Friday, February 4, 2011

On the Aksai Chin Road

On October 6, 1957, a Chinese newspaper Kuang-ming Jih-pao reported: "The Sinkiang-Tibet – the highest highway in the world – has been completed. During the past few days, a number of trucks running on the highway on a trial basis have arrived in Ko-ta-k’e in Tibet from Yehch’eng in Sinkiang. The Sinkiang-Tibet Highway… is 1179 km long, of which 915 km are more than 4,000 meters above sea level; 130 km of it over 5,000 meters above sea level, with the highest point being 5,500 meters.
Thirty (“liberation” model and Chissu 150) heavy-duty trucks, fully loaded with road builders, maintenance equipment and fuels, running on the highway on a trial basis, headed for Ko-ta-k’e from Yehch’eng. In addition two trucks fully loaded with Hami melons, apples and pomegranates, all native products of Sinkiang, headed in the same direction. These fruits were gifts brought specially by the road builders of Sinkiang for the people of various nationalities.”

The Aksai road was opened. It took nearly two more years for the news to become public. In August 1959 Nehru dropped the bombshell in Parliament: what the Chinese called the ‘Tibet-Sinkiang highway’ was built through the Indian territory. 

Five months after the road was opened (on 3 February 1958), Subimal Dutt, the Indian Foreign Secretary wrote to Nehru: "there seemed little doubt that the newly constructed 1,200 kilometre road connecting Gartok in Western Tibet with Yeh in Sinkiang passes through Aksai Chin."
Dutt informed the Prime Minister that he agreed with Joint Secretary B.K Acharya's suggestion of sending a reconnoitering party in the coming spring to find out if the road passed through Aksai Chin."
Dutt added: "However, if the Chinese opposed, the party could come back and the matter could be taken diplomatically." He requested for a meeting to discuss the matter with Nehru, Acharya and K. Gopalachari, the Deputy Director of the Historical Division of the Ministry.
Here is Nehru's answer (On February 4, 1958) recently published in the Selected Works of Jawahahrla Nehru (Series II, Volume 41): 
"I shall gladly discuss this matter  with you, JS and Gopalachari.  Meanwhile, my reaction is that we should send a reconnoitering party there in spring with c1ear instructions that they should not come into conflict with the Chinese. I do not think it is desirable to have air reconnaissance. In fact, I do not see what good this can do us. Even a land reconnaissance will not perhaps be very helpful.' However, it may bring some further facts to our notice.
2. I do not see how we can possibly protest about the alignment of the road without being much surer than we are. What we might perhaps do is that in some communication with the Chinese Government in regard to the points of dispute which have to be decided, we should mention the Aksai Chin area.
3. It is suggested that our maps should be sent to the Chinese. Certainly they can be sent through our Embassy. But I think it would be better to do this rather informally."
The Indian territory had been occupied and the Prime Minister wanted to remain informal about it. What to say?

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