|Footprint of the 6th Dalai Lama in Tawang|
Though Choekyappa said that the details have not yet been worked out, Beijing was quick to do what it does supremely well: protest and object. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu immediately declared: "We firmly oppose the Dalai [Lama] visiting the so-called Arunachal Pradesh." He spoke of Beijing’s ‘strong concern’ and said that it "further reveals the Dalai clique's anti-China and separatist essence".
The Chinese Embassy in Delhi confirmed the Spokesman’s statement.
New Delhi however clarified that the Chinese ‘protests’ were unwarranted, as the Dalai Lama was free to travel anywhere in India.
One of the arguments usually used by the Chinese to oppose anything happening in Arunachal (whether it is the visit of the Indian Prime Minister, infrastructure development or deployment of armed forces) is that Arunachal is theirs. They are so convinced of it that they have included the development of the area in their Plan expenditures for the Tibetan Autonomous Region’s southern districts.
One of the Chinese ‘proofs’ is that Tsangyang Gyatso, the Sixth Dalai Lama, the great poet and lover was born near Tawang in 1683. This is an extremely lame point. Is France part of Kashmir because Dr. Karan Singh is born in Cannes on the French Riviera? What about Liaquat Ali Khan, born in Karnal, Haryana; Zia-ul-Haq born in Jallundar or Pervez Musharraf in Darya Ganj in Delhi? Does it make Haryana, Punjab or Delhi part of Pakistan?
The truth is that during the Tripartite Conference between British India, Tibet and China held in Simla in 1914, the plenipotentiaries of India (Sir Henry McMahon) and Tibet agreed to delineate their common border on a map and they put their seal on it. Today, the Chinese vociferously say that they have never recognized the McMahon Line and that the entire State of Arunachal, south of the Line, belongs to them.
The interesting point is that they did not always hold such an intransigent view. During the 1950’s, the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai was ready to accept the McMahon Line as the border between ‘China’s Tibet’ and India.
In this connection, a letter from the then Indian Prime Minister to U Nu, his Burmese counterpart is revealing. On April 22, 1957, Nehru wrote: “I am writing to you immediately so as to inform you of one particular development which took place here when Chou En-lai [Zhou Enlai] came to India. In your letter you say that while Premier Chou En-lai was prepared to accept the McMahon Line in the north [of Burma], he objected to the use of the name ‘McMahon Line’, as this may produce ‘complications vis-à-vis India’, and therefore, he preferred to use the term ‘traditional line’.”
Nehru continued: “When Chou En-lai was here last, …he referred to his talks with you and U Ba Swe and indicated that a satisfactory arrangement had been arrived at. In this connection he said that while he was not convinced of the justice of our claim to the present Indian frontier with China (in Tibet), he was prepared to accept it. That is, he made it clear that he accepted the McMahon Line between India and China, chiefly because of his desire to settle outstanding matters with a friendly country like India and also because of usage etc. I think, he added he did not like the name ‘McMahon Line’.”
Nehru had some doubts that he had heard properly what the Chinese Premier had said: “This statement that he made to me orally was important from our point of view and so I wanted to remove all doubts about it. I asked him again therefore and he repeated it quite clearly. I expressed my satisfaction at what he said. I added that there were two or three minor frontier matters pending between India and China on the Tibet border and the sooner these were settled, the better. He agreed.”
The Indian Prime Minister stated that himself was not happy with the ‘colonial’ connotation in the Line’s name: “I entirely agree that the use of the word ‘McMahon Line’ is not right and should be put an end to” However, he confirmed that India stood by the line: “So far as we are concerned, we have maintained all along that our frontier with China, except for the two or three very minor matters, was a fixed and well known frontier and there was no dispute about it.”
No dispute about the border! More than half a century later, the Chinese claims have swelled. In 1957, when U Nu told his own experience with the clever Chinese Premier, Nehru had to admit: “I am sorry that there has been some difficulty in your arriving at a settlement about border problems with the Chinese Government. I confess that I do not very much like the attitude of Premier Chou En-lai in this matter. The impression created upon me is that he was not fully adhering to what he had told you or U Ba Swe previously.”
This is the core of the sage of fifty years of border talks between India and China.
It is true that Nehru had been rather vague a few months earlier when he had met Zhou. While speaking about Tibet being historically ‘autonomous’, told his counterpart: “Historical knowledge is not important but is useful as background information. History is gone.”
In the same exchange, Zhou Enlai made a strange remark. He explained that after the signature of the Panchsheel Agreement on Tibet, the Tibetans objected to the demarcation of the Line: “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.”
But Nehru remained 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.”
Today, it is no “small questions about two miles and two miles there”, it is more than 83,000 sq Km which are shamelessly claimed by China.
The visit of the Dalai Lama will be another occasion for the Tibetan leader to reiterate that he has always stood by the McMahon Line and Zhou’s argument that the Tibetans had objected was entirely fallacious. This perhaps why Beijing gets upset, today they can’t use the Tibetans anymore.
The Sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyaltso (the Precious Ocean of Pure Melody) who loved freedom above all, would have probably written a beautiful poem on Chinese pretensions.