MG an air warrior, a political observer, and writer with wide experience.
India inherited the legacy of British rule over India. Without going into lengthy details, I will state a well-known fact that the main intention of the British was to retain India as a colony and secure it. They wished to keep Tibet as a buffer between India and China. In this endeavor, the British succeeded but at the same time, they marked the border between India and Tibet in an arbitrary manner. In the east, they set up an imaginary line called the MacMohan line and in the west, they marked another imaginary line which was drawn by the explorer henry Johnson and named it after him as the Johnson line.
The British did not demarcate the lines on the ground. In practice, the Tibetan government did not accept these lines though they had signed on the dotted line at the Simla conference of 1913. Chinese and also attended the conference and initialed the final draft but did not approve it later on.
The British were not really bothered whether China or Tibet accept the British line or not because militarily they were very powerful. Aafter the 1903 Younghusband expedition, they had defeated the Tibetans and the Dalai Lama had run away to China.
The British were confident of their power and they did not set up any administration up to the Johnson line that encompasses the entire area of Aksai Chin. In the east, the British referred to the area as the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) but did set up some control but it was not absolute or total. This situation continued till 1947 and both China and Tibet despite making some verbal noises made no attempt to disturb the Johnson line or the MacMohan line.
In 1947, India became came independent and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru became the Indian Prime Minister. India inherited all the rights of the British Raj but unfortunately, Nehru did not beef up the military to the level which the British had. He also failed to set up any administration in Aksai Chin and like the days of the British, the area continued to be shown as part of India without any physical control over it.
The Geo- political situation after the departure of the British changed. China which had been fighting a Civil War was able to set its house in order. The communist party under Mao Tse Tung defeated General Chiang Kai Shek's Nationalists and became the de facto power in China.
Unlike Nehru, who had no Geopolitical concepts, Mao was a different man. He wanted to exert China as a global power and immediately in 1949, he ordered the invasion of Tibet. This was the time for Nehru to intervene but he did nothing and on the contrary, went and recognized China. He followed up by making a statement that he recognized China's suzerainty over Tibet.
Unknown to Nehru and the Indian government the Chinese occupied the entire Aksai Chin as the Indians had not set up any administration and India came to know about it only after 10 years when an Indian police patrol was ambushed and 15 soldiers killed.
Nehru was now in a panic as he had not beefed up the Indian army and allowed it to go to seed. At the same time, he began to make a diplomatic push to ask China to vacate Aksai Chin. China however took a hard line against India as the Dalai Lama escaped from Lhasa and was given asylum in India.
I think initially the Chinese who were having a tough time with the Russians were keen for a border settlement with India. The Chinese Prime Minister Chou En Lai made two visits to India and he brought a set of proposals to resolve the border dispute. His proposal was very simple. He announced that China would accept the MacMohan line as the eastern border as they had accepted it with Burma. At the same time, he said that India must recognize Chinese control over the entire Aksai Chin. in any case the area was never under Indian control.
The Indian army chief general KS Thimmiyya and defense minister Krishna Menon were keen to accept this proposal. Nehru under fire from his cabinet colleagues somehow spurned the offer and a golden opportunity to solve the border problem was lost. This was followed by a war in 1962 in which the Chinese were the victors and Nehru cut a sorry figure.
It appears once again in 1982 during the term of president Deng a similar proposal was mooted but it was not accepted by Indra Gandhi. Much water has flown down the river since then and China has now taken a giant leap forward. Their military challenges the USA and its economy is five times the size of India. They have revised their stand and now claim not only Aksai Chin but much more area and in the east, they claim the entire NEFA, now called Arunachal Pradesh.
Present situation and earlier Chinese offer
Prime Minister Modi who came to power in 2014 inherited the border problem. He assumed that he could placate China by having more trade relations and meeting the Chinese president frequently. In the last six years, he has met the Chinese president 19 times and the trade deficit between India and China is now $60 billion.
The Chinese were however not happy as their core demand that India recognize Aksai Chin as part of China has not been conceded. In fact, the Home Minister Amit Shah made a blunder, by stating in parliament that comes what may, even if we have to give our blood we will take back Aksai Chin.
Now the fact remains that India does not have the military capability to take back even 100 yards from China and one fails to understand how the Indian home Minister was making such a statement. The net result has been the Chinese have now brought in massive reinforcements on the border in Ladakh.
Bite the bullet
If one is a realist, one has to realize that India has to make a border adjustment with China. To continue with the rhetoric that Aksai Chin etc are part of India is not at all relevant because in any case India and even the British never set up any administration in that region 50 years.
India has to appreciate that they have fallen behind China because of their own leadership. The BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2003 when on a visit to Beijing made a public announcement that Tibet was a part of China. There was no need for it as it weakened India's stand.
It is now a very difficult situation. India has to negotiate a border settlement with China. After all the Russians also finally made peace with China and settled the border dispute. Indian can revert back to the earlier Chinese offer which was made by premiere Chou En-Lai. Modi will have to bite the bullet for this to happen otherwise the state of tension between India and China will continue and India, in any case, will find it very difficult to match China which is now on the ascendant.
The border solution can only be solved if India recognizes complete control of Aksai Chin by China and try and negotiate for the acceptance of the MacMohan Line, otherwise, India will have to build up its military and there is no option but to go to war.
MG Singh (author) from UAE on January 01, 2021:
Thank you Dilip for commenting. I do feel Modi must bite the bullet
Dilip K on January 01, 2021:
This is a really interesting article and I do feel that the border agreement with China should have been done at least 50 years back. It's however better late than never otherwise India should gird up its lions for something serious.