The Years of Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai
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Issue Book Excerpt: Tibet - The Lost Frontier | Date : 03 Jul , 2015

The Dalai Lama’s Visit in 1956-57

On the occasion of the 2500th birth anniversary of the Buddha (November 1956), important diplomatic activities took place with the arrival of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama to India which was followed by State visits of Zhou Enlai, the Chinese Premier. Zhou came to India thrice in less than 2 months; first from November 28 to December 10, 1956, then from December 30 to January 3, 1957 and again from January 24 to 26. His purpose was certainly not to enter a new record, but shows how nervous the Chinese government was about the Dalai Lama’s Indian tour.

…the Chinese Premier made some stray remarks which are worth noting: “That Tibet is part of China is a fact, but it as never an administrative province of China but kept an autonomous character…

Nehru had the occasion to have long talks with Zhou on diverse topics such the policies of the Roosevelt Administration or the happenings in Hungary. Though the situation in Tibet was discussed, the border issue was not taken up except when the Chinese Premier made some stray remarks which are worth noting: “That Tibet is part of China is a fact, but it as never an administrative province of China but kept an autonomous character. Therefore, when we started negotiations for peaceful liberation of Tibet, we from the first recognised the autonomous character of the region. 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.”8

Is it not rather strange that he himself admits that he did not know about the McMahon line? It also means that in the fifties Zhou had no problem to grant a real autonomy to the Tibetan people.

During the following talk, he clarified his position about the Line: “What I meant was that people like me never knew about it till recently. The then Chinese Government, namely, the warlords in Peking and the KMT [Kuomintang] naturally knew about it.”9

He adds something which can appear bizarre fifty years later (when the question of recognition of the Line is still pending): “We studied this question and although this Line was never recognized 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.”

Let us not forget that in 1914 in Simla the Chinese Plenipotentiary participated for several months the discussions on the ‘secret pact’ which he initialed.10

Regarding the recognition of the McMahon Line, Zhou Enlai conveniently put it on the Tibetans. According to the Chinese Premier the Tibetans: “…wanted us to reject this Line; but we told them that the question should be temporarily put aside. I believe immediately after India’s independence, the Tibetan Government had also written to the Government of India about this matter. But now we think that we should try to persuade and convince Tibetans to accept it. …the question will be decided after Dalai Lama’s return to Lhasa. So, although the question is still undecided and it is unfair to us, still we feel that there is no better way than to recognize this Line.”11

Nehru did not take this opportunity to forcefully denounce the Chinese intrusions across the Indian border; he remained rather vague: “The border is a high mountain border and sparsely populated…

Nehru did not take this opportunity to forcefully denounce the Chinese intrusions across the Indian border; he remained rather vague: “The border is a high mountain border and sparsely populated. Apart from the major question, there are also small questions about two miles here and two miles there. But if we agree on some principle, namely, the principle of previous normal practice or the principle of watershed, we can also settle these other small points.”

Once again it was ‘small’ or ‘petty’ issues. Zhou on his part remained hopeful: “the question can be solved and we think it should be settled early.”

A few days later, the Indian Prime Minister wrote to the Foreign Secretary: “Although [Zhou] thought that this line, established by British imperialists, was not fair, nevertheless, because it was an accomplished fact and because of the friendly relations which existed between China and the countries concerned, namely, India and Burma, the Chinese Government were of the opinion that they should give recognition to this McMahon Line.”12

The Dalai Lama (accompanied by the Panchen Lama) stayed for a few months in India for the Buddha Jayanti celebrations. On several occasions, he had the opportunity to discuss the Tibetan issue with Nehru.

Zhou Enlai, anxious that the Dalai Lama might strike a deal with the Indian Prime Minister, was often seen in Delhi during those months. Zhou had several meetings with the Dalai Lama who recalled one in the Chinese embassy in Delhi: “I was having a frank discussion with Chou [Zhou]. He told me that the situation in Tibet had deteriorated, indicating that the Chinese authorities were ready to use force to crush any popular uprising.”13

The Dalai Lama ‘bluntly’ replied that the Chinese were “forcing unwanted reforms, despite explicit reassurances that they would do no such thing”. The Dalai Lama recalls that the clever Foreign Minister14 used his charm and promised that the words of Chairman Mao who had announced “no reform should be introduced in Tibet for at least the next six years” would be implemented. Generously, he even added that it could be postponed for “fifty years, if necessary”.

“There is no alternative,” said Nehru, “India could be of no assistance to Tibet”. He even added that he should obey Zhou…

The Dalai Lama was not convinced; then Zhou Enlai asked him not to go to Kalimpong where he was scheduled to give to the local population some Buddhist teachings.

When the Dalai Lama met Nehru next, the Prime Minister made it clear that that he had to return to Tibet and work with the Chinese on the basis of the 17-Point Agreement. “There is no alternative,” said Nehru, “India could be of no assistance to Tibet”. He even added that he should obey Zhou and return to Tibet without stopping in Kalimpong.

However, after the Dalai Lama had explained the purpose of the stop, he suddenly changed his mind and said: “India is a free country after all. You would not be breaking any of her laws.” And eventually Nehru made all the arrangements for the Dalai Lama’s visit to Kalimpong.

After the Dalai Lama’s return to Lhasa the situation did not change for the better in Tibet. On the contrary the pressure increased, especially after the revolt of the Khampas in Eastern Tibet.

The end of the avalanche came when the Dalai Lama had to flee Tibet after an uprising of the entire population of Lhasa in March 1959. This part of the story has been well documented, there is no need to repeat it here. Over the next forty years, more than 100,000 refugees would be forced to live in exile in India, Nepal or in the West.

The five years between the signing of the Panchsheel Agreement and the 1959 flight of the Dalai Lama to India saw a progressive deterioration in the relations between Delhi and Beijing. The construction of the road in the Aksai Chin (its late discovery by the Indian Government) was certainly a turning point. The Five Principles had no meaning anymore. After the Dalai Lama and his countrymen were given refuge in India, the situation worsened further. The acrimonious exchange running into hundreds of letters, demonstrates that the ‘eternal friendship’ had reached a point of no-return. The subject of this correspondence was mainly linked to the implementation of the Agreement (and the Trade regulations), the functioning of the marts and the treatment of Indian nationals in Tibet. Another part dealt with the one issue which was not settled in 1954: the border. Much suffering and bitterness could have been avoided, if the matter had been discussed threadbare in 1954.

The Chinese leadership had decided many years earlier ‘to teach India a lesson’ for having given refuge to the Dalai Lama and his people.

The Blow

The last straw for India and the one that opened Nehru’s eyes was China’s invasion of India in October–November 1962. This event has been well described by many authors, and we shall not go into the details of the operations. However a few points should be made.

Some have argued that the ‘forward policy’ of the Government of India in 1962 provoked the Chinese attack on the Indian border, but this argument does not withstand closer scrutiny. The Chinese leadership had decided many years earlier ‘to teach India a lesson’ for having given refuge to the Dalai Lama and his people. The fact that the first thrust of the Chinese attack in 1962 occurred at the same place where the Dalai Lama had crossed over to India15 was an indication that the two events were directly related. The Chinese have always been attached to such details. It had taken a couple of years for the PLA to be ready for the onslaught on the McMahon line.

Mao knew that India was not prepared and that for China it would have been difficult to sustain a long war during the coming winter with the lines of supply passing through a restive ‘occupied’ territory. The sharp and sudden ‘blow’ was definitely the best strategic and political solution for Mao and it was perfectly executed by his faithful lieutenants. After the war, Nehru was physically and psychologically a broken man. He realized that he had been taken for a ride by Mao, the great strategist through his brilliant Machiavellian Premier.

The Government of India’s policy towards China changed temporarily after Nehru’s death. Lal Bahadur Shastri the new Prime Minister, decided to take a tougher stand on Tibet and his government voted in favour of the Resolution for Self-determination of Tibet in the UN in 1965. The Indian Representative to the UN declared:

Shastri who told him (Dalai Lama) that India had decided to recognize the Tibetan Government-in-exile after his return from Tashkent.

“The naked truth — which all of us must face — is that the Chinese Government is determined to obliterate the Tibetan people, but surely no people can remain for long suppressed. I have faith in the world community. I believe it will be able to help restore the Tibetans all the freedom which we have enshrined, with such dedication, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

…It is for these reasons that we support, fully and wholeheartedly, the cause of the people of Tibet.”16

The Dalai Lama told us that one day in September 1965 during the Indo–Pakistan conflict, Shakabpa, the Tibetan Representative in Delhi came down to South India17 to meet him. He was very excited; he had just had a meeting with Shastri who told him that India had decided to recognize the Tibetan Government-in-exile after his return from Tashkent. Unfortunately for the Tibetans (and for India) Shastri never returned from Tashkent.18 After the shock treatment of 1962, it took many years before India would sit with China at the negotiating table.

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1. Li Zhisui, op. cit., p. 125.

2. SWJN, Series II, Vol. 27, Minutes of talks with Chou En-Lai, Beijing, 20 October 1954, p. 11.

3. SWJN, Series II, Vol. 27, Minutes of talks with Chou En-Lai. Beijing, 21 October 1954, p. 21.

4. The nineteen year old Dalai Lama had also been invited to spend a few months in China to see for himself the miracles of the Communist revolution. During this period he had long discussions with Mao on the future of Tibet. Unfortunately, the Chinese leader’s promises once again would not be kept.

5. Interview of the Dalai Lama with the author.

6. SWJN, Series II, Vol. 28, Note to the Chief Ministers, 28 April 1955. Also Letters to Chief Ministers 1954-1957, Vol. 4, pp. 159-171.

7. Pant Apa, Mandala – An Awakening (New Delhi: Orient Longman Limited, 1978), p. 112

8. Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Series II, Volume 36.

9. Ibid.

10. See Claude Arpi, The Simla Convention: Ninety-two Years Later, (Colonial India, Ed Prof Surendra Gopal, Veer Kunwar Singh University, Arrah, 2006), p. 140.

11. Ibid.

12. Fifty years later, Beijing still does not recognize the McMahon line and claims Arunachal as part of China.

13. The Dalai Lama, Freedom in Exile, op. cit., p. 133.

14. Zhou Enlai was also Foreign Minister.

15. In the Tawang District (then West Kameng Division) of NEFA.

16. Indian Leaders on Tibet (Dharamsala: DIIR, 1998), p. 84.

17. The Dalai Lama had been sent by the Government of India to South India ‘to avoid the shelling’ as he put it.

18. Shastri had gone to Tashkent for a conference with the President of Pakistan arranged by the Soviet Union, to try to find a ‘peaceful’ solution to the Indo-Pakistani war of 1965.

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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

Claude Arpi

Writes regularly on Tibet, China, India and Indo-French relations. He is the author of 1962 and the McMahon Line Saga, Tibet: The Lost Frontier and Dharamshala and Beijing: the negotiations that never were.

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3 thoughts on “The Years of Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai

  1. Once again it is a superb piece in strategic analysis for all right thinking Indians (and political historians elsewhere) to take note of. I specially liked the last reference on Shastriji who was an iron man at heart but outwardly docile. One wonders what would be India’s posture towards China in present times had Shastriji lived on. To my knowledge no one among the Indian political establishment has been able to capture that angle.

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