- The boundary was art of the great game
The border dispute between India and China persisted due to divergence of approach on the issue. They are the only known neighbours not separated even by a mutually defined line of control leaving their entire 4,057-kilometer frontier in question. While China appears to fit well with the status quo as it keeps India under strategic pressure, Indian diplomacy is neither guided by the past nor by the cardinal principles of reciprocity, leverage and pragmatism. After the debacle of 1962 it resumed border talks in 1981 but the Line of Actual Control is yet to be demarcated. The first requisite to good– neighbourly relations is a defined front line as the famous proverb goes, ’good fences make good neighbours.’
The entire India–China border can be divided into three; the border to the east of Bhutan, the central or middle border across Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh and the border separating Jammu and Kashmir from the Chinese territories of Xinjiang and Tibet. The boundary of Kashmir with Xiniang and Tibet is about 1100 miles, of which the frontier of Ladakh forms nearly two–thirds. Traditionally, at least from the 10th century, important points on the present alignment were recognised as the limits of Ladakh and Tibet. This whole area of the Aksai Chin plateau and the Lingsi Tang plains was administered by the Government of Ladakh and Kashmir and utilized for grazing by the people of Ladakh. A regular sequence of official records, stretching over many years, provides testimony on such matters as revenue assessment, police jurisdiction, public works’ projects, census returns, control of trade routes and survey and mapping operations. The boundary of te middle sector lies along the major watersheds; and its delimitation secured confirmation in the treaty of 1954 between India and the People’s Republic of China. The eastern sector has the trijunction of India, Burma and China and it also follows the major watersheds.
Before conclusion of the agreement and demarcation of McMahon line in 1890, British rulers of India made a treaty with China that delineated the Indo-Tibetan border. The treaty was rejected by Tibetan rulers and Russia’s interference appeared imminent in that country’s affairs. In order to check Russian influence Lord Curzon, the then Governor–General, sent British Indian troops in 1904 under the command of Younghusband that resulted in a 1906 treaty with China acceptng Chinese suzerainty over Tibet. It also provided that a British Agent would be posted in Lhasa and India would construct a postal system there. India also acquired the right to maintain troops in Tibet for the protection of trade routes. Anglo-Russian differences over Tibet were sorted out by an Entente signed in 1907 whereby both accepted Chinese suzerainty there. They also agreed to deal with Tibet only through China. This privileged position of China in Tibet was challenged after the Chinese revolution of 1911, when Tibet forced the Chinese troops to leave the plateau. Even subsequent attempts by China failed to re-establish its authority and the situation warranted a meeting at Simla in 1914.
The discrepancy policy was, ultimately aimed to prevent any other strong power approaching India. Throughout the 19th century, British foreign policy in Asia was dominated by the ‘Russian bogey’. In other words, India’s relations with Sinkiang and Tibet in British days were based on a mistrust of her neighbours, China and Russia
Thus the international alignment in this area, along the highest watershed ranges, was formalised at the initiation of the then Chinese regime. The Simla negotiations of 1913-14, and the McMahon Line delineating the border of North Eastern Frontier Agency that emerged from it, had been a British response to China’s attempt to assert control in Tibet. The conference was held to sort out border differences between Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim and Tibet, though it was represented by British India, Tibet and China. Arthur Henry McMahon, the then Secretary of State for India, participated as a representative of British India. In the meeting an agreement was concluded which confirmed the Chinese suzerainty, but divided Tibet into two parts, Outer Tibet and Inner Tibet. The autonomy of Outer Tibet was accepted and China agreed not to interfere in its internal affairs, nor give it representation in Chinese Parliament, nor station its troops, nor appoint its civil servants, nor to turn it into a Chinese colony . At the same time another boundary between outer Tibet and India was demarcated at the high mountain which divided the two countries at the watershed. Since the line dividing India and Tibet was drawn on the suggestion of McMahon, who himself drew a line with a red pen on the map, it came to be known as the McMahon Line. This demarcation passes through Tibet plateau in the north and Indian hills in the South. The map was signed by representatives of British India, Tibet and China.
From 1914 till independence India’s policy towards Tibet and Xinjiang was conducted by the British. The Chinese, however, refused to ratify the agreement, and the then Government of India also failed to take it seriously. Because China was torn by civil wars, , it was considered an opportunity for India to dominate. Several British officers, including Olaf Caroe, one of the Deputy Secretaries, realised that the north-east frontier might one day become as live as the north-west, and pressed for the extension of the rudiments of administration, civil and military, into the areas abutting the McMahon line. Relations with Tibet were conducted through a Political Officer in Sikkim, also in charge of relations with Bhutan. Sir Charles Bell, a close friend of the Dalai Lama, remained there for years and so long as he was incharge, it was unnecessary to keep any troops on the north-east frontier.
On the pattern of Tibet, Philip Macartney, who went to Kashgar, the remotest post of the Indian empire, was made permanent officer to look after the affairs of Xinjiang. Policy in Sinkiang was seemingly inconsistent with that towards Tibet. In Tibet the government did all it could to repudiate Chinese sovereignty; in Xinjiang, they did all they could to affirm it. The reason was to prevent Sinkiang from falling prey to what then seemed a greater menace, Russia. When in the middle of the 1930 Chinese control over Sinkiang weakened and the Tungans had risen in revolt against the provincial Government, first, the Government of Sinkiang appealed to the Chinese and having failed, turned to Russia for support. Russia was happy to intervene and Sinkiang passed into Russian hegemony. From there onwards the Indian Government began to support Chinese sovereignty in Sinkiang. The discrepancy policy was, ultimately aimed to prevent any other strong power approaching India. Throughout the 19th century, British foreign policy in Asia was dominated by the ‘Russian bogey’. In other words, India’s relations with Sinkiang and Tibet in British days were based on a mistrust of her neighbours, China and Russia.