India’s ‘annexation’ of Tawang in 1951 still shrouded in mystery

  • Sutirtho Patranobis, Hindustan Times, Beijing
  • Updated: Apr 22, 2016 09:07 IST
Negotiations and clearing the air on incidents in post-colonial history could go a long way in breaking barriers between India and China, experts say. (Picture courtesy: Shutterstock)

India and China might not be close to resolving their border dispute but patient negotiations and clearing the air on incidents in post-colonial history could go a long way in breaking barriers, experts have said.

For one, India could make public the reasons behind “annexation” of Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh in 1951, said Neville Maxwell, author of ‘India’s China War’ that is banned in India.

“India annexed Tawang in February 1951... China did not protest at the time – being fully engaged in Korea, and (did) not made a public issue of it since then; but they have made it known that they would expect retrocession as part of a settlement,” Maxwell told HT.

“The McMahon Line puts Tawang into India, but in their last few years the British had second thoughts and proposed to the Tibetans that the McMahon Line should be modified to run the boundary through Se La, thus leaving Tawang in Tibet, where it was when India became independent (in 1947),” he said.

“The thinking in Delhi that led to India’s annexation in 1951 is not known, the documents that would illuminate that have not been released,” Maxwell added.

Maxwell, 90, who had famously and erroneously predicted the end of Indian democracy in the 1960s, said negotiations on the border issue will not be easy.

“That would certainly pose a severe problem for the negotiators but taking a lesson from the China’s experience (of resolving 12 of 14 land boundary disputes), probably it could be put aside, the situation demilitarised and frozen for a future, wiser generation to resolve,” he said.

Maxwell said the “process has to be done in a spirit of mutual compromise”.

This spirit clearly has to be shown by China as well.

“Compared with a decade ago, we are not closer to settling the issue… However, both sides could make some new efforts like exchanging Line of Actual Control maps based on realistic grounds,” Hu Shisheng, South Asia expert at the influential China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told HT.

Hu added that a few trans-Himalayan development projects between China, India and other South Asian countries could be constructive in creating a favourable environment for support for a final settlement approach or policy in China and India.

“The key is mutual trust,” said Wei Ling from the prestigious China University of Political Science and Law.

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