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




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