The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) – known also Tibetan Government in Exile – celebrates ‘Democracy Day’ on 2 September every year and has done so since 1960, one year after the Dalai Lama and his entourage escaped from Tibet. It was on September 2, 1960 when the Parliament of the CTA (known originally as the Commission of Tibetan People’s Deputies) began functioning, and since then the CTA it has presented itself as a democratic ‘government’ with a Constitution that protects the inalienable rights and freedom of its people.
As common as the concept of democracy appears to be in a modern and largely liberal world, the term has often been misused. The word is derived from the Greek word, ‘demos’ which means ‘common people’. Accordingly, a democratic society is one in which supreme power belongs to the people and is not vested in the figure of an authoritative leader no matter how popular he may appear. Neither is it a democracy when power over the people is yielded by a single-party regime that is free to bend the rules to keep itself in power because there is no mechanism or infrastructure to prevent it from doing so. In addition, a democracy functions by the principles of ‘majority-rule’ and guards against breaches of the basic rights of the common people. In a true democracy, the authority of the government comes from the people.
The CTA operates under the “Charter of the Tibetans In-Exile”, adopted in 1991 and changed in 2011. Executive authority is vested in the Sikyong (also known as the President or Prime Minister of the CTA) an office currently held by Dr. Lobsang Sangay, a US citizen living in Boston, who was elected in 2011. The Sikyong was initially directly appointed by the Dalai Lama. The first elected Sikyong was a 62-year-old Buddhist monk, Lobsang Tenzin (better known as Samdhong Rinpoche). On 10 March, 2011, the Dalai Lama proposed changes to the exile charter which would in appearance remove his absolutistic position of authority within the organization.
The democracy that the CTA claims does not in fact fit the most vital characteristics of a democratic system of government, leading critics to suspect that it is nothing more than a new coat of paint over its old feudalistic theocratic self. The CTA democracy claim began in the 1960s when the Dalai Lama promulgated a draft Constitution supposedly upholding and protecting the individual rights and freedom of the Tibetan people. Whilst some Tibetans had initially believed in the Dalai Lama’s stated intentions, it became clear in the ensuing years, as the CTA flouted one Constitutional provision after another, that ‘democracy’ was perhaps just a clever ruse for the Dalai Lama’s government to distant itself from a social and political genealogy that it now wished to hide.
Perhaps the Dalai Lama saw that it would be much easier to garner global support for his struggle if the ‘Tibetan cause’ was presented as a wrestle between the Chinese Communist Party, an oppressive totalitarian regime, and the CTA, a ‘democratic government’ forced into exile. This, as opposed to being a fight between a communist regime and a brutal feudal lordship which the Tibetan leadership in fact was. Up until 1959, when the Dalai Lama escaped from Tibet, the majority of the people in Tibet were serfs and slaves owned by a monastic ruling class and aristocrats. When we lift the veneer of democracy, it becomes clear that much of the CTA’s attitudes in governance today is a reflection of its feudal theocratic roots.
During the recent Berman Lecture at Emory University, the CTA President or Sikyong, Dr. Lobsang Sangay attempted a rather awkward justification of what he referred to as ‘Tibetan democracy’. He presented what he regarded as certain unique features of Tibetan democracy which, when examined more closely, offer unmistakable signs that ‘Tibetan democracy’ is a complete fabrication, pointing out three features of the ‘Tibetan Democracy’.
In an exile government, the emphasis is on one leader
Dr. Lobsang Sangay began by admitting that the principles of democracy are in conflict with the goals of an exile government such as the CTA.
“In an exile administration, the emphasis is usually on unity, a single leader and a single voice. It is understandable because the purpose is to return. Unity is paramount in such exile set-ups. Once it is a democracy, there is a contradiction because in a democracy, instead of unity, you have to support diversity. Instead of a single leader, there are oppositions. Instead of a single voice, you must have freedom of speech”.
It should be highlighted that it is because of this disjunction – whether to afford space for diversity or to continue to enforce a single agenda decided solely and unilaterally by the Dalai Lama – that the decision of the CTA exposes its half-heartedness to operate as a true democracy. Stopping short of spelling it out, Dr. Lobsang Sangay was as good as saying that the CTA does not permit freedom of speech, dissenting opinions to that of the government, or diversity, because its exile agenda (read the Dalai Lama’s agenda) does not allow it to. And yet, the CTA insists it is a democracy.
In other words, the only democratic thing about the CTA is its self-appropriated label.
Sincere Buddhists cannot insist on exercising democratic rights
Dr. Lobsang Sangay claimed that the second feature of ‘Tibetan democracy’ is how the Tibetan people have had to step further away from their spiritual bond with the Dalai Lama. Dr. Lobsang Sangay referred to an old Tibetan lore that “all the Tibetan kings were manifestations of Buddha. Such is double bind of Tibetan politics that as long as the Tibetan people regard themselves as sincere Buddhists they cannot insist on exercising their inalienable human rights under a democracy without alienating themselves from their God.
The Dalai Lama and the CTA know this well and hence it is deceitful to suggest to the people of the world that the authority of the Tibetan leadership comes from the people when in fact it comes from their religion, of which the Dalai Lama is a living embodiment.
A true democracy is defined by rule by the majority, but for the Tibetan community in exile, the term means something quite different. Despite the CTA having an administrative configuration that resembles a democratic system, at the apex of the power structure is the lone figure of the Dalai Lama – both a god and a king who is not elected but rules by what is traditionally believed to be divine birthright. For centuries, the Tibetan people have been told that it is the duty of every Tibetan to obey the diktat of this king. But this King is also regarded as the most important god by the Tibetan people, and there is no aspect of his being which is not divine. Therefore, his secular and political decrees are also immediately taken as spiritual precepts to abide by.
The CTA can assemble their governmental structure in whatever way they like, and yet to defy the Dalai Lama is not only treasonous but also highly sacrilegious. And therefore, whether it is by law, by religion or by custom, the Tibetan people are trained to listen to the Dalai Lama without question. The Dalai Lama knows this well and can therefore toy with the idea of the CTA mimicking a democracy without losing any control over the Tibetan people.
A good case in point is the ban on the religious practice of Dorje Shugden. In spite of having a Tibetan Constitution in which Article 10 guarantees the Freedom of Religion, the Dalai Lama did not hesitate to override this charter to deny the people their right to religious freedom enshrined in the CTA’s highest law. A CTA minister of parliament who questioned the wisdom of the Dalai Lama’s religious ban was stabbed. Time and time again, even at the slightest hint of the Dalai Lama’s dissatisfaction at something or someone, the CTA immediately sets aside its democracy masquerade and becomes the enforcer of the Dalai Lama’s will. The Dalai Lama and all the officers and nominees who act in his name are in fact above the law. No democratic system permits this. On the other hand, it describes a feudal theocracy very well.
In 2011, the Dalai Lama apparently retired from all political activities and is said to have relinquished his authority to what the CTA regarded as a democratically elected Sikyong, or President of the Central Tibetan Administration. It was both an opportunity and a test of the CTA’s will to govern as a democratic administration. It could have abolished the Dalai Lama’s religious prohibition on the Dorje Shugden practice, or it could have chosen not to give additional expression to the Dalai Lama’s opposition of this religious ritual. But in 2014, instead of upholding the ‘Freedom of Religion’ and ‘Equality Before the Law’ provisions of the Tibetan Constitution, the CTA Parliament passed yet another official resolution to criminalize the Dorje Shugden practice. Again, this shows that there is no room for disagreement with the Dalai Lama regardless of the Tibetan exile government’s democratic façade.
Those like Tenzin Tsundue, a prominent advocate of Tibetan independence (called Rangzen) who is familiar with how the Tibetan government works, insists that “HH (Dalai Lama) is still the boss, not Sikyong. Lobsang Sangay’s showing the face in the media, on stage; being the head of CTA is still nominal and has little meaning. HH calls the shots.” In other words, CTA democracy is just a charade.
The populace agrees 100 percent with what the leadership says
Dr. Lobsang Sangay suggested that “the third unique feature of Tibetan democracy as its ability to exist without a physical border” and that “…when the Tibetan cabinet makes a decision, they send the notice to Tibetans around the world and it is followed by all…You have to realize that we don’t have a police to enforce the decisions, nor do we punish anyone if the decisions are not followed and yet it is followed by all without fail.” This despite the fact that there are no sanctions for those who do not follow.
It is true that once the Tibetan leadership makes a decision, all Tibetans tend to toe the line. Dr. Lobsang Sangay made the statement that there is no need for the leadership’s instructions to be administered by enforcement, to give the impression that the populace agrees 100 percent with what the leadership says. In truth, there is a big difference between submission out of assent and submission due to fear.
Given the political and spiritual centrality of the Dalai Lama in every Tibetan person’s life, the highest transgression that a Tibetan can be accused of is to be ‘anti-Dalai Lama’. And it is this threat that the Tibetan leadership wields as a weapon more powerful than a police force because its use is completely arbitrary and not bound by any rules of engagement.
In the 2016 elections for the post of Sikyong, Lukar Jam was the only candidate that stood for Rangzen (Tibetan independence) and so he was easily demonized by the other candidates as being ‘anti-Dalai Lama’. To vote for Lukar would be to vote against the king of Tibet, to vote against a Buddha. And to make sure that Lukar Jam had no chance of becoming Sikyong, the Election Commission, which takes its cue from the incumbent leadership, even changed its rules to disqualify Lukar’s candidacy in the final round of the Sikyong election, sparking protests from long-term Tibetan supporters to protest which, in the end, fell on deaf ears.
So, whilst Dr. Lobsang Sangay was right to say that the CTA does not have a police force, it is because there is no need for one. As we have seen time and time again, in the Dorje Shugden controversy and elsewhere, to be labelled ‘anti-Dalai Lama’ is a punishment in itself and carries with it the implied duty of every good Tibetan to shun and assault the victim. Lukar Jam, the political candidate, discovered this as did the journalist Milla Rangzen and the CTA Minister of Parliament Sharchock Cookta. All of them challenged the Tibetan leadership’s views at some point, or called out the CTA’s wrongdoing as they would have been entitled to in a democracy, and were punished for their audacity. Isn’t this more the mark of a totalitarian regime?
During his Berman lecture speech, Dr. Lobsang Sangay boasted that voter participation amongst the Tibetans in exile was up by 70%. Dr. Lobsang Sangay offered this as evidence that the exiled Tibetan people were becoming more involved in the democratic process. What Dr. Lobsang Sangay did not mention was that a Tibetan is only entitled to participate in the electoral process if he or she is issued with a Green Book by the CTA and it is here that the CTA holds a sword of Damocles over the head of every Tibetan in exile. The Green Book is in effect the only official documentation that identifies the Tibetan refugee, allowing him or her to claim ‘citizenship’ of a free Tibet once the CTA regains the homeland. Without a Green Book, the Tibetan refugee has no identity, no legitimacy and no entitlements whatsoever, so it is easy for the CTA to bend every Tibetan in exile to their will with the threat of denying him or her the Green Book. This is a mechanism that is subtle and yet supremely effective, hence Dr. Lobsang Sangay’s confidence that instructions emanating from Dharamsala, the CTA’s seat of government, are followed without fail. The Green Book must be renewed every five years which provides the CTA with a series of opportunities to control the Tibetan Diaspora.
For Tibetans who refuse to comply with the Dalai Lama and CTA’s arbitrary terms such as Dorje Shugden practitioners unwilling to denounce their faith, they not only live in fear of their lives, but are also considered persona non-grata, an exile within an exile community. A democratic government does not subject its citizens to such fear and conditions.
Indeed, in the CTA Constitution itself we see the supremacy of the Dalai Lama instead of the supremacy of the rule of law. For instance Article 20, which addresses the CTA Cabinet and the elected CTA Presidency, clearly identifies the Dalai Lama’s leadership even though he is supposed to have devolved himself of all political authority. Similarly, Article 36, which vests the Tibetan Assembly with the powers to create laws, states that such power can only be exercised with the assent of the Dalai Lama. And this submission to the Dalai Lama’s authority runs through the Tibetan Authority, although it need not have. The Dalai Lama’s authority does not come from the letter of the law but from heaven itself, and to every Tibetan person, there is nothing higher than that.
The five most important rights provided to citizens in a democracy
It would have been easy enough for Dr. Lobsang Sangay to prove that Tibetan democracy is real by showing that the CTA upholds the five most important rights provided to citizens in a democratic state:
1. Freedom of speech and expression – The most fundamental right that all citizens are afforded in a democratic state is the right to express oneself and one’s opinion. But this is manifestly absent in the Tibetan community governed by the CTA. In fact, the opposite is true.
For instance, as the Tibetan activist and writer Jamyang Norbu noted in ‘The Sad Painful Joke of Tibetan Democracy’, simply voicing one’s opinion in favor of Rangzen (Tibetan independence, as opposed to the Middle Way promulgated by the Dalai Lama) is enough for the Tibetan parliament in exile to call for one to be banished from the Tibetan exile society. Norbu further noted that such an act was in fact an order for members of the exile community to teach a lesson to the errant member who has the audacity to speak his mind.
If there is any doubt that the CTA employs violence in suppressing dissenting voices, then Tashi Angdu, the President of the Cholsum Organization, confirmed in an interview with Swiss TV that his organization enforces the CTA’s views and insists that no one should do anything that contradicts the views of the Tibetan leadership, and that they will resort to violence if necessary. “Anyone who is against the Dalai Lama must be opposed without hesitation with men, money and possessions, that is to say, all means including violence”.
2.The right to a fair trial and procedural fairness – The independence of the judiciary is not only a cornerstone of a true democracy but also the foundation of the rule of law. The reason the judiciary is protected from tampering by other branches of government in a democratic system is to ensure people’s rights can really be protected.
But in the CTA’s case, the judiciary becomes yet another tool for the ruling elite to oppress the people. When the Dalai Lama banned the Dorje Shugden practice in 1996, Article 63 of the Tibetan Constitution was amended to preclude the appointment of Dorje Shugden believers, who are forbidden from holding office in any branch of the government or judiciary by virtue of their religion. And yet Articles 9 and 10 of the same Constitution guarantee equality before the law and freedom of religion. This by itself irrefutably demonstrates the hollowness of the Tibetan Constitution and the ease with which the CTA bends the law to justify its acts.
It was only after constant ridicule from Tibetan and international observers that Article 63 was again amended to read:
Article 63 (3): A Tibetan who is appointed as the Chief Tibetan Justice Commissioner shall, before assuming office, take and subscribe an oath and affirmation of office in the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama according to the form prescribed by law.
This essentially disqualifies any candidate that the Dalai Lama objects to, a subtler and yet no less effective means of denying any judicial fairness to those targeted by the government.
3.The right to a free and unperturbed media – Far from allowing a free press, the only independent Tibetan newspaper Mangtso (Democracy) was forced to close down for daring to publish news items that were not complimentary of the Dalai Lama or the CTA.
Jamyang Norbu who was a key member of the newspaper noted:
At Amnye Machen we published the newspaper Mangtso (Democracy), that attempted to report on Tibetan politics in an open and truthful manner. Our staff members and some young men who sold our paper on the streets were constantly bullied and threatened. The editors received death threats on a regular basis, and gangs and mobs often poured into our office, scaring the girls at the reception desk and harassing everybody else. All these incidents were clearly organized and instigated by the religious-right coalition in order to shut down the paper.
4.The right of every citizen to exercise his/her vote freely in public and open elections – In a true democracy, the highest power is vested in the people who affect how their government is chosen through the power of their vote in an electoral process.
However, as we have seen in the case of Lukar Jam, not only can the ruling class use the Central Election Commission to change its rules and regulations to disqualify candidates – which it does – but no Tibetan in exile can vote unless he or she is in possession of the Green Book, which is only issued at the prerogative of the CTA.
In the case of Dorje Shugden practitioners who refuse to obey the Dalai Lama’s religious ban, they are denied the issuance or renewal of the Green Book which is how the CTA ultimately manipulates and oppress the very people it is supposed to serve as a democratic government.
5.The right to worship religion in a free setting – Perhaps the most glaring example of Dr. Lobsang Sangay’s parody of democracy is the CTA’s ban on the religious practice of Dorje Shugden. This denial of freedom of religion not only breaches the Tibetan Constitution but also the Constitution of India, the host nation of the CTA, as well as a good handful of United Nations Human Rights provisions.
An entire section of the CTA’s official website is dedicated to the persecution of Dorje Shugden practitioners. For good measure, an identical section appears on the Dalai Lama’s official website.
How can Dr. Sangay claim a ‘Tibetan democracy’ when the CTA uses all branches of the government as well as the authority of its highest religious leader to deny the Tibetan people even the most basic rights that their law is supposed to uphold? As a matter of fact, the CTA under Dr. Lobsang Sangay is an affront to democracy, which makes his delivery of the Berman Lecture on democracy at Emory University a complete mockery.
‘Tibetan democracy’ is the Dalai Lama’s sleight of hand at its best. It is a deception and one of the best in modern history. No other authoritarian regime has pulled off this level of artifice. The Central Tibetan Administration is a government without a state to govern and a ‘democracy’ that uses state instruments to enforce a feudal lord’s will, all this while operating outside every single global framework that ensures checks and balances. ‘Tibetan democracy’ is an oxymoron and the CTA should be taken to task over its abuse of the term.
Xinjiang: Pan-Turkism fuels China’s hearts-and-minds campaign
Chinese efforts to woo Saudi Arabia’s ethnic Chinese community highlight the People’s Republic’s effort to avert criticism from the Muslim world of its crackdown in the north-western province of Xinjiang and strengthen relations with the kingdom and Middle Eastern nations.
The efforts to woo a community, a significant part of which is of Turkic origin, identifies itself as Turkestani, and long supported greater rights, if not independence for Xinjiang’s Uyghur population, are part of a larger, long-standing global Chinese effort to ensure the support of a mushrooming Chinese diaspora not only for its policy in Xinjiang, but also for its anti-Taiwanese One China policy and growing economic and geopolitical influence.
“Tukestanis…do not identify as ‘Chinese in the ethnic, cultural or even geographic sense. Parts of this cluster perceive themselves…as being part of an oppressed group whose homeland is currently under Han occupation,“ said Muhammed Al-Sudairi, a Saudi China scholar and author of a recent report on the Chinese efforts in Saudi Arabia.
In wooing Saudi Arabia’s ethnic Chinese community, China is targeting a group that not only historically supported the Uyghurs but also maintained close ties to Taiwan. Mr. Al-Sudairi estimated the Saudi Chinese community to number at least 210,000, 150,000 of which have lived in the kingdom for decades.
It is a community that played a significant role in Saudi Arabia’s propagation of Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism in China, part of a four-decade-long global campaign to counter post-1979 Iranian post-revolutionary zeal that more recently with the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is being curbed and given a more moderate makeover.
China this week sought to tighten relations with the Arab world with the allocation of US$106 million in aid to troubled nations, including Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon and the creation of a US$3 billion joint Chinese Arab fund that would invest in transportation infrastructure, oil and gas, finance, digital economy and artificial intelligence.
China announced the financial initiatives at a moment that it was putting the brakes on funds it pumps into its infrastructure-driven Belt and Road initiative that aims to connect Eurasia to the People’s Republic. The slowdown was designed to ensure that the initiative does not become a drag on the Chinese economy.
China’s Xinhua news agency meanwhile reported that President Xi Jingping would visit the United Arab Emirates this month on his way to a BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit in Johannesburg. Mr. Xi visited Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt in 2016, the first visit to the Middle East by a Chinese head of state in seven years.
Chinese concern about Uyghur sentiment is compounded by the revival in post-Soviet Central Asian nations of pan-Turkism, a movement that emerged in the late 1900s that aims to unite Asia’s Turkic people. Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev sees pan-Turkism as a pillar of his country’s national identity.
Quoting Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the visionary who carved modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire, Mr. Nazarbayev told a gathering in Ankara in 2012 that “the time will come when all the Turks will unite. Therefore I want to greet all the Turkic-speaking brothers. Between Altai and the Mediterranean Sea, over 200 million brothers live. If we all unite, then we will be a very effective force in the world.”
Pan-Turkism’s appeal in Central Asia, boosted by what Russia’s annexation of Crimea could mean for other post-Soviet states, does not stop at the borders of Xinjiang. The Altai mountains, Mr. Nazarbayev referred to is where Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and Russia meet.
Mr. Nazarbayev last month took several steps to popularize pan-Turkic notions. The president sent a congratulatory message to a gathering celebrating the 125th anniversary of Magzhan Zhumabayev, a Soviet pan-Turkist poet whose works were banned by Joseph Stalin.
Days earlier, Mr. Nazarbayev signed a decree renaming the southern region of Shymkent as Turkestan, a reference to what pan-Turkists see as their spiritual homeland.
The rise of pan-Turkism puts China’s recent focus on Saudi Arabia’s Chinese Turkic community in a class of its own. China sought to boost its efforts by appointing in 2013 Anwar Habibullah, one of China’s few Uyghur diplomats as consul general in the Red Sea port of Jeddah.
The consulate, since Mr. Habibullah’s appointment conducts events not only in Mandarin and Arabic but also Uyghur, according to Mr. Al-Sudairi.
Mr. Al-Sudairi attributes the focus on the Saudi Uyghurs, one of the largest and wealthy Chinese Turkic diaspora communities, “to the role of this community as a stronghold for anti-Chinse and anti-CPC (Communist Party of China) sentiment in Saudi Arabia, and one that has had some influence in shaping Saudi elite and popular perceptions toward the PRC (People’s Republic of China) and CPC.”
The Chinese focus is also fed by the country’s determination to stem the influence of what it terms extremist thought, including Saudi-inspired ultra-conservatism, that was promoted by Saudi ethnic Turkic Chinese through their contact with Uyghur pilgrims and the distribution of literature and, audio-visual materials in Xinjiang, often through governmental non-governmental organizations like the Muslim World League, a major vehicle in Saudi Arabia’s global propagation of ultra-conservatism.
Mr. Al-Sudairi’s portrayal of Saudi Turkic sentiment and its impact on perceptions of China in Saudi Arabia is noticeable given the fact that the kingdom, like almost all Muslim states, has turned a blind eye to China’s crackdown in Xinjiang and systematic attempts at forced assimilation of the Uyghurs.
Muhammad Amin Islam Turkestani, a strident Uyghur advocate of Xinjiang independence helped shape Saudi perceptions and propagate nationalism in his homeland after settling in the kingdom in the mid-1950s. Mr. Turkestani served as a translator for Uyghurs performing the haj and hosted a one-hour Uyghur-language show on Saudi radio in the 1980s.
Funded by the Saudi Turkic community, Mr. Turkestani published a book, A Message to the Islamic World … Facts about Muslim Turkestan, that criticized Han supremacism and denounced communist rule. The book was published in the kingdom and distributed locally as well as internationally as part of Saudi Arabia’s global propagation of ultra-conservatism.
Mr. Turkestani’s book, according to Mr. Al-Sudairi, influenced Saudi discussions and perceptions and complicated the kingdom’s relations with China before and after Saudi Arabia in 1990 became the last Arab state to officially establish diplomatic relations.
Saudi Arabia, however, while at times critical of Chinese policy in Xinjiang, ensured that they plight of the Uyghurs did not fundamentally affect official relations.
The country’s controlled media were at times allowed to raise the issues and senior religious scholars called for support of the Uyghurs, Mr. Turkestani’s campaign to get the Muslim World League to recognize East Turkestan went however unheeded.
Moreover, no senior Saudi scholar has issued a fatwa or religious opinion on the issue. “Uyghur persecution by China will not stop the Saudis’ engagement with China, nor even slow it down,” said prominent China scholar Yitzhak Shichor.
The Chinese effort to woo Saudi ethnic Turkic Chinese is being spearheaded by the United Front Work Department, the main communist party unit tasked with reaching out to key non-part groups in China and across the globe, including Saudi Arabia.
“In January 2018…Politburo member and former Foreign Minister and State Counsellor, Yang Jiechi, told the National Overseas Chinese Conference that the government should expand and strengthen ‘Overseas Chinese Patriotic Friendly Forces’ in the service of the ‘Great Rejuvenation’ of the Chinese nation. In plain language, what this means is that overseas Chinese should be persuaded, induced, or in extremis, coerced, into accepting allegiance to China as at least part of their identity,” said Bilahari Kausikan, a former Singapore diplomat and chairman of the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute, in a recent speech.
Mr. Kausikan noted that the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office was incorporated two months after Mr. Yang’s remarks into the United Front Work Department.
“This is leading China into very complex, indeed dangerous, territory. China’s navigation of the complexities has in many cases been clumsy,” Mr. Kausikan said, noting that the policy had led Chinese diplomats to openly interfere in the domestic politics in for example Malaysia.
“Since my retirement, I have travelled extensively in Southeast Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. Complaints about similar behaviour by Chinese diplomats and officials are all too common in all these regions; in fact, so common that it is becoming somewhat tiresome to listen to them,” Mr Kausikan said.
Xinjiang: China ignores lessons from the past
A Chinese campaign to forcibly assimilate ethnic Uyghurs in its north-western province of Xinjiang in a bid to erase nationalist sentiment, counter militancy, and create an ‘Uyghur Islam with Chinese characteristics’ ignores lessons learnt not only from recent Chinese history but also the experience of others.
The campaign, reminiscent of failed attempts to undermine Uyghur culture during the Cultural Revolution, involves the creation of a surveillance state of the future and the forced re-education of large numbers of Turkic Muslims.
In what amounts to an attempt to square a circle, China is trying to reconcile the free flow of ideas inherent to open borders, trade and travel with an effort to fully control the hearts and minds of it population.
In doing so, it is ignoring lessons of recent history, including the fallout of selective support for militants and of religion to neutralize nationalism that risks letting a genie out of the bottle.
Recent history is littered with Chinese, US and Middle Eastern examples of the backfiring of government support of Islamists and/or militants.
No example is more glaring than US, Saudi, Pakistani and Chinese support in the 1980s for militant Islamists who fought and ultimately forced the Soviet Union to withdraw from Afghanistan. The consequences of that support have reverberated across the globe ever since.
Some analysts suggest that China at the time was aware of the radicalization of Uyghurs involved in the Afghan jihad and may have even condoned it.
Journalist John Cooley reported that China, in fact, had in cooperation with Pakistan trained and armed Uyghurs in Xinjiang as well as Pakistan to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.
The notion that Islam and/or Islamists could help governments counter their detractors was the flavour of the era of the 1970s and 1980s.
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat saw the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood as an anti-dote to the left that was critical of both his economic liberalization and outreach to Israel that resulted in the first peace treaty with an Arab state.
Saudi Arabia funded a four-decade long effort to promote ultra-conservative Sunni Muslim Islam and backed the Brotherhood and other Islamist forces that helped create the breeding ground for jihadism and wreaked havoc in countries like Pakistan.
China’s experience with selective support of militancy and the use of religion to counter nationalist and/or other political forces is no different.
China’s shielding from designation by the United Nations as a global terrorist of Masood Azhar complicates Pakistani efforts to counter militancy at home and evade blacklisting by an international anti-money laundering and terrorism finance watchdog.
Mr. Azhar, a fighter in Afghanistan and an Islamic scholar who graduated from a Deobandi madrassah, Darul Uloom Islamia Binori Town in Karachi, the alma mater of numerous Pakistani militants, is believed to have been responsible for a 2016 attack on India’s Pathankot Air Force Station.
Back in the 1980s, then Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping saw his belief that what China expert Justin Jon Rudelson called a “controlled revival” of religion would foster economic development and counter anti-government sentiment boomerang.
The revival that enabled an ever larger number of Uyghurs to travel to Mecca via Pakistan for the haj made Saudi Arabia and the South Asian state influential players in Uyghur Islam. Uyghurs, wanting to perform the haj, frequently needed Pakistani contacts to act as their hosts to be able to obtain a Chinese exit visa.
The opening, moreover, allowed Muslim donors to provide financial assistance to Xinjiang. Saudi Arabia capitalized on the opportunity as part of its global promotion of Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism to put money into the building of mosques and establishment of madrassas.
Receptivity for more conservatives forms of Islam, particularly in southern parts of Xinjiang that were closest to Central and South Asia, suggested that the closure of Xinjiang’s borders during the Sino-Soviet split in the 1950s and 1960s and the cultural revolution in the 1960s and 1970s had done little to persuade Uyghurs to focus their identity more on China than on Central Asia.
In fact, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of independent states in Central Asia coupled with rising inequality rekindled Uyghur nationalism.
The rise of militant Islamist and jihadist Uyghurs constituted in many ways a fusion of Soviet and Western-inspired secular nationalist ideas that originated in Central Asia with religious trends more popular in South Asia and the Gulf in an environment in which religious and ethnic identity were already inextricably interlinked.
The juxtaposition, moreover, of exposure to more orthodox forms of Islam and enhanced communication also facilitated the introduction of Soviet concepts of national liberation, which China had similarly adhered to with its support for various liberation movements in the developing world.
The exposure put Xinjiang Uyghurs in touch with nationalist Uyghur groups in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan that fed on what political science PhD candidate Joshua Tschantret terms “ideology-feeding grievances.”
Nationalists, dubbed ‘identity entrepreneurs’ by Gulf scholar Toby Matthiesen, built on the presence of some 100,000 Uyghurs who had fled to Central Asia in the late 1950s and early 1960 during Mao Zedong’s social and economic Great Leap Forward campaign that brutally sought to introduce industrialization and collectivization and the descendants of earlier migrations.
With Pakistan’s political, economic and religious elite, ultimately seduced by Chinese economic opportunity and willing to turn a blind eye to developments in Xinjiang, Uyghurs in the South Asian country had little alternative but to drift towards the country’s militants.
Militant madrassas yielded, however, to Pakistani government pressure to stop enrolling Uyghurs. The militants were eager to preserve tacit Chinese support for anti-Indian militants operating in Kashmir.
Pakistan’s foremost Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, went as far as signing in 2009 a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese communist party that pledged support for Beijing’s policy in Xinjiang.
Despite eagerness to address Chinese concerns, Pakistan and China’s selective support of militants is likely to continue to offer radicalized Uyghurs opportunity.
“Jihadis and other religious extremists will continue to benefit from the unwillingness of the military and the judiciary to target them as well as the temptation of politicians to benefit from their support,” said former Pakistani ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani, discussing overall Pakistani policy rather than official attitudes towards the Uyghurs.
Cultural anthropologist Sean R. Roberts noted that Central and South Asia became with the reopening of the borders in the second half of the 1980s “critical links between the inhabitants of Xinjiang and both the Islamic and Western worlds; and politically, they have become pivotal but contentious areas of support for the independence movement of Uyghurs.
The 1979 inauguration of the of the 1,300-kilometre-long Karakoram highway linking Kashgar in Xinjiang to Abbottabad in Pakistan, one of the highest paved roads in the world, served as a conduit for Saudi-inspired religious ultra-conservatism, particularly in southern Xinjiang as large numbers of Pakistanis and Uyghurs traversed the border.
Pakistani traders doubled as laymen missionaries adding Islamic artefacts, including pictures of holy places, Qurans and other religious literature to their palette of goods at a time that Islamist fighters were riding high with their defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan and the emergence of the Taliban.
Increased religiosity became apparent in Xinjiang.
Women donned veils in what was traditionally a more liberal land. Students of religion made their way to madrassas or religious seminaries in Pakistan where they came into contact with often Saudi-inspired Pakistani and Afghan militants – trends that China is trying to reverse with the construction of an Orwellian type surveillance state coupled with stepped-up repression and intimidation.
“The cross-border linkages established by the Uyghurs through access provided by the highway, Beijing’s tacit consent to expand Uyghur travel and economic links with Pakistan through Reform Era policies, and Beijing’s explicit consent in supporting anti-Soviet operations – all prompted the radicalization of a portion of Xinjiang’s Uyghurs,” concluded China scholar Ziad Haider more than a decade ago.
The process was fuelled by the recruitment in the 1990s of Uyghur students in Pakistani madrassas by the Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, both of which were linked to Al Qaeda. Some 22 Uyghurs captured by US forces in Afghanistan ended up in Guantanamo Bay.
The eruption of protests in Xinjiang in the late 1990s and late 2000s against rising income differences and the influx of Han Chinese put an end to official endorsement of a religious revival that was increasingly seen by authorities as fuelling nationalism and facilitating Islamists.
Seemingly stubborn insistence on a Turkic and Muslim identity is likely one reason that China’s current assimilation drive comes as Xinjiang’s doors to its neighbours are being swung open even wider with the construction of new road and rail links as part of the People’s Republic’s infrastructure-centred Belt and Road initiative.
Forced assimilation is designed to bolster China’s expectation that increased economic ties to South and Central Asia will contribute to development of its north-western province, giving Uyghurs a stake that they will not want to put at risk by adhering to nationalist or militant religious sentiment.
The crackdown and forced assimilation is further intended to reduce the risk of a flow of ideas and influences through open borders needed for economic development and cementing Xinjiang into the framework of China’s infrastructure-driven Belt and Road initiatives that spans Eurasia
The assimilation effort is enabled by China’s Great Fire Wall designed to wall the country off of free access to the Internet. In doing so, China hoped in Xinjiang to halt cultural exchanges with Central Asia such as political satire that could reinforce Uyghurs’ Turkic and Central Asian identity.
The breadth of the more recent crackdown has complicated but not halted the underground flow of cultural products enabled by trade networks.
Mr. Roberts noted as early as 2004 that Chinese efforts aiming to regulate rather than reshape or suppress Islam were backfiring.
“Interest in the idea of establishing a Muslim state in Xinjiang has only increased with recent Chinese policies that serve to regulate the practice of Islam in the region,” Mr. Roberts said at the time.
The transformation of the North Korean military and political system
How is North Korea’s political system currently changing, pending the Great Transformation with the USA and South Korea, wanted and carefully directed by Kim Jong-un?
In the future the Great Leader wants to have a new ruling class suitable for the economic and strategic changes which will affect North Korea in the coming years.
Far-reaching military and economic changes, with the support of Iran, the Russian Federation, China and other countries.
According to Kim Jong-un, without prejudice to the regime’s structure, everything else must change.
In the framework of this change, the State and the Party must be turned into quick and agile tools in the hands of the Leader and of his partly-renewed inner circle.
Kim Jong-un’s primary goal is to control the initial phase of North Korea’s economic transformation, as well as to keep the grip on the Armed Forces and the Party, and to finally create a new ruling class for managing denuclearization and the economic transformation.
In the case of North Korean Armed Forces, the new appointments have mainly concerned the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces, the Chief of Staff Department of People’s Armed Forces – with new appointments also in the Directorate of Operations – and, finally, the Director of the General Political Bureau of the Armed Forces.
In the specific hierarchy of the North Korean military system, these are the three most important posts.
Furthermore, each of the three above mentioned roles implies the alternating or fixed presence of the Workers’ Party of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the Political Bureau.
Therefore the new appointments are No Kwang Chol, former first vice-Minister of the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces, replacing Pak Yong Sik, while Ri Yong-gil replaces his former boss, Ri Myong-su.
Ri Yong-gil was Commander of the North Korean Armed Forces, as well as member of the Party’s Central Committee, but he was later removed from office in February 2016.
As early as 2013 he had been Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces and, despite the recent events, he had a stable and secure military career.
From 2014 to 2018 Ri Yong-gil was also Head of the Pyongyang Committee of the Workers’ Party.
From 2012 to 2013 he accompanied Kim Jong-un on many visits to nuclear and bacteriological-chemical sites.
Considering the symbolic relevance of the North Korean power, he is probably one of the true leaders of the nuclear and bacteriological-chemical program of the North Korean Armed Forces.
Ri Yong-gil was at first Party’s official and later became officer of the North Korean Armed Forces, while always keeping political and party positions rather than technically military ones.
Moreover, Kim Jong-un is still playing many of his cards on the Defence Ministry.
It is a source of foreign currency and of excellent profit in relation to the friendly powers, as well as of social control and of real and effective foreign policy.
Under the current leader, Kim Jong-un, six new Defence Ministers have been appointed.
Pak Yong-sik is one of the Ministers removed from office.
Probably he had some business roles, but we cannot rule out that in the future he can start again his career, interrupted on the basis of unpleasant news about his role as businessman in the phase of the Sunshine Policy with South Korea.
He had been member of the Council of State, of the Central Committee and of the Political Bureau of the Workers’ Party of Korea, as well as of the Central Military Commission and finally of the Political Committee of the Pyongyang Defence Command.
Clearly Kim Jong-un is measuring his potential enemy lobby.
And he is certainly planning the generational and political change of all the important positions of the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea.
As we will see later on, the new Minister No Kwang Chol was Head of the Second Economic Committee, which is in charge of the defence industry and hence connected with North Korea’s supervision and construction of conventional and nuclear weapons.
He is an excellent manager loyal to Kim Jong-un.
He held various posts in the North Korean political system.
These newly-appointed people have certainly been selected due to their absolute loyalty to Kim Jong-un and the Party,but we must better analyse the decision-making process of the North Korean Armed Forces, as well as their specific role.
The naive analysts who think that Kim Jong-un is “prisoner” of his ruling class have understood nothing of North Korea’s political and economic mechanism.
For the Leader, both loyalty and professional skills are needed. He is willing to get over some affectation or groveling too much, but Kim Jong-un wants the best of his technocracy, subject to loyalty to the Party and to himself.
And, above all, subject to the absolute non-involvement in any financial and commercial activity having even the slightest hint of irregularity.
Corrupt people are always at the mercy of the enemy’s blackmail.
The Ministry of People’s Armed Forces, however, is currently placed under the dual and symmetrical control of the State Affairs Commission of the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea and of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
Nevertheless the Ministry deals mainly with the logistics and training of the Special Forces and operates with approximately 36 external organizations.
The Ministry acquires the orders, requests and notes from the basic military units and later organizes and distributes them between the Central Military Commission, the General Staff and the Party’s Ammunition Department.
The Ministry also deals with military finance and operates with commercial companies and production units which can export goods and hence supply the country with hard currency.
In fact, as already noted, at least 36 commercial companies operate in the field of export and internal distribution.
But someone talks about 50 of these companies.
The naive Western analysts were wrong in believing that the People’s Armed Forces were a “terrible cost” for the people and a huge obstacle to economic development.
The opposite was, and is, true.
Therefore the military system operates, above all, with the 44thBureau of the People’s Armed Forces, in controlling most of North Korea’s hard currency flows.
The Technology Transfer Department has also relations with both the companies owned by the Party and by the Ministry’s Ammunition Department.
In particular, it deals with the acquisition of information technology and advanced weapon systems.
The General Department of Logistics deals above all with the network of factories and farms supplying food and clothing to the People’s Armed Forces.
Sometimes they operate for the civilian and foreign market of food and clothing.
The Ministry, however, is subject to the control of the State Affairs Commission, which originates both from the Government and the Party, as well as from the Central Military Commission, which anyway results from the Party-government link only.
It is worth recalling that as early as 2000, the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces directly controlled the Political Department, the General Staff, the Military Security Command, the Reconnaissance Bureau and the Coast Guard Command.
Later, around 2007, all these structures became an integral part of the Ministry itself, which was placed under the control of the National Defence Commission.
In 2016 the latter saw its powers restricted and was placed under the State Affairs Commission’s control.
It should also be noted that, unlike Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un has revolutionised the People’s Armed Forces more than any other predecessor.
For example, there was the handover in February 2009 – just before Kim Jong-un’s role as heir to Kim Jong-il was officially declared.
As you may recall, this happened in September 2010.
At that stage, only seven of the most important positions in the North Korean military system were changed. It was the beginning of Kim Jong-un’s grip on power.
The North Korean Leader had carefully analysed all the military and economic positions well before his full rise to power.
From July to November of that year, the Political Committee (PC) of People’s Armed Forces was combed through by the North Korean leadership.
It was, in fact, the first scrutiny carried out by the Organization and Guidance Department after 1996.
There were some surprises: for example, the PC ships that secretly fished in Japanese waters; some military promotions in exchange for “bribes”; some accounting problems and some suspicions of corruption.
As is typical of his political role, Kim Jong-un has been very harsh in putting an end to these situations and punishing these behaviours.
In fact, in 2017 many executives of the Political Bureau of People’s Armed Forces were removed, with repercussions on the military forces that,as can be easily imagined, affected also the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
Only after this long “purge” did Kim Jong-un focus on negotiations with South Korea and the USA.
In November 2017 Son Chol Ju, one of the officers promoted with the position of Colonel entrusted “with upper management and tasks”, was appointed as Head of the Organizational Affairs Department of People’s Armed Forces, but his appointment was made public only in May 2018.
As already noted, Son Chol Ju has replaced Jon Nam Jin and, most likely, also Kim Wong Hong.
Until that date Son Chol Ju had been the Director of the Political Bureau with the portfolio for organizational affairs, where he had spent his entire career.
Before taking this post, Son Chol Ju was political Director of the Air and Anti-Air Force, in addition to being Head of the respective political committee.
Probably Son Chol Ju was Head of the Political Bureau with the Propaganda portfolio, especially in the Pyongyang region.
In the meeting held on April 2018 Kim Jong Gak was elected to the Political Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea.
These changes of the North Korean ruling elite, however, show the extreme and non-negotiable power now reached by Kim Jong-un, unlike what claimed by the most naive, but very widespread, Western analyses.
This is one of the signs that, in a North Korean extremely important phase, the Party wants to control its “separate bodies”, with a view to avoiding “political advantages” and the systems of influence – even the foreign ones – as well as all the grey and black areas of finance which must currently be transformed and be directly controlled by the Party and its ruling class.
In this phase we need to study the careers of important personalities such as Jo Kyong Chol, the Director of the Military Security Command since 2009, as well as full member of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea and member of Kim Jong-il’s Funeral Committee.
Jo Kyong Chol was essential in strengthening Kim Jong-un’s power – a member of the “old guard” that wanted continuity, independence and military power for North Korea.
Hence he has accepted the new system of international relations in North Korea.
Currently Kim Jong-un certainly wants the regime’s continuity, but also and above all the emergence of a ruling class capable – by training, background and political culture – of organizing the North Korean stability in a phase of opening to the world market.
Ri Song Guk, another fer de lance of Kim Jong-un’s current political and military system, currently leads North Korea’s Fourth Army Corps – after leading the 39th Division – a very special military structure deployed near the Yellow Sea and the Northern Limit Line.
He is the current Director for Special Operations of the Central Command.
Yung Jong-rin is serving as the Commander of the Supreme Guard Command – therefore he is responsible for Kim Jong-un’s personal safety, but he had the same post with Kim Jong-il and is hence the Commander of the most technologically advanced security service in North Korea.
He has been member of the Central Military Commission since September 2010, as well as member of the Party’s Central Committee, and General since April 22, 2010.
Hence Kim Jong-un is preparing the ruling class that will defend North Korea’s interests in its new, gradual and slow globalization.
President Trump, NATO and the trade war with China
The last Summit of the Atlantic Alliance saw, at least initially, a clear divergence between the United States and NATO’s...
The Muslim Saint of a Greek Orthodox city
The Albanian Bektashi Monastery of Farsala May 1st 2017: Some hundred meters outside Farsala, in the village of Asprogia, cars...
The ‘Reverse Nixon’ and New Nero: Where to Focus After the Trump-Putin Summit
It would be too easy to simply jump on all of the stereotypical bandwagoning going on across most of the...
Russia’s strategy towards the United States over Syrian issues
The Meeting with Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, the presidents of the United States and Russia on the sidelines of...
Shooting the Messenger: Corruption and Peace
It is the most natural of behaviors for the guilty to lay the blame elsewhere and to make the most...
A double-edged sword: China and Pakistan link up with fibreoptic cable
This month’s inauguration of a fibreoptic cable linking Pakistan with China could prove to be a double-edged sword. Constructed by...
SIPRI Annual Report: Flawed Analysis of Pakistan’s Nuclear Forces
Since its inception Pakistan’s nuclear program became a victim of nuclear apartheid, even though the acquisition of nuclear technology for...
Middle East2 days ago
Iranian Terror Plot Motivated by Threat of Regime Change
South Asia2 days ago
India Ranked at Top as the Most Dangerous Country for Women
South Asia1 day ago
A double-edged sword: China and Pakistan link up with fibreoptic cable
Energy1 day ago
CPEC and Pakistan’s energy crises
Defense1 day ago
SIPRI Annual Report: Flawed Analysis of Pakistan’s Nuclear Forces
Americas2 days ago
Flip-Flops and Foreign Policy: How American Tourist Behavior Hinders U.S. National Security
Middle East2 days ago
Risk of Decreased Relief Funding for Palestinian Refugees
Energy2 days ago
Global energy investment in 2017 fails to keep up with energy security and sustainability goals