January 26, 2010

Fault lines in the Sino-Indian frontier dispute

Begins. "Quand la chine s'éveillera, le monde tremblera" (when China wakes, the world will tremble) were Napoleon’s prophetic words when in exile in St Helena.

True, much of the trembling we see now in the West is exaggerated concern over the mere fact that China exists, and is trying belatedly to win some friends and grow its economy. As well we have a few deliberate distortions such as the alleged 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre thrown in to encourage more trembling. Now China is being accused by the US of cyber theft for espionage purposes. But what has the US been doing for decades with its land, sea, air and Internet espionage all targeted at China? For a nation which has long been sinned against more than sinning, China still has a way to go in the sin department.

But there is one area where China seems significantly to have decided it is time to wake up and act tough. This is in its long-standing frontier dispute with India.

But first some background:

During their 19th century occupation of south Asia the British had constantly been pushing northwards into the Himalayan regions - to ward off Russian threats it was claimed. One result in the western region is that strange sliver of Afghanistan territory running northeast along the border with Tajikistan all the way to the Chinese border at Sinkiang. It bears no relation to geographical or ethnic realities. It was simply an arbitrary line drawn on a map to keep those Tsarist Russians at bay. The same was true for the British land grab into the Tibetan region of Ladakh and then across the Himalayas into the Aksai Chin region of Sinkiang.

In the eastern region we had the move northward from Assam into southern Tibet and its holy city of Tawang. The British said their claim to the land they occupied – the so-called North East Frontier Area (NEFA) - was justified by a negotiated frontier called the McMahon Line, even though the negotiations were rejected by China at the time and later by Tibet. (Significantly the British foreign minister last year made a statement agreeing that the McMahon Line had been ‘an anachronism and a colonial legacy.’ He apologized to China for ‘not having renounced those actions earlier’ - see Wikipedia for this and other details of the dispute).

Considering the dubious legality of the various British land acquisitions, Beijing’s initial 1960’s attempts at a border settlement with India were surprisingly generous. In effect it said India could keep the 90,000 square kilometers of inhabited NEFA land it held in the east, and most of Ladakh, in exchange for China being allowed to retain 30,000 square kilometers of barren Aksai Chin land in the west. Some small differences in the central area could be settled by negotiation.

But partly perhaps because of 1959 Tibet events, New Delhi was in an uncompromisingly anti-China mood at the time. It wanted the Aksai Chin too, using a very dubious version of the 1899 British claim line there to back its demand and claiming to have long been in possession of the disputed area. Yet the Chinese had been able to build a vital road across the Akasi Chin linking Tibet with Sinkiang without the Indians even knowing. Some one had to be mistaken.

Even so, New Delhi persisted with its claims. Military clashes along the disputed borders culminated in a very foolish October 1962 Indian attack on some Chinese posts in the Thagla Ridge region north even of the McMahon Line it had previously claimed as the NEFA border (India was beginning to talk about the Himalayan watershed much further to the north as being the natural border). The Chinese counter-attacked in force, capturing Tawang and pushing deep into the NEFA, but withdrew six weeks later thinking they had given the disorganized Indians a severe lesson in frontier realities. In fact, all they had done was give New Delhi and its Western supporters cause to complain endlessly about Beijing’s ‘unprovoked aggression’ ever since.

For a some time after 1962 China went back to its moderate negotiation position, hoping that New Delhi would eventually see the light and agreement could be reached. But the continuing anti-China mood in India and New Delhi’s closer relations with the United States seem now to have convinced Beijing to go back on its earlier seeming willingness to cede NEFA to India. It now makes a strong claim to Tawang and what it calls southern Tibet, and which India calls Arunachal Pradesh.

The shift is significant. China has usually been quite consistent, and sometimes generous, in its various frontier deals and disputes with its neighbors. We have seen this over Taiwan, where despite US shifts and changes Beijing sticks to its original claim that this is Chinese territory to be reunited peacefully with the motherland provided Taiwan does not seek independence. We have seen this in its other territorial disputes, including those with Japan. We saw it for a long time in its border negotiations with India even though Beijing was being bitterly condemned by the anti-communist Kuomintang government in Taiwan as being willing to sacrifice traditional Chinese territories (i.e. the NEFA and Ladakh) to a foreign power.

But now, encouraged perhaps in part by that strange 2009 British foreign office statement, it seems to have lost patience with New Delhi. Let’s hope the patience does not run out elsewhere, over Japan and Taiwan especially. If it does, Napoleon finally can turn over in his grave, vindicated.





 東部地域では、アッサムからチベット南部へ、そして彼らの聖都タワンへ向けた北方進攻があった。イギリスは自らの占領地域(いわゆる北東部国境地域─NEFA)に対する言い分として、その地域は交渉によって獲得したマクマホン・ラインと呼ばれる国境によって正当化されていると主張 その交渉は、当時は中国から、後にはチベットから拒否されたにも関わらず。(注目すべきことに、英外相は昨年、マクマホン・ラインは時代錯誤で植民地制度の遺産であることを認める発言をしている。彼は中国に対してこの行為をもっと早く放棄しなかったことに対して陳謝した。(この件と、またこの紛争に関する他の詳細は、ウィキペディアを参照)


 それでもニューデリーは自分の主張にこだわった。この紛争国境沿いの軍事衝突は、インドが以前にNEFA国境であると主張していたマクマホン・ラインよりさらに北の地域であるタグラ稜線地帯の中国側陣地に対し非常に愚かな攻撃を加えて、ピークを迎える。(インドはさらにずっと北に位置するヒマラヤ分水嶺が天然の国境であるいう主張に変わりつつあった。) 中国側は武力で応戦し、タワンを占領、NEFA地域に深く進攻したが、組織の乱れたインド軍に国境の現実について厳しいレッスンを与えたと判断して、6週間後には退却した。ところが現実にはこれが、以来ずっと、ニューデリーや西側諸国のインド支持者たちが北京の理由なし侵略にたえずクレームを付ける結果を招いた。