Tuesday, October 23, 2012

When China did not claim Tawang

I have reproduced below an interesting note from Subimal Dutt, the Indian Foreign Secretary addressed to Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister. 
This note dated January 9, 1959 (just 2 months before the uprising in Lhasa and the subsequent flight of the Dalai Lama) comes from the Subimal Dutt Papers in the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.
Dutt clearly states that "The Chinese have not yet raised a dispute with us about Tawang, but I am not sure that they will not do so some time in future."
It means that from the time Major Bob Khathing entered Tawang in February 1951 till the Dalai Lama took refuge in India (March 31, 1959), China has never claimed the territories south of the McMahon Line.
In a previous posting, I wrote:
It is interesting to note that, at that time (1959), the Chinese never said that the Dalai Lama and his entourage were in 'Southern Tibet' (the term used today by Beijing to define Tawang). They knew perfectly well that the Tibetan leader had taken refuge on Indian territory. Strangely, Beijing is now insisting that Tawang district is part of the People's Republic of China. It is clearly an after-thought.
[Early in year] Special Representative and State Councillor  Dai Bingguo told his Indian counterpart, Shivshankar Menon during the 15th Meeting of the Special Representatives that India should first discuss the Eastern Sector of the boundary. Dai further asked Menon how much territory New Delhi would be ready to part with.

Apart from the fact that
historically this does not make sense, why did the Chinese not follow the Dalai Lama and his entourage into this area in 1959, if they really believed that it was a part of  Chinese territory?
The answer is clear, it was not Chinese territory and Mao knew it. 

So, why claim this area 53 years later?
China only started claiming Tawang during the border talks of 1960. At that time it was more a form of bargain to 'exchange' the Aksai Chin against the NEFA (today Arunachal).
Today, it has become a permanent claim.
It is clear from Dutt's note that in early 1959, the Government of India was embarrassed by the presence of the Khampa freedom fighters operating from bases in India. But it is another matter.

Subimal Dutt's Note to Jawaharlal Nehru
Prime Minister may kindly see Shri Acharya's note of December 30 (flag E) in the file below. It summarises a number of points on which our instructions have been sought by the NEFA Administration and others. Prime Minister need not see the correspondence referred to in the note.

2. My advice would be as follows:
i) We should not let Khampa rebels come to Tawang. The Chinese have not yet raised a dispute with us about Tawang, but I am not sure that they will not do so some time in future. Meantime, if we allow Khampa rebels to assemble in Tawang that will provide the Chinese with an excuse for raising the bigger question of their claim to Tawang.

ii) We should not give prominent Khampas asylum in our territory, either in the North East Frontier Agency or elsewhere. We should adhere to our general policy of not admitting able-bodied Khampa rebels into our territory and border outposts should be instructed to enforce this rule strictly.

iii) Women and children may be admitted out of humanitarian considerations. If later the menfolk want to join them, we should not automatically give them permission to do so. Each case will have to be treated on its merits.

iv) We should prevent further congregation of Khampas in Kalimpong. Those who are already there have given rise to a law and order problem. There is no particular reason why Kalimpong should be the permanent home of a large number of Khampa and other Tibetan refugees. Even those who are allowed to stay there should be brought within the scope of the Foreigners' Registration Act so that they would have to report to the police station from time to time. That at least will provide a check on these people.

v) I do not agree with Shri K. L. Mehta's suggestion that wounded and sick rebels who reach our border outpost should be brought down to Tawang, treated there and later pushed back into Tibet. In practice we would find difficulties in doing so. Also it would not be humane to push back people after we have treated them, against their wishes, when we know for certain that they will be severely dealt with on the other side. PM will remember that some months ago a group of such people, in a similar situation, killed some members of the escort party and ran away. Later some of the persons who had escaped were found dead from cold and hunger. It will be better for our border post to give such first aid as is possible but not to take charge of the people and bring them to Tawang.

vi) There remains the case of the five Khampas who are now in detention in Gangtok. Their families are in Kalimpong. I think we should advice the Sikkim authorities to set them free, which, indeed, they wish to do. These people, when they come to Kalimpong to join their families, will be treated as foreigners and will be subject to the restrictions under the Foreigners' Act.
(S. Dutt)

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