Thursday, 30 March 2017

Dalai Lama's Escape to India on 31 March 1959

           About fifty eight years ago almost to the day, HH the Dalai Lama entered India through Khinzemane post situated on the McMahon Line that separates Tibet from India in what was then the centrally administered North East Frontier Agency [NEFA]. His journey was very hazardous, full of danger and it was indeed a miracle that he survived without being intercepted by the Chinese PLA. The Dalai Lama waited on the Tibetan side of the border for a day till he received confirmation that he would be granted asylum and on receipt he crossed over. There was never a doubt in PM Nehru's mind that the Dalai Lama should be granted asylum for there was deep revulsion within India at the way the Chinese had treated him. The Dalai Lama is revered by millions of Indians not only as the reincarnation of the previous thirteen Dalai Lamas, but also as the reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara or Chen Rezig, the Bodhisattava of compassion. Apart from the Communist Party of India [CPI], all other political parties, the press and civil society supported Nehru's decision. Even the Chinese never objected to the grant of asylum to the Dalai Lama, for they too had granted KI Singh, a Nepalese dissident asylum.
       It was but to be expected that the Chinese would be livid at the developments in Tibet. The escape of the Dalai Lama from Tibet advertised to the world the utter failure of Chinese policies towards Tibet. It was a serious blow to their prestige in the Afro-Asian world. Rather than look at the causes of the trouble within themselves, for it was the harsh policies that they followed that caused the rebellion to spread all over Tibet, the Chinese chose to put the blame on India and Nehru in particular. As the Guang Ming Ribao of 23 April 1959 warned 'There can be no greater tragedy than a miscalculation of the situation. If the Indian expansionists are seeking to pressure China, they have picked the wrong customer'. The Chinese followed this by a vituperative  personal attack on Nehru in a People's Daily article of 6 May 1959 entitled 'The Revolution in Tibet and Nehru's Philosophy'. The article was reportedly personally approved by Mao and an open indictment of Indian interference in Tibet's internal affairs.
      Recently a Chinese published account in 'Remembering Chairman Mao/Yi Mao Zhuxi' authored by Wu Lengxi [Beijing:Xinhua, 1995] p282 contains an interesting reference to Deng Xiaoping's speech delivered on 25 March 1959 in which he reportedly asserted that the Indian government and Nehru in particular were deeply involved in the rebellion in Lhasa, but that the time had yet not come to voice public criticism of India. Deng went on to say that 'when the time comes we will certainly settle accounts with them' [emphasis added]. What further irked and incensed the Chinese was the statement made by the Dalai Lama on arrival in India that 'ever since the Dalai Lama entered India at Khinzemene [emphasis added] he had experienced in full measure respect and hospitality extended by the people of Kameng Frontier Division of NEFA....and the government of India had spared no effort to make his journey through this extremely well administered part of India [emphasis added] as comfortable as possible'. These references by the Dalai Lama indicating that this area was a part of India, completely undercut the Chinese position on the boundary dispute with India. It well known that the Chinese position on the boundary dispute with India, is based entirely on the position taken by Tibet, for China by itself has no locus standii otherwise.
      If this episode is reviewed from the Chinese standpoint, there are certain apprehensions in their mind that perhaps can be understood. Firstly, from about 1956 the CIA had begun to stoke the fires of the Khampa rebellion in Tibet and between September 1957 and January 1960, the CIA made 19 airdrops of 47 trained Khampas along with arms well inside Tibet. Although the CIA was flying over India, it would be extremely naive to imagine that the Chinese did not suspect an Indian connivance with the CIA. Secondly, at the height of the Lhasa uprising Nehru decided to write to PM Zhou on 23 March 1959, giving in detail India's territorial claims both in the western and eastern sectors. The Chinese would have noticed that, at a moment of their greatest difficulty, Nehru was questioning  their control over the Tibet-Xinjiang road link through Aksai Chin.
     What followed thereafter is history and rather well known to bear repetition. Sino-Indian relations steadily deteriorated to the point that open hostilities broke out in 1962.

       The Dalai Lama has since never gone back to Tibet and continues to reside in exile at Dharamsala, India. He continues to be the centre of the Tibetan community and the person to whom the Tibetans look for guidance in practically all matters. The Tibetan people give to him a faith and a belief and a trust unparalleled in any other relationship. The Dalai Lama still retains the ability to initiate sufficient turmoil inside Tibet to cause the Chinese deep anxiety and anxious moments. The Dalai Lama's prestige in the Buddhist world and elsewhere continues to be high and polemical attacks on his persona by the Chinese authorities are seen by the Tibetans as contempt for their way of life and their dignity. Visitors to Lhasa even today report that Tibetans turn south, bow and offer salutations. This demonstration of faith is not lost on the sharp political mind of the Chinese rulers in Tibet. Therefore it comes as no surprise that the Chinese watch the Dalai Lama's every move, with careful consideration and are very wary and concerned at his potential for trouble. It is for this reason that they have taken such a strident stand on his forthcoming visit to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

China's Package Deals on Boundary Issue: Myth or Reality?

        One of the issues that has consistently aroused considerable interest, emotion and sometimes misperceptions, in the public mind, have been the reported offers of ‘package deals’ by China at various stages of the Sino-Indian Boundary negotiations. The latest variation of the ‘package deal’ was the reported ‘offer’ by Dai Bingguo, the former Chinese Special Representative for the boundary talks. In his interview to the Beijing based magazine China-India Dialogue on 2 March 2017, Dai said that ‘the disputed territory in the eastern sector of the China-India boundary, including Tawang, is inalienable from China’s Tibet in terms of cultural background and administrative jurisdiction. The major reason that the boundary question persists is that China’s reasonable requests have not been met. If the Indian side takes care of China’s concerns in the eastern sector of their border, the Chinese side will respond accordingly and address India’s concerns elsewhere’.

      It must be noted, however, that this Dai interview is not a Chinese government initiative, but a private one since Dai does not hold any official position anymore; albeit his 'offer' may have been with the knowledge and encouragement of the Chinese government. Therefore Dai is in a sense testing the waters, without putting the prestige of the Chinese government or association on line. That this was not the first such offer of a ‘package deal’ is also fairly obvious, for in the past, several variations have been on the table.

     To recollect from historical record, the first such offer of a ‘package deal’ was reportedly made by PM Zhou Enlai when he came to Delhi in April 1960. There is considerable confusion as to whether he actually made such an offer. According to Chinese writings on the subject, Zhou in his first meeting with PM Nehru stated that although the area south of the McMahon Line was once a part of Tibet, China would not raise ‘new’ demands, but be ‘practical’. In the sixth meeting, Zhou proposed that China would recognize the line reached by India’s administrative jurisdiction in the eastern sector, if India did the same in the western sector. This perhaps was the genesis of the ‘package deal’ referred to by the Chinese. Further the records of the Zhou-Nehru meeting show that Zhou made two important points. Firstly, he said that ‘we do not recognize the McMahon Line but are willing to take a realistic view’ and that ‘we would not cross it’ and secondly that ‘we do not put forward any territorial claim south of the McMahon Line’ [emphasis added].[1]

   There is added confirmation that perhaps a package offer was made by Zhou in that the then Foreign Secretary Dutt informed Indian Missions after Zhou’s visit that:
      It is quite obvious that the Chinese aim was to make us accept their claim in Ladakh as a price for the recognition of our position in NEFA….it was also obvious that if we accepted the line claimed by China in Ladakh they would accept the McMahon Line.

These of course are Foreign Secretary Dutt’s observations and surmise, for it does not specifically state whether such an offer was actually made. It should also be kept in mind that only a few months earlier [8 September 1959], Zhou had written officially to Nehru categorically stating that ‘this piece of territory [NEFA] corresponds in size to Chekiang province of China and is as big as 90,000 square kilometers. Mr. Prime Minister, how could China agree to accept under coercion such an illegal Line…and disgrace itself by selling out its territory’? So what was Zhou actually trying to convey to Nehru? It is not entirely clear.

    The next occasion that the question of a ‘package deal’ surfaces is when FM Vajpayee met the then Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping in February 1979 and the latter once again put forward the proposal. This was followed by an interview that Deng gave to an Indian journalist Krishna Kant [Chief Editor of Vikrant] on 21 June 1980 in which Deng reiterated the need to settle the boundary in a ‘package way…I mean according to the Line of Actual Control.’

   When the first round meeting of the renewed Sino-Indian boundary talks commenced in Beijing from 10-14 December 1980, the Chinese once again put forward the ‘package proposal,’ a settlement essentially based on the Line of Actual Control. But when the Indian side requested for a cartographic examination, the Chinese side demurred and refused. This led to the suspicion that the Chinese offer was ‘non-serious’ and FM Rao accordingly informed Parliament that ‘the government of India never accepted the premise on which it [the package proposal] is based…’ That position remained till the Chinese, once again, re-interrupted the offer.

   At the sixth round of the boundary talks in November 1985 at New Delhi, the Chinese came out with yet another version of the ‘package deal’. The new proposal was that if India gave ‘concessions’ in the Eastern sector, the Chinese in turn would give corresponding ‘concessions’ in the Western sector. When pressed as where these ‘concessions’ in the Eastern sector were to be given, the extent of the area to be given; the Chinese demurred and refused and fell back on the plea that India would first have to accept the principle and then only would their clarification follow. Hardly a basis on which negotiations can proceed! But perhaps is that what the Chinese wanted?

  In the Special Representative talks that followed PM Vajpayee’s visit to China in 2003, both sides negotiated and signed on 11 April 2005 the ‘Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the Boundary Question’. Article VII is most important. It states quite clearly that:
      In reaching a border settlement the two sides shall safeguard due interests of their settled populations in border areas. 

Dai Bingguo, then China’s Special Representative, was a party to this agreement having negotiated and signed it on behalf of China. Is the language and meaning not clear; for it says quite categorically that ‘settled populations’ would be ‘safeguarded’? Is the Tawang area not a settled area with a sizeable population?   
     As can be seen from records indicated above that China’s position on this issue has been changing, just as its political and strategic objectives have changed. From PM Zhou’s assertion in 1960 that China had no territorial claims south of the McMahon Line, we are now receiving feelers from Dai Bingguo that cessation of the Tawang area is the price for a settlement.  Perhaps the Chinese sense that there is a constituency in India that ardently wishes for a boundary settlement. The government of India should make it clear that Arunachal Pradesh is a constituent state of the Indian Union and that there is no question of cessation of any territory, apart from minor rectifications along the McMahon alignment [emphasis added].


[i] Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru [SWJN], Vol 60, p 34




Monday, 6 March 2017

How Arunachal Pradesh Became a Full Member of the Indian Union.-- Part II

                                                               PART ---II

                                   International Reaction and Role of the Great Powers

           The Indian leadership was quite aware that the developing confrontation at the borders with China [Sumdorong Chu/Wangdung] would not only inevitably draw the attention of the great powers, but that their attitude would influence the outcome in a demonstrable manner. The two great powers, the US and the Soviet Union, watched with increasing alarm as it seemed that India and China were headed for a military clash. Their main concern was that they might get sucked into the looming conflict, which it was clear from the very beginning, that both were very determined to avoid. Pakistan had reasons to believe that this might spill over to involve them as well.

    Let us examine US policy first. The US had recognized the McMahon Line as the international boundary between India and China in a formal note sent to India on 26 October 1962 [Note: the US takes no position on the western sector]. This action proverbially drew an angry response from the Chinese government. As both China and the US had no diplomatic relations at that point in time, Chinese Ambassador Wang remonstrated bitterly about this change of position to his US interlocutor, Ambassador Cabot at their meeting in Warsaw [Poland] on 13 December 1962. Since then not only had President Nixon visited China and opened the way for normalization of relations, but by the early 1980s, both were on the same page on larger strategic issues; including intense opposition to the Soviet Union. It became apparent very early on that the US would not like to take sides and particularly not jeopardize its newly established bon homie with China. Throughout the period of the Sino-Indian confrontation, the US never publicly reiterated that the McMahon Line was the international boundary between India and China. When President Reagan met PM Rajiv Gandhi on 19-20 October 1987, the former never mentioned a word about the Sumdorong Chu stand-off, nor did he forward any “messages” from the Chinese government. It was obvious that the US did not wish to take sides.

    Earlier US intelligence had become aware that China was increasing its assistance to Pakistan to help develop its nuclear weapon systems. Beginning mid- 1982, Pakistan began enriching weapons grade uranium using uranium hexafluoride supplied by China. Giving in to President Zia’s entireties, Deng Xiaoping in a surprising move, approved the request for 50 kilograms of highly enriched uranium along with a blueprint for an atomic bomb devise, already tested by China. All these were carried by a Pakistani C-130 cargo aircraft from China to Pakistan. The US despite full knowledge of this transaction, felt the need to look the other way, due its expectations for continuing Chinese and Pakistani cooperation to sustain anti-Soviet positions, particularly in Afghanistan.* Even in such a sensitive matter as nuclear proliferation, the US was keen not to antagonize China.

     Take the case of the other great power—the Soviet Union. Ever since Gorbachov became the Soviet leader, he was keen to establish warm friendly relations with China. In a major speech at Vladivostok on 28 July 1986, Gorbachov accepted the thalweg principle [mid channel] for the Sino-Soviet river boundary, but also announced the withdrawal of six regiments from Afghanistan and the thinning out of troops from Mongolia. The Chinese were keen to test Soviet sincerity and for which the Sumdorong stand-off came in rather handy. The Chinese made it clear in Moscow that if the Soviets supported India, Sino-Soviet normalization could not advance. Thus when the initial reports of the Sino-Indian confrontation came in; there was total silence from Moscow. Even during the 15th anniversary celebrations of the Indo-Soviet Treaty on 9 August 1986, the Soviet representative feigned total ignorance of the ensuing confrontation.

    Gorbachov arrived in India in November 1986 ostensibly to reassure India. However in his public statements, Gorbachov pleaded ignorance about the Sumdorong Chu incident, but insisted that better relations between India, China and the Soviet Union would be best if “no one had to choose sides”. Privately, Gorbachov assured the Indian leadership that the Soviet Union would not stand “idly by” if India’s unity and integrity was threatened, but never clarified that if clashes took place with China on the McMahon Line, whether these constituted threats to India’s “unity and integrity”.  The Soviets were keen to pursue a policy of strategic ambiguity. It did not go un- noticed in Delhi that when the confrontation with China was at its height, the Soviet Foreign Ministry announced in January 1987, the imminent withdrawal of a Soviet mechanized division from Mongolia.

    The Chinese also tried to escalate the political confrontation by sending Qiao Shi, a Politburo Standing Committee member to Nepal, Myanmar and Bangladesh in March 1987. The aim of the visits was to persuade these countries to minimize support for India in the event of a border clash. The Chinese tried very hard to pressurize President Ershad of Bangladesh, not to permit the movement of Indian troops and material across Bangladesh territory in the event of a Sino-Indian clash. A month later, Ershad visited Beijing and according to press reports acceded to the Chinese request.**  

    The political lesson of the confrontation at Sumdorong Chu was quite clear for both India and China. If a military confrontation were to ensue, both would find themselves largely on their own, bereft of any great power support. Both would have suffered substantial setbacks and thus the realization dawned that there was little to be gained from a military confrontation. It was this realization that eventually paved the way for a de-escalation on the boundary and thereafter to a momentous decision taken by PM Rajiv Gandhi to visit China in December 1988. It would be the first visit by an Indian PM to China since Nehru’s visit in 1954. This also led to a change of tactics and policy by India. The new policy was of trying to minimize differences with China, while at the same time seeking to enlarge cooperation in all other areas. China too still recovering from the intense political backlash and facing isolation generated by the Tienanmen incidents, embraced this policy then. The success of this new policy can be seen that since then there has been not a single shot fired on the Sino-Indian border and that there has been no large scale military confrontation either. It remains largely a peaceful border.        




*John Garver, China’s Quest [New York: OUP, 2016], p 439.

** Ibid, p 443       

Friday, 3 March 2017

How Arunachal Pradesh Became a Full Member of the Indian Union-Part I

       A few days ago the 31st Anniversary [1986] of the establishment of Arunachal Pradesh as a full- fledged state of the Indian Union was celebrated with much enthusiasm and acclaim, but its birth was accompanied by high end tension in Sino-Indian relations and what its establishment also demonstrated was that a substantive shift in great power relations had also occurred.

     North East Frontier Agency [NEFA] as the territory was then known was a Union Territory and subject to substantive sovereignty claims by China over large tracts, amounting to nearly 90,000 square kilometers. Although in 1914 at the tripartite Simla Convention [India, Tibet and China] the McMahon Line separating Tibet from India had been agreed upon, China insisted that it had never agreed to the McMahon Line. Yet from that point onwards in time till 23 January 1959, the Chinese government, in any official document, never challenged the McMahon Line. Even when Major Khating evicted the last of the Tibetans from Tawang on 12 February 1951, there was no protest from the Chinese government. In his letter to Nehru, PM Zhou Enlai on 23 January 1959 affirmed that “the Chinese government finds it necessary to take a realistic attitude towards the McMahon Line”. But times change and so do policies. Let us fast forward to the early 1980s.

    In early 1980s PM Indira Gandhi took the decision that Indian security forces were to patrol right up to the McMahon Line so as to eliminate any chance of incursions across the line. A small detachment began patrolling the area from the summer of 1982. There were no Chinese protests when movement by Indian personnel was made in 1983 and on 28 July 1984 a seasonal post was established. However in 1986 when Indian personnel similarly moved up to the post after the winter was over, they found 40 Chinese personnel already encamped there and were soon reinforced by about 200 PLA soldiers. From 26 June 1986 onwards, a bitter exchange of protests took place, but a solution was not forthcoming. India was clearly alarmed at this new found Chinese aggressiveness coming as it did after Chinese Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Liu Shuqing told us at the 6th Round of Boundary talks in November 1985 that “India would have to give concessions in the eastern sector and China would do so in the western sector”. What these concessions were was not amplified at that time.

     Clearly recognizing the gravity of the situation the Indian Army moved quickly and in strength and between 18th and 20th October 1986 occupied the Hathungla Ridge above the Sumdorong Chu, overlooking the Chinese positions. A full strength brigade was deployed. Unlike the mistakes of 1962, the Indian troops never tried to hold the river line, but stood firm on high ground. By the time the Chinese crossed the Sumdorong Chu and moved forward they found well entrenched Indian troops on the ridge line. The Chinese could neither go forward nor could they retreat, for a retreat would have been rather galling. Similarly Indian troops moved with speed and alacrity and deployed Tanks both in Ladakh and north Sikkim. Clearly the Chinese had not anticipated such moves and attempted bluster in the hope that the new Indian leadership of PM Rajiv Gandhi might wilt.

    On 15th November 1986 the Chinese sought a flag meeting in which it was agreed that force would not be used and that both sides would seek a “political solution”. Having successfully held the Chinese, the Indian side detected an opening that they had been looking for to convert Arunachal Pradesh from a Union Territory to a full- fledged state of the Indian Union. Earlier there had been apprehension that if India did so the Chinese reaction might be violent and therefore this factor had to be taken into account. The government of India now moved with speed and alacrity and after all legal formalities were completed, the new state of Arunachal Pradesh as a constituent of the Indian Union came into being in February 1987. A forceful message had been sent to the Chinese.

   As anticipated the Chinese reacted with verbal rage, but could not do much more as the Indian army was already fully deployed and ready at the borders. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs [MFA] issued a strong protest stating that “the establishment of an Indian state on Chinese territory illegally occupied constituted serious aggression against China’s sovereignty and deeply hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and that China would never recognize the so-called Arunachal Pradesh”. This high voltage reaction clearly indicated that their annoyance with India was at its peak, for being out maneuvered both politically and militarily. It was noticed from reports that the Chinese Military Attaché in Delhi, the Tibet District Military Commander and the Chengdu Regional Military Commander were all transferred; perhaps for misreading the situation. It was under these circumstances that the new state of Arunachal Pradesh was born as a full member of the Indian Union.  
  [ In Part-II the international reactions and policies of the then two great powers, the US and the then Soviet Union would be explained.]