NEW DELHE. The Prime Minister, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to China in December is seen as yet another attempt to settle the border dispute that had defied solution for more than a quarter century. Expected on the desolate 3,800 km frontier but the talks between leaders of Asia’s two estranged military giants will be historic for more than one reason.

It will be the first visit to China by an Indian Prime Minister after 34 years. The last Indian leader to visit Beijing was Jawaharial Nehru in October 1954.

A high power Indian delegation led by the Foreign Secretary, Mr. K. PS. Menon is now in the Chinese capital to work out details of Mr. Gandhi’s itinerary.

What is investing current discussions with added significance is Mr. Gandhi’s assertion on his return from Bhutan last week, that he would not cede any territory to China to solve the border problem “when I am there.”

Hardening attitude

The long standing nature of the dispute has resulted in such a hardening of attitude that Mr. Gandhi has repeatedly been saying that the national sentiments in the two countries would have to be come in mind while seeking a solution.

Nevertheless, there has been improvement in the prevailing mood. Since the summer of 1987 when the two countries seemed edging towards a confrontation after Arunachal Pradesh became India’s 24th state.

Talks between the visiting Indian team and Chinese foreign ministry officials is the latest in the series of parleys after the last one billed as “the eighth round of talks” ended “free of tension” in November.

However, there has been nothing new to what each aide has been stating since they fought the 1962 war.

China claims 90,000 sq km of Indian land that covers the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh.

India not only rejects the Chinese claim but says Beijing captured 36,000 sq km of north western Kashmir known as “Akaai Chin” in Ladakh,

China has reportedly offered to give up its claim in the east if India recognized Beijing’s sovereignty in the west. But in the eight rounds of talks that began in December 1981, India has refused the Chinese offer claiming that both areas belong to it.

The border dispute between China and India stems from a boundary line drawn in 1914 by Sir Henry McMahon the foreign secretary of British India

India accepts the line but China does not. The “MeMahon line” was drawn on the map with a thick red pencil. So the line on the map covers six to eight kilometers in width on the ground.

According to the Chinese the line is a product of the British policy of aggression against the Tibet region of China and cannot be considered legal as it has never been recognized by the Chinese government” India has rejected this argument.

Border tension rose in May 1986 with reports that China had moved its troops and constructed a helipad in the Sumdrongcha Valley.

The valley lies two to three kilometers south of the McMahon line according to India and north of it, according to China.

In early 1987, both sides amassed troops after trading charges of border violation.

Irked by the granting of statehood to Arunachal Pradesh, the Chinese troops took up belligerent positions along the border.

Protest over Arunachal

Rejecting China’s protest over Anmachal Pradesh as an interference in internal affairs, India got ready with “Operation Chequer Board” and ordered its troops to stand eye ball to eye ball with the Chinese soldiers when their patrols were spotted in four areas claimed by India

Later the situation eased when the troops withdrew to previously held positions.

The two countries dispute dates back to the 1950’s when China, announcing the formation of “Republic of China” claimed that the five fingers Nefa (now Arunachal Pradesh), Bhutan, Sikkim Nepal and Ladakhjutting out of the great palm of Tibet were its territories.

On June 24, 1950 China’s strongman Mao TseTung declared his intention to “liberate Tibet, and when Prime Minister Jawaharial Nehru expressed concern he was accused of allowing himself to be used by “AngloAmerican imperialists.”

Later, on April 29, 1954, the Sino-Indian agreement on Tibet was signed, incorporating the famous five principles of peaceful coexistence or “pancha Sheel”.

However the Khampa rebellion in Tibet in the summer of 1959 was a turning point in India China relations as the Dalai Lama fled to India where he was given sanctuary. This infuriated the Chinese,

On October 12, 1962, Nehru on his way to Colombo declared that the Indian Army had been ordered to throw the Chinese out of Nefa. The Chinese attacked Indian positions 19 Nefa in the early hours of October 20, 1962.

A number of Indian posts were captured and an all-out offensive was launched by the Chinese on November 16, 1962.

After these successes, China announced a unilateral ceasefire and the matter remained frozen until Prime Minister Indira Gandhi told a meeting to foreign correspondents in New Delhi in September 1968 that India was willing to talk with China.

On May Day 1970, Mao shook hands with the Indian Charge affaires in Beijing and smiled. The Chinese took part in the 33rd World Table Tennis Championships in Calcutta in February 1975 and diplomatic ties were reestablished in April 1976.

The Indian and the Chinese positions on the border question are exactly as they were in 1962 but the power realities in the region have since undergone a fundamental change.

Article extracted from this publication >> October 21, 1988