Archive for ‘History’


Crunch time as gaokao exam season starts for China’s university hopefuls

  • Annual tests still an academic pressure cooker for students wanting to get into the nation’s top universities, despite efforts to change the system
  • The gruelling exam is the sole criteria for admission to university in China
After months of study, China’s high school students are about to be put to the test in the annual “university entrance examinations which begin on Friday. Photo: EPA-EFE
After months of study, China’s high school students are about to be put to the test in the annual “university entrance examinations which begin on Friday. Photo: EPA-EFE
For the past six months, the life of 18-year-old Shanghai student Xiao Qing has revolved around preparation for one of China’s annual rites of passage.
Every day at school, from 7.20am to 5.30pm, the final-year secondary school student in Changning district has studied previous test papers for the gaokao, officially known as the National Higher Education Entrance Examination.
“Sometimes I feel my bottom hurts from sitting for so many hours,” she said. “We feel like we are test machines.”
Xiao Qing will put all of that preparation to the real test from Friday, when over two to three days she will be among more than 10 million people trying to qualify for one of the spots at a Chinese university.
Most students get just one shot at the gaokao, the sole criteria for admission to university in China. It’s a gruelling process that has been criticised over the years as too focused on rote learning, putting too much pressure on students and privileging applicants living near the best universities.
Education authorities have gone some way to try to address these problems. In 2014, the Ministry of Education started letting students choose half of their subjects to introduce some flexibility into the system.

Apart from the compulsory subjects of Chinese, mathematics and English, students are now supposed to be able to choose any three of six other subjects: physics, chemistry, biology, politics, history and geography.

Previously, secondary school students had been split strictly into liberal arts or science majors in a system that was introduced in 1952 and revived in 1977 after being suspended during the Cultural Revolution.

Last go at exam success for China’s ‘gaokao grandpa’

Wen Dongmao, a professor from Peking University’s Graduate School of Education, said the changes expanded the opportunity for students to follow their interests.

“The new gaokao gives students plenty of choices of subjects to learn and to be evaluated on. I think people should choose which subject to learn based on what they are interested in,” Wen said.

Gaokao reform is designed according to some methods by overseas universities, like American and Hong Kong schools. Its direction is right, but there will be inevitable problems brought by it.”

One of the problems is the uneven implementation of the changes throughout the country, with just 14 of China’s 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions having introduced them.

In the eastern province of Anhui, for example, the reforms were supposed to go in effect from September last year but were postponed without reason, news portal reported.

The report quoted a teacher from Hefei No 1 Middle School in the provincial capital as saying the school was not ready for the changes.

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“Shanghai and Zhejiang are economically advanced and we are not at that level,” he was quoted as saying. “It’s a big challenge for us to manage so many students’ choices of gaokao subjects.”

In neighbouring Jiangxi province, a high school history teacher said many places opposed the reform mainly “because of the shortage of resources”.

“It’s hard to roll out gaokao reform because we don’t have enough teachers or classrooms to handle the students’ various choices of subjects. Students can choose three out of six courses and that means there are 20 potential combinations,” the teacher was quoted as saying.

Chinese high school students study late into the night for the National Higher Education Entrance Examination. Photo: EPA-EFE
Chinese high school students study late into the night for the National Higher Education Entrance Examination. Photo: EPA-EFE

In addition, the system allows students to take the tests in more than one year and submit the highest scores when applying to universities.

“I heard from teachers in other provinces that students will take the tests of the selected subjects again and again for fear that other students will overtake them. That’s exhausting and will just put more burden on the students,” the Jiangxi teacher said.

He also said the gaokao process put extra pressure on teachers who feared the tests would push students to extremes. One of his students contemplated jumping from a bridge after she thought she had done poorly in the Chinese section of the exam.

“She called me, saying she felt it was the end of the world. I was shocked and hurried to the bridge,” he was quoted as saying. He spoke to her for more than an hour about before the girl came down, going on to get a decent score.

Critics also say the system is weighted in favour of students in bigger cities such as Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai, home to the country’s top universities.

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Li Tao, an academic from the China Rural Development Institute at Northeast China Normal University in Changchun, Jilin province, said about 20-25 per cent of gaokao candidates from Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai were admitted to China’s elite universities, compared with just 5 or 6 per cent in places like Sichuan, Henan and Guangdong.

Li said that was because the top universities were funded by local governments and gave preference to applicants from those areas.

“To make it fairer, the Ministry of Education has insisted over the years that elite universities cannot have more than 30 per cent of incoming students from the area in which it is located,” he said.

Despite these challenges, gaokao was still a “fair” way to get admitted to university in China, Li said.

Gaokao is the fairest channel to screen applicants on such a large scale, to my knowledge,” he said. “It does not check your family background and every student does the same test paper [if they are from the same region]. Its score is the only factor in evaluating a university applicant.”

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In Shanghai, as the clock ticks closer to the gaokao test day, Xiao Qing said she was feeling the pressure.

She said she would keep up her test prep to ensure she got the score she needed to study art in Beijing.

“I am trying my utmost and don’t want to regret anything in the future,” she said.

At the same time, she is not pinning her entire life on it.

“Life is a long journey and it is not decided solely by gaokao,” she said.

“I don’t agree with my classmates that life will be easy after gaokao. I think we still need to study hard once we get to university.”

Source: SCMP


China embraced gay ‘marriage’ long before Taiwan’s law. The West perverted history

  • Asia has a rich but largely forgotten history of acceptance of queer relationships
  • It was not until the colonial era that sexual and gender diversity came to be seen as a sin
An LGBT pride parade in support of Taiwan’s same-sex marriage law. Photo: Reuters
An LGBT pride parade in support of Taiwan’s same-sex marriage law. Photo: Reuters
Anyone reading the headlines about


legalisation of same-sex marriage
would get the impression this was Asia’s first taste of marriage equality. They would be quite wrong.

While Taiwan may be the first jurisdiction in Asia to legalise the modern form of same-sex marriage, such unions have been recognised across the region in various guises for centuries.
It may be true that Asia does not have a great reputation among the 

community, but it does have a rich history of acceptance of sexual and gender diversity – one that has largely been forgotten.

When Europeans first encountered Chinese society, they praised many aspects of it, from its efficient government to the sophisticated lifestyles of the upper-class. But they were shocked and repulsed about one aspect of Chinese society: the “abominable vice of sodomy”.
Opinion: Three lessons for Hong Kong from Taiwan’s LGBT journey
One Portuguese Dominican friar, Gaspar da Cruz, even wrote an apocalyptic tract which portrayed China as the new Sodom – beset by earthquakes, floods, and other natural disasters due to their acceptance of that “filthy abomination, which is that they are so given to the accursed sin of unnatural vice”, that is, sodomy.
Southern China, in particular, was known for a widespread acceptance of homosexual relationships. Shen Defu, a Chinese writer during the Ming dynasty, wrote that it was common for men of all social classes in Fujian province to take male lovers. While men generally took on these lovers while maintaining respectable marriages to women, there were some men who took their lover-relationships to a quasi-marriage level. The older man would be considered qixiong (adoptive older brother) and the younger qidi(adoptive younger brother).
South Korean men take part in Taiwan’s annual LGBT pride parade in Taipei. Photo: AFP
South Korean men take part in Taiwan’s annual LGBT pride parade in Taipei. Photo: AFP

Bret Hinsch, a professor of history in Taiwan, describes the ceremony based on the narration of a Chinese playwright, Li Yu (1610-1680): “Two men sacrifice a carp, a rooster, and a duck. They then exchange their exact times of birth, smear each other’s mothers with the blood of their sacrifices, and then swear eternal loyalty to one another.

The ceremony concludes with feasting on the sacrificial victims …. The younger qidi would move into the qixiong’s household. There he would be treated as a son-in-law by his husband’s parents. Throughout the marriage, many of which lasted for 20 years, the qixiong would be completely responsible for his younger husband’s upkeep.

The marriage would typically dissolve after a number of years so that the younger man could find a bride to marry to procreate and further the family lineage. The elder man was expected to pay the bride a price for the younger man.

These forms of gay “marriage” were prevalent enough in Fujian that there was even a patron deity of homosexuality, the rabbit. Many Han people from Fujian migrated to Taiwan starting in the 17th century; they now make up 80 per cent of the population.

Explained: gay rights, LGBTQ and same-sex marriage in Asia
Most literary accounts of homosexual relationships in China involve men, and there is a lively debate among scholars as to whether women enjoyed the same freedom.
Nevertheless, the most documented of female “quasi-marriages” are the “Golden Orchid Associations” in Guangdong. (Around 15 per cent of Taiwan’s population is Hakka, which historians trace specifically to Han migrants from Guangdong and surrounding areas.) The Golden Orchid Society was a movement based in Guangdong that lasted from the late Qing dynasty until the early 1900s. It provided a “sisterhood” alternative to women who did not want to get married for various reasons.
To announce her intentions, one woman would offer another gifts of peanut candy, dates and other goods. If the recipient accepted the gift, it was a signal she had accepted the proposal. They would swear an oath to one another, where sometimes one woman was designated “husband” and the other “wife”.
A couple kiss as they celebrate Taiwan’s legalisation of same-sex marriage. Photo: Reuters
A couple kiss as they celebrate Taiwan’s legalisation of same-sex marriage. Photo: Reuters

Hinsch describes the ceremony in this way: “After an exchange of ritual gifts, the foundation of the Chinese marriage ceremony, a feast attended by female companions served to witness the marriage. These married lesbian couples could even adopt female children, who in turn could inherit family property from the couple’s parents.”

While these “marriages” are not equivalent to the same-sex marriages of today, they nevertheless are historical precedents for what is now happening in Taiwan.

And China is far from being the only country in Asia with a queer history – Southeast Asia’s LGBTQ history is even richer.

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In the early modern period, marriages between two people of the same assigned sex but who identified as different genders, were fairly normal in many parts of Southeast Asia. We know this primarily from the records Europeans kept when they landed on Asian shores.

For instance, here is a letter by a Portuguese missionary, Antonio de Paiva, to his Catholic bishop in 1544 about his observations of the Bugis people in what is now 


: “Your lordship will know that the priests of these kings are generally called bissus. They grow no hair on their beards, dress in a womanly fashion, and grow their hair long and braided; they imitate [women’s] speech because they adopt all of the female gestures and inclinations. They marry and are received, according to the custom of the land, with other common men, and they live indoors, uniting carnally in their secret places with the men whom they have for husbands …”

After this scandalised description, the author concludes with amazement that the Christian god, who had destroyed “three cities of Sodom for the same sin”, had not yet destroyed such “wanton people” who were “encircled by evil”.
Drag queens at a gay nightclub in Beijing. Despite its reputation, Asia has a long history of accepting diversity. Photo: EPA
Drag queens at a gay nightclub in Beijing. Despite its reputation, Asia has a long history of accepting diversity. Photo: EPA

Dating as far back as the 13th century, bissu have traditionally served as council to kings and guarded sacred manuscripts. They are considered a fifth gender within the Bugis’ gender-system: oroané (male men), makkunrai (female women), calabai (male women), calalai (female men), and bissu, who were neither male nor female (or both).

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Today, their ranks have thinned – in one area, the population has dwindled to just six people – but the tradition remains, and they still perform important blessings. Contemporary bissu are typically male-bodied individuals who adopt feminine and masculine elements in their appearance. Although in the past bissu were married men, today they are required to be celibate.
In pre-Islamic Bugis culture, bissu were accorded priestly honours and tasked with mediating between the gods and people precisely because of, not in spite of, their gender. According to professor Halilintar Lathier, an Indonesian anthropologist, Bugis culture “perceived the upper world as male and this world as female, and therefore only a meta-gender would be able to become an intermediary”.
This pattern of a “gender-expansive” priest able to marry others of the same sex recurs throughout Southeast Asia.
A transgender beauty contest in Pattaya, Thailand. Despite its reputation, Asia has a long history of accepting diversity. Photo: Handout
A transgender beauty contest in Pattaya, Thailand. Despite its reputation, Asia has a long history of accepting diversity. Photo: Handout
To the west of South Sulawesi is Borneo, a large island that contains all of Brunei and parts of Indonesia and


. Borneo is home to many indigenous communities, including the Iban. The Iban historically respected manang bali, who were typically male-bodied shamans who adopted feminine dress and demeanour, and who took men as their husbands. Manang bali were mediators and held roles of great ritual importance; they were typically wealthy village chiefs known for their healing arts.

West of Borneo is the Malay Peninsula, where there are records from the Malay Annals and Misa Melayu dating as far back as the 15th century about priests, called sida-sida, who served in the palaces of the Malay sultans. They were responsible for safeguarding women in the palace as well as the food and clothing of royalty, and overseeing ritual protocol. The sida-sida undertook “androgynous behaviour” such as wearing women’s clothing and doing women’s tasks. A Malay anthropologist in the 1950s, Shamsul A.B., recalls seeing male-bodied sida-sida in the royal palace in his childhood, who were believed by the population to either be celibate and asexual, or attracted to men. Michael Peletz, an anthropologist and author of Gender Pluralism in Southeast Asia, notes that based on the evidence, it is “highly likely” that sida-sida involved both male- and female-bodied people who were involved in transgender practices, and who engaged in sexual relationships with people of the same and opposite sex.
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Northeast of Malaysia is the


, where pre-colonial communities were religiously led by babylan: women healers and shamans who were responsible for mediating between the gods and people. Male-bodied people (asog, bayog), sometimes considered a third sex, could also hold these roles so long as they comported themselves like women. A 16th century Spanish Catholic manuscript records asog in the following manner:

“Ordinarily they dress as women, act like prudes and are so effeminate that one who does not know them would believe they are women … they marry other males and sleep with them as man and wife and have carnal knowledge.”
Dancers perform at the ShanghaiPRIDE opening party. Despite its reputation, Asia has a long history of accepting diversity. Photo: AFP
Dancers perform at the Shanghai PRIDE opening party. Despite its reputation, Asia has a long history of accepting diversity. Photo: AFP

The Spanish priests saw these asog as “devil-possessed”, particularly because they habitually practised “sodomy” among one another. Due to the Chinese reputation for homosexuality and various Sinophobic attitudes, some even attributed the prevalence of sodomy to the Chinese, whom they said had “infected the natives” and introduced the curse to the “Indians”, although there is no evidence of this.


Although these examples relate to the religious arena, anthropologists believe the respect accorded to these ritual specialists were an indicator of a wider societal acceptance of gender and sexual diversity in Southeast Asia – an acceptance that began to be eroded through the introduction of world religions (particularly Christianity), modernity, and colonialism. For example, in Malaysia, Brunei, 


, Myanmar and throughout the commonwealth, the British enforced a penal code that legislated against sodomy. More than half of the countries that currently legally prohibit sodomy do so based on laws created by the British.

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Similarly, after the Chinese were defeated by Western and Japanese imperialists, many Chinese progressives in the early 20th century sought to modernise China, which meant adopting “modern” Western ideas of dress, relationships, science and sexuality.
Concubinage was outlawed, prostitution was frowned upon, and women’s feet were unbound. It also meant importing European scientific understandings of homosexuality as an inverted or perverted pathology. These “scientific ideas” were debunked in the 1960s in the West, but lived on in China, frozen in time, and have only recently begun to thaw with the rise of LGBTQ activists in Asia.
A recent headline on the news from Taiwan read: “First in Asia: marriage equality comes to Taiwan”, as if the recent bill was an unprecedented “first” for Asia and that marriage equality – which, presumably, the headline writer associates with the West – has finally reached Asian shores.
But when we zoom out historically, it is evident that what happened in Taiwan is not so much a novel “breakthrough” for Asia. It is more a reconnection to its queer Chinese and Asian heritage, as well as a rejection of outdated Western ideas that it once adopted.
There is still much more work to be done to advance LGBT rights in Taiwan and the rest of Asia, but perhaps looking backwards in time can help us move forward.
Source: SCMP

NAMOC holds sculpture exhibition commemorating PRC founding anniversary

BEIJING, March 5 (Xinhua) — A sculpture exhibition commemorating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China is being held at the National Art Museum of China (NAMOC).

The exhibition, featuring unity of the Chinese nation, showcases history, heroes, lives and culture of ethnicities in China, demonstrating new achievements of China’s modern sculptural arts.

Over 220 sculptures were selected out of 600.

Art featuring national characteristics can have lasting vitality and stand firm in the world of art, said Wu Weishan, the NAMOC director.

The exhibition is running from March 2 to 24.

Source: Xinhua


Rivals and neighbours: China and India count down to joint military drill

In addition, Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi will visit India later this month to launch a forum for high-level exchanges between China and India.

But there is still various sources of friction, including a growing maritime rivalry.

Long Chunxing, a visiting scholar and Southeast Asian affairs specialist at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, said the military exchanges would not resolve mistrust but could help prevent differences from escalating into another conflict.

“China’s reluctance to allow India into the Nuclear Suppliers Group and refusal to agree on a US ban to list Masood Azhar as a terrorist have upset India,” Long said, referring to the founder and leader of Jaish e-Mohammed, designated by the United Nations as a terrorist group and active mainly in Pakistan-administered Azad Kashmir.

At the same time, China and India are strengthening their capacity to project power at sea.

Indian media reported last week that the Indian Navy was planning to add ships, helicopters and fixed-wing planes, and expand its base in Chennai to bolster its presence in the southern part of the Bay of Bengal.

China, meanwhile, has expanded its military presence in the Indian Ocean to help safeguard its growing interests overseas.

In a report in April, the US-based think tank the Centre for Strategic and International Studies said those interests included defending vital trade routes, particularly for energy supplies.

Collin Koh, a research fellow also at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said the Indian Navy’s build-up increased the chance of interaction between Indian and foreign forces, including those from China.

Koh said these interactions were generally professional and safe but there was a chance of confrontation.

“The risk of untoward incidents would largely tie in with broader bilateral tensions, such as over the land border issue or if there are upheavals in the neighbouring Indian Ocean littoral states, and it has been reported the People’s Liberation Army Navy [of China] has monitored Indian Navy warships traversing those waters in the South China Sea too,” he said.

But Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy, a research associate at the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, said India’s naval build-up would not directly affect China’s growing military presence.

He also said the Indian navy’s reliability and confidence would grow further in handling regional security challenges.


China claims Indian drone ‘invaded airspace in crash’ – BBC News

An Indian drone has “invaded China’s airspace and crashed” on its territory, Chinese state media said.Zhang Shuili, deputy director of the western theatre combat bureau, said the incident took place in “recent days”.

He did not give an exact location.

He was quoted in Xinhua news agency as saying that India had “violated China’s territorial sovereignty”.The Indian army said the drone had been deployed on a training mission and developed a technical problem.

Indian army spokesperson Colonel Aman Anand told reporters that they had lost control of the drone which then crossed into Chinese airspace. They alerted their Chinese counterparts soon after, he added.

The two countries saw relations worsen this summer when they became locked in a dispute over a Himalayan plateau.

What was behind the China-India border row?

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China and India now in water ‘dispute’In remarks carried widely by state media outlets, Mr Zhang said Chinese border forces had conducted “verifications” of the drone.He added that China expresses “our strong dissatisfaction and opposition regarding this matter” and that it would “steadfastly protect the country’s rights and safety”.

Relations between the two countries soured in June when India said it opposed a Chinese attempt to extend a road on the Doklam/Donglang plateau, at the border of China, India and Bhutan.

China and Bhutan have competing claims on the plateau, and India supports Bhutan’s claim.

After weeks of escalating tensions, including heated rhetoric from both sides, the stand-off ended in August when both countries pulled back their troops.

The two nations fought a bitter war over the border in 1962, and disputes remain unresolved in several areas which cause tensions to rise periodically.

Source: China claims Indian drone ‘invaded airspace in crash’ – BBC News


Xi and Modi mend ties after border standoff – BBC News

Their meeting at the Brics summit in China’s port city of Xiamen came just days after the two countries resolved the three-month border dispute.

According to Chinese state media, Mr Xi told Mr Modi that “healthy, stable” China-India ties were necessary.

This was Mr Modi’s last engagement before an official visit to Myanmar.

In a meeting that lasted over an hour, Mr Xi called for putting its bilateral relationship with India on the “right track”, reported Xinhua, China’s official news agency. The Doklam border standoff and reported clashes between the Chinese and Indian army had strained diplomatic ties between the two countries.

The latest row between the two countries erupted when India opposed China’s attempt to extend a border road through the Doklam plateau.

India and China clash along border

China claims victory in India border row

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Mr Modi congratulated Mr Xi on a “very successful” execution of the three-day Brics summit, in a show of conciliatory support between the two leaders.

At a media briefing, India’s Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar said that the two countries would move forward with mutual respect. He made a reference to a June meeting between the two leaders, held in Kazakhstan’s capital city of Astana, where both countries reached a consensus that India and China must not allow differences to become disputes.

“Both sides agreed that there should be better communication and co-operation so that such occurrences don’t happen again,” Dr Jaishankar told reporters.

The Brics summit brings together the world’s five large non-Western economies – the other members are Brazil, Russia and South Africa – who are seeking a greater say in world affairs.

Economic ties were the focal point at the three-day gathering which began on Sunday. Both North Korea’s nuclear test and the border standoff between China and India were also discussed.

Source: Xi and Modi mend ties after border standoff – BBC News


China warns India not to harbor illusions in border stand-off

China’s defense ministry on Monday warned India not to harbor any illusions about the Chinese military’s ability to defend its territory, amid a festering border dispute.

The stand-off on a plateau next to the mountainous Indian state of Sikkim, which borders China, has ratcheted up tension between the neighbors, who share a 3,500-km (2,175-mile) frontier, large parts of which are disputed.

“Shaking a mountain is easy but shaking the People’s Liberation Army is hard,” ministry spokesman Wu Qian told a briefing, adding that its ability to defend China’s territory and sovereignty had “constantly strengthened”.

Early in June, according to the Chinese interpretation of events, Indian guards crossed into China’s Donglang region and obstructed work on a road on the plateau.

The two sides’ troops then confronted each other close to a valley controlled by China that separates India from its close ally, Bhutan, and gives China access to the so-called Chicken’s Neck, a thin strip of land connecting India and its remote northeastern regions.India has said it warned China that construction of the road near their common border would have serious security implications.

The withdrawal of Indian border guards was a precondition for resolving the situation, Wu reiterated.

“India should not leave things to luck and not harbor any unrealistic illusions,” Wu said, adding that the military had taken emergency measures in the region and would continue to increase focused deployments and drills.

“We strongly urge India to take practical steps to correct its mistake, cease provocations, and meet China halfway in jointly safeguarding the border region’s peace and tranquillity,” he said.

Speaking later, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Ajit Doval, India’s national security adviser, would attend a meeting in Beijing this week of security officials from the BRICS grouping that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Lu would not be drawn on whether the border issue would be discussed at the meeting, hosted by China’s top diplomat, State Councillor Yang Jiechi, meant to discuss multilateral issues.

“China hopes to maintain the peace and stability of the China-India border area, but certainly will not make any compromise on issues of territorial sovereignty,” Lu said.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to visit China early in September for a summit of BRICS leaders.Indian officials say about 300 soldiers from either side are facing each other about 150 meters (yards) apart on the plateau.

They have told Reuters that both sides’ diplomats have quietly engaged to try to keep the stand-off from escalating, and that India’s ambassador to Beijing is leading the effort to find a way for both sides to back down without loss of face.

Chinese state media have warned India of a fate worse than its defeat suffered in a brief border war in 1962. China’s military has held live fire drills close to the disputed area, they said this month.

Source: China warns India not to harbor illusions in border stand-off


Why India and Pakistan hate each other

EVERY AFTERNOON AT sunset, at a point midway along the arrow-straight road between Amritsar and Lahore, rival squads of splendidly uniformed soldiers strut and stomp a 17th-century British military drill known as Beating Retreat (pictured).

Barked commands, fierce glares and preposterously high kicks all signal violent intent. But then, lovingly and in unison, the enemies lower their national flags. Opposing guardsmen curtly shake hands, and the border gates roll shut for the night.

As India and Pakistan celebrate their twin 70th birthday this August, the frontier post of Wagah reflects the profound dysfunction in their relations. On its side Pakistan has built a multi-tiered amphitheatre for the boisterous crowds that come to watch the show. The Indians, no less rowdy, have gone one better with a half-stadium for 15,000. But the number of travellers who actually cross the border here rarely exceeds a few hundred a week.

Wagah’s silly hats and walks serve a serious function. The cuckoo-clock regularity of the show; the choreographed complicity between the two sides; and the fact that the soldiers and crowds look, act and talk very much the same—all this has the reassuring feel of a sporting rivalry between teams. No matter how bad things get between us, the ritual seems to say, we know it is just a game. Alas, the game between India and Pakistan has often turned serious.

After the exhaustion of the second world war Britain was faced with two claimants to its restless Indian empire, a huge masala of ethnic, linguistic and religious groups (half of which was administered directly and half as “princely states” under 565 hereditary rulers subject to the British crown). Just about everyone wanted independence. But whereas the Congress Party of Mahatma Gandhi envisioned a unified federal state, the Muslim League of Muhammad Ali Jinnah argued that the subcontinent’s 30% Muslim minority constituted a separate nation that risked oppression under a Hindu majority. Communal riots prompted Britain’s last viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, to make a hasty decision. He split the country in two—or rather three, since the new state of Pakistan came in two parts, divided by the 2,000km (1,240-mile) expanse of the new state of India.

When the two new states were proclaimed in mid-August 1947, it was hoped the partition would be orderly. Lines had been drawn on maps, and detailed lists of personnel and assets, down to the instruments in army bands, had been assigned to each side. But the plans immediately went awry in a vast, messy and violent exchange of populations that left at least 1m dead and 15m uprooted from their homes.

Within months a more formal war had erupted. It ended by tearing the former princely state of Kashmir in two, making its 750km-long portion of the border a perpetual subject of dispute. Twice more, in 1965 and 1971, India and Pakistan fought full-blown if mercifully brief wars. The second of those, with India supporting a guerrilla insurgency in the Bengali-speaking extremity of East Pakistan, gave rise to yet another proud new country, Bangladesh; but not before at least half a million civilians had died as West Pakistan brutally tried to put down the revolt.

Even periods of relative peace have not been especially peaceful. In the 1990s Pakistan backed a guerrilla insurgency in Indian Kashmir in which at least 40,000 people lost their lives. In 1999 Pakistani troops captured some mountain peaks in the Kargil region, which India clawed back in high-altitude battles. A ceasefire in Kashmir that has held since 2003 has not stopped Pakistan-sponsored groups from striking repeatedly inside India. Pakistan claims that India, too, has covertly sponsored subversive groups.

Analysts discern a pattern in this mutual harassment: whenever politicians on both sides inch towards peace, something nasty seems to happen. Typically, these cycles start with an attack on Indian soldiers in Kashmir by infiltrators from Pakistan, triggering Indian artillery strikes, which prod the Pakistanis to respond in kind. After a few weeks things will calm down.

Just such a cycle started in late 2015, prompted, perhaps, by a surprise visit to the home of the Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, by his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi. Hopes raised by this overture dimmed within days when jihadist infiltrators attacked an Indian airbase. Another suicide squad struck an Indian army camp near the border, killing 19 soldiers. Faced with public outrage, Mr Modi ordered a far harder response than usual, sending commando teams into Pakistan. In the past, India had kept quiet even when it hit back, leaving room for Pakistan to climb down. This time Mr Modi’s government moved to isolate Pakistan diplomatically, rebuffed behind-the-scenes efforts to calm tensions and sent unprovoked blasts of fire across the Kashmir border.

 India’s loss of patience is understandable. It has a population six times Pakistan’s and an economy eight times as big, yet it finds itself being provoked far more often than it does the provoking. When Mr Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014, it promised to put muscle into India’s traditionally limp foreign policy. “India for the first time is being proactive, not just responding,” says Sushant Singh, a military historian and journalist. “This is a huge shift.”

Yet Mr Modi’s pugnacity raises the risk of a dangerous escalation. “After a routine operation, the adversary may or may not escalate; after a publicised operation he will have only one option: to escalate,” writes Pratap Bhanu Mehta, one of India’s more thoughtful intellectuals.

Whether India and Pakistan are reckless enough to come to serious blows would not matter so much if they simply fielded conventional armies. But they are equipped with more than 100 nuclear warheads apiece, along with the missiles to deliver them. Since both countries revealed their nuclear hands in the 1990s, optimists who thought that a “balance of terror” would encourage them to be more moderate have been proved only partially right. Indians complain of being blackmailed: Pakistan knows that the risk of nuclear escalation stops its neighbours from responding more robustly to its provocations. Worryingly, Pakistan also rejects the nuclear doctrine of no first use. Instead, it has moved to deploy less powerful nuclear warheads as battlefield weapons, despite the risk that fallout from their use might harm its own civilians.

India does espouse a no-first-use nuclear doctrine, but its military planning is said to include a scenario of a massive conventional blitzkrieg aimed at seizing chunks of enemy territory and crushing Pakistan’s offensive capacity before it can respond. India’s arsenal includes the hypersonic Brahmos III, the world’s fastest cruise missile, which can precisely deliver a 300kg payload to any target in Pakistan. An air-launched version could reach Islamabad in two minutes, and Lahore in less than one. And in a grim calculation, India, with four times Pakistan’s territory, sees itself as better able to absorb a nuclear strike.

Alarmists will probably be proved wrong. Both countries are prone to sabre-rattling theatrics, but they are well aware that the price of full-blown war would be appalling. And despite the uncertainties generated by the rise of China, the continuing troubles in Afghanistan and the incalculability of Donald Trump’s America, the international community still seems likely to be able to pull Pakistan and India apart if need be.

As this special report will argue, though, both Pakistan and India should more openly acknowledge the costs, to themselves and to the wider region, of their seven decades of bitter separation. These include not only what they have had to spend, in lives and treasure, on waging war and maintaining military readiness over generations, but the immense opportunity cost of forgoing fruitful exchanges between parts of the same subcontinental space that in the past have always been open to each other. Trade between the two rivals adds up to barely $2.5bn a year.

Perpetual enmity has also distorted internal politics, especially in Pakistan, where overweening generals have repeatedly sabotaged democracy in the name of national security. Pakistan has suffered culturally, too; barred from its natural subcontinental hinterland, it has opened instead to the Arab world, and to the influence of less syncretic and tolerant forms of Islam. For India, enmity with Pakistan has fostered a tilt away from secular values towards a more strident identity politics.

Reflexive fear of India prompts Pakistan’s generals to meddle in Afghanistan, which they see as a strategic backyard where no foreign power can be allowed to linger. In turn, India, because of the constant aggravation from Pakistan, has become bad-tempered with its smaller neighbours. Small wonder that intra-regional trade makes up barely 5% of the subcontinent’s overall trade, compared with more than a quarter in South-East Asia. And it is no surprise that Pakistan has opened its arms to China, which is offering finance, trade and superpower patronage.

This special report will seek to unravel the causes of this irrational enmity, and to explore the contrasting internal dynamics in both countries that sustain it. It will examine new factors in this complex geopolitical board game, such as the rise of China. And it will consider what might be done to nudge the two rivals away from the vicious circle that binds them.

Source: Why India and Pakistan hate each other


India says in quiet diplomacy with China to tackle border stand-off

When Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met on the sidelines of a regional conference last month, officials said they reached an understanding not to let the two countries’ long-standing “differences become disputes”.

Yet within days, Chinese and Indian soldiers were jostling in a desolate but disputed border region in the Himalayas that has since grown into an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation from which neither army is ready to back off.

The flare-up is the latest incident in a steadily deteriorating relationship between the Asian giants who are unable to agree on their 3,500 km (2,175 miles) border, over which they went to war in 1962.

Indian officials said diplomats from the two sides were now quietly trying to ensure the stand-off near the three-way border between India, its ally Bhutan, and China does not escalate into a conflict, invoking the agreement reached by their leaders at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Astana.

Behind the scenes, India’s ambassador to Beijing is leading the effort to find a way for both sides to back down from confrontation on the Doklam plateau – which China calls Donglang – without losing face, an Indian government source aware of the sensitive negotiations told Reuters.

In public, the two sides are saying little about the delicate diplomatic engagement.

“We want both sides to call back troops and work things out with talks,” Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj told parliament on Thursday.

China says India must first pull back its troops from the area before meaningful discussions can take place.

“Of course, we have said before, China-India bilateral diplomatic channels are always open,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, when asked whether talks with India were being held to defuse the situation.

“But with regard to this incident, we have emphasised many times that the Indian border defence personnel who illegally crossed the boundary withdrawing to the Indian side of the line is the basis and precondition for China and India conducting any kind of meaningful dialogue.

“Chinese state media have warned India of a fate worse than then the defeat it suffered in their border war in 1962.

Strategic Rivals

In recent years, the two have clashed over China’s strategic ties with India’s arch rival Pakistan, including a massive trade corridor that China is building through the disputed territory of Kashmir.

New Delhi has also been stung by China’s veto of United Nations sanctions against the leader of a Pakistan-based militant group and Beijing’s refusal to let it become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a global cartel.Beijing has bristled at the Modi government’s public embrace of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader whom it regards as a dangerous splittist. It has also grown concerned at India’s military ties with both the United States and Japan.Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gopal Baglay said diplomatic channels between Delhi and Beijing were open and being used to tackle the border crisis.

“Diplomatic communications to the best of my understanding have never stopped,” he said. “There are diplomatic communications taking place.”

He would not go into further details.


The latest trouble began when Chinese forces were spotted constructing a road with bulldozers and other heavy equipment in an area claimed by the tiny kingdom of Bhutan, prompting an intervention by Indian troops stationed nearby.

Groups of soldiers pushed and shoved each other, military officials said, but no weapons were used.

India said its action was guided by its special relationship with Bhutan as part of a 2007 treaty to cooperate on security issues, but also by the threat posed by the alleged Chinese incursion in Doklam to its own security.

The plateau lies close to the “Chicken’s Neck”, a 20-km wide corridor that links India to its northeastern states. The biggest fear among India’s military planners is that a Chinese offensive there could cut off the link.

China, which is engaged in a massive regional infrastructure drive to boost trade, says the area where the road was being constructed is part of its territory, and that in any case India does not have a role in what it sees as a bilateral matter with Bhutan.

About 300 soldiers from either side are facing each other about 150 metres (yards) apart on the Doklam/Donglang plateau, 10,000 feet (3,050 metres) above sea level, Indian officials say.

Behind them in the barracks below are thousands of troops ready to be deployed on either side. So far there has been no sign of either side trying to mobilise more troops, military officials in New Delhi said.

One possibility is that the weather may force the two sides to quietly disengage, the Indian government source said. Construction activity in the area can only take place between June and September before it becomes snowbound.



What’s behind the India-China border stand-off? – BBC News

For four weeks, India and China have been involved in a stand-off along part of their 3,500km (2,174-mile) shared border.

The two nations fought a war over the border in 1962 and disputes remain unresolved in several areas, causing tensions to rise from time to time.

Since this confrontation began last month, each side has reinforced its troops and called on the other to back down.

How did the row begin?

It erupted when India opposed China’s attempt to extend a border road through a plateau known as Doklam in India and Donglang in China.

The plateau, which lies at a junction between China, the north-eastern Indian state of Sikkim and Bhutan, is currently disputed between Beijing and Thimphu. India supports Bhutan’s claim over it.

India is concerned that if the road is completed, it will give China greater access to India’s strategically vulnerable “chicken’s neck”, a 20km (12-mile) wide corridor that links the seven north-eastern states to the Indian mainland.

Indian military officials told regional analyst Subir Bhaumik that they protested and stopped the road-building group, which led Chinese troops to rush Indian positions and smash two bunkers at the nearby Lalten outpost.

“We did not open fire, our boys just created a human wall and stopped the Chinese from any further incursion,” a brigadier said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press.

Chinese officials say that in opposing the road construction, Indian border guards obstructed “normal activities” on the Chinese side, and called on India to immediately withdraw.

What is the situation now?

Despite hostilities, the two countries have growing trade and economic ties

Both India and China have rushed more troops to the border region, and media reports say the two sides are in an “eyeball to eyeball” stand-off.

China also retaliated by stopping 57 Indian pilgrims who were on their way to the Manas Sarovar Lake in Tibet via the Nathu La pass in Sikkim. The lake is a holy Hindu site and there is a formal agreement between the neighbours to allow devotees to visit.Bhutan, meanwhile, has asked China to stop building the road, saying it is in violation of an agreement between the two countries.

What does India say?

Indian military experts say Sikkim is the only area through which India could make an offensive response to a Chinese incursion, and the only stretch of the Himalayan frontier where Indian troops have a terrain and tactical advantage.

They have higher ground, and the Chinese positions there are squeezed between India and Bhutan.

India and China fought a bitter war in 1962. Photograph: Hulton Archive

“The Chinese know this and so they are always trying to undo our advantage there,” retired Maj-Gen Gaganjit Singh, who commanded troops on the border, told the BBC.Last week, the foreign ministry said that the construction “would represent a significant change of status quo with serious security implications for India”.

Indian Defence Minister Arun Jaitley also warned that the India of 2017 was not the India of 1962, and the country was well within its rights to defend its territorial integrity.

What does China say?

China has reiterated its sovereignty over the area, saying that the road is in its territory and accusing Indian troops of “trespassing”.

It said India would do well to remember its defeat in the 1962 war, warning Delhi that China was also more powerful than it was then.

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On Monday, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said that the border in Sikkim had been settled in an 1890 agreement with the British, and that India’s violation of this was “very serious”.

The Global Times newspaper, meanwhile, accused India of undermining Bhutan’s sovereignty by interfering in the road project, although Bhutan has since asked China to stop construction.

What’s Bhutan’s role in this?

Bhutan’s Ambassador to Delhi Vetsop Namgyel says China’s road construction is “in violation of an agreement between the two countries”.

Bhutan and China do not have formal relations but maintain contact through their missions in Delhi.

An Indian soldier on the China border – Beijing has reiterated what it says is its right to territory

Security analyst Jaideep Saikia told the BBC that Beijing had for a while now been trying to deal directly with Thimphu, which is Delhi’s closest ally in South Asia.

“By raising the issue of Bhutan’s sovereignty, they are trying to force Thimphu to turn to Beijing the way Nepal has,” he said.

What next?

The fact that Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama resides in India has also been a sticking point between the two countries.

This stand-off in fact, comes within weeks of China’s furious protests against the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, an Indian state that China claims and describes as its own.

The Dalai Lama during his visit to Tawang near the India-China border in Arunachal Pradesh on April 10, 2017Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionChina recently protested against Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, an Indian state Beijing claims as its own

Relations between the Asian giants, however, may not slide further as China has allowed 56 Hindu pilgrims, who entered through the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, to visit the Manas Sarovar site.

“They are heading for the lake and they are safe,” senior tourism official Dheeraj Garbiyal said last week.

This, experts say, shows that the Chinese are not raising tensions on the whole border but specifically on the Sikkim-Bhutan stretch.

Source: What’s behind the India-China border stand-off? – BBC News