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SOURCE: TheLeaflet

Amajor Sino-Indian bilateral negotiation for a friendly and permanent settlement of all outstanding issues, including the border dispute, was initiated in Delhi in December 1953. 

On 29 April 1954, in Peking, the deputy foreign minister of China, Chan-Han-Fu, and the Indian Ambassador, N. Raghavan, signed the final agreement of the five principles (Panchsheel) for trade and intercourse between the Tibet region of China and India. The agreement also pledged to respect each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. However, the final result of the agreement was not as conclusive as Nehru envisaged. 

According to Khera, former cabinet secretary and principal defence secretary to the Government of India: 

Nehru, with his sense of history and of the need for long-term stability of friendly relations between the two great and ancient nations, had hoped for a 25-year agreement in the first instance. But the Indian negotiators succeeded in achieving only a comparatively short-term agreement for 8 years. 

The conference, which began on 31 December 1953 in Peking, was attended by an official Indian delegation that wanted a discussion with the Chinese Premier Chou Enlai on all existing issues for larger understanding. But B. N. Mullik claims that, even as the Indian delegates had insisted on all ‘the pending questions to be discussed’, it was Chou who was of the view that only ‘such questions as were ripe for discussion should be taken up leaving the rest for future settlement’. 

The border question, however, was not raised by Indian delegates in Peking, and they held that unless and until China took up the issue, India would not raise it. In the absence of availability of proper documents on the deliberations, the veracity of the claim is to be verified.

It is argued that there were debates in the Indian camp on whether or not to raise the border dispute at the conference. K. M. Panikker had advised Nehru not to raise the issue, but the secretary general of MEA, Girija Shankar Bajpai, insisted on settling the matter before the agreement. 

The border question, however, was not raised by Indian delegates in Peking, and they held that unless and until China took up the issue, India would not raise it. In the absence of availability of proper documents on the deliberations, the veracity of the claim is to be verified. It is also highly unlikely that Peking, which had so far been insisting on a border settlement, was against that, while New Delhi, which had maintained that borders are sufficiently settled by tradition and customs, had now differed from that stance. Moreover, when Nehru wanted a 25-year agreement, as it was presumed that within this period all issues could be peacefully settled through friendly negotiations, the settlement was signed for a term of eight years. 

Naturally, Nehru was disappointed with these developments. Whatever transpired in the diplomatic debate, Nehru finally defended the agreement but, at the same time, he also gave instructions to set up border posts to safeguard the country’s northern frontiers. 

So after the Panchsheel Agreement was signed, when there was an enhanced scope for mutual cooperation, New Delhi made efforts to strengthen its border and to give clarity to its perception on the border by publishing maps. Subsequently, in July 1954, the Government of India published a new Survey of India map that showed Aksai Chin as belonging to India. 

Whatever transpired in the diplomatic debate, Nehru finally defended the agreement but, at the same time, he also gave instructions to set up border posts to safeguard the country’s northern frontiers. 

It is alleged that, immediately after the 1954 friendly agreement, Nehru’s ‘secret’ instruction for establishing border posts to formulate a new extended line for the boundary had led to strained relations with the PRC. But his action was justified in the interests of the nation, taken as a precautionary measure for which he had his reasons, as reflected in his words in the note. On 18 June 1954, he wrote to the secretary-general, foreign secretary: 

No country can ultimately rely upon the permanent goodwill or bona fides of another country, even though they might be in close friendship with each other. Certainly it is conceivable that our relations with China might worsen, although there is no immediate likelihood of that. Therefore, we have always to keep in mind the possibility of a change and not be taken unawares. Adequate precautions have to be taken. 

It was in this vein that he issued a detailed directive on 1 July 1954 stating 

All our old maps dealing with this frontier should be carefully examined and, where necessary, withdrawn. New maps should be printed showing our Northern and North Eastern frontier without any reference to any ‘line’. The new maps should be sent to our embassies abroad and should be introduced to the public generally and be used in our schools, colleges, etc… 

The note further clarified that as 

our policy and as consequence of our Agreement with China, this frontier should be considered a firm and definite one which is not open to discussion with anybody. There may be very minor points of discussion. Even these should not be raised by us. It is necessary that the system of checkposts should be spread along this entire frontier. More especially, we should have check-posts in such places as might be considered disputed areas. 

This decision was part of a larger policy setting decision to publish official maps showing an unambiguous delimited boundary between India and China. It was based on the recommendation of the Himmantsinhji Committee Report, submitted by leading officers from the army and air force as well as members from all major ministries on 24 March 1953, that the decision to formulate a new line for the boundary was taken. But it was only after the Panchsheel Agreement concluded in April 1954 and buoyed by strengthened friendly relations with Peking that on 1 July 1954 Nehru gave the necessary direction for strengthening the border. 

Nehru, therefore, believed that publishing a map from an Indian perspective would bring clarity, and the Chinese rhetoric of a ‘yet to be delimited borders’ would come to a finality. 

The context of New Delhi’s awakening in 1954 regarding publishing a new map and ordering for border preparedness immediately after a friendly treaty is explained for different reasons. 

First, in the post-Panchsheel bhai-bhai days, Nehru was confident about strengthening friendly relations and conveying the truth about the false border perception of Peking without any fear of conflict or enmity. 

Second, even when China was suggesting a border delimitation, which New Delhi had declined on the grounds that it believed that the borders were sufficiently delimited, when the opportunity came (April 1954) for a discussion of the nature of the existing disagreement, it was declined by China. This led to suspicion and apprehension in Nehru of the pending nature and gravity of the dispute from the point of view of Peking. Nehru, therefore, believed that publishing a map from an Indian perspective would bring clarity, and the Chinese rhetoric of a ‘yet to be delimited borders’ would come to a finality. 

A more significant fourth reason occurs in the context of New Delhi’s self-denial of the colonial privileges in Tibet. This brought not only strong criticism from many quarters of national politics but also invited a scathing attack from the anti-communist faction, which demanded military intervention in Tibet. 

Third, in the context of continued Chinese military mobilization at the border in the name of checking Tibetan rebel infiltration into the border region and the apprehension of possible border encroachment from the PRC, Nehru wanted to send a message to Peking that New Delhi was interested in settling existing issues on the border, if any, in order to bring transparency to its border limits. 

A more significant fourth reason occurs in the context of New Delhi’s self-denial of the colonial privileges in Tibet. This brought not only strong criticism from many quarters of national politics but also invited a scathing attack from the anti-communist faction, which demanded military intervention in Tibet. 

By publication of the new map immediately after the Panchsheel and further strengthening new border posts, Nehru was able to send a strong message that his China policy was firm and, at the same time, proactive, so that his critics would be silenced. 

The fifth and major reason for this ‘awaited move’ by Nehru until 1954 is explained in the context of the Kashmir issue. The future of Kashmir was still uncertain on account of the Indian commitment to the verdict of an internationally supervised plebiscite in Kashmir, subject to the prior withdrawal of Pakistani-armed personnel from its territory. Moreover, in June 1952, the Head Lama of Ladakh, Kui-shak Bakola, had warned that Ladakh might seek political union with Tibet as a last course left to us’ due to persisting uncertainty. 

These multiple factors seem to be the real reasons why the Government of India maintained silence over several years, even though it knew about Chinese presence in the Aksai Chin region.