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The MacMohan Line and Its History

 

[ Dr Tage Habung ]

 

Even after British occupation of Assam in 1826, the boundary of Assam was not properly defined. Treaty of Yandaboo simply stipulated that the Burmese would not interfere in Assam and its dependences. The unsettled state of the boundary could no longer be neglected because by the beginning of the seventies of nineteenth century, the economy of Assam had become promising and trade and industry had made a good start. The revenue of the Assam Valley increased and it started providing a good surplus. But the economy depended upon the administrative capacity to maintain law and order in the Brahmaputra Valley. At the same time North Frontier Tract, adjoining area of Brahmaputra valley became detrimental for British economic interest. Therefore, British during their rule in Assam drew three important lines in North East Frontier Tract, viz., the Inner line; Outer line; and MacMohan line. These lines were purposefully drawn by British to end-up their colonial interest and as such these lines only serve colonial interest not the people of this region. Of these three lines, the later remained as most controversy and created a much trouble to this region.

MacMohan Line, formally known as an imaginary line on the map, is all along the northern stretch of Arunachal Pradesh. The line was named after Sir Henry McMahon, the then secretary in the Indian foreign department. He was the main negotiator and representative of Great Britain at the conference held in 1912–13 in Simla, now called Shimla, in the state of Himachal Pradesh to settle frontier and other matters relating to Tibet. The line travels a length of approximately about 1,030 km. It runs from the eastern border of Bhutan along the crest of the Himalayas until it reaches the great bend in the Brahmaputra River where that river emerges from its Tibetan course into the Assam Valley. In order words, it extends from the East of Bhutan to the Isu Razzi Pass situated on Irrawady - Salwaan water parting. This line on the map was secret by-product of the Shimla deliberation 1913-14, which was accepted by the Government of Tibet and India as demarcated boundary line between India and Tibet. This line is the boundary with Tibet from the Bhutan border to the tri-junction of China, India and Burma follows in general the crest of the Great Himalayan Range. The range, for a larger part also, forms the main water divide between the Tibetan plateau to the north and the mountains to the south. To the British, the line marked the geographic, ethnic, and administrative boundary between the two regions, and delegates from Great Britain, China, and Tibet agreed that the frontier between Tibet and northeastern India indeed should follow the crest of the high Himalayas. Two days later, however, the Chinese republican government disavowed its delegate and refused to sign the convention. Even later on, the Chinese Government refused to recognize this line as they considered Shimla Convention agreement was only between India and Tibet, and they had not been part of it. Consequently, this remained as root cause for India’s trouble in 1962.

From the dawn of their rule in Brahmaputra Valley, the British deliberately avoided the direct administration to hilly areas, especially the North-East Frontier Tracts. Though it had clearly defined their limit of direct administrative control in form of ‘Inner Line’, but they did not bother about the ‘external boundary’. External limits of the North-East Frontier Tracts had been very vaguely defined in the form ‘Outer Line.’ And British claimed that they have indirect control over the areas lying between these two lines. However, the issue of demarcation of the northern external boundary could not be kept vague and pending after increase of Chinese influence in hills of NEFT. Though British did not want to run direct administration over this region considering tribal people of this region as uncivilized and barbaric, at the same time they did not want to lose this region because of two reasons, firstly, NEFT was full of natural resources especially the forest resource, therefore, the British wanted to have some control over this region so that they can benefit from these forest resources. Secondly, they wanted the NEFT as buffer state to protect the British economic interest in Assam.  

In fact, the last quarter of nineteenth century was very crucial for British India. Russia was expanding her spheres of influence to whole central Asia. By the 1890s, the Central Asian khanates of Khiva, Bukhara and Kokand had fallen, becoming Russian vassals. With Central Asia in the Tsar’s grip, the ‘Great Game’ now shifted eastward to China, Mongolia and Tibet. From the British perspective, the Russian Empire’s expansion into Central Asia threatened to destroy the “jewel in the crown” of the British Empire, India. The British feared that Tibet would become a staging post for a Russian invasion of India. This historical association of Tibet with Russia, supported by certain later developments was enough to confirm the British in their suspicious of Russian intentions in Central Asia. It was this suspicion which precipitated the British into an acknowledgement of Chinese suzerainty over Tibet.

The relative position of the British Government vis-à-vis Tibet remained static until 1886. In 1886, the Tibetan debouched from the Chumbi Valley; a corridor of fertile land flanked by the territory of Nepal on the side and Bhutan on the other, and occupied a strip of Sikkimese some twenty miles deep. Therefore, in 1888, British send small expedition and expelled the intruder without difficulty. In 1890, a Sikkim-Tibet convention was concluded with China, under this convention British recognised the Chinese suzerainty over Tibet recognised. The convention defined clearly the boundary between Sikkim and Tibet as ‘the crest of the mountain range separating the waters flowing into the Sikkim Teesta and its effluent from the waters flowing into the rivers of Tibet’. This was supplemented by set of Trade Regulations, 1893, which was concluded and appended to the Sikkim-Tibet convention. The main purpose of these instruments, as far as Britain was concerned, was to secure formal Chinese recognition of her paramount rights in Sikkim; but they dealt, in details, with matter of commerce, frontier-delimitation and so forth.

 Thus, during most of the nineteenth century, the British government dealt with Tibet through the Chinese government which possessed sovereignty over Tibet. But China’s hold over Tibet, precarious already, was further weakened by her disastrous war with Japan in 1894-95; this followed on heels of a bloody Muslim rebellion in her north-western provinces which cut one of Peking’s main lines of communication. The Tibetans, who detested their Chinese overlord, found it easy to take the line that, since they had not been party to the convention 1890 or to the Trade Regulation of 1893. The provisions of neither were bidding on them; and form this obdurate attitude, which the Chinese were powerless to modify, stemmed an endless series of vexatious incidents. With dawn of twentieth century, the British grew deep concern for Tibet because of growing declination of Qing or Manchu dynasty. Meanwhile, it was speculated and suspected that China had surrendered their right over Tibet to Russia, which could be intolerable for the British economic interest. In the summers of 1900 and 1901 Dorjieff Lama, a close associate of Dalai Lama led embassies from the Dalai Lama to Russia expressing official greetings. His presence at the embassies was to spark a particularly interesting example of ‘The Great Game’ between Great Britain and Russia.

 In 1902, there were persistent rumours of a secret treaty between Russia and Tibet at which the Chinese Government was reported to be ready to connvi…….. Further, there was frequent talk on the Indian border of consignments of Russian arms reaching Lhasa. In fact, this was the period in which “Great Game,” between the Russia and Britain moves eastward of Asia. To counteract the Russian influence in Tibet, therefore, in 1903, Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy of India send an expedition to Tibet. This expedition was headed by Colonel Francis Younghusband and came to known as Younghusband Mission of Tibet.

 Primary objective of this mission was to establish diplomatic relations and trade between the British Raj and Tibet, while the secondary reason for the expedition was to quell the possible Russian influence in Tibet. On 19 July 1903, Younghusband arrived at Gangtok, the capital city of the Indian state of Sikkim, to prepare for his mission. A letter from the under-secretary to the government of India to Younghusband on 26 July 1903 was send, which stated that “In the event of your meeting the Dalai Lama, the government of India authorizes you to give him the assurance which you suggest in your letter.” The British took a few months to prepare for the expedition which pressed into Tibetan territories in early December 1903. The entire British force numbered over 3,000 fighting men and was accompanied by 7,000 sherpas, porters and camp followers. The British authorities had also thought of the difficulty of mountain fighting, and so dispatched a force with many Gurkha and Pathan troops, who were from mountainous regions.

 The Tibetans were aware of the expedition. To avoid bloodshed the Tibetan general at Yetung pledged that if the British made no attack upon the Tibetans, he would not attack the British. Colonel Younghusband replied, on 6 December 1903, that “we are not at war with Tibet and that, unless we are ourselves attacked, we shall not attack the Tibetans”. When Younghusband and his team at capital city of  Lhasa on 3 August 1904, they discover that the thirteenth Dalai Lama had fled to Urga, the capital of Outer Mongolia, at the advice of his Russian disciple, Agvan Dorjieff. He went first to Mongolia, and then made his way to Beijing. For this, the Chinese government stripped him of his titles and had their Chinese Amban post notices around Lhasa that the Dalai Lama had been deposed, and that the Chinese Amban was now in charge. Thubten Gyatso stayed in the Chinese capital from 1906 to 1908. He returned to Lhasa in 1909, disappointed by Chinese policies towards Tibet.

 However, Tibetans tore down the notices, and Tibetan officials ignored the Chinese Amban. The Chinese Amban escorted the British into the city with his personal guard, but informed them that he did not have any authority to negotiate with them. The Tibetans told them that only the absent Dalai Lama had authority to sign any accord. But Younghusband intimidated the regent, Ga-den Tri Rinpoche, and any other local officials he could gather together as an ad-hoc government, to sign a treaty drafted unilaterally by him, known subsequently as the Anglo-Tibetan Agreement of 1904. Finally on 7th September, 1904, bilateral treaty known as the Lhasa Convention was signed between British and Tibet. Under this treaty, it was agreed that no Tibetan territory would be given to any foreign country. This activated the Chinese into embarking upon an expansionist policy in Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan (Chowdhury: 1996; 8). But owing to signing of the Anglo-Chinese (1906) and Anglo-Russian Convention (1907), the treaty of 1904 remained ineffective. The Chinese position was that Tibet was not independent from China, so Tibet could not have independently signed treaty any such agreement was invalid without Chinese assent.

The British policy at that time inclined to regard its dealings with Tibet principally as the search for a buffer between Russia and India and to devote attention chiefly to the effect it might have on Russia. There was little serious thought that a buffer might be needed between India and China. The same fear of Russia impelled the British to ignore possibility of future danger from the direction of China, and precipitated them into concluding the preposterous Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907. Among the other provisions, article II of the Convention sold away Tibet’s independence to China. The relevant article reads:

“In conformity with the admitted principle of the suzerainty of China over Tibet, Great Britain and Russia engage not to enter into negotiations with Tibet except through the intermediary of the Chinese Government”.

As events proved later, it was not a victory for the British but a diplomatic defeats vis-s-vis China because the British found themselves helpless when China showed her determination to impose her will on Tibet, considering Tibet as nothing more than another province of China. Consequently, as the British troops withdrew from the Chumbi Valley in 1908, the Chinese troops started showing its determination. The 13th Dalai Lama return to Tibet in 1909 and no sooner Dalai Lama return to Tibet, the Chinese began to reassert their overlordship over Tibet. By the end of 1909, Chinese troops under the leadership of Chao-Erh-Feng along with force of 6,000 entered into Tibet. The Chinese at this stage aimed not merely to strengthen their control over Tibet but also to check the British influence along the Indo-Tibetan frontier. In the interest of her diplomacy in Asia, Great Britain had pledged for Tibet’s independence to China but in vain.

In the month of February, 1910, Chinese troops entered the Lhasa, which alarmed Dalai Lama. Having occupied the Lhasa, the Chinese troops marched very close to the border of Sikkim. In May 1910, the British Government in Bengal and Assam was alerted about the reported appearance of Chinese troops at Rima at the head of Mishmi Hills in Frontier Tracts. The British Government of India was taken by surprise, and, for the first time, became aware of the vulnerability of the northern frontiers of India. As early as July,1910, the Lieutenant Governor enquired of the Government of Bengal and Assam with reference to the Chinese occupation of Rima. The Viceroy Lord Minto posed the question in his telegram on 23rd October, 1910, to the Secretary General of the State, the then Lord Morley as follows:

“In consequence of proceeding of Chinese in Rima and the vicinity of tribal tracts on the North-East Frontier Tracts, the question of our future relations with these tribes is causing anxiety.”

The Secretary of State refused to countenance any forward policy at that time, and advised that the question of policy ‘must be left to Lord Hardinge’ who was to joint very shortly as the new Viceroy. Meanwhile, the situation in North-East Frontier Tracts caused further alarm when 13th Dalai Lama fled to India on 25th November, 1910. After reaching India, Dalai Lama conveyed the British India that the China would not rest contended with Tibet only and would certainly try to spread their influence across Himalaya. At the same time, a intelligence reports arrived to British India that all trade between the Tibetans and the Miju Mishmis of frontier tracts had been stopped by the Chinese, which actually confirming the fear of Dalai Lama. Therefore, Sir Lancelot Hare, the than Lieutenant Governor wrote a letter to new Viceroy Lord Hardinge, which states:

“I think I hardly brought out with sufficient distinctness one important consideration which should induce us to press forward beyond the limits by which under a self-denying ordinance our frontier is at present limited ……… We have an Inner Line and Outer Line. Up to the Inner Line we administer we in the ordinary way. Between the Inner Line and Outer Line we only administer politically …….” Further he wrote “………we would not permit any general increase of activity in this direction nor we can recommend that any sort of promise be given to the tribes that they rely on our support or production in the event of Chinese or Tibetan aggression.”

This development of both side along and beyond the Outer Line, give a serious consideration to the British Government regarding the boundary problem. Considering the necessity of containing the Chinese advance across the frontier, the British Government decided to send Noel Williamson’s expedition into the Adi Hills. Objective of this expedition was to carry out surveys and exploration to obtain the knowledge requisite for the determination of a suitable boundary between India and China. But unfortunately, before Williamson could complete his survey of Adi Hills, he was murdered.

Meanwhile Chao-Erh-Feng, though occupied the Lhasa but he failed to subjugate entire Tibet. There was active resistance to the Chinese domination in the south-east, while in Lhasa the people resisted the Chinese in every way. On the other hand, 13th Dalai Lama was in exile in India, tried to obtain British and Russian help against the China, but in vain. Qing troops in Tibet now willing to make reconciliation with the spiritual head of the Tibet. But before there could be any agreement between the Qing Emperor and Dalai Lama over the issue of Tibet, a revolution broke-out in China in 1911.

The Chinese revolution of 1911, popularly known as the Xinhai Revolution, overthrown Qing or Manchu Dynasty had immediate effect on Tibet. As a result of this revolution, Tibetan militia launched a surprise attack on the Qing garrison stationed in Tibet. Afterwards the Qing officials in Lhasa were forced to sign the “Three Point Agreement” which provided for the surrender and expulsion of Qing forces in central Tibet. China’s provisional President of New Republican Government Yuan Shikai sent a telegram to the 13th Dalai Lama, restoring his earlier titles. The Dalai Lama spurned these titles, replying that he “intended to exercise both temporal and ecclesiastical rule in Tibet.” In 1913, Dalai Lama, who was earlier in exiled to India, returned back to Tibet and reasserted his authority and his independence from China. Thereafter he issued a proclamation that stated:

“That relationship between the Chinese emperor and Tibet had been that of patron and priest and had not been based on the subordination of one to the other.” Further he stated, “We are a small, religious, and independent nation”.

In early 1913, Agvan Dorzhiev and two other Tibetan representatives signed a treaty between Tibet and Mongolia in Urga, proclaiming mutual recognition and their independence from China. The 13th Dalai Lama later told a British diplomat that he had not authorized Agvan Dorzhiev to conclude any treaties on behalf of Tibet. This disorganized state of affairs in Tibet again began to pose a threat to the Indian affairs and the commercial interests of the British Empire. The Japanese subjects were in intimate relations with the high authorities in Lhasa and Russian students were receiving training in the Kumbum monastery on the Tibetan Frontier; a Russian Buriat and Japanese were training the Tibetan troops. The collapse of Chinese power and the prospect of Russian intervention and intrigue changed the whole situation. The Mongol-Tibet treaty, which concluded in 1913 at the Urga gave the Russian an indirect but real basis of intervention in Tibet affairs. The chance of Tibet undergoing the fate of Outer Mongolia was imminent.

This stage was great dilemma for the British India. There was every possibility of Tibet would fall under the control of Russian arms, which would be intolerable for the British India. The alternative before them was either they could convert Tibet into a thinly veiled British protectorate as was case with Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim, as suggested by Dalai Lama previously. Secondly, British could help Tibet to be an independent country. But it quite certain that Tibet could not stand alone without the help of any foreign power and would fall an easy victim to Chinese aggression. There was also a risk of Tibet throwing herself into the arms of the Russians, which it was the primary aim of the British to resist and eliminate. And the third alternative was to allow China to re-conquer Tibet and constitute it into a Chinese province. But that would have left the possibility of intrigues and incursions into British territories in India and Burma.

The Government of India now debated over the issues of Tibet. Neither China’s policy of considering Tibet as a province nor the Dalai Lama’s rejection of Chinese suzerainty suited the British. They wanted to keep the fiction of China’s position of suzerain as the Russians had done in Outer Mongolia because it provided China with some legal primacy while depriving her of any effective control. Therfore, on 17th Auguest 1912, the British Government proposed to the new Republican Government of China that Tibet’s status be negotiated on the basis on the situation which had existed before the Younghusband Mission of 1904. The Chinese Government on the other hand, well aware of Russian design in Mongolia and the weakness of their own Government accepted the proposal in which, there will be representative from Lhasa as a co-equal plenipotentiary in the negotiation. This paved the way for tripartite conference between the British, China and Tibet in 1913-14.

With the view of settling the Tibetan question, British India foreign office on May 23, 1913 invited the Chinese government for a joint conference, which would include a representative from Tibetan government, to arrive at a tripartite agreement. The conference was formally inaugurated on 6th October, 1913 at New Delhi under the chairmanship of Sir Henry MocMohan, the then Foreign of British India. The Tibetan delegate appointed to represent the Dalai Lama was Lama Lonchen Shatra, someone who had seldom left his native land but surprised the British and Chinese delegates about his knowledge of men and grasp of political affairs. China was represented by Ivan Chen, a widely travelled diplomat who spoke English well and had served for nine years in the Chinese Legation in London as counselor. Though Chen headed the delegation, but the power behind the scene was one Lu Hsing Chi, who was considered an expert on Indian and Tibetan affairs.

The convention opening session was held on October 13, 1913 at Dharbhanga Palace house with Lama Lonchen laying his claims on the table, stressing recent Chinese excesses and asserting Tibet’s independence. Ivan Chen counterclaimed China’s sovereignty over Tibet with the right to station a resident (Amban) in Lhasa garrisoned with 2600 men. In November 1913, McMohan made a 1906 map of Tibet and the Surrounding Regions published by Royal Geographic Society as the basis of the ongoing discussion. When conference re-convening on January 12, 1914 McMohan on February 17, 1914, after brief disruption on December 24, 1913, McMohan presented a map supporting a buffer state idea by the two-zone proposal as a solution of the political issue by the recognition of autonomy for Outer Tibet, whilst reserving to China the right to re-establish such a measure of control in Inner Tibet as would restore and safeguard her historic position, without in any way infringing the integrity of Tibet as geographical and political entity. While Ivan Chen and Lonchen Shatra argued the pros and cons of McMohan proposals into spring and summer, Chinese and Tibetan troops fought one another on the eastern-Tibet border.

Discussion continued for about six month in which the Tibetan and British representatives at the conference agreed to the line, which ceded Tawang and other Tibetan areas to the British Empire. The Chinese representative had no problems with the border between British India and Outer Tibet, however on the issue of the border between Outer Tibet and Inner Tibet the talks broke down. Thus, the Chinese representative refused to accept the agreement and walked out. Not being able to settle the vexed border and frustration creeping in on July 3, 1914, Ivan Chen informed the conference that Peking’s very explicit instructions enjoined him not to sign the Tripartite Convention. Lonchen then reported his instructions to Lhasa said that as he had accepted the Convention, he should sign it. Finally on 27th April, 1914, a convention was signed under which Tibet was divided into two zones, viz., the Inner Tibet and Outer Tibet.

Outer Tibet was to be the wider area to the east of the historic Yangtse frontier, over which the Tibetan Government had many centuries exercised complete jurisdiction. Here, the Chinese were not to send their troops, nor station any civil or military personal, nor establish any colonies. But as a symbol of their suzerainty, they might install at Lhasa an Amban to look after the Chinese interest. Inner Tibet was to be the broad peripheral area of Tibet extending in the north to the Atlya Tagh range and in the east to the old provincial borders of Kansu and Szechuan in which the population was mainly Tibetan by race and religion. Chinese would have full administrative authority over this zone, subject to the provision that it could not be made a Chinese province and, in the selection and appointment of high priests of the monasteries control was to be vested in Lhasa authorities. MacMohan spelt out this solution in the form of a draft convention and the proposed boundaries of Outer and Inner Tibet were shown on the accompanying map.

 As soon McMohan and Lonchen Shatra had signed the document, which give birth to McMohan Line, Sir Henry MacMohan closed the conference after a tripartite negotiation had been held for nine months but only two nations got to sign it, which remained secret till 1937. After Britain and Tibet signed the border agreement, Ivan Chen declared that his government had instructed him to announce that they would not recognize any treaty or similar document that might now or hereafter be signed between Great Britain and Tibet. This marked the beginning of border controversy between the India and China.

 Eventually, along with the tripartite conference, the British Government was having bipartite negotiation with Tibet in two important aspects. The first related to the delineation of a boundary alignment between India and Tibet to the north of frontier tracts, and the second to a new Trade Agreement between these two countries. Consequently, in this bipartite conference a part from Tawang, Tibet accorded Walong which situated on the left bank of the Lohit River to British India. As for the situation and inclusion of Walong, the Government of India at first was hesitant, but subsequently it was found to be outside the Tibetan province of Zayul Chu till the advent of the Chinese and inside the Indian side of the frontier, from watershed, geographical and historical point of view (Bose: 1997; 138). But this had been much resented by the Chinese Government. Ivan Chen held that the Tibetan Government did not possess any control over the Zayul Chu which he held, was inhabited by independent tribes called the Miris, the Mishings, the Adis and the Mishmis.

 All the hopes and aspirations of MacMohan Line were dashed to grounds in due course. In the very first instance, though the Indo-Tibetan boundary was delimited but it could not be demarcated because of the terrain through which this line rans mostly covered with snow. Secondly, the actual documents of the conference remained secret and unpublished till 1937. It was only in 1937, that the map showing the McMohan Line as a boundary between Tibet and India was published by Trigonometrical Survey of India, in which Tawang was shown as a part of Tibet. But again the Dirang Dzong in the west to Walong in the east was not included in the map. The British set their feet in the region in 1944. Moreover, Chinese never accepted this boundary since, according to her, the Shimla itself was invalid.

Numerous changes occurred in the late 1940s. With the creation of the Republic of India and the separate Islamic Republic of Pakistan in 1947, and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in China in 1949. From Dirang Dzong in the west to Walong in the east, the British set their feet in the region in 1944, and Tibet changed its position on the McMahon Line in 1947 when the Tibetan Government wrote a note presented to the newly independent Indian Ministry of External Affairs laying claims to the Tibetan district (Tawang) south of the McMahon Line. When India gained its independence from Britain in 1947 it inherited all of the British territorial agreements, and as such inherited the McMahon Line as the border between it and China. Indian belief in the legitimacy of the McMahon line dated back to the Simla Convention of 1914, as well as to the numerous maps of British India with the line delineating its northern border. But Chinese claimed that the legacy that British inherited to India was not authentic. By this statement they indicate the delineation of MacMohan Line which was not recognized since its inception.  

 But one of the most basic policies for the Indian government was that of maintaining cordial relations with China. The Indian government wished to revive its ancient friendly ties with China. When the People’s Republic of China was declared in China, India was among the first countries to give it diplomatic recognition. After coming to power, Republic of China under the leadership of Chu Sakai announced that its army would be occupying Tibet. But the newly formed Republic of China was more active in posting troops to the Aksai Chin border than the newly formed Indian republic was.

India decided to take moves to ensure a stable Indo-Chinese border. In August 1950, China expressed its gratitude to Indian attempts to “stabilize the Indo-Chinese border”. To clear any doubts or ambiguities, Prime Minister Nehru stated in Parliament in 1950 that “Our maps show that the McMahon Line is our boundary and that is our boundary...we stand by that boundary and we will not let anyone else come across that boundary”.

 By 1951, China had extended numerous posts within Indian Territory in Aksai Chin (historically a part of Indian state of Ladakh). The Indian government, on the other hand, concentrated its military efforts on stopping Ladakh from being taken by Pakistani troops and did not establish itself in Aksai Chin. On various occasions in 1951 and 1952, however, the government of China expressed the idea that there were no frontier issues between India and Chinese Tibet to be worried about. Later, in September 1951, India declined to attend a conference in San Francisco for the conclusion of a peace treaty with Japan because China, which India viewed as an important factor in this treaty, was not invited because of its status as an international pariah. In the coming years India strived to become China’s representative in world matters, as China had been isolated from many issues. India vigorously pressed, since the start of the 1950s, for the Republic of China to be included within the United Nations.  

 The People’s Liberation Army defeated the Tibetan army in a battle at Chamdo in 1950 and Lhasa recognized Chinese sovereignty over Tibet in 1951. The Indian army asserted control of Tawang at this time, overcoming some armed resistance and expelling its Tibetan administrators. In 1954, the China and India concluded the Five Principles, which stressed; (1) mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty; (2) mutual non-aggression; (3) non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs; (4) equality and mutual benefit, and finally; (5) peaceful coexistence, under which India acknowledged Chinese sovereignty in Tibet. This agreement originates from Nehru’s optimism that post-colonial nations could invalidate the precepts of a bipolar world, and that the regional powers of Asia can contradict the validity of traditional balance of power politics.

 Indian negotiators presented a frontier map to the Chinese that included the McMahon Line and the Chinese side did not object. At this time, the Indian government under Prime Minister Nehru promoted the slogan Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai (India and China are brothers). Nehru’s ill-conceived vision of creating Pan-Asia solidarity with the Communist China blinded him to see the ulterior motif hidden behind the diplomatic façade presented by Chinese premier Zhou Enlai. Over four decades had passed since Nehru was betrayed and the infamous slogan, “Hindi Chini Bai Bai’ was shattered into pieces, but India still carries on the same debacle policy designed by Krishna Menon. Nothing seems to have learnt from Nehru’s blunder. In 1954 India officially called the territories accorded to her side of the McMohan Line NEFA- North East Frontier Agency.  

 Nevertheless, after 1954, relationship between India and China started strained on the score of the so-called border incidents when Chinese troops began to violate the North-East Frontier of India. Consequently, on July 1, 1954 Nehru wrote a memo directing that the maps of India be revised to show definite boundaries on all frontiers, where they were previously indicated as undemarcated. The new maps also revised the boundary in the east to show the Himalayan hill crest as the boundary. In some places, this line is a few kilometers north of the McMahon Line. These new maps also revised the maps to show the countries of Bhutan and Sikkim as part of India.

In 1956, Nehru expressed concern to Zhou Enlai that Chinese maps showed some 120,000 square kilometres of Indian Territory as Chinese. Zhou responded that there were errors in the maps and that they were of little meaning. He stated that the maps needed revising from previous years where such ideas were considered to be true. In November 1956, Zhou again repeated his assurances that he had no claims based on the maps. But in the late 1950s, soon after occupying Tibet, China occupied a large tract (approximately 38,000 square km) of Aksai Chin, a remote part of Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir bordering Pakistan, and built a highway (National Highway 219) through it to connect with its eastern province of Xinjiang. India considers this an illegal occupation. In the middle, or southern part of Tibet, China asserts that the border dividing Tibet and Sikkim and Uttar Pradesh are also disputed. And in the east, it lays claim to the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh.

 By 1959, the Communist Chinese openly put forward the argument rejecting the MacMohan Line, on the ground that the agreement between the British and Tibetan representative was unknown to the Chinese representative. This was true in some extent as the bipartite negotiation between the British and Tibet was not known to Ivan Chen. They started constructing the road along the Ladak, which was complete violation of the 1954’s agreement between India and China. Consequently, March 31, 1959 the Dalai Lama fled from Tibet into India where he was granted political asylum. This course of events angered the Indian public as they saw it as a renunciation of Indian trade and cultural access to Tibet guaranteed in the Seventeen Points Agreement. People’s Republic of China’s officials chaffed at India’s meddling in their domestic affairs by granting asylum to the Dalai Lama and thereby violating the 1954 Panchsheel agreement. The Tibetan revolt combined with gradual Chinese assertion of borders in 1957 due to diplomatic impasse, are the primary factors contributing to a hostile Sino-Indian diplomatic relationship from 1959 to the outbreak of hostilities.  

 India on her part began to protest against this violation of the autonomy by carrying out ‘reign of terror’ in the region which was also confirmed by International Commission of Juries. Now China sharply reacted with Indian Government’s attitudes and she started encroaching in Indian boundaries further more. In 1960, India openly warned the Chinese Government about the further violation of India boundaries and if it happens, she will resort the arms. On the other hand, Zhou Enlai proposed that India drop its claim to Aksai Chin and China would withdraw its claims from NEFA. Zhou consistently refused to accept the legitimacy of India’s territorial claims; he proposed that the any negotiations had to take into account the facts on the ground. Zhou tried many times to get Nehru to accept conceding Aksai Chin, he visited India four times in 1960. However, Nehru believed that China did not have a legitimate claim over both of those territories and was not ready to give away any one of them. However, they had different opinions as to the legality of the Simla agreement which eventually led to the inability to reach a decision. Nehru’s adamancy was seen within China as Indian opposition to Chinese rule in Tibet, as China needed the highway through Aksai Chin to maintain an effective control over the Tibetan plateau. Thus, the territorial dispute from India’s perspective, coupled with the building of forward military posts by the Indian military caused the 1954 Panchsheel Agreement to not be renewed in 1961. Crossing both the claim and McMahon lines, both nations were in violation of each other’s territorial conception, and India was now physically challenging Chinese sovereignty in Tibet.

 However, by 1961, Chinese Government once again started constructing road along with the MacMohan Line claiming 52,000 sq.km. of Indian sovereignty territory and actual control of 14,000 sq. km. India now replied Chinese act by establishing seven new military out-posts in Ladak and twenty-five military out-posts in North East Frontier Agency. Chinese Government now reacted violently and warned New-Delhi in these words:

“…..Should Indian Government refused to withdraw its aggressive posts and continue to carry-out provocation against Chinese posts, the Chinese frontier guards would be compelled to defend these. The Indian side will be wholly responsible for all consequences arising there from on Chinese side too.”

On the political level, talks were going on to resolve the tension between two sides. On September 8, 1962, Nehru had gone to London to attend a Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference and, once again he came back with popular slogan ‘Hind-Chini Bhai Bhai. On 3 October, Zhou Enlai visited Nehru in New Delhi, promising there would be no war between the nations and reiterating his wishes to solve the dispute diplomatically. In amidst of all these development, Chinese surprisingly began to attack in India on 20th October, 1962, entering 80 miles reaching up to West Kameng and completely occupied the Tawang.

(The contributor is Assistant Professor (History) Govt. College Doimukh)

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