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Tibetan writer-activist Tsundue’s visit to border villages has given fresh evidence of Chinese expansion plans

Source : The Week

Tibetan writer-activist Tsundue’s visit to border villages has given fresh evidence of Chinese expansion plans
Tenzin Tsundue on his visit to border villages | Sourced images

There are fresh reports emerging of China augmenting not only its infrastructure for troops along the disputed border with India, but also having created resettlement villages that are permanent constructions on its side with far better amenities than those on the Indian side, particularly on the border with Arunachal Pradesh.

Apart from satellite imagery collated by Indian agencies over the last two years since the Galwan valley clashes in May 2020, there is fresh evidence emerging from visits of Tibetan writer and activist Tenzin Tsundue, who has travelled the entire Indo-China border and interacted with people there, covering nearly 20,000km in the last few months.

Tenzin has some interesting observations of how these settlements are being used to further the claims of either side. A border point known as Keypang La is a ridge which lies northwest of Gelling village in Arunachal Pradesh where the Yarlong Tsangpo river enters India as Siang River. Gelling village is the last ITBP post and every day, from Gelling village, a patrolling team comprising around 20 soldiers, go to the border.

“There is a small Buddhist stupa right on the border, demarcated as the McMahon line. Half of the Stupa is in Tibet and half in India. Sometimes Tibetans from the other side come there and whitewash the stupa. And when they whitewash it, they write ”China” in Chinese language. And when people from Gelling go there, they whitewash it and write ”India. The stupa gets whitewashed every four to five months,” he said.

Tenzin could not visit the stupa and said special permissions are required to reach there. ”What really worried me was that the Chinese are moving the border population by forcibly settling Tibetans in the remote areas whereas the policy on the Indian side is to keep the population away from the border as they can face the brunt of any skirmishes between the troops. The result is that it is only the Indian troops who are manning majority of these areas.”

According to Tenzin, this forced rehabilitation is a strategy by China to claim more area by tactically placing the border population and gain legitimacy. ”The tactic is to keep people there and then push the border by soldiers. But on Indian side, we do not have border population and it is proving to be a lacuna because if the Chinese troops try to enter, it will be difficult to substantiate the claims.”

This one-of-a-kind journey is becoming a matter of deep interest and study for intelligence agencies as Tsundue crossed five Himalayan states from Ladakh to Arunachal’s eastern most corners to explore the growing Chinese security threat to India. Tenzin says there is an urgent need to address it. ”When China makes claims or criticism, New Delhi must be more aggressive and secure their borders by taking bolder steps,” he said.

A senior government official said the matter is already under examination and there are plans to strengthen the capacity of the border population by building infrastructure like electricity, water and many other facilities. But is that enough to counter China’s latest move is a question worrying the internal security establishment.

In his report, Tenzin also noted that the common man in the border regions has little or no awareness about Chinese expansionist policies and its current activities on the border. The need to generate awareness and protect the linguistic and cultural rights of the border people is another challenge.

”Another startling fact is the changing landscape of native languages of Himalayan people, different dialects and sub dialects. Many youngsters no longer speak their mother tongue and therefore are unable to speak to their grandparents who mostly do not speak other languages,” he said. In such a scenario, the Chinese attempt at road building and population resettlement in the borders has infused greater insecurity.

Tenzin’s findings are a matter of interest for several agencies who are examining ways to step up efforts to speed up infrastructure works and also device new ways to counter the Chinese resettlement plans.

The threats of a cultural invasion are multiplied when there is a lack of knowledge within the border population about Tibetan Buddhism. ”Many Ladakhis said although His Holiness Dalai Lama is their spiritual guru, they confessed they did not know the real story of his life,” he said.  Tenzin screened his film ”Escape of the Dalai Lama from Tibet” in the villages, markets, schools to not only explain to them the Chinese occupation of Tibet but the growing military pressures on the border. This itself can pose a huge challenge in coming years, with Beijing preparing to declare its own reincarnation of the next Dalai Lama to block New Delhi’s attempt to continue to use its soft power against China.  

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