The 17th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), which completed its term at Beijing on November 4, 2012, did not throw much light on any changes in nuances in the Chinese foreign policy that can be expected from the new party leadership headed by Mr. Xi Jinping that will be taking over at the 18th Congress being held from November 8.
The first indications of any changes in nuances will be available only after the Party Congress is over and after Mr. Hu Jintao hands over as the State President to Mr. Xi after the session of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the Parliament, in March next year. There will also be a new Prime Minister from March next when Mr. Wen Jiabao will be handing over to Mr. Le Kequiang. All one say with certainty is there is unlikely to be any major changes in foreign policy objectives at least till next March.
Speculation from Beijing regarding the deliberations of the 17th Central Committee, which worked for a consensus on the composition of the new party organs under Mr. Xi, indicated that the new leadership under Mr. Xi may be more conservative and less political reform minded and more cautious in domestic matters. Will this domestic neo conservatism be reflected in external policy also and, if so, in what manner? Will the new leadership be more assertive in territorial sovereignty matters or more accommodating? Will it be more or less rigid in non-territorial matters having an impact on foreign policy such as charges of currency manipulation, action to reduce trade imbalances, charges of economic espionage emanating from US Congressional circles etc? Clear-cut answers to these questions should be available only after next March.
However, one can study important foreign policy statements made during the year to understand the thinking of the new leadership and analysts, who write on foreign policy matters in the Government and party-controlled media. The most important statement of the year came from Mr. Xi himself during a visit he made to the US in February last after it became clear that he would be taking over as the Party General Secretary and the State President from Mr.Hu.
While addressing a luncheon hosted by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations and the U.S.-China Business Council at Washington DC on Feb. 15, 2012, Mr. Xi said that China and the US should increase strategic trust and respect the core interests and major concerns of each other. He added:
“Without trust, one can achieve nothing. China and the US have important interwoven interests. Strategic trust is the foundation for mutually beneficial cooperation, and greater trust will lead to broader cooperation. The two sides should increase mutual understanding and trust, and reduce misunderstanding and suspicion.
“We in China hope to work with the U.S. side to maintain close high-level exchanges. We hope to increase dialogue and exchange of views with the United States by making full use of our channels of communication, including the Strategic and Economic Dialogues, cultural and people-to-people exchanges, and military-to-military exchanges.
“By doing so, we can better appreciate each other’s strategic intentions and development goals, avoid misinterpretation and misjudgement, build up mutual understanding and strategic trust, and on that basis, fully tap our cooperation potential.
“History shows that when we properly handle each other’s core and major interests, China-U.S. relations will grow smoothly. Otherwise, they will be in trouble.
“China hopes the US will adhere to the three Sino-U.S. Joint Communiques and the one-China policy, oppose Taiwan independence and support the peaceful development of relations across the Taiwan Straits with concrete actions.
“China also hopes that the United States will truly honour its commitment of recognizing Tibet as part of China and opposing Tibet independence, and handle Tibet-related issues in a prudent and proper manner.
“It is natural that some differences exist on human rights issues given the differences in national conditions as well as historical and cultural background between the two countries.
“China and the US should continue dialogue and exchanges to implement the consensus reached between Presidents of the two countries on respecting each other’s development paths chosen in light of their national conditions, and improve the cause of human rights in both countries.
“China-U.S. relations are now at a new historical starting point in the second decade of the 21st century.”
It was a conciliatory statement and tried to play down the tensions and suspicions that had arisen during the last two years following China’s reported characterization of its sovereignty claims over the islands of the South China Sea as of core interest in addition to Taiwan and Tibet. Such a characterization was not made in any official document or policy statement of Beijing, but during its diplomatic interactions with the US in May 2010.
In his speech in Washington DC, Mr. Xi remained silent on this characterization and reverted to the traditional Chinese position that Taiwan and Tibet are its core interests. It did not refer to Xinjiang as a core interest. Chinese leaders are generally more articulate in the expression of their concerns on the Tibetan issue during their visits to the US than during their visits to India because they are concerned over the support enjoyed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in US Congressional circles and by his access to the US President during his visits to Washington DC. They do worry that an attempt might be made by the US to promote the destabilization of Tibet after the death of His Holiness.
Though Mr. Xi’s formulations on the Tibet issue were made by him in Washington DC and with specific reference to the likely impact of Tibet on China’s bilateral relations with the US, they should be of interest to India too in view of the pending border dispute between India and China which has defied a resolution.
Since 1985, the Chinese have stopped expressing themselves in favor of a swap deal with India under which in return for an Indian acceptance of the status quo in the Western sector in the Ladakh area, Beijing will accept the status quo in the Eastern sector by recognizing Arunachal Pradesh as Indian territory. This package proposal was reportedly first made by the Chinese before the Sino-Indian war of 1962.It continued to be on the table even the war till 1985.
Since 1985, they have been challenging the status quo in the Arunachal Pradesh area, describing it as southern Tibet and as disputed territory over which they continue to have sovereignty claims which need to be accommodated in their border negotiations with India. Details of the border talks are not available, but the speculation is they want a status quo minus solution in the Eastern sector under which India will concede their sovereignty over at least the Tawang area in which one of the previous Dalai Lamas was born, in return for their giving up their sovereignty claims over the rest of Arunachal Pradesh.
It is in this context that Mr. Xi’s reference to Tibet and “Tibet-related issues” as of core interest to China is significant. What did he mean by “Tibet-related” issues? Was he referring to China’s sovereignty claims over Arunachal Pradesh? It needs to be noted that in their interactions with India, the Chinese have not referred to their sovereignty claims over Arunachal Pradesh as a core interest for them. The Chinese definition of a core interest is one in which no concessions by them are possible.
Their border talks with India are based on the principle of mutual accommodation which means the possibility of some concessions by them. Not to exclude the possibility of such concessions, they have refrained from describing Arunachal Pradesh as a core issue in their interactions with India. Against this background, what did Mr.Xi mean by talking of “Tibet-related issues” as a core interest while speaking in the US? This needs to be examined by Indian analysts in order to look for possible signs of Beijing deviating from its present policy of searching for a solution on the Arunachal Pradesh issue based on mutual accommodation.
There were two important statements indicating an inflexible line on territorial sovereignty issues on September 20 and 21, 2012. In a dispatch from Brussels, the “People’s Daily” quoted Prime Minister Wen Jiabao as stating on the sideline of a China-EU summit that China would make no concession in affairs concerning the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The next day, when addressing the opening ceremony of the China-ASEAN Business and Investment Summit and Forum in Nanning, capital city of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Mr.Xi said: “We are firm in safeguarding China’s sovereignty, security and territorial integrity and are committed to resolving differences with neighbors concerning territorial land, territorial sea and maritime rights and interests peacefully through friendly negotiations.”
These two statements indicated that the non-confrontational line projected by Mr.Xi in the US did not apply to China’s sovereignty disputes with some ASEAN countries in the South China Sea and with Japan in the East China Sea. While the statements related to China’s territorial disputes with some ASEAN countries and Japan, the formulations clearly showed that the inflexible line applied to all territorial disputes with all neighbors. If China is not prepared to make any concessions in territorial disputes as stated by Mr.Wen, where is the question of mutual accommodation on the Arunachal Pradesh issue? This should be a matter for added concern to India.
This hard line was reflected in an article carried by the “People’s Daily” on November 2, 2012, a day after the final meeting of the 17th Central Committee started. The article was written by Mr. Wang Yusheng, Executive Director of the Strategic Research Centre of the China Institute of International Research Foundation. It said: “The parties concerned know clearly that China advocates building a harmonious neighborhood, but has inviolable “red lines.” If necessary, it will resort to force after trying peaceful means. The United States is just bluffing, and Japan and some other Asian countries are just taking advantage of U.S. influence to serve their own purposes. They may muddy the water in the Pacific, but cannot make big waves.”
Interestingly, news agency reports originating from Washington, on October 22, 2012, quoting US State Department sources, said:
“Chinese leaders did not refer to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands as a ‘core national interest’ during talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in September in an apparent attempt to avoid a diplomatic clash with Washington, State Department sources have said.
“While discussing territorial issues with Clinton in China, Premier Wen Jiabao did not make remarks suggesting that the disputed islands are part of its ‘core national interests’, a term Beijing uses to refer to key territories it is determined to hold onto or ultimately take control of, the sources said.
“The talks with Clinton followed a meeting in Beijing with Japan in May in which Jiabao told Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda that his country should respect China’s core interests and major concerns, the Japan Times reported.
“According to the report, the US had made it clear that the islands fall within the scope of the US-Japan security treaty, which would oblige Washington to support Japan if the islands came under attack.
“The uninhabited islands in the East China Sea also were not referred to as a core interest in Clinton’s separate meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, the sources said.
“While Beijing is not expected to soften its position on the row with Tokyo, it appears to be cautious about challenging Washington on security issues, the report said.”
Thus, on the eve of the 18th Party Congress, the over-all Chinese line seems to be as follows:
a. It looks upon its sovereignty claims over Taiwan, Tibet and “Tibet-related issues” as of core interest and major concern. It has made this clear in formal official statements and is prepared for a military conflict if its interests are threatened, but it has not clarified what it means by Tibet-related issues.
b. Since May, 2010, it has informally indicated to the US its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea as of core interest, thereby not ruling out the use of force if its interests are threatened. However, there has been no formal declaration on this subject.
c. While continuing to reiterate its sovereignty claims in the East China Sea, it has refrained from characterizing them as of core interest to avoid a military conflict with Japan which enjoys the protection of the US-Japan Security Treaty in the East China Sea.
This over-all core interest doctrine of China which evolved under the outgoing leadership of Mr. Hu is likely to continue after Mr. Xi takes over from Mr. Hu.
What impact this will have on the ongoing border talks between India and China? There are so far no indications to show that China might be contemplating to give up its adherence to the principle of mutual accommodation in finding a solution to its border dispute with India. The evolution of the Chinese thinking on this issue needs to be closely monitored.
Unwelcome at the Party
Beijing – ON Thursday, China’s Communist Party will begin its 18th National Congress, which it nicknames “18th Major.” I don’t belong to a political party and have never felt that Communist Party meetings are any of my business. But my home is in Beijing. I am a writer, and Han Chinese. My wife, Woeser, is also a writer, and Tibetan. The other member of our household is my mother, who is 90.
A few weeks ago, China’s political police asked my wife to leave Beijing because “18th Major,” a once-in-a-decade coronation of new party leaders, was on the way. The Communist Party views Tibetans and Uighur Muslims from western China as noxious. They are constantly under suspicion as troublemakers, if not terrorists. My wife, as it happens, is petite, as lacking in guile as a window pane, and about as far from a terrorist as one could get.
She has, however, written some words in protest of the fate of her fellow Tibetans. And for this, the party has put her on a blacklist, barred her from publishing, deprived her of her job, and denied her a passport. When she obeyed the recent order and headed home to Tibet, police officers along the way stopped and searched her at nearly every juncture. While Chinese people — on airplanes, trains, buses and motorcycles — are streaming into and out of Tibet by the thousands, Tibetans themselves have become outsiders in their own land, blocked at every turn.
My wife finally did make it to Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, but only because State Security in Beijing had ordered the Tibetan police to allow her to enter for the sake of “18th Major.” After all, this is priority No. 1 these days.
Then, on Oct. 24, State Security officers visited my home again. This time it was me they wanted out of Beijing. They left it to me to guess why the party saw me as a threat. I write fiction, and have also written two books on national minorities in China, with the goal of increasing mutual understanding among China’s ethnic groups. Does such writing displease the party? I suppose it does. A Uighur professor who teaches in Beijing had invited me to his home to observe Id al-Adha, an important Muslim holiday, with some of his Uighur friends. But State Security forbade me to attend, and, to be sure that I didn’t, they posted round-the-clock guards outside my door.
None of this involved any legal procedures. When I asked the guards on what authority they stood at my door, they said nothing and pointed upward. We all knew what that meant: “The ones up there, the party.” Meanwhile the Uighur professor was forced to cancel his gathering. The reason? “Eighteenth Major.”
The Communist Party has, for the sake of its own meeting, asked that my wife leave me and that I leave my elderly mother, who is too old to live without someone to care for her. Incidentally, she joined the Communist Party in 1947 (two years before the founding of the People’s Republic, and a time when joining was still dangerous) and did so in order to oppose the reigning Nationalist government, which she saw as “lacking humanity.”
Now, I want to ask her, “What do you think of the humanity of the Communist Party today?” but cannot bring myself to inflict on her the pain that the question would bring.
I have replied to State Security that a party conclave is no reason to disperse a family. They, in turn, threatened that if I refused to leave, things would become “uncomfortable” for me. They did not say how. I have decided to wait at home and see. What does a party that vows before the entire world that it follows the rule of law have in mind for my discomfort?
China ‘pivot’ trips over McMahon Line
China is looking for a “Western” pivot to counter the United States’ diplomatic and military inroads with its East Asian neighbors such as Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Myanmar.
For China’s strategists, as an interesting analysis in the Indian Express tells us, the “Western” pivot means nurturing the PRC’s continental Asian relationships with the interior stans and, across the Himalayas, India. Pakistan’s descent into basket-case status and the PRC’s concurrent anxiety about Islamic extremism in Xinjiang indicates that the old China/Pakistan lips and teeth united front against India (and offsetting threats of destabilization in Kashmir and Tibet) may be past its sell-by date. 
But, if Inner Asia lacks disputed islands and the Seventh Fleet, it has disputed borders and an aggravated Sinophobe faction in India eager to spurn China and strengthen ties with the United States.
This is Sino-Indian friendship year, a good omen for rebooting Sino-Indian relations. Unfortunately for Beijing, it is also the fiftieth anniversary of the Sino-Indian war, a golden opportunity for refighting the battles of 1962.
Sino-Indian relations, like Sino-Japanese relations are potentially hostage to territorial disputes. The disputes date back to imperial escapades from the turn of the 20th century. In the case of Japan, it goes back to the seizure of the Senkakus as war spoils in 1895. For India, it is the McMahon Line, first drawn in 1914, and the grim precedent of the 1962 war.
Although the Sino-Indian border war of 1962 is largely forgotten by Chinese – a Global Times poll apparently showed that 80% of Chinese youth didn’t even know it had happened – it is still an occasion for handwringing in India that borders on the masochistic. 
That is because India, though it only suffered 7,000 casualties and lost no effective control of territory, lost the brief war in as complete and humiliating a fashion as can be imagined.
The short-form version of the war is that the Indian government escalated its border disputes with the People’s Republic of China by establishing military outposts north of the McMahon Line, the Line itself a piece of unilateral boundary-making mischief executed by the British Raj.
The Nehru government calculated that its exercise in establishing “facts on the ground”, combined with diplomatic backing from the Soviet Union and the United States and India’s position of moral authority, would cause Beijing to back down and accept Indian claims in Aksai Chin (a bleak desert north of Kashmir) and the North East Frontier Administration (the southern face of the Himalayas east of Nepal; now Arunachal Pradesh).
In one of many ghastly miscalculations, the Nehru government had concluded that the PRC would not respond militarily to the encroachment of military posts into the disputed territories.
Unfortunately, Nehru’s crystal ball, especially when it came to Chinese supremo, Mao Zedong, was remarkably foggy, especially as it related to the PRC’s touchiness over Tibetan issues, the equivocal Indian stance over Tibet and, critically, Nikita Khrushchev’s delight in rubbing the Chairman’s nose in the debacle of his Tibet policy.
In his study China’s Decision for War with India in 1962, John Garver (currently professor of international relations at the Georgia Institute of Technology) describes the encounter:
The question of responsibility for the crisis in Tibet figured prominently in the contentious talks between Mao Zedong and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in Beijing on 2 October 1959. After a complete disagreement over Taiwan, Khrushchev turned to India and Tibet, saying: “If you let me, I will tell you what a guest should not say – the events in Tibet are your fault. You ruled in Tibet, you should have had your intelligence [agencies] there and should have known about the plans and intentions of the Dalai Lama” [to flee to India].
“Nehru also says that the events in Tibet occurred on our fault,” Mao replied.
After an exchange over the flight of the Dalai Lama, Khrushchev made the point: “If you allow him [the Dalai Lama] an opportunity to flee to India, then what has Nehru to do with it? We believe that the events in Tibet are the fault of the Communist Party of China, not Nehru’s fault.”
“No, this is Nehru’s fault,” Mao replied.
“Then the events in Hungary are not our fault,” the Soviet leader responded, “but the fault of the United States of America, if I understand you correctly. Please, look here, we had an army in Hungary, we supported that fool Rakosi – and this is our mistake, not the mistake of the United States.”
Mao rejected this: “The Hindus acted in Tibet as if it belonged to them.”
Mao was determined to assuage his feeling of embarrassment (and his jealousy of Nehru’s leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement and his anger at Khrushchev’s pro-Delhi tilt) by knocking India off its perch.
Nehru apparently misread the conciliatory stylings of Zhou Enlai as an accurate representation of China’s military determination, and the Indian military was completely unprepared in every conceivable way – manpower, materiel, logistics, conditioning, positioning, tactics, or strategy – to withstand the People’s Liberation Army when it attacked on October 20, 1962.
Actually, Indian failures were not limited to diplomatic and military tunnel vision. They also extended to profound conceptual shortcomings, ones that have relevance to today’s standoff between the PRC and Japan over the Senkakus/Diaoyu Islands.
Nehru leaned on the McMahon Line for his definition of the PRC-Indian boundary. The McMahon Line, originally designed to contain China, turned out to be a generous gift to the PRC.
In the early years of the 20th century, protecting India by creating a Tibetan buffer zone between China and Russia and the precious Raj was a priority for imperial British thinkers. To this end, the British government took advantage of China’s post-1911 disarray to convene a conference of representatives of China, Tibet, and Britain in New Delhi in 1914 to negotiate the Simla Accord.
Its key objective was to partition Tibet into Chinese-governed Outer Tibet and locally governed Inner Tibet “under Chinese suzerainty” and define a border between India and ethnic Tibetan regions that had the buy-in of the largely autonomous Tibetan government in Lhasa. The Tibetans were eager to sign, since the Accord implied the ability of the Lhasa government to conduct its own foreign policy and conclude treaties; the Chinese government repudiated the treaty.
The British Foreign Office did not support Tibetan independence, however, and was more mindful of maintaining cordial relations with China; it let the initiative fade away. The Accord was published in the official compendium of Indian treaties, Charles Umpherston Aitchison’s Collection of Treaties, Engagements, and Sanads, with the notation that no binding accord had been reached at Simla.
The Accord and the McMahon Line languished in obscurity until Olaf Caroe, a strategist in the Indian Foreign Office, decided to invoke them in 1937 as a binding precedent for settling persistent border tiffs between India … and Tibet.
Since the historical record showed that the British government itself did not acknowledge the validity of the Simla Accord, some unseemly imperial legerdemain was called for. A new version of Aitchison was commissioned; instead of noting the Accord was not binding on any of the parties, it stated that Britain and Tibet, but not China, had accepted the Accord.
As Steven A Hoffmann wrote in his India and the China Crisis:
The Aitchison changes were allowed to appear in 1938. In order to publish them quickly, and to give a greater sense of authenticity to the new entry without having it attract undue notice, the India Office (and possibly Caroe) contrived to issue an amended version of the appropriate 1929 Aitchison volume, without giving it a new publication date. Copies of the original 1929 volume – located in offices and libraries in India, England, and elsewhere – were then replaced by request and discarded.
Perhaps only three original versions of the relevant 1929 Aitchison volume exist in the entire world (including one at Harvard University). The McMahon Line found its way onto India Survey maps and never left.
After Indian independence, Nehru inherited the now-sacrosanct McMahon Line, largely by default, and used it as the baseline for many of his boundary discussions with the People’s Republic of China. (Caroe’s deception was not discovered until 1964, after the war, when a British diplomat compared the two versions of the Aitchison volume at Harvard.)
But the McMahon Line had a fatal flaw: it was in a terrible, terrible place.
The line was conceived as a series of heroic outposts strung along the bleak Himalayan ridgeline. The vision of a hundred fists of stone raised in defiance against the enemies from the north on the edge of the Tibetan plateau perhaps enthralled armchair strategists, but fortifying and defending the McMahon Line demanded that troops and supplies had to be pushed from the southern valleys up to the 4,000- and even near 5,000-meter commanding heights.
For the purposes of a military commander defending Indian territory, it would have been infinitely preferable to have the boundary at the base of the foothills, within reach of reasonably expeditious resupply and reinforcement, and leave to the enemy the glory of clambering across the jagged mountains and battling out of the valleys.
Neville Maxwell, the London Times South Asia correspondent at the time and author of India’s China War, a widely-read (and, in India, widely-resented) depiction of the 1962 war as Nehru’s folly, described the military state of affairs in an interview:
The very idea of a strategic frontier was out of date by the 1930s. Any sensible soldier will tell you if China is going to invade India from the Northeast the place to meet them and to resist them is at the foot of the hills. So when the invaders finally come panting out of breath and ammunition, you can meet them from a position of strength. The last place, strategically, to meet the Chinese was along the McMahon alignment. Caroe is very much the guilty party in all of this. 
In an atmosphere of escalating tensions and distrust between India and the People’s Republic of China in the aftermath of the Tibet rebellion and the Dalai Lama’s flight to India, Nehru compounded his geographic disadvantage by sending troops beyond the McMahon Line to establish outposts on the Chinese side – the so-called “Forward Strategy”.
The PLA pounced, and the result was a humiliating defeat followed by a unilateral Chinese withdrawal to north of the “Line of Control”, the unofficial but effective boundary that divides India and the People’s Republic of China even today.
On the 50th anniversary of this debacle, it is hard for Indian nationalists to find silver linings. One noteworthy example was an article describing the closer integration of the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh into the Indian linguistic, cultural, and political mainstream: “India Lost War With China But Won Arunachal’s Heart”
When the Dalai Lama thinks of India’s consolidation of Arunachal Pradesh, however, he probably feels little joy and more than a twinge of bitter melancholy in his heart, relating to the great religious town and market center of Tawang, which occupies a thumb of territory sticking out on the northwest corner of the state and which has always been the critical pivot upon which the northeast Indian version of the Great Game has revolved.
Tawang is triple-Tibetan: it is in a Tibetan cultural area, it has been a major center of Gelugpa Tibetan Buddhist practice for centuries (the 6th Dalai Lama was reincarnated there; the town hosts a large monastery); and it holds a special place in the history of the modern Tibetan resistance. The Dalai Lama entered India from the PRC at Tawang in 1959, and actively patronizes the monastery and the town.
In addition to its ethnically Tibetan residents, Tawang also hosts a considerable number of Tibetan refugees.
In 1914, at Simla, the Tibetan government had acquiesced to the inclusion of Tawang into British India by endorsing the McMahon Line. However, as the Simla Accord languished, it subsequently understood on both sides of the McMahon Line that Tawang was under the administration and effective control of Tibet – if not by Lhasa, then by the local monastery.
In 1935, a British botanist/spy Frank Kingdon-Ward was arrested in Tawang; the Tibetans compounded their error by complaining to a British mission in Lhasa. This disturbing state of affairs came to the notice of Olaf Caroe and led to the resurrection of the Simla Accord and the McMahon Line – and the Indian claim on Tawang.
In 1947, after Indian independence, the government in Lhasa appealed to the new government to acknowledge its rule over Tawang.
The India-friendly Wikipedia entry on Tawang states:
[Tawang] came under effective Indian administration on February 12, 1951, when Major R Khating led Indian Army troops to relocate Chinese squatters. India assumed control and sovereignty of the area and established democratic rule therein to end the oppression of the Monpa.
An article in the Guardian provides an interesting picture of the political dynamic that the Indian government found and exploited in Tawang:
Pema Gombu says he has lived under three flags: Tibetan, Chinese and Indian. Although his living room is decked with pictures of the current Dalai Lama, the 81-year-old says the Tibetan administration in the early 20th century was the worst.
“The [Tibetan] officials in that time were corrupt and cruel. I am sure his holiness did not know this. In those days if a Tibetan stopped you they could ask you to work for them like a slave. They forced us to pay taxes. Poor farmers like me had to give over a quarter of our crops to them. We had to carry the loads 40km [25 miles] to a Tibetan town as tribute every year.”
It was this treatment that turned Tawang away from Tibet. Mr Gombu said he helped guide Indian soldiers into the town in 1950 who carried papers signed by the Tibetan government which transferred Arunachal’s 35,000 square miles [90,000 square kilometers] to India. “It was the happiest day of my life.”
Judging from Pema Gombu’s references to Tibetans, he is presumably ethnic Monpa. Monpa are an ethnic group that adopted Gelugpa Tibetan Buddhism in the 17th century and center their religious practices on Tawang. They form the demographic backbone of Tawang. Although they are “Tibetan Buddhists” ie followers of the Gelugpa sect, they aren’t Tibetans, as the history of Tawang makes clear.
It would appear that the Indian government used the same justification to take control of its Tibetan areas as Beijing did: to rescue the local inhabitants – the Monpa, in this case – from the corrupt and brutal rule of their Tibetan overlords – possibly the government in Lhasa, but more likely the overbearing bosses of the monastery in Tawang.
This history provides an interesting and melancholy perspective on the Dalai Lama’s 2009 visit to Tawang.
The visit attracted an enormous amount of media interest because there was the Dalai Lama, going up to the Chinese border, stating that the contested territory of Arunachal Pradesh belonged to India, thereby sticking his finger (in a non-violent, Buddhist fashion) in the Chinese dragon’s eye!
But for the Dalai Lama it must have been, at best, a bitter-sweet experience.
He is clearly unwillingly to accept that Tawang is Indian territory. In 2003, as the Times of India tells us, the Dalai Lama asserted that Tawang was part of Tibet, before backpedaling:
NEW DELHI: For the first-time, Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama has said that Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, a territory that’s still claimed by China, is part of India.
Acknowledging the validity of the MacMohan Line as per the 1914 Simla Agreement in an interview to Navbharat Times, he said that Arunchal Pradesh was a part of India under the agreement signed by Tibetan and British representatives.
In 2003, while touring Tawang, the Dalai Lama had been asked to comment on the issue, but had refused to give a direct answer, saying that Arunachal was actually part of Tibet. China doesn’t recognize the MacMohan Line and claims that Tawang and Arunachal Pradesh are part of its territory.
The statement is bound to impact the India-China dialogue, as Beijing has already stated that if Tawang is handed to it, it will rescind claim on the rest of Arunachal Pradesh. The Chinese proposal is strategically unacceptable to India, as Tawang is close not just to the northeastern states but also to Bhutan.
After the Dalai Lama’s 2009 trips to Japan and Arunachal Pradesh, the Indian press reported that he had stated categorically that Arunachal Pradesh and Tawang are part of India.
In a rather bitter irony, amid the myriad failures of the McMahon Line in securing the borderlands, its only triumph is the modest advance Olaf Caroe intended in 1938: the alienation of Tawang from Tibet.
Nehru’s unwise fetishizing of the McMahon Line has been carried on by many in India’s political, military, and security elite. In an interesting inversion of the secretive Communists versus transparent democracy framing, the PRC has declassified many official documents relating to the war. The Indian government, on the other hand, has still classified the official inquiry into the war – the Henderson-Brooks report – presumably because it documents the shortcomings of Nehru, the civilian government, and the Indian military in embarrassing fashion.
The cock-up was so complete, in fact that the line between incompetent provocateur and innocent victim has blurred, to India’s advantage. Plenty of self-serving assertions have filled the informational vacuum left by the continued classification of the Henderson-Brooks report, allowing nationalistically minded or Sino-phobic Indian commentators to describe the Chinese attack as unprovoked aggression and warn darkly that Chinese perfidy can and probably will be repeated.
On the 50th anniversary of the war, the Deccan Herald declared:
Make no mistake about it. That China is a hydra-headed monster with massive expansionist plans across South Asia is no longer a secret. It was Mao who termed Tibet as the “palm” of a hand with its five fingers as Ladakh, Sikkim, Nepal, Bhutan, and what has so long been as NEFA [North East Frontier Agency] that pertain to our north eastern states. 
Brahma Chellaney found a Western home for this particular brand of historiography at the Daily Beast, the electronic rump of the now-defunct Newsweek, in an article intended to use the Indian experience to educate the democracies of East Asia about how to protect their precious atolls from the PRC: Mr Chellaney declares: China gave India a “lesson” in 1962. Study it now.
My advice: by all means study the 1962, but please don’t study Mr Chellaney, especially since he says things like:
China’s generals believe in hitting as fast and as hard as possible, a style of warfare they demonstrated in their 1962 blitzkrieg against India. The aim is to wage “battles with swift outcome” (sujuezhan). This laser focus has been a hallmark of every military action Communist China has undertaken since 1949. 
In a spirit of scholarly skepticism, I presume to direct Mr Chellaney’s attention to the PRC intervention in Korea: three years (1950-53), 500,000 casualties. ‘Nuff said.
The key lesson from the 1962 is not that China’s neighbors should muscle up in order to counter a PLA “blitzkrieg”: rather that it is dangerous to fetishize territorial boundaries in order to make them into national rallying points. As Mr Hoffmann observed in his largely sympathetic account of the Indian government’s border catastrophe:
[The] Indian government came to believe that the McMahon Line was not merely a British Invention … the McMahon line itself constituted recognition that the watershed crest of the Assam Himalaya formed the natural geographical divide between Tibet and [the Assam Himalaya].
… the weight of all the evidence amassed by the Indians … made for a plausible case … But to the extent that India claimed absolute rather than relative worth for its border case, by holding that linear borders had been conclusively “delimited’ by history and discovered through documentary investigation, the Indian case became vulnerable …
India drew the line in the Himalayas – but it turned out to be the wrong line. As for the Senkakus/Diaoyus …?
1. China’s new ‘Look West’ policy to give primacy to India: expert, The Indian Express, Nov 1, 2012.
2. Over 80 per cent Chinese have no knowledge of 1962 war: Survey, Niti Central, Oct 20, 2012.
3. China Was The Aggrieved; India, Aggressor In ’62, Outlook India, Oct 22, 2012.
4. The Battle of Attrition, Deccan Herald, Nov 2, 2012.
5. How China Fights: Lessons From the 1962 Sino-Indian War, The Daily Beast, Oct 29, 2012.
The 18th Party Congress: A Setback for President Hu?
Two days after the U.S. presidential election, 2270 delegates will gather in Beijing for the Chinese Communist Party’s 18thCongress. The meeting will not only select a new generation of leaders but will also endorse the Party’s new political agenda. After being hit by a slew of scandals, the Communist Party is doing all it can to make sure all “unstable elements” are nipped in the bud. Security is tight not just in Beijing but also in other parts of China. I heard stories of the police stopping cars in a southern province to search for knives. When one of the drivers dared to ask why, he was simply told “shiba da” (18th Party Congress). The New York Timesis still being blocked for publishing the Wen Jiabao story. Searching for information on any of the Chinese leaders (and their wives) from Google Hong Kong (the only functioning Google site on the mainland) would only lead to a result stating, “Internet Explorer cannot display the webpage.” In addition, short messages sent via cell phones in China are being automatically blocked if it contains any names of the Chinese leaders.
To most Chinese who are just scraping by, the power jockeying at the top is just too far away for them to pay much attention. A taxi driver in Beijing (who was also a farmer from a Beijing suburb) told me that he did not care about the Party Congress, but he affirmed that life today was much better than a decade ago. When the conversation touched upon the issue of corruption, he gave a positive spin: “Corruption is bad, but at least we benefit from those corrupt officials. It is better to have corrupt officials doing good things for common people than to have clean officials who get nothing done.”
Compared to the ordinary Chinese, intellectuals, professionals, and government officials care about the Party Congress – they are generally more informed about the Congress. At the banquet table these officials and intellectuals were open in discussing candidates for the new Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) and patron client ties in China’s officialdom. An updated list of PBSC members is circulating on the eve of the political meeting. To my surprise, many different people talked about the same list. From the list it is clear that President Hu has suffered a huge political setback and former President Jiang Zemin has emerged as a clear winner in the game of power redistribution. Reform minded leaders such as Li Yuanchao and Wang Yang are not included in this list. All of this ultimately might not bode well for the prospect of political reform in China.