The India-China border issue dates back to 1914 when British Proposed a border line between Simla (Colonial India) and Tibet, called the McMahon line but China refused to accept it, thus the hardly habitable high-mountain borderline was never settled. In 1947 India became independent from Britain and in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party founded the People's Republic of China. The border became a hot issue between two nations in the 1950's. In 1962, the Sino-India war broke out, the Chinese troops crossed the McMahon line and took up mountain passes and territories. The war caused 1000 Indian death, 3000 Indians as prisoners and less than 800 Chinese deaths. The one-month war ended when China's Premier Zhou En-Lai declared a cease fire, withdrawing the troops from the conquered region and left the borderline as the “line of actual control”. Over the years, the borderline was never defined even after 1967, 1987 and 2013 trice evolved into a confrontation. In 2017, China was building a road in the Doklam Plateau for Bhutan and China that arose India's objection threatening to destroy the road with troops carrying weapons and operating bulldozers. The two sides eventually cooled off with China stopped road construction.
Since early May 2020, Indian and Chinese troops have reportedly engaged in fist fights, aggressive face-offs and clashes causing casualties at locations along the Sino-Indian border near Pangong Lake in Ladakh and Tibet, China and near the border region between Sikkim and Tibet region. The incidence was started by Indian troops crossing the border line (Indian Prime Minister Modi had said that the Chinese troops did not cross the border line). Unfortunately the clash resulted in a death toll of 20 Indian soldiers including an officer and some unknown number of Chinese casualties. Fortunately, the clash did not use weapons as the two sides had agreed not using weapons at border when conflicts occur. Ironically, this incident happened while the U.S. is having trade issues with China and India on the one hand and contemplating to practice her Indo-Pacific strategy on the other hand. The U.S. Secretary of State visited India on June 25 and President Trump offered assistance to mediate the Sino-India conflict which was not welcomed by the two parties.
The U.S. has always taken interest in the Sino-India affair and expressed her opinion. I recall a letter to the New York Times written by Prof. Li Tieh-Tseng (autobiography, Chinese Ambassador to Iran (1942-45) and Thailand (1946-48)) in response to the newspaper's editorial. The letter is a clear evidence that the U.S. has always taken side against China, back in 1962 as it is now regardless of circumstances. See Today's NY Times: India-China Border Dispute: A Conflict Explained, Russell Goldman, NY Times, June 17, 2020, and Will India Side with the West Against China? A Test Is at Hand, Maria Abi-Habib, NY Times, June 19, 2020. I am including the entire letter by Prof. Li below (in [[…]]) for readers to ponder: Nehru in 1962 prior to the Sino-India war and Modi today in 2020 facing a potential border war.
[[ Letter to The New York Times
THE SINO - INDIAN BORDER Nehru's View Regarding Settlement of Problem Discussed
The writer of the following is Professor of History and Government , University of Hartford , and author of books on Tibet.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE NEW YORK TIMES:
Your editorial of Jan. 2 criticized Mr. Nehru in the following words: "By the standards India has now set Communist China is not an aggressor on India's Himalayan frontier but simply a rectifier of borders outlined under colonial rule.” I wonder by what standard Communist China can be called an aggressor so far as the Sino - Indian border dispute is concerned. Regarding the western sector of the disputed border, Mr. Nehru himself admitted in 1959 that “this was the boundary of the old Kashmir state with Tibet and Chinese Turkestan. Nobody had marked it." Chinese troops, whether Nationalist (until 1949) or Communist (thereafter), have only guarded a traditional, customary line there and have never encroached upon Indian territory. While Pakistan has never raised any objection to the Chinese position, Mr. Nehru now claims as Indian territory an area of 38,000 square kilometers, to which neither British nor Indian jurisdiction has ever extended and within which the Chinese Communists from March, 1956 to October, 1957, but a motor road from Yehcheng in Chinese Turkestan to Gortok in Tibet without even being detected by the Indian Government.
As to the eastern sector the so called McMahon Line was imposed the Tibetan representative on March 24, 1914, at Delhi by Sir Henry McMahon behind the back of the Chinese delegate. It was never discussed at the subsequent Simla Conference. Nor was it ever recognized by any Chinese Government – Imperial, Nationalist, or Communist. It aroused the displeasure of the thirteenth Dalai Lama (Sir Charles Bell's account) and the Lhasa Government also expressed strong dissatisfaction with it. Chou En-lai in his note to Nehru of Sept. 8, 1959, declared that "the Chinese Government absolutely does not recognize the so-called McMahon Line, but Chinese troops have never crossed that line. "On the other hand, Chou charged in the same note that since the outbreak of the rebellion in Tibet, Indian troops not only overstepped the line, but also exceeded the boundary drawn on current Indian maps, which in many places cuts even deeper into Chinese territory than the cMahon Line. It is more fair to say that by the standards India has now set Communist China is doing what Mr. Nehru thinks fit and proper, i.e., liquidating anachronistic colonialism – with the only difference that Portugal actually ruled Goa for more than four centuries, while the British colonial power in India only outlined the border now claimed by Mr. Nehru, but did not establish it legally for a single day. In your editorial of Jan. 4 you commented further that "India was , of course, the first to set an example in the application of the double standard through its invasion of Goa.
I do not think that one should blame India too much for having used force to liberate a part of her own territory from colonial rule. It was against colonial rule that this country began its independent career. But what has perplexed the world is rather Mr. Nehru's liquidation of French and Portuguese colonial rule in India while inheriting the benefits of British rule there. A study of his policy toward Bhutan , Sikkim and Nepal, his suppression of the natives in Assam and his strong -arm action in Hyderabad and Kashmir would reveal the meagerness of his departure from British colonial precedent. Communist China has settled her border issues with Burma and Nepal amicably. There is no reason wily the Sino- Indian frontier question cannot be similarly settled, if only one standard is applied by the Indian leader .
TIEH - TSENG LI , West Hartford , Conn. Jan. 7. 1962 ]]
Reading from the old and present NY Times articles, we can see that the U.S. has harbored the legacy anti-China strategy more than seven decades, but is that strategy really grounded with evidence that China is truly an aggressor? No one can say so especially the U.S. counting how many wars the U.S. has initiated more than China has. Modi is in a similar position as Nehru back in 1962 but Modi has five more decades of time to observe China, her non-alliance strategy similar to India's and her strong economic and defensive military power. Hopefully Modi will make a wise decision on his own rather than falling into the Thucydides trap that the West believes in and prepares for.
(The author wrote this article not only to clear up history but also to honor his respected uncle, Prof. Li, with whom he only had met once since WW II in New York while Prof. Li had briefly visited.)
Ifay Chang. Ph.D., Inventor, Author, TV Game Show Host and Columnist (www.us-chinaforum.org) as well as serving as Trustee, Somers Central School District.