21 March 2017

** Why India must avoid falling into China's trap over disputed territory


Dai Bingguo id the former Special Representative for boundary talks with India

In characteristic Chinese subterfuge diplomacy, Dai Bingguo, the former Special Representative (SR) for boundary talks with India, in an interview with a Chinese magazine, holds India responsible for the existing impasse in negotiations.

'If the Indian side takes care of China's concerns in the eastern sector of their border, the Chinese side will address India's concerns elsewhere', he has said.

According to him, 'The disputed territory in the eastern sector of the China-India boundary, including Tawang, is inalienable from China's Tibet in terms of cultural background and administrative jurisdiction.'


He claims, 'Even British colonialists who drew the illegal McMahon Line respected China's jurisdiction over Tawang and admitted that Tawang was part of China's Tibet'. 

He believes India is not acceding to China's 'reasonable requests' on border settlement.

By demanding that India cede Tawang, Dai Bingguo is repudiating Article VII of the 2005 Agreement on Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of India-China Boundary Question.

This cardinal provision states, 'In reaching a boundary settlement, the two sides shall safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas.'

The imperative word 'shall' has been used and the reference is to 'their settled populations'.

A Chinese soldier gestures as he stands near an Indian soldier on the Chinese side of the ancient Nathu La border crossing between India and China

This clearly excludes Tawang from negotiations as India is neither claiming any territory beyond the McMahon Line nor seeking sovereignty over 'settled populations' on the Tibetan side.

The use of the word 'their' implicitly recognises that the settled populations on our side are Indian, not Chinese.

This is not the only article that Dai Bingguo ignores in his interview. Article IV states, 'The two sides will give due consideration to each other's strategic and reasonable interests, and the principle of mutual and equal security.'

By claiming Tawang, which is strategically of key importance for the defence of Arunachal Pradesh, China, under the guise of historical cultural and administrative links with Tibet, is actually brushing aside India's 'strategic and reasonable interests' in the context of the China's increasing militarisation of Tibet and the threat to Indian security.

An Indian soldier stand guard at the Chinese side of the ancient Nathu La border crossing between India and China

Because it is not offering to India anything in return by way of a critically located settled area on its side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the requirement of 'equal security' is not being met.

Dai Bingguo is in breach of Article V of the Agreement too which says: 'The two sides will take into account, among other things, historical evidence, national sentiments, practical difficulties and reasonable concerns and sensitivities of both sides, and the actual state of border areas.'

It is not clear why China's 'reasonable concerns' require it to claim Tawang, whereas India's 'reasonable concerns' about China occupying Tawang and outflanking Indian defences are clear.

Besides this, the 'practical difficulties' involved in Tawang changing hands apply only to India and not to China.

Once China accepted 'practical difficulties' as a consideration, its stand on Tawang is spurious to that extent.

Indian Army soldiers of the Gorkha Regiment carry weapons as they walk through snow, along the India-China border at the height of 16,000ft near Tawang


Article VI of the Principles negotiated by Dai Bingguo himself has also been conveniently overlooked by him in his psychological warfare against India.

This says, 'The boundary should be along well-defined and easily identifiable natural geographical features to be mutually agreed upon between the two sides.'

Implicitly this means acceptance of the easily identifiable high watershed principle defining the natural geographic boundary in the east, a principle accepted by China in defining its boundaries with Nepal and Myanmar.

Tawang being well to the south of the Himalayan high watershed, Dai Bingguo's position on Tawang is once again counterfeit.

China is actually claiming the Tawang tract, which makes its claim fluid. In 2006, China's ambassador to India had said brashly: 'In our position, the whole of the state of Arunachal Pradesh is Chinese territory. And Tawang is only one of the places in it.' 

While Dai Bingguo has talked vaguely of 'addressing India's concerns elsewhere', China's claim in the eastern sector is being made more concretely.


China wants to retain full flexibility to decide what to offer in the western sector after India is trapped into agreeing in principle to a major territorial concession in the east.

In our view, China not only initially occupied Aksai Chin unilaterally, it is, post-1962, occupying areas that transcend its own 1959 claim line.

In 1962 it occupied Tawang but subsequently withdrew to the McMahon Line, accepting it implicitly as the de facto border.

Besides this, China was in the past willing to accept the McMahon Line in exchange of India ceding claim on Aksai Chin.

Chinese soldiers stand at a Chinese post on the Chinese side of the border at Nathu La

It has subsequently reversed its position by seeking major concessions in the east against some adjustments in the west. Its position on the border settlement is, therefore, based on power equations and not on any principle.

China has repeatedly demonstrated that either it does not respect the agreements it signs or interprets them as it wants.

In 1996 it agreed to 'clarifying the alignment of the LAC in those segments where they (the two sides) have different perceptions'.

In 2002 (when the writer was Foreign Secretary) China decided to repudiate this agreement unilaterally.

If Dai Bingguo claims that even the British admitted that Tawang was part of 'China's Tibet', he should explain why Tawang is 37 km south of the British drawn McMahon Line which also the Dalai Lama accepts.

Dai Bingguo stands reason on its head by portraying China's self-serving propositions on settling the border as 'reasonable'.

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