Monday, June 29, 2009

Chinese Horse Sense On Mustang

After high-profile visits to Mustang by a few other top foreign envoys, Chinese ambassador Quo Guohang landed in the district to thank the local people for helping to stop anti-Beijing activities. In an open gesture of goodwill, the ambassador assured residents that China would soon introduce a development package for the Upper Mustang region.
The amity did not stop at that. Guohang said he had requested Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal to spend the bulk of Chinese financial support in remote areas like Mustang. (Finally, the Chinese seem to have recognized the strategic merits of attaching strings to their foreign aid commitments.)
Behind the sentimentality, it is clear Beijing is worried about a resurgence of the “splittist” activities of the “Dalai clique” from the district that abuts into the Tibet plateau. The Free Tibet movement has become a more powerful vehicle combining its traditional glitzy global reach with an increasing recognition of the limits of nonviolence. Celebrities of all shapes are intent on saving one of the world’s last quaint and pristine regions even if takes some destructiveness in the process. A new offensive, advocates believe, is overdue, especially with the Dalai Lama advancing in age.
Like Taiwan, Tibet is a perennial sore China’s foes believe they must keep festering in order to pummel Beijing’s heart and soul. Nepalis are too busy with their own present to care too much about the geopolitical maneuverings of the past and the future. Instinctively, however, most Nepalis worry that a free Tibet would obliterate the country’s border with China, thereby leaving the field wide open for India.
Admittedly, the Chinese know the limits of western backing for the Free Tibet movement. With the Barack Hussein Obama administration’s Project Socialism predicated on Chinese purchases of American treasury bills, there is little incentive in Washington to tilt the applecart too steep. Should Wal-Mart suddenly lose all those cheap Chinese imports, who is to say how the American public would revisit the word “change”?
Beijing also recognizes that the American political class has to demonstrate displeasure with China periodically for domestic reasons. Throw in a couple of millions a year to a revitalized anti-Beijing rebellion and many of Obama’s congressional on the right would be quite happy.
Yet the Chinese are pragmatic enough to see the real threat. It is the internal security challenge – rather than Tibet’s outright detachment from the motherland – across the less-developed western hinterland that worries the one-time governor of Tibet, President Hu Jintao.
Indeed, a lot has changed since King Birendra ordered the Royal Nepalese Army to flush out the remnants of the fading Tibetan rebellion in 1974. Still, a little more light on history would be in order. President Richard M. Nixon’s opening to China may have convinced the Central Intelligence Agency to terminate its support to Tibetan rebels. But the impending end was visible long before that.
Mustang, in the eyes of the external sponsors, was supposed to be a transit point of the rebels. The Tibetans were expected to establish bases inside Tibet. Rebel leaders insisted they could not do so without arms. Weapons were airdropped, with the Americans keeping a close eye on developments inside Tibet. As the back and forth continued between the CIA and the Tibetan rebel leaders, the Chinese consolidated control along the Nepali border.
To be sure, sophisticated arms and improvements in aircraft payload capabilities would help overcome key weaknesses of the earlier rebellion faced. Improved communication, moreover, would facilitate movement and cut down the time between the acquisition of actionable intelligence and the mapping of operation plans.
As far as the regional biases that marred the earlier phase are concerned, however, not much can be said with certainty. Resistance leaders came from the same tribe or region and they chose for CIA training fighters mostly along the same ethnic and geographical lines. The majority of the trainees were from southeastern Kham (“Khampas”) and a few from adjoining areas.
A few Amdos and a handful of Goloks were also trained. The traditional rivalries and suspicions this fed weakened the rebellion from the outset. In the end, the operation could be suppressed when one key leader betrayed another.
A revitalized rebellion would, as then, depend on the Indians. Just as the Indians know that the Chinese won’t risk their bilateral partnership over Nepal, Beijing recognizes Delhi’s reluctance to gamble away ties over Tibet. But, then, there is the flipside.
If the Indians and the Americans could work together on Tibet during the height of the Cold War, when they were on opposing blocs, could the convergence under a Washington-New Delhi strategic alliance be anything short of compelling?