India must learn lessons, face truths of 1962 China conflict
By Subrata Mukherjee ,The Statesman/ Asia News Network
December 8, 2012, 12:05 am TWN
NEW DELHI -- Ever since the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) it has been universally accepted that a well-defined boundary is the first prerequisite of a modern state. Post-independence, the boundary issue between India and China assumes crucial significance and yet remains unresolved to this day. China claims to have resolved its border disputes with several countries, except India. Within this country, the popular perception is that it was wronged and that China was the aggressor in 1962. India lost disastrously and the effort to fix responsibility continues even 50 years after.
In China, the issue is peripheral. In its reckoning, the 1962 war was the consequence of India not accepting the truth about the border problem. As observed by Wang Hong Mei, the Indian government ought to re-educate the public about the basic cause of the dispute and correct the "truth of a twisted truth."
In the 1914 Shimla convention between Britain and Tibet, the McMahon line was established as the official border between British India and China, denying Chinese suzerainty over Outer Tibet. However, McMahon was summoned to London as he had presented a different map to the Chinese representative. Britain distanced itself from the question of legitimacy of a well-settled border between India and Tibet. The British administrators ensured that its cartographers showed the McMahon line as the settled and legitimate border between the two countries.
On Oct. 29, 2008, David Miliband, the British foreign secretary in the Labour government, announced that the Shimla Accord of 1913, which led to the agreement between India and Tibet resulting in the promulgation of the McMahon line, was an anachronism and part of a colonial legacy. He apologized to China for the lapse. This announcement had the support of Lord Chris Patten, the last British Governor-General of Hong Kong, who described it as "quaint eccentricity."
When India became independent, it inherited all the British territorial agreements, including the McMahon line, as the legitimate border since 1914. The then-prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, as the architect of India's foreign policy, refused to entertain the Chinese proposals for a negotiation in 1954. He argued that since the McMahon line marked the border between India and China, there was no need for negotiations on a settled issue. However, as Karunakar Gupta has pointed out, India has accepted the legitimacy of the McMahon line; China has not signed the Shimla convention and rejects any agreement between Tibet and Britain as it violates Chinese sovereignty over Tibet and that the Chinese stand is legitimate.
Gupta's perception is a classic example of two rights in the Hegelian sense. The Chinese position is consistent as both the two previous regimes, the imperial government and Chiang Kai-shek's regime, had also rejected the agreement. If the McMahon line is accepted as the border, it covers only the eastern sector of the border but not the western and central sectors.
According to AG Noorani, on July 1, 1955, Nehru shut the door to negotiations on the India-China boundary question. He rejected Zhou Enlai's proposal put forward on his visit to India in 1960 on the eastern border, accepting the McMahon line. India also refused to accept the actual line of control in the western sector ceding the Aksai Chin area to China. Nehru unilaterally drew the lines where the border was undefined and also ordered the destruction of the old maps.