China's India War, 1962: Looking Back to See the Future

China's India War, 1962: Looking Back to See the Future

by Jasjit Singh (Editor)


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ISBN-13: 9789381904725
Publisher: Sun Links Ltd
Publication date: 03/15/2013
Pages: 340
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.88(d)

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China's India War, 1962

Looking Back To See The Future

By Jasjit Singh

KW Publishers Pvt Ltd

Copyright © 2013 Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-93-81904-72-5


China's India War: Causes of the War

Jasjit Singh

The Chinese revolution has upset the balance of power and the centre of gravity has shifted from Europe to Asia, thereby directly affecting India.

— Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru

The above is even more true today than it was at the time Nehru made that statement. Hence, it is necessary to look back at the causes and factors that led to China's invasion of India in October-November 1962 and the consequent war but to do so in the context of events and their developments of that period leading to the war more than half a century ago. Here we must deal with some truths. There is no doubt that China initiated the war. It may have been precipitated by Nehru's remarks to the press (inadequately printed by the media since it was conditional) but months earlier, intelligence reports had already indicated in May 1962 that China was planning a large scale military attack on India in the autumn of 1962. We were certainly slow in taking the requisite defensive measures. For example, IV Corps was set up only on October 7, 1962, a mere dozen days before the Chinese attacked in Kameng sector. Given the fact that a surprise attack would normally always enable the attacker to gain a fair amount of ground, the loss of that ground could be considered understandable. But in many areas, the Indian Army (like at Chushul, etc.) supported by the small Indian Air Force (IAF) transport fleet, held the Chinese advance-a battle that would remain a great victory in the annals of Indian military history. Incidentally, it was also here, as in many other battles at that time, that Army-Air Force cooperation was demonstrated so successfully.

However, in Kameng division in the eastern sector, the Chinese initial thrust went in much deeper, bypassing the Sela Pass which could have formed the second line of defence and on to Bomdila. But here we performed badly by not making a stand at Bomdila and, secondly, at best, the Chinese military was able to advance about half way down from the border to the plains, leave alone the next town, Tezpur which was the Headquarters (HQ) of the Indian IV Corps. There is enough evidence that the military leadership of the corps, established in the first week of October 1962, a mere 12 days before the Chinese attacked, displayed largely unprofessional performance — though, in some cases, the reverse is true — while the soldiers fought with great grit and effect, in many cases to hold their position to the last bullet and last man. Almost all the commanders down to the level of battalion commanders were changed after the formation of the Corps HQ and even when under attack by the Chinese forces — so much so that some of them had hardly any time before their units were ordered to fall back. It is not surprising that generally there was extensive confusion in Lt Gen B.M. Kaul's IV Corps and he himself had no battle experience.

It is relevant to recall that Gen J.N. Choudhuri (later Army Chief) wrote on June 10, 1957, after a three-week tour of China and its military establishments, "Assessing the PLA today, it would be realistic to assume that they are a high class, conventionally equipped defence force who, on or near their homeland, will give an excellent account of themselves in operations." During the years before the war, senior Indian military leaders like Gen Thimmayya and Lt Gen B.M. Kaul had believed that India would not be able to hold back any Chinese attack in the high Himalayas and would need to withdraw to the plains to fight. At the same time, a wider mindset existed among the political-bureaucratic class (which also opposed better preparedness) that China would not launch military action beyond shifting the posts forward (into Indian territory). However, if it launched a full scale war, it would lead to a global war in which the West would come to India's assistance! Even Nehru (in his briefing to the military and civil leadership in early 1961) expressed similar views, stating, "A war between India and China was almost certainly likely to develop into a world war and nobody could foretell what would be the result of such a world war except that it would end in utter destruction." In general, Nehru (and many other leaders) appear to have perceived a potential competition between China and India not so much in military terms (which would be the pawns on the table) but in political terms; and no one seems to have figured out that China might just launch a coercive limited war, which it finally did.

On the other hand, according to the Director, Intelligence Bureau (IB), the military leadership wanted to avoid any conflict with China. At least up to the beginning of 1961, when it had to take on the responsibility of manning the border, the Army HQ had tried to avoid a clash with China as far as possible; and in the east, the "Thorat Line" was an "imaginary line which followed just a few miles north of the foothills and at places nearly 100 miles south of the border."

Incidentally, one of the major "causes" of China's India War has been ascribed to the Indian "Forward Policy." B.N. Mullik, the IB chief who was involved with all decisions (since the IB was responsible for managing and manning the border till 1962) has rightly stated that this term was wrong, with regard to setting up posts in our own territory, and, in fact, "The Prime Minister never referred to it as a forward policy, nor did anyone present." Mr Krishna Menon in a 1968 interview to Inder Malhotra published in The Statesman stated, "I know some people have said that what has come to be known as India's 'Forward Policy', the policy of establishing forward posts, was at least partially responsible for converting the situation from one of confrontation to that of armed conflict. I think that is an entirely wrong view. We never followed any forward policy. A forward policy means our trying to get into someone else's territory" ... (emphasis added).

There is no doubt that we made many mistakes in the run-up to, and during, the war, which is not surprising when we see the lack of objective data and facts in the public domain. K. Subrahmanyam has identified at least one major mistake: "It is now clear that the 1962 debacle was more a failure in intelligence assessment than a failure in intelligence collection and reporting." Regrettably, the problem of military-related intelligence continues to be a serious deficit half a century later. Many more mistakes can be cited. The end point is that the bulk of the Indian literature on the war and its causes is polemic and selective with the use of available data, often with the goal of blaming the Indian political and military leadership. Highlighting these mistakes rather than empirically analysing the available data regarding the causes and consequences of China's India War of 1962 has only added to our confusion which is difficult to explain. For example, one of the core causes of the war was the border/territorial issue which, in fact, represented contested sovereignty between two recently emerged independent countries, both sensitive about their own sovereignty. Though extensive evidence and data regarding the borders has been available since 1961 in a 640-page printed book, it has evoked very little attention, if at all, in India, though Western scholars had analysed it as early as 1963-the year following the war!

Unfortunately, though the complete details and evidence that each country's representatives presented are available in print, little use of this has been made by Indian scholars; and the Chinese and our archives remain shrouded in secrecy about the rest of the issues. Incidentally, the Chinese press complained that "invading Indian troops" had carried out "attack and provocation on both the eastern and western sectors of the Sino-Indian border." This was released by the China News Agency on October 19, claiming that on the eastern sector, Indian troops "launched a fierce attack on the positions of the Chinese troops in the area east of the Sechang lake and west of the Kechilang river on October 18 evening." But by all accounts, the war started in the early hours of October 20! Similarly, there was undoubtedly some fighting in NEFA (North-East Frontier Agency-the present Arunachal Pradesh). The Indian post was clearly south of the McMahon Line while China showed it as if it was in Tibetan territory, based on the coordinates it showed!

Much of the earlier mythology has long disappeared. The fundamental reality of the war was that independence and sovereignty demand that India will have to depend on its own capabilities to defend its territory and interests by itself. This was demonstrated to those willing to take a pragmatic, realist position after the 1967 clashes at Nathu La, and in particular, the 1986-87 Sumdurong Chu incidents which the Chinese well understand. The agreements of 1993 and 1996, when China was vulnerable on many counts, to maintain "peace and tranquillity" on the frontiers and demarcate the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between the two countries was the direct result of India having given the Chinese a gentle reminder in this game.

Now that China and India have declared their bilateral relations in terms of a "strategic partnership," it is time for both sides to open their archives and perhaps even form a joint task force to sift the evidence with each side a la Cuban Missile Crisis, and remove as much of the existing trust deficit as possible.

But meanwhile, we must return to October 1962 which marks a half century since China's war on India. There is an increasing sense that many developments taking place in recent years somehow are not dissimilar to those that led up to that war. For one, the international order then was in a state of flux, what with the Korean War, Stalin's death and the Sino-Soviet split almost complete, the rivalries within the socialist bloc, the US eyeing the prospects in a positive light (which fructified a decade later with President Nixon duly paying homage to the Middle Kingdom), the Khampa and then the Tibetan revolt against the Chinese military invasion and annexation that led to increasing numbers of Tibetan refugees crossing the high Himalayas into India and staying on for two generations or so without China making any effort to create conditions for their honourable return, and much more. The consequences of that war have not died down although the People's Republic of China (PRC) defeated the Indian Army; China (with logistic lines badly stretched and the snows beginning to close the passes), was clever enough to make a virtue out of necessity and declare a unilateral ceasefire and withdrawal from territories that it still claims, parts of which it had occupied during the war. Most of the Indian territory that it now holds in Ladakh was clandestinely occupied by it before the war through nibbling militarily while pretending to cooperate with India politically and diplomatically in the solution of the border (actually a territorial) problem.

The recent past has been witness to increasing Chinese rhetoric and assertiveness in spite of the two countries repeatedly emphasising the bilateral relationship in terms of "strategic partnership," whatever that implies. There are frequent reports of Chinese intrusions across the LAC which has yet to be demarcated, though it was clearly agreed upon in the bilateral agreements of 1993 and 1996, when both countries agreed to maintain peace and tranquillity on the borders, which were meant to specifically obviate such developments and possible misperceptions. There is no doubt that these agreements were a consequence of the firm handling of the Sumdurong Chu crisis when the Chinese had intruded into Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh and built a helicopter pad. In addition, China's insecurity increased after the 1989 Tiananmen Square events, its own economy heating up, and then the Soviet collapse. Hence, turning to India was inevitable, except that it remained a tactical move rather than the strategic partnership now being talked of.

It is obviously in India's interest to have the Line of Actual Control demarcated at an early date, and, hence, the tardiness on the Chinese side becomes difficult to understand (in my own interaction with senior Chinese military and academic people, and diplomats, the only reason, one could elicit from them was that it will take a long time because Indian governments keep changing frequently!). While the government has downplayed reports of border infiltrations, it has not completely denied these incidents. One can agree with this position so that we do not create any hype over the issue though China grabbed Indian territory before and during the 1962 War through a creeping process in what Prime Minister Nehru referred to as China's concept of "mobile frontiers."

China is a complex country, difficult to understand; and so are India and Indians. In these double complexities, it is not easy to categorise the causes and consequences of the war as much as it is not easy to explain the "strategic partnership" while the Chinese Ambassador to India reemphasises China's claim to Arunachal Pradesh live on Indian television network a fortnight before his President was to visit New Delhi! But I will make an attempt to list at least what I believe to be the major causes. These can be classified as:

• Tibet and development in and around Tibet since 1950.

• Border/territorial dispute, negotiations, and the Officials' Report of March 1961.

• Mao's leadership and personality, ambitions and Chinese policies and actions.

• Indian policies and actions.

Tibet: the Core of Conflict

The core factor in the conflict between the two Asian giants appears to be Tibet, and the border between India and Tibet as part of the PRC. Both these provinces had remained autonomous or independent of Beijing through most periods of history, and certainly during the seven-odd decades before the PRC came into being. As late as 1945, Chiang Kai-shek, head of the Chinese nationalist government, in his address to a joint meeting of the Supreme National Defence Council and the Central Executive Committee of the Kuomintang (KMT) on August 23, 1945, at the Sixth National Kuomintang Congress had stated that he had decided to grant Tibet autonomy, and that if the people of Tibet expressed an aspiration for independence, the government would not hesitate to accord them full autonomous status.

Sino-Indian problems began to assume serious dimensions on January 24, 1950, with the PRC's Central Military Commission (CMC) formally issuing orders to dispatch the 18th Army into Tibet. The actual invasion started on October 7 that year at several points on Tibet's eastern border with main China (see Map 1) through areas like Kham and Amdo where a large proportion of the population was Buddhist. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) finally entered Lhasa in early 1951. By May 1951, Tibet and the PRC had signed what came to be known as the "17-point Agreement" (see Appendix A). But the Chinese started to introduce reforms and what came to be known as "Sinicisation."

One of the factors for the cause of the war is generally believed to be the Chinese perception that India had been supporting the Khampas and Tibetan rebels with US assistance; hence, this aspect needs careful analysis and understanding of facts. The United States had started taking interest in the Khampa revolt, the roots of which go back to 1954. By February 1956, China's harsh policies, especially land reforms, (which affected the Tibetan aristocracy and monasteries who were the main owners of land) had resulted in great insecurity in the whole region. The 3,000 monks in Changtreng Sampheling (monastery) had taken in thousands of villagers, many of these seeking safety. A large number of refugees from other parts of Kham sought the safety of the monastery, while many more had come to defend the monastery. The PLA troops laid siege to the monastery and threatened to use mortars. The PLA troops did not storm the monastery, concerned as they were about the Khampas' fighting spirit, but bombed the monastery with air force bombers. The monastery was in ruins after the bombing from the air, and hundreds of monks and laymen were killed. The Khampas had no choice but to surrender. Those who survived either surrendered to the PLA or fled further west to central Tibet.


Excerpted from China's India War, 1962 by Jasjit Singh. Copyright © 2013 Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi. Excerpted by permission of KW Publishers Pvt Ltd.
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Table of Contents


1. China's India War: Causes of the War Jasjit Singh,
2. Mao, the Cold War and the War Against India Sujit Dutta,
3. Sino-Indian War of 1962: US Perception and Response Chintamani Mahapatra,
4. The Cold War and 1962 Sino-Indian War Atul Bhardwaj,
5. The India-China War of 1962: Army Operations Dhruv Katoch,
6. Combat Air Power in Sino-Indian War of 1962: Why Was it not Used and What Would have Been its Effect? Bharat Kumar,
7. PLAAF Capability: Red Wings in 1962 Vikram Munshi,
8. China's Strategy for War-Fighting J.V. Singh,
9. PLAAF: Strategic Evolution and Modernisation Shikha Aggarwal,
10. China-Pakistan Strategic Nexus: Probability of a Two-Front War Shalini Chawla,
11. China's Space Programme and Strategy Raj Mongia,
12. Sino-Indian Boundary Issue : Some Glimpses of History in the Context of the 1962 War Amiya Kumar Ghosh,
13. Keynote Address Sino-Indian War, 1962: Have We Learnt Our Lessons? Arvind Gupta,
14. Beyond the Ghost of 1962: Some Thoughts on China-India Relations Kanwal Sibal,
15. Introspecting on China's India War Sitakanta Mishra,

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