Contrary to the Chinese government's assertion that Jawaharlal Nehru had accepted the 1890 Sino-British treaty over Sikkim to buttress Beijing's claim over the Dokalam area, the former prime minister had pointed out to China that it is claiming sizeable part of Bhutan's territory.
"It is not clear to us what exactly is the implication of your statement that the boundaries of Sikkim and Bhutan do not fall within the scope of the present discussion," Nehru wrote in a letter to his then Chinese counterpart Zhou Enlai on September 26, 1959.
"In fact, Chinese maps show sizable areas of Bhutan as part of Tibet," Nehru said in the letter.
In the lengthy letter highlighting India's stand on the boundary dispute, Nehru wrote that under treaty relationships with Bhutan, the Government of India is the only competent authority to take up with other Governments matters concerning Bhutan's external relations, and in fact it has taken up with China a number of matters on behalf of the Bhutan Government.
"The rectification of errors in Chinese maps regarding the boundary of Bhutan with Tibet is therefore a matter which has to be discussed along with the boundary of India with the Tibet region of China in the same sector," he wrote.
After asserting that Chinese maps are showing sizable areas of Bhutan as part of China, Nehru referred to the 1890 Sino-British treaty granting India's sovereignty to Sikkim.
"As regards Sikkim, the Chinese Government recognised as far back as 1890 that the Government of India 'has direct and exclusive control over the internal administration and foreign relations of that State'.
This Convention of 1890 also defined the boundary between Sikkim and Tibet; and the boundary was later, in 1895, demarcated. There is thus no dispute regarding the boundary of Sikkim with the Tibet region," Nehru said.
At the same time, he pointed out that "it is wrong to say that the frontier east of Bhutan as shown on Chinese maps is the traditional frontier. On the contrary, it is the McMahon Line which correctly represents the customary boundary in this area. The water-parting formed by the crest of the Himalayas is the natural frontier which was accepted for centuries as the boundary by the peoples on both sides."
China and India have been engaged in a standoff in the Doka La area near the Bhutan trijunction for almost a month.
Sikkim, which became a part of India in May 1976, is the only state which has a demarcated border with China. The lines are based on a treaty signed with the Chinese in 1898. Doka La is the Indian name for the region which Bhutan recognises as Dokalam, while China claims it as part of its Donglang region.
Chinese are making attempts to build a road which was objected to by Bhutan.
The Ambassador of Bhutan has a lodged a protest with the Chinese Government through their Embassy in New Delhi on June 20. Bhutan has no diplomatic relations with China.
The Ministry of External Affairs in its first statement on this standoff on June 30 referred to the Foreign Ministry of Bhutan statement "underlining that the construction of the road inside Bhutanese territory is a direct violation of the 1988 and 1998 agreements between Bhutan and China, and affects the process of demarcating the boundary between these two countries. They have urged a return to the status quo as before 16 June 2017".
"In coordination with the RGOB, Indian personnel, who were present at general area Doka La, approached the Chinese construction party and urged them to desist from changing the status quo. These efforts continue," the MEA statement said, highlighting Bhutan's claim over the area.
Apparently, this is the first time that China attempted to build a major road which could carry heavy defence equipment in Dokalam, close to the tri-junction called chicken neck where the Indian, Bhutan as well as Chinese borders converge.
Highlighting India's concerns, the MEA statement said the road "construction would represent a significant change of status quo with serious security implications for India".
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang in his press briefing yesterday cited Nehru's letter as a piece of historical evidence without, however, referring to Nehru's remarks over China staking claims over Bhutanese territory.
He said the Chinese side has stated many times that the Sikkim section of the China-India boundary was defined by the Convention Between Great Britain and China Relating to Sikkim and Tibet (1890).
"According to the documents between China and India, since the independence of India, the then Prime Minister Nehru, on behalf of the Indian government, explicitly recognised many times that the Convention has defined the boundary between Xi Zang (Tibet) of China and Sikkim.
"On March 22, 1959, in his letter to Premier Zhou Enlai, Prime Minister Nehru said, 'the boundary between Sikkim, the protectorate of India and Xi Zang, China was defined by the 1890 Convention and demarcated by the two sides on the ground in 1895'.
"On September 26 of the same year, when writing back to Premier Zhou Enlai, Prime Minister Nehru unequivocally stated 'the boundary between Sikkim and Xi Zang, China was defined by the 1890 Convention.' This boundary was demarcated in 1895.There is no dispute over the boundary between Sikkim and Xi Zang, China," the spokesperson said.
"However, we firmly oppose India's attempt to justify its trespass on and invasion of China's territory under the pretext of 'upholding Bhutan's interests'," he added.