CHINA IS THE ILLEGITIMATE OCCUPIER OF NAMKA CHU VALLEY

by Editorial

Relations between India and China revolve around unresolved disputes which have their genesis in colonial era leading to tensions and skirmishes. The root cause lies in an ill-defined and ambiguous, 3,440-km-long border that both countries dispute. In the Northern Sector, British India and China agreed upon the Johnson line in 1865. This line puts the Aksai Chin area under Jammu and Kashmir, India. The Chinese denied following this line after Xinjiang became a part of China. China claimed the Aksai Chin area as its own. India continued to follow the Johnson line till its independence.

As far as eastern part of India is concerned, the origin of the dispute dates back to the early 20th century. The 885-km-long northern boundary of Arunachal Pradesh known as the McMahon Line is a bone of contention between India and China. After the Chinese debacle in Mongolia, the British called for a tripartite conference which was convened at Shimla in 1913 and attended by Sir Henry Mc Mohan of British India, Ivan Chen of China and Lochen Shatra of Tibet to demarcate the boundary between outer and inner Tibet. After several rounds of meetings it was during, Mar 1914 Ivan Chen accepted a line which he initialled on 27 April and signed the draft convention.

The draft treaty recognises the autonomy of outer Tibet and agreed to refrain from interference in administration of outer Tibet. The Chinese objection in the draft treaty was on the boundaries of inner Tibet only. Chinese never objected to the McMahon Line. In fact, at no stage did the Chinese even claim a specific boundary with Assam. The then Chinese authorities objected specifically only to Article 9 of the said Convention that laid down the boundaries between Inner and Outer Tibet.

Other than that, they made it amply clear, on several occasions, which they did not object to any other Article, including that which showed the McMahon Line.  The fact of the matter is that, from the time of the signing of the Simla Convention on 3rd July 1914 till 23rd January 1959 when PM Zhou wrote a letter to Nehru, the Chinese never raised any formal objections to the McMahon Line. In his letter [23 January 1959] Zhou, for the first time ever, made the following points to the Indian Prime Minister Nehru. Firstly, that the Sino-Indian boundary had never been formally delimited and that no treaty or agreement had been concluded between the Chinese Central government and the government of India. Secondly, that the McMahon Line was a product of the British policy of aggression against the Tibetan Region of China. Thirdly, Zhou admitted that the Tibetan Local authorities had signed the Convention but were dissatisfied with the ‘unilaterally drawn’ line.

Nevertheless, Zhou asserted that ‘the Chinese government finds it necessary to take a realistic attitude towards the McMahon Line.’ This stance of Zhou totally ignored his earlier stand that China would take a ‘realistic attitude’. The unilateral denial by China is not justified as the Chinese representative during Simla Convention, Ivan Chen, not only fully participated as a delegate, but on an equal footing with the Tibetan representative.

All arrangements at Simla were made with the knowledge and consent of the Chinese and the Chinese Foreign Minister wrote to the British government on 07 August 1913 that the Chinese plenipotentiary would proceed to India to ‘open negotiations for a treaty jointly with the Tibetan and British plenipotentiaries’. That Tibet participated on an equal footing with China is further supported by the inescapable fact that the three countries formally exchanged and recognised the credentials of each other at the conference. In fact, the then Chinese President, Yuan Shih-kai issued a Presidential Order on 21 April 1912 declaring Tibet to be an administered province of China.

To emphasize the tripartite nature of the Simla Conference, the 1912 Presidential Order was specifically revoked on 13 June 1913 and the Chinese government accepted that all three participants were on an equal footing. Not only were the frontiers of India and Tibet discussed at the conference, but at no stage either at the conference or subsequently did the Chinese object; for the Chinese representative at Simla, Ivan Chen was fully aware of the McMahon Line. It would be travesty to suggest otherwise for he was present at the signing ceremony of the Simla Convention on 3rd July 1914. Discussions on the India-Tibet boundary between the British Indian government and Tibet took place from 15-31 January 1914. At the 4th meeting of the full conference on 17 February 1914, McMahon tabled a statement on the territorial limits of Tibet.

In a map attached to the statement, the ‘historic frontiers’ of Tibet were shown for acceptance that later came to be known as the McMahon Line. There was no Chinese dissent. Discussions between Britain and Tibet followed and that resulted in an agreement which is fully recorded in the exchange of letters between McMahon and Lonchen Shatra. The draft Indo-Tibet boundary was formally confirmed on 24 and 25 March 1914 and submitted at the 7th full meeting of all the delegates on 22 April 1914. On 26 April 1914 Ivan Chen, the Chinese plenipotentiary, officially communicated the Chinese government stand to McMahon and stated:“With the exception of Article 9 of the draft convention, we are prepared to take the main principles, embodied in the other articles, into favourable consideration.” And just prior to the signing of the Simla Convention on 3 July 1914 by the British and Tibetan representatives, the Chinese government, once again, conveyed as follows:This government has several times stated that it gives its support to the majority of the articles of the Convention. The part it is unable to agree is that dealing with the question of the boundary. The fact of the matter is that the Tibetan Plenipotentiary [Lonchen Shatra Paljor Dorje] put his full signature, as per Tibetan custom, for it is not possible to initial in the Tibetan language.

The two maps of 27 April 1914 and 3 July 1914 showing the IndiaTibet boundary bear the full signatures of the Tibetan Plenipotentiary. The map of 27 April 1914 bears the full signature of the Chinese Plenipotentiary, Ivan Chen. The British Plenipotentiary, McMahon initialled the map of 27 April 1914 and the Convention of 3 July 1914, but signed in full the map. Thereafter both the PRC and their predecessors the Kuomintang (ROC) had always maintained that Tibet was a part of China. The PRC also proclaimed an ideological motivation to liberate the Tibetans from a theocratic feudal system.

In September 1949, shortly before the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) made it a top priority to incorporate Tibet, Taiwan, Hainan Island, and the Pescadores Islands into the PRC, peacefully or by force. Because Tibet was unlikely to voluntarily give up its de facto independence, Mao in December 1949 ordered that preparations be made to march into Tibet at Qamdo (Chamdo), in order to induce the Tibetan Government to negotiate. The PRC had over a million men under arms and had extensive combat experience from the recently concluded Chinese Civil War.

After months of failed negotiation attempts by Tibet to secure foreign support and assistance, PRC and Tibetan troop build-ups, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) initiated hostilities. As a consequence Tibetan representatives in Beijing and the PRC Government signed the Seventeen Point Agreement on 23 May 1951, authorizing the PLA presence and Central People’s Government rule in Political Tibet.  In 1956, Tibetan militias in the ethnically Tibetan region of eastern Kham started fighting against the government. The militias united to form Chushi Gangdruk Volunteer Force.

When the fighting spread to Lhasa in 1959, the Dalai Lama fled Tibet. Both he and the PRC government in Tibet subsequently repudiated the 17 Point Agreement and the PRC government in Tibet dissolved the Tibetan Local Government. The annexation of Tibet into PRC virtually removed the buffer between India and China and this opened up a plethora of disputes between India and China on the control over erstwhile Tibetan regions. As a result of 1959’s Tibetan uprising, India granted asylum to the Dalai Lama. India initiated a defensive Forward Policy from 1960 to hinder Chinese military patrols and logistics, in which it placed outposts along the border. Chinese military action grew increasingly aggressive in 1960-62, with China re-commencing previously-banned “forward patrols” in Ladakh from 30 April 1962. 

Various border conflicts and “military incidents” between India and China flared up throughout the summer and autumn of 1962. The Indian Intelligence Bureau received information about a Chinese buildup along the border which could be a precursor to war. On 10 July 1962, 350 Chinese troops surrounded an Indian post in Chushul (north of the McMahon Line) but withdrew after a heated argument via loudspeaker. A contentious issue on the eastern front was the location of the Indian outpost at Dhola in the River Namka Chu gorge, where the borders of India, Bhutan, and Tibet intersect northwest of Tawang.

The post was created on 24 February 1962 and, according to the Henderson Brooks–Bhagat Report, the site ‘was established north of the McMahon Line as shown on maps prior to October/ November 1962 edition. It is believed that the old edition was given to the Chinese by our External Affairs Ministry to indicate the McMahon Line. It is also learnt that we tried to clarify the error in our maps, but the Chinese did not accept our contention.’ In June 1962, Indian forces established an outpost called the Dhola Post in the Namka Chu valley to the south of the Thag La Ridge. In August, China issued diplomatic protests and began occupying positions at the top of Thag La.

On 8 September, a 60-strong PLA unit descended to the south side of the ridge and occupied positions that dominated one of the Indian posts at Namka Chu. On 11 September, it was decided that “all forward posts and patrols were given permission to fire on any armed Chinese who entered Indian Territory”. Chinese troops had crossed the Namka Chu on 8 September, surrounded an Indian outpost in the gorge, and destroyed two bridges on the river. On 20 September, the post was attacked by Chinese forces from the Thagla Ridge to the north, and sporadic fighting continued. The nearby Dhola Post was reinforced and firing from both sides continued in the area throughout September. Three Indian soldiers were wounded when the Chinese threw hand grenades at their position, but otherwise, there were no casualties. The clash at Tseng Jong resulted in Indian casualties of 6 dead and 11 wounded; Chinese media announced their casualties as 77 dead.  Both sides had numerous injuries. The final attack came at 0500 Hr on 20 October. The Indian forces were undermanned, with only an understrength battalion to support them, while the Chinese troops had three regiments positioned on the north side of the river.

The strength of the Chinese attacking force was estimated at 2,000, while the Indians at those outposts numbered only 600.The Chinese had taken up positions on higher ground behind Indian defences and were thus able to attack downhill on the morning of the attack. After the Chinese artillery barrage from the Thagla Ridge overlooking the Namka Chu, the PLA destroyed all Indian artillery positions and surrounding fortifications due to their advantageous position. The Indian border posts as well as Dhola and Khenzemane were captured. Post cessation of hostilities PLA relocated its forces to pre-war positions on the Chinese side of the McMahon Line. However the PLA did not vacate the northern part of Namka Chu valley which is South of McMahon line which China had never objected till 1959, wherein she changed its stance due to selfish reasons. This area is still under illegal occupation against the established norms of mutual respect around the World. The Namka Chu still remains an uncomfortable issue in the broader Chinese strategic circles.

Though it is discussed in many academic and other gatherings, unlike India, China tries to avoid talking about the actuality and operation of the 1962 war and tries to blame India. There seems to be no regret or realisation in China about the illegitimate and illegal occupation of the territory of a sovereign nation. In spite of India, supporting China’s permanent membership in the UN Security Council, something it could easily desist from, the Chinese attitude towards India is hostile. Instead of introspection, Chinese strategic circles have pushed the antiIndia notion in recent times both with regard to the border dispute and overall bilateral relations. The facts clearly establish India’s right over Namka Chu and provide it legitimacy to use all available options to take it back.

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