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February - March 2007


Political News

Time to Draw Line with China

by Dr S. K. Das


For the last fifty years since her independence from Britain, India has been seeking to settle the border issue with China. But, it seems the issue has been falling on deaf ears, especially since the death of Mao-Tse Tung in 1976.

After the Independence of India on 15th August 1947, the border issue with China was set on a collision course that came to a head in a military conflict in 1962. Many Indian soldiers were involved in the border conflict against China on that date. It was officially considered as a border skirmish, but in real terms, the Indian army was subjected to a humiliating defeat as they tried to challenge a stronger and better prepared Chinese army. If we analyse the real history of conflict with China, it can be traced back to the fact that the leaders of India never understood the true extent of India’s borders. They totally neglected the defence of the North, North-east borders, the Indo-Tibetan border and the South-Eastern (Assam/China) borders as defined by McMahon of the Indian Army in 1893.

Unfortunately, the liberated Chinese army of Mao Tse Tung, never agreed with the definition of the McMahon line in the North, North-eastern Tibet and South-eastern sectors of India. In fact, when Mao’s army seized Tibet in 1950 and drove the Dalai Lama into exile in Dharamsala (India), the Chinese expeditionary force sent to invade Tibet ignored the British defined Indo-Tibetan border (defined by the McMahon Line) and crossed into Indian territory. It is to be noted that although the McMahon Line had been marked out in 1893, the independent state of India did not understand the true value of this demarcation. Therefore, to India’s surprise, the Chinese army constructed a road through Aksai Chin in 1959 and effectively annexed 750 miles (1200 sq km) of Indian territory and was not challenged by India in any way. It is not known why the Indian government did not understand the relevance of this border and allowed this occupation to happen, but it is possible that the Indian army, which was then small and under-equipped, was too busy dealing with the war with Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir,1949- 1953.)

It is possible that Indian generals knew of the existence of the Chinese road constructed through Indian territory and despite regular reports sent to Army HQs in Delhi, totally ignored the border issue with China. Part of this response may have been due to the fact that both Nehru, the Prime minister of India and Mao-Tse Tung, the leader of China both got independence only recently, India, from British rule in 1947 and China, after routing Chiang Kai Shek in 1949. Therefore good relations appeared to develop between India and China after this time and there was no reason to suspect China as having territorial ambitions towards India. However, the history of India over the last two thousand years, suggests that India has been frequently invaded via her Northern border and this should have indicated to Indian historians that there was a very large risk of invasion through this route. Thus, when China did move into Aksai Chin region of Kashmir, they did so without contact with the newly-independent Indian government and the move remained undetected.

In fact, China needed Aksai Chin because they wanted better road communication between Sinkiang in the North, to Tawong in the East (known as ‘Sinkiang-Tibet highway’). In 1958, the Indian side sent patrols (of one brigade in strength) to the Aksai Chin region without informing them of the existence of the highway. Unfortunately, the Chinese troops in the region were informed of Indian troop movements by Pakistani forces and therefore the Chinese were able to ambush and capture the Indian brigade. In 1959, Indian armed forces crossed the customary boundary line in the North Western sector of India at the Kongka Pass and this resulted in a declaration of open warfare between India and China on 21st November 1962.

Indian politicians at that time were shouting "Hindi-Chini bhai bhai" (Indians and Chinese are brothers) with the Chinese premier, Chouen Li and this resulted in the release of the Indian brigade by the Chinese. At the same time, China announced a unilateral ceasefire and withdrew all troops 12 miles and declared the border from Aksai Chin to Arunachal Pradesh in Assam as a ceasefire line (effectively the new border). The Chinese actions shocked Nehru greatly, as he believed that the Chinese could be trusted to keep the Paunchsill Agreement that stated that the McMahon Line would be respected as a border. The shock was too much for him and Nehru became gravely ill and died of a stroke on 27th May 1964.

Since the death of Nehru there have been three further military confrontations between India and China over the border issue, in 1967, 1969 and most recently in 1987. Every time the Chinese army has shelled the Indo-Sikkim border pass (called the Nathula Pass) in the East and even they continued shelling right upto the Western sector of the McMahon line, at the Lipu-Lekh pass in Himachal Pradesh, west of Nepal. In the latter part of 1987, there were further border clashes in the ‘Sumdoreng Valley’ in Arunachal Pradesh at the eastern end of the Himalayas.

Between 1987 and 2005, India and China have renewed talks on border issues and these have continued with limited success till now. But India continues to press her claim that China is illegally occupying 45000 sq km of Jammu and Kashmir (the Aksai Chin and Ladakh Valley regions) and has gained illegal possession of 6000 sq km of Indian land, with the active support of Pakistan. In 2005 the then Indian defence minister went to Beijing and quietly discussed the border issue with China. To his surprise, instead of accepting their occupation of Aksai Chin as well as the Pakistani "contribution", the Chinese foreign minister accused India of possessing some ninety thousand square km of Chinese territory within Arunachal Pradesh!

It should therefore be noted that China’s claim of Bhutan, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and above all Western Tibet as their land, has no basis in historical terms. China should not raise such false claims of even an inch of these lands; and if India does nothing to defend itself then it would only encourage them to lay claim to Kashmir, Aksai Chin and Ladakh. Here follows some historical evidence of the regions under consideration:

Sikkim: Sikkim is a small kingdom state situated on the east side of the southern slope of the Himalayas and it has been an Indian enclave since Young Husband’s visit to Tibet in 1700A.D., when the kingdom was first identified by outsiders. The land of Sikkim is bordered by Tibet in the North, Bhutan in the east, the Indian state of West Bengal in the south. It is therefore unclear as to how China can claim land, which is clearly within the border of India. In the 20th century, the official language of Sikkim is English, with other languages being Lepcha, Bhutia, Limboo and Nepali, and certainly not Chinese.

In 1890 the British made the Kingdom of Sikkim a protectorate, which passed to India on its independence in 1947. In the early 10th to 12th centuries the Namgyal Dynasty had been ruling Sikkim. In the early 14th century Phuntsong Namgyal was consecrated as the first king and was given the title of Chogyal (Cho meaning ‘religious’ and Gyal meaning ‘King’). The Chogyals ruled Sikkim until the last king was deposed in 1975 and he subsequently migrated to North America, where he died in 1982.

If China wants to trace the history of Sikkim and also the Himalayan territories then they should be reminded of some history: In the 1st century A.D. the land was ruled by Emperor Asoka, Mayurian and the Kushan Emperor, long before China was even defined as a nation.

China and the Indian Border: The Huns invaded India around 650 A.D. after the reign of the Kushan and Mayura Kings, and occupied northern India. However, the Hun dynasty was disrupted by western Turks who defeated the Chinese in the period 661 to 665 A.D. In 670 A.D. the Tibetan king occupied Kashgaria in India but could not retain it due to advancing troops led by Hiuen Tsung, who went on to establish Chinese rule in Western Tibet. Unfortunately he was unable to retain hold of the area due to the advancing Arab armies around the 8th century, and the Arabs ended any Chinese claims over the mountains of Kashmir and the surrounding areas. Since then no state of India or her borders have had any political relations with China.

In the early 7th century, Srong Tsan Gampo, a Tibetan King who was powerful enough to keep China’s Hun Dynasty away from the border of India, had established a very close relationship with Indian kings of the Gupta Empire. King Gampo occupied some areas previously owned by the Indian king Harsha, the then military power in the region, and in order to keep peace in the new country, married two women: a Chinese princess and a Nepalese princess. He also converted to Buddhism and imported scripts and the Indian alphabet to write their literature. This is still used in Tibet to this day.

From 660 to 700 A.D. the Hindu Lichchavis, who became the first Nepali royal family, ruled over the regions of Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim. Between the 8th to 11th centuries the Lichchavis ruled the Nepal valley and during this time, many Indian settlers emigrated to Nepal and the Sikkim area. By the end of the Malla dynasty in 1775, Prithvi Narayan Shah of Nepal occupied the whole area from Sikkim to Karnali valley in Himachal Pradesh and kept it firmly under Gorkha rule. Between 1788 and 1793 the Gorka King Rana Bahadur Shah had a confrontation with the ruling British Empire in India and as a result Nepal lost her sovereignty over Bhutan and Sikkim. The British took over these tiny kingdoms as their protectorates.

Therefore, it is beyond comprehension how China may claim the Western Tibet, Bhutan, Sikkim, Arunachol Pradesh and Aksai Chin etc. It must be understood by the Indian government that as long as India remins militarily and especially politically weak, then Chinese and Muslim invaders will keep on claiming parts of India as their land.

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