Sustaining the status quo depends on our ability to make attempts to change it risky for the other side
April 13, 2014
In 1983, when I was serving in our embassy in Beijing, there were a series of informal and confidential exchanges on the possibility of resolving the border issue. The Chinese leadership was keen on a visit to Beijing by then India Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who had also taken over the same year as chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement. It was pointed out to our Chinese interlocutors that such a visit would hardly be possible without the border issue being resolved in a satisfactory manner. The answer was to point to Deng's package proposal, i.e. to formalise the status quo. Our counter was that something more than the status quo would be necessary given the grievous blow to Indian psyche that the 1962 war had delivered. There was some indication that if Gandhi would be ready to visit, then some additional territory in the western sector, occupied as a result of the 1962 operations, may be conceded. Unfortunately, the Indian side did not follow up on this and the opportunity was lost.
In 1985, the Chinese side formally reinterpreted the package proposal saying that we had misunderstood Deng's words. The fresh Chinese position was that since the area of largest dispute was in the eastern sector, India had to make meaningful concessions in that sector and the Chinese side would then make appropriate and corresponding concessions in the western sector. Additionally, an explicit demand was now advanced for ceding Tawang, which the Indian side was accused of occupying at a much later date after its independence. It was pointed out to us that since the fifth Dalai Lama had been born in Tawang, the place was of special significance for the Chinese people, in particular for China's Tibetan nationality. This remains the current Chinese position on the border dispute and the Indian side, of course, rejects it.
In 1992, an informal suggestion was made to the Chinese side that India gives free access to Chinese pilgrims to Tawang, while China reciprocally gives similar access to Indian pilgrims to Kailash Mansarovar. The Chinese never responded. One reason for the insistence on Tawang being conceded may be the fear that if the next Dalai Lama were to be "discovered" in Tawang , a Chinese rival may not enjoy the same legitimacy. As will be apparent, the issue of Tibet continues to be embedded in any consideration of the border.