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Mainstream, VOL LV No 30 New Delhi July 15, 2017

Time to Judge the Chinese Chicanery

Sunday 16 July 2017

by Sankar Ray

Revered and erudite journalist Sunanda Kishore Datta-Ray, author of Smash and Grab: Annexation of Sikkim, has very succinctly stated about the mounting tension in the Dokolam plateau: “Strictly speaking, India is not involved in today’s dispute over the Dokolam plateau where the Chinese are said to claim 269 sq km of Bhutanese territory. But Jawaharlal Nehru’s warning in the Lok Sabha in 1959, ‘We have publicly, and rightly, undertaken certain responsibilities for the defence of Sikkim and Bhutan, if they are attacked. It is very necessary for us to understand that if anything happens on their borders, then it is the same thing as an interference with the border of India’ still shapes policy. Dokolam is one of the four disputed areas in Haa and Paro in western Bhutan. Haa Dzong (Castle) is the family seat of the once powerful Dorjee clan of the half-Sikkimese Ashi Kesang Wangchuck, whose grandson, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wang-chuck, is the current ‘Dragon King’. Haa is also the headquarters of the Indian Military Training Team in Bhutan and, therefore, an object of Chinese suspicion. India’s southernmost military post is at Dokola on the China-Bhutan-India tri-junction.” http://www.freepressjournal.in/analysis/sunanda-k-datta-ray-india-not-involved-in-dispute-over-doklam/1098885. Ajay Shukla too has logically raised the issue of the protracted Sino-Indian ‘territorial and boundary dispute’ along a 3500-km stretch which indeed “is a complex, historical, multi-layered wrangle” http://www.business-standard.com/article/opinion/the-sikkim-patrol-clash-117070301373 _1.html. The reflex of a local cold war has been the eyeball-to-eyeball patrols by the two Armies on the Sikkim-Tibet border since June 16.

But why have the rulers of the People’s Republic of China (read brass of the Communist Party of China) suddenly resorted to belligerent gesture in the vicinity of the tri-junction of India, Bhutan, and China? Out of a diplomatic failure? After all, it is well known that Beijing initially liked the ascendancy of Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister as an end to the Nehruvian tradition and did not seem to have envisioned that a deeply committed saffronite would gravitate more towards Washington than Beijing.

For scholars and political analysts specialising in the history and politics of Sino-Indian border differences, it is time to broaden their study into the dynamic history of statecraft of states in the Himalayan region—no less brittle and seismic than one of the youngest mountainous regions the world over. Take the case of Arunachal Pradesh (formerly North-Eastern Frontier Agency). Those who think the claim of China over the region deserves to be considered because of the religious affiliation of the ‘Golden Nagoya Lhotse’, the Twang monastery, to the Mahayana school of Buddhism of Legalistic faith of Tibet, may be reminded that it was set up in the relatively recent past (1860-61) by the Merck Lama Lode Gatos. Prof Ram Rahul, an outstanding scholar on the history and politics of the Himalayan and Central Asian regions, in a paper, ‘The History of Himalayas’, presented to the fifth annual conference of the Institute of Historical Studies in 1967 at Patiala, stated: “The present area of NEFA has always been a part of Assam since the earliest times. The early rulers of Kamarupa exercised a political control of sorts over it. Bhagadatta’s domination before the first century touched the confines of South-West China at a distance of about a month’s journey from the capital of Kamarupa. According to Sanskrit source and the travel account of Yuam Chwang, the northern limits of Kamarupa including Bhutan extended much beyond the frontiers of modern Assam.” (The Sino-Indian Border Question: A Historical Review, edited by S.P. Sen, p. 21) Prof Rahul, whom this writer met with in the mid-1970s, when the books and publications of the Chemicals and Allied Export Promotion Council commissioned him for the pavilion at the first Moscow Trade Fair, knew Tibetan, Russian, Mongolian and other languages. He referred to P. Chaudhuri’s seminal work, History of Civilisation of People of Assam to the Twelfth Century AD (1959).

For a section of Leftist academics, Neville Maxwell and Alastair Lamb are like a church on the Sino-Indian border disputes, never caring to note that the limit of historical knowledge of the two Western writers does not go beyond the British colonial period. They are even silent about the British expedition to Tibet (December 1903-September 1904), led by the imperial adventurer Colonel Sir Francis Edward Younghusband that not only debilitated Tibet politicaly and militarily, but severely curtailed the Chinese claim for suzerainty over it. The ruthless British military officer, instigated by Lord Curzon, led incursions across the Tibetan plateau. The Manchu rulers of China did not only remain mum, they had dissipated, digesting humiliation. The Tibetan Army, having been no match for the British invaders with its antiquated armaments, had to surrender ‘with the loss of more than 2000 souls’. On September 6, 1904, the Tibetans were forced to sign the ‘Anglo-Tibetan treaty’. The Thirteenth Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso, fled to Mongolia. Maxwell and Lamb relied mostly on British colonial (including secret) reports and did not consider the pre-18th century historical documents and treatises. Sen, in his introduction to the IHS compilation, rightly said: “The political status of Tibet or the question of India’s northern border did not suddenly come to existence with the treatises of 1890 and 1895 or Younghusband’s expedition. One has to go far back in history to ascertain the correct position of Tibet and India’s close relations with the Himalayan state which the Chinese Communists claim as the five fingers of the Tibetan palm. It is because of this over-concentration on the recent past that many a foreign writer, like Alastair Lamb and Neville Maxwell, has been led to a ridiculously distorted view of history.”

However, ‘the Chinese Communists claim as the five fingers of the Tibetan palm’ is a questionable statement. Although there has been no denial from the CPC or Mao Zedong, who was said to have made this statement, none of the political and defence commentators could refer to any authentic quote. Nonetheless, the Chinese emperors had no presence for several centuries in Tibet until the 17th century. Güshi Khan, Khoshut prince and leader of the Khoshut Khanate, annexed Central Tibet in 1642 and ‘expellled all the Karma Kargyu Lamas from Lhasa, appointing his Gelugpa preceptotor, Dalai Lama V’ (Rahul, ibid) who belonged to the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism.

At the IHS conference, Suniti Kumar Pathak of Viswa-Bharati University, in a lengthy paper, ‘India-China Boundary: Eastern Sector’, argued that Tibet was an independent monarchy between 618-1200 AD under the Tang Dynasty. It lost its freedom when the Central Asian Mongolian chief of Kansu region, Godan, handed over Tibet to the Sakya Pandita of the Sakya monastery as the Viceregent of Tibet in the 13th century. After the death of Godan and his Viceregent in 1251, Kublai Khan, the builder of the Yuan dynasty (1200 AD) in China “offered Phagpa of the Sakya Monaestry the authority over the whole of Tibet upto the Kokonor in the far west”. These historical events vouchsafe the statement of the present Dalai Lama: “There is no basis in history for the Chinese claim that Tibet was a part of China.”

The official Communist Parties—the CPI, CPI-M and several variants of CPI-ML—even Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Tibetologist Rahul Sankrityayan want (wanted) us to believe that Tibet was a part of China. (This writer too was of the same view for many years, but the fact remains that China colonised Tibet. Unfortunately, the CPC has been a shameless defender of Chinese colonialism of the early period. And on this issue, there was no difference among Mao, Liu Shaoqi, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping. At the International Conference of Communist and Workers’ Parties in 1960 (known as the 81 Party Congress), the legendary French Communist Party leader, Maurice Thorez, scolded the CPC delegates. “The Chinese comrades brought up the question of the recent conflict on the Sino-Indian border. I must say frankly that we are hardly able to understand why the question of the frontiers has been raised at such a moment. We were alarmed at the tense situation that was being generated between the two great countries, both being members of the peace camp, and like all the workers of France, we welcomed the political wisdom of the Soviet Union on this question,” he stated. (Link, July 10, 1961, Pravda, October 13, 1961, etc, quoted in Hemen Ray’s Peking and the Indian CPI, Delhi, 1980, p. 82, footnote)

 The CIA and a few foreign intelligence agencies in all likelihood have a presence in Tibet and around but the entire movement for freedom of Tibet is not under these foreign agencies under various names. The issue is whether the future of the Himalayan state is to be decided by the Tibetans themselves instead of Beijng and its chauvinistic minds.

The author, a senior journalist based in Kolkata, specialises in Left politics and history.

In the light of the ‘Political Notebook’ titled “Modi in Israel, China’s Muscle-flexing in Doko La” in Mainstream (July 8, 2017), B.D.G. (Barun Das Gupta) informs:

“The Indian name for the place (of Sino-Indian confrontation) is Doko La. The Bhutanese call it Dokolam. The Chinese call it Donglong.

“From this point the Siliguri ‘Chicken’s Neck’ corridor is just 50 kilometres.”

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