History of a dispute

The Pan Tsu-li moment

Print edition : August 04, 2017

Nathu La, 14,150 feet high, is the Gateway to Tibet on the Old Silk Route. It is one of the trading posts between China and India. Photo: The Hindu Archives

June 1954: Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Zhou En-lai in New Delhi. On July 1 that year, Nehru unilaterally altered India’s map to show a settled boundary in the west and ordered old maps to be destroyed. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Sheep grazing in the Aksai Chin for as far as the eye can see. No one in the Indian establishment gave much thought to the region before India altered the map in 1954. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

This book looks at how China settled its territorial disputes.

A strong thread of continuity in China’s approach runs for six decades, from 1959 to this day. India ignored the hints, with two consequences. China concluded that India was not ready or willing for a compromise and hardened its own stand. Gone are the offers of old.

“We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality.” Substitute Indian for British and chauvinism for morality in Thomas Babington Macaulay’s famous lines, and you get an accurate description of the Indian mood whenever there is a clash between India and any other country; especially a neighbour.

Dr Bhartendu Kumar Singh, Joint Controller of Defence Accounts (Air Force), wrote an able paper on the Daulat Beg Oldi crisis during August 15-May 5, 2013, in which he remarked: “It took three weeks of diplomatic parleys to resolve the crisis. However, an impatient media sensationalised the developments through inflated reporting and some politicians and strategic experts joined them in belittling the government by identifying the DBO crisis as symbolic of India’s capitulation before the Chinese might…. The Indian media hijacked the platform during the crisis. What we had, therefore, was a media-driven foreign policy.” (“The Daulat Beg Oldi Crisis”, Air Power Journal, Volume 8, No.4.)

The present crisis in the Chumbi Valley is far more grave. It is as grave as the crisis of 1961 (Forward Policy), which led to the war of 1962. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, having whipped up public opinion since 1959, had become its captive. There is scarcely an informed press report that tries to reckon with the Chinese version. But at stake is something far more than the immediate crisis over the land in Doklam. What is at stake is the future of India’s relations with China. One had thought that we had arrived at the Pan Tsu-li moment in our relations with China. By the second week of July 2017, India has crossed it. In 1959 the crossing proved disastrous. Now, nearly 60 years later, we would do well to take a calmer view of the options we face than we did then. Let me explain.

Every border dispute or a territorial dispute, as with China, has two elements: the land itself and the wider relationship or power equation between the parties. Independent India was born in 1947 with a territorial dispute with China and its leaders were fully conscious of it. The McMahon Line was in dispute. The Government of India’s White Paper on Indian States, published in 1950 after the Constitution had come into force, showed that from the tri-junction of India, Afghanistan and China in the west right up to the tri-junction of India, Nepal and China the border was “undefined”. Tri-junctions are fixed with the consent of all the sides and borders are defined with the consent of both sides. The British were well aware of it. In a Note in 1896, A. Stapleton, Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, wrote: “Any boundary line that we may draw can only be arbitrary, until it has the consent of the Chinese authorities.” India’s boundary dispute with China is as old as 1842.

In his famous letter of November 7, 1950, Deputy Prime Minister Vallabhbhai Patel invited Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s attention to the dangers on “our northern and north-eastern frontiers”, specifically “the policy in regard to the McMahon Line”. Nehru’s reply of November 18 said: “The fact remains that our major possible enemy is Pakistan. If we begin to think of, and prepare for China’s aggression in the same way, we would weaken considerably on the Pakistan side.” ( Sardar Patel’s Correspondence, Volume 10, pages 335 and 344.) There was no reference to the Aksai Chin in Ladakh. No one thought of it.

However, on July 1, 1954, Nehru unilaterally altered India’s map to show a settled boundary in the west which was not open to negotiation and ordered old maps to be destroyed. Prime Minister Zhou En-lai’s letter to Nehru dated January 23, 1959, said that “border disputes do exist between China and India”, on the Aksai Chin. Nehru’s reply of March 22 contested that and cited a Treaty of 1842 between China and Ladakh. In 1842, there was no linear boundary, only border zones ( ilaqas). The Treaty of 1842 was a non-aggression pact concluded after a war. If it defined the boundary, why did the British (a) set up two boundary commissions to negotiate with China after making Kashmir part of the Empire in 1846; (b) keep deliberating from 1847 to 1905 on possible boundaries to offer to a China reluctant to respond; and (c) make a formal offer in writing on March 14, 1899? Nehru could not possibly have been unaware of all this when he wrote as he did two months after Zhou’s letter. He wanted to shut the door on any discussion on the border. He was well aware of the Army’s stand on the Aksai Chin—the territory was of no strategic importance.

It was in this context that China’s Ambassador to India Pan Tsu-li made a statement to Foreign Secretary Subimal Dutt on May 16, 1959. After a recital of grievances, it concluded: “On the whole, India is a friend of China, this has been so in the past thousand and more years, and we believe will certainly continue to be so in one thousand, ten thousand years to come. The enemy of the Chinese people lies in the east—the U.S. imperialists have many military bases in Taiwan, in South Korea, Japan and in the Philippines which are all directed against China. China’s main attention and policy of struggle are directed to the east, to the west Pacific region, to the vicious and aggressive U.S. imperialism, and not to India or any other country in the Southeast Asia and South Asia. Although the Philippines, Thailand and Pakistan have joined the SEATO [Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation], which is designated to oppose China, we have not treated those three countries as our principal enemy; our principal enemy is U.S. imperialism. India has not taken part in the Southeast Asia Treaty; it is not an opponent, but a friend to our country. China will not be so foolish as to antagonise the United States in the East and again to antagonise India in the West. The putting down of the rebellion and the carrying out of democratic reforms in Tibet will not in the least endanger India. You can wait and see. As the Chinese proverb goes the strength of a horse is borne out by the distance travelled, and the heart of the person is seen with the lapse of time. You will ultimately see whether relations between the Tibet region of China and India are friendly or hostile by watching three, five, ten, twenty, a hundred… years. We cannot have two centres of attention, nor can we take friend for foe.…

“Our Indian friends! What is your mind? Will not you be agreeing to our thinking regarding the view that China can only concentrate its main attention eastward of China, but not south-westward of China, nor is it necessary for it to do so. Chairman Mao Tse-tung, the leader of our country, talked on many occasions with Mr. R.K. Nehru, former Indian Ambassador to China, who could well understand and appreciate it. We do not know whether the former Indian Ambassador conveyed this to the Indian authorities. Friends! It seems to us that you too cannot have two fronts. Is it not so? If it is, here then lies the meeting point of our two sides. Will you please think it over? Allow me to take this opportunity to extend my best regards to Mr Jawaharlal Nehru, the leader of India.” (Emphasis added throughout.) R.K. Nehru disagreed with Nehru on China.

Compromise rejected

Nehru had Dutt scold the Ambassador on May 23 (“language which is discourteous and unbecoming”). Pomposity led him to overlook the obvious fact that the language belonged to Mao Zedong. Four years later, Pan Tsu-li’s prediction came true with the China-Pakistan Boundary Agreement of May 2, 1963 (White Paper, Volume I, page 73-79).

In between Nehru rejected Zhou’s offer of a compromise in New Delhi on April 22 and 23, 1960. “We made no claim in the eastern sector to areas south of the line, but India made such claims in the western sector. It is difficult to accept such claims and the best thing is that both sides do not make such territorial claims. Of course, there are individual places which need to be readjusted individually, but that is not a territorial claim.” Thus, China accepted the McMahon Line alignment while inviting India to accept the status quo in the Aksai Chin. Nehru rejected the proposal.

How on earth could Nehru have got China to vacate the Aksai Chin? The India-China boundary dispute is pre-eminently susceptible to a solution; each side has its vital non-negotiable interest secure in its possession. China has the Xinjiang-Tibet Highway through the Aksai Chin; India has the McMahon Line. The Aksai Chin is of no value to India. Nehru himself said on August 31, 1959, in the Rajya Sabha: “The territory is sterile. It has been described as a barren, uninhabited region without a vestige of grass and 17,000 feet high.” On September 10, in the same House, he said, “We may get excited about the sacredness of the Indian soil and the Chinese people may get excited about something they hold sacred, if they hold anything sacred. That is a different matter, but the fact of the matter is that nothing can be a more amazing folly than for two great countries like India and China to go into a major conflict and war for possession of a few mountain peaks, however beautiful the mountain peaks might be, or some area which is more or less uninhabited.”

When the dispute arose in 1959, Nehru ought to have calmly balanced India’s stake in good relations with China against that useless territory. What did India’s national interest demand?

Pakistan’s overture

Pan Tsu-li’s warning came true. On October 24, 1959, President Ayub Khan disclosed at a press conference that Pakistan’s Foreign Office had received a map showing certain areas of Pakistan as part of China. Pakistan approached China “for a peaceful settlement of the border question by demarcating the northern frontiers.” ( Dawn, October 24, 1959).

Ayub Khan’s memoirs record how and why he went about this task in some detail. In August and October 1959, there were armed clashes between the troops of India and China in Longju, in the east, and at the Kongka Pass in Ladakh, respectively. Ayub Khan was concerned at the risks of patrolling. “A similar situation could arise on our own undemarcated borders in the Sinkiang and Baltistan areas. We had been receiving reports from time to time that Chinese patrols were coming up to Shamshal. …I thought it might be a good idea to approach the Chinese and suggest to them that the border be demarcated. After all, neither side had anything to gain by leaving the border undefined. I inquired whether any attempt had been made in the past to demarcate this border and I was shown the relevant maps and papers. Some attempts had been made by the British. I asked our experts to mark what from our point of view constituted the actual line of control on the map, and this was done. We also found that we could legitimately claim control up to a point opposite the Shamshal Pass. The people of Shamshal village could, according to custom, take their cattle for grazing in a fertile valley on the other side of the Pass where the Chinese had established a couple of posts. They also used to get salt, a rare and valuable commodity, from the soil in that area. I mentioned this matter at a Cabinet meeting, but the feeling was that the Chinese were unlikely to respond to any suggestion for the demarcation of the border. I felt that there would be no harm in preparing a memorandum and getting in touch with the Chinese authorities. This happened towards the end of 1959.”

China ignored Pakistan’s overture. Pakistan was America’s ally, whereas India was non-aligned. It took China two years to respond with a query about what the basis of an understanding would be. Pakistan replied: the facts of history and present realities. The upshot was the 1963 agreement, under which Pakistan received 750 square miles of administered territory. It did not cede territory as the United States and India alleged then. Pakistan adopted a professional approach. It delved into the archives. Nehru’s aides S. Gopal and Jagat Mehta, courtiers at the core, spurned them. Outside India every scholar on the subject lauds the 1963 agreement.

Pressure of public opinion

Two factors inhibited, and still inhibit, India. One is public opinion and the other is pride. Zhou taunted in a letter to Nehru on April 20, 1963: “But if the Indian government, owing to the needs of its internal and external political requirements, is not prepared to hold negotiations for the time being, the Chinese government is willing to wait with patience.”

Nearly half a century later, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Wang Yi, now Foreign Minister, told an Indian correspondent in September 2011 that China was not sure “if the Indian political establishment had arrived at a democratic consensus that would be required to sustain the difficult negotiations. …I am not sure if the condition concerning mutual understanding and mutual accommodation is agreed to by Indian friends.” In sum, he thinks India is not ready to make the concessions necessary to secure a compromise. And even if it is, its leaders lack the guts and the political clout to put it through. Wang Yi is highly educated and one of the best Foreign Ministers today.

Vijay Nambiar, India’s Ambassador to China and High Commissioner to Pakistan, felt that “the Chinese seem to think India is unprepared” for an open debate on the package proposal ( Force, April 2005).

China hardens stand

China hardened its stand. Gone was Zhou’s offer of 1960. In February 1979, Deng Xiaoping told A.B. Vajpayee, then the External Affairs Minister, that the eastern sector was the area of the largest dispute. Zhou had suggested that it was the western sector. On June 21, 1980, Deng Xiaoping proposed a package deal. “Then this question can be solved with [ sic] one sentence. For instance, in the eastern sector, we can recognise the existing status quo—I mean the so-called McMahon Line. This was left over from history. But in the western sector, the Indian government should also recognise the existing status quo.” Since the mid 1980s, China has been insisting that India must first make a concession in the eastern sector. Only a political dialogue at the very highest level can break such an impasse.

On a visit to China in April 1986, my friend Cheng Ruisheng, former Counsellor at the Chinese Embassy and Ambassador in the early 1990s, asked me, “Why don’t you give us Tawang?” This demand has acquired an edge—and it is an impossible one. In October 1986, the journalist Ghanshyam Pardesi reported after a visit to Tawang: “The children do not understand the Tibetan language but speak chaste Hindi.” No Indian government which cedes Tawang to China will survive even for a day.

China knows that, of course, and knows also that India’s own two impossible demands do not reflect a desire for compromise. One is the agreement with Pakistan. It is based squarely on Britain’s offer to China on March 14, 1899, as varied by Curzon in 1905.

The other is India’s insistent proposal to demarcate on the ground the Line of Actual Control. China has demurred to it for two decades and more, lest it freeze the status quo. Its approach is well known and India has studiously ignored it while crafting the six accords of an interim character. The talks since 1981 have gone nowhere. China never, for once, altered the approach which Zhou Enlai had defined way back in November 1959. The leader of the Chinese team, Ma Gong Dafei, said in Beijing on October 20, 1983: “Personally, I feel that it is important to hold talks on the boundary question at the ministerial level.” This reflected the Chinese emphasis on a political approach. In 1984, China renewed its suggestion for conducting the talks at the political level. When Gong said “the important thing is to reach an agreement on the question of principle” and added that the “specific question would have to be left to experts”, he clearly meant, in the context of his remarks on the level of discussions, a political agreement on a broad framework that experts could later elaborate in concrete terms. In 1987, China’s Ambassador to India, Tu Guoweei, said that the package settlement must be effected “at one go” and cover “all three sectors”. The expert Jing Hui wrote: “The border issue has to be solved politically” ( Guoji Wenti Yanjiu, January 13, 1988).

On April 14, 1988, Vice-Premier Wu Xueqian said: “If the talks are carried at higher political levels then they can only be about some principles and if concrete issues of the boundary question are not settled on principles, then they cannot be settled”—by officials. Cheng Ruisheng said at a seminar in New Delhi in January 1999: “The border issue can be settled by way of a package deal involving territorial concessions on a give-and-take basis.”

A strong thread of continuity in China’s approach runs for 60 years, from 1959 to this day. India ignored the hints, with two consequences. China concluded that India was not ready or willing for a compromise and hardened its own stand. Gone are the offers of old.

Only a Prime Minister of India who has sagacity and political clout can attempt such a result and only detached, informed writings can demolish cherished myths. China’s Borders: Settlements and Conflicts by Neville Maxwell can help. It is a collection of selected papers (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, New Castle upon Tyne, 289 pages, £49.99). It is marred by his pronounced bias but provides an Introduction to the Henderson Brooks Report, suggestions on how to settle the dispute and, what is more, gives a close analysis of the Sino-Soviet/Russian Boundary Dispute as well as the Hong Kong Settlement. No student of the subject can afford to ignore this book.

Indian readers will do well in particular to study the young scholar Sana Hashmi’s work China’s Approach Towards Territorial Disputes: Lessons and Prospects (Knowledge World, New Delhi, 260 pages, Rs.1,280). This outstanding work, published under the auspices of the Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi, with which the author was associated for five years, covers with a wealth of detail all the territorial disputes in which China was involved.

China’s border disputes

As well as providing excellent maps to illustrate those disputes, the author provides in the appendix excerpts from the treaties and agreements on the boundaries. These, together with a careful analysis of China’s approach, spread over 200 pages make the work indispensable to any serious student of boundary disputes.

Sana Hashmi records: “China has a land border of approximately 20,000 km and a coastline of about 18,000 km. China shares land borders with 14 countries, namely; Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lao PDR (People’s Democratic Republic), Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Vietnam and Tajikistan. It also has a maritime boundary with nine countries namely, Brunei, Indonesia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Vietnam. With such a vast neighbourhood, it is obvious for any country to have disagreements over adequate demarcation of its neighbouring countries. Clearly, China is a country with disputed borders. Ever since China came into existence as a nation-state, it strived towards laying claims of sovereignty over the territories which it regarded as its ‘lost territories’. China, an emerging power, has long-standing land border and maritime disputes with many of its neighbours. However, barring India and Bhutan, China has resolved all its land border disputes and is yet to settle its two maritime disputes. Since its inception, the PRC [People’s Republic of China] has participated in 23 territorial disputes. In this context, M. Taylor Fravel demonstrates that China pursued concessions in 17 of these 23 conflicts and further clarifies that China has resorted to violence less and offered concessions in most of the conflicts vis-a-vis its boundary disputes.” The solitary exceptions are India and Bhutan, which feels itself bound by India’s “advice”. We need to ask ourselves why the border dispute with India alone is unresolved, whereas all others, 12 in all, are settled. The answer lies in the fateful map revision of 1954 and with it the resolve that the boundaries are not negotiable; India’s rejection of Zhou’s offer in 1960; and India’s incapacity or unwillingness to negotiate.

Bhutan boundary

The author’s analysis of Bhutan’s boundary is relevant to the present crisis. “The major problem between China and Bhutan lies in defining the tri-junction of the India-Bhutan-China border. With respect to the China-Bhutan common boundary, while the northwest part of the boundary constitutes Doklam, Sinchulung, Dramana and Shakhatoe in Samste, Haa and Paro districts, the central parts constitute the Pasamlung and Jakarlung Valleys in the Wangdue Phodrrang district. The disputed territory with Bhutan has strategic importance for China. First, the disputed territory shares a border with Tibet. Secondly, the Doklam plateau lies immediately east of the Indian defences in Sikkim, which not only has a commanding view of the Chumbi valley but also overlooks the Silguri Corridor further to the east.”

But Doklam is an issue between Bhutan and China, not between India and China. The 1890 Convention between Britain and China defined Sikkim’s boundary in Article 1, which reads thus: “The boundary of Sikkim and Tibet shall be the crest of the mountain range separating the waters which flow into the Sikkim Teesta and its effluents from the waters flowing into the Tibetan Mochu and northwards into other rivers of Tibet. The line commences at Mount Gipmochi on the Bhutan frontier and follows the above mentioned water-parting to the point where it meets Nipal [ sic] territory”; that is, it goes eastward. The language of Article 1 clearly establishes that Mount Gipmochi on the Bhutan frontier was fixed as a tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan, which was then a British protectorate.

In its statement on July 7, China alleged that Indian troops tresspassed the Sikkim section of the India-China boundary 2,000 metres away from the Mount Gipmochi. China’s demands on Bhutan are twofold—give up the contested areas in the strategic west in exchange for those in the north; that is, widen the strategic Chumbi valley; and establish diplomatic relations.

The author opines: “China’s willingness to resolve its dispute with Bhutan is relatively greater in comparison to India. Consequently, a survey of recent developments in the China-Bhutan boundary dispute also suggests that China has made remarkable progress in convincing Bhutan to go for the final settlement.

“After approximately 30 years and 22 rounds of negotiations, while the boundary issue remains unresolved, the possibility of a final settlement does not seem to be bleak and impractical. Progress is slow but there have been regular talks, which is indicative of the political will between the leadership of the two states. However, India remains central to the China-Bhutan boundary question. Bhutan’s treaty obligations with India do not allow it to go for a comprehensive resolution without the consent and involvement of India, and China’s interests lie in settling the dispute with Bhutan as soon as possible so that it can use it to leverage its position in its future negotiations with India.”

Deng Bingguo, former Special Representative on the Boundary Question, made a significant remark recently. “Both sides are determined to seek a political settlement and neither side intends to seek a settlement of the boundary question based on the status quo.” He mentioned three criteria: “historical evidence, national sentiments and the actual state” ( China-India Dialogue). He asked for—Tawang.

This is where we stand. Are we at the Pan Tsu-li moment? In 1959 China warned India against estrangement on two fronts, China and Pakistan, and said that China could not afford to antagonise India either since it faced danger from the United States. It now looks askance at India’s growing partnership with the U.S. and Israel, its relationships with Vietnam and Japan, and its position on the South China Sea.

Chinese scholars watch India more carefully than Indian scholars watch China. In Lin Qian’s essay “China’s Indian Studies”, one is struck by the range of the areas covered ( CIR Magazine, May-June 2008).

India’s relations with Vietnam arouse concern and hope. Dr Li Li’s essay on “India’s Engagement with East Asia and the China Factor” ( CIR, September-October, 2010) ends on a note of ambiguity. “As far as China is concerned, India’s Look-East Policy has two faces. On the one hand, India views China as ‘a key component’ deserving partnership. On the other, China is a principal target of India’s Look-East Policy, through which India desires to win in its competition with China. As India grows rapidly, it will definitely get more involved in East Asia. However, the ambiguity of India’s Look-East Policy will further complicate regional cooperation and integration. A broader East Asian integration will only take off after the clarification of India’s Look-East Policy and a building-up of China-India mutual trust.”

India’s policy on the South China Sea is discussed by Vice Admiral (Retd.) Raman Puri and Brigadier (Retd.) Arun Sehgal. They hold that India is concerned with freedom of navigation and “it has no strategic interests beyond economic engagement and security of its trade” ( Indian Foreign Affairs Journal, October-December 2011).

In that case, will it not be more sensible for India to express its concerns directly to China, rather than in joint statements with the U.S.? They send a different message.

Between U.S. and China

In truth, we have crossed the Pan Tsu-li moment and moved unthinkingly to a relationship with the U.S. which bids fair to suck us in closer still. But it is retrievable. All countries, including China and Russia, seek good relations with the U.S. India would be remiss in ignoring the U.S. But its interests vis- a -vis China are not identical with those of the U.S. They do not coincide. An America which could forge an entente with China in 1972, without taking Japan into confidence, can be trusted to repeat its performance. China is a neighbour with whom a policy of confrontation would be unwise, even dangerous. The U.S. is in decline, distrusted by allies in Europe and elsewhere.

India’s immediate neighbours, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, even Bhutan, cannot neglect China, and India must be self-confident enough not to allow its relations with them or with China to be affected by their interaction. India is paying for its Big Brother role in the region. It has not the capacity to dictate to them. It should have the wisdom to cultivate them. The results will be tangible.

In this context the speech by China’s Ambassador to India, Luo Zhaohui, at the United Service Institution of India on May 5, deserves greater note than it has received. He has an Indian background, having done research on India in a Chinese think tank. This is his second posting in New Delhi. His wife, Dr Jiang Yili, was the first Chinese to get a PhD from Delhi University. As China’s Ambassador to Pakistan during the Mumbai blasts, he played a helpful role. China has never concealed its differences with Pakistan on terrorism. He pointed out that China no longer supports the United Nations resolutions on Kashmir but supports “a settlement through bilateral negotiation in line with the Shimla Agreement”.

More significant still is his plea that “we need to set a long-term vision for China-India relations”. He made a specific proposal: “Start negotiation on a China-India Treaty of Good Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation.” The Ambassador could not have made such a precise proposal without the backing of the Chinese leadership. His plea “strive for an early harvest on the border issue” suggests that China is now eager for a settlement in order to put the dispute behind us.

Willingess to negotiate

But is India ready even to begin a substantive meaningful process? To begin with, India must realistically stop opposing the China-Pakistan Boundary Agreement of 1963. Its Article 6 itself envisages revision after a settlement of the Kashmir dispute. What India needs to do is to realistically define the concessions that it can now offer to China and justify to the Indian public.

Adjustments are possible. In 1914, McMahon himself recognised that his line “admitted of more detailed and exact definition”. On April 8, 1947, L.A.C. Fry, Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, said: “The Government of India must stand by the McMahon Line” but it would be prepared to discuss its “rectification” on “reasonable grounds”. The Line was not described in words. It was simply drawn on a rather smaller-scale map in red ink with a thick nib. In that terrain, that makes a good difference. Now, a century later, we can draw on aerial cartography. In some parts India has gone beyond it; in others, China has done so. There is room for adjustment, provided its basic alignment is not disturbed. The Ladakh sector cries for adjustment.

India must demonstrate that it is willing and able to arrive at a fair compromise by “give-and-take”. It is for China also to demonstrate that. No Indian government can cede Tawang ever.

However, on June 2, 1986, Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Shuqing told visiting Indian journalists that the Chinese “have no intention of recovering the totality of the disputed area” in the eastern sector but “some adjustments will have to be made”. There could be no “unilateral concessions”. He amplified: “If India makes some readjustments and concessions in the eastern sector; and then we could also make corresponding adjustments and concessions in the western sector.”

The “peace dividends” an accord will yield are incalculable. But no accord is even conceivable except in a certain atmosphere created by careful political moves. India has moved in the opposite direction. The Chumbi Valley rift reflects rashness.

Chumbi Valley facts

What are the facts? Sutirtho Patranobis, Beijing correspondent of Hindustan Times, reported on June 29: “The Donglang or Doklam area is located at the narrow but strategic tri-junction of India, China and Bhutan and not far from Nathu La pass. It is under Chinese control and lies within the Tibet Autonomous Region, but is claimed by Bhutan” ( Hindustan Times, June 30). Patranobis repeated the observation in Hindustan Times of July 1. Bhutan said on June 29 that on June 16 the Chinese Army “started constructing a motorable road from Dokola in the Doklam area towards the Bhutan Army Camp at Zomphiri”.

The effect of the construction, as Shashank Joshi wrote, was “pushing the area under its [China’s] de facto control about 5 km southwards” ( The Hindu, July 10), which is why India speaks of China “trying to alter the present status quo” (Arun Jaitley; Times of India, July 1). China was building a road on disputed territory but one under its control. Indian troops crossed the internal boundary east of Sikkim. Hence the conflict. Given the realities of the terrain and the advances of modern warfare, did five kilometres warrant a conflict?

Indian troops “pro-actively”—that is, by use of force—“blocked Chinese troops and construction workers from building a motorable road towards the Zmpiri Ridge on the Doklam plateau” (Rajat Pandit from New Delhi; The Times of India, July 11). Would India have acquiesced in that? What makes South Block imagine that China will?

In 1959-62, Nehru thought that an attack on India would mean a world war. In 2017, Modi and his advisers have nightmares of the worst scenario. In 1961 India’s Forward Policy sought forcibly to evict China from the Aksai Chin, which was in its occupation. In 2017, it has thrown down the gauntlet to no apparent gain and at great risk. The best course is to propose a modus vivendi based on India’s withdrawal and China’s assurances of respect for international boundary.

The U.S. will be of little help yet it seeks a tighter embrace. The Malabar Exercises have a political aim. A U.S. Commander said that “the exercise would have direct impact on China”. In direct quotes: “They will know that we are standing together” ( The Times of India, July 11). What impact will this have on India’s pretensions to Great Power status? How will its neighbours—already moving in China’s direction—react to it? Our best course is to befriend them, and also China.

Even in the best of times, Asia’s two largest countries had an uneasy equation. Luo Jialun was an educationist, historian and political activist of the May Fourth Movement in 1919. He was China’s first Ambassador to India from February 1947 to January 1950, when he returned to Taiwan.

In a documented article entitled “An Assessment of Ambassador Luo Jialun’s mission to India 1947-1949”, Fang Tien Sze wrote: “Though the ROC [Republic of China] was a firm supporter of India’s bid in the U.N., it did not appreciate India’s attempt to claim a leadership position for itself. Nehru decided to convene an International Conference in Delhi from 20 to 23 January 1949 to discuss the Indonesian situation. It was attended by 19 countries including Australia and New Zealand. Despite advocating the solidarity of Asia, Nehru viewed India as entitled to a special role in world affairs as the natural leader of the third world ( The Hindu, 2006). And the meeting was seen as Nehru’s effort to promote India’s leadership in regional and global affairs. Although the ROC also attended the meeting. Luo did not heartily endorse India’s initiative. He suggested that the ROC should not be actively involved in the event, and that the Foreign Minister need not to come to attend it. Luo did not hide his concern about Nehru’s intentions. The main purpose of the meeting, Luo believed, was to establish a Delhi-based permanent regional organisation headed by India. He analysed that Nehru was trying to take advantage of the ROC’s decline and failure to be the leader of the Asian coalition.…

“In his eyes, Indian leaders gradually became overly enamoured with seeking a leading place for India in the world. In July 1949, he wrote to the former Foreign Minister Wang Shih-chich saying, ‘…it is hard to imagine that a newly independent state is so conceited and outrageously arrogant’.” (China Report, 50, 3 (2014), pages 189-201.) Any different from Zhou En-lai’s remarks on Nehru?

If India cherishes its independence and pride, it must rely on diplomacy, shun the worst-case scenarios, adventures and alliances, while building up its economy and military might. India’s interest lies in lasting peace, and that can be secured only through compromises and conciliations.

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