By Nantoo Banerjee
India’s current border dispute with China owes its origin in 1950 when China sent its troops to Tibet taking control of the remote mountainous region that declared independence in 1913. The Chinese military further crushed a massive Buddhist uprising in Tibet in 1959. Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, fled Tibet with his close followers. He was granted asylum in India by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Angry Beijing laid claim to almost 80,000 sq km of India-controlled territory in Sikkim and protected country, Bhutan, the same year. In September 1959, Chinese premier Zhou Enlai in a letter to Pandit Nehru made a formal declaration that claimed China’s sovereignty over the Ladakh region in eastern Kashmir.
Within three years, China formally attacked India. The war lasted less than a week by which China took control of around 40,000 sq km of territory in Kashmir, called Aksai Chin, as India badly lost the war. China changed its earlier neutral stance over Kashmir and came diplomatically close to Pakistan. The very next year, in 1963, China and Pakistan reached a settlement over an area between northern Kashmir and Moslem-dominated Xinjiang region while India and China accused each other of transgressions in contested border territories. China condemned the merger of Sikkim with India in 1975. The two big Asian countries did not have top level diplomatic relations for several years. Only in 1976, India and China restored diplomatic representation to the ambassadorial status after a 15-year pause. All these are part of history, now.
Could the latest round of the Chinese military build up along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), specially in the Ladakh region, has something to do with the revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution? The constitution amendment removed the special status of Jammu & Kashmir. The provision was part of the conditions under which Maharaja Hari Singh ceded Kashmir to India in 1947. The article granted special semi-autonomous status to India-administered Kashmir. The abrogation of Article 370 upset both Pakistan and China. It made J&K and Ladakh as part and parcel of India and allowed Indians to buy property there. The state now stands bifurcated into two Union Territories — Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. J&K would have a legislature, a la Delhi. Ladakh won’t. Ladakh would be ruled directly by New Delhi. Ladakh’s new status was difficult to be digested easily by the People’s Republic of China. For long, China did not recognise Ladakh and present Arunachal Pradesh as parts of India.
Interestingly, China’s diplomacy towards India has been as inconsistent as India’s towards China. Socialist Nehru’s diplomatic romanticism towards China soon after it became the people’s republic under Chairman Mao, his ‘Indi-Chini Bhai Bhai’ campaign and Panchsheel (five principles of peaceful coexistence) Treaty, which China accepted in 1954, failed to bring the two countries closer. Even Bhimrao Ambedkar chided Nehru in Parliament on Panchsheel treaty with China after the latter’s treatment to Buddhists in Tibet. Nehru simply failed to understand China and went up to the extent of declining a US offer to India of a permanent seat in the all powerful UN Security Council. In the words of Congress leader and former UN Under-General Secretary Shashi Tharoor, Nehru “declined a US offer” to India to take a permanent seat at the UNSC in 1953. Nehru, said Tharoor in an interview in 2004, wanted China be given the seat, instead. China never quite appreciated Nehru’s unbelievable gesture.
Today, China is staunchly against any expansion of the UNSC and India’s permanent membership in the UN body. However, it must be noted that China maintained a ‘blow hot, blow cold’ relationship with India over the years, depending on its own national interest. For instance, during the best part of 1980s, China took a neutral stance on the Kashmir dispute although in 1986, Beijing condemned and disputed New Delhi’s proclamation of Arunachal Pradesh as a state. During 1990s and 2000s India and China were engaged in several dispute resolution mechanisms as well as confidence-building measures pertaining to border issues. China even took a neutral stance over the war between India and Pakistan in Kargil. During the next decade, as India got closer to the US, China changed its position once again at the UN and other international forums to support Pakistan against India. China announced a massive investment of over $50 billion for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.
Regarding India’s currently growing border tension with China, the Indian foreign ministry seems to have failed to convince China to accept the LAC and help erase China’s hazy historical concept and approach on the territorial demarcation between the two countries. Even before Communist-ruled China, under Chairman Mao Zedong, taking control of the world’s third biggest country by geographical size, in October 1949, the Chinese rulers did not accept that Ladakh was part of India. The nationalist Kuomintang government of the pre-1949 Republic of China had repeatedly contested the British drawings of boundaries in the region, including the famous McMohan Line (1914) between the borders of Tibet and India.
While independent India recognised the McMohan Line as its international boundary with China, Beijing refused to accept the lines drawn by the British colonial power, asserting that it was not signatories to the British treaties. Unfortunately, this has been at the root of the India-China border dispute over the 4,000-km-plus-long Line of Actual Control. However, it would be grossly wrong on the part of Beijing to conveniently craft a new border line with India on the basis of its centuries-old prejudiced perceptions. The LAC provides the best solution to India-China border dispute if the two Asian powers struly wish to end military tension in the region and grow. Until China accepts the reality, the war-like situation along the LAC will continue. (IPA Service)