Serendipity and the China-Tibet-India border problem

Our carpenter completed some new book-cases and this led to our library being churned around a little. I found KPS Menon’s 1947 Delhi-Chungking: A Travel Diary about his 125-day 1944 journey from Delhi through Kashmir and Sinkiang/Xinjiang and “the 8th War Zone” to Chiang Kaishek’s capital at the time, Chung King/Chongqing. I had not read the book properly in decades. Looking at the contents, I found it said there were maps in the inside jacket — something I had never noticed before. Now I found the inner-jacket, put my hand in, and out came two Survey of India maps of Northern India (Kashmir, Baltistan), Sinkiang, China, Tibet….

I shall scan and upload them here within a day or so. It is clear that as of 1947 at least, China and Tibet were distinct on a map.

China’s force and diplomacy: The need for realism in India

China’s force & diplomacy: The need for realism In India

Subroto Roy

First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, May 31 2008,

It is almost as large an error to overestimate Chinese military aims and capabilities as it has been to underestimate them. On 8 May 2008 at Tokyo’s Waseda University, China’s President Hu Jintao declared in a speech broadcast live “China has taken a defensive military policy and will not engage in any arms race. We will not become a military threat to any country and we will never assert hegemony or be expansionistic”. This was as clear and authoritative a reply as possible to the June 2005 statement in Singapore of the then American defence minister Donald Rumsfeld: “China appears to be expanding its missile forces, allowing them to reach targets in many areas of the world, not just the Pacific region, while also expanding its missile capacities here in the region. Since no nation threatens China, one must wonder: why this growing investment?”

By 2006, Rumsfeld’s generals were saying China had “the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States,” and could “field disruptive military technologies that could over time offset traditional US military advantages absent US counter strategies”. The “sizing” of China’s military by American and other Western analysts became a parlour game ~ one with major business implications since the threat perceived or misperceived from China affects American decisions on the size of its own military.

As recently as 13 May 2008, the Wall Street Journal carried opinion that China’s military expansion demanded America have a 1000-ship navy not a 280-ship one, 40 aircraft-carriers not 11, 1000 F-22 aircraft not 183. Exaggerating China’s military and the threat posed by it to the world can mean big business for militaries opposing it!

Dominating India

Communist China’s physical, political and psychological domination of independent India since the 1950s has been achieved more by diplomacy, subterfuge and threat of force than actual military conflict. In its first phase, the policy was expressed clearly by the Chinese Ambassador to New Delhi on 16 May 1959 when he told India’s Foreign Secretary: “Our Indian friends, what is your mind? Will you agree to our thinking regarding the view that China can only concentrate its main attention eastward of China but not south-westward of China, nor is it necessary for it to do so?…. Friends, it seems to us that you, too, cannot have two fronts. Is it not so? If it is, here then lies the meeting point of our two sides. Will you please think it over?” (BN Mullick, Chinese Betrayal, p. 229).

At the time, Pakistan was in military alliances with the USA through CENTO and SEATO, and the Pakistan-China alliance was still years away. The Chinese had used subterfuge to construct their road linking Tibet and Sinkiang through Aksai Chin, ignoring India’s sovereignty, and were now suggesting they had no interest in fighting India because their major military interests were to their east as India’s were towards Pakistan.

The second phase was the short border conflict itself in 1962-63, which consolidated China’s grip on occupied territory in Aksai Chin while establishing its threat to the Brahmaputra Valley that has been perpetuated to this day. The third phase is represented by the 27 November 1974 conversation between Henry Kissinger and Deng Xiaoping, recently made publicly available:

Deng : There’s something very peculiar about Indian policy. For example, that little kingdom Sikkim. They had pretty good control of Sikkim. Why did they annex it?
Kissinger : It is a good thing India is pacifist, I hate to think (of what they would do) if they weren’t. (Laughs).
Deng : Sikkim was entirely under the military control of India.
Kissinger : I haven’t understood Sikkim. It is incomprehensible.
Deng : After the military annexation, their military position was in no way strengthened.
Kissinger : They had troops there already.
Deng : And they haven’t increased their troops since. We published a statement about it. We just spoke for the cause of justice.
Kissinger : Is it true that you set up loudspeakers to broadcast to the Indian troops on the border? It makes them very tense. (Laughs)
Deng : We have done nothing new along the borders, and frankly we don’t fear that India will attack our borders. We don’t think they have the capability to attack our borders. There was some very queer talk, some said that the reason why the Chinese issued that statement about Sikkim was that the Chinese were afraid after Sikkim that India would complete the encirclement of China. Well, in the first place we never feel things like isolation and encirclement can ever matter very much with us. And particularly with India, it is not possible that India can do any encirclement of China. The most they can do is enter Chinese territory as far as the Autonomous Republic of Tibet, Lhasa. And Lhasa can be of no strategic importance to India. The particular characteristic of Lhasa is that it has no air-because the altitude is more than 3,000 metres.
Kissinger : It’s a very dangerous area for drinking mao tai (a Chinese hard liquor).
Deng : Frankly, if Indian troops were able to reach Lhasa, we wouldn’t be able to supply them enough air! (Laughter)
Kissinger : I don’t think their intention is with respect to Tibet, their immediate intention is Nepal.
Deng : That is correct. They have been recently exercising pressure on Nepal, refusing to supply them oil. It is the dream of Nehru, inherited by his daughter, to have the whole subcontinent in their pocket.
Kissinger : And to have buffer zones around their border…. It is like British policy in the 19th Century. They always wanted Tibet demilitarized.
Deng : I believe even the British at that time didn’t make a good estimate of whether there was enough air. (Laughter)
Kissinger : I think an Indian attack on China would be a very serious matter that cannot be explained in terms of local conditions, but only in terms of a broader objective….”

Our self-delusion

The attitude that is revealed speaks for itself, and has been essentially continued by Deng’s successors in the next decades, especially Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. It is because China does not perceive a military threat from India that it has agreed to military exercises with us ~ exercises which, if anything, reinforce their psychological dominance by helping to spook our military’s morale. During this third phase also, China went about systematically creating a major military threat to India in its support of Pakistan’s military, exploiting our subcontinent’s communal conflicts fully to its own strategic advantage.

China has been engaged for more than a decade now in a massive exercise of modernisation of its armed forces, improving productivity, technology, organisation and discipline while trying to cut corruption. It has a right to do so, and such modernisation does not in and of itself signal aggressive intent. The last aggressive war China fought was almost 30 years ago against Vietnam. It is possible that what simply explains the military modernisation (besides conflict with Taiwan) is China’s awful history of being exploited by foreign powers over the centuries.

Indian analysts have expressed concern about nuclear submarines based in Hainan; but where else would China put them? We delude ourselves if we think we are the guardians of the Straits of Malacca. We may do better being concerned to try to modernise, improve productivity and reduce corruption in our own forces, as well as integrate them better with national goals as China has done instead of continuing to maintain them in a rather old-fashioned colonial / imperial manner.

Map of Chinese Empire c. 1900

This map accompanied my article “China’s India Example” published in The Statesman on March 25 2008.  The map is dated c. 1900 and shows the Chinese Empire of China Proper, East Turkestan (Sinkiang, Xinjiang), Tibet,  Manchuria and Mongolia (later Inner Mongolia and Outer Mongolia).chinaempire.jpg

China’s India Example: Tibet, Xinjiang May Not Be Assimilated Like Inner Mongolia, Manchuria

Author’s Note: My articles on related subjects recently published in The Statesman include “Understanding China”, “China’s India Aggression”, “China’s Commonwealth”,  “Nixon & Mao vs India”, “Lessons from the 1962 War”, “China’s force & diplomacy” etc https://independentindian.com/2009/09/19/my-ten-articles-on-china-tibet-xinjiang-taiwan-in-relation-to-india/

 

 

 

China’s India Example: Tibet, Xinjiang May Not Be Assimilated Like Inner Mongolia And Manchuria

by

Subroto Roy

First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article March 25, 2008

Zhang Qingli, Tibet’s current Communist Party boss, reportedly said last year, “The Communist Party is like the parent (father and mother) of the Tibetans. The Party is the real boddhisatva of the Tibetans.” Before communism, China’s people followed three non-theistic religious cultures, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, choosing whichever aspects of each they wished to see in their daily lives. Animosity towards the theism of Muslims and Christians predates the 1911 revolution. Count Witte, Russia’s top diplomatist in Czarist times, reported the wild contempt towards Islam and wholly unprovoked insult of the Emir of Bokhara by Li Hung Chang, Imperial China’s eminent Ambassador to Moscow, normally the epitome of civility and wisdom. In 1900 the slogan of the Boxer Revolts was “Protect the country, destroy the foreigner” and catholic churches and European settlers and priests were specifically targeted. The Communists have not discriminated in repression of religious belief and practice ~ monasteries, mosques, churches have all experienced desecration; monks, ulema, clergymen all expected to subserve the Party and the State.

 

 

Chinese nationalism

For Chinese officials to speak of “life and death” struggle against the Dalai Lama sitting in Dharamsala is astounding; if they are serious, it signals a deep long-term insecurity felt in Beijing. How can enormous, wealthy, strong China feel any existential threat at all from unarmed poor Tibetans riding on ponies? Is an Israeli tank-commander intimidated by stone-throwing Palestinian boys? How is it China (even a China where the Party assumes it always knows best), is psychologically defensive and unsure of itself at every turn?

 

The Chinese in their long history have not been a violent martial people ~ disorganized and apolitical traders and agriculturists and highly civilised artisans and scholars more than fierce warriors fighting from horseback. Like Hindus, they were far more numerous than their more aggressive warlike invading rulers. Before the 20th Century, China was dominated by Manchu Tartars and Mongol Tartars from the Northeast and Northwest ~ the Manchus forcing humiliation upon Chinese men by compelling shaved heads with pigtails. Similar Tartar hordes ruled Russia for centuries and Stalin himself, according to his biographer, might have felt Russia buffered Europe from the Tartars.

 

 

Chinese nationalism arose only in the 20th Century, first under the Christian influence of Sun Yatsen and his brother-in-law Chiang Kaishek, later under the atheism of Mao Zedong and his admiring friends, most recently Deng Xiaoping and successors. “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” is the slogan of the present Communist Party but a more realistic slogan of what Mao and friends came to represent in their last decades may be “Chinese nationalism with socialist characteristics”. Taiwan and to lesser extent Singapore and Hong Kong represent “Chinese nationalism with capitalist characteristics”. Western observers, keen always to know the safety of their Chinese investments, have focused on China’s economics, whether the regime is capitalist or socialist and to what extent ~ Indians and other Asians may be keener to identify, and indeed help the Chinese themselves to identify better, the evolving nature of Chinese nationalism and the healthy or unhealthy courses this may now take.

 

 

Just as Czarist and Soviet Russia attempted Russification in Finland, the Baltics, Poland, Ukraine etc., Imperial and Maoist China attempted “Sinification” in Manchuria and Inner Mongolia as well as Tibet and Xinjiang (Sinkiang, East Turkestan). Russification succeeded partially but backfired in general. Similarly, Sinification succeeded naturally in Manchuria and without much difficulty in Inner Mongolia. But it has backfired and backfired very badly in Tibet and Xinjiang, and may be expected to do so always.

 

 

In India, our soft state and indolent corrupt apparatus of political parties constitute nothing like the organized aggressive war-machine that China has tried to make of its state apparatus, and we have much more freedom of all sorts. India does not prohibit or control peasant farmers or agricultural labourers from migrating to or visiting large metropolitan cities; villagers are as free as anyone else to clog up all city life in India with the occasional political rally ~ in fact India probably may not even know how to ban, suppress or repress most of the things Communist China does.

Hindu traditions were such that as long as you did not preach sedition against the king, you could believe anything ~ including saying, like the Carvaka, that hedonism and materialism were good, spiritualism was bunkum and the priestly class were a bunch of crooks and idiots. Muslim and British rulers in India were not too different ~ yes the Muslims did convert millions by offering the old choice of death or conversion to vanquished people, and there were evil rulers among them but also great and tolerant ones like Zainulabidin of Kashmir and Akbar who followed his example.

India’s basic political ethos has remained that unless you preach sedition, you can basically say or believe anything (no matter how irrational) and also pretty much do whatever you please without being bothered too much by government officials. Pakistan’s attempts to impose Urdu on Bengali-speakers led to civil war and secession; North India’s attempts to impose Hindi on the South led to some language riots and then the three-language formula ~ Hindi spreading across India through Bollywood movies instead.

China proudly says it is not as if there are no declared non-Communists living freely in Beijing, Shanghai etc, pointing out distinguished individual academics and other professionals including government ministers who are liberals, social democrats or even Kuomintang Nationalists. There are tiny state-approved non-Communist political parties in China, some of whose members even may be in positions of influence. It is just that such (token) parties must accept the monopoly and dictatorship of the Communists and are not entitled to take state power. The only religion you are freely allowed to indulge in is the ideology of the State, as that comes to be defined or mis-defined at any time by the Communist Party’s rather sclerotic leadership processes.

Chinese passports

During China’s Civil War, the Communists apparently had promised Tibet and Xinjiang a federation of republics ~ Mao later reneged on this and introduced his notion of “autonomous” regions, provinces and districts. The current crisis in Tibet reveals that the notion of autonomy has been a complete farce. Instead of condemning the Dalai Lama and repressing his followers, a modern self-confident China can so easily resolve matters by allowing a Dalai Lama political party to function freely and responsibly, first perhaps just for Lhasa’s municipal elections and gradually in all of Tibet. Such a party and the Tibet Communist Party would be adequate for a two-party system to arise. The Dalai Lama and other Tibetan exiles also have a natural right to be issued Chinese passports enabling them to return to Tibet~ and their right to return is surely as strong as that of any Han or Hui who have been induced to migrate to Tibet from Mainland China. Such could be the very simple model of genuine autonomy for Tibet and Xinjiang whose native people clearly do not wish to be assimilated in the same way as Inner Mongolia and Manchuria. India’s federal examples, including the three-language formula, may be helpful. Once Mainland China successfully allows genuine autonomy and free societies to arise in Tibet and Xinjiang, the road to reconciliation with Taiwan would also have been opened.

China’s Secretly Built 1957 Road Through India’s Aksai Chin

This map accompanied my article Lessons from the 1962 War published in The Sunday Statesman of January 13 2008:

aksaichinroad.jpg

Lessons from the 1962 War: there are distinct Tibetan, Chinese and Indian points of view that need to be mutually comprehended

Prefatory Note: This is part of a series of articles published in The Statesman since October 2007 and republished here, viz., Understanding China, India-USA Interests, China’s India Aggression, Surrender or Fight?, China’s Commonwealth, Nixon & Mao vs India, China’s India Example and China’s Force and Diplomacy. See https://independentindian.com/2009/09/19/my-ten-articles-on-china-tibet-xinjiang-taiwan-in-relation-to-india/

Lessons from the 1962 War

 

 

Beginnings of a solution to the long-standing border problem: there are distinct Tibetan, Chinese and Indian points of view that need to be mutually comprehended.

 

 

SUBROTO ROY

First published in The Sunday Statesman, January 13 2008,  Editorial Page Special Article

 

 

WAR is an existential experience from which nations emerge altered, reflective and sometimes more mature. Germany tried to purge anti-Jewish hatred, Japan to adopt pacifism, Britain to break class-structures, Russia to explode Stalin’s cult. America learnt little from its Vietnam debacle, creating new tactics and technologies to reduce American casualties in war but not showing any improved capacity to comprehend the world beyond its shores and borders.

 

 

India after the 1962 defeat by Mao’s China learnt less than was possible and necessary to do. The Government’s official history concluded: “In a fundamental sense, the origins of the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict lay in Chinese expansionism and occupation of Tibet. The issue got further aggravated due to failure of the Chinese to win over the Tibetans. Indian asylum to the Dalai Lama raised Chinese suspicions about ultimate Indian intentions. On the other hand, India, while tacitly accepting the Chinese occupation of Tibet through a treaty in 1954, failed to obtain any quid pro quo on the border issue.” This is true enough but a deeper probe is also possible.

 

 

India’s 20th Century political and intellectual leadership may have grossly failed to comprehend critical world events in a realistic manner, specifically Vladimir Ulyanov’s German-assisted Bolshevik coup d’etat, the Kuomintang and Maoist takeovers in China, as well as India’s own struggle for Independence. After BG Tilak, Annie Besant, GK Gokhale and other founders of Indian nationalism passed from the scene, leaders arose like MK Gandhi, MA Jinnah, SC Bose and J Nehru who tended to be consumed, to lesser or greater extent, by their own hubris and were less able to see India’s fortunes and capacities in context of a larger world. None had military, administrative or public finance experience needed for practical government; instead there arose almost a new hereditary caste of the “professional politician” who has no other vocation or anything better to do in life. Nazi-admirers like Mashriqi and Rahmat Ali among Muslims and the Mahasabha and RSS among Hindus also lent mainstream Indian nationalism a harsh distasteful colouration.

 

 

Czechoslovakia’s great nationalist Masaryk (who famously denounced Austro-Hungary as a “corrupt, pretentious, senseless relic”) was said to be “a leader who planned further ahead than his contemporaries, understood the corroding effects of power, the vital need of restraint in the ruler, and above all the need for taking the nation into his confidence, educating it in the sense of drawing out all its innate qualities and sharing its manifold aspirations” (Seton-Watson). India’s clear-headed statesmen of that calibre were not among its most visible or ambitious. Vallabhbhai Patel, MAK Azad, C Rajagopalachari and others were left on the sidelines of free India’s politics ~ as Plato predicted, the genuine pilot of the ship of state will be hardly invited to take its wheel nor even want to do so.

 

 

Nehru alone, as chosen by Gandhi, came to wield actual power in the 1950s, having maneuvered Rajendra Prasad to being President. And Nehru, besotted in middle age with a married British woman, seemed awestruck by appearance of a victorious Maoist communism in China just as he had been adoring of Stalin’s Russia two decades earlier. The Congress’s friends among India’s official Communists and fellow-travelers never had much original indigenous grassroots support and always looked abroad for guidance. Non-alignment needed to be made of sterner stuff.

 

 

Nehru’s flawed management of the relationship with Communist China included not merely choosing a favourite like Krishna Menon to head India’s military, but also imagining himself a competent world diplomatist. Girja Shankar Bajpai would have been far superior as India’s first Foreign Minister. In 1952, Bajpai, then Governor of Bombay, wrote to Nehru saying India should inform Zhou Enlai the McMahon Line was firm in law and non-negotiable.

 

 

Was the McMahon Line firm and just? Nehru was no Curzon but it was as a Curzonian imperialist that Mao and Zhou saw him. All Chinese, whether Communist or Nationalist, chafed at the way the Manchu-dynasty’s Empire had been carved up. “China is our India” was Czarist Russia’s intent towards China itself. China had an awful political and military history from when foreign depredations began in the 1840s all the way until the Mao-Zhou era ended in the 1970s. Indeed China’s polity between the 1840s and 1940s suffered far greater chaos and anarchy than India’s in the same period.

 

 

From a Chinese standpoint, Younghusband’s diplomatic and military invasion of Gyantze and Lhasa in 1903-1904 was an insult they had been unable to militarily confront. Curzon sent Younghusband’s expedition because there appeared to be Russian intrigues with the Dalai Lama via the Russian/Mongolian agent Dorjiev who had transmitted Russian ideas of extending its new Siberian railway to Lhasa and posting Cossack soldiers there. The Russians seemed to want to adopt the Dalai Lama given his religious influence over Mongolia. The British were alarmed and determined to annihilate the influence of Dorjiev which they did. Thence came the Anglo-Russian Treaty of 1907 which specified British and Russian spheres of influence in Iran and Afghanistan, and stated Tibet would be dealt with internationally only through the Chinese Empire. The McMahon Line, as a recognition of the traditional boundary, flowed naturally from the legitimacy of the Anglo-Russian Treaty. As for Sinkiang, though a Chinese province since 1884 it came to be ruled by warlords under Russian influence.

 

 

The Mao-Zhou war machine was determined to take over and militarily hold both Sinkiang and Tibet as an assertion of new China’s self-definition against Russia and Britain; hence their denunciation of Nehru as a pawn first of Britain and then of Russia. China building a road surreptitiously between Sinkiang and Tibet through Aksai Chin was reminiscent of Russia’s coercive behaviour against China in building the Trans-Siberian Railway through Chinese territory to Vladivostok. At worst, the Indians would have to admit that erstwhile J&K State since October 1947 had become an ownerless entity whose unclaimed territory had been carved up by force by the new Pakistan, new India and new China.

 

 

From an Indian standpoint, the traditional recognised boundary placed Aksai Chin clearly in Ladakh and not Tibet. Aksai Chain is a salt pit without “a blade of grass” but for all anyone knows, it could be rich in minerals. Karakorum Pass is also newly valuable to the Chinese as they seek to develop a land-route from Baluchistan’s Gwadar Port through Pakistan to China. If India has lost Aksai Chin and Karakorum Pass by force of arms without compensation, force of arms may be the only means of retrieval. Due compensation from China could be Chumbi Valley between Sikkim and Bhutan, and China seems once to have mentioned mutual perpetual lease of Aksai Chin and Chumbi Valley.

 

 

From a Tibetan point of view, the Amban representing the Chinese Emperor was driven out of Lhasa in 1912 and Tibet was independent of China for 38 years. Tibet has as much of a claim to be independent of China as Poland or Ukraine have had to be of Russia. As for the McMahon Line, it is indeed legally non-negotiable between China and India as it flowed directly out of the Anglo-Russian Treaty of 1907, and it was under that Treaty that China received international recognition of its formal suzerainty over Tibet since 1720 until that time. Mao once likened Tibet to the palm of a hand with Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Assam as five fingers. Modern China must decide between such a metaphor of Maoist expansionism (which India would have to militarily resist) and joining the world of international law created since Grotius. Democratic conditions in Tibet would also have to be insisted upon so the Dalai Lama and other Tibetans may return home from India in peace and freedom.

 

 

Map of Asia c. 1900