The short 1962 Sino-Indian War is also called the Sino-Indian Border Conflict by those desiring to deephasize this conflict in the high Himilayas. The long remote 3,225-kilometer-long Himalayan border between India and Tibet was not well defined. It included a western area (west of Nepal), short central area (between Nepal and Bhutan), and eastern area (east of Bhutan). The border was not a significant problem until Communist China seized control of Tibet (1959). The border was not the only problem and some authors refer to it as a pretext. Border incidents occurred after the 1959 Tibetan uprising against the Chinese. India granted asylum to the Dalai Lama. They also initiated a Forward Policy, placing outposts along the border. Several were located north of the McMahon Line (eastern border area). This was the eastern portion of the Line of Actual Control proclaimed by Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in 1959. When diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue stalled, the Chinese without warning launched simultaneous offensives both in Ladakh and aklso along the McMahon Line (October 20, 1962). This occurred during the Cuban Missile Crisis and this received relatively little press coverage. Chinese troops drove Indian forces back in both border areas. They took Rezang la in Chushul (western area) and Tawang (eastern area). The conflict ended as abruptly as it began. China declared a ceasefire (November 20). And they withdrew from the disputed area. The Sino-Indian War is notable for two military aspects. It was the most significant war ever fought at such high altutudes meaning exceeding harsh consitions. Most of the fighting occurred at altitudes over 4,250 metres (14,000 feet). And as this was in exceedingly remote areas, both sides encountered serious logistical problems. Both countries decided to limit the scale of the conflict. Neither used either its naval or air forces in the fighting. The Chinese invasion surprised the Pakistanis as much as th Indians. The Pakistanis also had a Himilayan border with Tibet. The poor performance of the Indian Army probably led the Pakistanis to believe that a well executed strike might suceeded in seizing Kashmir before the Indians could respond.
The short 1962 Sino-Indian War is also called the Sino-Indian Border Conflict by those desiring to deephasize the imprtance of the conflict in the high Himilayas.
The long remote 3,225-kilometer-long Himalayan border between India and Tibet was not well defined. It included a western area (west of Nepal), short central area (between Nepal and Bhutan), and eastern area (east of Bhutan). Several Indian states were affected in Northeastern India (Arunachal Pradesh and Assam) Sikkim, and Eastern India (West Bengal). The Siliguri Corridor, or Chicken's Neck, is a narrow stretch of land, located in the Indian state of West Bengal, that connects India's northeastern states to the rest of India.
The border was not a significant problem until Communist China seized control of Tibet (1959). The border was not the only problem and some authors refer to it as a pretext. Border incidents occurred after the 1959 Tibetan uprising against the Chinese. India granted asylum to the Dalai Lama which disturbed the Communists, probnly more than the border. The high mountains of Aksai Chin became an issue. India maintained that the region (about the size of Portugal) was part of Indian-controlled of Kashmir. China insisted that that it was part of Xinjiang (western China). India initiated a Forward Policy, placing outposts along the border. Several were located north of the McMahon Line -- the defacto border between the Tibetan region of China and north-eastern region of India established during the colonial era. Only the sections near the Karakoram Pass and Pangong Lake were clearly delineated. The remainder of the border was not formally demarcated. This was the eastern portion of the Line of Actual Control proclaimed by Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai (1959).
The border was quiet during the colonial era. It was remote and of relatuvely limited importance to either the British or the Chinese goivernments. After World War II major changes swirled around this remote area, both north and south. Indian gained its independence, leading to the creation of independent Pakistan and India. The Communists won the Chinese Civil War and claimed Tibet (1948). China constructed a road linking Xinjiang and Tibet through land claimed by India--the Karakorum Highway. Given the remoteness of the area and the limited economic importance, the border issues probanly could have been settled diplomatically. Then Tibet's spiritual and political leader, the Dalai Lama, managed to elude Chinese authorities and escape into exile as China conducted another invasion to more forcefully inplant Communism in Tibet (1959). Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru found it necessary to grant the Dalai Lama sanctuary in India. Chairman Mao was furious.
India gained its independence from Britain (1947). It was part of a long struggle with the the world's primary colonial power. Thus although India emerged as a democratic country, it sought to develop strong relations with the Communnist bloc. It wanted no psrt of the Cold War and the Soviets provided extensive economic assistance. The Indian steel industry would be one result of this assistance. When the Communists emerged victorious in the Chinese Civil War, India sought to develop friendly rekstions with the new Cimmunist Government. Chimna unlike Russia bordered on India, especially after they seized Tibet. The Chinese foirmlly snnounced the formation of the People's Republic of China (PRC) (1949). The Indian Government was intent on maintaining cordial relations with the PRC. The Indians were, however, were disturbed when Chinese forces occupied China. India protested and proposing negotiations on Tibet. China respnded by deploying troops on the Aksai Chin border. Aksai Chin is aborder area between China and India. It is today administered by China as part of Hotan County, the southwestern part Xinjiang. India continues to claim it as a part of the Ladakh region of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The World War II Treaty of Peace was signed (1951). India had polayed an important role in the War. The Japanbese had reached the border of India (1942). India was so intent on correct relations with Communist China that in refused to attend the peace conference. China had not been invited because it intervened in the Korean War. As Communist China was ostracized by the West and pursued isolationist policies of its own, India at tgime became a viurtul Chinese representative in some international fora. China and India concluded the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence (1954). , India accepted Chinese rule in Tibet. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru promoted the slogan Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai (India and China are brothers) as the basis of the fioreign policy between the two countries (1954). At the samne time, Nehru directed a revision in the maps of India to show definite boundaries on all frontiers, including the Chinese frontier. When compared to Chinese maps, there were some 120,000 square kilometres of disputed territoiry. When questioned about that, Zhou Enlai, the PRC First Premier commented that there were errors. Those areas were remote, but largely in Chinese hands. As a result, the boirder issue remained a minor irritant as the Indian Government stressed its anti-colonial enphasuis and joined the Non-Aligned Movement. The basically friendly relations continued until China moved troos in large numbers into Tibet to begin to inplant Communism more forcibly (1959). India basically ignored this, but the Dalai Lama managed to elude his Chinese keepers and esccape into India. Chairman Mao Zedong was furious and embarassed with the warm reception he received in India. This was primarily by the Indian public, but Mao did not fully understanbd that the Indian Government did not control public opinion. Tensions escalated Mao cgarged thst the Lhasa rebellion in Tibet was the work of the Indians. Commiunist authorities began toi see India as a threat to its cointrol of Tibet. This was in part because they were supporting Communist groups in India and thus assumed that the Indians were doing the same in Tibet. In that atmoshere, border inciudebnt flared along the remote Indian0-Chinese borders.
Border skirmishes began to be reported along the disputed Chinese-Indian border (1959). The most serious was at Kongka Pass, in which nine local Indian policemen were killed (October 1959). The Indian Government realised that it was not ready for war. The national Government assumed responsibility for the border and pulled back patrols into disputed areas, most of ehich sas occvupied by the Chinese. Nehru conceived ordred what the Indians called the Forward Policy. The Indians began establishing border outposts and patrols north of Chinese positions. The idea was to cut their supply lines. The Chinese responded which similar actions. Both countries were attempting to flank each otherm but avoiding direct confrontation. Evitably direct confrontations did occurr. Indidents escalated on the Aksai Chin boirder (summer and fall 1962). More than 20 Chinese soldiers were killed in one action (June 1962). Some 350 Chinese troops surrounded an Indian post at Chushul. The Chinese used loudspeakers to convince the Gurkhas that they should not be fighting for India (July 10).
Nehru authorized the Army to fire not only in self-defense but to drive the Chinese back. Zhou Enlai was personally assuring Nehru in New Delhi that China did not want war (early OIctiber). At the same time the eople's Liberation Army of China (PLA) was massing troops along the border.
The Karakorum Highway was a contributor to the conflict. And the conflict was be largely fought in the Karakorum Mountains. When diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue stalled, the Chinese resorted to military action. The first sizeable actuin occurred (October 10, 1962). Some 25 Indian troops and 33 Chinese soldiers were killed. It ius a this point that China without warning launched simultaneous offensives both in Aksai Chin (Ladakh and also along the McMahon Line) in the east and Arunachal Pradesh in the west (October 20).The PLA launched a two-pronged attack. The objective was to drive the Indians out of Aksai Chin and in 2 days, the Chinese did just that, driving the outnumbrd Indians back and seizing the entire territory. The Chinese cut Indian telephone lines, preventing forard uniys from contacting with their headquarters. The PLA infantry also launched an attack from the rear. Heavy losses forced Indian troops to escape to Bhutan. The Chinese ignited a bush fire which confused the Indians (October 22). Some 400 Chinese troops attacked an important position. Indian mortar fire
held back the Chinese. The Indiabs caught a Chinese force gathered in a pass, it opened fire with mortars and machine guns, killing some 200 PLA soldiers. Nehru never envisioned that that the Chinese would launch an major attack abnd did not prepare for it. The result was that the Indian forces in the area numbering around 10,000-20,000 men faces a 80,000 man PLA force. The main PLA force established itself 10 miles (16 kilometers) south of the line of control (October 24). The Chinese took the important bezang La Mountain Pass in Chushul (western area) and Tawang (eastern area). The PLA encirled a patrol from the 4th Sikhs (October 26), but were releaced after some tough fighting. A 3-week ceasefire ensued. Zhou Enlai ordered the PLA to hold their position and offered a peace proposal to Nehru. Zhou proposed that gthe two armies disengage and withdraw 20 kilometers from their existing positions. Nehru rejected this and insisted thar the PLA had to withdraw to their original position. He also suggested a wider buffer zone. At the same time the Indians began a military build up of their own. Bringing men and supplies into remote areas, however, was not an easy matter. The Indians launched their major offensive with an attack on the PLA position at Walong (November 14). It did not go well. Hundreds more deaths ensued in the fighting. The United States offered assistabnce to the Indians. China offered a ceasefire and India agreed (November 19). The Chinese announced that they would 'withdraw from their present positions to the north of the illegal McMahon Line'. Actually both sides rejected the legality of the colonial-era McMahon Line, but relied on it to reestanblish the peace. The fighting did not stop immediately. Isolated units in the remote high mountains did not receive notification and thus firefights continued for a few days.
The Chinese invasion occurred during the Cuban Missile Crisis and thus received relatively little press coverage. The remoteness of the conflict also limited coverage. President Kennedy did, however, come to India's asistance. At the time, Chinese intentions were not knoiwn. And plans were prepared to send the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier battle group to the Bay of Bengal to support India against a possible possible Chinese invasion. An Indian officer writes, "Many of my generation remember vividly how then American President John F Kennedy had become one of the most popular figures in India -- so much so that most paan shops, (the true barometer of public opinion in India) routinely had Kennedy's photograph alongside the familiar one of Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi." [Athale]
Additudes toward the United States differed. The United States had not been the colonial power and in fact the major issued that America and Britain differed on during Workd War II was colonialism and British imperial policy. After the War this was not well known. Many Induans respected America's democracy and saw America as a friend. Nethru and muvj of the Congress Party were suspicuius of capitalism. Many Indians were impressed wuth the Soviet Union and saw Communism as a rapid way of developing a modern economy. The Indian Government turned to their Soviet 'friends' for assistanbce. The resoonse shocked he Government and Indian people. In the middle of the Cuban Missle Crisis, a front page article appeared in the most important Soviet newspaper Pravda denouncing India (October 25, 1962). The Sovies put the blame for the war completely on India. And catigated India for using the McMahon line, calling it 'notorious' and the work of British imperialism'. [Pravda] They insisted that it was legally invalid. The Soiviets went even fuyrther. They charged that India of being incited by imperialists and being the principal ringleaders of the conflict. This was in sharp contrast to President Kennedy's generous offers of assistance in the crisis. Indians wwre impressed. Our Indian source writes, "The prompt and generous American response to Indian needs at the time of military reverses against the Chinese in October/November 1962, had a deep impact on the Indian psyche." The U.S. Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith played a major role in developing the American response. U.S. Air Force squadrons in the Philippines were alerted. Through the U.S. Embassy Warsaw, the Chinese were advised of American preparations to come to India's assistance. C-130 Hercules aircraft cobducted drops of arms and ammunition supplies as well cold weather clothing to Indian soldiers in the remote mountains. American aircraft were seen at New Delhi Auroport. They were carrying out photo recon missions over the Indo-Tibet border. A long awaited Indian offensise failed (November 18). No country but America offered significant aid. British sujects near the front evscuated. Many countries tht had been sen as friends took even the 'friends' of India took ambivalent positions.
The conflict was fought just one month. Casualties included 1,383 Indian troops and 722 Chinese troops. Some 1,047 Indians and 1,697 Chinese were wounded. The Chinese capured nearly 4,000 Indian soldiers. The Indians who were mostly on the defensive did not capture many Chinese.
Many of the casualties on bith sides rsulted from the harsh conditions at 14,000 feet where the coinflict iccurred and not enemy fire. Seceral hundred wounded on both sides died of exposure because they could not get to medical attention. China retained control of most of the Aksai Chin region. There were no political cionsequences in China because the Coimmunists controlled the media. The consequences in democratic India were different. Prime Minister Nehru was sharply criticized for his at home for his lack of action in the face of Chinese aggression as well as for the fact ghat the Indian Army was unprepared for the Chinese attack.
The Sino-Indian War is notable for both military and political aspects. It was the most significant war ever fought at such high altutudes meaning exceeding harsh consitions. Most of the fighting occurred at altitudes over 4,250 metres (14,000 feet). And as this was in exceedingly remote areas, both sides encountered serious logistical problems. Both countries decided to limit the scale of the conflict. Neither used either its naval or air forces in the fighting. Aklthough today only a footnote in the Cold War history and not a full scale war between the two Asian giants. India at the time was a democracy. It had, however, a huge population of very poor people. And BNehru's Government with its socialist economic polivies were making very little progress in developing a prosperous modern economy. The Communidt Party at thr time was both popular and well organized. After ghe Indian Nationl Congress Party, it was the most kmportant political party in India. There was a very real possibility that the Communists could oiver time win a national election and end both the country's democracy and a future market reforms that woukd transform the economy. It was the Sino-Indian conflict that according to one Induan historian 'sounded a virtual death knell for the Communist movement in India'. [Athale] It would have had major consequences for the outcome of the Cold War.
The Chinese invasion surprised the Pakistanis as much as the Indians. Pakistan also had a Himilayan border with Tibet. The poor performance of the Indian Army probably led the Pakistanis to believe that a well executed strike might suceeded in seizing Kashmir before the Indians could respond. Pakistan launched the Second Indian-Pakistani War (1965). It was the second of three major wars between the two countries since 1947 over Kashmir.
Athale, Anil. "The Untold Story: How Kennedy came to India's aid in 1962," RediffNews (December 4, 2012. Colonel Anil Athale (retd) is co-author of the official history of the India-China War. He was a fellow at the Kennedy Centre in 2003.
Pravda (October 25, 1962).
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