Indo-China border row far from over

We are back to square one as far as the border dispute with China is concerned. Some 12 meetings held on the border issue since the two countries agreed to talk about it have been futile.

China's foreign affairs spokesman, Qin Gang, has said: "We deeply regret the Indian side's remarks that Arunachal Pradesh is a part of India…New Delhi has not taken into account the historical facts."
Beijing, Gang says, never recognized the "illegal" McMahon Line and that the status of the border state was "never officially demarcated."

My complaint is why the Indian government has not been frank with the nation. At the end of every meeting, the Indian spokesman has said that the "progress" made on the talks was "positive." Probably, Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee who has been rebuffed by China thought he would get away with the speech he was making during his visit to Arunachal Pradesh. He said that "Arunachal is an integral part of India and that China knows about it."

This gave the impression as if the matter regarding Arunachal had already been settled. Apparently, it is not so. China must have told India that Beijing did not accept New Delhi's stand. The manner in which China has been blocking the visit of MLAs or the Speaker from Arunachal Pradesh to its country should have been a clear indication that Beijing was sticking to its old stand. I do not know why we go on indulging in wishful thinking. This is precisely what happened before the 1962 war between China and India.

I remember the first time I heard of the Sino-Indian border dispute was in the Union Home Ministry in early 1957. I was complaining to a senior official about the East Pakistan border bristling with dangers. He feigned ignorance. But his one remark, even though cryptic, was significant. He said: "Why Pakistan alone? You will have trouble with China very soon."

He did not elucidate but in reply to my insistent queries he did add that there were vague reports of China building a road through Sinkiang. The Foreign Ministry had been informed of the reports many times. Lakshman Singh from UP was the first person in 1954 to inform the government about the building of Aksai Chin Road. As our Trade Representative, he used to visit Tibet every year. His contacts were wide, and he met some labourers who had worked on building the road.

A couple of weeks later I was sitting with the same officer when he told his private secretary to put certain papers in the 'Border File'. I asked what 'border file' meant. He explained that since the Ministry of External Affairs refused to entertain information about China's inroads into Indian territory, this was straightaway filed.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru got enraged even at the mention of a border dispute with China. Laughingly, he remarked that "in our ministry when somebody does not want to deal with a subject for a long time, he says: 'Put it in the border file'."

I was to hear this euphemistic description of inactivity often after that. Another time I heard the border problem being discussed threadbare was when Chou En-Lai called on then Home Minister G.B. Pant. I remember as Information Officer to the Home Minister at that time Pant had the habit of writing down his main speeches and briefs and then delivering them "extempore." That time also there were scores of papers typed and re-typed, meetings with the foreign secretary and much poring over maps till Pant could remember the names of even remote rivulets.

The Pant-Chou meeting, arranged at short notice, was meant to remove the impression then spread by the pro-Beijing Communists that Nehru felt personally hurt by Chou En-Lai's actions and was therefore somewhat adamant about the terms for any settlement.

The Prime Minister also wanted to show that he was not alone in taking decisions on the border issue. His cabinet colleagues had to be carried along, and all of them felt rather strongly on the issue.

Probably there was also some pressure from the party which wanted somebody other than then Defence Minister Krishna Menon to be associated with the discussions.

The reputation of Pant was that of a shrewd person, a hard nut to crack. I recall that before hostilities had broken out, a "solution" of the border was suggested by Menon, but he was overruled by Pant. Menon had told then Chinese foreign minister Chen Yi that India might accept Beijing's suzerainty over the area in Aksai Chin where it had built the road to link Sinkiang and Tibet as well as over a 10-mile strip to serve as a "buffer" to the road. In exchange, China must officially accept the McMahon Line and India's rights to the rest of Ladakh.

China had reportedly accepted this and so had Menon who apparently had talked to Nehru. But Pant stood in the way and had the government withdraw its offer through an informal resolution in the cabinet. Even leasing out the Aksai Chin area was not acceptable to the ministers. "We can never trust the Chinese again," said Sardar Patel.

There was also controversy over the border shown in Chinese maps. Nehru raised this point with Chou En-Lai many a time but every time the latter would say that they were Kuomintang Government's maps which his government had no time to correct. However, he was always general in his replies and never even once said that he accepted boundaries shown in the Indian maps.

New Delhi's case was that from the six century onwards it was known that the southern limits of Sinkiang lay along the Kuen Lun ranges and, therefore, the Aksai Chin Plateau and the Lingzi Tang plains were never a part of China or Sinkiang. India has produced 600 pieces of documentary evidence to establish that these areas were utilized by the people of Ladakh and administered by the governments of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir. And therefore they are India's.

Subsequently, China attacked India. But that is part of history. The new relationship between the two countries grew when Beijing agreed to have talks on the border. Both had agreed to honour the status quo till there was a firm settlement. But Qin Gang has violated that understanding by his outburst. The two countries are too big to push each other. Beijing, more than New Delhi, should realise this.

The writer is a veteran Indian journlist and civil servant. He was also an ex-diplomat and one-time Rajya Sabha member.

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