Chinese Bellicosity over Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang
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. (IDR)
By Lt Gen JS Bajwa