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Letter from the Prime Minister of India to the Prime Minister of China, 22 March 1959

New Delhi

22nd March, 1959


Many thanks for your letter of the 23rd January which I have read with the care and attention which it deserves.

2. I am grateful to you for the facilities which your Government accorded to our small delegation which visited China to study your water conservancy methods and programme. Two more delegations –one to study methods for improving agricultural yield and the other to study your iron and steel programme –will shortly be reaching China. I have no doubt that they will benefit from this opportunity of studying the remarkable progress which your country has achieved in these fields.

3. We were glad to receive Mr. Chang Han Fu in India and I do hope that his brief visit was enjoyable and enabled him to see something of our own efforts to develop our national resources. I entirely agree with you that such exchange of visits on both sides can be of great help in resolving the somewhat similar problems which face our respective countries in their endeavour to quicken the rate of our economic progress.

4.On receipt of your letter I have again examined the basis of the determination of the frontier between India and the Tibet Region of China. It is true that this frontier has not been demarcated on the ground in all the sectors but I am somewhat surprised to know that this frontier was not accepted at any time by the Government of China. The traditional frontier, as you may be aware, follows the geographical principle of watershed on the crest of the High Himalayan Range, but apart from this, in most parts it has the sanction of specific international agreements between the then Governments of India and the Central Government of China. It may perhaps be useful if I draw your attention to some of these agreements:

(i)Sikkim- The boundary of Sikkim, a protectorate of India, with the Tibet Region of China was defined in the Anglo-Chinese Convention 1890 and jointly demarcated on the ground in 1895.

(ii)The Ladakh Region of the State of Jammu and Kashmir- A treaty of 1842 between Kashmir on the one hand and the Emperor of China and Lama Guru of Lhasa on the other, mentions the India-China boundary in the Ladakh region. In 1847 the Chinese Government admitted that this boundary was sufficiently and distinctly fixed. The area now claimed by China has always been depicted as part of India on official maps, has been surveyed by Indian officials and even a Chinese map of shows it as Indian territory.

(iii)The MacMahon Line-As you are aware, the so-called MacMahon Line runs eastwards from the eastern borders of Bhutan and defines the boundary of China on the one hand and on the India and Burma on the other. Contrary to what has been reported to you, this line was, in fact, drawn at a Tripartite Conference held at Simla in 1913-1914 between the Plenipotentiaries of the Governments of China, Tibet and India. At the time of acceptance of the delineation of this frontier, Lonchen Shatra, the Tibetan Plenipotentiary, in letters exchanged, stated explicitly that he had received orders from Lhasa to agree to the boundary as marked on the map appended to the Convention. The Line was drawn after full discussion and was confirmed subsequently by formal exchange of letters; and there is nothing to indicate that the Tibetan authorities were in any way dissatisfied with the agreed boundary. Moreover, although the Chinese Plenipotentiary at the conference objected to the boundaries between Inner and Outer Tibet and between Tibet and China, there is no mention of any Chinese reservation in respect of the India-Tibet frontier either during the discussions or at the time of their initialling the Convention. This line has the incidental advantage of running along the crest of the High Himalayan Range which forms the natural dividing line between the Tibetan plateau in the north and the sub-montane region in the south. In our previous discussions and particularly during your visit to India in January 1957, we were gratified to note that you were prepared to accept this line as representing the frontier between China and India in this region and I hope that we shall reach an understanding on this basis.

5. Thus, in these three different sectors covering such the larger part of our boundary with China, there is sufficient authority based on geography, tradition as well as treaties for the boundary as shown in our published maps. The remaining sector from the tri-junction of the Nepal, India and Tibet boundary up to Ladakh is also traditional and follows well defined watersheds between the river systems in the south and the west on the one hand and north and east on the other. This delineation is confirmed by old revenue records and maps and by the exercise of Indian administrative authority up to the boundary line for decades.

6. As regards Barahoti (which you call Wu-Je), I agree with you that its rightful ownership should be settled by negotiation. During the talks held last year, we provided extensive documentary proofs that this area has been under Indian jurisdiction and lies well within our frontiers. An onthe-spot investigation could hardly throw any useful light until proofs to the contrary could be adduced. Nevertheless, we were agreeable to both sides agreeing not to send their civil and military officials to the area. Unfortunately, your delegation did not agree to our suggestion. I learn that a material change in the situation has since been effected by the despatch of Chinese civil and military detachments, equipped with arms, to camp in the area after our own civil party had withdrawn at the beginning of last winter. If the reports that we have received about an armed Chinese party camping and erecting permanent structures in Hoti during winter are correct, it would seem that unilateral action, not in accordance with customs, was being taken in assertion of your claim to the disputed area.

7. I do hope that a study of the foregoing paragraphs will convince you that not only is the delineation of our frontier, as published in our maps, based on natural and geographical features but that it also coincides with tradition and over a large part is confirmed by international agreements. I need hardly add that independent India would be the last country to make any encroachments beyond its well -established frontiers. It was in the confidence that the general question of our common frontier was settled to the satisfaction of both sides that I declared publicly and in Parliament on several occasions that there is no room for doubt about our frontiers as shown in the published maps. We thought that our position was clearly understood and accepted by your Government. However, as unfortunately there is some difference of views between our two Governments in regard to the delineation of the frontier at some places, I agree that the position as it was before the recent disputes arose should be respected by both sides and that neither side should try to take unilateral action in exercise of what it conceives to be its right. Further, if any possession has been secured recently, the position should be rectified.

8.You will appreciate that the continuing publication of Chinese maps showing considerable parts of India and Bhutanese territory as if they were in China is not in accordance with long established usage as well as treaties, and is a matter of great concern to us. As I said in my previous letter, we greatly value our friendship with China. Our two countries evolved the principles of Panch Sheel which has now found widespread acceptance among the other countries in the world. It would be most unfortunate if these frontier questions should now affect the friendly relations existing between our countries. I hope therefore that an early understanding in this matter will be reached.

With kind regards,

Yours Sincerely,