Foreign policy, Defence and Intelligence
China was a much smaller country in the Ming dynasty (up to 1644), consisting of only 18 provinces south of the Great Wall. The Ming dynasty was overthrown by the Manchus (from Manchuria) who were considered aliens by the native Hans. The Manchus captured Tibet, Manchuria, Mangolia, Korea, and Turkestan(Sinkiang), and established what the Chinese now call their territory.
India, on the other hand, was a loosely organized country with several kingdoms, without having the notion of geographical unity but strong cultural ties. The British Empire brought the country geographically together but the difference in the two empires was that India did not cling on to all territories of the British empire like Burma, the protectorates of Nepal and Bhutan etc
The Manchus ruled from 1644 to 1912 when they were overthrown by forces led by Gen.Chiang kai-Shek. The Nationalist Government proclaimed that all territories under the Manchu rule were Chinese territories. However, the XIII Dalai Lama who was in exile in British India returned to Tibet once the Manchus were overthrown and declared Tibet to be independent. The British had already started negotiating with the Tibetans and the Chinese (Shimla Convention – 1906) to demarcate the boundary between the British India and Tibet. Tibet hoped to get the British to delineate the Tibet-China boundary but the British were only interested in their imperial interests. Once the rulers in China changed in 1912, the talks continued with the new rulers. In1914, the McMahon line was drawn up to demarcate the Sino-Indian border but the Chinese after initialing the maps refused to sign the agreement; it was signed by British and Tibetan representatives. The line remained on the map and not on the ground. This was the beginning of the present trouble.
On gaining Independence, India accepted all the treaty obligations of the British; it accepted Chinese suzerainty over Tibet as also the McMahon line. China, on the other hand, after the Communist revolution in 1949, became more aggressive and started laying claims to the old imperial Chinese territories. It rejected Tibetan autonomy and any rights of Tibetans to sign any treaties. India had to withdraw its Political Agency from Lhasa and sign an agreement (1954) based on “mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity —peaceful coexistence” etc which came to be known as the Panch Sheel. Some scholars describe this as “while saving the peace of the world, we sacrificed an unarmed neighbour and our own vital interests”. The British had used the concept of ‘Inner Line’ in Nagaland to define the area of Deputy Commissioner’s Administrative authority. The area beyond the ‘Inner Line’ was left to the control of the tribals. The same strategy was used in NEFA; the ‘Inner Line’ was on the southern Himalayan foothills, south of Tawang. The Chinese took advantage of this Administrative arrangement to argue that this was the geographical boundary of India. To date this is the bone of contention.
Dreams vs Reality
With the international acclaim of the Panch Sheel, Pandit Nehru genuinely believed that there was no border dispute between India and China and that McMahon line was accepted by China. He ignores several intrusions in Ladakh and kept the Parliament unaware of construction of Tibet-Sinkiang road through Ladakh. By 1959, it became clear that China was unwillingness to accept any existing border between Tibet and India. He wrote to Chou en Lai but was greeted with platitudes about “mutual understanding and mutual accommodation” (MUMA). He ultimately decided to go ahead with his often criticized ‘forward policy’ establishing check posts on the border as per the McMahon line. This led to 1962. It only proved that good intentions and brotherhood do not make a good foreign or defence policy.
It was only Vallabhbhai Patel who in his statesman like vision envisaged, after the Communist revolution in China, that all international agreements with China were in the melting pot and India would have to be careful in redrawing all treaties and agreements with Tibet. After his death, there was nobody who could warn Nehru so bluntly. Our Ambassador to China, K.M.Pannikar, in fact saw no danger when the Chinese army marched in to Tibet and overturned the Tibetan autonomy. All these follies got compounded when the Chinese attacked Ladakh and NEFA to humiliate the Indian Army in a one-sided battle. India was militarily unprepared as it never expected China to breach Panch Sheel. The Army blames Nehru/Mallik’s ‘Forward Policy’ for the Chinese offensive. Defence experts even in India hold that India provoked China to retaliate by opening the border check posts. It is not understood that the entire Chinese argument was that the Indians had never controlled the area it claimed; its administrative presence was barely beyond the ‘Inner Line’. The Indian administration had reached the district headquarters at the most. It was decided by Nehru that Indian presence had to be registered up to the borders claimed by India. Since the Army found the border posts indefensible, Nehru was helpless. B.N. Mallik, IB Chief, then offered to take up the job as a matter of supreme sacrifice and untrained young IB officers were asked to climb mountains and establish Indian presence where it did not exist till 1959. The forward move from 1959 to 1962 led to the Chinese attack. It was not the job of the IB to man check posts although border intelligence was its task. Surprisingly the Chinese withdrew unilaterally from areas conquered by them and claimed to be their territory. It teaches a lesson to us about the Chinese strategy. China does not want to conquer territory by force; it believes in getting the enemy to surrender. Sun Tzu, Chinese General (100 BC) says, “Supreme Victory is not in defeating the enemy in war but in making him surrender without fighting”. China will keep India engaged in talks till India is exhausted and extends the hand of cooperation.
For nearly 20 years after 1962, there was no interaction between the two countries over the border issue. In 1980, China made a suggestion known as the ‘Deng Package’ where it was suggested that the two countries could freeze the status quo. This was wrongly interpreted to mean that China was willing to forget the Eastern border (NEFA) if India agreed to accept the position in Ladakh. There was no clarity on what Deng had offered. The snag came when China claimed that the status quo would be pre-1957, before India started establishing its forward posts but post-Chinese occupation of Ladakh. Narasimha Rao rejected this proposal although many intellectuals in India thought that it was a good opportunity lost. They did not understand the Chinese habit of not yielding any ground. The grant of statehood to Arunachal Pradesh in 1987 reignited the Chinese ire. The Chinese started rejecting visas to people from that state and claimed that the whole of Arunachal Pradesh belonged to them.
The Chinese have stuck to MUMA all the time without explaining what they mean by mutual accommodation. Now we are gong through the process of endless negotiation with meetings at various levels. Apart from a lot of joint statements, nothing has been achieved and the Chinese keep blowing hot and cold through occasional intrusions just to reinforce their claims both in the Eastern and Western sectors. The Chinese use catch phrases like MUMA, ‘traditional and customary’ boundaries, ‘comprehensive settlement’ which should not be taken lightly as these imply much more than their dictionary meaning.
The Chinese have civilizational view point of events; they think in terms of centuries while we think in terms of years. We want to solve a dispute in our life time, not in the next century. China is not in a hurry to grab territory; it will wait till we get tired or become weak enough to give ground. The pride in our ability to solve any problem quickly can be dangerous as China is prepared to wait indefinitely and we are in a hurry to resolve the dispute here and now.
Our foreign policy must recognise that friendship with neighbours is good but no concessions can be made to friends on national security matters. Defence policy has to be proactive. In the 1950s, our Army was reluctant to open posts to define our borders and the IB had to do it. There was no BSF or ITBP then. The Army did not want roads built in Ladakh or NEFA as these were not needed but it forgot that these are signs of our administrative control. Intelligence should be alert to what a friend may be planning – not only the enemy. Intelligence should also decipher the various proposals the Chinese make and interpret the catch phrases they use and create confusion about what they mean. Chinese intrusions should not be taken lightly as mere mistakes due to unmarked boundaries on ground. China has a definite aim to underline its claims from time to time, without capturing ground by force. Symbolically, it plants its flag and leaves not because it realizes its mistake but it serves its purpose to lay its claim. India acts like a novice when it tries to explain away the Chinese intrusions as nothing but routine mistakes of patrols drifting away from a marked path. We have yet to find a right response to China’s cunning. Remember that the Chinese will always claim that what is theirs is theirs and what is your is also theirs. The Chinese are masters at making very important statements by not making those statements.