‘China started work on border villages long before LAC standoff began’ | World News - Hindustan Times

‘China started work on border villages long before LAC standoff began’

Nov 30, 2021 11:36 AM IST

The Chinese side is not only attempting to recruit Tibetans but also trying to ensure the loyalty of their communities

A year before China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) attempted to unilaterally alter the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh sector, Chinese authorities were putting in place measures to use border villages to buttress their territorial claims and keep an eye on the Indian side.

File photo (REUTERS)
File photo (REUTERS)

This trend was picked up by a group of Tibetan researchers who worked for the past two years on putting together a handbook aimed at helping the world to decipher China’s policies that are often vaguely worded and open to different interpretations.

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As they put together material for the handbook titled “Decoding Chinese Communist Party”, to be released on December 2, the researchers came across several reports on the Chinese side’s focus on using border villages as a means to project force along the frontier.

One such report in Tibetan from August 2019, circulated on Chinese instant messaging apps and websites, was on border patrols and propaganda activities at Geru village in Shigatse prefecture, bordering India’s Sikkim state.

The report quoted Phurbu Sonam, deployed as the first party secretary in Geru, which is described as a “border defence village”, as saying, “These days, Geru residents have a strong consciousness that everyone is a spy and every household is a spy house.”

“The bond between the soldiers and the local residents is as deep as the fish and water,” Sonam added. Every Monday, permanent Chinese cadres stationed in Geru organised a ceremony at the border pillar to hoist the Chinese flag and sing the national anthem. To assist border defences forces, about 100 people from the village conducted regular border patrols on motorcycles.

Tsering Tsomo, executive director of the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, which put together the handbook, said the five researchers who worked on the project picked up more such reports that pointed to China’s intentions along the LAC.

The Chinese side is not only attempting to recruit Tibetans but also trying to ensure the loyalty of their communities. “This requires social engineering on a large scale, giving border communities top priority for employment and finance for enterprises, and creating villages intended to create abiding dependence and loyalty,” she said.

“This handbook is a tool to help people assess the intentions of the Chinese side. Many countries haven’t devoted adequate resources to understanding China. The handbook unpacks the meanings and connotations of Chinese slogans and popular phrases. For example, ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ is several volumes long and open to interpretation,” Tsomo added.

For instance, the Tibetan researchers contend that India is the clear concern of China’s new land border law enacted in October. The law, which takes effect in January, will consolidate the securitisation of China’s land borders, the researchers said.

While China has land borders with 14 countries, it has unsettled boundaries only with India and Bhutan. The standoff in Ladakh that began in May 2020 has taken bilateral ties to an all-time low and India and China have been unable to disengage frontline troops despite several rounds of talks.

The law has strong punitive clauses forbidding activities such as flying drones near the border, mandating military exclusion zones and authorising security agencies to open fire at anyone believed to have committed a crime. Article 53 of the law, the researchers contend, is aimed at authorising a Chinese security presence in countries in the neighbourhood.

Article 11, they said, is aimed at pushing Tibetan nomads into villages in border districts and making key border prefectures, such as Shigatse and Lhoka, into zones where loyalty to China is required.

Other articles establish a very different kind of long-term securitisation, which requires inhabitants of border prefectures to undertake profound culture change. This is aimed at pushing local communities such as Tibetans to drop their own identity and identify first and foremost as Chinese, the researchers believe.

Tsomo said Chinese ethnic policy has “abandoned the fiction that China comprises 56 nationalities, many with territories within which regional ethnic autonomy is legally guaranteed”, and this has been replaced with efforts aimed at cultural assimilation.

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