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Tuesday, November 1

China's sneaky ploy in Ladakh using Tibetan Buddhist monks

The author of the following article, an Indian who is a former BBC journalist, is clearly writing for English-speaking Indian readers and British ones, who can be expected to find J&K state on a map of India and know that Ladakh is in J&K (Jammu and Kashmir). That leaves out most other readers.

So what I'm going to do is omit the first part of the article, which details Ladakh's attempts to persuade India's central government that it should be dealt with separately from the Kashmir Issue. The second part can easily be understood by even the most geopolitically-challenged. It 
amounts to a crash course on China's Peaceful Sneaking strategy to explain why Delhi should pay closer attention to Ladakh. 

With this the author is also doing a service for everyone who doesn't want to wake up one morning to discover they're Chinese.    

Ladakh should not go unheard
By Sunil Raman
14 October 2016
Gateway House, Indian Council on Global Relations

Peaceful, Buddhist-majority Ladakh has been quietly resentful of the fact that Kashmir grabs attention at its expense. Taking it for granted may cost India dear, especially with China seeking to deepen its influence across the Himalayas.


It’s over a period of decades and far removed from the Indian mainland’s gaze that Ladakh has witnessed a subtle change, with China having adopted a policy of what some call “invisible incursion”. Religion, ideas, language and culture have been used as weapons to gain a foothold in India’s cold desert.

There are signs of a clear shift having taken place, such as the growing intervention and takeover of Buddhist institutions by Chinese Tibetans, rising sectarian tensions among Buddhist sects, the popularity of Chinese food and Mandarin as a language. Many [Ladakhi] youngsters are picking up Mandarin Chinese. Estimates place the number of such speakers at around 300 today.

There is also the expanding spiritual influence of Tibetan Buddhism from China over the centuries-old Ladakhi version of it.

China has adopted a multi-pronged strategy to tackle India through the use of cultural and religious tools even as it continues to mount political pressure to emphasise its claims on the border. Sections of the political establishment could interpret such concerns as overstated and emphatically assert Ladakh’s closeness to the rest of the country. But one cannot overlook the fact that China is working to a strategy where it sets an extended timeline to achieve its objective.

The government of India needs to take a closer look at China’s game plan in Ladakh and the subtle changes coming about in Leh and beyond, which it has failed to do, given its overwhelming focus on the Kashmir Valley. India is boosting its military presence in the region: the recent move to deploy 100 tanks in eastern Ladakh and its stress on building infrastructure there are welcome developments. But that does not mean that China’s use of soft power in a region as important as Ladakh should be ignored.

Its soft power combined with geo-political realities have to be taken into account. China’s illegal occupation of Aksai Chin in 1962 and the handover of a part of it to Pakistan has brought Ladakhis closer to Tibet.

Experts who did not wish to be quoted have warned that Beijing has used India’s open door policy to Tibetans to get across thousands of them into the country, mostly through Nepal where China has invested heavily in the creation and running of Buddhist institutions. As Nepal clamps down on Tibetans within its own confines, keeping a close watch on their activities, hundreds of them use the porous border with India to cross over.

Demographically, the entire Himalayan belt, extending from Ladakh in the northwest to Arunachal Pradesh in the north east, has witnessed a sizeable change in the number of Tibetan settlers.

Why is China allowing movement of Tibetans into India?

There is growing concern among a section of China watchers that Beijing is using “invisible” ways of having Tibetans infiltrate India. In fact, the Qing Dynasty that ruled from 1720 to 1912, had cleverly used Tibetan Buddhism to expand its influence into the outlying regions of the empire. The Chinese Communist regime thus seems to be following an ancient strategy to widen its reach and deepen its influence across the Himalayas.

Ladakh’s peaceful environs are being exploited to culturally overwhelm the region with Tibetans loyal to Chinese-backed Buddhist sects. The Dalai Lama’s efforts in recent years to get the Buddhists of Ladakh not to entertain a rival Karmapa [to Dalai's China-backed pick], Thaye Trinley Dorje, were not very successful. Buddhist sects like Drukpa Kagyu, Drikung Kagyu, Ningma and the Sakya sect do not question Dorje’s status. 
[Pundita Note: See Karmapa Controversy, Wikipedia] 

If sectarian rifts and tensions have become a part of Ladakh’s spiritual landscape, China has also successfully flooded the region with CDs of the Lotus Sutra, a sacred Buddhist scripture that was popular in China and Japan, but not in India. Consequently, for decades now families [in Ladakh] have become more familiar with the Lotus Sutra than their forefathers ever were because of the easy availability of these CDs. 

Maybe, along with the strains of the Sutra, the protests that are becoming audible from the region need a clear, uncluttered and rather more urgent hearing.

Sunil Raman is a former BBC journalist.

This feature was exclusively written for Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations.



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