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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 48, November 14, 2009

India Must Beware of the Chinese Dragon

Tuesday 17 November 2009, by Suvrokamal Dutta


China’s demand for the removal of two Indian Army bunkers from its outpost at Batang La in Sikkim near the India-Bhutan-China tri-junction recently can be seen from two angles. First, as a case of highhandedness of a few Chinese border officials who entered the Indian territory inadvertently and came face to face with these Indian bunkers. Oblivious of where their actual position on the ground is, these officials then raised objections about the bunkers. This scenario seems probable because, according to the Indian Army, these bunkers were constructed two years ago and there were no protests from the Chinese side till now. But then India has to be cautious as it comes after several violations of its border in Arunachal Pradesh by the Chinese Army in the past.

The Indian Army has moved several thousand troops to the Sino-India border recently following reports of Chinese intrusions in the Sikkim-Bhutan area. The shifting of Army formations north of Nathu-La comes in the wake of reports that Chinese troops are coming close to the Siliguri corridor, which is also called the Chicken’s Neck connecting the North-East of India with the rest of the country. It is about 33 sq kms wide. The Army authorities said Chinese forces had been coming close to the Dolam Plateau for more than two decades, as the boundary in the area is still to be precisely defined.

In May 2007 on the Chinese Intrusion into Arunachal Pradesh the Home Minister of the Government of India had this to say: “The reports (of intrusion) are not true.” The Minister was reacting to media reports quoting a lawmaker from Arunachal Pradesh who claimed that the Chinese Army had moved 20 km inside the State that borders China’s Tibet region. However, the BJP MP from Arunachal Pradesh had this to say: “There has been a Chinese incursion in our country particularly in Arunachal Pradesh. I have written to the Government of India and raised the issue in Parliament. The government is not accepting the incursion openly. But defence personnel acknowledge that this is happening and the Chinese are occupying our land.” This could be true even as the Chinese have in the past violated the Arunachal borders on many occasion. Matters of such violations have to be taken seriously more so after the Chinese ambassador to India, Sun Yuxi, said in November 2006: “The whole of what you call the State of Arunachal Pradesh is Chinese territory… We are claiming the whole of that.” India then strongly reacted to the Chinese claims with the External Affairs Ministry saying: “Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India.”

Matters in relation to Arunachal should be seen in the context of what happened recently in the Kashmir-Himachal border sector when the Chinese Army entered almost three to six kms inside the Indian territory and wrote China with red paint in the rocks of the mountainous area of the border areas. The Indian Army has also reported several violations by the Chinese Army in the Uttarakhand region in the recent past. Unofficial reports claim that in the last three months or so the Chinese Army has violated the Indian borders almost 300 times.

Besides border violations China has tried to use every international platform to present the disputed status of Arunachal Pradesh. The recent happenings in the Board meeting of the Asian Development Bank for a developmental loan for Arunachal Pradesh demonstrates this further. After the first defeat and total isolation of China, in the board meeting China used her diplomatic and strategic skills to get Japan and other East Asian countries on board and got the Arunachal package defeated which was a serious failure of Indian diplomacy.

Looking into the history of the border dispute the McMahon Line, an imaginary border now known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC), separates the India-China border along Arunachal Pradesh. China has never recognised the 1914 McMahon Line and claims 90,000 sq km—nearly all of Arunachal Pradesh. India also accuses China of occupying 25,000 sq km in Kashmir.

After 1962, tensions flared again in 1986 with Indian and Chinese forces clashing in Sumdorong Chu valley of Arunachal. Chinese troops reportedly built a helipad in the valley leading to fresh skirmishes along the borders.

The two countries signed the 1993 Border Peace and Tranquillity Agreement (BPTA). The agreement renamed the border the Line of Actual Control (LAC), implying a military held line that could be changed by military means. Indian forces have been ordered to match the growing border management by Chinese troops by building 12 strategic border roads. The Indian Government has budgeted the equivalent of $ 357 million for 27 roads along the LAC.


Looking into the historical factors the whole of the Arunachal border problem and the Aksai Chin in Jammu and Kashmir started after the Chinese annexation of Tibet. Let us try to analyse certain historical evidences based on the conversations of Pandit Nehru and the Chinese PM of that time, Zhou Enlai. Fifty years ago Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai paid three state visits to India in less than two months. It was the zenith of the brotherhood relationship. Premier Zhou was in India from November 28 to December 10, 1956; December 30 to January 3 and again from January 24 to 26, 1957. After the signing of the Panchsheel agreement in April 1954 Chinese intrusion of Indian borders started with the first reported intrusion taking place in Barahoti in July 1954.

Zhou took the initiative to bring up the situation in Tibet. He gave a long briefing to the Indian PM on the historical status of the Land of Snows, while Nehru kept quiet about the intrusions. Zhou made some stray remarks on Tibet and the border, which are worth noting:

That Tibet is part of China is a fact, but it was never an administrative province of China but kept an autonomous character.

Nehru replied:

My impression was that for all practical purposes Tibet has all along been autonomous.

Zhou spoke again about autonomy:

When we started negotiations for peaceful liberation of Tibet [in 1951 in Beijing], we from the first recognised the autonomous character of the region.

Then he interestingly added:

When I said that India knew more about Tibet, I meant about the past history. For example, I knew nothing about McMahon Line until recently when we came to study the border problem after [the] liberation of China.

Zhou had also then added which seems quite surprising now as the present Chinese leadership refuses to accept the McMahon line (Line of Actual Control). The then Premier of China had added:

Although this Line was never recognised by us, still apparently there was a secret pact between Britain and Tibet and it was announced at the time of the Simla Conference. And now that it is an accomplished fact, we should accept it. But we have not consulted Tibet so far.

Where did the question of consulting Tibet arise as China had forcefully occupied Tibet in 1959?

The present political leadership of India, specially the one in the Central Government, should take all these historical factors into account while arguing forcefully with China on the border problems with China. Strategically and economically Arunachal Pradesh and Bhutan are very important for India and India cannot afford to lose an inch of land in the Arunachal area and it cannot ignore the happenings in the Sikkim-Bhutan or in the Kashmir-Himachal areas. It’s time for the Indian Government to follow a bold and firm policy towards China on the border issue.

India should not only claim back forcefully the areas of Aksai Chin in Jammu and Kashmir which China had occupied it in 1962 but should also claim back almost 25,000 sq kms of territory on the other side of the Karakoram watershed in the Yarkhand areas on the other side of K2 peaks which originally belonged to the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir but was quietly taken over by China in 1947-48.

It should also ask China to cede the 5000 Sq kms of land in the Karakoram area which Pakistan had given to China after 1965.At the same time the Government of India should make it clear once for all that China should stop bargaining on its claim over Arunachal Pradesh. For this if required India should go back on its assurance of accepting Tibet as an autonomous part of China and declare the independent status of Tibet. If the present Chinese leadership can ignore the acceptance of Zhou Enlai on the McMahon line in 1957. So why can’t the present leadership of India do the same on the question of Tibet? At the same time India should raise the question of ethnic cleansing in Tibet and Xinjiang at every international forum and also derecognise Xinjiang as a part of China and make it disputed.

After all in diplomacy there is also a notion of tit for tat as well as the carrot and stick policy.

Suvrokamal Dutta is a writer and foreign affairs expert. He can contacted by email at: sk_dutta70@ and

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