‘so called specialists’ reading the events beyond unimaginable limits (some Chinese media article talking of “Countdown to clash with India is on”, although Chinese establishment is distancing itself from such statement) has further made the resolution of Doklam Plateau stand-off difficult. Chinese efforts to establish bilateral talks with Bhutan have not materialized. Their efforts to involve Nepal have also resulted in response from their Deputy Prime Minister expressing unwillingness to take sides. Japanese Ambassador in New Delhi also said that there should be no attempt to change status quo on the ground by force, has also irked China, which finds no one buying its provocative narrative . Despite the fact that both countries don’t want a war, they would not like to appear weak in resolution process.
Doklam: The Way Ahead
When NSA Ajit Doval went to China to attend NSAs meeting of BRICS on 27and 28 July 2017, any expectations for commencement of meaningful diplomatic engagement was being unrealistic. Any war-game between Chinese and Indian Forces, if conducted by professionals will conclude that a land border conflict will end up in a stalemate, which is disastrous for the image of President Xi Jinping especially in an election year, besides being economically damaging for both countries. In a border standoff of this kind, neither side wants to appear weak; hence both seem to be reinforcing troops along LAC in Doklam Plateau and other areas, as a precautionary measure. It is therefore necessary that the two countries find a peaceful solution, with a face-saving gesture to ease tension. To resolve the current face-off:-
Diplomatic engagement without preconditions will have to commence immediately setting aside hard stands, war of words, and rhetoric. In case either side doesn’t want to be appearing compromising to its people, Track2/informal talks can begin as a face saving measure, followed by formal talks. Any precondition laid down by either side, is likely to be resented, and prolong the stand-off. Even US is of the view that both sides should talk and resolve the matter.
Chinese should stop construction of road immediately, honoring sovereignty of Bhutan and Trilateral agreement of 2012.
Once status quo of pre-standoff period is achieved, military of both sides should pull back to pre standoff positions simultaneously.
As a long term measure both China and India should expedite demarcation of LAC on ground, and disseminate it up to the level of troops manning the borders to prevent future face-offs, which is avoidable by cooperative political intent followed by intense diplomatic efforts.
South China Sea: Is Chinese Strategy same as Doklam?
The Similarity in Strategy in both Scenarios
An analysis of similarity in strategy of these two scenarios is relevant for India, as it has stakes in both. The Chinese strategy as described above in case of Doklam Plateau had been earlier tested in South China Sea, with some differences.This is evident from the fact that China on the pretext of sovereignty claims based on its own interpretation of historical maritime boundaries has carried out incremental encroachment into South China Sea, as part of her ‘Active Defence Policy’ which is the same pretext of its ingress in Doklam. The Chinese Foreign Minister had said “The islands in the South China Sea (SCS) have been China’s territory since ancient times, and China has the right to safeguard its territorial sovereignty”. It indirectly means that the world must accept whatever China claims as having been part of Qing dynasty or any other historical period as per its convenience, as sovereign territory of China. While in Doklam it is the Anglo-Chinese Treaty of 1890 wherein neither Tibet nor Sikkim nor Bhutan were consulted or taken into confidence. India along with other users of SCS has stakes in SCS face-off to prevent Chinese future interference in ‘Freedom of Navigation’ on account of major chunk of shipping trade passing through it, freedom of flight, restriction in offshore drilling deals for oil with Vietnam, and use of other global commons in international waters.
The Differences in Both Situations
SCS is a global issue with involvement of superpower US along with other users. China’s strategic competition with US in Asia is a reality, and it is increasingly encroaching into US strategic space and influence, which includes SCS. Military posturing, tough statements and other actions of US, have not helped them much in losing ground, as China has not halted its activities. While the infrastructure development by China in SCS being dual use (civil as well as military), keeps progressing, it is viewed as usurping global commons by US and other users of SCS, and strategic encroachment by regional claimants. The strategic and military posturing and occasional hard statements on the claim of ‘Freedom of Navigation’ by US is considered as ‘Disturbance to regional peace’ by China. In comparison India’s timely intervention on behalf of Bhutan has saved the situation for Bhutan.
China’s assertive actions in SCS have inadvertently distanced her from many old friends having stakes there. The issue of their sovereignty claim over Freedom of navigation claim of others creates suspicion about free flow of global trade. Although China has not obstructed any trade shipping so far, but in future if SCS is allowed to become China’s lake, it may lay down some rules of business inconvenient to other users of SCS and global commons. In case it declares SCS as her ADIZ in future, the freedom of flights over international waters will get affected adversely. With China’s claim that US is destabilizing/militarizing SCS, hence it may appear to be as China-US issue, but rest of the world including India, whose trade is passing through this crucial global SLOC may not like to see SCS being converted into China’s lake. While China will like to claim her freedom of navigation elsewhere, but her making it a sovereignty issue in SCS may not let it remain a zone of peace. The construction of airstrips, deployment of missiles, radars and other logistics facilities by China are an attempt to convert an ‘Atoll’ in SCS into an ‘Island’. This will help in converting the SCS into “China’s Lake” by using provisions of same UNCLOS, which it has been ignoring. These are not happy signs for other claimant countries and other regional users of SCS including ASEAN, who do not have the strength to stand up against China. They look upon US to fulfill its erstwhile role of ‘Net Security Provider’, in conjunction with other global users of SCS like Japan, India and Australia, without openly opposing China, and extracting best concessions from all.
China’s Blatant Refusal to Accept International Court of Arbitration Verdict
While China did not accept nor paid any heed to the International Court of Arbitration Verdict on the case taken up by Philippines, and has continued to build infrastructure on atolls to convert them into islands, but it definitely conveyed the global message that SCS cannot be treated as Chinese lake, as global SLOC and trade is affected by it.
It conveyed that Chinese claim of it being her sovereign territory is not being considered convincing. It also gave a message that similar adventurism to claim any global choke-point anywhere in the world, will also invite sharp criticism.
Increased military movement and exercises in SCS by China as well as US and its allies/friendly Navies is indicative of military posturing and War of words. While US, India and Japan maintain that Malabar exercises are not directed towards any other country, but analysts can read some subtle messages in it. As per Defence Update by US on July 22, 2017, it is looking at capacity building of Regional forces like India, Japan and Australia to check expeditionary and expansionist adventures of China.
For the time being no recognizable change in South China Sea is visualised. The military posturing and show of force by US and China will continue, along with diplomatic efforts to pull other affected countries into their strategic orbit. The other claimant countries can hope for better concessions from both sides as Vietnam was visited by erstwhile President Obama, as well as Xi Jinping with unprecedented offers once the SCS row heated up. The recent attempts of China trying to negotiate Doklam Issue with Bhutan directly, or trying to get Nepal into this issue is a case in point for similar strategy.
It certainly divides ASEAN with each country trying to get the best out of the existing situation and from both the superpowers.
China’s has been luring claimant countries to bilaterally resolve SCS dispute is unlikely to work. It attempted the same by putting out in the media that Bhutan had not objected to Chinese presence in Doklam. This has been adequately refuted by the Bhutanese Foreign Minister in his meeting with the Indian Foreign Minister on the sidelines of the BIMSTEC Foreign Ministers held meeting recently in Kathmandu. The regional Daclaration of Conduct(DoC) and Code of Conduct (CoC) will not be able to check China’s unilateralism. The freedom in use of global commons will have to be contested by regional and other affected countries, including global powers.
The verdict also gave a message that each contending side reads history, as it suits her in claiming territories, hence historical claims cannot be the overarching basis of territorial resolutions.
China is neither the first or last country in not implementing international arbitration verdict (in absence of any enforcement mechanism), but the verdict gave the global mood, with some international pressure on Chinese hierarchy. India on the other hand had acted maturely as a responsible nation, by accepting a similar verdict, which was passed to resolve territorial water dispute with Bangladesh last year by the PCA.
Unfortunately, all global and regional players affected have been watching, while China has been conveniently progressing construction. Even the regional claimant countries and ASEAN seem to be growing softer on this issue. The strategic and military posturing and isolated provocative/threatening statements by US and voices of resentment by others will not help. A hard stand by US and other global players will have to be taken to stop further construction and creeping encroachment in SCS as has been done in case of Doklam. It therefore needs to be seen that Doklam Issue and its resolution is a test case in checking Chinese hegemony or otherwise. The resolution methodology of Doklam Issue may bring some lessons for SCS also. A peaceful India- China border as well as South China Sea is essential for India, China and everyone’s growth and stability in Indo- Pacific region.
Commonality in the Way Ahead in Doklam and SCS
- China must stop further construction.
- China has to limit its imagination of sovereignty based on one sided historical claims. It needs to respect the ‘Sovereignty’ and ‘Core National Interests’ of other countries as well, otherwise its arrogance can make other countries take harder stands in future.
- Diplomatic engagement without preconditions will have to commence immediately setting aside hard stands, war of words, and rhetoric’s.
- The theory of deterrence to mould strategic choices will not work. If Vietnam could stand up to China and US, and both are finding problems in dealing with North Korea, then deterring India is unrealistic imagination.
- Military posturing to be controlled by contesting sides.
- International laws, Conventions, Treaties, Agreements need to be respected by all.
- The diplomatic exercise to resolve these should continue simultaneously with commercial engagements. Talks are a must for resolving differences in perceptions.
Unified Korea: A stepchild of Asia
One of the unexpected events that happened during the PyongChang Olympics was the remarkable diplomatic manoeuvre of the three stars: Moon Jae-in, Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump.
Moon Jae-in convinced Kim Jong-un to send a large delegation to PyomgChang and show to the world that North Korea was not a country ruled by an irrational man;
Kim Jong-un told the world that he wanted peace;
Trump made it clear that he was not Obama, who according to Trump did nothing to solve the North Korean nuclear crisis.
Moreover, the “three stars: have made it possible to have two historical summits: the inter-Korea summit and the U.S.-North Korea summit.
That is great, but what can we expect from these summits? One thing is sure; each of the stars seems to have different hopes and expectations. Whatever their hopes and expectations may be, these summit must bring peace in the Korean peninsula after seventy years of unnecessary uncertainty, fragile security, fear and tension.
The PyongChang Meetings
The PyongChang Olympics may have written a new page in the modern history of world diplomacy. The world was expecting the worst scenario of Trump’s war against Kim Jong-un and the very success of the Olympics was in doubt. But, the war did not show its ugly teeth, not yet anyway; the youth of the world competed, fraternized, shared the victory and showed sincere friendship in defeat. Yes, the PyongChang was a success as a sport festivity.
But there was something else. We were all impressed with the silent, elegant and dignified diplomacy of Kim Yo-Jong, sister of Kim Jong-un; we were all touched by the honest effort of the North-South combined women hockey team who worked hard together in harmony despite seventy years of ideological separation. The world class performance of the North Korean musical group made us wonder how a country under the constant threats from outside and inhuman sanctions for so long could produce such a team.
Moreover, the PyongChang has provided a diplomatic arena where three stars performed well. Moon Jae-in took an initiative, in consultation with Trump, to invite a huge delegation of North Korea to PyongChang and succeeded in creating a peace mood. In return, Kim Jung-un has invited in early March special envoy of Moon Jae-in to Pyongyang where Moon Jae-in was invited to a summit with Kim at the end of April.
The same envoy went to Washington and reported to Trump of Kim Jong-un’s wish to meet with Trump, who accepted Kim’s invitation. Trump suggested the end of May as the date of the summit. This drama of diplomacy is so unexpected and so dramatic that the world- frankly speaking- felt a little dizzy.
Another surprising event was the reaction of Xi Jinping and Abe. Both welcomed the double summits and claimed their piece of peace pie evoking their role in international sanctions against Kim Jong-un.
It goes without saying that we all wish for successful summits. But we are not sure how these summits will come out. Nonetheless, we may allow ourselves to have an idea about the motivations of the summit stars. If we know the motivations of the stars, we may able to have an idea about the summit outcomes.
What are the reasons for Kim Jung-un for transforming himself from being a man of reckless worrier to a man of peace? What does Trump hope to gain? What has motivated Moon Jae-in to go between Donald Trump and Kim Jung-un?
Why the summits?
Professor Anis H. Bajrektarevic famously claimed that a ‘birth of unified Korea is an end of the US supremacy in Pacific”. Is the eventual reunification indeed a geopolitical changer? Is it really so?
Let us begin with Kim Jong-un. His decision to seek for peace with the U.S. and its allies may be explained in terms of internal factor as well as external determinants. Internal factors would include the following. First, after the launch of ICBM Hwasung-15 in November last year, reaching as far as 15,000 km, the Juche regime seems to believe that it can now deter nuclear attacks of the U.S.; this was made clear in Kim Jung-un’s New Year Speech.
Second, the successful conclusion of the nuclear programs has made Kim Jung-un’s leadership more solid and more consolidated, thus ensuring internal social cohesion and political stability.
Third, the development of private market, the multiplication of mobiles phones allowing the North Koreans the access to outside world’s reality may have made them more open-minded and perhaps desire for more economic development and peace. It is very likely that Kim Jong-un is well aware of this reality and that it can endanger the survival of the Juche regime. But young leader seems to think that his leadership is strong enough to ensure the regime’s survival.
On the other hand, there are also several external determinants of Kim Jong-un’s desire for peace. First, the intensification of nuclear threats and endless sanctions have surely been an important factor of Kim’s decision. So far, North Korea has been successfully minimizing the damaging effect of sanctions mainly through underground network of trade and the emergence of private market and, partially, China’s aid.
Now, the situation is different. Since Trump took over the power in Washington, the nuclear threats have become more alarming, while the sanctions have become much more damaging, especially since China joined the international sanctions on North Korea. In such situation, North Korea might have concluded that the peace with the U.S. and its allies was perhaps the only way to save its regime.
Another external factor is the regime change in South Korea. For ten years (2008-2017), South Korea was governed by conservative presidents, Lee Myung-bak (2008-2013) and Park Geun-hye (2013-2017). By the way, both are now in prison for bribery, corruption and abuse of power.
One of the chief characteristics of the conservative governments is its anti-North Korea culture. This is partly explained by the past colonial history. The conservative government of South Korea was formed in 1948 principally by Koreans who served, as high ranking civil servants, under Japanese colonial government; they collaborated for torturing and murdering patriots who fought against Japan.
On the other hand, the North Korean government was established by Kim Il-sung and the patriots. Thus, right from the beginning of the era of post-World War II, there has been deep and intense feeling of anger and hostility between the conservative government in the South and North Korean leaders.
This has produced two unfortunate results. First, the conservative governments which have ruled South Korea for sixty years out of seventy years since 1948 have produced a situation where the inter-Korean relation was dominated by mutual hostility, suspicion, mistrust and, above all, tension. Second, the conservative governments have used the inter-Korean tension as a tool of electoral campaign.
Prior to elections, the conservative governments often created an environment of fear by fabricating inter-Korean armed clashes or false rumours in such a way that the votes could go to the conservatives, who pretended themselves as the best guarantee of “security”; South Koreans are very sensitive about the security. This unfortunate phenomenon is called the “Book-Poong-Northern Wind”.
Now, in 2017, the liberal government of Moon Jae-in took over the power. Let us remember that Moon was one of the chief architects of the “Sunshine Policy” for ten years from 1998 to 2008. The return of the liberal government under the leadership of Moon could have changed Kim Jong-un’s perception of inter-Korea relations.
The young leader of Juche knows that he can trust Moon Jae-in and this might have contributed to his decision to have the inter-Korea summit and even the Washington-Pyongyang summit. It seems that Kim Jong-un relies on Moon Jae-in’s mediation role for the success of the Trump-Kim summit.
Now, let us move to Donald Trump. There may be also internal and external factors which might have led Trump to think of meeting with Kim Jong-un. Internally, the “Russia” gate, the sex scandal and his low popularity might have induced Trump to use the U.S.-North Korea summit as means of turning public concerns away from his internal problems. Besides, Trump promised, during his election campaign, to do something with North Korea, something which previous presidents, especially, Obama did not do. The summit with the young leader of the Juche regime may be the realization of his electoral promise.
The external factor motivating Trump to talk to Kim Jong-un is perhaps his perception of the China containment policy. China is getting stronger every day; Russia is developing new arms including powerful and fast under-water drones. Moreover, both Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin can now rule for long time to come, perhaps for life time.
This could have made trump to re-examine Washington’s relation with Pyongyang; he might have decided to solve the North Korean issues once for all so that he could allocate more resource to the strategy of China containment.
As for Moon Jae-in, several good reasons might have led him to take the diplomatic initiatives. First, Moon remembers well that Korea became Japanese colony because of the division of Korean leaders into Pro-Japanese, pro-Chinese or pro-Russia factions. Korea was and is surrounded by military giants trying to use the Korean peninsula for the promotion of their own interests.
For Moon, the reunification or at least the North-South mutual cooperation and united efforts to cope with outside intervention are very important. This point has been often made by Professor Michel Chossudovsky, who has even suggested a North-South peace treaty.
Second, one of the reasons for low FDI in South Korea has been the North-South tension. Hence, Moon hopes, through the summits, to reduce the North-South tension and increase foreign investments in South Korea. Third, the South Korean economy has attained a level of maturity and exhausted its potential growth; Seoul needs new economic frontier to develop further its economy; North Korea is the new economic frontier.
What Can We Expect from the Summits?
Thus, all the three nations have good reasons to engage in dialogues. The interesting question is:”What could be the results of the summits?” “What can the three countries expect from these summits, if they are successful?”
The North-South Summit will be held on April 27th. The main agenda to be dealt with in this summit will be the preparation for the Trump-Kim Summit which may take place at the end of May or early June.
What Trump asks seems to be complete and immediate denuclearization meaning immediate and complete destruction of nuclear arms and missiles. On the others hand, Kim appears to be ready to denuclearize gradually. Kim’s position is as determined as Trump’s position is. Therefore, if they meet at the summit without prior negotiated compromise, the summit could end up with total failure and the nuclear crisis may become even more risky and even more dangerous.
In this situation, somebody should play the role of go-between and facilitate the Trump-Kim negotiation. Moon Jae-in, President of South Korea is the only person who can play effectively such role owing to his remarkably sincere diplomacy shown during the PyongChang Olympics.. Moon is the only person who has the trust of both Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un.
It appears that there have been sustained discussions between Pompeo, former director of CIA (and now Secretary of State) and Suh Hoon, director of South Korean CIA (National Intelligence Service) and between Chung Eui-yong, Korea’s National Security Council chief and John Bolten nominated as Trump’s National Security Advisor. It is not known what will be the outcome of these contacts and meetings. However, one thing sure is this; if there are no compromises, there is no use having the Trump-Kim summit.
Even if Trump and Kim come to some agreement on denuclearization, the content and speed of denuclearization depends on the rewards Kim will ask and Trump will be ready to provide them. It seems that North Korea would ask the following: the removal of nuclear assets from the Korean peninsula, end of US nuclear threats, removal of sanctions against North Korea, signing of a peace treaty and normal bilateral diplomatic relations. Trump’s intention of meeting this demand is not known.
However, it is quite possible that Trump might accept some of these demands for two reasons.
First, North Korea will not ask the withdrawal of the US troops from South Korea; this means that Washington can continue its strategy of China containment.
Second, it is more than possible that Washington would try to make North Korea friendly to the U.S. through normal diplomatic relations and trade and economic development cooperation. If this happens, North Korea will no longer be effective buffer zone for China.
In other words, the process of North Korea’s denuclearization is liable to become an important variable in the dynamics of the Sino-American Thucydides trap. Thus, the denuclearization on the Korean peninsula does not mean the end of the danger of war in the region as long as the U.S. persists on its ambition to dominate China instead of cooperating for global prosperity and security.
An early version of the text A ‘Permanent Peace Regime’ on the Korean Peninsula at Last? appeared in the Global Research
The violently peaceful struggle for Tibet
Many years later, as he faced how the Dalai Lama became a political inconvenience for an increasing number of world leaders, the former emissary of the Dalai Lama, Gelek Rinpoche was to remember those distant afternoons when the poet Allen Ginsberg, the composer Philip Glass, the author Robert Thurman and the actor Richard Gere jointly planned fully-booked glamorous events for his Buddhist Jewel Heart organizations based in Ann Arbor, Chicago, and New York. At that time, the end of the Cold War was so recent that many notions lacked names, and in order to describe them, it was necessary to invent.
The belief of the Dalai Lama as a “man of peace” was pragmatically shared by all Western politicians, media and left-thinking intellectuals who depicted the people of Tibet as by nature honest, gentle and kind. This belief helped spread the perception of Tibetan culture as a compassionate and non-violent one, and of Tibet as a civilization where, under the Lamas, peace and happiness prevailed and that this condition of happiness could be taken up worldwide.
Just a few years before the end of the Cold War, the film Seven Years in Tibet featuring Brad Pitt posited that Tibetans revere life so much that they refuse to kill even worms and that the “Chinese are brutal; the Tibetans are gentle.” The Tibet activist and actor Richard Gere spoke of “Beijing’s savage oppression of the gentle Tibetan people.” Western media referred to the Dalai Lama as an apostle of world peace and happiness, and the idea that the Tibetan people are naturally peaceful became an obvious truth for all.
The rhetoric of the (cultural) genocide
In 2001, a few days before the International Olympic Committee met in Moscow to award the 2008 Games to Beijing, Gelek Rinpoche, acting as the Dalai Lama’s envoy for the occasion, approached the General Director of the International Olympic Committee and confident in the Tibetan struggle narrative that had gained good traction by then, demanded that the Games should be denied because “China has been executing a policy in Tibet of ethnic and cultural genocide against the Tibetan people, and intended to erase the Tibetan people from the face of the Earth.”
In 1959 after Gelek Rinpoche accompanied the Dalai Lama in his flight to India, both thought that in the near future China would totally exterminate the Tibetan race. In reports from 1959 and 1960, the CIA-funded International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) claimed that China was committing genocide in Tibet by eradicating the Tibetans through restrictions on religion that were destroying their way of life. A few years later the Dalai Lama mitigated his certitudes and admitted that China’s aim was not physical annihilation, but assimilation and subordination, stating that China “seems to attempt the extermination of religion and culture and even the absorption of the Tibetan race.”
Today it is historically irrefutable that there were substantial causalities in Tibet due to the vicious actions of Mao-era China, as there were throughout the country. However, there has never been credible evidence showing that physical genocide has been perpetrated in Tibet aiming at the extermination of Tibetans. Claims that a fifth of the Tibetan population was annihilated from 1959 to 1979 through executions, famines, imprisonment, and other means are without any evidentiary roots. Mao was at war with an ideology, not the nation of Tibetan people alone. Absent the nexus to physical genocide, a claim of cultural genocide becomes no more than a rhetorical construct, a conjecture in need of a name that would become the foundation justification for the Tibetan struggle.
The notion of cultural genocide in Tibet resonated in the West because it is a largely unexamined concept. Even where the phrase itself is not used, Western media reflexively alluded to the idea. For example, in late 2017, the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China, headed by Senator Marco Rubio, invited the actor Richard Gere as “someone who is knowledgeable about the political situation in Tibet” to testify before the committee. In his testimony, the actor stated that “under Chinese rule, the Tibetan language and culture have been suppressed”. In reality, the education system in Tibet has been tailored to the cultural specificities of Tibetans by developing primary level schooling in the Tibetan language and secondary level schooling on a bilingual basis, adding Chinese languages and supplementary English lessons to the curriculum. Gere’s assumed expertise in Tibetan matters has never been called in question because it fitted a definite agenda.
Others have posited that cultural genocide does not only mean killing, it also means limiting births among Tibetans. A lawyer who headed the US-based Tibet Justice Centre advanced such allegations, and the Dalai Lama stated that China is “forcing strict family planning rules on my people” in order “to make us a minority in our own land.” The fact is, family planning and the “one child” policy, however, even where coercive, were part of China’s policy over the entire Chinese territory for decades, and not just imposed on Tibet.
Some Tibetan leaders in exile and Western NGOs claimed that “Tibetans are not even permitted to undertake routine religious activities”. They asserted that 6,000 monasteries were destroyed before or during the Mao’s Cultural Revolution and that “the handful of surviving monasteries are being used as public toilets and barracks while monks and nuns in Tibet have been forced by the Chinese to defecate on religious objects”. Such claims are anachronisms designed to imply that a second Maoist Cultural Revolution is ongoing in Tibet. Yet mass participation in routine religious activities is evident to even sceptical observers and the occasional tourist.
Western journalists reported that in Tibet many hundreds of Tibetans prostrate themselves at temples daily, while US human rights officials visiting Lhasa saw pilgrims crowded in front of the Jokhang, one of Tibet’s most important temples, to perform ritual worship. They do not challenge China’s claims that every year more than one million people visit the Jokhang. As for the major monasteries on the Tibetan plateau, Western reporters have noted that the there are now 300 more lamaseries and temples in the Tibet than existed in the region before 1951. Again, such figures are not disputed.
Chinese state efforts to preserve Tibetan cultural accomplishments and popularize Tibetan culture by creating venues for its development are ignored in Western discourse because such efforts conflict with the idea of cultural genocide in Tibet. Rather, exile Tibet leaders and Western NGOs reject performing arts in Tibet as inauthentic and have stated that “in this calculated cultural genocide the Chinese make every effort to remove any vestige of Tibetan character in the performing arts.”
Even artists educated in contemporary Tibet who emigrate to India, such as Gongkar Gyatso, are spurned as polluted. Exiled Tibetan authorities are unhappy that the main trend in Tibetan art, in or out of Tibet, has been modernistic. They consider religious scroll painting to be the only authentic Tibetan style, and disapprove all other painting styles produced by ethnic Tibetans as being corrupted by Chinese influences. The reference to the arts and cultural genocide is a classic nationalist juxtaposition of the inauthentic in “occupied Tibet” to the “pure” preserved culture of the exiles and allied Western-based NGOs. One exponent of those NGOs is the New York-based Tibet House, founded in 1987 by Robert Thurman (father of actress Uma Thurman), actor Richard Gere and composer Philip Glass (among others). Ironically, in the fields of literature, architecture, art, film, and music alike, Chinese intellectuals and artists have been turning more and more frequently to Tibet as a source of inspiration.
Lhasa, like many large cities around the world, has abundant outlets for prostitution, gambling, and drugs. Exiled Tibet leaders and Western NGOs try to attribute such “vices” found in Tibet’s cities to cultural corrosion due to the Chinese presence. The Washington based International Campaign for Tibet, represented by its main public exponent, the actor Richard Gere, has stated: “We are concerned that more and more young Tibetans are being tempted by the very worst aspects of Chinese culture.” However, none of the “vices” complained of are specifically Chinese, and might equally be attributed to the influence of “the West”. While exiled Tibetan leaders and Western NGOs object to the cultural impact of the Han-Chinese in Tibet, they are usually much less concerned about the Western influence on traditional Tibetan culture.
Even the late Elliot Sperling, an expert on Tibet and passionate supporter of the exiled Tibetan cause, observed that “within certain limits China does make efforts to accommodate Tibetan cultural expression” and “the cultural activity taking place all over the Tibetan plateau cannot be ignored.” Other supporters of the exiled Tibetan cause, including Tibet scholar Professor Robert Barnett and German Green Party leader Antje Vollmer, also recognized the inaccuracy of the cultural genocide claim.
It has been said that the notion of genocide is marked by conceptual confusion, often compounded by its rhetorical and populist use on the part of those seeking to inflame and stigmatise social and political discourse. It is equally common for nationalists to deploy a charge of cultural genocide against changes they oppose in traditional lifestyles. The Dalai Lama often states that he is concerned most of all about the preservation of culture. His main international alliance, however, is with politicians in the US, a country whose hegemony plays a major strategic role in eroding traditional cultures, including in Europe, China and Tibet.
The unanimity on pacifism
But let’s go back to the few crucial days before the International Olympic Committee met in Moscow in 2001 to award the 2008 Games to Beijing. Gelek Rinpoche approached the General Director of the International Olympic Committee as envoy of the Dalai Lama, and claimed that there “has not been one single terrorist incident in all the 50 years of the Tibetan struggle for independence”. The dogmatic stance on non-violence was always effective in obfuscating memories and attracting consent. Yet Gelek Rinpoche must have remembered the bombings in Lhasa, the large-scale armed revolts, the guerrilla warfare, the large quantity of weaponry airdropped by the CIA, the gangs of rioters that burned dozens of policemen and killed hundred of civilians, the hate campaigns demonizing opponents of the Tibetan government in exile, seen as antagonistic to the authority of the Dalai Lama, the oppressive measures against the Dorje Shugden religious practice banned and considered heretic by the Dalai Lama, the related series of dynamite blasts in the Tibetan Dartsedo and Lithang counties driven by hatred of Dorje Shugden practitioners, the endorsements of terrorism by the largest Tibetan exile organization, the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) and its extreme nationalist slogans, like “no Chinese in Tibet is innocent”… while the Dalai Lama encouraged others to use such expressions to make himself look more conciliatory in comparison.
In fact, exile leaders have only in the last few decades claimed that nonviolence is essential to Tibetan culture and underlies Tibetan strategy. While the Dalai Lama gives a speech every March 10 to mark the 1959 Lhasa uprising, his first mention of nonviolence in that speech only came in 1988. And it was only in 1996 that the Tibet Parliament in Exile adopted nonviolence as a fundamental principle of the Tibetan Government in Exile.
Over the years, the Dalai Lama propagated its “middle way” approach of Tibet as an autonomous region inside China, with the use of such terms as “peace” and “non-violence”, affecting compassion and benevolence in order to gain international empathy and support. Looking beyond the conciliatory words and charismatic smile, however, it is not difficult to find evidence that the exiled Tibetan leadership has been willing to both threaten and resort to violence, and to carry out violence under the guise of non-violence. In truth they have never abandoned their ultimate goal of “Tibetan independence”. This undisclosed intent is explicitly reflected in all known Western-based NGOs advocating for human rights in Tibet which openly proclaim “Tibet Independence” (or “Free Tibet” or in the Tibetan language “Rangzen”) as their ultimate objective.
The image of a pacifist Dalai Lama facing a belligerent China has obstructed any settlement of the Tibet question. It has reinforced the idea that a “Free Tibet” can only be possible if China disintegrates. It has allowed Western elites to demand that because the Dalai Lama is perceived as a “man of peace” China has to negotiate with him unconditionally, which it would not do unless he first accepted Tibet as an inalienable and legitimate part of China. Because he refused to do so, the Chinese government linked him to hostile Western forces who seek China’s dismantling.
However, in recent years, the massive economic power China has become has made the Dalai Lama a political danger for an increasing number of world leaders and nations, who now shy away from him for fear of inciting China’s ire or endangering economic relations with China. Even Pope Francis, considered an audacious religious leader, reportedly declined a meeting in Rome with the Dalai Lama. And President Donald Trump, who might be expected to endorse the decades-long US efforts to destabilize China and to back US-based NGOs active in propaganda campaigns for human rights in Tibet, suggested that financially supporting the “Free Tibet” cause is a “waste of money”. Of late, even the Indian authorities hosting the Tibetan leadership and the Dalai Lama have cancelled important commemoratory events with him.
In reality, the Dalai Lama’s persona impedes a compromise for as long as the discourse prevents differentiation between his religious and political roles and the narrative remains a binary one which idolises him as peaceful and demonizes China as the brutal perpetrator of a cultural genocide in Tibet. China has over the last three decades relaxed draconian and cruel Mao-era rules, by opening the door to private sector capitalism. With its adoption of capitalistic mechanisms, China has accumulated immense financial assets which are today vital to the nourishment of the worldwide economy, particularly in Western countries that have accumulated huge debts.
Also over the last three decades, China has relaxed the draconian Mao-era rules on religion by allowing individuals to practice a religion of their choice. There are now significantly more adherents of Buddhism than members of the Communist Party – there are 90 million members of Communist Party of China, compared to some 250 million Buddhists and 200,000 registered Buddhist monks. Additionally, the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, is constantly moderating his attitude to Tibet and Buddhism, among other reasons because his wife is profoundly Buddhist.
The reverence for (non)-violence
When in 2001, Gelek Rinpoche approached the International Olympic Committee to protest against the 2008 Olympic Games being awarded to Beijing, he must have remembered the distant years before the Chinese invasion in 1951, when the Tibet was ruled by aristocrats, clerics, and manor owners and had a brutal social hierarchy and a system of serfdom similar to pre-feudal times; he must have remembered the distant year of 1959 when the Dalai Lama and two of his brothers enrolled by the CIA, along with other clerics and aristocrats, launched a large-scale armed revolt against officials stationed in Tibet and massacred local Tibetans who supported Chinese communism. The Dalai Lama was not only well-informed of the action but gave it his active blessing. Years later he wrote in his book My Spiritual Autobiography: “Every one of them is armed to the teeth, and even my personal cook is carrying a bazooka, with his waist belt full of ammunition. He has been well trained by the CIA…”
After the Dalai Lama fled to India, escorted by his entourage of clerics and aristocrats, he reorganized an army and waited to fight his way back to Tibet. In 1960 in Mustang, a county in northern Nepal, he rebuilt an anti-Chinese guerrilla force. In 1962, with support from external powers, he built a Special Frontier Force composed of mainly Tibetan exiles, most of them from aristocrat families. From 1961 to 1965, these forces sneaked across the border 204 times to harass Chinese border troops and Tibetan civilians. According to disclosed US archives, the Dalai Lama first established contact with the US government in 1951. During the armed rebellion in Tibet, the CIA not only sent agents to help the Dalai Lama and his entourage of clerics and aristocrats to flee but also purposefully trained militants to support his forces and airdropped a large quantity of weaponry.
On September 21, 1987, the Dalai Lama made a speech to the US Congress, calling for Tibetan independence. On September 27, in the square of the Jokhang Temple, a group of lamas shouted separatist slogans, attacked police, and injured many civilians. On October 1, a small gang of rioters raided the police station on Barkhor Street in Lhasa and burned seven cars, leaving dozens of policemen injured. The rioters proclaimed that the Dalai Lama was fighting for Tibetan independence. They demanded the support of spectators and the general public and threatened personal retaliation against those who failed to join them. On March 5, 1988, during the Monlam Prayer Festival, a gang of rioters stormed into local Party and government offices and police stations around Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Street, smashing and burning cars and shops, leading to 299 police and civilian casualties. From March 5 to 7, 1989, Lhasa witnessed another riot in which one policeman was shot dead, 40 others were injured, and 107 shops, 24 government offices, primary schools and neighbourhood committees were destroyed. On March 11, 1992, nine Tibetan separatists attacked the Chinese embassy in India with firebombs.
The (non)-violence around the Olympic Games 2008 in Beijing
“The Olympic Games in 2008 in Beijing will be a symbol of peace, friendship, and progress, which is welcomed and cherished by all peoples” commented the International Olympic Committee in 2001, during the ceremony awarding the 2008 Games to Beijing.
In May 2007, the Tibetan independence movement, including exiled Tibetan leaders and Western NGOs supporting them, held a meeting in Brussels and agreed on a strategic plan to launch a campaign to boycott the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Later, two NGOs in the US (International Campaign for Tibet and Students for a Free Tibet) and two in India (the Tibetan Youth Congress and the Tibetan Women’s Association) advocating for human rights in Tibet put forward a proposal for an uprising in Tibet, believing the 2008 Olympic Games was the last chance to achieve Tibetan independence. They decided to take advantage of this occasion while China was the spotlight of international attention before the start of the Olympic Games.
On January 4 and January 25, 2008, Tibetan independence activists held press conferences in New Delhi, releasing proposals for this uprising, spreading the news on more than 100 websites, and encouraging the instigation of constant large-scale uprisings for March 10, 2008, the date corresponding to the anniversary of the uprising in 1959. On March 10, the Dalai Lama made a speech, urging his followers within Chinese territory to engage in violence. On the same day, the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) made a statement, claiming that it would “now seize a most important opportunity never before seen in our struggle for independence – the upcoming Olympic Games,” and that it would “spare neither blood nor life for Tibetan independence.”
Uprisings took place in Tibet four days later than planned, on March 14, 2008. That day, a mob converged in the downtown area of Lhasa, assaulting innocent bystanders with weapons including rocks, daggers, and clubs, smashing and looting vehicles, shops, banks, the Telecom business offices, and government properties, severely disrupting social order, and causing heavy losses of life and property. During the violent incidents, there were over 300 cases of arson, while 908 shops, seven schools, 120 houses, and five hospitals were severely damaged. Ten bank branches were looted, at least 20 buildings were burnt to the ground, and 84 vehicles were torched. Most seriously, a total of 18 people were burned or hacked to death, and 382 people were injured – 58 of them seriously.
After these incidents, the Dalai Lama himself released a declaration through his personal secretariat, describing the riots as “peaceful protests.” On March 16, he said in an interview with BBC that he would not ask the rioters to stop because their demands came from the Tibetan people, and he had to respect their will. In the meantime, the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), passed a resolution to “immediately organize guerrillas to infiltrate China for armed struggle.” The head of the TYC claimed that they were ready to sacrifice another 100 Tibetans to reach complete victory.
Western NGOs advocating for human rights in Tibet, and in particular activists from “Students for a Free Tibet” engaged in a series of sabotage activities directed at the Beijing Olympic Games. They interfered with important ceremonies, including disrupting the torch-lighting ceremony in Greece, and attempting to grab the Olympic torch during the torch relay in various countries, provoking a strong reaction from the international community and a pandemonium at the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, as its General Director, Urs Lacotte, revealed during a lunch at the edge of Lake Geneva, explaining how the Committee did not foresee such an organized outbreak.
The main claims of the activists were: China continues its crackdowns on freedom of religion in Tibet; China is using the Olympics to misrepresent the unique culture of Tibet as Chinese, as it has chosen an endangered Tibetan animal, the Tibetan antelope, as one of its Olympic mascots; China has failed to follow the call of the International Campaign for Tibet to end human rights abuses in Tibet and negotiate a peace agreement with Tibet’s exiled leader, the Dalai Lama…
The self-immolation marathon after the Olympic Games 2008
After the Western media coverage of riots in Tibet in 2008, in which the Dalai Lama was identified as a peacemaker to whom China refused to talk, the proportion of journalists who saw China as the world’s biggest threat doubled. Time magazine named the Dalai Lama the most influential person in the world and the Western general public saw the Dalai Lama as the most respected world leader. The notion he is a pacifist was so pervasive that it circulated from the West to China for some months.
Following some success in drawing media attention during the Beijing Olympic Games incidents, the exiled Tibetan leadership began to encourage Tibetan lamas and lay followers inside China and India to engage in acts of self-immolation, leading to a series of such incidents in a number of regions. This ongoing campaign started in 2009 but had its roots in a few isolated cases that began around 1998 outside Tibet.
The US-based NGOs stated that self-immolation acts by Tibetans were an assertion of the Tibetan identity in the face of “cultural genocide”. This proclamation, however, disregarded the fact that suicide is forbidden in Buddhism. The campaign was heavily exploited around the world and praised by NGOs advocating for human rights in Tibet, but also by NATO-backed think tanks. These included Freedom House, whose specific role is to monitor freedom of the press around the world and which ranked Tibet as the worst possible place, saying self-immolations were the result of a lack of freedom. However, the most extreme illustration of the alliance of the US government in the self-immolation campaign can be seen in the documents of The Congressional-Executive Commission on China (www.cecc.gov). This body promotes the self-immolation strategy aimed at achieving “Tibetan freedom” and the Dalai Lama’s return in Tibet, and sees the collapse of China as an implicit goal.
In some cases acts of self-immolation were exploited to support fundraising activities, particularly in the US, and to obtain governmental subsidies for NGOs or the exiled Tibetan leadership, with wide support from cultural exponents like Hollywood actors and famous musicians, whose numbers had boomed since those distant afternoons when the poet Allen Ginsberg, the composer Philip Glass, the author Robert Thurman and the actor Richard Gere first laid their plans to drum up support for US-based Buddhist organizations.
On May 29, 2012, at a TYC candlelight rally to glorify Tibetans who had set themselves alight, the leader of the rally claimed, “Tibetan independence will neither fall from the sky nor grow from the earth; rather it relies on our efforts and action and needs sacrifice.” From September 25 to 28, 2012, the exiled Tibetan leadership convened the Second Special Meeting of Tibetans in Exile, proclaiming self-immolation as the highest form of non-violence, hailing its victims as “national heroes,” building memorials and raising special funds for them. They still vigorously preach that “self-immolation does not go against Buddhist doctrine” and that “self-immolation is martyrdom and a Bodhisattva deed,” duping Buddhist believers in Tibet, and particularly innocent young people, and setting them on an incendiary path to ruin. The unavoidable consequence was a rapid increase in self-immolations. In addition, the TYC issued the Martyr Award in 2013 to Monks of the Kirti Monastery who self-immolated and in 2016 to self-immolators in Tibet and in exile who sacrificed their lives.
Investigations by China’s public security organs into incidents of self-immolation clearly revealed that these protesters were being manipulated and instigated by the highest levels of the exiled Tibetan leadership. Kirti Monastery in the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture is where the greatest number of self-immolation incidents took place; it has been proved that those promoting these incidents have close links with the Tibetan exile leadership.
The investigation of the security organs revealed that the Tibetan exile leadership has four ways of instigating self-immolation: first, planning incidents from abroad through a so-called “press liaison group” based in the Kirti Monastery in Sichuan and the Kirti Monastery in India; second, sending TYC members into Tibet to incite self-immolation; third, mobilizing activists returning from overseas to assist in self-immolation; and fourth, using the Internet and NGOs’ social media reach to hype up self-immolation.
The exiled Tibetan leadership has allegedly released a Self-immolation Guide on the Internet – an instruction manual to incite and instruct Tibetans residing within China to burn themselves. The author of this manual is Chabdak Lhamo Kyab, who served for two terms as a member of the Tibetan government in exile, known now as the Central Tibetan Government (CTA) and was the head of a clandestine resistance movement and also a public relations counsellor of the Dalai Lama. He now resides in France.
The Self-immolation Guide is a book consisting of four parts: the first part advocates the idea that self-immolators are great, honourable and intrepid heroes and that both these male and female heroes should always be prepared to sacrifice themselves for a just cause. The second part gives detailed instructions on preparations for self-immolation, including picking important days and places, leaving written or recorded last words, and asking trustworthy friends to help record videos or take photos. The third part introduces self-immolation slogans, instructing victims to always shout the same slogans. And the fourth part illustrates other activities that might accompany self-immolation. The book also contains the timeline of protests since 2009; the life stories of the protesters; the international community’s support for the movement; and the exiled Tibetan leadership’s efforts to gain global support. “The book”, said one source of the leadership “has nothing to do with encouraging self-immolation”. At present, the existence of the book has been officially denied by the exiled Tibetan leadership.
Performing self-immolation in public is itself an act of violence, intended to create an atmosphere of terror and of horror. On this issue of principle, the Dalai Lama played an important role. For example, on November 8, 2011, when a new series of self-immolations had just begun, he said in an interview that the point was that self-immolation demanded courage and that “cultural genocide” was the reason behind these “courageous acts”. He thereby both showed his appreciation for and approval of self-immolators and promoted his rhetoric of cultural genocide.
On January 3, 2012, he defended self-immolation on the basis that it was superficially an act of violence, but what differentiated violence and non-violence was the motives and aims behind each act, and only an act driven by hatred and anger could be defined as violence. It was clear that he regarded self-immolation as non-violent protest. On October 8, 2012, he said in an interview that he was sure that self-immolators were sacrificing themselves with a sincere motivation and for the benefit of Buddhism and the well-being of Tibetans, and that, from the Buddhist point of view, it was a positive act. Through these words, he has repeatedly and explicitly offered his approval of and praise for self-immolation. He has also hosted a dharma assembly, in his capacity as a religious leader, to expiate the sins of the dead, chant scriptures and pray for them, a promise which turns out to be very persuasive to believers in Tibetan Buddhism. Only recently has the Dalai Lama revised his views on the effectiveness of self-immolation.
Since the Olympic Games of 2008, over 150 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in protest, including 41 monks and eight nuns. Only very few of Tibet’s Buddhist clerics or exponents of the human rights community have dared to speak out in Western countries against glorifying, praising or promoting acts of self-immolation for political gain. Also among exile Tibetans, any advocacy against self-immolation is considered incompatible with the agenda of the Tibetan government in exile, and very few would dare provoke the rage of the Dalai Lama for fear of reprisal. Recently, personalities that dared to speak out against the campaign of self-immolation were systematically attacked on social media in what appeared to be a coordinated slander campaign, organized through anonymous accounts. One luminary who did speak out was Tsem Tulku Rinpoche, the spiritual leader of the Malaysian based Buddhist organisation Kechara, who publicly and forcefully opposed the campaign of self-immolation, particularly after a succession of incidents prior the vote of the US budget bill 2018, which included grants to the exiled Tibetan leaders that were in danger of being rejected by Congress. He was severely punished on the social media for his call for non-violence and was tagged a ‘Chinese spy’ because he upheld a core Buddhist teaching of non-violence.
The fading unity for the Tibetan cause on the path to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing
These violent initiatives succeeded in gaining world media focus on the Tibetan issue but ultimately failed to change the equation with China and tilt the balance in favour of the Dalai Lama’s government in exile. As questions of the Tibetan leadership’s adequacy became louder over the years, the Dalai Lama and exile leaders have constantly stoked the flames of division between Tibetans, sowing discord and inciting inter-religious animosity and divisions. Part of the motivation it was to distract Tibetan refugees from the reality that their exiled Tibetan leaders were unable, after 60 years, to offer a realistic prospective for their return to Tibet, or at least formulate a plan for their integration into Indian society.
Since the failure of the attempted rebellions in 1959 and 2008, a series of particularly divisive issues for the Buddhist community, both within Tibet and abroad have been introduced by the Tibetan leadership. The Karmapa controversy was one where the Dalai Lama created conditions for rivalry to beset the Karma Kagyu sect, the second largest school of Buddhism which prevails until this day. As for the largest Tibetan Buddhism school, the Gelug, enmity was introduced by outlawing the worship of one of the sect’s most popular deity, Dorje Shugden, a nearly 400-year old practice that began in the 17th century and has become a major practice in Tibetan Buddhism. The Dorje Shugden de facto ban has already existed for two decades since it was initiated by the Dalai Lama and has slowly stirred disunity in Tibet and among the exiled Tibetan communities, leading the Chinese government to consider the Dorje Shugden conflict an important front for undermining what it says are efforts promoted by the Dalai Lama aimed at destabilizing China.
This religious hostility has been fed by considerable propaganda and counterpropaganda efforts during the last two decades and it is still an ongoing battle. It has been continuously observed that Dorje Shugden followers, monks, and monasteries in Tibet and abroad are used as scapegoat and portrayed as heretic, demonic and sectarian, and are branded as Chinese Communist Party supporters or Chinese spies by most NGOs advocating in western countries for the exiled Tibetan leadership’s goals. In historical terms, the situation and implications may call to mind Martin Luther’s reformation of Christianity centuries ago.
Most nations acknowledge Tibet as a part of China, while none formally recognizes the exiled Tibetan leadership, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) – yet a number of them sustain the cause of the exiles in other ways. Because of the need for Western support of the exiled government and the significant role played by externally-based NGOs supporting Tibetan independence, democratizing elements have been added to self-governance in exile, and the vocabulary of human rights, development, environmental protection, and so forth has been deployed by the CTA and supported by Western NGOs. In reality, spirituality and aristocracy are linked through Tibet’s traditional system of theocratic government, in which politics and religion were tightly knit. Many exiled government officials continue to promote this system as ideal for Tibet, including the present prime minister of the CTA, Dr. Lobsang Sangay, who recently reaffirmed the urgency of strengthening efforts to facilitate the return of the Dalai Lama to his native land and his former residence in Lhasa, the Potala palace.
However, the repeated requests of many exile leaders to pass orders banning critical voices from any Tibet-related events, accusing such voices to be Chinese spies and/or Dorje Shugden heretics, stand in stark contradiction to democratic principles. Critical voices expose, for example, claims of corruption inside the CTA; some complain that instead of focusing on practical efforts to improve the everyday lives of Tibetan refugees in India, the CTA has often preferred political point-scoring against China; others still have expressed criticism of the Dalai Lama or of the CTA’s theocratic orientation.
The US President’s attitude reflects the waning support for the Tibetan cause and a change in perception of the Dalai Lama’s role as peacemaker. The cause has suffered a gradual dissipation of international goodwill, particularly among the CTA’s immediate neighbours and Indian hosts. Countries such as India, Mongolia, and Nepal have traditionally tolerated the activities of the exile leaders and the Dalai Lama, and by doing so risked annoying China, the region’s most powerful nation.
“The Winter Olympic Games in 2022 in Beijing will be a symbol of peace, friendship and prosperity, which is welcomed and cherished by all peoples” comments the International Olympic Committee, recognizing its world-class venue legacy from the 2008 Olympic Summer Games. In the last years, the Dalai Lama has embodied an intensified sentiment of political embarrassment among world leaders who seek stable political and profitable economic alliances with China. Beijing 2022 will form part of the future narrative of Tibet and it will be interesting to see if the support for the Dalai Lama will completely evaporate into the clouds of nostalgia for the poems of Allen Ginsberg, the music of Philip Glass, the books of Robert Thurman or the movies of Richard Gere.
Political leaders often conquer international stature by conducting war, but the personas of only a few men of peace – such as Gandhi, King, and Mandela – are prominent. The Dalai Lama’s “apostle of nonviolence” persona was built at the end of the Cold War, alongside a campaign to internationalize the Tibet struggle by fostering protests in Tibet, mobilizing Western converts to Tibetan Buddhism, and exploiting the Dalai Lama’s capacity to engage Western political and media elites. Boosted by his 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, US excoriations of China and the expectation of its collapse after the Cold War, the Dalai Lama became an international symbol of peace. He successfully combined his divine significance with his political struggle in exile under a veil of non-violence, compassion and selflessness. After decades of internationalization as he reaches the last lines of the book of his life, synonyms of the Dalai Lama as peacemaker are still discursive givens. Only time will tell whether he will be immortalized on the celestial Olympus with Gandhi, King, and Mandela or exiled from the collective memory of mankind.
Demilitarization between the two Koreas
At domestic level, Kim Jong-Un is pursuing two original and interesting policylines within North Korea: the rise of a new generation to power and the evident and stable economic expansion.
Under Kim Jong-Un’s leadership, the private segment of the North Korean economy has undergone great development and the new class of young people rising to power – who epitomize the general rejuvenation of the North Korean society – is also an unknown factor for the forthcoming talks between the two Koreas and the talks between the United States and North Korea.
Certainly Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un rules without problems, but he shall consider the new climate prevailing within his Party.
At military level, according to the data provided by the US intelligence services, North Korea has an arsenal of 36 nuclear warheads.
Only in 2017 did North Korea fire 23 missiles.
During the bilateral talks with South Korea, however, Kim Jong-Un also said he wanted to impose a moratorium on North Korea’s nuclear missile launches between March and April 2018.
Complex signs hard to decode, but certainly designed to creating a new perception of North Korea in South Korea and in the rest of the world.
The summit meeting will take place on April 27, 2018, south of the demilitarized area of Panmunjom, in the Peace House, near the “Truce Village”- the site where the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953.
An area belonging to South Korea – and indeed, this is a further sign conveyed by the North Korean leader.
The meeting will take place between the two Presidents, namely Kim Jong-Un for North Korea and Moon Jae-In for South Korea.
Two inter-Korean summits had already been held in 2000 and 2007.
The summit meeting held in 2000 took place when the Sunshine Policy had been ended abruptly by the South Korean President, Lee Myung Bak, a politician and businessman recently arrested on charges of bribery, embezzlement and tax evasion alleged to have occurred during his presidency.
The summit meeting held in 2007 focused on the 1953 armistice between the two sides and on the economic relations between North and South Korea, as well as on the issues regarding “human rights”.
For the next summit meeting scheduled for April 2018, North Korea has clearly stated its willingness to denuclearize the whole peninsula, maintaining that there is no need for nuclear weapons when the survival of North Korea is fully ensured.
Nevertheless, the United States has the weapons in South Korea – with 23,468 US soldiers and five divisions -as well as the greatest ability to oppose North Korea militarily.
Moreover, US commands in South Korea often organize exercises against North Korea after its hypothetical invasion of South Korea, with evident results for the South Korean population.
Within negotiations, this shall obviously be followed by the cessation of any nuclear threat to North Korea, regardless of its origin -that is from the United States and, with the conventional threat alone, from Japan.
The South Korean President has also said that North Korea wants to have “frank and candid” talks with the United States, especially on the denuclearization of the entire peninsula and on the future mutual recognition between the two countries.
The more we go forward, the less pro-American South Korea will be – not for the influence of North Korea, but for the same effect suffered by Western Germany during the “cold war”: the Federal Republic of Germany maintained it was against the German Democratic Republic’s regime, but it was aware that if the nuclear conflict had started, it would have been the first and only one to suffer from its consequences.
Hence if results are achieved in the talks with the United States, North Korea will stop any missile or nuclear test in that period.
As reported and certified by all South Korean sources, North Korea really wants to advance quickly along the path of dialogue with South Korea, which is therefore a stable direction of the North Korean strategy.
Hence, regardless of the choice made by the United States, this is a progressive and inevitable decoupling between South Korea and the United States.
Once Kim Jong-Un’s offer of dialogue is also made to the United States, the latter can respond in two ways: US adherence to the full denuclearization of the Korean peninsula or the persistence of a “cold war”, with hot phases between the United States and North Korea.
In the former case, the strategic transformation of the Asian peninsula would create a severe military void for the United States, which could respond by increasing its forces in the South Pacific Ocean or in Japan, thus maintaining a serious threat to North Korea.
A serious albeit remote threat, posed by countries that are not willing to bend to US wishes, such as Japan.
In the latter case, the constant presence of US nuclear weapons in South Korea – which would be hard for South Korea to manage from a political viewpoint – would cause a not too much symbolic escalation by North Korea.
At political level, the choice for the United States is very sensitive and not devoid of side effects: South Korea could stop granting some bases to the United States or increase the rent significantly. Or it could make the United States understand that it does not want to become a nuclear target for North Korea.
Japan, which is already continuing its autonomous rearmament, could tell the United States that, beyond the current limit of the US military presence, there is no longer room for it, or that the independent Japanese missile and naval apparatus could have very different strategic aims.
Let us imagine that Kim Jong-Un has analysed very well all these logical connections of the negotiations between the United States, South and North Korea.
Nevertheless, the political climate between the two Koreas has changed and some analysts have spoken about the end of the “1990 spirit”.
In the previous relations between the two Koreas for this year’s Olympic Winter Games, the primary goal of the South Korean leader was above all holding peaceful Games without political tensions.
There had been, at first, Kim Jong-Un’s end-of-year speech aimed at peace with South Korea which, however, appeared to everybody as a usual charm offensive, typical of North Korea’s foreign policy.
Moreover, South Korean President Moon Jae-In had been elected by a vast majority of voters who wanted peace with North Korea and, above all, wanted to avoid nuclear or conventional war on the Korean peninsula.
This also counted.
In the New Year’s Day of 2018, the North Korean leader had mentioned his country’s victory in the field of nuclear weapons, saying that by now the optimal standard for a nuclear response or attack had been achieved.
This could make us think that, from now on, the North Korean leader wants to underline the purely economic side of the “Byungjin Line” developed by Kim Jong-Un to pursue the parallel goals of economic development and a robust nuclear weapons program, thus making them interdependent.
Hence, once stabilized national defence, North Korea wants to deal simultaneously with the United States and South Korea.
There had been a diplomatic “offensive” towards the United States a few months ago, but no results were reached.
The “olive branch” offered to South Korea was instead immediately accepted.
The visit of Kim’s younger sister and of the President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea, Kim Yong Nam, to South Korea had already taken place – the powerful symbol of a new North Korean policy line, with a subsequent visit paid by some South Korean leaders to North Korea, received by Kim Jong-Un in person.
This happens very rarely.
A first hypothesis is the following: North Korea wants to suspend nuclear and missile tests for a certain period of time and plans to use this period of time to improve relations with South Korea.
Hence North Korea may not be interested in the full disarmament of the country and of the whole peninsula.
China, however, could later play a decisive role in inter-Korean negotiations.
In fact, if the process of dialogue between the two Koreas and between North Korea and the United States continued long enough, China could propose to the UN Security Council a Resolution aimed at lifting at least some of the sanctions on North Korea.
The Resolution could be rejected by the United States and, possibly, by France and Great Britain, but this would enable China to unilaterally reopen its markets to North Korea, by later accepting to act as a broker for other countries wishing to trade with North Korea.
The Russian Federation would follow Chinese operations closely.
In this case South Korea would have two options available: to definitely close the Kaesong industrial zone or accept China’s proposal, which would certainly be very attractive from the economic viewpoint.
In this case the United States could not do much more than exert military and political pressure on South Korea.
Another hypothesis is the following: South Korea may not want to go beyond the limit of current sanctions on North Korea – and China would not show any reaction.
Hence we would have the full reactivation of North Korea’s missile and nuclear program, with equal and opposite reactions by the United States.
Nevertheless, South Korea must be careful, because military tension could stop also its economic development, not just North Korea’s.
Conversely, if the negotiations between South and North Korea thrive, for the United States this will mean a radical rethinking of its military and strategic presence in Asia, from support to Taiwan up to the acceptance of Korean reunification under the auspices of the People’s Republic of China.
Therefore, the United States should take part and play an active role in the Korean bilateral negotiations, without preconceived close-minded attitudes towards North Korea which – once new friend of the United States – could influence also the Chinese and Russian policies in a pro-US direction.
The real danger for the United States is nuclear proliferation.
As Kissinger said recently, “if North Korea keeps nukes, other countries will seek them”.
The real danger for the United States is a mass of small countries with so many nuclear weapons as to prevent the US military and commercial transit through some very important areas, which could be denied to relations with the United States.
This would mean the end of US global power.
This is the reason why the United States has always and almost obsessively opposed nuclear proliferation outside the traditional China-Russia-India-Pakistan-USA context.
Hence if the negotiation on the freezing of North Korean nuclear power were successful, the United States would gain a free and uncontrolled right of passage to Southeast Asia and the Straits of Malacca, which are still essential for the world market and for the military and intelligence control of the whole South Pacific region.
Will the United States be able to use every aspect of the negotiations between North and South Korea, which will soon extend to the United States?
What role will be played by the selective maintenance of sanctions or by their removal, with subsequent economic negotiations between the United States, China and Russia?
For the time being forecasts are uncertain, apart from the evident goodwill of both Koreas.
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