Thursday, August 11, 2016
India should talk tough to the Middle Kingdom
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Wang Yi, who will visit India, to discuss serious issues, must clarify to the people of Ladakh (and India) if China still considers Ladakh a ‘disputed territory’. It is also hoped that Sushma Swaraj will dare ask a few questions
Soon after the Modi sarkar’s swearing ceremony two years ago, Wang Yi, the Chinese Foreign Minister, rushed to Delhi. Lobsang Sangay, the Tibetan Sykiong (Prime Minister) had been seen on TV screens during the function: Beijing was not amused. Wang wanted Delhi to ‘clarify’ its position. This time Wang comes again to discuss ‘serious’ issues with Sushma Swaraj, his Indian counterpart.
A statement of South Block says: “During the visit, the two sides will discuss various issues of mutual interest including the upcoming multilateral meetings viz, G-20 Summit being held in China and Brics Summit being held in India.”
Not a word about the Chinese stand on India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group or the intrusions, sorry ‘transgressions’, in the Central Sector of the Sino-Indian boundary. The Chinese ‘visits’ in the Barahoti plain of Chamoli district (Uttarakhand) should certainly be discussed. Some historical facts about the Himalayan border should not be forgotten.
Barahoti was the site of the first Chinese intrusions in June 3, 1954, hardly three months after India and China signed the ‘glorious’ Panchsheel Agreement. Since then, every year in June/July, India sends revenue officers accompanied by local herders and unarmed jawans to ‘mark’ the place as Indian territory. Though the area is located south of the Tunjun-la pass, the watershed which delimits the border with Tibet, China also sends patrols. This time the Chinese intrusion on Indian territory was different; according to media reports, the Chinese border forces were carrying arms and a helicopter is said to have done some recce before the arrival of the People’s Liberation Army.
The Chinese have always used similar tactics, whether in the South China Sea today or a few decades ago in Ladakh and elsewhere: They claim an area which they judge important for their own interests, if possible occupy it (without Delhi noticing it for the Aksai Chin), then they categorically state that it has always been ‘Chinese territory’, which is sacred for them and will be defended by force if necessary.
Swaraj should not only raise this question, but also ask Wang: Why is Beijing so reluctant to let people and goods flow again over the Himalaya? Why can’t China allow the devotees wanting to visit the abode of lord Shiva in Tibet use the easiest routes, ie Demchok in Ladakh or Shipki-la in Himachal instead of the a long and tortuous route road via Nathu-la in Sikkim?
Demchok in south Ladakh had no historical connection with China; for time immemorial it was part of the kingdom of Ladakh; nobody ever disputed this fact.
According to The Ladakh Chronicles, as early as the 10th century, the boundary of Ladakh was already demarcated. It lay along the Indus river, south of Rudok, the main center in western Tibet. The border was clearly defined ‘south of Lde-mchog-dkar-po (‘White Demchok’)’; the present boundary alignment in this sector remains the same, except for the fact that sometime at the end of 1959, Beijing decided to change its maps and started showing Demchok within China.
In the Chronicles, there is also reference to the Ladakh-Tibet war which took place between 1681 and 1683; the Treaty signed a year later confirmed that “the boundary shall be fixed at the Lha-ri stream of Lde-mchok.” A hill above the village is still called Lhari Karpo.
The frontier was never discussed or disputed till the end of the 1959, when the Chinese produced a new map showing Demchok in China. Interestingly, during the 1962 war, Chinese troops occupied the area around Demchok to later withdraw behind the traditional frontier defined by the watershed, east of the Indus.
Why did the Chinese decide to advance the border and claim Demchok at the end of 1950s? One of the reasons could be the proximity of the National Highway 219, known as the ‘Aksai Chin Road’, cutting across the Indian territory in northern Ladakh: China was not keen to see Indians troops at a firing distance (15 miles) of the road.
In the course of the several rounds of boundary negotiations between India and China, Beijing stubbornly refused to even provide maps of its perception of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
Ambassador RS Kalha who participated in some of these talks in the 1990s recalls in his excellent book (India-China Boundary Issues: Quest for Settlement), “Having committed to Jaswant Singh that they (China) would initiate a process for the clarification and determination of the LAC in all sectors of the boundary, a meeting took place in March 2000, where maps of the middle sector were exchanged. On 17 June, 2002, both sides met again and maps of the Western sector were seen by both sides for about 20 minutes. Soon enough, the maps were hastily returned by both sides since these maps represented the maximalist positions which were clearly unpalatable.” This explains why Delhi speaks today of ‘perceived LACs’.
The main areas under dispute remain Samar Lungpa in the north, Depsang plain (where a serious incident occurred in April 2013), Demchok and Chumar (where the PLA trespassed in September 2014 as Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in India).
As the result of these ‘differences of perception’, the border between Ladakh and Tibet remains closed to trade and pilgrimage today. The irony is that at the same time China speaks of ‘Tibet as hub of Himalaya’. The China Daily recently published an article affirming: “Tibet could become the cultural, economic and humanitarian hub of the Himalayas and so build a peaceful, cooperative relationship with its South Asian neighbors.”
If China wants to transform Tibet as a hub, why is Beijing so reticent to accede to the demand of the people in Ladakh to reopen the old caravan road? After all, for centuries it has been the main (and the easiest) route to the holy mountain.
China practices double-speak; it is ready to open new routes or corridors, but with friends only Pakistan, (ie the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) and Nepal (in Zham and Kyirong).
Not only is China adamant to not open Demchok, but the routes via Shipki-la (Himachal) and Mana-la (Uttarakhand) remain close to pilgrims too. For Demchok, there is another reason, more serious, on which Wang should clearly spell out China’s position: For Beijing, Demchok is part of Jammu & Kashmir State and, therefore, a ‘disputed territory’.
China’s position on Kashmir has always been ambiguous, but from the time of the negotiations for the Panchsheel Agreement in 1954, Beijing has systematically refused to acknowledge Demchok as the traditional landport between Ladakh and Tibet. Why? Beijing did not want to hurt the sentiments of its already good friend, Pakistan.
Wang should tell the people of Ladakh (and India) if China still considers Ladakh a ‘disputed territory’? Let us hope that Swaraj will dare ask a few questions.