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M.L. Sondhi




At the time of writing, there is a lot of speculation about Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s likely visit to China before the end of 1988.  It is difficult to say whether the visit, at the instance of China, will take place or not.  But if it does, then it is going to be the first by an Indian prime minister since Jawaharlal Nehru went to China in 1954.

We are aware, Rajiv Gandhi has accepted the Chinese invitation “in principle” and China is “looking forward” to the PM’s visit, which in particular is expected to upgrade the vexed Sino-Indian border question from the official to the political level.  So far eight rounds of official level border talks, held alternately in New Delhi and Beijing, have not taken the two countries very far in coming to a satisfactory solution.  And there is no guarantee that a break through on this can be reached if Rajiv Gandhi, or for that matter, any future prime minister were to visit China.  It has been suggested by all the right-thinking people that before making such an important, albeit risky visit, a lot of home work needs to be done.

The Public Sentiment

A section of the Indian intelligentia and officials at South Block are in favour of an early visit to China by Rajiv Gandhi to resolve the border question and further improve Sino-Indian relations.  On the other hand, there are others who prefer that India move cautiously while dealing with China and hence would find a visit to China by Rajiv Gandhi at this stage untimely.  But the publics at large in India and China, it seems, are not certain of what this “Sino-Indian border dispute” is all about and the implication of the talks taking place between the world’s two most populated countries.

In the course of high-level meetings and in the press, both sides have gone on record pledging to “take into consideration” the wishes of the people of their respective countries while resolving the border problem. With reference to an early settlement of the Sino-Tibetan border dispute, PTI on April 2, 1988, reporting from Beijing, quoted the Chinese Communist Party leader, Mr. Zhao Ziyang, as having told a visiting Communist Party of India (CPI) delegation that ‘The history and present status, as well as the national sentiments of the two peoples should be taken into account and the question should be settled through mutual understanding and accommodation and friendly consultation.”

The Indian regard for public opinion can be gauged from the statements made by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.  The Times of India on April 20, 1988, reported Rajiv Gandhi, speaking on the complex border question, as having told the Lok Sabha, “We need to keep in mind the national sentiments in both countries while we talk of a long-term settlement”.

Let’s hope that so far as the settlement of the border dispute between India and China is concerned, both sides will remain true to their words of respecting the public sentiment.  Ironically, in china, there is no such thing as public opinion.  Everything is decided by the Communist Party boses.

 What is the Sino-Indian Border all About?

Prior to Communist China’s invasion of Tibet in 1950, there was no reference to any border problem between India and its neighbours.  India than had a common border with Tibet to the north, known as the Indo-Tibetan border.  The fact is that the much talked-about Sino-Indian border came into being only after Tibet was forcibly deprived of its buffer status between India and China.  But for the Chinese occupation of Tibet, the Indo-Tibetan border for thousands of years was considered one of the most peaceful and secure borders in the world.  Today, the once peaceful Indo-Tibetan border is commonly referred to as the “disputed Sino-Indian border”.

The McMahon Line

The McMohan Line which borders India and Tibet (now China) to the east is supposedly the main bone of contention between the two countries.  It came into being as a result of the 1914 tri-partite Conference held in Simla.  India, between the plenipotentiaries of British-India, Tibet and China.  Tibet was then an independent country with whose plenipotentiaries China agreed to talk and do business.  However, today China maintains the McMahon Line signed between India and Tibet, is “illegal” and a work of “foreign imperialists”.  In other words, it refuses to acknowledge the then treaty-making powers of Tibet with other foreign countries – a fact which makes China extremely uncomfortable.

India, on the other hand, has straddled herself with an anomalous position – sticking to the validity of the McMahon Line while at the same time recognising Tibet as “a part of China”.

The Border Problem

 India faces China in Tibet on several fronts.  The Sino-Indian border, as it now known, can be divided into three sectors:

1.                   The Western Sector, i.e. Ladakh

2.                   The Middle Sector, i.e. Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh

3.                   The Eastern Sector, i.e. Arunachal Pradesh

On October 6, 1957 in the Western Sector of the Sino-Indian border, China opened the Sinkiang-Tibet highway which runs through the Indian territory of Aksai Chin.  With this China is in illegal occupation of 14,500 sq. miles of Indian territory in Ladakh.  The Chinese operation of this road has great strategic value.

The Chinese intent in the Middle Sector, is however, limited to 500 sq. Miles of the Indian territory.  But what matters to us here is the location of our holy pilgrimage places of Kailash and Mansarovar in Tibet.

In the Eastern Sector, China lays claim to 33000 sq. miles in Arunachal Pradesh.  (This is a clever ploy on the part of China to bargain against its occupation of Aksai Chin).  China bases its claim on the “illegality” of the McMahon Line.

Keeping the above reality in view, there is no escaping the fact that in the course of the border negotiations with China, India is going to be at a disadvantage. Any loss of face cannot be tolerated by the Indian people.  A settlement of the border issue is not likely to secure the safety of India from the Chinese military position and missiles in Tibet.  There have been confirmed reports of Chinese missiles in Tibet targeted at important cities of India and the Soviet Union.  (See Part II for a detailed account)

Settlement of the Border

To come to a settlement of this complex border problem, the Indian intelligentia and officials at the South Block have been suggesting a package deal whereby India would surrender aksai Chin to China, in return for the latter’s recognition of the McMahon Line.  It may be recalled that Aksai Chin is China’s lifeline in Tibet.  Without this road, it would be difficult for China to maintain her hold over Tibet.  Aksai Chin therefore is too precious for china to barter away across the table.  However, even if it does, China will surely ask for some changes in her favour, such as, certain strategic locations and areas in Arunachal Pradesh.  From the Indian side, this would be unacceptable.

To repeat eight rounds of border talks between India and China since 1981 have so far not achieved anything substantial.  Each side has been trying to insist on its own approach:  India’s that of sector by sector, China’s that of a package deal.  The Indian contention is that the borders have been well-defined by treaty and custom with McMahon Line as the established boundary in the east.

The Chinese package deal as earlier announced by Deng Xiaoping and recently elaborated by the Chinese vice-Premier, Wu Xueqian to a visiting delegation of the Press Trust of India to China, means the exchange of areas on the basis of “mutual understanding and mutual accommodation”.  It indicates China is willing to give up its claims in the east in return for what is held in the Western Sector.  The other point made by the Chinese Vice-Premier was that the McMahon Line cannot be the basis of negotiations i.e. a complete contradiction of the Indian position.  It must be noted that the phrase “mutual understanding and mutual accommodation” are the usual Chinese ways of suggesting that only territorial concessions from India could lead to a solution of the boundary question.

It is a matter of shame that in India there is no dearth of publicity for the Chinese point of view on the border issue.  China’s positions are spelt out wittingly or unwittingly by China lobbyists, and some opportunistic journalists, who have spent a few days in China feted at the latter’s expense.  More recently, there has been a stream of propaganda regarding China’s stand on the border, thanks to statements by the delegations of the Congress (I) CPI(M), CPI, the Forward Bloc, etc. on their return from Beijing. 

Normalisation of the Border Question

Both India and China have been constantly voicing their desire to live in peace and harmony.  But mere recitation of sweet-sounding words will not help.  The Chinese military build-up in Tibet is a source of great concern to the stability and security of India.  The process of normalisation of relations between New Delhi and Beijing must be seen in terms of the future peace and stability of Asia and not as a measure for achieving short term gains which will merely permit China to increase its bargaining the price.

India must adopt a flexible attitude and carry on with the promotion of Indo-Chinese relations.  However, a rapproachment with China does not mean a surrender on matters which have a direct bearing on the country’s long-term interests and security.  It must be realised that India has a lot to gain if Tibet were to be restored to its earlier status of a buffer state.  This done, the Sino-Indian border problem will automatically cease to exist.

Demilitarisation of Tibet – a Viable solution

Today’s India is not the India of ’62.  We still have to further gear up our defence preparedness.  We cannot surrender Aksai Chin or any of our territories to China.  The Parliament in 1962 had passed a strongly worded and unanimous resolution to this effect.  Also China must not be given the liberty to enjoy the fruits of her aggression.  Giving up Aksai Chin to China, as sometimes suggested by a few so-called policy analysists and strategists, would be like compromising our position in the Siachen Glacier and other similar situations in the neighbourhood.  Likewise, Aksai Chin can not be bartered against the McMahon Line – one does not give away one’s left hand in preference to one’s right.  Instead, China must be made to realise that its very existence in Tibet is based on India’s goodwill.

If a favourable long-term solution to the border problem cannot be reached in the near future, there is no need for India to rush matters.  A solution to the border problem alone cannot reduce the tension from the Chinese military threat to Indian territories.  Nor will a patchwork treaty help India to reduce her expenditure on defence.  The only viable solution, as suggested by many experts, having first-hand experience of our frontier regions and China’s military strategy, is to support the demilitarisation of Tibet.  This must be seen in the light of the imminent threat India faces from the Chinese armed forces in Tibet.

Demilitarisation of Tibet would not mean a total loss of Chinese control over Tibet.  It would mean withdrawal of Chinese military forces leading to a corresponding withdrawal of Indian forces to such a degree as to defuse tension in the Indian Himalayas.  In other words, China can keep a limited number of its forces in Tibet to maintain its control over their region, but not so much as to endanger India.  In the light of this, the Dalai Lama’s recent proposal on the future status of Tibet, as spelt out to members of the European Parliament at Strasbourg, France, deserves India’s whole-hearted sympathy and support.  In a nutshell, the Dalai Lama’s declaration of Tibet as a Zone of Peace and a demilitarised region is I the best interest of India and its people.

The Indian Psyche and the 1962 Sino-Indian War.

The October 25, 1950 Radio Beijing announcement of Communist China’s intention of “liberating Tibet” had caused great concern and alarm to India and other peace-loving nations.  The government of India bearing in the mind its special obligation and rights in Tibet, had advised the Beijing government against its decision to forcefully invade Tibet.  Likewise, the people of India at large and the political parties, both in and out of parliament, strongly condemned the Chinese aggression.  Though China was regarded as a friend of India, Tibet had a special place in the hearts of the people of India because of its ancient and intimate relations with that country.  This feeling is also shared by the Tibetan people who look upon India as the land of Buddha and the source of their now endangered civilisation and culture.

The people of India cannot easily forget the 1962 Chinese assault on India and that too at the height of the “Hindi-Chini bhai, bhai” period.  The lesson which India and its people learnt was never to trust the Chinese smile.  This single incident was enough to hurt the Indian national psyche beyond repair.  Jawaharlal Nehru never recovered from the shock, and India lost hr position of eminence in world affairs.  The aggression committed on India by China was a glaring example of its flagrant violation of international norms.  Still large chunks of our territory are under the illegal occupation of China.    

Cartographical Aggression

The maps officially published by China do not make a secret of its expansionist policy.  They show large parts of India and other neighbouring countries as belonging to China.  Even Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir are separately marked off from India in these maps.  Coupled with this, China is spreading disinformation in the world about India and allied subjects to get legitimacy for its point of view.

Chinese Intrusion into Arunachal Pradesh

To make matters worse, China has been clandestinely rendering both moral and practical support to most of the insurgent and Naxalite groups in different parts of India, especially in the north-east.  A number of these have also received their training in Tibet at the hand of Chinese military officers.  There is now a growing suspicion of China’s involvement in the troubled state of Punjab and the West Bengal district of Darjeeling.  A large cache of AK-47 Chinese assault riffles and other Chinese – made arms and ammunition have been unearthed from people involved in the anti-national movements currently going in these places.  Concern about the terrorists use of AK-47 Chinese assault riffles have been also expressed in parliament in the recent past.

Learning from History

India evidently has a lot to learn from its past history and misfortunes in dealing with China.  From Maoism to present day Dengism the Chinese policy of military and territorial expansionism is unchanged.  Therefore, the current Indian move to placate China is bound to backfire.  The people of India obviously have a lot of reservations about China.  But the Indian government displays a lack of confidence in facing the challenges variously posed by China, although it is ready to hit out at Pakistan at the slightest opportunity.  This is a most unfortunate and unprincipled stand – something akin to India’s open support to the cause of the peoples of South Africa, Namibia and Palestine, but indifference to the plight of the people of neighbouring Tibet.

It needs no saying that inspite of some recent changes, there has been a widening gap between the nation’s sentiments and the government’s China policy vis--vis the complex border issue.  All the moves by the government and its agents seem to be predominated by regional, factional and personal factors.  No democratic government can afford to ignore the people, more so on an issue which requires an all-out effort and complete national consensus and unity.  The time has come for parliamentarians and other representatives of the people to judge the historical and strategic importance as well as the present reality of the border dispute between India and China (Tibet) so as to safeguard India’s long-term national interests and security, and also to ensure peace in the Asian continent.


China’s Military Build-up a Threat to World Peace

China’s rapid militarization and nuclear weapons build-up to catch up with the US-Soviet level is a dangerous trend which threatens the balance of forces in the world.  China is not only feverishly modernising her military arsenal but also exports these deadly weapons to Third World countries, helping to destabilise the peace in these regions.

At present China’s armoured forces are among the world’s largest in terms of the number of tanks, and have powerful fire and attack capabilities.  Though China reduced its armed forces to 4.1 million personnel in 1984, it still ranks second only to the USSR.  The armoured forces were equipped with 20 varieties of vehicles, including amphibious tanks, light tanks, designed for operations in mountainous areas, command tanks, armoured carriers, bridging tanks, mine sweeping tanks, repair vehicles and self-propelled anti-aircraft guns.

It also has self-propelled rocket launchers, anti-tank vehicles, communication command vehicles, rescue and traction vehicles, repair vehicles and tank carriers.  To modernise and build up their military forces, China bought US military equipment worth $50s million in 1987.

Although the Chinese leaders repeatedly claim that their nuclear industry today is almost completely involved in a wide range of research and development projects for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.  Observers have no doubt that China’s efforts are exclusively directed towards the accomplishment of its military objectives.  According to Soviet experts, China ranks third among the nuclear powers and its advanced missile force will have global strategic significance, giving it the capability to respond to any kind of nuclear strike.

Over the past three decades, China has conducted 34 nuclear explosive tests.  Testing procedures have utilised tower devices, aircraft-drop, guided missiles and underground facilities.  Analysis of variously reported weapon-grade nuclear material production and order of battle estimates for missiles, aircraft and submarine launch platforms, suggests that China would presently have an inventory of about 1,245 fission and fusion weapons.  These weapons can be variously deployed by a series of launch platforms.  Warhead boosters include short range, medium range, intermediate range and intercontinental range – limited, full and extended, submarine launch – ballistic missile system.  Of particular interest are the newly operational three stage CSS-5 extended range multiple independent re-entry vehicle (MIRV), ICBM capable of reaching Antarctica; the single stage, solid fuel, MIRV, Mod-CSS-2 IRBM and the liquid fuelled CSS-2/3 IRBM/ICBM systems, and the CSS-N-3 two-stage solid fuel SLBM.

Arms Merchant

China is marching firmly ahead as the newest and the most aggressive of the world’s arms merchants.  In recent years, Beijing has sold an array of weapons to Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, North Korea, Pakistan, Thailand and the Afghan guerrillas.  From 1984-1987 the Chinese wrote the orders for an estimated $5.2 billion in arms sale to the Third World.  Now China has become the fourth largest supplier of arms to the Third World.

In the Middle East, ballistic missiles such as the M-9 sold by China are particularly destabilising weapons, easily capable of being re-fitted to carry poisonous gas or, given the technological know-how, nuclear warheads.

China also sells its version of the soviet-designed T-59, the T-69, complete with an Israeli-supplied 105 mm gun.  China’s Silkworm missile shipment to Iran and sale of DF-3 missiles, which have a range of 2,700 kilometres, to Saudi Arabia is too grave a matter to be ignored.  China is also selling CSS-2 class surface-to-surface missiles in their most advanced form with a range of about 2200 miles to Saudi Arabia.

Recently the US Secretary of State, Mr. George Shultz, has criticised China for building and selling the same missiles which Washington and Moscow have agreed to destroy.  He said, “There is an irony in that.  Just as we are eliminating nuclear-armed ballistic missiles in the range of 500 to 5000 km., the Chinese are producing exactly those weapons”.

So great is the level of international concern over such weapons that last year the Western powers and Japan agreed to embargo sales of ballistic-missile technologies – an idea the Soviet Union endorsed for the first time at the Moscow summit in May.

Arms sales have proven a lucrative trade for China.  The proceeds from these sales have been a wind-fall for the generals and admirals charged with modernising the PLA’s huge arsenal.  The profits of the arms sales are being used to revamp their own arsenal and to create a mobile, high-tech, professionally led force.  But with each new missile sale the Chinese make the world a riskier place.

Quest for Regional Power

China’s arms dealings also further its geopolitical ambitions in a number of ways.  The sales help to offset Soviet and US influence in the Third World, especially in the Middle East.  China’s ultimate ambition is to become a regional power and eventually a superpower.  At a time when US power seems to be ebbing, the Chinese are gearing themselves up to fill whatever vacuum may occur in Asia.  China’s leaders remain convinced that a better army will enable them to achieve regional pre-eminence.  It may have been a sign of things to come when China intruded into the Sumdorong Chu Valley in Arunachal Pradesh last year and when the Chinese navy sank three Vietnamese freighters and built permanent installations in the disputed Spratly Archipelego in the south China Sea last March.

Sino-Pak Axis

Sino-Pak military axis has been a serious concern to India.  Sino-Pak alliance goes back to 1963, when Pakistan and China signed a border agreement, by means of which Islamabad bartered away 2,100 square miles of illegally occupied Indian territory in Kashmir.

The 640-km long all-weather Karakoram highway, connecting China’s Sinkiang province with Gilgit, through the Kunjerab Pass, is a product of Sino-Pak friendship.  Since then Chinese arms began to flow into Pakistan and later the two countries decided on nuclear co-operation.

China’s own nuclear development owe much to Pakistan.  Their distrust of the Soviet Union make them natural allies.  From Pakistan china has received modern Soviet tanks, helicopters and other hardware captured in Afghanistan.  Western arms traders in Beijing believe that Pakistan has also provided the PLA with several of its air Force French-made Exocet guided missiles which the Chinese engineers have been able to copy.  In addition, the Pakistan connection also give the PLA access to Western technology.

Pakistan on the other hand is acquiring 150 Chinese built F-7M fighter aircraft fitted with new Western-made engines and American avionics.  Moreover, considerable progress has been made towards co-production of advanced trained aircraft in collaboration with China.  It is also to be noted with grave concern that if China can sell its Silkworm missiles to Iran and CSS-2 class surface-to-surface missiles to Saudi Arabia, there is no reason why China cannot transfer these missiles to Pakistan also.

Another important security concern to India is that Pakistan has been building up her nuclear capability with the help of the Chinese.  According to US intelligence in 1984-1985, China gave Pakistan its design of the nuclear warhead which it had used in its fourth test and there were reasons to suspect that the Chinese conducted one of the Pakistan nuclear tests at their Lop Nor site.

Heobic Smith, in New York Times of March 6, 1988, wrote “American experts believe that Pakistanis do not need to test an actual bomb.  Sometimes during the early 1980’s, they say, two Chinese gave the Pakistanis a reliable, tested bomb design, in exchange for Pakistan’s sharing its modern uranium enriching technology.  During the last several year, Chinese scientists have reportedly visited or worked off and on at Pakistan’s Kahuta facility.  The Chinese design, American officials say, enables Pakistan to produce a much more sophisticated atomic bomb than the crude five-ton dropped on Hiroshima”.

China’s Military Build-up in Tibet

Militarisation of Tibet by China has a direct bearing on India’s security.  The Chinese have stationed half a million of its troops in Tibet.  Sizeable garrisons exist in each military district together with concentration of troops on the border areas with a network of military roads.  The Chinese now have nine military airfields, about fifteen radar stations and three nuclear bases in Tibet.  Until 1950, the 3200 km. long Indo-Tibetan border had the occasional border policemen.  Now it teems with hundreds of thousands of troops on both sides as India had to respond to Chinese presence.

What causes alarm is that China has finalised elaborate plans to deploy more nuclear missiles in Amdo and Gomo in addition to more than 100 nuclear-tipped missiles with range between 800-1750 miles already stationed in different parts of Tibet.  A Hong Kong newspaper, Shin Bao reported that China had deployed 80 MRBMs (with range upto 800 miles) and 20 IRBMs (with range between 1500-1750 miles) at Nagchu, 320 km. north of Lhasa Jane’s Weapons systems, the authoritative British publication, reported that the Chinese MRBMs deployed in Tibet have a range of upto 2,485 kilometres.  The Nagchu base is being further modernised in order to facilitate deployment of more sophisticated nuclear missiles which would be able to bring within their range more cities and vital targets in India and also in other countries of South and South-East Asia.  China had also developed some scores of ballistic missiles, both of medium and intermediate range, in the mountainous caves and valleys of Tibet.

Improvement of Sino-US relations has also helped China to buy more sophisticated modern weapons from the US.  For the last few years the Chinese have been using American-made Sikorsky helicopters for the transportation of military supplies into Tibet. 

China is a belligerent expansionist power that will not hesitate to use any means at its disposal to threaten its enemies, especially those in its immediate neighbourhood.  In order to threaten India, the Chinese need only activate the land-based missiles presently based in Tibet.

Should Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visit China?

In view of the historical, military and political background as so far understood, one may well ask what purpose is to be served by the visit of a Prime Minister of India to the capital of a country which holds vast portions of Indian territory under its illegal occupation.  There has been a thaw in Sino-India relations for some time, trade has increased, cultural and academic exchanges have taken place and continue to do so, politicians and journalists freely visit the Forbidden City.  Eight rounds of border talks have taken place, and even though in fructuous, they are evidence of a willingness on both sides to solve their disputes amicably – although the Sumdorong Chu intrusion was not so amicable.  South Block has given no hint that the talks have improved to such an extent that all is ready for the final and summit meeting between heads of states.  Rather one gets the impression that all is still at square one, in which case it is against the norms of all international diplomacy as hitherto practised, for Prime Ministers to start bargaining with one another where their bureaucrats have failed.  Even up-gradation from bureaucratic to political talks does not entail the Prime Ministers at first go: there are various categories of political leaders, both inside and outside the government, inside and outside the Foreign Ministry, who can be utilised for this work.

Rajiv Gandhi unfortunately seems determined to go, as per the statements he has given in Spain and other foreign countries.  Our Prime Minister unfortunately has an accord-monis.  Some of his hastily cobbled together accords, to serve some immediate political goal, have proved disastrous in the not-so long run, and there is no evidence that the Beijing visit is preceded by enough homework.  When Kissinger made his first dramatic entry into China, he arrived with twenty possible alternate scenarios.  From what the public can see, in our case, it is only Beijing which is dictating the scenarios.

Chinese emphasis on “mutual understanding and mutual accommodation” as the basis for a settlement, which is so fervently quoted in this country as evidence of new spirit of conciliation is misleading.  Mr. Zhao Ziyang used exactly the same words in 1983 without any softening of China’s position at the negotiating table.  “Mutual understanding and mutual accommodation” to the Chinese only means territorial concessions on the part of India.

There is certainly need for a bold initiative to improve understanding between India and China but not at the cot of national interest.  Before the Prime Minister’s visit to China a proper atmosphere should be created for fruitful talks.  The holding of more than 40,000 sq. miles of Indian territory, non acceptance of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh as part of India and recognition of Kashmir as a separate region by China are the main obstacles that should be tackled first.  India should make these issues pro-conditions for a summit.

When Mikhal Gorbachev proposed a summit the Chinese leadership bluntly replied that it would be “unrealistic to hold such talks whilst the obstacles remain”.  They demanded the withdrawal of soviet troops from Afghanistan and Mongolia and Vietnamese troops from Kampuchea as pre-conditions.  None of these territories form part of China.  Why should India hesitate with regard to her own territories?

In 1983 Zhao Ziyang told the National People’s Congress that the border problem “should not stand in the way of improving relations”.  But when India granted statehood to Arunachal Pradesh and the prime Minister subsequently visited the state China strongly protested.  When India objected to the Chinese intrusion into the Sumdorong chu Valley, the Chinese denounced it as being “not conducive to successful talks”.  Heads I win, tails you lose!

The Chinese have also created confusion on upgrading the talks to political level.  The government of India has made us believe that the request for raising the level came from the Chinese, but Chitta Basu and the all India Forward Bloc delegation were told that Beijing would agree to raise the talks to “a higher political level” only if the government of India made a specific suggestion to that effect”.  The implication is that India is desperate in solving the border dispute than China.

Given therefore this highly unsatisfactory background, one can only come to the conclusion that either in response to the Chinese military position in Tibet, its nuclear superiority, or in view of short-term gains for the party in power due to an ‘international accord’, or due to succumbing to international pressure to ‘make up with China’ which is not inconsiderable, or probably as a mixture of all three combined with the personal ambitions of individual bureaucrats, the Prime Minister of India is about to undertake as craven and abject a journey to a foreign capital as Prime Minister Chamberlain did to Hitler in Munich.  It was after Munich that the international community realised that appeasement was not only a dirty word, but dangerous policy.  As defined by the Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thoughts, “the word (appeasement) was applied to the (unsuccessful) policy pursued by the British and French governments of trying to avoid war with Germany by injudicious, frequently dishonourable, and inevitably unrequited concessions, weakening to those who made them and often made at the expense of third parties.”

Hitler was better armed than her European neighbours – they could not buy him off with peace accords but were driven into one of the bloodiest wars of the twentieth century.  At the moment China although in a superior position with regard to nuclear armaments, is still not so with regard to conventional warfare.  Her advantageous position at the height is more than offset by the rebellious and unreliable Tibetan population in her hinterland, no longer cowed down by Chinese brutality, and encouraged by worldwide concern for human rights violations in their lands.  India has time on her side while the Chinese are caught in the Tibetan imbroglio to improve her military and diplomatic positions.  An over-hasty accord at this stage would unnecessarily foreclose all our options.

There may indeed come a stage at some future date when the Prime Ministers of both countries may need to meet.  We can learn a few lessons from the superpowers.  They had endless rounds of preparatory talks before the leaders started meeting with prescribed agendas in third countries – and only when a sufficient atmosphere of trust had been created, did they risk visits to one another’s capitals.  India and china are nowhere near that stage.

Finally, the present prime minister is handicapped in a particular way from acting as a bargaining representative for India where such momentous issues are involved.  When Nixon was under the cloud of Watergate, serious objection was raised in sections of American public opinion as to his ability to represent the USA abroad – a man under a cloud is vulnerable to blackmail.  It would be folly and irresponsibility of the highest order to place Rajiv Gandhi in the trap of the ruthless Chinese.

Tibet – India’s Diplomatic Trump Card

Pandit Nehru believed that friendship with China would guarantee India’s security.  Nehru signed the treaty of 1954 with China on Tibet without securing anything for India.  China meanwhile started pouring tremendous arms and ammunition into Tibet.  In 1959, the Chinese Premier Chou en-Lai questioned the entire India-China boundary.  He rejected the McMahon Line and laid claims to 90,000 sq. km. of Indian territory in NEFA (Arunachal Pradesh) as also to Aksai Chin in Ladakh.  Events ultimately led to the Chinese aggression in October 1962.  Since then no substantial progress has been made in Sino-Indian relations.   

Outright appeasement and sacrificing the interests of the Tibetan people have not bought peace and tranquillity in the Himalayas for the last thirty years or so.  India’s conciliatory attitude has made China more aggressive and demanding.  To negotiate with China from a position of strength India can play the Tibet card – support the legitimate rights of theTibetean people and press China to accept the Dalai Lama’s proposal to make Tibet “a self-governing democratic entity” in association with China as one of the pre-conditions for a summit.

This will not amount to India’s interference in China’s internal affairs.  The British and successor Indian Governments initially declared their willingness to recognise China’s suzerainty over Tibet on the condition that China agreed to the terms of the Simla Convention: most specifically, that she recognise and respect Tibet’s full autonomy. Moreover, India’s policy was, to a large extent, formulated on the basis of assurances which the Government of China gave the government of India regarding the maintenance of Tibet’s autonomy and the peaceful resolution of differences. 

The Chinese have acted in complete contravention of those assurances, they have violated the autonomy of Tibet, causing untold harm and suffering to the Tibetan people and resulting in the death of 1.2 million Tibetans and destruction of almost all their cultural and religious heritage.

Although some improvements in the economic situation of theTibetans in Tibet has taken place since 1978, it has become apparent that the Chinese Government has no intention of restoring any meaningful measure of autonomy to Tibet or otherwise resolve the question of Tibet to the satisfaction of the Tibetan people.  A massive Chinese population transfer into Tibet has already reduced the Tibetans to a minority in their own country.

The recent demonstrations in Tibet and brutal repression by the Chinese clearly show that all is not well on the roof of the world.  Moreover, the blunt rejection of the Dalai Lama’s conciliatory peace plan by the Chinese shows that they have no intention of modifying their stand on the question of the status of Tibet.

The Government of India, after showing restraint and patience for over thirty years, with the hope of achieving a peaceful and just resolution of the Tibetan question, should now realise that over-accommodation to Chinese interest conflicts with her own.  India is entitled to withdraw her recognition of Chinese sovereignty over Tibet, for this recognition was conditional on China’s respect for Tibetan autonomy and adherence to the assurances given to the Government of India.

The Government would also not be acting in violation of treaty obligations with China.  The 1954 Sino-Indian agreement on trade and commercial relations, which referred to Tibet as a “region of China” and which recognised China’s responsibility for Tibet’s foreign relations, expired in June 1962.  Furthermore, China violated the agreement including the fundamental principle of Peaceful Co-existence embodied in the Preamble.  By attacking India in 1962, china violated all agreements, understandings, and assurances which formed the basis of Sino-Indian relations, and by not returning the illegally acquired territories to India, the government of China is persisting in its violation of India’s territorial integrity and independence.

Given China’s vulnerable political presence in Tibet, and her extreme sensitivity to international public opinion on that score, India’s support for the cause of the Tibetan people might well pressure the Chinese to come to terms with the Tibetans and also with India over the boundary question.  Relations with China have not improved in any way in the past by India’s attitude of appeasement at the expense of Tibet’s rights.  The only way those relations will improve, is if the Tibetan question is resolved to the satisfaction of the Tibetan and Indian people.
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