The Evolution of China’s Southern Frontier: Cartographical Encroachments on Indian Territory, 1922–1960

Sunil Khatri is a former Indian civil servant. The views expressed are personal.
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  • July 2018

    The People’s Republic of China (PRC)’s case on the Sino–Indian boundary question has not received the sort of attention it deserves with the result very little is known about it. While India appears to have inherited its northern frontier from the British with some ambiguities, Manchu China’s territorial bequest to the Republic of China (RoC), in comparison, is more straightforward. Both foreign and Indian writers have subjected the Indian case to rigorous scrutiny. However, the PRC’s case has, thus far, escaped similar scrutiny. Consequently, the burden of proof appears to have been shared asymmetrically between the Indians and the Chinese. An attempt has been made to trace the evolution of China’s southern frontier and in so doing; the RoC/PRC’s cartographical encroachments on Indian Territory in the two sectors between 1922 and 1960 will be examined. The unilaterally declared Sino–Indian boundary alignment emanating from these cartographical encroachments finds no support in history, for nothing happened in those 38 years or before or after, to give rise to such a claim. There is neither any evidence to suggest that the cartographically encroached territories had ever been a part of China at any time in the past, nor was any proof forthcoming to show that jurisdiction had been exercised over them before October 1949, i.e. prior to the PRC’s coming into being. Chinese cartographical encroachments can be divided broadly into three phases. First, up to 1921, when neither official nor privately published Manchu/RoC maps depicted Indian Territory as Manchu/Chinese. Second, between 1922 and 1946, when some privately published maps depicted Indian territory as Chinese, but the official ones did not. Third, from 1947 onwards, the Sino–Indian boundary alignment shown in official RoC/PRC maps is the same as that in the privately published Chinese maps of the second phase.