Bertil Lintner’s brilliant book ‘China’s India War’ busts several myths about what we all know about India and China relations till now especially in context of 1962 war. We are also sharing an excerpt from the book after a brief introduction about why it is a must read for all those who want to have the rightful perspective about disputes between India and China.
Why this book is important?
The Sino-Indian War of 1962 delivered a crushing defeat to India: not only did the country suffer a loss of lives and a heavy blow to its pride, the world began to see India as the provocateur of the war, with China ‘merely defending’ its territory. This perception that China was largely the innocent victim of Nehru’s hostile policies was put forth by journalist Neville Maxwell in his book India’s China War, which found readers in many opinion makers, including Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon.
For far too long, Maxwell’s narrative, which sees India as the aggressor and China as the victim, has held court. Nearly 50 years after Maxwell’s book, Bertil Lintner’s China’s India War puts the ‘border dispute’ into its rightful perspective. Lintner argues that China began planning the war as early as 1959 and proposes that it was merely a small move in the larger strategic game that China was playing to become a world player—one that it continues to play even today.
Excerpt from Bertil Lintner’s ‘China’s India War: Collision Course On The Roof Of The World’
There were also other preparations that the Chinese had undertaken
before the attacks in October 1962. Indian Brigadier John Dalvi, who was
captured alive with some of his men on 22 October 1962 and remained a
prisoner of war in China until May 1963, recorded the events in his book
“Himalayan Blunder: The Angry Truth about India’ss Most Crushing Military
Once captured and taken to the other side, Dalvi was able to
observe how meticulously the Chinese had prepared their blitzkrieg,
against India. He discovered that the Chinese had erected prisoner-of-war
camps to hold up to 3,000 men and found out that interpreters for all major
Indian languages had been moved to Lhasa between March and May 1962.
Not only had tens of thousands of troops been redeployed to the area to be
acclimatized to the high altitudes of the border mountains well before the
attacks took place, but thousands of Tibetan porters had also been recruited
and forward dumps had been established all along the frontier. Even more
tellingly, Dalvi noticed that the Chinese had built a road strong enough to
hold 7-tonne vehicles all the way up to Marmang near the McMahon Line.
All this, Dalvi wrote later, was not an accident and was certainly not
decided after 8th Septernber 1962. It was coldly and calculatingly planned
by the Chinese.”
While it is not inconceivable that the very final order to attack was given
a week or so before the PLA swung into action (which would make sense
from a tactical military point of view), it is also important to remember that
the 1962 War also had nothing to do with the establishment of an Indian
Army post in one of the remotest corners of the subcontinent. That could
be seen as a pretext, but even then, at best, a rather flimsy one. Even Mao
Zedong had told the Nepalese and the Soviet delegations before and after
the war that the issue was never the McMahon Line or the border dispute.
China thought that India had designs for Tibet, which, in the 1950s, was
being integrated into Mao’s People’s Republic.
At a meeting on 25 March 1959, only three weeks after the outbreak of
the Lhasa uprising and as the Dalai Lama was on his way over the
moun-tains to India, Deng Xiaoping, then a political as well as a military leader, made China’s position clear: ‘When the time comes, we certainly will settle accounts with them (the Indians). And, according to Bruce Riedel, one
of American’s leading experts on US security as well as South Asian issues,
probably as early as 1959, Mao decided that he would have to take firm
action against Nehru.
Zhao Weiwen, a South Asian analyst at the Ministry of State Security,
China’s premier intelligence agency, wrote after the war in 1962 that “India
ardently hoped to continue England’s legacy in Tibet’ and that Nehru
himself ‘harboured a sort of dark mentality. Those factors, Zhao argued,
led Nehru to demonstrate an ‘irresolute attitude’ in 1959. And that dark
mnentality, US-China scholar John Garver quotes him as saying, led Nehru
give free rein to ‘anti-China forces’ in an attempt to foment unrest in
Tibet to ‘throw off the jurisdiction of China’s central government.
According to Garver, Mao was also present at the same meeting as Deng.
March 1959, and the Chairman said that India ‘was doing bad things in
bet’and therefore had to be dealt with. Mao, however, told the assembled
members of the inner circle of the Chinese leadership that China should
not condemn India openly for the time being. Instead, India would be
given enough rope to hang itself, quo xingbuyi bi zibii, literally ‘to do evil
deeds frequently brings ruin to the evil doer’. China was waiting for the
right moment to ‘deal’ with India. But first, it needed precise and accurate
intelligence from across the border.
Findings by Nicholas Eftimiades, an expert on China’s intelligence
operations, reveals that the Chinese began sending agents into the
NEFA and other areas two years before the military offensive. “The PLA.
gathered facts on India’s order of battle, terrain features, and military
strategy through agents planted among road gangs, porters and muleteers
working in border areas. These agents, Eftimiades states, later guided
PLA forces across the area during offensive operations…. junior PLA
commanders—disguised as Tibetans—had reconnoitered their future area
‘Two years before the military offensive’ began in October 1962,
means at least a year before the ‘Forward Policy was conceived, which
makes it hard to argue that India’s moves in the area provoked China to.
attack. Furthermore, the date, 20 October 1962, for the final assault after
years of preparations was carefully chosen because it would coincide
with the Cuban missile crisis, which the Chinese knew about beforehand
through their contacts with the leaders of the Soviet Union. With Soviet
missiles on Cuba, the Chinese were convinced that the USA would be too
preoccupied to pay much attention to a war in the distant Himalayas.
Given the increasingly hostile relations between China and the Soviet
Union at the time, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev did not himself
tell Mao that he was sending missiles to Cuba, and, as Riedel, writes in
his book: Nor did Mao tell Moscow that he was going to war with India
until two days before the attack.
However, according to British analystand writer Roderick MacFarquhar,
China’s Moscow ambassador, Liu Xiao, reportedy ‘informed Beijing in advance
about Khrushchev’s missile plan although the Chinese probably knew about it anyway,
for they had excellent sources of information in Cuba.
Chinese intelligence gathering in the NEFA may even have begun well
before 1959, the year Deng Xiaoping said that ‘accounts’ would have to be
settled’ with India. According to a 1952 intelligence report, it had then
just been detected that Tibetan monks from a dissident sect, not loyal to
the Dalai Lama, had been sent into India as spies and agitators. The same
sect had, the report also stated, ‘acted as their [the Chinese] fifth-column
during the (1950s) occupation of Tibet.'”