March 6, 2010

The Sino-Indian Border dispute: You Scratch my Back, But I Won’t Scratch yours

The two Asian Giants are still not able to figure out the line dividing them – in the longest running border dispute in modern history. This dispute offers interesting lessons on how to, and how not to, handle boundary issues. The analysis of Chinese behavior in the negotiations is doubly important given China’s perception in the west of its ‘flexing its muscles’, and China’s theory of ‘Peaceful Rise’.

About a century ago, Sir Henry McMahon, the then British Foreign Secretary, took a think red pencil and sketched a line between India and Tibet on a map - a line that has resulted in the two most populous nations in the world going to war, costing more than 2000 lives; and that has created enormous mistrust on both sides, especially in India. 

Consequently, on the 3rd of July, 1914, was signed one of the most bizarre and controversial agreements ever known to man - The Simla accord, the complexities of which have yet to be unraveled. 
It was signed at a conference in the Indian mountain town of Simla that was attended by representatives of the British Empire, the newly founded Republic of China, and the Tibetan government at Lhasa.

It is on this extremely controversial treaty that the entire negotiating stance of the Indian government is based. It recognizes the McMahon line as the legal international boundary. The legality of the Simla accord is disputed. If it is legal, then it serves India's cause; if it is illegal, China's.
The border negotiations have been going on since 1981, making them the longest boundary negotiations in modern history.  The dubious record includes,
1)  8 rounds of senior-level talks between 1981 and 1987,
2) 14 Joint Working Group meetings between 1988 and 2002,
3) 14 rounds of talks between the designated Special Representatives since 2003.

Disputed Territories

The major territories that are disputed between these two countries can be divided into two distinct parts:

1) The Western Sector - Aksai Chin, which lies to the east of the Kashmir valley, covering an area of about 37,250 (14,380 sq.mi) - currently occupied by China.

Territories disputed between India and China

2) The Eastern Sector - Most of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, that China calls South Tibet, covering an area of 83,743 (32,333 sq.mi) - currently occupied by India.

China's boundary settlements with other countries

Western and Indian analysts and journalists frequently accuse China of having a new-found self-confidence, call on Obama to "burst Beijing's bubble" (The Washington Post), call its statements "harangue" and its behaviour "hubris" (The Economist), and accuse it of possessing an increased "assertiveness" (Almost everyone!).
Even a 2005 Pentagon report on Chinese military power expressed concern that “conflicts to enforce China’s [territorial] claims could erupt in the future with wide regional repercussions."
J. Mohan Malik, an expert in Asian Geopolitics and  Proliferation, proclaims, "Having wrested substantial territorial concessions from Russia, Vietnam, and Tajikistan in their land border disputes with China, Beijing is now expecting the same from India."

Although a thorough analysis of China’s border disputes merits a separate blog post, only a summary is sufficient here to put things in perspective.

China has had land border disputes with every country which it bordered. However, it has resolved 12 out of the 14 disputes quite remarkably, giving remarkable concessions in each of them.
In its border negotiations with different countries, China has pursued compromise and offered concessions in most of these conflicts. China’s compromises have often been substantial, as it has usually offered to accept less than half of the contested territory in any final settlement. It has also not reiterated its claims on a majority of the territory which was seized from it by the so-called 'unequal treaties'.

According to M.Taylor.Fravel, a premier expert on China's border disputes,
"Contrary to scholars of offensive realism, ......China has rarely exploited its military superiority to bargain hard for the territory that it claims or to seize it through force. China has likewise not become increasingly assertive in its territorial disputes as its relative power has grown in the past two decades. Contrary to others who emphasize the violent effects of nationalism, which would suggest inflexibility in conflicts over national sovereignty, China has been quite willing to offer territorial concessions despite historical legacies of external victimization and territorial dismemberment under the Qing."
 ".....China has not issued demands for large tracts of territory that were part of the Qing dynasty......"
 "China only contested roughly 7 percent of the territory that was part of the Qing dynasty at its height"
In the adjoining map, the grey area was part of the Qing dynasty during 1820, claims that China did not pursue.

China's land border negotiations with neighbouring countries offer a startling revelation. Portions of the total disputed territories that China received as part of its boundary negotiations with 12 of its 14 neighbours are as follows:

Afghanistan  -  0%
Tajikistan      - 4%
Nepal            - 6%
Burma          - 18%
Kazakhstan  - 22%
Mongolia      - 29%
Kyrgyzstan   - 32%
North Korea  - 40%
Laos             - 50%
Vietnam        - 50%
Russia          - 50%
Pakistan       - 54%

(Pakistan was a special case in which China received 60% of the disputed land but transferred 1,942 square kilometers of separate land to Pakistan. In Tajikistan’s case, the figure refers to the 28,000 of the disputed Pamir mountain range, other sectors were divided evenly. In the case of Vietnam, in addition to this settlement, China transferred, apparently without any strings attached, the White Dragon Tail Island to (North) Vietnam in 1957)

According to Fravel, "Analysis of China’s dispute behavior bears directly on the future of peace and stability in East Asia. Behavior in territorial disputes is a fundamental indicator of whether a state is pursuing status quo or revisionist foreign policies, an issue of increasing importance in light of China’s rising power."

China's recent 'assertiveness'

On a recent visit to the US, the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, "There is but a certain amount of assertiveness on the Chinese part. I don't fully understand the reasons for it".
He was referring, among other things, to Chinese objections to the PM's and Dalai Lama's visit to Arunachal Pradesh and China's attempt to stall an ADB loan, part of which was earmarked for Arunachal Pradesh.
There has also been some media hype among the Indian media about unconfirmed reports of border incursions (which The Economist calls the 'picking up (of) fights' by China) . But since the Line of Actual Control (LAC)  is not clearly defined, incursions often take place on both sides; and it was dismissed by the Indian government as inconsequential.
Dr Fravel argues that "China has beefed up border security and associated infrastructure along all of its borders, not just the one with India." Now since its border with India is not clearly defined,  a perceived incursion to one side is simply a normal border patrol to the other. Even the Indian government has said that the LAC is perceived differently on both sides.
According to Fravel, "...often times the Indian government denies that incursions have occurred when local officials in India report that they have occurred.
What is clear is (that) Chinese activity on the border has increased in the last several years. What I mean here is the frequency of its patrols, and that in itself is threatening to India if it cannot patrol at the same level of frequency." (my emphasis)
India significantly beefed up the number of troops on its border with China after these reports.

Although this is not the appropriate place for a detailed analysis of these accusations, it is clear that China's recent behaviour does NOT indicate that it wants Arunachal Pradesh per se, it simply means that its claim is still alive, which it always was. That Arunachal Pradesh is disputed (but not Chinese per se) territory has been its official position since before the 1962 war.

China in fact only 'attacked' India in 1962 only to get it to negotiate.  After occupying Arunachal Pradesh for a short period, it declared a unilateral ceasefire and withdrew - thus maintaining the same status quo as that prior to the war.

'Facts of History'

History is History. It cannot be changed. But what we can change is its effect on the future. China understands this perfectly.
It refers to the McMahon line and the other aspects of the dispute as 'a fact of history' or 'a fact leftover by history' (two favourite phrases of the Chinese government). It is willing to forget history and move forward, even if it means offering significant concessions.

China seems to have mastered the art of giving remarkable concessions and settling disputes peacefully. (So much so that it seems to border on an obsession of resolving land border disputes as quickly and amicably as possible), characteristic of which is its 'One country, Two systems' approach, which resulted in the successful and peaceful transfer of Hong Kong and Macau to China. By contrast, India had to 'invade' Goa, another Portuguese colony like Macau, to liberate it.

This is in stark contrast with India, where apparently Foreign Policy is merely a vote-grubbing exercise. It would be political suicide for any Indian government if it were to 'settle' any dispute with mutual concessions. In fact, it would not be an over-exaggeration to say that while Chinese Foreign Policy is about surviving the next century, Indian Foreign Policy is about surviving the next election.

In 1960, Zhou Enlai offered Nehru a bargain that was in India's favour by a land area ratio of about 3:1 - China would drop its claim in the Eastern sector if India would drop its claim in the Western sector. But Nehru rejected this package solution, and later also refused to negotiate with the Chinese, until it vacated 'illegally occupied' Indian territory (As if there'll be anything left to negotiate then!).   
Deng Xiaoping again offered a similar deal to India on a number of occasions in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but they were again rejected by India.

In contrast, India has chosen to adopt a sector-by-sector approach, negotiating each of the two distinct sectors separately.
As China expressed a willingness to drop its claim in the Eastern sector, Fravel thinks that "India believes that it can use this strategy to maximise concessions from China. Because China has already suggested dropping its claims in one sector, India can also seek concessions in the Western sector. China has opposed this and one reason why China has increased the prominence of Tawang (a district/town in Arunachal Pradesh or South Tibet with close links to Tibet) is because India prefers to pursue a sector by sector approach. China is signaling to India that if a sector by sector approach is pursued, China will expect concessions in both sectors from India." (my emphasis)
Needless to say, even in this sector-by-sector approach, there is no evidence that India is willing to offer any concessions.

In the official statements of these two countries, the differences of their respective approaches seem to stand out. While India refers to Arunachal Pradesh as an 'integral part of India', China refers to it as 'disputed territory' - thereby indicating that although China has a claim on that territory, it recognizes and respects the fact that India also has a claim on it. It doesn't refer to Chinese occupied Aksai Chin as an 'integral part of China' and South Tibet (or Arunachal Pradesh) as being under 'illegal occupation' by India. 

The above facts have been completely missed by the Indian media as well as the general public and politicians, who put the blame squarely on China for the dispute remaining unresolved. 
Recently The Times of India published an article by Dilip Hiro, a journalist and analyst specializing in India, which stated, "Although China has settled its land border disputes with all other neighbours it has refused to do so with India". Indian analysts are often quick to claim that China has 'refused' to settle its border dispute with India because it is afraid of India's rise, conveniently forgetting the fact that the same argument can apply to India too.

You can scratch my back, but I won’t scratch yours.

Historians on both sides can offer arguments and analyses to support their claims and debate till the cows come home. But while the Chinese government is willing to forget history and even recognize the McMahon line in the eastern sector, the Indian government remains stubborn, risking a political fallout and a huge backlash fueled by a brainwashed Indian public, which is in turn fueled by false and exaggerated  media reports. The current Indian government is often compelled to succumb to the people's prejudices. Nationalistic fervour and zeal run so high in Indian minds that it clouds rational thinking in the national interest.

In fact, after losing the war in 1962, Nehru and his government; along with the Indian media, succeeded in portraying India as the innocent 'victim' of Chinese 'aggression' and 'betrayal'. Even today, a look at media reports and even MP's speeches in parliament clearly shows that this fiction is still maintained in the Indian mindset.

The words of a 1964 CIA report still ring true today,
    "A political settlement, which could not be negotiated when Sino-Indian relations were still to some degree friendly, will be even less likely now that relations are completely antagonistic."
Needless to say, it is in India's long-term national interest to resolve the dispute quickly. However, it is not in the government's interest to offer any sort of compromise, and hence it wouldn't touch the issue with a bargepole (A textbook example where national interest is superceded by political interest in a democracy).

It is abundantly clear that China wants the dispute resolved as quickly as possible (For one, it doesn't have such a strong and ill-informed public opinion to contend with). It understands that friendly relations between neighbours cannot be fully achieved as long as the mutual border is not clearly demarcated. It has offered significant concessions to India, keeping only the territory that is strategically important to it (because of the Aksai Chin road). It is willing to recognize Indian claims on the populated portion of the disputed territory, keeping only the barren desert land of Aksai Chin, where according to Nehru himself, "Not even a blade of grass grows".
Unfortunately, the Indian government seems to think that it has a mandate from heaven to keep ALL the disputed territory for itself, and will not offer any concessions whatsoever. It will not accept 74% of the total disputed territory that was part of the deal offered by China (heck, it won't even accept 99.99% of the territory if China offered it!), but wants the ENTIRE disputed territory for itself!

(update: This post also featured on Fool's Mountain. Permanent link here, along with readers' comments and discussions)


  1. First of all congratulations for writing on an extremely controversial topic with a thorough research.
    I must have taken some courage to criticize India and glorify China. Benefits of living in India.
    However, in your drive to be extremely impartial towards nationalities, do not go overboard in trusting China with all your heart.
    Your projection of China as the Karna of Mahabharat and of India as a foolish and unreasonable child warrantes thorough restrospection

  2. mudit,

    At least state some facts to back your wishy washy "politically correct" cliche!

  3. @mudit

    "I must have taken some courage to criticize India and glorify China"

    It takes courage to find out and write the truth. I have never 'criticized' India or 'glorified' China until and unless their is overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and in this case their was.

    "Benefits of living in India"

    Of course India has more freedom of speech than China. But how is that relevant to the topic of the post?

    "in your drive to be extremely impartial towards nationalities"

    I am partial towards India's national interest. However, as I've already explained, in this case the interests of the 'nationalities' is the exact opposite of India's national interest.

    "....warrantes thorough restrospection"

    It does. And I've 'retrospected' it 'thoroughly'.
    The facts are all out there. One just needs to know where to look.

    In most Indian minds, India seems to come out as the Arjun of Mahabharat!

  4. Hello Maitreya

    An extremely well written article!! Congratulations Maitreya. You certainly stand out from the other Indian blogsites I've visited. I will keenly await your next article.


    RE : "... example where national interest is superceded by political interest in a democracy"

    A very good point. Hope you don't mind I introduce to you an article I wrote last year in support of your viewpoint. I think you may like it.

    I wrote an article last year on China's evolving political model that may one day prove to be a worthwhile alternative to Western democratic systems. It was part of my 2-part democracy thesis. If you have some time Maitreya, you are most welcome to come over to check it out.

    It's called : "Topics on Democracy (Part 2) — A Model for the 21st Century"


  5. Chan,

    Hope that you will start writing again soon.

  6. @Chan

    Welcome to India's China Blog and Thanks for commenting.

    Your article about democracy vs the Chinese model was very thoughtful and interesting.

    For decades countries have been debating which administrative model is best for them. Different countries have tried different models and have failed.
    China, however, is unique in this sense - it has a communist foundation on which it has added a capitalist tinge - the so-called 'Socialism with Chinese Characteristics'.

    In a democracy, often the actual purpose of government and getting elected is reduced to, to put it quite bluntly, winning votes.

    As Friedman put it, when a one-party autocracy is led by 'a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages'.
    Even The Washington Post admitted that there was a consensus that 'China does it better'.

    I've touched on this issue briefly (about 'the legitimacy of governments', as Pallavi Aiyar puts it) in my previous post -

    Many Asian and African countries have long pondered about adopting the Chinese model. And most recently, even Russia joined the fray:

    I personally believe that the Chinese model is currently in the experimentation stage, and we may see many policy changes yet.

    - Maitreya

  7. Thanks Anonymous.

    I am glad you liked the articles. I haven't written for a long time, and probably not going to start any time soon. But I am still blogging around occasionally under different aliases.


  8. Dear Maitreya

    Thanks very much for coming over to read the article. I am glad you found it interesting.

    I totally agree with your comments. As I have suggested in my article, the Chinese model is still evolving. I am sure we will see further refinements as you've suggested. It is an on-going continuous process of improvement. I have full confidence the final "product" will eventually win praises around the globe.

    Maitreya, I am very impressed with your articles and your determination to set the records straight. I found you an admirable and honorable person. I look forward to your next article.


  9. @ Maitreya

    What ur blog seems to indicate is that if India relinquishes all claims on Aksai Chin, China would do the same with regard to our Arunachal Pradesh.

    While this will be the best option for India at present and so the most logical thing for Indian government to do, it is not so very easy for the govt to do so.

    Unlike China, where the single party govt can ignore public and make quick and bold decisions. Here in India, the govt may fall if it tries to give away Aksai Chin.

    India has lost a lot of land over the years (losing Pakistan, Bangladesh, POK). So, I feel the Indian public is not prepared to allow the govt to be any lenient now on the matters of land.

    But if as you believe that China has the noble intention of just requiring India to stop talking of Aksai Chin and China would do the same for Arunachal, then this bargain can be tried.

  10. @Chan

    Thanks for your comments. I'm glad that you liked my articles.
    BTW, I'm sorry to hear that you won't start blogging anytime soon on your own blog.


    I agree with you that it is not easy for the government to offer any compromise, which was one of the main theses of my post. But as long as there is a substantial amount of opposition to it (which in this case is plenty), the government doesn't even want to offer any compromise, even if it is in the national interest. It is happy to 'follow' the public!

  11. mudit,

    If I remember correctly, before the 1962 border war the then Chinese premier already hinted at a possible swap deal. Unfortunately, for the same reason you and Maitreya point out, that "offer" was immediately killed by the Indian government.

  12. Maitreya,

    Because you have provided a brief account of the Simla Accord, I think that it is important to point out that the Accord was not signed and has never been recognised by the then and later Chinese government(s).

    Unless people (plenty in India I guess) sincerely believe that the then Tibetan government was a fully-fledged sovereign government which had the authority to independently determine give-n-take in a border treaty, the legal footing of the Simla Accord is very fragile. Historical records do suggest that it is very questionable to believe that the then Tibetan government had the required authority/sovereignty (If we follow a bit common sense, why there were three parties in a conference dealing with the border issue between two "sovereign" countries?. The British used the term "suzerainty").

    Thus, it is no wonder that the Chinese government will not accept using the Macmahon line, a product of the Simla Accord, as the legal basis for negotiation, even though they might be willing to use the line as the de-facto basis for further negotiation.

  13. @ Maitreya,

    Congratulations for a fair, balanced and well-written article.

    I have followed and read quite a bit regarding the China-India border issue. I must say I have more or less similar opinion with yours.

    My understanding is that the Chinese government is willing to settle the border dispute based on the current LAC with perhaps some minor adjustments here and there. China does not recognize the legality of the McMahon line but has been pragmatic about the "historical fact."

    India seems to have a hard time to reach some kind of national consensus and given it's a democracy, it doesn't seem to be able to do so any time soon.

    Bot I strongly agree with you that it's in the national interests of both India and China to resolve the border dispute as soon as possible. With that strategic uncertainty and suspicion largely removed, there are many areas of cooperation between India and China.

    Again, it's so refreshing to read an objective Indian opinion among all the Indian newspapers and forums ...

  14. Thank you everyone for commenting.


    While the 'great game' was on between Russia and Britain, both of them had signed agreements to the effect that they would not negotiate with Tibet except through China. Hence, the word 'suzerainty'. But recently in 2008, the British position seems to have changed.

    It can be considered a great mark of Chinese diplomacy and consistency that no Chinese government - The Qing, the Nationalists, or the PRC - has ever recognised the McMahon line or the independence or sovereignty of Tibet.

    I have not discussed the detailed history of the dispute in this article because I thought that that merits a separate post (which I intend to publish in the future) by itself.

    The Chinese government is willing to move beyond history and understands that historians can argue till eternity, with no side willing to back down.
    But the important thing here is that the Chinese government is willing to take the initiative and back down, and keep far less territory for itself - a gesture which is completely lost on the Indian government and media.


    I agree with you that there is no national consensus in India regarding the boundary issue, mainly due of ignorance.
    Unless of course you count the one consensus that goes completely against India's national interest - China giving all the territory to India!

  15. Maitreya,

    I agree with you and hope to see your post dealing with this matter soon.

    I wonder how this piece of history (the Simla Conference) has been communicated and discussed in India? After all, the Accord forms the fundamental basis of the India argument (correct me if I am wrong) that there is "no dispute" and the territory in "dispute" has been completely Indian.

  16. To all our Chinese friends and Maitreya,
    Correct me if I am wrong, but the Indian position has been that Aksai Chin area was slowly acquired by China in the 50s to cement its hold over Tibet. (Indians were ignorant about this until much later)

    Apparently, when India came to know of this 'treachery' on the backdrop of the 'Hindi Chini bhai bhai' ie. 'Indians Chinese brothers' slogan of the Communist regime of China; China offered the said swap deal.

    One would say that logical decision of an individual who knows that a war with China cannot be won would be to accept the deal however humiliating it may be.

    But then governments more often than not run on sentiments and not logic. (at least the Indian govt)

    Please don't take personally the statements I made. I know that one has to let bygones be bygones. I just wanted to introduce to you the Indian view if you are not already familiar with that.

    Probably that will explain to you why it is so very difficult to take a decision and why successive Indian governments want to play it safe by letting the status quo continue.

    And I do not see any major harm in the status quo either. I mean China has what it wants ie. Aksai Chin. India has what it wants ie. Arunachal Pradesh. Both countries are more or less honouring the MacMohan Line. Trade between the two countries is huge and will be huger in future irrespective of the border dispute.

    In this situation, I think we both (India and China) should agree that we have the right to disagree on some matters and move on.

    A perfect example is the relations between China and Taiwan. China claims Taiwan as its own and Taiwan considers itself independent. I dont think China will ever relinquish its claims over Taiwan and Taiwan would never want to lose its independence either. Both regions know this fact and still have excellent trade relations.

    The same can go for India and China.

    What say?

  17. Mudit,

    The western boundary is at least in dispute. (I guess the Indian government position here is again "no dispute, complete Indian?)

    The British took Kashmir in 1846 and set it up as the northern frontier of British India, they tried to demarcate a boundary with Tibet at Ladakh. However, China refused to participate. In 1865, the British surveyor proposed the "Johnson line" which placed Aksai Chin in Kashmir(part of British India then). China rejected the proposal again. Later, China and British India agreed to use the Karakoram Pass as a fixed border point, but both sides of the pass were left undemarcated (Aksai Chin lies between the Pangong Lake and the Karakoram Pass). In 1899, the British proposed a boundary line called the Macartney-MacDonald line. The line gave China almost all of Aksai Chin. The reason can be explained by the following from Wikipedia/"The Great India-China Game": "Throughout most of the 19th century Great Britain and the expanding Russian Empire were jockeying for influence in Central Asia, and Britain decided to hand over Aksai Chin to Chinese administration as a buffer against Russian invasion. The newly-created border was known as the MacCartney-MacDonald Line, and both British-controlled India and China now began to show Aksai Chin as Chinese."

    However, since 1918,
    "According to Neville Maxwell, the British had used as many as 11 different boundary lines in the region, as their claims shifted with the political situation (when they saw no need or the need for a buffer zone), By the time of Indian independence in 1947, the Johnson Line had become India's official western boundary (on British maps)."

    So, even the India government regards itself as the legitimate successor of the British controlled India (which was larger than India now), there is nothing outragous to admit that both the western and eastern boundaries between India and China have been in dispute. Unfortunately, the India government's position (and the majority of the population, may I dare say so?) is such: what the British got from the Chinese (by whatever means) is ours, what the British tried to get from the Chinese (without Chinese acceptance) is ours too. The mere British ATTEMPT to gain a piece of territory is good enough. Nothing is for negotiation from then.

    Following the above logic, should the British ever draw the Johnson line and the Macmahon line in such a way that Beijing and Shanghai were shown as part of British India (absurd? It could happen at least in theory), the India government would still regard those lines as non-disputable boundaries?

  18. @Anonymous and

    Great discussion.

    Anonymous, that was great information!

    Maitreya has indicated he plans to write about the history of the dispute in the future. If assuming that means the near future, then I wonder if it would be worthwhile to postpone that part of the discussion and thus giving him more room to write.

  19. @ Anonymous

    Assuming the information you provided to be true, I never said that there is no dispute.

    I agree that there is a dispute in the western sector i.e. Aksai Chin area, where Chinese feel that since they never agreed upon Aksai Chin being part of British India, independent India cannot undisputedly call it its own.

    But in one of the discussions on this blog, it was admitted that China has no real interest in the eastern sector's dispute. It speaks of it only so that there can be an exchange where China relinquishes claim of eastern sector when India does so on Aksai Chin.

    The only basis of Chinese claim on the Tawang area of Arunachal Pradesh, which China calls South Tibet, is that one of the previous Dalai Lama's took birth in Tawang. (correct me if I am wrong)

  20. mudit,

    I never intend to put words into your mouth. You did not say that there is no dispute, I apologize if I sounded otherwise. I just want to point out where the problem is.

    However, I don't think that it is correct to say that China "has no real interest in the eastern sector's dispute". After all, the eastern section is much larger and fertile in comparison to the smaller, barren western section. (By the way, as far as I know, there was no physical "position" ever established by the British India and the later India up until the 1950s in Aksai Chin.)

    In my opinion, China hints at the possiblity of a swap deal because:
    1. China admits that there are disputes. (India claims that there is no dispute)
    2. On the basis of 1, China thinks that the best solution to the disputes is negotiations. (India refused to negotiate in the late 1950s and carried out the "foward policy" which played a significant part in triggering the 1962 war.)
    3. On the basis of 2, China beleives that the outcome of the negotiation will have to meet the minimum requirements of BOTH sides.
    4. On the basis of 3, China suggests (inexplicitly) that a swap deal might become the solution. The swap meets China's bottom line of keeping Aksai Chin where the strategic road lies. At the same time, the swap deal recognises India's claim on the estern section based on the Macmahon line (which China has never recognised).

    To me, it is a clear give-n-take negotiation position where both sides' interests are taken into account. China is willing to swallow(very difficult) the Macmahon line to settle the border issue with India, but China can never accept India's position: holding onto the eastern section (under India's de fector control) and demand China to officially recognise it in a settlement, while demanding the western section (no Indian control) to be "returned" to India. The above is the only position from which India can start the "negotiation" (correct me if otherwise).

    This is not negotiation, by any standard. What India wants is what the much more powerful (in relative terms) British/British India couldn't even manage to get from the much weaker China 100 year ago. Let's follow a bit common sense.

    Finally, I don't think it is the full truth to say that the "only basis of Chinese claim" on Sounth Tibet is that it was a previous Dalai Lama's birth place. Tawang area was historically Tibetan adiminstered by Tibetan monastry. Please let me quote Wiki again (not ideal but better than nothing):
    "Tawang Monastery was founded by the Merak Lama Lodre Gyatso in 1681 in accordance with the wishes of the 5th Dalai Lama, Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso, ... The sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso, was born in Tawang.

    Tawang was once a part of Tibet. In 1914, the McMahon line was drawn by the British and Tawang became a part of India. "

    If Tawang has been indisputably Indian(e.g., like Mumbai), why the British bothered with drawing the Macmahon line in 1914 to "make" Tawang British indian? The British managed to get concessions from the Tibetans in Lahsa (no surprise) in 1914, but the fact is that the Chinese government never signed the treaty and has never recognised it.


    Excuse me for ranting the above. I know Maitreya is going to write something about the history. However, the India-China border issue is pretty much history based with intricate twists and turns. It is very difficult to discuss the issue without dragging history into the discussion. The present and the history are interrelated.

  21. @ Anonymous

    It was sweet of you to be so polite. I never needed any apology.

    You say that in the 1950s China wanted to negotiate and India refused to do so. But again this issue has two versions.

    The Indian version is that India constantly provided facts to China as to how Aksai Chin belonged to India; but Chinese reply was always ambiguous. Hence it cannot be said as a fact that India refused negotiation.

    In fact, Indian version is that fed up with Chinese giving constant ambiguous replies and denial to look into the facts provided by India forced India into the forward policy. India never wanted war and did not expect that China would wage war on this matter.

    Before that war, India always thought of China as an Asian ally with whom it has minor differences which can be resolved by talks. However that perception changed when China unexpectedly waged war. (i repeat India did not expect China to be so provoked as to wage war as response to forward policy)

    Again, what I gave here is the Indian version.

    @ Chan
    Until Maitreya comes up with his further piece, it will be good to know you guys better and have better interaction.

  22. mudit,

    It is not only my conclusion that India refused to negotiate in the days leading to the 1962 border war. The conclusion is based on historical facts, which can be cross-examined.

    You say that the Indian version is that India constantly provided "facts" to China as to how Aksai Chin belonged to India, please clearly state these "FACTS". I guess these facts must include the "Johnson line".

    You also say that the Chinese reply was always ambiguous. Again, please state clearly what was the exact Chinese reply that makes you regard it as ambiguous.

    "India never wanted war and did not expect that China would wage war on this matter."
    Perhaps, but that is no excuse for the Indian government taking a unreasonable position in dealing with the dispute. In fact, the Indian position then was even agressive to some extent.

    The Nehru government not only asked China to recognise south Tibet as part of India in the eastern sector based on the Macmahon line, but also to recognise Aksai Chin as part of India in the western sector based on the Johnson line, which India had never occupied.

    I have clearly pointed out that both lines are the product of unilateral British India expansion without any legal footing.

    Here is the Chinese perspevtive:

    "The gravity of the situation lay not only in India's extensive claims to Chinese territory, but also in its subsequent use of force to unilaterally change the state of the boundary. "

    On November 7, 1959, The Chinese Premier wrote a letter to Nehru proposing that both sides withdraw their troops 20 kilometres from the Line of Actual Control along the entire Sino-Indian border. He also proposed that the prime ministers of the two countries discuss the boundary question. But the Indian government rejected these proposals.

    Zhou visited New Delhi in April 1960 and held talks with Nehru. He proposed six points as "points of common ground or of close proximity emerging from the talks":
    1. There exist disputes with regard to the boundary between the two sides.
    2. There exist between the two countries a line of actual control up to which each side exercises administrative jurisdiction.
    3. In determining the boundary between the two countries, certain geographical principles, such as watersheds, river valleys, and mountain passes, should be equally applicable to all sectors of the boundary.
    4. A settlement of the boundary question between the two countries should take into account the national feelings of the two peoples towards the Himalayas and the Karakoram mountains.
    5. Pending a settlement of the boundary question through discussions, both sides should keep to the line of actual control and not put forward territorial claims as pre-conditions, but individual adjustments may be made.
    6. To ensure tranquillity on the border so as to facilitate the discussion, both sides should continue to refrain from patrolling along all sectors of the boundary. "

    But the Indian government refused again.

    In the following years before the war broke out, the India government carried out its "forward policy", taking advantage of China's unilateral halting of border patrols. They soon established a total of 43 outposts encroaching on territory under Chinese control in the western sector (some Indian posts even penetrated behind the Chinese posts cutting their supplies in military terms). In the eastern section, Indian troops even CROSSED the MacMahon Line. For example, at the western end of the MacMahon Line there is a small wedge of territory known as the Dhola Strip. The area clearly lay to the NORTH of the MacMahon Line, "even on the basis of co-ordinates given by the Indians".

    On October 12, 1962, Nehru declared that he had issued orders to "free the invaded areas" from Chinese troops.

    After all of the above, what do you expect, mudit? In Mr. Maxwell's words, "The Chinese were not going to wait to be attacked."

  23. Mudit,

    As a side note, I suggest that you read Mr. Maxwell's India's China war thoroughly, a well researched study on the dispute, before reaching any conclusions.

    My apology for being patronizing in advance, if you have done so.

  24. @(Anonymous)

    "I wonder how this piece of history (the Simla Conference) has been communicated and discussed in India? After all, the Accord forms the fundamental basis of the India argument (correct me if I am wrong) that there is "no dispute" and the territory in "dispute" has been completely Indian."

    The Simla conference is not at all discussed in India and there is hardly any public debate about it.
    You are absolutely right in saying that the fundamental basis of the Indian argument is that all the territory in dispute has been completely Indian, as I say in the post.

    The majority of the Indian public (even the educated public) don't know a damn thing about the border dispute; except what the media tells them - and you can guess what that is!


    BTW, I've been a bit busy this past few days; but I'm going to write about the history of the dispute soon. And I'll be looking forward to your comments and feedback.

  25. An interesting, more nuanced Indian opinion:

  26. Thanks for the link.

    The opinion is certainly more nuanced than most Indian opinions.
    This article in fact reiterates many of the points of my original post and that of Fravel.

    Also, this is by far the first time that I am seeing anyone in the Indian media admit to the fact that I had mentioned in my post, that border incursions take place on both sides when the border is not defined.

  27. Maitreya Bhakal,

    Thanks for the response. I forwarded the link, but somehow I could not get my name there (and still can't use OpenID).

    You're right, the opinion is not very commonly expressed in India media and that's why I forwarded.


  28. If India were to recognise that it is unlikely to get back Aksai Chin - a difficult terrain to conquer from India's side, then it makes sense for all India's political parties to come together to agree on giving it up in exchange for Arunachal Pradesh which China is willing to offer.

    The solution is before all of us.

    The other issue is stop supporting the Dalai Lama and its exile government, in exchange for China's not exporting arms to Pakistan, and India's pledge not to invade Pakistan and Pakistan-held Kashmir, with a peace treaty between all parties.

  29. @MatthewTan: Thanks for commenting and welcome to India's China Blog.

    It is in fact quite difficult for India's political parties to come together to resolve the dispute, for the reasons I mentioned in my post, but I agree with you that it certainly makes sense for them to do so.

    However, common sense is not so common among India's political parties!

  30. Thanks for your comments, here and the other thread.

    "It is in fact quite difficult for India's political parties to come together to resolve the dispute"

    I find it very hard to understand. Maybe it takes some time.

    China and India going to sign free trade deal, right now? Let's hope it will be successful. And let more trade bring everlasting peace.

  31. I didn't know Maitreya is "the future Buddha", until I read this article, which I am still reading now. It is a very good article on Tibet from The Hindu. Very long. You might be interested, as it touches a little on the Simla and related history. But more on modern Tibet.

    Volume 17 - Issue 18, Sep. 02 - 15, 2000
    India's National Magazine
    from the publishers of THE HINDU



    N. RAM writes, after a five day visit to the Tibet Autonomous Region of China.

  32. You may be interested also in these two articles,
    Himalayan Frontiers of India: Historical, Geo-Political and Strategic ...
    By K. Warikoo

    Tibet and the Security of the Indian Himalayan Belt
    P. Stobdan

    /// output of google search ///

    Did you mean: "Sino-Indian relations through the Tibet prism" Top 2 results shown

    Sino-Indian relations through the Tibet prism
    Sino-Indian relations through the Tibet prism. SUBRAMANIAN SWAMY. Delving into history, the political record of the past 50 years, and security affairs, ... - Cached - SimilarHimalayan Frontiers of India: Historical, Geo-Political and ...
    28 Subramanian Swamy, 'Sino-Indian Relations Through the Tibet Prism', Frontline, 17(18), 2–15 September 2000. 29 A Declaration on Principles for Relations ... - Cached

  33. Interesting article

    Chinadaily BBS » News Talk» Talk to China Daily» The Dragon will dance with the Elephant on a sound footing

  34. Hi Maitreya Bhakal,

    Thanks for writing this blog. It is very refreshing to see an Indian writing an article on this subject as objective as you. I just found a podcast by Neville Maxwell commenting on this subject. Here is the link:

  35. I just came across this blog. Bhakal, I admire your blog. People are nice and there are well thought out debate. Good job, guys. Just a note, I believe one of the benefits of living in India is freedom of speech. Bhakal, this is what you are practicing. Democracy is not for the soft heart, there are opinions and ideas that can make your blood boil, but they are still entitled to it and this entitlement is protected exactly so that society will not descend into social repression.

  36. @MatthewTan, Anonymous (1):
    Thanks for the articles and podcast links. They were quite informative.

    @Anonymous (2):
    Thanks. I completely agree with that democracy is most certainly not for the weak-hearted.

  37. With no small relief did I read this blogpost: finally, an Indian writer who is willing to look at things from the Chinese perspective! Kudos to you. Only if there are more people like you in both Indian and Chinese governments, who are willing to step outside of the box and tackle issues at their cores.

  38. Hi my name is Nabam,
    Thanks for your breadth taking Analysis. I am citizen of A.P/south Tibet. But I would not hesitate to say that people of A.P. were some way or other way was part of Chinese History.
    There is an ample of evidence’s, you can collect it from capital (Itanagar) itself. Just go to local ornament shop and see the Chinese inscription written on it.
    I also know it is not Tibetan script because it looks somewhat elevation of traditional Chinese houses with all rope and ladder dangling.
    But it's hard to tell our Indian brother that my people have no any connection with Indian civilization. Most of time I am being looks upon as traitor or man who is betraying his country.
    However, I would like to differ from mainstream ideas and concept of Indo-china border dispute.
    Frankly speaking, all India’s argument about indo-Sino border dispute is based upon one-sided British-Raj treaty or so called Shimla Accord.

    But no government in china since 1914 ever agreed upon McMahon line. Many government In china come and gone during these period; almost it’s been century, non of Chinese government ever agreed upon the biased Treaty. Even democratically elected government in china, who was basically US puppet never agreed and bother to challenge CPC stand on Border dispute with India.
    If India truly wants to live peacefully with its neighbour then it has to compromise with dispute land which actually was never part of India. Even if India makes a huge concession to china in Border dispute. Fact, still remain that India won’t be labelled as defeated side because it will have control over legitimise Dispute Land. Which actually was never been part of India!!!!!

  39. Wonderful Information :)
    keep sharing !

  40. I got referred this site from a discussion. Thank you for a clean perspective on things. Much appreciated!!

  41. hats off this was just marvelous credits for putting this up 

  42. I am astonished & have started opening my eyes to China. China is a villain for most of Indians because of the 1962 war. Your analysis is spot on & you have simplified the border issue. 
    Even if I see through your eyes, I do not understand the Chinese ways about the stamped VISA for arunachal people, objections on visits to arunachal by India's own people. Is it their way of trying to pressurize India for resolving the border issue ?

  43. Thanks! I'm glad you liked it. Feel free to check out the companion post as well, in which I discuss how the dispute came to be in its current form, or to be more precise, its current mess ;-)

  44. And this paragon of peace is constantly threatening its neighbours over the South China Sea, while their naval officers perform radar locks on Japanese ships. 

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  60. Thanks for commenting Vitthal.

    The stamped VISA issue could indeed be a tactic to pressurize India over settling the border issue, as we know that it is India's stubbornness after all that has kept the dispute alive. It would be interesting to know whether this is a recent phenomenon, or whether China has only recently started this practice. Or it is also possible that until now nobody from Arunachal Pradesh really wanted to go to China! :P

    Of course it is not possible to know what India would have done if the situation was reversed i.e. whether a Chinese living in territory claimed by India but controlled by China would have had his VISA application rejected by India (or been issued stamped VISAs). This is simply because the territory that China occupies and India claims (Aksai Chin) doesn't have anyone living in it! It would be interesting to know how India treats VISA applications from people living in PoK.

    However, as far as the denial of the VISA to Lt Gen BS Jaswal (in-charge of India's Northern Command) goes, it has been suggested that this was a tit-for-tat move by China:

  61. Well, it has been extensively documented (in this report for example) that:

    Although Vietnam and the Philippines
    appear to have increased their reporting of events
    in the South China Sea since 2009, China has not.
    Confrontations involving Chinese ships, especially
    Chinese fishermen, are almost never reported in
    the Chinese media, most likely because the government
    wants to avoid the criticism that it is not
    doing enough to protect its citizens.

    Although China’s detention of foreign fishing boats
    receives a great deal of media attention, confrontations
    involving fishing boats from other claimant
    states are also common.

    So there you have it. And this is from people who aren't really fans of China, and on the whole, argue that America should increase it's presence in the region.

    This pattern of press reporting fits right in with the general trend in the western media about China, so I'm inclined to believe it to be true. So the next time you hear China or Chinese officers or fishermen harassing the other side, be assured that that there is a lot about the other side that you are NOT hearing.

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