On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China (CPC), President Xi Jinping distributed a number of ‘July 1 Medals’ to people “embodying a staunch faith in the CPC.”
“Maintaining staunch faith is to stay true to the original aspiration and dedicate everything, even one’s precious life, to the cause of the Party and people,” Xi said.
One of the recipients was a Tibetan girl called Choekar (or Dolkar). She lives in Yume, in Lhuntse county of Lhoka City (Prefecture); she is already one of the 20 members representing Tibet at the National People’s Congress (NPC).
Important for India is that the place is north of Asaphila, one of the disputed places in Arunachal Pradesh (in Upper Subansiri district) and Lhuntse is the site of a soon-to-be-built airport (see my previous post, Thee new Airports near the Border pose threat).
How did Choekar reach this position?
This is rather strange that an unknown person of a remote hamlet comes so fast into pre-eminence, but it typically related to the Communist tradition of ‘model’ cadres, workers or soldiers.
But first a few words about the History of Yume village.
A year after the conclusion of the 19th Congress in November 2016, President Xi Jinping sent a letter to two young Tibetan herders, who had introduced their village, Yume, north of the Indian border, to the President.
According to Xinhua, Xi “encouraged a herding family in Lhuntse County, near the Himalayas [sic] in southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, to set down roots [sic] in the border area, safeguard the Chinese territory and develop their hometown.”
Xi acknowledged “the family’s efforts to safeguard the territory, and thanked them for the loyalty and contributions they have made in the border area. Without the peace in the territory, there will be no peaceful lives for the millions of families.” What Choekar did for the border has never been clear, but never mind, the CPC’s Central Committee (and the Emperor) had decided.
The two Tibetan sisters, Choekar and Yangzom had told the CCP’s Secretary General in their letter about their “experiences in safeguarding the border area and the development of their township over the years.”
Interestingly, the girls’ village, Yume (or Yumai or Yulmed) is located a few kilometers north of the McMahon Line, not far from Asaphila and the remote Indian village of Takshing.
Xi had hoped that the girls’ family could “motivate more herders to set down roots in the border area ‘like galsang [Kalsang] flowers’, and become guardians of the Chinese territory and constructors of a happy hometown.”
The report also explained that Yume was the China’s smallest town in terms of population.
Yume: 32 Inhabitants
Already in November 2016, China Tibet Online had mentioned Yume ‘town’ on the southern slope of the Himalayas, as the border area between China and India: “By road, you will have to drive 400 km south from Lhasa to Lhuntse, then there was another 200 km of muddy mountain roads before you reached Yulmed.”
The Chinese site then asserted that “It is the least populous administrative town in China. With an area of 1,976 km2, Yulmed has one subsidiary village, and only nine households with a total of 32 people. Yulmed has very few residents, but it is neither impoverished nor backward.”
Incidentally, Yume has today some 300 inhabitants (probably many of them Chinese).
The journalist added: “For a long time, there was only one family in Yulmed. After the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) government dispatched officials and doctors, built the roads, and added a power station and a medical clinic, Yulmed became more and more lively. In 2015, the annual average per capita disposable income in Yulmed was 26,000 yuan.”
The Pure Crystal Mountain Pilgrimage of Tsari
Not far from Yume is the Tsari Valley, one of the most sacred places in Tibet and the location for a famous pilgrimage.
China Tibet Online, a Chinese website thus praised the area: “Dzari (Tsari) Township, 2,800 meters above the sea level, is located in Lhuntse County of Lhoka Prefecture. Tsari means the holy mountain in Tibetan language. Hailed as the Tibet’s Shambhala, Tsari Township boasts its lush vegetation, moderate weather, still lake, running brook, vast forest, holy mountains as well as a satisfactory variety of herbs.”
But Tsari has been more than just this.
It was once one of the most sacred pilgrimages in Tibet and the site of the first clash between the Chinese and Indian troops in Longju in August 1959.
One of the characteristics of this pilgrimage was that it was running across the Indo-Tibet border (the McMahon Line); half being in Tibet, half in NEFA (India).
Tsari has always been synonymous of ‘sacred place’ in the Tibetan psyche. With the Mount Kailash and the Amye Machen in Eastern Tibet, the pilgrimage around the Dakpa Shelri, the Pure Crystal Mountain has, since centuries, been one of the holiest of the Roof of the World.
The ‘Pure Crystal Mountain’ lies at 5,735 meter above the sea in the Tsari district of southeastern Tibet.
Toni Huber is one of the foremost scholars who wrote a great deal about this region from which the Subansiri and the Tsari chu (river) flow: “The area of the two rivers into which [Gen] Tsarong [at the beginning of the 20th century] ventured for military and commercial reasons had for centuries defined a very significant territory for both Tibetans and neighbouring non-Tibetans ”.
Huber describes thus the region:
“[these] rivers encompassed the southern slopes of the famous Tibetan holy mountain of Dakpa Shelri at Tsari. The large-scale, 12-yearly circumambulation of Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims around the mountain known as the Rongkor Chenmo, had the character of a state ritual for the Ganden Phodrang [Tibetan Government]. Pilgrims in this huge procession crossed the McMahon Line below the frontier village of Migyitün in Tsari district and followed the Tsari Chu southwards. They then turned back up the Subansiri westwards, crossing the McMahon Line once again to reach the first Tibetan frontier settlements in Chame district. In doing so, they traversed non-Tibetan lands during this entire southern leg of the procession. This was the territory of the Mra (Tibetan: Morang Loba) clan, which ran downstream along the Tsari Chu valley and around its junction with the Subansiri at Geling Sinyik, and also of the neighbouring Na (Tibetan: Khalo, Lungtu Lopa) community of Taksing, which extended upstream along the Subansiri heading westwards towards Tibet.”
The pilgrims went down the Tsari chu, past Migyitün which was recognised as the frontier of Tibet – to a place where the Tsari chu joined the combined waters of the Char, Nye and Chayul chus.
It is interesting to note that in the early 20th century, Migyitün was already considered to be the border with Tibet.
The McMahon Line, drawn a few months later (under the supervision of Capt Bailey, a British intelligence officer who had visited the area in 1913), only acknowledged this fact.
Bailey had noted:
“This was five or six days’ journey. Then they turned up the combined rivers, towards Sanga Choling, which they reached about a fortnight later. Some pilgrims went very much slower, the minor official said; and I inferred there was merit in delay. The slower, the better.”
The terminus of the pilgrimage was Yume.
Tsari in the News for the Bad Reasons
Apart from the celebrity bestowed on Choekar, Tsari has been in the news when a few months ago, it was discovered that China had built one of its ‘Xiaogang’ (‘well-off’) border villages on the model of Yume, a few hundred meters within the Indian territory at the place where the Longju incident took place in August 1959.
Since 2016, Tibet has built 965 Xiaogang villages and relocated 266,000 people, many on India’s border. Official Chinese statistics said that by the end of 2019, “Tibet had lifted 628,000 people out of poverty and delisted 74 county-level areas from the poverty list.” ‘’Lifting out of poverty’ is a euphemism for relocating thousands of Tibetans.
Longju now is one of such villages; it was reported by NDTV that “China had built some 101 homes in the remote place of Upper Subansiri district of Arunachal Pradesh.”
The TV channel acquired satellite imagery dated November 1, 2020; analysed by several experts, the images confirmed: “the construction, approximately 4.5 kms within Indian territory of the de facto border [the McMahon Line].”
India should be seriously concerned, added the channel: “Though this area is Indian territory, according to official government maps, it has been in effective Chinese control since 1959 [which is not correct, it remained in India’s control for many more years]. However, earlier only a Chinese military post existed, but this time a full-fledged village that can house thousands has been built. The village, located on the banks of the River Tsari chu, an area which has been long disputed by India and China.”
The location of the new village of Longju is a highly symbolic; five months after the arrival of the Dalai Lama in India (March 1959), the Chinese attacked an Assam Rifles’ platoon; it was a first ‘punishment’ for granting asylum to the Dalai Lama.
Today, China wants to change the status quo of the Indian Northern Border and proves that it can do whatever it wants in what it perceives as its own territory. It has serious implications elsewhere on the border, particularly in the Aksai Chin area, where Beijing has started exploiting the largest zinc deposits in the Middle Kingdom. If India does not object now, it will be too late in Aksai Chin too.
If China was really interested by peace, as it pretends to be in international fora, it should reopen the Rongkor pilgrimage for world peace around the Dakpa Shelri, instead of opening new fronts against India.
More about Tsari
On June 22, Chinanews.com mentioned about the duties of “the immigration management police.”
It seems a bad joke as there is no question of ‘immigration’ in this area.
The article said that the Network Information Office of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and the Tibet Entry-Exit Frontier Inspection Station jointly searched for ‘the Most Beautiful Frontier People’.
Of course, the Tsari area has many of them.
The article stated that the Tsari Border Police Station is “responsible for border prevention and control, public security and rescue tasks for this small town in southern Tibet, China. The police station is located at an altitude of 2,800 meters, and its jurisdiction has natural scenery such as virgin forests and meadows, which is a typical subtropical climate. The climate here is humid and rainfall is abundant,” wrote a reporter.
What were journalists from Beijing doing in this most remote areas of Tibet is a mystery; but there is no doubt that something is cooking up.
The reporter followed the immigration management police “into the primeval forest to experience their different patrol roads. In fact, there is no way to enter the primeval forest. Everyone walks carefully on the rotted branches and dead leaves. It is extremely difficult to go uphill and downhill, and beware of dangerous wild animals such as black bears from time to time.”
A policeman told the journalists that the patrol route is different each time, during their own visit “[as we did not go] too far, the equipment was simpler, usually for farther places, the load is about 40 kilograms,” explained the policeman.
The article said: “During this period, the wild strawberries on the mountain were ripe. During the rest, the immigration management police picked fruits to quench their thirst, wild fruits are a rare pleasure for them while patrolling the road to the border.”
Another article on Tsari
Chinanews.com had published another article the previous day.
The reporter wrote: “Tsari Township is close to India, with an altitude of about 2,800 meters. There are dense virgin forests and occasional snow on the tops of the mountains. The climate is warm and humid. The misty town is like a beautiful picture scroll in the south of the Yangtze River.”
The article continued: “The rapid development of infrastructure and the rapid improvement of people’s lives have made this border town in the deep mountains more and more active. Jin Xianwei, a police officer from the Lhuntse-Tsari border police station, who has been working here for 11 years, has a good memory of his experience when he first came to report: [it was] a 14-hour drive from Shannan (Lhoka) City to Tsari.”
After two years, Jin Xianwei had the opportunity to go home in China on vacation for the first time. Then, there was no regular bus; Jin explained that “cooking at the time, we had to burn firewood, and to pay phone bills, we had to but phone cards, there was no continuous power supply, meat and vegetables would always be damaged before being eaten. It’s like a village in the interior of China that has gone backwards for many years. …since 2016, the development of this border town has pressed the fast forward button, from a static development to a hot development.”
This corresponds to the time XI Jinping wrote to the two sisters.
The policeman said: “Vegetables do not need to be collected once a month, and our table is more abundant. Online express shopping can send special products from the south and the north, and the most remote duty stations also have the Internet.”
Jin Xianwei thought he would work here until retirement; he hoped that the living conditions was getting better and better and the area becoming more and more prosperous.
Kesang Wangmo, a local villager explained to the reporter: “In recent years, subsidies for border residents in Tibet have increased manyfold, and the subsidies for frontier residents have risen to as high as 6,000 yuan per person per year.”
Kesang Wangmo pointed out that the Central and the TAR governments had decided to invest in the borders. She also believed that even without subsidies, many people would still protect their homes (against India?).
In 2017, the scheme of setting up well-off demonstration villages on the border of Tibet has been implemented and villages have come up one after another
Kesang told the reporter: “The houses are built uniformly, which is more spacious and beautiful. The pavement in the village is hardened, and there are street lights, which is much more convenient.”
Tsari Township, close to her beautiful home, is still undergoing infrastructure construction.
Another interviewee, Dechen Dolma said that “The roads used to be difficult, and it was usual for the mountain roads to be blocked by snow in winter. His elder brother once took his son to the county seat to study in the elementary school.”
Now it takes 4 hours instead of 2 days earlier: “In the past, the township primary school was only up to the third grade. From this year, our children here can complete primary school nearby.”
According to the article, the traditional income of Tsari comes “from grazing, digging wild medicinal materials and weaving bamboo utensils. In recent years, the central government and the local government in Tibet have made this area more and more open [to tourism], and it has also brought more opportunities to local herdsmen. …more and more people doing business in the local area, and more villagers have bought construction trucks and transport vehicles, and private cars have also become family vehicles.”
Han tourists will soon flood this area … and bring prosperity according to the Chinese propaganda.
There is no doubt that infrastructure development is going on full swing in the highly strategic area of the Indian border.
The need of the hour is not to ‘wait and watch’, a formula often used by Indian government officials, but to develop the border areas, in particular the Upper Subansiri district and provide decent roads, good schools and proper communication facilities to the local population. Agriculture (fruits) and arboriculture could also easily be developed and bring good recenues.
Perhaps only mindsets of the local babus need to change.
This is not an easy task, but let us not forget that the airport will soon serve the other side of the border.