Modi speaks to the Dalai Lama, PLA reshuffles, Didi's troubles, Xi throws a party, and the art of lying flat

Welcome to today's The India China Newsletter.

In this issue, I'll be looking at:
- Prime Minister Modi's birthday greetings to the Dalai Lama and why they are significant
- An update on the border: A surprising PLA reshuffle, and why there's more than meets the eye about the recent reports of 50,000 Indian troops being deployed
- Xi's speech today at the ‘CPC and World Parties’ summit
- Ride-hailing app Didi's troubles

The Dalai Lama turned 86 today, and this greeting was a surprising development:

Surprising because, as Geeta Mohan at India Today reports, this was a departure from the past:

In a significant move and a strong signal to China, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for the first time since 2015, publicly acknowledged wishing the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

In a tweet on Tuesday morning, PM Modi said, “Spoke on phone to His Holiness the @DalaiLama to convey greetings on his 86th birthday. We wish him a long and healthy life.”

In fact, this is the first public tweet of Prime Minister Modi wishing the Dalai Lama on his birthday since 2013. His last birthday tweet was on July 6, 2013, where he attached a link of his photographs with the religious leader and wrote, “Wishing his Holiness @DalaiLama on his birthday. Sharing some memories of our meeting at Buddhist Seminar in Vadodara.”

Until 2015, PM Modi tweeted his thanks to the Dalai Lama for his greetings on his birthday. From 2016, such public acknowledgement also stopped. Much had to do with keeping Chinese sensitivities in mind. But, this tweet shows a significant shift in India’s Tibet policy vis-a-vis China and a strong message to Beijing.

COMMENT: Beijing hasn't reacted yet and the Foreign Ministry will likely do so on Wednesday at its daily briefing. No doubt the signalling is significant. I'd look at it as part of a broader package of measures -- scrutiny on Chinese investments, continuing bans on more than 200 apps, etc -- to convey it cannot be business as usual until there is disengagement on the LAC. As an aside, I do find it somewhat unfortunate that birthday greetings to the Dalai Lama, as Geeta's piece illustrates, have become so tactical and subject to the ups-and-downs of India's relations with China at a particular moment. In my book, the Dalai Lama surely deserves much better.

On the point of deserving better, here's a detail from Jyoti Malhotra's piece today about the succession question which tells us the absurdity of Modi's 2014 meeting with the Dalai Lama:

In his first term, Modi balanced his China-Tibet policy by inviting the former Tibetan prime minister-in-exile Lobsang Sangay to his oath-taking ceremony in 2014 [and] met the Dalai Lama in the dead of night in an unmarked car with darkened windows...

Xi Jinping has replaced the head of the military’s Western Theatre Command which borders India, appointing a new General to lead the military’s biggest command.

For The Hindu (partial paywall), I reported today on a reshuffle in the PLA. Xi on Monday promoted four senior officers as Generals:

China’s President Xi Jinping has replaced the head of the military’s Western Theatre Command which borders India, appointing a new General to lead the military’s biggest command.

Mr. Xi on Monday promoted four senior military officers, including one who has been at the centre of the border tensions with India as the head of the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Ground Forces or Army in the border Western Theatre Command, to the highest rank of General.

Mr. Xi, who also heads the Central Military Commission (CMC), presented the certificates of the orders to them at a ceremony held by the CMC on Monday, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The promoted officers were named as Xu Qiling, Commander of the PLA’s Western Theatre Command, Wang Xiubin, Commander of the Southern Theatre Command, Liu Zhenli, Commander of the PLA Army, and Ju Qiansheng, Commander of the PLA Strategic Support Force.

General Xu becomes one of the PLA’s youngest Generals, the highest-rank for active officers. The announcement suggests General Xu has replaced General Zhang Xudong as the Commander of the Western Theatre. General Zhang was only appointed as Commander in December 2020, and observers said his tenure ending within seven months would be highly unusual as per past practice.

COMMENT: We don't quite know what happened to Gen. Zhang Xudong. Unless he received a big promotion to the CMC, his removal after just 7 months in the job seems peculiar...

Minnie Chan at the South China Morning Post reports on the broader context for the changes - and Xi wanting younger generals, mid to late 50s rather than early 60s, and suggests two of the four replaced may have a shot at a place on the CMC:

Xu has experience with four of the PLA’s five theatre commands. He was also chief of staff at the former 54th Army Corps, an elite PLA fighting force known for its involvement in the crackdown on a Tibetan uprising in 1959 and the suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.

The three other new generals are Wang Xiubin, 57, new chief of the Southern Theatre Command, which covers the South China Sea; Liu Zhenli, 57, new chief of the ground force; and Ju Qiansheng, 59, new chief of the Strategic Support Force.

All of those promoted have risen in rank less than two years after their previous promotion. PLA tradition is for theatre command chiefs to be promoted only after staying in their previous post for more than two years, Taipei-based military observer Chi Le-yi said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who chairs the Central Military Commission (CMC), introduced a military overhaul in 2015 to turn the PLA into a nimble and capable fighting force, with the ultimate goal of building a world-class modern army on a par with their American counterparts in the next three decades.

Deng Yuwen, former editor of Communist Party publication Study Times, said Xi needed to reshuffle the military leadership before the Communist Party’s National Congress next year. Hong Kong-based military expert Liang Guoliang said he expected more promotions and retirements to be announced in the near future, and Xi’s top priority should be reshuffling the CMC leadership.

“Both of the CMC vice-chairmen, Zhang Youxia and Xu Qiliang, are over 70 – the maximum retirement age – next year, meaning the four CMC members, or those generals retired from the five theatre commands and service forces, will become hot candidates,” Liang said.

A Bloomberg report from a week ago on India shifting 50,000 troops to the border amid the China tensions got quite a lot of attention. Maj Gen B.S. Dhanoa (Retd) provides some very useful context to make sense of the eyeball catching headline that framed what was in some sense a long planned restructuring as a sudden reactive move:

Coming back to the curious case of the historic shift of 50,000 troops, it has definitely not occurred all of a sudden. The build-up of infrastructure and forces has been as per a capability development plan, based on a series of classified assessments of strategic threats that have been underway since 2006-07 onward (the author has been involved in two such studies to look at transformation of the army), and directions of the China Study Group (CSG) for the development of infrastructure in the border regions with China. A quick glance at the timeline of military tensions of the past decade along the Indo-Chinese border is instructive to arrive at a few reasoned conclusions about the rebalancing of forces.

Meanwhile, there's no signs of progress on the disengagement, Hindustan Times reports:

A week after India and China agreed to hold the next meeting of senior military commanders as soon as possible to discuss complete disengagement on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), New Delhi said on Friday date is yet to be fixed for these talks.

The agreement on holding the next meeting of the military commanders was the only tangible outcome from a virtual meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on border affairs on June 25. Last week’s WMCC meeting saw a “frank exchange of views” on the situation along the LAC in the western sector.

Xi and the Communist Party, which marked its centenary on July 1, held a major virtual summit today with political parties from around the world. Attendees included Imran Khan from Pakistan and Mahinda Rajapaksa from Sri Lanka. Reuters reports on Xi's speech:

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday urged political parties worldwide to oppose any country that engages in "technology blockades", an allusion to the United States which views China as its strategic competitor.

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday urged political parties worldwide to oppose any country that engages in "technology blockades", an allusion to the United States which views China as its strategic competitor.

As U.S. President Joe Biden's administration has sought support from like-minded democracies including the European Union and Japan to coordinate a tougher stance against China, Beijing has doubled down on seeking support and affirmation from friendly nations such as North Korea and Serbia.

"Together, we must oppose all acts of unilateralism in the name of multilateralism, hegemony and power politics," Xi told a virtual gathering of representatives of 500 parties from 160 countries such as Russia, Zimbabwe, Cuba and Burkina Faso.

"Looking from the angle of 'My Country First', the world is narrow and crowded, and often full of fierce competition," Xi said in apparent reference to former U.S. President Donald Trump's "America First" policy.

Xi renewed a call to work towards "building a community with a shared future for mankind" and said any country that engages in "technology blockades" and "developmental decoupling" should be rejected.

For a flavour of the summit, here’s what Imran Khan had to say:

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday said that Pakistan hopes to emulate China's "remarkable achievements" in all-round national development, poverty alleviation, and anti-corruption campaign.

In a virtual address to the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and World Political Parties Summit, the prime minister said that a "people-centric approach" to development is at the centre of CPC's "astonishing success".

He spoke of how the founding father of the People's Republic of China, Chairman Mao Zedong, and subsequent chairman, Deng Xiaoping, "guided the Chinese people in reclaiming national dignity, self pride, self respect and China's rightful place in the world".

"For decades the CPC's spirit instilled new vigour and hope beyond China's borders. It inspired people of the colonised nations and contributed to the end of colonialism," he said.

PM Imran Khan said that the CPC "remained committed to serve the people and prioritise their well being and interests".

"CPC's achievements have opened new vistas of thought for political parties across the world," he said.

The premier said that the party has "proven that attainment of political power is primarily meant for bringing a transformation in the lives of people and making them masters of their destiny".

"Indeed political parties can only enjoy public support and legitimacy if they continue to serve the people selflessly," he said.

PM Imran Khan also paid tribute to Chinese President Xi Jinping's "visionary leadership" which he said has "played a pivotal role in China's transformation and continued rise".

"His people-centric philosphy has made a critical difference as recently China has eliminated extreme poverty — one of the greatest achievements in the history of mankind," the premier said.

The Guardian on the crackdown on ride-hailing app Didi:

Billions of dollars were wiped off the value of the Chinese ride-hailing app Didi on Tuesday, after a crackdown on the country’s tech sector by the Chinese authorities prompted a sell-off.

Shares in the company were down about 22% at $12, days after it listed on the New York Stock Exchange, reducing its market value by about $17bn.

It was the first opportunity for investors to trade shares in the company since the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) ordered on Sunday that Didi be removed from mobile app stores in China. The CAC said it was investigating Didi’s handling of customer data, to protect “national security and the public interest”. Wall Street was closed on Monday for Independence Day.

This could have broader ramifications for Chinese firms looking at US listings, says the Wall Street Journal:

Wall Street has long been a bridge between China’s economic miracle and the U.S. Blockbuster listings of firms like Alibaba Group HoldingLtd. in New York emphasized China’s rising economic clout while letting American investors profit from their growth.

Now, China is proposing tougher rules to restrict such listings, highlighting the diverging visions in Beijing and Washington of the future of technology, data protection and security.

With a widening gulf of distrust on a range of issues, both Chinese and American companies could get caught in the middle.

China said Tuesday it will tighten rules for companies seeking to sell shares abroad and strengthen oversight of overseas-listed companies, moves that could hinder attempts by homegrown firms to raise money in the U.S.

The shift comes as Chinese regulators intensify scrutiny into technology companies, including Didi Global Inc., that recently listed in the U.S.

Turmoil around Didi foreshadowed the latest move. The ride-hailing giant has faced a series of regulatory actions at home since its New York stock debut last week. According to people familiar with the matter, Chinese officials suggested it delay its initial public offering, partly amid concerns that the U.S. government could use audit documents U.S.-listed companies have to file to gain access to companies’ data on Chinese citizens.

And finally...

Worth reading this piece in full in the New York Times (partial paywall) on the art of lying flat or "tangping"....

Five years ago, Luo Huazhong discovered that he enjoyed doing nothing. He quit his job as a factory worker in China, biked 1,300 miles from Sichuan Province to Tibet and decided he could get by on odd jobs and $60 a month from his savings. He called his new lifestyle “lying flat.”

“I have been chilling,” Mr. Luo, 31, wrote in a blog post in April, describing his way of life. “I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong.”

He titled his post “Lying Flat Is Justice,” attaching a photo of himself lying on his bed in a dark room with the curtains drawn. Before long, the post was being celebrated by Chinese millennials as an anti-consumerist manifesto. “Lying flat” went viral and has since become a broader statement about Chinese society.

A generation ago, the route to success in China was to work hard, get married and have children. The country’s authoritarianism was seen as a fair trade-off as millions were lifted out of poverty. But with employees working longer hours and housing prices rising faster than incomes, many young Chinese fear they will be the first generation not to do better than their parents.

What can I say but more power to Luo Huazhong. Now I need to find a way to tangping and somehow write while doing so....

Thank you for reading this issue! Have a good week, and see you soon with another update.