New Delhi/Beijing China had sought to settle the border dispute with India by finalising its boundary in Tibet in 2001, but the then Atal Bihari Vajpayee government failed to respond, as per a recent book published by HarperCollins.
Sarosh Zaiwalla, the Indian-origin founder of and senior partner at Zaiwalla & Co., a prominent law firm in London, in his recent memoir, “Honour Bound — Adventures of an Indian Lawyer in the English Courts”, has revealed that China sought to settle its border dispute with India in 2001, but the then Indian government did not respond to the confidential overture made through him.
The then Chinese ambassador to Britain, Ma Zhen Gang, had suggested to him a “second-channel” for confidential meetings between the political leaders of the two countries be established “to find a practical resolution at the highest political level in both countries to settle the border dispute,” according to Zaiwalla’s memoir.
Zaiwalla had previously organised a successful second channel high-level dialogue between 10 Downing Street and China over the issues which had arisen related to the handover of Hong Kong.
To pursue the matter, an aide-memoire was drafted between the two, the book said. “I gave the note which I had prepared, with the ambassador’s input and approval, to Maneka Gandhi, who confirmed to me that she had passed it on to Jaswant Singh (who was then the Indian External Affairs Minister),” Zaiwalla wrote in his book.
He went on to reveal: “When I met Jaswant Singh at an event in the Washington Hotel in London a few months later, he said to me airily, ‘I have given your note to my department to consider’. Nothing happened.”
“For China in those days,” Zaiwalla recorded, “The focus was on economic development and not military might.”
He added: “I did believe China was genuinely keen on sorting out the border dispute with India…”
Zaiwalla recalled that Ambassador Ma told him: “China wants the original border of Tibet to be the border with India. The line drawn by the British Raj as the border between Tibet and India cannot be considered the proper border. We are not claiming any Indian territory but what is Tibet should come back to us.”
The lawyer recorded in his book: “I told the Chinese ambassador that for India to part with any territory would not be acceptable for the Indian people…I also brought to his attention the fact that at the time the border, as drawn by (Henry) McMahon (Foreign Secretary of British India), was agreed by Tibet and India, Tibet had a government. Therefore, there had been a legal and binding acceptance by Tibet and India of the location of the border. This, in turn, would be binding on China. In my conversations with him, the ambassador accepted that all these points could be discussed.”
He further noted: “According to a 1959 diplomatic note signed by Zhou Enlai, the former Chinese Prime Minister, China does recognise a Line of Actual Control that closely approximates to most of the McMahon Line along the eastern side of its border with India.”
“In working with the Chinese ambassador to the United Kingdom in 2001 to create a confidential backchannel between China and India, I became highly familiar with this border dispute. Both sides should seek to settle this matter in bilateral talks without the need for India to cede any Indian territory. This should be possible,” the book said.