Sunday, April 3, 2016

India Offering Tea to the Liberation Army

Trying to grow rice in Tibet
I am posting today a chapter of my book, Born in Sin - the Panchsheel Agreement.
This is one of the most extraordinary episodes of the occupation of the Roof of the World by the People's Liberation Army: India had to feed the Chinese troops stationed in Tibet.
Before the Qinghai-Tibet and the Sichuan-Tibet highway were completed in December 1954, most of the food supplies had to come from India.
I mentioned this earlier on this blog
Until I came across the telegram reproduced below, I had not realized that the Chinese wanted also tea to be supplied from India.
The telegram was sent by the Indian Embassy in Beijing on December 25, 1952; it was addressed to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in New Delhi.
It refers to a telegram sent two days earlier by the MEA to the Indian Ministry of Food and Agriculture in Delhi.

The Chinese Vice-Minister tells the Indian Ambassador in China (Raghavan) that because "the economic condition has now improved [after the arrival of the PLA], people want more tea"; the truth was that the tea was for the Chinese troops occupying Lhasa and other places in Tibet.

Indian tea?

December 25, 1952
Top Secret Telegram from the Indian Embassy in Beijing
Addressed to the Ministry if External Affairs (Foreign) in New Delhi.

Reference our telegram No. 434 dated December 23 to Ministry of Food and Agriculture (Food).
Vice Minister of Trade during talks on December 22 for further supply of food grains to India expressed deep concern over slow rate of transportation of Chinese rice and mentioned that only 1000 tons been transported till end of November. He requested speeding up transportation of remaining 2500 tons and suggested completing it by April 1953 positively.
We explained difficulty of transport bottleneck but said would report matter to you. On December 23 on Ambassador’s instructions Vice Minister was informally asked to explain his complaint and whether there was insinuation of intentional neglect or delay on our part. It was impressed on him that grain transport to Tibet was undertaken as gesture of friendship and NOT matter of obligation. Vice Minister was apologetic and mentioned that he wanted our help because himself being taken to task in the party for delay in transport.
We were again asked about transportation of tea into Tibet.
We mentioned figures given in your telegram No. 25027 November 8 and explained difficulty of transport bottleneck.
Vice Minister quoted from International Tea Commission’s statistics showing export of Chinese tea to India for Tibet as follows:
Year    Short tons

1932    1270
1933    1580
1935    1500
1943 & 44    figures NOT known
1945    75
1946    1570
1947    220
1948    72
Economic condition had now improved and people want more tea.
He therefore requested us to intimate early definite quantity possible. We promised to refer to you again expressing doubt about possibility of carrying any appreciable quantity in view of bottleneck and our own requirement in area. In view of allegation of delay even in grain transport Ambassador feels that we shall continue stress on our inability till present bottleneck eased; however may consider in view of figures supplied by Chinese whether we can allow some reasonable quantity later. If Chinese make gesture by agreeing supply us appreciable quantity of rice for 1953, we may reciprocate then by agreeing to transport some tea even at considerable difficulty. In such eventuality please let us know quantity we can agree to.

Excerpts from Born in Sin - The Panchsheel Agreement

Feeding the Liberation Army
The invasion of Tibet and the signing of the ‘17-Point Agreement’ were the two first steps taken by Mao to consolidate the Empire and protect China’s newly acquired borders.
As mentioned earlier, in September 1951, several thousands Communist troops entered Lhasa. During the next months, they were followed by 20,000 PLA soldiers who started occupying strategic points on the Tibetan Plateau. For the first time, troops were transported by motor-vehicles and some were even air-lifted to reach their destinations.
The planned strategy of the Chinese was clear: since the matter had been ‘legalized’ and as there had been no strong objection from the Government of India, the supremacy of the PLA had to be established on the ground and Tibet’s occupation stabilized. With the construction of motorable access roads to China’s new ‘borders’, more military personnel moved into Tibet. The influx of fresh troops brought with it the first real test for the implementation of the 17-Point Agreement and the peaceful co-existence between the Chinese occupants and the Lhasa government. The test was the availability of food. It soon resulted in an unprecedented breakdown of the Tibetan economy. How could the Tibetan (and the Chinese) Government deal with the problem?
This brought one of strangest upshots of Tibet’s ‘liberation’ and the nascent friendship between India and China. Delhi began supplying rice to the Chinese troops stationed in Tibet!  There could have been no doubt that the rice was intended to help sustain the Chinese Liberation Army troops. Before the arrival of the Chinese army on the Roof of the World in the early 50’s, very few Tibetans had ever eaten rice, roast barley (known as tsampa), being their staple food for centuries.
During the first months on the Roof of the World, the Chinese army commanders acted like Younghusband had done a few decades earlier. They paid for everything they requisitioned and even drafted very strict rules for their men: “You must obey orders. You cannot take even one needle from the masses, you must turn over to the government things acquired from the enemy.” The young Chinese soldiers had “The Eight Things to Keep in Mind” which included advice such as: “You must speak gently, you must buy and sell honestly, you must return the things you borrow, you must not tease or bother females, you may not abuse prisoners of war.”
But this did not solve the food problem. For centuries Tibet had practiced sustainable development and been self-sufficient in food grain. Starvation was unheard of. But the new requisitions of grain created a breakdown in the Tibetan economy which became difficult for the Tibetan (and the Chinese) Government to deal with.
Lukhangwa, the courageous Tibetan Prime Minister attempted to raise the matter with the Chinese authorities several times; he argued that it was unfair to put such a burden on the Tibetan poor and that it was not necessary to station so many troops around Lhasa. After some time, the Chinese General Chang became so furious that he requested the Dalai Lama to immediately remove Lukhangwa from Office since he "was obstructing their welfare program”.
Chang told the Dalai Lama that the Tibetans had signed an agreement which mentioned that "Chinese forces should be stationed in Tibet”. He added that the Tibetan Government was “therefore obliged to provide them [the Chinese] with accommodation and supplies”. {The Chinese]... had only come to help Tibet ... to protect her against imperialist domination and that they would go back to China…. when you can stand on your feet, we will not stay here even if you ask us to.”
The Dalai Lama had no alternative but to dismiss Lukhangwa. He wrote in his autobiography:
… to oppose and anger the Chinese authorities could only lead us further along the vicious circle of repression and popular resentment...Our only hope was to persuade the Chinese peaceably to fulfil the promises they had made in their agreement. Non-violence was the only course which might win us back a degree of freedom in the end, perhaps after years of patience. That meant co-operation whenever it was possible and passive resistance whenever it was not.
The pressure to sack Lukhangwa was the first breach of the Agreement, which stipulated that the Chinese would maintain the existing political system, including the status and powers of the Dalai Lama. Removing the Prime Minister as an intermediary between the Dalai Lama and the Cabinet resulted in the young Dalai Lama having to deal directly with the Cabinet and the Chinese.
Subsequently, China had to request food from India. At that time, India had very serious problems of food grain supply and Nehru’s government had no alternative but to import food grain. China readily agreed to supply grain to India, but in return, Beijing wanted rice to be supplied to the Liberation Army in Tibet.
On April 5, 1952, Panikkar, the Indian Ambassador to China, called on Zhou Enlai, the Chinese Prime Minister, who clearly told him that in his view “for many years Tibet would have to depend on India for several daily necessities and desired facilities for transportation of food supplies to Tibet via Calcutta”.
It was ironic that India immediately succumbed to the argument. The government should have known (they probably did know) that Tibet had always been self-sustained in food and the extra demand was only for the Chinese troops. But it was not hard to persuade the Indian Ambassador.
Zhou Enlai went a step further: he wanted to know “India’s attitude to the construction of a road connecting India with Lhasa”. The clever Chinese Prime Minister added that China had “agreed to continued supply of foodgrains to India for the whole year in exchange for certain commodities”.
The ‘commodities’ were the supply of food to the Chinese soldiers in Tibet.
On 22 March, 1952, a controversy erupted: at a meeting of the Food Ministers, Roche Victoria, the Food Minister of Madras State declared that he had heard that China had refused to send any more food grain to India.
One month later, Dr. K.M. Munshi, the Union Food Minister explained that the government had only said that unlike the previous year, when the Chinese had helped India by sending food grains, this year they might not be able to send any rice due to their own difficult food position. Here again, the question of grain supply seems to have been linked to the transit of food to Tibet (through Natu-la Pass in Sikkim).
A few days later, Nehru replied in detail to Panikkar’s telegram:
Rice supplies. Government of India are grateful to the Chinese Government for offer of 100,000 tons of rice. Food Ministry is communicating with you on this subject directly. This question should be kept entirely separate from provision of transit facilities to Tibet through India.
The Indian Prime Minister was clearer than his ambassador, and immediately saw the difficulties. But did he realize that the grain needed by China was for the troops who were building strategic roads to the Indian border?
Nehru also knew that logistically it was not an easy proposition to transport food grains or any other merchandise from India through the Sikkim road to Lhasa and then eventually to China. Nehru told his ambassador:
We should distinguish between continuance of old border trade between India and Tibet and new proposals of trade in bulk between China and Tibet passing through India. Latter raises important problems of transit which have to be considered by several Ministries. Burden on our transport system is already heavy and we have to consider carefully any additional burden. It must be remembered also that direct route from Calcutta to Darjeeling now passes through Pakistan territory [now Bangladesh], and this leads to political complications and is causing us continuous trouble. Any other route is a roundabout one. Indeed it has only recently become feasible by opening of narrow Assam railway link which is not enough even for our present requirements.
In the same telegram, the political implications were pointed out. In fact, when the deal was finally concluded, a senior Chinese officer had to be posted in Gangtok to oversee the trans-shipment through the Chumbi valley. In view of the strategic importance of the place , it was certainly an added advantage for Chinese intelligence. With one stone, Beijing killed many birds: they were feeding their troops which were building roads leading to India; they were releasing the pressure on the Tibetan population which was becoming restive due to the shortage of commodities; and at the same time they could post an intelligence officer to keep an eye on the gateway of Tibet. Nehru quite rightly wrote:
… Apart from this it has certain political implications. It would probably involve Chinese agencies operating transit and other arrangements at several points inside India. It means modifying existing patterns of trade and grant of transit facilities on a large and continuous scale. We are prepared to examine this matter but this would be a concession which we should retain as a bargaining counter for negotiations for an overall settlement between China and us. It is not advantageous to us to accept such proposals piecemeal and yet have no general settlement.
Here again, as in the case of the downgrading of the Lhasa Mission to a Consulate General, Nehru spoke about a bargaining counter. But eventually everything would be given away without a counterpart during the negotiations for the Panchsheel Agreement in 1953-54.
But Nehru was not altogether unaware of the situation; he clearly knew the destination of the rice bags. In his letter, he clearly said that the food supplies are “presumably meant for Chinese army in Tibet” and he even concluded: “We are not particularly anxious to facilitate movement and retention of large numbers of Chinese troops in Tibet.”
Panikkar informed Nehru that it had been made clear to the Chinese that India could guarantee transit of only a limited quantity of food grains, though he promised that the Indian government would try its best to transport five hundred tons per month. This was of course subject to weather conditions and availability of mules from Tibet. The transportation would be done at the Chinese government’s risk.
Panikkar suggested that India might offer to transport 3,500 tons of rice by the end of 1952. On May 24, Nehru replied:
We see little prospect, however, of achieving this, since first shipment is not likely to reach India before some time next month and bad weather may interrupt transit for a month on land journey. Two thousand five hundred tons is, therefore, the probable attainable target and it might be worthwhile explaining this to the Chinese so as to avoid future misunderstanding.
Further, Nehru could see the advantages of India’s position and was keen to preserve them: “Any permanent or semi-permanent arrangements can be discussed only as a part of general settlement of our interests in Tibet. (These interests, as you know, are not confined to trade relations but involve political interests such as affirmation of the Frontier).
The Chinese were becoming greedier, they now wanted the rice to be delivered at Phari  instead of Yatung. John Lall, a former Dewan of Sikkim, was posted in Gangtok when the supply of rice was in transit; he could witness the long caravan of mules leaving in the direction of Nathu-la. In his book on Aksai Chin, he recalled:
But suddenly all was sweetness and light. The reason became apparent when a request was made for shipment of Chinese rice through India and Sikkim to their troops in Tibet. This could, and indeed should, have been made the occasion for a settlement of the major problems with China as a prelude to the altogether unprecedented help requested from the Government of India. It simply did not occur to anyone in Delhi, and which caution as I advised was brushed aside. Released from anxiety on accounts of supplies, the Chinese and local Tibetan labour were able to press ahead with the vitally important task of creating a network of communications to defend frontiers of China with India.
Soon the matter became public. Nehru had to explain how India could supply rice to the Chinese occupying Tibet. During a press conference in New Delhi, he was asked: “Is it a fact that you allowed rice to be sent to Tibet?”
Nehru explained his policy.
We did allow a small quantity of rice, relatively small quantity, as an exceptional case… It is not an easy matter, but because of their great need, we have allowed some quantity of rice to go through. And, as you know, China sent us one lakh tons of rice.  That is not a very great figure, but it merely was a generous gesture of the Chinese Government especially as this year has been a difficult year for them from the point of view of food. It was not easy for them to spare even this for us, nevertheless they did it.
When asked if the arrangement was on an ad hoc basis, he answered “completely”.
But it would not be a one-time affair: negotiations continued for the supply of more rice during the following years. On 12 April 1953, during a meeting with N. Raghavan, the new Indian Ambassador to China, Zhou Enlai said that he was “anxious for friendly relations with India and had offered help in transport  of various articles to Tibet via India”.
On April 19, Nehru cabled his Ambassador that India was prepared to allow the 1,000 tons of Chinese rice already in India to be sent to Tibet. He added that “it must not be taken for granted that this is a normal procedure. This transport business gives us a lot of trouble. ”

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