Homeland Security

Chinese Bellicosity over Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 09 Apr , 2017

(Picture Courtesy: www.ndtv.com)

True to form the Chinese reaction to the Dalai Lama’s presence in Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh has drawn the expected bellicose bluster from Beijing. Having made Arunachal Pradesh and of late Tawang as a ‘core’ issue, which has to be endorsed by any nation seeking bilateral relations with China, it had no option but make the right belligerent noises to parry its own people.

Chief Minister rightly observed, Arunachal Pradesh has a border with Tibet and not China. That brings to fore the question of whether the Chinese can rightfully stake a claim of Tibet as being a part of China.

China has reiterated that it will go to any extent to protect its ‘core’ interests. The claim to the territory of Arunachal Pradesh is one of them. In recorded history there had been no Chinese presence in Arunachal Pradesh so to claim it as Chinese ‘core’ interest is bordering on the ludicrous. As Chief Minister rightly observed, Arunachal Pradesh has a border with Tibet and not China. That brings to fore the question of whether the Chinese can rightfully stake a claim of Tibet as being a part of China.

It is generally agreed that Tibet was an independent country prior to Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 CE), and that Tibet has been ruled by China only since 1959. The nature of the relationship between Tibet and China in the intervening period is a matter of debate. While the People’s Republic of China (PRC) claims that Tibet has been under Chinese rule since the Yuan Dynasty, the Republic of China (ROC) claims that it was only during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912 CE) that Tibet was brought under the Chinese rule after it ended a brief Nepalese rule from 1788-1792 CE. It will be recalled that the Chinese claims in the South China Sea are based on what was claimed by the ROC. In this case the ROC and PRC claims are not coinciding. PRC is adept at shifting its stance to maximise its claims.

Tibetan Government in Exile claims that Tibet was an Independent state till the Chinese invaded it in 1949/50. Western scholars claim that Tibet and China was ruled by Mongols during the Yuan Dynasty and that Tibet was independent during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE). Thereafter it was ruled or more accurately, subordinate to the Qing Dynasty. Some scholars say that Tibet was independent from 1912-1950.

Due to Tibet’s isolation and its pacifist inward looking existence, it did not dominate or even figure prominently on the world stage. As a result, the western colonial powers did not see any economic or geo-strategic advantage in having a presence there. As a consequence Tibet remained a forbidden land. The Second World War completely dampened any enthusiasm for Tibet if there was any left by 1945. The Chinese were quick to appreciate the situation and take advantage and once for all permanently alter the ambiguous status of Tibet. Even though the Communist government had been in power for less than a year and the internal situation in China still volatile with pockets of resistance to the Communists in the South.

The dramatic global situation enabled China to conquer Tibet and get away with it. Therefore, the Chinese claim of Southern Tibet (Tawang) seems outlandish!!

The Nationalists forces of Chiang Kaishek were finally defeated and Hainan Island captured in 1950. At the same time China had ventured to enter Tibet with a rag tag force and conquered it. The Western powers were fatigued after the long war and had no stomach for more. A war, which drew in the US against the Russians and the Chinese (who were sucked in because of the reluctance of the Russians) was already waging in Korea. India had no forces to spare. Kashmir had taken in available troops. Internal security needs were paramount. The dramatic global situation enabled China to conquer Tibet and get away with it.

Therefore, the Chinese claim of Southern Tibet (Tawang) seems outlandish!! Of course the Chinese can bury you with filibuster and “alternate facts’’ to overwhelm ones sense of judgement.

The issue of McMahon Line as the boundary between India and China in Arunachal Pradesh began figuring in notes which were exchanged between India and China post 1954 when India firmed its boundary on the maps in public domain. It was in 1959, when Chou Enlai first stated in a letter that there is a dispute and that there is this ‘so called’ McMahon Line. Its alignment was disputed and subject to the two sides cartographic interpretations. India also referred to the clause of the alignment following the ‘highest watershed’ and consequently unilaterally gave up its claim on those tracts of territory which were figuring north of the ‘watershed’. This unilateral action by India, however, did not impress the Chinese and they continued to claim areas south of the ‘watershed’.

To the extent, that in 1959, the Chinese forcefully occupied Longju and have held it since. In contrast, in 1962, after having routed the Indians in Kameng the Chinese forces withdrew north of Tawang and even north of the McMahon Line as interpreted by them in this sector. Had they stayed back in Tawang it would have been impossible for India to have evicted them. So why did they withdraw? It is obvious that there were serious pressures for them to do so. The whole game of claiming Arunachal Pradesh began well after that war.

There is no way China can take away even a square foot of Indian territory by force. China needs to adopt a mature responsible stance with regard to the boundary issue.

Coming back to the issue at hand, the State controlled Chinese media is saying things more ‘undiplomatically’ than their spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Stating that India was ‘using’ the Dalai Lama to make a statement after China stone walled India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and in blocking the blacklisting of Masood Azhar as a terrorist. China also blatantly brushed aside India’s objections to its presence in POK (including Gilgit-Baltistan). These are ‘core’ issues as far as India is concerned. How can China demand that India respect China’s ‘core’ interests but overlook what China does to India’s ‘core’ interests.

China has threatened that it can up the ante in other areas. In Eastern Ladakh the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has certain disputed areas. These have been identified and mutually agreed. But the Chinese have at times erupted in some other areas such as Chumar and added to this list. However, their claims cannot go beyond the  LAC to claim any territory.  In the Himachal Pradesh-Uttrakhand sector, the International Boundary along the main watershed is sacrosanct with a few pockets of dispute. China had tried to instigate Nepal to dispute the location of its western tri junction but Nepal has not done so, however, China has its own interpretation of this point.

So this unwarranted statement threats and bellicosity is a classic one by a ‘bully’; a hegemon. China needs to be aware that its actions and diplomatic and military posturing are all being interpreted by the nations in the region and globally. It could seriously mar its image and give fillip to the ‘China threat theory’ because of which it had so painstakingly clarified that is rise was peaceful. Not only that, it even watered down the ‘rise’ part of it and restated it a ‘peaceful development’.

There is no way China can take away even a square foot of Indian territory by force. China needs to adopt a mature responsible stance with regard to the boundary issue.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen (Dr) JS Bajwa

is Editor Indian Defence Review and former Chief of Staff, Eastern Command and Director General Infantry.  He has authored two books Modernisation of the People's Liberation Army and  Modernisation of the Chinese PLA

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4 thoughts on “Chinese Bellicosity over Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang

  1. What is the strategic importance of Longju say vis-a-vis Tawang, as per “the Chinese forcefully occupied Longju and have held it since. In contrast, in 1962”, could the General please clarify? In my limited understanding of the history of 1962 debacle and war in general, armed forces of any nation need long times for preparation before they are capable of challenging the enemy forces. And the political leadership is responsible for providing such material resources to the military to gear up. All such fundamentals were missing in the India’s statecraft in the era of 1950s which led to the debacle and I hope the military does not take it as a moral setback in spite of some lapses on their part here and there in managing that war. It was the political leadership’s bankrupt mindset which was the root cause of 1962 events.

    • Sankar,
      There was a Post in the vicinity of Longju which was manned by the Intelligence Bureau. On the old maps Longju was marked at about three different locations. In the Shimla Agreement of 1914, the McMahon Line in this area of Subansari-Tsari Chu was indicated as running south of Migyitun a Tibetan pilgrim centre. In the Chinese interpretation Longju was also north of McMahon Line. The trigger to move in to claim the locations upto the McMahon Line (August 1959) is likely to have been to “teach some lesson” to India after India give refuge to HH The Dalai Lama (March 1959).
      However, after the 1962 war the Chinese PLA vacated north beyond Tawang, one, because Soviet Union, US and UK pledged military aid to India. Two, six non-aligned nations met in Colombo on 10 Dec 1962 and asked China to withdraw 20 km north of the ‘customary’ line without reciprocal requirement for India to do so. Probably China realised its international isolation and withdrew north of Tawang but only upto where its troops had been before the war (Thagla Ridge) and not 20 km as the Colombo declaration required them to do.
      As regards equipment and preparation of the army then, well its a known fact that the politician and Nehru had a mind set that the army had not done anything for the independence of the country and seeing the army ousting the civil government in Pakistan he was paranoid about consequences of a strong army. Krishna Menon was more concerned in employing the army in construction of their own barracks and paid scant attention to the equipping and war preparation of the army despite indications of the gathering war clouds after 1959 and Army Chief putting in his resignation as he was snubbed for being ‘obsessed’ with a threat from China.

      • Thank you General for clarifying many aspects. I have also read, that Morarji Desai had blocked spending funds for buying modern weapons for the Army although the cabinet had sanctioned that money. And that was in late1950s before the 1962 attack. So, not only Nehru-Menon duo, but many other politicians are responsible for the black days of 1962, but people do not point finger at them . I have a vague understanding that Tawang is ideally seated in the Himalayas to launch a surface-to surface missile from there to strike Beijing in a direct hit with the shortest path – a narrow window for the ballistic missile trajectory. All other positions in the mountain fall under some radar shadow to be effective for delivery.

        • Sankar, appreciate your view.
          To undertake a limited regional war targets opposite the main area of operations are more relevant in degrading and defeating the attack. These will be in the Tibet upto and north of the Tsang Po. These critical targets can be taken on by the systems presently in the Army without their need for any forward deployment in Tawang area.

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