Join our Mailing List

"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Art of War - Are we deceiving ourselves again?

September 23, 2008

Brahma Chellaney, Hindustan Times
September 22, 2008

India and China are both adept at playing with numbers. While China
invented the abacus, India conceived the binary and the decimal systems.
But India, having forsaken the Kautilyan principles, has proven no match
to China’s Sun Tzu-style statecraft. From Nehru’s grudging acceptance of
Chinese suzerainty to Atal Behari Vajpayee’s blithe acceptance of full
Chinese sovereignty, India has incrementally shed its main card — Tibet.

As a result, India has found itself repeatedly betrayed. Indeed, it
wasn’t geography but guns — the sudden occupation of the traditional
buffer, Tibet, soon after the communists seized power in Beijing — that
made China India’s neighbour.

Jawaharlal Nehru later admitted he didn’t anticipate the swiftness of
the Chinese takeover of Tibet because he had been “led to believe by the
Chinese foreign office that the Chinese would settle the future of Tibet
in a peaceful manner”. Shourie’s well-researched, powerfully written
book relies on Nehru’s letters, speeches, notes and other correspondence
to bring out the significance, in Nehru’s own words, of the events from
the 1950-51 fall of Tibet to China’s 1962 invasion.

The author then draws 31 lessons from those developments for today’s
India. After all, there are important parallels, as Shourie points out,
between the situation pre-1962 and the situation now. Border talks are
regressing, Chinese claims on Indian territories are becoming publicly
assertive, Chinese cross-border incursions are rising, and India’s China
policy is becoming feckless.

Indeed, what stands out in the history of Sino-Indian disputes is that
India has always been on the defensive against a country that first
moved its frontiers hundreds of miles south by annexing Tibet, then
furtively nibbled at Indian territories before waging open war, and now
lays claims to additional Indian territories. By contrast, on neuralgic
subjects like Tibet, Beijing’s public language still matches the
crudeness and callousness with which it sought in 1962, in Premier Zhou
Enlai’s words, to “teach India a lesson”. India’s crushing rout in 1962
hastened the death of Nehru, “a fervent patriot,” according to Shourie,
who “misled himself and thereby brought severe trauma upon the country,
a country that he loved and served with such ardour”.

The defeat transformed Nehru from a world statesman to a beaten,
shattered politician. A classic example of Nehru’s selfdelusion cited by
the author is the following note he wrote on July 9, 1949, to the
country’s top career diplomat: “Whatever may be the ultimate fate of
Tibet in relation to China, I think there is practically no chance of
any military danger to India arising from any change in Tibet.

Geographically, this is very difficult and practically it would be a
foolish adventure. If India is to be influenced or an attempt made to
bring pressure on her, Tibet is not the route for it. I do not think
there is any necessity for our defence ministry, or any part of it, to
consider possible military repercussions on the India-Tibetan
frontier.The event is remote and may not arise at all.”

What Nehru naively saw as a “foolish adventure” was mounted within
months by China. What Nehru asserted was geographically impracticable
became a geopolitical reality that has impacted on Indian security like
no other development since the 20th century. Right up to 1949, Nehru
kept referring to the “Tibetan government” and to Tibet and India as
“our two countries”. But no sooner had China begun gobbling up Tibet
than Nehru’s stance changed. He started advising Tibetan
representatives, as Shourie brings out, to go to Beijing and plead for

By 1954, through the infamous ‘Panchsheel Agreement’, Nehru had not only
surrendered India’s extra-territorial rights in Tibet but also
recognised ‘the Tibet region of China’ — without securing any quid pro
quo, such as the Chinese acceptance of the McMahon Line. From Nehru’s
grudging acceptance of Chinese suzerainty over Tibet to Atal Bihari
Vajpayee’s blithe acceptance of full Chinese sovereignty over Tibet,
India has incrementally shed its main card — Tibet — and thereby allowed
the aggressor state to shift the spotlight from its annexation of Tibet
and Aksai Chin to its newly assertive claims on Arunachal Pradesh.

The irony is that by laying claims to additional Indian territories on
the basis of their purported ties to Tibet, China blatantly plays the
Tibet card against India, going to the extent of citing the birth in
Tawang of one of the earlier Dalai Lamas, a politico-religious
institution it has systematically sought to destroy. Yet India remains
coy to play the Tibet card against China.

The sum effect of failing to use Tibet as a bargaining chip has been
that India first lost Aksai Chin, then more territory in 1962 and now is
seeking to fend off Chinese claims to Arunachal Pradesh. And as Shourie
reminds us, India has still to grasp that the Chinese modus operandi of
promising a peaceful settlement and then employing force to change facts
on the ground is an old practice.

The lessons he paints — from not running policy on hope to ensuring
peace by building capability to defend peace — are words of warning no
leadership ought to ignore. Shourie’s book is a call for a downthe-earth
Indian policy which, without pushing any panic buttons, begins to build
better Himalayan security and countervailing leverage to ensure that
China’s growing power does not slide into arrogance and renewed
aggression. After all, China’s dramatic rise as a world power in just
one generation under authoritarian rule represents the first direct
challenge to liberal democracy since the rise of fascism in the 1930s.

But just as India has been battered by growing terrorism because of its
location next to the global epicentre of terror, it could bear the brunt
from its geographical proximity to an increasingly assertive China.

Brahma Chellaney is a political commentator
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank