|The Aksai Chin road|
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.The Aksai road was opened. It took nearly two more years for the news to become public in India.
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.
It was only in August 1959 that Nehru dropped the bombshell in Parliament: what the Chinese called the ‘Tibet-Sinkiang highway’ was built through the Indian territory.
The Prime Minster must have known since several years, but he had kept the information secret.
Five months after the road was opened (on February 3, 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." [unfortunately for the South Block's babus, the reconnoitering party was captured and several Indian jawans were killed.]
Dutt 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 Jawaharlal 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?
The saga continued on October 18, 1958. The Indian Foreign Secretary (Dutt) handed over an 'Informal Note' to the Chinese Ambassador in Delhi.
Here is the entire note:
The attention of the Government of India has recently been drawn to the fact that a motor road has been constructed by the Government of the People’s Republic of China across the eastern part of the Ladakh region of the Jammu Kashmir States, which is part of India. This road seems to form part of the Chinese road known as Yehchang –Gartok or Sikiang Tibet highway, the completion of which was announced in September, 1957.
The road enters Indian territory just east of Sarigh Jilgnang, runs north-west to Amtogar and striking the western bank of the Amtogar lake runs north-west through Yangpa, Khitai Dawan and Haji Langer which are all in indisputable Indian territory. Near the Amtogar Lake several branch tracks have also been made motorable.
2. The India-China boundary in the Ladakh sector as in others is traditionally well-known and follows well marked geographical features. The territory which road traverses has been part of the Ladakh region of India for centuries and the “old established frontiers' have been accepted by the Chinese in the treaty of 1842 as the International boundary. In an official communication, a Chinese member of the Boundary Commission of 1847-49 accepted the boundary as 'sufficiently and distinctly fixed so that it will be best to adhere to this ancient arrangement and it will prove far more convenient to abstain from any additional measures for fixing them'. Accordingly, Indian survey parties have visited the region since the nineteenth century. Travellers to the area have referred to it as part of Ladakh, and Atlases like the Johnston’s Atlas of India, edition 1894, and maps published by the Survey of India show it unmistakably as part of Ladakh.
3. In view of the position indicated in para.2 above, it is matter of surprise and regrets that the Chinese Government should have constructed a road through indisputably Indian territory without first obtaining the permission of the Government of India and without even informing the Government of India.
4. The Government of India would like to point out that Chinese personnel, including officials and workers engaged in constructing and maintaining the road, as well as Chinese travellers traversing this road have been contravening Article V of the Agreement between the People’s Republic of China and India on trade and Intercourse with Tibet concluded in 1954.
According to this article “for travelling across the border, the High Contracting Parties agree that diplomatic personnel, officials and nationals of the two countries shall hold passports issued by their own respective countries and visaed by the other party” except as provided in the subsequent paragraphs of the Article relating to traders, pilgrims and muleteers. No applications for visas from Chinese personnel working on the road or from Chinese travellers traversing this road have ever been received by the Government of India.
5. As the Chinese Government are aware, the Government of India are anxious to settle these petty frontier disputes so that the friendly relations between the two countries may not suffer. The Government of India would therefore be glad for an early reply from the Tibetan Government.
6. In this connection the Government of India would also like to draw the attention of the Chinese Government to another fact. An Indian party consisting of three Military Officers and four soldiers together with one guide, one porter, six pony–owners and thirty-four ponies, were out on a normal patrol in this area near Shinglung in Indian territory. This patrol had been given strict instructions not to cross the border into Chinese territory. Since the end of August, however, no news of their whereabouts has been received in spite of search by air. Since there are now Chinese personnel in this part of Indian territory the Government of India would be grateful for any information that the Chinese Government may have about the party and for any assistance that they may find it possible to give to the party to return to their headquarters.
To make their case worse, the Chinese workers (building the road) did not have proper visas issued by Delhi on their travel documents!
But magnanimous India was to ready to 'settle these petty frontier disputes so that the friendly relations between the two countries may not suffer'.
Let us not forget that the Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai era was still flourishing!
But there is worse, Prime Minister Nehru lied in the Parliament when the issue came up in April 1959.
A 'Reply to Questions' session was held in the Lok Sabha on April 22, 1959 (Lok Sabha Debates, Second Series, Vol. XXX, cols 12715-12721).
The topic was 'Maps Published in China and Russia'
The questions were: Will the Prime Minister be pleased to state:
(a) whether Government are aware of the fact that maps recently published in China and Russia show large chunks of our territory as part of their territories; (b) if so, the action taken by Government of India in the matter?Lakshmi Menon, the Deputy Minister of External Affairs answered: "Yes, Sir; Instances of maps, published in China and Russia, depicting certain parts of Indian territory as parts of China, have come to our notice. The attention of these two Governments has already been drawn to the discrepancies."
The debate continued for some time on the maps and then, a Congress MP, D.C. Sharma asked: "May I know if there is any dispute about any border territory or any kind of territory between China and India and, if not, why is it that some parts of India which are obviously in India have been shown as parts of China?"
The Prime Minister answered:
It is rather difficult for me to answer that question. We have discussed one or two minor frontier disputes which comprise tiny tracts of territory, maybe a mile this way or a mile that way, in the high mountains where nobody lives and those are pending. We have discussed them and for the present no settlement has been arrived at.Later C.D. Pande, the Congress MP from Nainital, UP (now Uttarakhand) brought the subject again: "Apart from the maps, because after all, the question of the maps is academic, may I know whether there are certain portions of land between India and Tibet where they are encroaching on the basis of these maps -- encroaching into our territory,-particularly in Taklakot which is near the border of Almora? At Taklakot they have come six miles this way, according to their map. It is not a question of map alone. They have actually encroached on our territory; six miles in one pass."
Jawaharlal Nehru said:
I should like to give a precise answer to such questions. I would not like to venture to give an imprecise answer. Taklakot [trijunction Nepal-Tibet-India in Pithoragarh district of today's Uttarakhand] and another place – Hoti [Barahoti in Uttarakhand] - have been places under argument and sometimes, according to our reports we have received, some Chinese have advanced a mile or two, maybe, in high mountains. It is true. We have been enquiring into it. The difficulty is that in the winter months most of these places are almost inaccessible and more inaccessible from our side than from the other side.Later another MP, Braj Raj Singh queried: "May I know whether Government's attention has been drawn to the news item published in several papers alleging that the Chinese have claimed some 30,000 sq. m. of our territory and they have also disputed the MacMahon line?" This was clearly related to the Aksai Chin and the MP adds 'and also the McMahon line' (Eastern Sector).
No, Sir; I would suggest to Hon. Members not to pay much attention to news items emanating sometimes from Hong Kong and sometimes from other odd places. We have had no such claim directly or indirectly made on us.The Prime Minister deliberately omitted to mention the Aksai Chin.
Did he believe that he would settle the issue in a friendly manner with Mao or Zhou Enlai?
It is difficult to understand his reasoning.
On September 7, 1959, a month after the bombshell, the Ministry of External Affairs published its first White Paper in which the issue of the Aksai Chin is prominently mentioned.