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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Book Review: "Tibet, the Lost Frontier" by Claude Arpi

July 2, 2008

By Prakash Nanda
Sify News
June 27, 2008,

History is often a confused heap of facts and that is why history's
lessons are no more enlightening than the wisdom of those who
interpret them. Since we Indians have been virtually forced, since
our independence, to inculcate the Left-dominated historical thought
process, it is indeed refreshing to read Claude Arpi's "Tibet: The
Lost Frontier" (Lancer Publishers) to get a proper perspective on how
India, Tibet and China have been interacting for centuries. Students,
analysts and practitioners of diplomacy and strategic affairs will
find this book simply brilliant.

The Chinese say that Tibet became a part of the Chinese empire when
the great Mongol Genghis Khan annexed Tibet (most parts of it) in the
early 13th century. It is a strange logic, because taken to its
logical conclusion, one could argue that China is a part of Mongolia
and does not deserve to exist as an independent nation. Secondly, why
are the Chinese not claiming a quarter of Europe, Russia and the
whole of West Asia (Middle East) and Central Asia since these also
constituted the Mongol empire of Genghis Khan?

The problem with the Chinese version of history is where to draw the
line. After all, it is also a fact that the pre-Mongol history of
Tibet was militarily glorious. In the eighth century, the Tibetan
empire was expanding at such a pace that at one time the then Chinese
emperor had to flee his capital and a Tibetan nominee was put on the
Chinese throne! Peace was restored in the year 821 with the
conclusion of a Treaty, which laid down clearly the boundaries
between China and Tibet. It read: "Tibet and China shall abide by the
frontiers of which they are now in occupation. All to the East is the
country of Great China; and all to the west is, without question, the
country of Great Tibet…."

Therefore, Arpi is right when he argues that Tibet and China always
had a relation based on force and power. With the advent of Buddhism
in Tibet, the Tibetan military power obviously declined. But its
spiritual power was recognised, with many Chinese rulers treating the
Dalai Lama as their "guru". And as "dakshina", they stood as the
guarantor (militarily) - Arpi describes this as the Priest-Patron
relationship - of Tibet's territorial integrity against possible
invasions. It may be noted here that at various points of time,
Gorkha rulers of Nepal and Dogra kings of Kashmir had occupied
Tibetan territories through military conquest. But ultimately, the
Chinese factor in Tibet neutralized these gains by the Gorkhas and
Dogras. And that is what constituted the so-called Chinese
"suzerainty", distinct from "sovereignty" over Tibet.

Of course, the contours of this Chinese "suzerainty" over Tibet were
never free from controversies, but the fact remained that in internal
administrations of Tibet and the conduct of its foreign policy, the
Chinese exercised no role. Up to 1949, Tibet was an independent
country in more senses than one with a distinct civilization having
rich culture, language, religion, polity and identity. But the advent
of British power in the Indian sub-continent altered the nature of
this relationship.

The British policy towards Tibet was shaped by "the Great Game" and
the need to prevent Russia from posing a threat to India. The British
government needed a strong presence in Tibet, but at the same time,
in pursuing the Great Game, it needed China's support and approval.
It was against this backdrop that British-India called for the
tripartite Simla conference in October 1913, which was attended by
representatives from British India (Henry McMahon), Republican China
(Chen Yifan) and Tibet (Lonchen Shatra). The goal was to settle the
boundary between British India and Tibet on the one hand and between
Tibet and China on the other. The result was the Simla Agreement of
1914, which the Chinese representative initialled but only under
British pressure. The Agreement divided Tibet into Inner and Outer
Tibet. China was given sovereignty over Inner Tibet but only suzerain
control over Outer Tibet. And the boundary between India and Tibet
was demarcated, with the British Raj retaining trading and
extra-territorial rights in Outer Tibet.

Independent India inherited this arrangement, which boiled down to
sustaining Tibet as a buffer zone with de facto independent status
under Chinese suzerainty.

In retrospect, it seems that had the Tibetan government formally
ratified the Simla Agreement before 1949, the history of Tibet would
have been different and the Chinese annexation could have been
avoided. But it was not to be. The Tibetan rulers not only resented
the British division of their country into "Inner" and "Outer" at
Simla; they also demanded, before any formal ratification, the return
of territories of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Tawang by India. Arpi, of
course, is a little soft on the then Tibetan leadership (which did
not include the present Dalai Lama) by saying that it was a "little
immature in foreign policy matters", but certainly the leaders of
independent India in 1947 and 1948 must not have liked all this.

As it is, in order to realise his dream of Asian-unity, Jawaharlal
Nehru was always in favour of appeasing China. And that is why
immediately after Indian independence, he deliberately gave what he
said - "vague" replies on Tibet when the Chinese military was about
to move into Tibet in 1950 (Arpi has beautifully revealed all this by
citing various quotes of Nehru). And for this "vagueness" of Nehru,
the British recognition of Chinese suzerainty over Tibet really
helped initially. But then, when Kashmir became an international
issue, again thanks to the "idealism" of Nehru, and the United
Nations was not of much help in repelling the Pakistani annexation of
Kashmiri territory, Nehru, essentially a man with a weak mindset,
lost all his appetite for standing behind Tibet. He thought of buying
peace with China by recognising and legitimizing Chinese
"sovereignty" over Tibet. In this process, he was helped immensely by
K M Pannikar, the then ambassador to China, who was immensely
brainwashed by Mao tse-Tung over sumptuous dinners. The 1954
Agreement on Tibet between China and India clearly manifested Nehru's

The Agreement was essentially flawed since it did not take into
account the fact that the "independent" Tibet, and we have seen this,
had not settled the boundary issue with India. China was bound to
exploit this. In any case, India has consistently failed to
understand nuances in Chinese diplomatic practice and negotiating
tactics. After all, China has always been India's principal
competitor for power and influence. Historically speaking, China
arrested the spread of Indian culture and influence in what is today
South East Asia. For China, India has always been a part of the
strategic periphery that Beijing has historically sought to weaken,
control or diplomatically manipulate. And after coming under
communism, China has systematically tried to encircle India with
antagonistic or unfriendly regimes. Yet, thanks to the predominance
of the Nehurvian framework in which India's foreign policy had been
cast, there were no systematic endeavours on New Delhi's part to
checkmate the Chinese designs.

There are strong merits in the argument that if the sage advice of
Sardar Vallabhai Patel had been heeded by Nehru when China attempted
to annex Tibet, then history of contemporary Asia could have been
quite different. Patel had suggested "we have to consider what new
situation now faces us as a result of the disappearance of Tibet as
we know it, and the expansion of China up to our gates". Continuing
in this prophetic vein, he had noted: "Chinese irredentism and
communist imperialism are different from the imperialism of the
Western powers. The former has a cloak of ideology which makes it 10
times more dangerous. In the guise of ideological expansion lie
concealed racial, national and historical claims… While our western
and north-western threats to security are still as prominent as
before, a new threat has developed from the north and north-east.
Thus, for the first time, after centuries, India's defence has to
concentrate itself on two fronts simultaneously. Our defence measures
have so far been based on the calculations of a superiority over Pakistan."

However, Patel did not live long to provide pressure points on the
Nehurvian framework. Tibet was annexed and the Sino-Indian equations
underwent a profound change. Historically, Tibet was a buffer zone
between India and China. Once this buffer zone was eliminated,
relations were bound to be tense. After all, Tibet is not an ordinary
buffer. Arpi reminds us by quoting George Ginsburg: "He who holds
Tibet dominates the Himalayan piedmont; he who dominates the
Himalayan piedmont, threatens the Indian subcontinent; and he who
threatens the Indian subcontinent may well have South-east Asia
within his reach, and all of Asia".

The question thus is how to neutralize the Chinese threats. But then,
as Arpi reminds us, we cannot neutralize the Chinese threats as long
as we are prisoners of Nehurvian and Left-dominated history.

Prakash Nanda is a New Delhi based author and journalist. Books
credited to him include Redicovering Asia: Evolution of India's
Look-East policy; Nuclearisation of Divided Nations: Pakistan, India
and the two Koreas; Rising Indiaand Vajpayee's Foreign Policy. After
stints as the Diplomatic Correspondent of the Times of India and
Strategic Affairs Editor of the Sahara Group of publications, he is
now in the process of launching a new magazine.

Book Extract:
Tibet: The Lost Frontier by Claude Arpi
by Claude Arpi
Lancer Publishers: 2008 Rs 795 /$ 27.)

The border issue has always been intimately linked with the Tibetan
question. During the course of the negotiations in Beijing in
1953-54, both Panikkar and Kaul 'cleverly' tried to avoid bringing
the border issue to the table, while 'settling' the Tibet issue. This
approach backfired and ended in a disaster for India. In his speech,
after the signing of the Agreement, Zhou Enlai congratulated the
negotiators for having solved all the matters 'ripe for settlement'.
Though the Indian government later tried to raise the issue, the
Chinese appropriately asked them why the matter was not taken up in
1954, if it was so important. In July 1962, the Indian Ministry of
External Affairs answered that, in 1954, there was no difference of
opinion between the two countries regarding the boundary alignment.
It also claimed that the tension on the border was only the result of
Chinese aggressive activities "carried out in violation of the Five
Principles embodied in the 1954 Agreement". It further asserted: "the
precise extent of Indian territory was in 1954 well-recognised and
the traditional boundary alignment between the two countries had been
respected for many centuries by both sides."

The conclusion of Delhi's argument was that there was "no reason to
believe, during the negotiations leading upto the Agreement of 1954,
that the Government of China was contemplating laying extensive
claims to well-known Indian territory."

It was pure wishful thinking on the part of New Delhi to assume that
Beijing would not lay claims; their maps already showed large parts
of India as belonging to China.

In his biography of Nehru, Dr. Gopal put it very simply: "By
asserting that not only questions ripe for settlement but 'all
outstanding questions' were being settled, the Indian side sought to
score a debating point of no value. Semantics cannot guarantee an
international frontier…"

The tragedy is that today, fifty years later, the border tangle
remains unsolved. Long negotiations were held in 1960 without
tangible results. After the visit of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to
Beijing in 1988, the Sino-Indian relations relaxed and were followed
by a long series of 'border meetings', but no breakthrough was made.

More recently, during his visit to China in June 2003, Prime Minister
Vajpayee took the initiative to propose the appointment of two
Special Envoys to hold talks on a 'fast track'. This was accepted by
his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao.

On October 22, 2003, the National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra met
in Delhi for the first time with the Senior Vice-Minister of the
Chinese Foreign Ministry, Dai Bingguo. Though little filtered out of
the meeting room, PTI reported that "MEA circles exuded optimism and
said the Chinese leadership is 'well disposed' towards resolving the
border dispute, which has strained relations for over four decades."

The optimism exuded by Panikkar's children in the corridors of South
Block may not mean much. It is far more difficult today to find a way
out of the tangle than it was 50 years ago. The main issue remains
unsolved: Beijing still claims some 90,000 sq kms of Indian territory
in Arunachal Pradesh and occupies 38,000 sq kms more in Ladakh.

 From the beginning, by claiming both sectors in Arunachal and Aksai
Chin, the Chinese were sure to keep one at least. It cost them
nothing to exchange their claim on Arunachal against the
'legalisation' of their occupation of Aksai Chin. Zhou's visit to
India in 1960 was followed by five rounds of detailed discussions.
The issue was that the Chinese were already occupying the ground. Who
was to dislodge them?

Indeed, the matter in front of the National Security Advisor is a
tough one. Basically, it boils down to: "Is India ready to give away
Aksai Chin in exchange for something it already possesses - Arunachal Pradesh."

Tactically, in recent months, Beijing has put a lot of pressure on
Arunachal Pradesh and more particularly on the Tawang area. The
Chinese Ambassador in Delhi has regularly claimed Arunachal as being
part of China and the PLA has regularly intruded on India territory.
During 2006-2007 alone, more than 300 cases of incursions on Indian
soil have been reported.

During a visit to Sikkim in December 2007, India's Defense Minister A
K Antony could not deny this hard fact. Though most of these
incursions have occurred in Arunachal Pradesh, some have also been
reported in Ladakh.

There are other inconvenient truths. Antony admitted the sorry lack
of India's preparedness. He was frank enough to declare: "It is an
eye-opener for me. There is no comparison between the two sides.
Infrastructure on the Chinese side is far superior. They have gone
far in developing their infrastructure." He could only promise that
he would take vigorous steps to develop the frontier areas to match
China. The incursion game in Arunachal is probably a Chinese bluff to
regularize their illegal occupation of Aksai Chin.

Retrospectively, one can question the sagacity of Prime Minister A B
Vajpayee's 'bright idea' to open 'fast track' border talks with China
in June 2003. At that time his move surprised everybody (including
the Chinese). Did Vajpayee consider the eventual end-result of his
action? His move could only place Beijing in a win-win situation.

If Vajpayee believed that he would get a quick settlement (and quick
glory), he was wrong! Nehru had tried before.

In the meantime, the PLA keeps sending grazers and intruders to the
Indian side of the McMahon Line. With the Confidence Building
Measures (CBM) in place, the Chinese know perfectly well that they
will get away without retaliation; the CBMs therefore have become an
alibi for the Chinese to continue creating an atmosphere of uncertainty.

Today like yesterday, the main problem is that while the Chinese
remain pragmatic, most of the Indian leaders are sentimental. A
Bhai-Bhai policy is so much easier and more romantic than a firm stand!

True, there is enough good news not to be bothered by the border
issue. Take business for example; it has never been so brisk between
the two Asian giants. Trade has been expanding at an incredible pace;
it has reached a staggering 34.2 billion dollars (about Rs 136,800
crore) from January to November 2007, up 54 percent from the previous year.

However everything is not rosy.

External Affairs Minster Pranab Mukherjee may say that the
negotiations are moving in the right direction, but what is the final
goal? Is India ready to give away part of its territory which has
been illegally occupied by China? This is the only question to be answered.

When asked about the dispute before Dr. Manmohan Singh's visit to
China in January 2008, the Chinese spokesperson declared that both
sides wanted to find a 'fair and rational' settlement to the vexed
boundary problem: "We will make joint efforts to try to find a fair
and rational settlement acceptable to both countries." She added: "We
hope that with the visit the two countries can promote the healthy
and long-term development of a strategic partnership."

Is it conceivable that any Indian government would 'gift' such a
large chunk of Indian territory to a foreign nation? Fortunately,
India is a democracy and a government which tried to 'cede' a part of
India to its neighbour, would never be forgiven by its electorate.

Besides, what could India receive in return for such a 'gift'? The
acknowledgement of Arunachal Pradesh as being a part of India by
Beijing has been mentioned as a possible compensation. But this does
not make any sense as the Chinese claim on Arunachal is empty of any
substance both legally and historically.

At one point in time, an idea was mooted to have an international
board of neutral historians who would ascertain both China and
India's claims. But one can doubt if Beijing would ever accept such
an arbitration: their 'historical' case is too weak. With both
parties firm on their respective stands since the Panchsheel years,
is there a possible solution where no party would lose face? It would
certainly be in India's interests if Delhi decides to help the Dalai
Lama and the Tibetan people to find a negotiated solution with Beijing.

Unless this is done, one can doubt that the time will soon be 'ripe
for settlement' of the Indo-China contentious border issue.

The question is therefore: is the time ripe for settlement?
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