Only the title of Brahma Chellaney’s Dec. 2 article, “Tibet core to Sino-Indian ties,” gets it right. Elsewhere, Chellaney lets his usual anti-China biases take over.
India in 1954 did not implicitly accept China’s rights to Tibet without a quid pro quo, as he claims. Beijing had implicitly accepted in exchange the very unfavorable (to China) “line of control” imposed by the British in the eastern, central and western sectors of the Himalayas as the basis for a border agreement between the two countries.
This meant Beijing would insist only that India drop a highly dubious claim to some uninhabited high plateau land in the Ladakh western sector (where China had already built a road without India even noticing) in exchange for China dropping its much stronger claim to the much larger and richer North-East Frontier Area (NEFA) territory in the east.
It was a very generous offer, and India was very foolish not to accept it. But New Delhi wanted everything. Worse, in 1959, it not only helped a CIA-sponsored uprising in Tibet — a move hardly consistent with its 1954 agreement — but it also began what euphemistically it called its “forward policy” of military intrusions along the entire Himalayan “line of control.”
I was serving on the China desk in Canberra’s External Affairs department at the time, and we watched all this with concern since Beijing was warning constantly that those incursions across that line were inviting forceful retaliation. Only when New Delhi, in October 1962, foolishly sent troops across the eastern sector of that line (the controversial McMahon Line) in the Thagla Ridge area did China retaliate with its attack into that area and then into the NEFA.
Despite its NEFA victory over the intruding Indian troops, Beijing withdrew to the McMahon Line even though China, under both its Communist government and its pre-1949 Nationalist government, had never recognized the legality of that line. Indeed, the Western-supported post-1949 Nationalist government, then in Taiwan, was berating Beijing for making that withdrawal (its territorial claims against India were far greater than Beijing’s). Meanwhile, those Western powers were condemning Beijing’s brief retaliatory attack across that line as unprovoked “aggression.”
I know for a fact that London, Washington and Canberra all had the maps showing that the initial Indian Thagla Ridge incursion had clearly gone across the McMahon Line. Indeed, that “unprovoked aggression” claim was to become the basis for the even more absurd Canberra-Washington claims that the Vietnam War was Beijing’s extension of the aggressive expansionism it had already shown against India. A lot of people would die because of that nonsense.
Not unsurprisingly, Beijing has now renewed its earlier NEFA claim, focusing on the Tibetan-populated Arunachal Pradesh area with its important Tibetan Buddhist temple in Tawang well to the south of the McMahon Line. Even so, it continues to hint that it is willing to return to that 1954 line of control once India can get control over its expansionist nationalists. But that is unlikely if people such as Chellaney continue to inflame passions with distorted frontier claims and see sinister plots in every move Beijing makes.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.