TIMES OF ASSAM
TRUTH BOLD FEARLESS

Contemporary Analysis on India-China relationship

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Whenever the Prime Minister or the President of India visits Arunachal Pradesh, China reiterates its historical claim over the territory which it had named as South Tibet, that constitutes the areas of Monyal, Loyal and Lower Tsayal. When President Pranab Mukherjee visited the state on 29th Nov, Beijing reacted in a similar manner. The President asserted India’s sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh and the Chinese reiterated that the state is currently under India’s illegal occupation because it is located in between the MacMohan Line and the traditional boundary between China and India. Tawang is situated in Arunachal Pradesh and is the birthplace of Sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso.

During the early part of the 20th century, the British Foreign Policy was obsessed by Russo-phobia and to check Russian influence in Central Asia, the first ever British invasion to Tibet was undertaken. In 1904, Francis Younghusband led the British troops to Tibet. After the occupation of Lhasa, the British signed a treaty with the Tibetan Govt. and set up a British Trade Mission. In 1914 at the Simla Convention, Sir Henry MacMohan drew the boundary line known as the MacMohan Line to demarcate the boundary between India and China. The Chinese left the convention without signing the boundary treaty. The Chinese never recognized this MacMohan Line as the international boundary between two countries. After the departure of the British from India in 1947, the MacMohan Line became the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

In 1949, Mao-Tse Tung overthrew Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang and proclaimed the foundation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The position of Mao’s communist government and the subsequent regimes remained the same. They never recognized the MacMohan Line. Fearing the Communists takeover in China, the Tibetan Govt. had expelled all the Chinese officials from Lhasa. The British Foreign Office was not disturbed.  The Chinese felt that the British presence as an act of imperialist intervention of China’s claim over Tibet.

In 1950, Mao’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) entered Tibet in the name of liberating the land from the imperialist aggressors. After the takeover, in 1955 China appointed the Dalai Lama, the political and spiritual head of the Tibetan people as the Chairman of the Preparatory Committee for the Autonomous Region of Tibet (PCART). The Tibetan armed uprising began in 1956. In 1959, unable to cope with the Chinese military intervention and the growing Tibetan rebellion, the Dalai Lama fled Tibet and, enroute Assam, took refuge in India.

In 1954, Nehru signed the Indo-China treaty upholding non-interference in one another’s internal affairs and India’s acceptance of Tibet as a part of China. Inspite of this treaty, the Indian Govt. provided political asylum to the Dalai Lama and thousands of Tibetan refugees including permanent accommodation at Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh. The Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile started operating from Dharamsala. The India-China diplomatic relation deteriorated since then. The Indian Govt. never recognised the Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile but rendered all other facilities. The Tibetan cause survived because of the uninterrupted help from the Indian Government.

The Dalai Lama was committed to passive resistance and never advocated armed struggle to achieve an independent Tibet but the Tibetan separatists were trained and armed by the CIA. Even arms and CIA trained guerrilla fighters were air dropped inside Tibet. In the early 1960’s, the Soviet had a serious problem along its vast border with China. To counter Soviet expansionism in Asia, the Americans, taking advantage of the Sino-Soviet split, started building relations with Beijing. By 1968, the American stopped all aid to the Tibetan cause. The Sino-American relations warmed up with the visit of US President Richard Nixon to Beijing in 1972 and formal recognition of PRC by the USA in 1979.

India’s aid to the Tibetan cause and the Indian army’s border skirmish along the NEFA border led to the Indo-China war of 1962. The Indian army faced a humiliating defeat and the Chinese army entered NEFA, then part of Assam. Nehru left Assam at the mercy of the Chinese army and bid farewell to the Assamese people. The Chinese army reached Bomdila but suddenly went back without disturbing the common people. The military defeat was a loss of face for India which tried to give political leadership to the newly independent nations of the world. Pakistan took advantage of the strained Indo-China relation, built up a strong relation with China and dared to fight the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak war.

After the Indo-China war, the Chinese started supporting the Indian separatist groups. The first batch of Naga rebels crossed Kachin state of Myanmar to reach Yunan province of China in 1966. Following the route of the Nagas, the Assamese rebels also reached Yunan in 1988. By 1989, RAW penetrated the Kachin Independent Army (KIA) and the Assamese rebels were turned back from Kachin state. In 2009, Paresh Baruah, the indefatigable military Chief of ULFA resurfaced in Yunan.

After the capitulation of ULFA Chairman Rajkhowa in 2011, Paresh Baruah had rechristened the organization as ULFA (Independent) in 2012 and still waging an armed struggle to achieve Assam’s independence. He is operating along the China-Myanmar border. All the main Northeastern insurgent groups of India operate from the jungles of Northwest Myanmar and are trying to form a common platform to fight jointly against India. China’s tacit support to the Indian separatist groups is well known. China still considers the Dalai Lama a splittist(separatist!) who uses violent methods to establish an independent Tibet.

India’s boundary dispute covers 4000 km along the Chinese border. India and China held 16 rounds of talks to settle the boundary dispute but failed to solve the issue. Now a new dispute has cropped up between India and China. It is the water dispute over the river Brahmaputra which originates in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, known as the Yarlu-Tsangpo and flows 1625 km through China, 918 km in India and 337 km in Bangladesh to reach the Bay of Bengal. Beijing’s plans to construct three new dams(hydropower) projects at Dagu, Jiasha, Jiexu over the Brahmaputra has sent alarm bell ringing in Delhi because there is no bilateral water sharing treaty between India and China. There is only an agreement signed is 2002 for sharing hydrological data and China has already rejected India’s proposal for a joint mechanism in sharing the water resources. Delhi is blaming China of building these three dams over Brahmaputra without consultation/considering the socio-eco-environmental downstream impact in Arunachal Pradesh whereas it has started building dozens of hydropower projects in Arunachal Pradesh without proper safeguards to the people and environment along the downstream areas of Assam.

China has moved a long way from Mao’s Communism to Deng Xiaoping’s market oriented policies from 1979. Now China is World’s second largest economy. India’s socialist economy underwent changes from 1991, when Rajiv Gandhi initiated the liberalisation of India’s economy. China’s GDP is about five times the size of India. The rising China rivals the three economics giants namely the USA, European Union and Japan which were themselves rivals and tried to dominate each other. These three economic giants are integrating to check the rise of China.

India and China both being neighbors sharing a long border with a billion plus population should initiate steps to end their rivalries. The decades old Tibet and Assam issue should be solved through proper political dialogue. The Dalai Lama should be sent back to Tibet and Paresh Baruah to Assam. The integration of India and China economies to form a free trade area (FTA) is the urgent need in the present global economic scenario. The Border Defence Co-operation Agreement (BDCA) which was signed in 2013 between India and China to maintain peace and tranquility along the LAC should be implemented in letter and spirit. India and China must sign a water sharing treaty to solve the water resources problem.

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Contemporary Analysis on India-China relationship

By: Hiranya Saikia Read time: 22 min