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<-Back to WTN Archives Beijing's Arunachal card
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World Tibet Network News

Published by the Canada Tibet Committee

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

1. Beijing's Arunachal card

July 28, 2003

PART I: Aksai Chin for Arunachal?

Indians are basically good people. That is the main problem!

Recently, during Prime Minister Vajpayee's trip to China, I happened to be
in France. Far away from India, I tried to analyze the reasons why India is
not doing better in international circles. Though some bureaucrats in South
Block may believe India is doing exceptionally well and will soon become a
superpower, this view is not shared in Europe. India is still too often
associated with poverty, communal tensions and at best with an exotic
culture. I will not go into the reasons for this poor image. However, during
the prime minister's visit to Beijingm something struck me anew: Why are
Indians so obsessed with being 'good' and giving so much importance to
'friendship' at any cost?

Discussing the subject with an Indian friend living in Paris, he admitted:
"It is true; we are too good-hearted, it is one of the reasons why we are
such poor negotiators."

If one looks at the issues India has been facing since Independence, one
sees a long tale of failed negotiations even when India had a stronger moral
(and often military) position than the opposite camp. The main reason behind

all these failures seems to be this genetic craving for friendship.

Take December 1947. The Kashmir issue could have been solved within a couple
of weeks had Nehru not decided, for the sake of his friendship with the
Mountbattens, to take the matter to the UN. In the fifties, for Hindi-Chini
Bhai-Bhai, 'friendship' became 'brotherhood.' After Nehru had been received
like a god in Beijing in 1954 (with more than a million people waving Indian
flags in the streets from the airport to the Great Hall of People), he
melted and chose to close his eyes to what was happening in Tibet. The
Chinese could continue to build roads towards the Indian border and cut off
a big chunk of Indian territory in Kashmir. It is not that Nehru did not
know about this. The Indian military attaché in Beijing had informed the
defence ministry of the construction of the Aksai Chin road as early as 1955
(this appears clearly in the Official Report of the 1962 war), but for the
sake of 'friendship' with Zhou Enlai, Nehru decided to keep it secret for
three more years.

I could give so many more examples: Indira Gandhi in Simla, Shastri in
Tashkent, or more recently Vajpayee's bus to Lahore, when Musharraf was
quietly planning the Kargil war; the list is long indeed.

There is another common factor to all these negotiations, on their return to
India, Indian leaders have always claimed a great victory for the country,
for sake of mutual friendship and for world peace.

Now, can we look at the Indian prime minister's visit to China through this

While most senior analysts and editors were full of praises for the rebirth
of the eternal friendship with China, on his return the prime minister was
more sober and did not use superlatives to describe his trip. He just said:
'My discussions with President Hu Jintao, Chairman Jiang Zemin, Premier Wen
Jiabao and other senior representatives of the new Chinese leadership were
most cordial and fruitful. We got the distinct message from these meetings
that China fully reciprocates our desire for mutual goodwill and for a
comprehensive expansion of cooperation in all areas.' He then just listed
the subjects discussed with the Chinese leadership.

But his foreign minister Yashwant Sinha was more upbeat: 'This was an
outstanding visit. The Chinese side said the first visit by Prime Minister
Vajpayee as foreign minister in 1979 had succeeded in breaking the ice. And
this time, they said, it has been the beginning of a new era. You could not
have asked for better atmospherics.'

With his past experience and his faster-than-expected return from China in
1979, Vajpayee is certainly wiser than his minister and the commentators who
equate the success of the visit to the number of top leaders he met or
agreements signed. Vajpayee still remembers history. After Rajiv Gandhi's
visit to the Middle Kingdom in 1988, he had intervened in the Rajya Sabha in
April 1989 to say: 'The Prime Minister [just] went to China. I went to China
in 1979, the talks were good, but during that time they attacked Vietnam and
that spoiled the whole trip. This time [Rajiv's visit] there was nothing of
the sort, I am happy about it. But how many minutes this leader's hand
remained in that leader's hand, this cannot be the touchstone of the success
of a foreign tour. Whether the prime ministers, the Presidents of two
countries address each other by their first names cannot be a criteria of
the fruitfulness of the relations.'

Let us consider some practical results of the recent visit. The topic
mentioned most often has been the opening of the trade route between India
and Tibet through Nathu-la in Sikkim. A great deal has been written and said
on the 'win-win situation' as Yashwant Sinha defined it in an interview to
the BBC's Asia Today programme.

When the interviewer asked him if this meant an admission by China over
India's claims on Sikkim, Sinha retorted: 'You can read the language for

But the issue of Sikkim is a false issue. Why in the first place should
India be bothered by China not recognizing Sikkim as part of India?

Several decades ago, the great historian Dr R C Majumdar shed light on the
traditional Chinese way of thinking and acting: 'There is, however, one
aspect of Chinese culture that is little known outside the circle of
professional historians. It is the aggressive imperialism that characterized
the politics of China throughout the course of her history, at least during
the part of which is well known to us. Thanks to the systematic recording of
historical facts by Chinese themselves -- we are in position to follow the
imperial and aggressive policy of China from the third century BC to the
present day, a period of more than 2200 years -- It is characteristic of
China that if a region once acknowledged her nominal suzerainty even for a
short period, she should regard it as a part of her empire for ever and
would automatically revive her claim over it even after a thousand years
whenever there was a chance of enforcing it.'

After the military take-over of Tibet in 1950, all the areas once ethnically
connected with Tibet became for Beijing part of the Chinese empire. Mao
used the image of the palm of the hand [Tibet] and the five fingers [Bhutan,
Sikkim, NEFA, Ladakh and Nepal]. One has to understand that it has never
cost China anything [apart from a communiqué from the Xinhua news agency] to
claim these areas as theirs. Further, the Chinese rightly thought that these
claims could be extremely useful in the future. This explains why even today
they claim Arunachal Pradesh as theirs.

An amusing incident occurred a few years ago when Gegong Apang was chief
minister of Arunachal Pradesh. He had been invited to a conference in China.
When he requested a visa from the Chinese embassy in Delhi to attend the
function, he was told he did not need a visa as he was a Chinese national!

Similarly, the Chinese have kept pending for years the issue of Sikkim so
that one day they could negotiate the opening of the trade route through
Nathu-la and the Chumbi Valley.

Way back in 1967 they had understood there was no question for them to take
Sikkim by force. That year they received what in Indian military jargon is
called a 'bloody nose.' After having threatened to occupy Sikkim during the
1965 war with Pakistan, they acted two years later and occupied Nathu-la to
cross over to India. After a few days of heavy fighting (36 Chinese were
left dead on the first day), the Chinese intruders were repelled by Indian
jawans. Beijing had no alternative but to call for a cease-fire 'to preserve
Sino-Indian friendship.'

In 1975, when Indira Gandhi took over the administration of Sikkim, the
Chinese immediately refused to accept the merger. They did not miss the
chance to have a bargaining tool for future negotiations and it worked

Today everyone is delighted about the two nations' spirit of compromise. The
'vexed issue' has been solved: India is happy because China has presumably
given up its claim over Sikkim (the Chinese denied having done it, but read
Premier Wen Jiabao's lips, says Sinha) and China is delighted to have opened
a new trade route.

Indeed, the opening of the pass is a boon for Tibet (and therefore for
China) which depended for centuries on this pass to survive.

In 1952, Zhou Enlai had told K N Panikkar, then Indian ambassador to China:
'for many years Tibet would have to depend on India for several daily
necessities and desired facilities for transportation of food supplies to
Tibet via Calcutta.'

The shortest way between China and Lhasa was via Calcutta and Nathu-la.

Soon after this meeting, Beijing requested Delhi for rice for its troops
posted in Tibet. The result was that for years the PLA soldiers building the
strategic road in Aksai Chin were fed by India through Nathu-la. This is
real friendship!

John Lall, a former dewan of Sikkim posted in Gangtok, could witness the
long caravan of mules leaving in the direction of Nathu-la. 'Suddenly all
was sweetness and light [with the Chinese], the reason became apparent when
a request was made for shipment of Chinese rice through India and Sikkim to
their troops in Tibet. This could, and indeed should, have been made the
occasion for a settlement of the major problems with China. It simply did
not occur to anyone in Delhi.' Lall's advice was brushed aside and the
supply of rice continued for years Nehru was aware of the political and
strategic implications of the trade through Nathu-la. He had written as far
back as 1952 that India wanted to keep the opening of Nathu-la as 'a
bargaining counter for negotiations for an overall settlement between China
and us. It is not advantageous to us to accept such proposals piecemeal and
yet have no general settlement [on the border issue].' Unfortunately, he
later forgot about the bargaining.

Today 50 years later, though Beijing still badly needs Nathu-la for trading
(at least till the railroad reaches Lhasa), no larger agreement has been
reached while giving away the Indian bargaining card.

Have the current bureaucrats of South Block pondered over Nehru's words
before signing the agreement to open the pass?

In an interview last year, Thupstan Chhewang, the Chairman of the Ladakh
Autonomous Hill Council, told us how much his region would gain by opening
the road between Leh and the Kailash-Mansarovar. Every year, tens of
thousands of Hindu pilgrims could have a relatively comfortable journey to
the sacred mountain. It would also be in the economic interests of the
Chinese to cater for these pilgrims. But Beijing preferred Nathu-la for its
own reasons and Delhi was not able to push its own interests forward.

Nearly a decade ago, I remember having a similar discussion with Gegong
Apang. Arunachal had been lobbying hard to open Bum-la, the main pass
between Tawang district and Tibet. It would have given a remarkable economic
boost to the state. But Arunachal's case was ignored: the Chinese preferring
to keep the NEFA card up their sleeve for the core issue: The border.

At the end of the day, while one can certainly be happy that issues such as
trade have been taken up on a grand scale by the prime minister, one can
only deeply regret that for the sake of friendship, Delhi responded first to
Beijing's interests and got very little back in the bargain.

Articles in this Issue:
  1. Beijing's Arunachal card
  2. Australia funds Chinese human rights effort

Other articles this month - WTN Index - Mail the WTN-Editors

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