In the second millennium of the Common Era, England and France fought each other off and on for 800 years — across the English Channel, in Europe, in India, and North America. The result was a draw, though each thinks it won. Then, in the twentieth century, they made Entente Cordiale — an alliance which has stayed for a hundred years and more.
India and China have been in stand-off hostility since the late 1950s when India discovered the Chinese incursion into Aksai Chin, ‘a region where not a blade of grass grew’ as Jawaharlal Nehru told the Lok Sabha, hoping to avoid conflict. His attempts at negotiating with Zhou Enlai failed. The nation wanted Nehru to act. He gave orders to the Army to throw the Chinese out. We know the result.
India and China are the two oldest civilisations in Asia, the only two in the world which have lasted four millennia or more. They were never at war with each other until 60 years ago. You could blame foreigners — the British — for provoking this division. It was the move by British Raj in the first decade of the last century which made Tibet cede territory to British India. China refused to sign the Indo-Tibet Treaty.
India’s territorial boundaries were drawn by the British. Before Partition, the Durand line in the Northwest and the McMahon line in the North, and then the Radcliffe lines in the west and in Bengal in 1947. All our borders have foreign names. What India’s borders were before the British Rule was confirmed in 1857, no one knows.
China has a different history. It had a single State — the Chinese Empire through the 20 century, and even some centuries before, but with breaks. The last rulers were foreign but settled down somewhat like the Mughals. In the 17th century, India and China were the two most prosperous countries, with China a single Empire.
China’s defeat by the British in the Opium wars forced them to concede areas in their port cities to Western Powers as concessions which they resented. China had to cede Hong Kong to the British. Tibet went autonomous.
Since China threw over the Manchu rulers and had its own government in 1911, it has wanted to regain its lost territory. Chiang Kai-shek refused to recognise the Indo-Tibet Treaty. When Nehru convened the Asian Relations Conference in 1946, the Chinese delegation refused to sit if the Tibet delegation was recognised. There was no difference between Chiang and Mao.
This is a long battle, normally dormant but occasionally flaring up. There is no solution which will satisfy both sides as each nation thinks the disputed territory belongs to it. India cannot suffer loss of territory any more than it has already lost, including what Pakistan has given away from its occupied bit of Kashmir.
The Chinese feel that two centuries since the Opium war signalled its decline, it is now a powerful nation. It wants to be on top, the Middle Earth — as it believes it was. India never was a single Empire; not even the Mughals ruled over all of it.
There is no conceivable solution to this problem. India must defend its own people as much as territory.