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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Why the Chinese are so upset about Tawang

October 22, 2009

By Claude Arpi
October 21, 2009

Why has China suddenly ratcheted up tension with
India over Arunachal Pradesh? Claude Arpi, who
has written extensively on Tibet, offers an insight.

Repeated Chinese intrusions into Indian
territory, veiled threats to 'split' India, and a
constantly aggressive stance on Arunachal Pradesh
have recently got a great deal of coverage in the Indian media.

The worst was perhaps the threatening tone of the
Chinese press. The Global Times objected to Prime
Minister Dr Manmohan Singh's visit to Arunachal:
'Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made
another provocative and dangerous move. India
will make a fatal error if it mistakes China's
approach for weakness. The Chinese government and
public regard territorial integrity as a core
national interest, one that must be defended with every means.'

Why has the Chinese leadership suddenly become so
aggressive about Tawang and Arunachal Pradesh?

In a recent interview, Professor Wang Dehua,
director, Centre for South Asia Studies at the
Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, stated that
India would 'just' have to surrender the Aksai
Chin plateau in Ladakh and Tawang and the border issue could be solved.

Why this obsession with Tawang and the Land of Dawn-lit Mountains?

The Guilty Conscience about Tibet

The core issue is the fact that Tibet was an
independent country when the misnamed People's
Liberation Army marched into Tibet in October
1950. This can be proved without ambiguity by
digging into the British Archives in London (or
the almirahs of our ministry of external affairs).

One example: Noel-Baker, the British foreign
secretary, addressed the House of Commons on
December 14, 1949, to inform the MPs about the
British official stand on Tibet. London stood by
a memo given by Prime Minister Antony Eden to Dr
T V Soong, the Chinese foreign minister, in 1943.

It stated: 'Since the Chinese Revolution of 1911,
when Chinese forces [which had occupied Tibet for
a short time] were withdrawn from Tibet, Tibet
has enjoyed de facto independence. She has ever
since regarded herself as in practice completely
autonomous and has opposed Chinese attempts to reassert control.'

Interestingly, when the British high commissioner
in India showed this to K P S Menon, the first
Indian foreign secretary, he said: "Such
publicity is good". India agreed and wanted the
world to know about Tibet 'de facto' independence.

Unfortunately, less than a year later, Chinese
troops entered Tibet and began to occupy the entire plateau.

Over the last nearly six decades, Beijing has
done its utmost to make the world forget that
before 1950 Tibet was an independent state with
not only a separate language, literature,
religion and culture, but also its own foreign
office, currency, coins, stamps and even hand-made paper passport.

Beijing has practically succeeded in erasing all
these factors from the world's collective memory,
but for one thing: a thick red line.

This last symbol, the McMahon Line, proving that
Tibet could sign treaties on its own, delineated
the Indo-Tibet border. Beijing believes that if
by a magic trick (or a bit of bullying), it can
manage to annul the red line, nobody could ever
challenge China's colonisation of Tibet anymore;
the last proof that the powerless religious
nation was invaded by its neighbour would disappear.

This is the crux of the matter and explains
Beijing's present anger and belligerence.

How did this line come about?

In 1903, British Viceroy Lord Curzon cabled
London that 'the Chinese suzerainty over Tibet
was a constitutional fiction'. He proved his
point a year later by sending to Tibet a military
expedition under Francis Younghusband.

The young colonel discovered what Curzon knew,
that there was no Chinese presence in Lhasa.
While the Chinese were unhappy that the truth had
emerged, the British, as usual, wanted to remain fair.

The solution found by the British was to convey a
Tripartite Conference in Simla in 1913 to get an
agreement between China, Tibet and themselves on
the 'constitutional fiction'. The main bone of
contention at that time was the border between Tibet and China.

While discussions were going on about the
Tibet-China differences, Sir Henry McMahon and
his Tibetan counterpart, Lochen Shatra, sat
separately to delineate the Indo-Tibetan border.

On March 24, through an exchange of notes between
the British and Tibetan plenipotentiaries, the
Indo-Tibet frontier was fixed. McMahon wrote to
Shatra: 'The final settlement of this India-Tibet
frontier will help to prevent causes of future
dispute and thus cannot fail to be of great advantage to both governments.'

The next day, the Tibetan plenipotentiary
replied: 'As it was feared that there might be
friction in future unless the boundary between
India and Tibet is clearly defined, I submitted
the map, which you sent to me in February last,
to the Tibetan government at Lhasa for orders. I
have now received orders from Lhasa, and I
accordingly agree to the boundary as marked in
red in the two copies of the maps signed by you.'

The British and the Tibetan delegates signed and
sealed the map. Thus the McMahon Line was born as
a red line demarcating the Indo-Tibetan boundary in the eastern sector.

Today, Beijing is not ready to accept the McMahon
Line as it would be a de facto recognition that
an accord signed by an independent Tibetan government has legal validity.

Did the Chinese always claim Tawang?

Did the Chinese always claim Tawang? The answer is, 'No.'

During the 1950s, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai was
ready to accept the McMahon Line as the border
between 'China's Tibet' and India.

A letter from the then Indian Prime Minister
Jawaharlal Nehru to U Nu, his Burmese
counterpart, is revealing. On April 22, 1957,
Nehru wrote: 'I am writing to you immediately so
as to inform you of one particular development
which took place here when Chou En-lai [Zhou Enlai] came to India.

"In your letter you say that while Premier Chou
En-lai was prepared to accept the McMahon Line in
the north [of Burma], he objected to the use of
the name 'McMahon Line', as this may produce
'complications vis- -vis India', and therefore,
he preferred to use the term 'traditional line'.'

Nehru continued: '[Zhou] said that while he was
not convinced of the justice of our claim to the
present Indian frontier with China (in Tibet), he
was prepared to accept it. That is, he made it
clear that he accepted the McMahon Line between
India and China, chiefly because of his desire to
settle outstanding matters with a friendly
country like India and also because of usage etc.
I think, he added he did not like the name 'McMahon Line'.'

Nehru had some doubts that he had heard properly
what the Chinese Premier had said: 'I wanted to
remove all doubts about it. I asked him again
therefore and he repeated it quite clearly. I
expressed my satisfaction at what he said. I
added that there were two or three minor frontier
matters pending between India and China on the
Tibet border and the sooner these were settled, the better. He agreed.'

Zhou however told his Indian counterpart that
after the signature of the Panchsheel Agreement
on Tibet in 1954, the Tibetans objected to the
demarcation of the line: 'The Tibetans wanted us
to reject this Line; but we told them that the
question should be temporarily put aside. I
believe immediately after India's independence,
the Tibetan government had also written to the
Government of India about this matter. But now we
think that we should try to persuade and convince the Tibetans to accept it.'

The forthcoming visit of the Dalai Lama to Tawang
is another occasion for the Tibetan leader to
reiterate that he has always stood by the McMahon
Line and Zhou's argument (which the Tibetans objected to) does not stand.

Tsangyang Gyatso: The Sixth Dalai Lama

Another misconception created by the Chinese is
that because Tsangyang Gyatso, the Sixth Dalai
Lama, great poet and lover, was born near Tawang
in 1683. For Beijing, it is proof that Tawang
belongs to Tibet (and therefore part of China). Elementary, Mr Hu!

This is another lame argument. Is France part of
Kashmir because Dr Karan Singh was born in Cannes
on the French Riviera? What about Liaquat Ali
Khan, born in Karnal, Haryana; Zia-ul-Haq was
born in Jalandhar; or Pervez Musharraf in
Daryaganj in Delhi? Does it make Haryana, Punjab or Delhi a part of Pakistan?

The Sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyaltso (the
Precious Ocean of Pure Melody), who loved freedom
above all, would have probably written a
beautiful poem on Chinese pretentions.

Chinese names

The Chinese say that all the names south of the
McMahon are Chinese. Unless Tibetan language
(gompa, dzong, la, chu, etc) has become Chinese,
it is wrong. In fact both languages are
etymologically and grammatically totally
different. However, if the Chinese start claiming
as theirs all the areas using 'Bothia' (Tibetan)
language and scripts, Kinnaur, Lahaul, Spiti,
Ladakh or Sikkim will soon be claimed by them.
And why not the Buriat and Kalmyk republics of
the Russian Federation? What about Darjeeling
(from Tibetan Dorjee Ling, meaning the place of the Vajra)? Does it make sense?

The current campaign is primarily caused by the
forthcoming visit of the Dalai Lama to Arunachal
Pradesh which in itself is a reiteration that the
Tibetan leader stands by the McMahon Line as the
Indo-Tibet border, a historical fact which can't be erased retrospectively.
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