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Soon before India started suffering from an acute Obama fever, a small incident took place which, though largely unnoticed, it made China extremely unhappy.
During his recent visit to Delhi, the Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida dared to speak about what Beijing calls “a Chinese territorial area adjacent to India as Indian Territory.” According to The China Daily, the Japanese diplomat was referring to Arunachal Pradesh
Beijing immediately lodged a strong protest: “We hope Japan fully understands the sensitivity of the China-India boundary question,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, who added that in his speech in New Delhi, “Kishida attracted media attention after referring to a southern area of China’s Tibet Autonomous Region as Indian Territory. …Beijing has taken notice of the report, expressed serious concerns, demanded Japan make a clarification and immediately manage damage control.”
Hong affirmed that Tokyo had earlier stated its position of “no taking sides in regard to the areas disputed by China and India” and promised Beijing that it will not get involved in the issue.
Later, Kishida’s clarification did not satisfy China.
Unfortunately for Beijing, the bullying tactics do not work with Japan.
Apart from the China’s official position expressed by Hong Lei, Beijing used one of its ‘scholars’ to add to the barrage of artillery against Kishida.
Geng Xin, who teaches at Renmin University in Beijing and is involved in Japan-based China Studies Think Tank, spoke to The Global Times, the Communist party mouthpiece. He affirmed that Kishida’s words had
“unveiled Japan’s intent of ‘uniting’ the countries that have territorial disputes with China, in an attempt to create a strong impression that Japan, along with China’s other neighboring countries, is bullied by a rising China.”
At the time of the incident, the website China Tibet Online explained Beijing’s position vis-à-vis the border:
“Arunachal Pradesh, which includes three areas in Tibet Autonomous Region -Monyul, Loyul and Lower Tsayul, is currently under Indian illegal occupation. The Chinese government’s stance on these areas, located between the illegal ‘McMahon Line’ and the traditional customary boundary between China and India, is that they have always been Chinese territory.”
Historical facts speak very differently.
Contrary to what China says today, the McMahon Line is very much legal: it was signed by the Prime Minister of Tibet (Lochen Shatra) and India’s Foreign Secretary (Sir Henry McMahon) in March 1914.
As importantly, during the last two millennia, the Chinese have never set a foot in Arunachal Pradesh (formerly NEFA), except for one short visit in one particular location in 1910.
Soon after their occupation of Lhasa in 1910, the troops of Zhao Erfeng, a Chinese warlord troops undertook the subjugation of Poyul, the region located north of the territory inhabited by the Abors in the Yarlung Tsangpo/Brahmaputra Valley. Zhao Erfeng also invited Chinese settlers to come and settle in Zayul, near Rima on the Tibetan side in the Lohit valley. During the summer of 1910, some Chinese officials posted near Rima, went as far south as Walong in Indian Territory where they planted boundary flags, in a place called Menilkrai.
This incident rang the bells in Delhi and London. Something had to be done.
This brief intrusion in the Lohit valley more than 100 years ago, does not means that the entire NEFA has always belonged to China.
In November 1913, the Secretary of State sanctioned what the British called a ‘promenade’. T.P.M. O’Callaghan, the Assistant Political Officer (APO), accompanied by an escort of the 1/8th Gurkha Rifles visited Rima at the invitation of the Tibetan authorities, and clarified the location of the border.
On May 6, 1914, Sir Archdale Earle, the Chief Commissioner of Assam wrote:
“Mr. O’Callaghan’s report confirms the information …that there are at present no Chinese troops anywhere in the neighbourhood of Rima.”
The APO had found Chinese markers at Menilkrai, near Walong (one set dated from 1910 and new markers had been placed in 1912 by the Chinese troops). O’Callaghan removed the markers, repositioned them upstream, near Kahao, just south of the McMahon Line.
O’Callaghan however suggested that a military post needed to be established at Walong:
“I am more than ever convinced of the necessity of the finishing of the road to our frontier and the opening of a post as near our frontier as soon as possible.”
Even before the McMahon Line was formerly delineated, there was no Chinese presence in NEFA.
It is however true that there were areas where the Tibetans had some influence (it represented some 10% of the NEFA’s/Arunachal’s territory); it was mainly in Tawang area; in today’s West Siang [Pachaksiri], Upper Siang [Tuting, Geling], and Lohit/Anjaw, where tribes affiliated with the Tibetans (Monpas, Mempas, etc…) lived.
This again does not make Arunachal ‘Chinese'; the Chinese never even visited these areas.
China knew this and admitted it. Take a letter from Jawaharlal Nehru to U Nu, his Burmese counterpart; 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: “[Zhou] 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’.”
Whether he liked or not the ‘colonial’ connotation, the line remained the border and till September 1959, there was no dispute about the border!
NEFA/Arunachal as part of China is definitively a claim which followed the border tensions at the end of the 1950s and culminated in the 1962 War.
It is however true that the shyness of the Government of India, which still insists on an Inner Line Permit (or Protected Area Permit for foreigners) encourages the Chinese government to continue with its wild claims.
Delhi should assert once and for all that the entire Arunachal is Indian and therefore treat at par with the other Indian States and every Indian national should be allowed to freely visit the State, while, of course, keeping in mind the security issues.