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China and India: the Un-Negotiated Dispute

  • Neville Maxwell

During the long-sustained diplomatic polemics which accompanied and expressed the Sino-Indian boundary dispute, each side accused the other of refusing to negotiate. The argument became involved and finally confused, with each blaming the other for setting unreasonable pre-conditions. All that is clearly appreciated is that, after the abortive Nehru-Chou En-lai summit meeting of April 1960, the boundary dispute between India and China was never submitted to negotiation. Since both parties to this dispute had repeatedly affirmed their commitment to negotiations as the only proper means of resolving international differences, the failure to resort to negotiations in this instance is striking—and it left the quarrel to the arbitrament of force in the 1962 border war. This article will follow the subject of negotiations through the diplomatic exchanges, and attempt to show why the dispute remained un-negotiated. This isolation of a single—though crucial—element in an extended and complex dispute will inevitably leave some questions unanswered and loose ends in the narrative: these, the writer hopes, are dealt with in his full study of the Sino-Indian dispute.

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1 India's China War (to be published by Jonathan Cape in October 1970).

2 Report of the Officials … of India and … China on the Boundary Question (hereafter Report) (New Delhi: Government of India, 1961) p. C-R 8. Notes, Memoranda and Letters Exchanged Between … India and … China: White Paper, III (hereafter WP), pp. 6465; Richardson, H. E., Tibet and its History (London: Oxford University Press, 1962), p. 176.

3 WP, II, p. 39; Report, p. C–R 8; Richardson, , Tibet and its History, p. 174.

4 Parliamentary Debates, Vol. V, No. 4, cols. 155156.

5 Unpublished papers of the Government of India.

6 This observation reflects the fact that China had not been party to the secret exchanges between the British and the Tibetans in Delhi in 1914 from which the McMahon Line derived, just as she had never subscribed to the Simla Convention.

7 Unpublished papers of the Government of India.

8 Rajya Sabha, 9 December 1959; Parliamentary Debates, Vol. XXVII, No. 12, cols 19831984.

9 The sector between Uttar Pradesh and Tibet. In their discussions of the border question the Indians and Chinese used these terms: the western sector (between Ladakh on the one hand and Sinkiang and Tibet on the other); the middle sector; and the eastern sector (the McMahon Line, between Bhutan and Burma).

10 WP, III, pp. 9192.

11 WP, III, p. 74.

13 WP, III, p. 91.

14 My italics. This quotation was taken from a transcription from the original by D. R. Mankekar, to whom the writer is indebted. The passage appears in indirect quotation in Mankekar, Guilty Men of 1962 (Bombay: Tulsi Shah Enterprises, 1969), p. 138.

15 In October 1944 Basil Gould, the British political officer for the area, informed the Tibetan authorities orally and in writing that his Government was willing to modify the McMahon Line so as to exclude Tawang from the territory it claimed; Report, p. C-R 106, p. C-R 211.

16 Report, pp. C-R 106107. An eye-witness account of the Indians' arrival is given in a release of New China News Agency, 16 September 1959.

17 Report, p. C-R 107.

18 This part of Nehru's 1954 directive could not be generally implemented because most of the areas “which might be considered disputed” were beyond the logistical reach of the Indians. Posts were moved forward in the middle sector, however, coming into contact with the Chinese in patches of piedmont pasture on the Indian side of the main passes in the area. These small areas had long been disputed between Tibet and Britain. See Rubin, A. P., “The Sino-Indian Border Disputes,” International and Comparative Law Quarterly, January 1960.

19 Documents on International Affairs, 1955 (London: Oxford University Press for R.I.I.A., 1958), p. 423.

20 The comparison of public statements and private—indeed secret—government formulations may seem inapposite; but later events showed that both Governments faithfully followed the policies thus stated.

21 See the writer's account of the Nehru-Chou En-lai meeting of 1960 in India's China War.

22 “The McMahon Line … was to some extent provisional and experimental.…” Lamb, Alastair, The McMahon Line: A Study in the Relations between India, China and Tibet, 1904 to 1914 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966), p. 548.

23 Peking's approach to boundary treaties has been consistent. In the instance of the Sino-Soviet boundaries, Peking has accepted that the nineteenth century treaties which established the present alignments are legal, while describing them—accurately—as “unequal.” China's observance of treaty obligations in general has been scrupulous. See China and International Agreements: A Study of Compliance, by Lee, Luke T. (A. W. Sijthoff, Leiden; Rule of Law Press, Durham N.C., 1969).

24 In a note to India of 3 April 1960: WP, IV, pp. 1011.

25 The first full topographical survey of the area appears to have been conducted from the Chinese side in 1940–41—with the assistance of Soviet surveyors. Report, p. C-R 127. In the last decade of the nineteenth century the Swedish traveller, Sven Hedin, wrote: “We were now in a country belonging to the unannexed region, Aksai Chin, in north-west Tibet. Or tell me to what power this land belongs? Does the Maharajah of Kashmir lay claim to it, or the Dalai Lama, or is it a part of Chinese Turkestan? No boundaries are marked on the map, and one looks in vain for boundary stones. The wild asses, the yaks, and the swift-footed antelopes are subject to no master, and the winds of heaven do not trouble themselves about earthly boundary marks.…” Quoted by Gupta, Karunakar, India in World Politics 1956–1960 (Calcutta: Scientific Book Agency, 1969), p. 139 n.

26 Rubin, A. P., American Journal of International Law (New York), Vol. 59, No. 3 (July 1965), p. 589.

27 Prime Minister on Sino-Indian Relations (Government of India, 1961), I, i, p. 134. (Hereafter cited as PMSIR.)

28 PMSIR, I, i, pp. 148149.

29 Aitchison, Sir Charles, A Collection of Treaties, Engagements and Sanads relating to India and Neighbouring Countries, Vol. XII, Part 1, p. 5, quoted by Gupta, India in World Politics, p. 126 n.

30 Elgin to Hamilton: No. 170 of 1897, Government of India, Foreign Department, Secret (Frontier). The text is Appendix 6 in Woodman, Dorothy, Himalayan Frontiers (London: Barrie and Rockliffe, 1969).

31 The Indian Government consistently misquoted the 1899 proposal in the argument over the borders, claiming that its terms “signified beyond doubt that the whole of Aksai Chin lay in Indian territory”—practically the reverse of the truth. (Nehru to Chou, 26 September 1959, WP, II, p. 36.) The 1899 proposal was for a boundary that “follows the Lak Tsang range until that meets a spur running south from the Kuen Lun” (text in Lamb, Alastair, The China-India Border, and Woodman, Dorothy, Himalayan Frontiers). In the Indian version the phrase “ a spur running south from …” was dropped, making the proposed alignment one “along the Kuen Lun range.” This might have originated in a slip of transliteration from the original note in the British archives.

32 Gupta, , India in World Politics, p. 160 n.

33 For recent accounts of the history of the boundary in the western sector see Woodman, , Himalayan Frontiers, and—synoptically—the writer's India's China War. The definitive account remains, however, Lamb's, AlastairThe China-India Border: The Origins of the Disputed Boundaries (Oxford University Press for Chatham House, 1964), elaborated in an unpublished paper by the same author, The Aksai Chin.

34 Dick Wilson makes a point that is often ignored: “It did not occur to the Indian prime minister that the Chinese could with equal justice have asked him about his maps, which also reproduced the previous imperialist government's claims without prior consultation with the neighbour concerned.” (Asia Awakes, London: Weidenfeld, 1970, p. 83.)

35 WP, I, p. 49.

36 WP, II, p. 30.

37 WP, I, p. 49.

38 WP, I, pp. 4951.

39 WP, I, pp. 4851.

40 In a note of 8 November 1958; WP, I, p. 29.

41 Raja Sabha, 20 February 1961; PMSIR, I, i, p. 380. In 1965, when the question of the Indo-Pakistani boundary in the Rann of Kutch came to a head, the Indian Government followed the same policy and denied that the boundary in this sector was in dispute. It was pointed out in a press conference that only five years before India had not only agreed that a dispute did exist, but had undertaken to hold discussions “with a view to arriving at a settlement”. Thereupon the Government produced this formulation; “This is how the ‘dispute’ came into existence. India maintained that there was no dispute over the boundary. Pakistan contended that there was a dispute. The position of the two sides could not be reconciled; hence a ‘dispute’ came into existence.… But the dispute is not about territory or even about boundary. The dispute is that India maintains that the frontier is undisputed and Pakistan maintains the contrary.” (From text of official statement released in New Delhi, 8 May 1965.)

42 WP, I, pp. 5254.

43 I agree that the position as it was before the recent disputes arose should be respected by both sides and that neither side should try to take unilateral action in exercise of what it conceives to be its right. Further, if any possession has been secured recently, the position should be rectified.WP, I, p. 57.

44 WP, II, pp. 2733.

45 WP, II, pp. 3446.

46 Lok Sabha, 4 September 1959; PMSIR, p. 119.

48 WP, II, pp. 3446.

49 The accounts of the detachments involved on each side were contradictory, each saying the other had attacked. Statements made by some of the Indian party when in captivity confirmed the Chinese version; but on repatriation they retracted these statements, saying they had been extorted, and made contrary ones.

50 WP, III, pp. 4546.

51 WP, III, p. 50.

52 When the summit meeting did take place, in April 1960, the Chinese side gave every indication of having came to Delhi in expectation of reaching a settlement; this seems to substantiate the former inference.

53 WP, III, pp. 4751.

54 WP, III, pp. 5257.

55 WP, III, pp. 5859.

56 WP, III, pp. 8384.

57 WP, III, p. 99.

58 Times of India, editorial, 16 February 1960.

59 Lok Sabha Debates, Vol. XXXVII, No. 26, col. 6271.

60 From official transcript.

61 PMSIR, I, ii, pp. 115116. The distinction between “negotiate” in its dictionary meaning of “confer with a view to finding terms of agreement” and in Nehru's sense of “discuss with a view to persuading the other side of the validity of one's own position” has since become a staple of foreign policy articulation well beyond New Delhi. Dr. A. P. Rubin pointed out to the writer that President Johnson used the same distinction between “talks” and “negotiations” when setting up the Paris meetings on Vietnam in 1968.

62 Indian officials quoted in Times of India, 21 April 1960.

64 For the origins and implementation of this see the section, “The Forward Policy,” in the writer's India's China War.

65 PMSIR, I, ii, p. 94.

66 WP, VI, pp. 4143.

67 WP, VI, p. 56.

68 PMSIR, I, ii, p. 94.

69 WP, VII, p. 4.

70 Hindustan Times, 10 August 1962.

71 E.g., WP, VI, p. 18.

72 People's Daily, 7 September 1962.

73 PMSIR, I, ii, p. 102

74 WP, VII, p. 18.

75 PMSIR, I, ii, p. 102.

76 “Why did Nehru publish the White Papers? They were bound to unleash nationalist passion in India, probably to a degree which could deprive him of any leeway for negotiating. Pique? Nationalist passion in himself? or Calculation, for instance to exert pressure on China as well as to anticipate criticisms of his border policy in India? Perhaps all three were part of the motivation.…” Crocker, Walter, Nehru: A Contemporary's Estimate (London: Allen & Unwin, 1966), p. 105.

77 PMSIR, I, i, pp. 118119.

78 The Hindu (Madras), 4 August 1962.

79 PMSIR, I, ii, p. 102.

80 WP, VII, p. 36.

81 WP, VII, p. 73.

82 WP, VII, p. 78.

84 WP, VII, pp. 9698.

85 WP, II, pp. 910.

86 The Indians maintained that since McMahon had intended to run his line along the highest ridges, the boundary adjacent to the India-Bhutan-China trijunction should lie on the crest of Thag La ridge, rather than several miles to the south, where McMahon had actually drawn it. They attempted to modify the McMahon Line for similar reasons at other points—notably at Longju—and Nehru argued to Chou En-lai that such unilateral boundary adjustments were “in accordance with established international practice” (WP, II, p. 44). The Chinese refused to recognize such interpretations of the McMahon Line (which the British had also made, notably at the trijunction of India, Burma and China); they insisted that, pending settlement, both sides should observe the Line as McMahon had drawn it.

87 WP, VII, p. 101.

88 WP, VII, p. 102.

89 WP, VIII, p. 63.

90 WP, VII, p. 119.

91 The Hindu, 2 October 1962.

92 The Times editorial, 21 November 1962.

93 See Dalvi, Brigadier J. P., Himalayan Blunder: the Curtain-raiser to the Sino-Indian War of 1962 (Bombay: Thacker, 1969) and the writer's account in India's China War.

94 PMSIR, I, ii, p. 144.

95 WP, VIII, pp. 14.

96 WP, III, pp. 4546.

97 WP, VIII, p. 6.

99 WP, VIII, p. 10.

100 WP, VIII, p. 12.

101 Galbraith, J. K., Ambassador's Journal (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1969), p. 490.

102 The Times, 22 November 1962; and 23 November 1962: “…Indian troops who are still in touch with their headquarters have been ordered not to fire unless the Chinese fire at them. No announcement of such instructions has been made in Delhi, and this is an indication of the great pressures upon Mr. Nehru … from an incensed and humiliated public opinion insistent that there should be no surrender to China's terms.” This was from the writer, then Delhi correspondent of The Times.

103 WP, VIII, pp. 2426.

104 WP, VIII, pp. 2831.

105 WP, IX, p. 185.

106 In a letter to Chou En-lai dated 7 March 1963, Mrs. Bandaranaike, referring to the Indian clarifications, said: “This document was prepared by the Government of India … [and it is] expressed in the language of the Indian Government.…” The text of this letter was released in India by M. R. Masani, m.p., in February 1964. Extracts were carried in the major Indian newspapers but it appears that the full text is available only in the Bombay newsletter Opinion, 11 February 1964.

107 WP, IX, p. 106.

108 Ibid.

109 Peking Review, 1 February 1963.

110 Ibid.

111 Ibid.

112 Lok Sabha Debates, third series, Vol. XII, No. 29, col. 5996.

113 The Times, 8 December 1962.

114 WP, IX, pp. 186187.

115 Lok Sabha Debates, third series, Vol. XII, col. 5092.

116 Ibid. col. 5215.

117 WP, IX, pp. 1013.

118 WP, X, p. 10.

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The China Quarterly
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