Friday, September 23, 2011

Kissinger’s China, India’s neighbor

“On China” is Henry Kissinger’s effort to draw a long arc that traces the political history of China, from an ancient civilization with “no beginning” to a modern-day state that is fast becoming the 21st century’s most consequential power.

November 24, 1973: Then U.S. Secretary of State
Henry Kissinger, right, with Mao Zedong, left, in Beijing.
Can India learn anything more about its neighbor from a diplomat who has closely watched the country over the last 40 years?

The book’s prologue dramatically starts with a conversation between Mao Zedong and his top commanders on the eve of China’s war with India in October 1962.  The border war is one of the only parts of the book where Mr. Kissinger deals with India directly, giving a blow-by-blow account of events. India gets little attention elsewhere, which may be an accurate depiction of the lack of deep engagement between the two neighbors historically, or perhaps a reflection of Mr. Kissinger’s acceptance of the current Beijing narrative that India is inconsequential to China’s rise on the world stage.

But Mr. Kissinger’s story on how the border conflict came to be is interesting in its own right, given that it sharply contradicts the popular Indian version of itself as the aggrieved party.

The former U.S. Secretary of State goes back to the 1912-1914 Simla conference convened by the British with Chinese and Tibetan authorities to settle the borders between the three countries. The Chinese delegate, citing his country’s weakened condition at that stage, initialed the resulting agreement on the McMahon line but did not sign the document, thus keeping the border dispute open. Decades later, in the late 1950s, upon completion of Tibet’s annexation, Mr. Kissinger says Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai made an offer to accept the Indian position in the west (Arunachal Pradesh) in return for recognition of Chinese claims on Aksai Chin in the east. India Prime Minister Nehru rejected the offer.

Full report here WSJ blogs

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