Not only Nehru, China’s 1962 war against India is also a counterpoint to Mao’s secrets


IIt is now exactly 60 years since tens of thousands of regular Chinese troops crossed India’s northern borders, from Ladakh in the west to the Northeast Frontier Agency (NEFA) in the east. But, to the surprise of many, after just over a month of fighting in 1962, and after inflicting a humiliating defeat on Indian forces defending the border, the Chinese declared a unilateral ceasefire and withdrew their troops on pre-war positions.

Nehru’s fault?

There are many theories as to why the Chinese attacked and acted the way they did, and for years Neville Maxwell China’s war in India, which was first published in 1970, dominated the narrative. According to Maxwell, India was to blame and referred to a classified Indian intelligence document compiled by Lieutenant General TB Henderson Brooks and Brigadier Premindra Singh Bhagat to back up his claims. The war was provoked by the forward policies of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the construction of Indian defense installations not only on but even beyond the line that separates NEFA, now Arunachal Pradesh, and Chinese-controlled Tibet. . But the Henderson Brooks-Bhagat report does not say so. It simply states that the government of Nehru did not give the army the necessary tools to implement the forward policy and that there was a lack of cooperation between the government of New Delhi and the army on the ground. .

Moreover, it is absurd that such a massive attack could have been provoked by Nehru’s Forward Policy, which was decided at a meeting in New Delhi on November 2, 1961 – less than a year before the war. If Maxwell is to be believed, China could have built new roads and military camps in the region during this time, and moved at least 80,000 troops and tons of supplies, including heavy military equipment to some of the terrain. the toughest in the country. the world. These troops also had to be acclimated to high altitude warfare and supply lines had to be established and secured to rear bases inside Tibet. Also, Brig. John Dalvi, who was captured by the Chinese and remained a POW until May 1963, discovered that the Chinese had erected POW camps that could hold up to 3,000 men. Chinese interpreters who knew all the major Indian languages ​​were present in these camps. Chinese preparations for war with India must have started years before the attacks took place, not sometime after the November 1961 announcement in New Delhi.

Read also : Why Modi’s fights with China will make history judge Nehru kindly

Was Zhou Enlai flexible?

According to another theory, suggested by Avtar Singh Bhasin in his 2021 book Nehru, Tibet and China, the 1962 war could have been avoided if Nehru had been more willing to listen to the Chinese version of the border dispute. While Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai showed some flexibility in his letters to Nehru, the latter remained firm in his belief of where the border should be. Nehru’s “rigidity”, argues Bhasin, “prevented finding a solution through negotiations and discussions while sitting around a table”.

Bhasin’s book is meticulously researched and brilliantly written, but overlooks the fact that Zhou’s diplomatic niceties contrasted sharply with what had been written about Nehru in Chinese-language communist publications. In an editorial of September 2, 1949, the Hsin Hwa pao said after the Tibetan authorities in July that year decided to expel Chinese citizens from the country: “The matter…was a plot undertaken by the local Tibetan authorities at the instigation of the British imperialists and their Nehru lackey administration in India.” In August and September 1949, Shijie Zhishia Shanghai-based fortnightly, denounced Nehru as a “hound of imperialism” and a Chiang Kai-shek-like “loyal slave” of enemies of the revolution.

Then there is the official Chinese version, last expressed by writer Zhang Xiaokang in an essay published on January 13 this year “to commemorate the 60e anniversary of the self-defense counter-attack on the Sino-Indian border in 1962”. Zhang, in some ways echoing Maxwell’s version of events, said that the Chinese army “won the battle, completely crushed the frantic attack of the invading Indian army”. [and] wiped out the main force of Indian troops participating in the war. Many, even the most neutral observers, would argue that the less said about this fanciful account of the 1962 war, the better.

Read also : “Expansionist” Nehru, Tibetan autonomy, “New China” – why Mao went to war with India in 1962

Look at China’s internal problems

So why did the Chinese attack, and when was the decision to launch a war against India taken? Basically, there were three reasons behind the decision. The first was that India granted asylum to the Dalai Lama after he fled Tibet in March 1959 and allowed him to set up a government in exile, first in Mussoorie and then in McLeod Ganj. At a meeting on March 25, 1959, while the Dalai Lama was still on his way to India, China’s Supreme Leader Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping decided that “when the time comes, we will certainly settle accounts with them “. [the Indians].”

The attack should also be understood in the context of China’s internal issues at the time. In 1958, Mao launched the disastrous Great Leap Forward to modernize China. By 1961, between 17 and 45 million people had died because of his policies, which caused famine rather than, as expected, rapid industrialization. Mao was discredited and, most likely, endangered. He must have felt he had to regain power – and the best way to achieve this would be to unify the nation and especially the armed forces against an external enemy. India was a “soft” target because it granted asylum to the Dalai Lama and then there was the question of the border which China did not recognize.

The third reason was that until the outbreak of the war in 1962, India and especially Nehru had been the main voice of the newly independent countries in Asia and Africa, which was clearly demonstrated at a conference in Bandung, Indonesia, 1955. The movement was born, Zhou was present at the meeting — but Beijing had other plans and ideas. It wanted to be the “revolutionary bulwark” of what would later become the Third World, and India was to be dethroned from the position it had occupied throughout the 1950s. In this regard, the 1962 war played to China’s advantage. Nehru died a broken man in 1964 and Mao became an icon for many Asian and African liberation movements.

There may not be another all-out war in the Himalayas, but China’s uncompromising attitude and behavior in the South China Sea and its increasingly provocative forays into the Indian Ocean may well lead to serious regional conflicts. Then there is the issue of China as the largest dam builder in the world, with rivers flowing from Tibet and Yunnan into other countries downstream, including India, without even consulting the countries involved. . The capitalist China of 2022 may not be the same as it was under Mao’s dogmatic regime, but it has not given up on its ambitions to become the dominant power in Asia, perhaps even in the world.

bertil Lintner is a Thailand-based journalist and author of China’s India War: Collision Course on the Roof of the World. Views are personal.


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