Letters from China

Letter Number 2
Sino-Indian Border Conflict

Oct. 31, 1962

Dear friends,

You write me asking: "Why is China invading India"? The answer is that China is doing no such thing. All fighting has been on Chinese territory or on territory taken from China by India since 1950. All invasions have come from the Indian side. Peking hers kept asking India to negotiate the boundary, but Indian troops have kept changing the boundary by force, taking more and more.

Always the clamor for war comes from New Delhi, the mobilization, the "state of emergency", the appeal to women to give their jewelry for arms, the attacks on Chinese Embassy and headquarters of Indian Communists. In China they have not mobilized nor declared "emergency" nor made any anti-Indian clamor. In China there is great desire for friendship with India and for negotiation of the border. Only when Nehru on Oct. 12 ordered the Indian troops to clear out the Chinese from the disputed areas, and when on Oct. 20 the Indian troops made "massive general offensive" on the entire border, did Chinese troops, which till then held their fire, go into sharp counter-attack, from which the Indian forces broke and fled.

Even then, the territory over which the Chinese advanced had been China's until India took it by force in 1951. And even as the Chinese advanced to "recover" this territory, the Chinese government sent out an appeal to the Indian government, and to all the governments in Asia and Africa and all the "peace-loving people of the world", to help them secure a negotiated boundary and to "promote Sino-Indian friendship". China said:

China and India are both great nations with a major responsibility for Asian peace.... That China and India should cross swords over their boundary is something the Chinese people and government and the peace-loving people of the world -- are unwilling to see. It is inconceivable that the boundary should be decided by force. What is the reason for these bloody clashes? China does not want an inch of Indian soil.

Then China made a triple proposal for quickly securing peace. It ran:

a) Both sides declare intent to settle the boundary by negotiation.

b) Both sides stop fighting and withdraw twelve miles from the "line of actual control" and disengage to relax tension.

c) Both premiers meet either in Peking or Delhi to negotiate.

This appeal, sent early on Oct. 24, at once won support in the press of Asia and Africa as well as in Moscow's Pravda and Izvestia. But Nehru refused before the end of the day, calling the proposals "deceptive and confusing". He demanded that Chinese troops first withdraw to the positions they held Sept. 8, before any negotiations could be discussed.

The People's Daily replied Oct. 27 that the present "line of control" was not very different from that on Nov. 7, 1959 when China first proposed joint withdrawal of 12 miles to avoid clashes; if China had in some places advanced further, return might be made to the positions of 1959. But for China to withdraw to the "positions of Sept. 8, 1962" would be "unreasonable", since this would "legalize" the seizures of territory made by India's attempts to alter the boundary by force. These included:

a) 2,500 so. mi. of territory taken by India in the western sector.

b) The Wuje area in the middle sector.

c) The Kechilang River valley and many other places in the eastern sector which India had taken even to the north of the McMahon Line.

This listing revealed in a flash the extent of territory taken by India since 1959, and also made clear the magnitude of her defeat in the last ten days of Oct. 1962. It was India which had been trying to change the boundary by force for three years; and the attempt had failed.

* * *

Let us glance at the actual zone of battle. Take Tawang, the only populated place of any size so far in the war news. New Delhi calls it an "Indian town taken by Chinese troops after desperate fighting Oct. 24". The Chinese border guards in the town report that they entered Oct, 25, found it "still burning" and "restored order". The Indians had left the previous afternoon after burning supplies and some buildings and taking away some inhabitants....But WHY were they all there?

Tawang is a Tibetan county town at about 10,000 feet elevation, in an area of steep mountains, thick forests, swift rivers, with lush pasture and good barley land on their banks. It had a magistrates court and a monastery. Its name is Chinese and means "Great Prince". For nearly 300 years, since the Fifth Dalai Lama--named by the Chinese Emperor as "King of the Law in the Western Land of the Buddha"--"unified the tribes" about 1700, Tawang paid taxes to Lhasa and Lhasa named its magistrates and monastery chiefs.... Then eleven years ago, Indian troops took Tawang by surprise attack Feb. 7, 1951, drove out or jailed the magistrates and expelled a "Living Buddha" who complained to Lhasa that they treated him roughly and took the grain that he had collected for the Lhasa monasteries. Then India made Tawang its central fortress towards Tibet, building a road of about 120 miles to connect it with the Indian plain below. Is Tawang now an "Indian town"? Depends on the point of view!

Nehru claims it by a line drawn in Delhi on a map in 1914 by a British officer named McMahon. This line, now called "McMahon", took 90,000 so. km. (about 35,000 sq. mi.) from China's Tibet and gave them to British India. McMahon got a Tibetan envoy named Shatra to sign his map. Shatra, later said to have been bribed, was not empowered to give away territory. The Dalai Lama repudiated the line; every Chinese government since then repudiated the line. Sir Henry Twynam, British governor of Assam in 1939, later wrote in the London Times Sept. 2, 1959: "The McMahon Line does not exist and never did."

Nehru used this shakey title to take the territory in 1951. He first asked Lhasa for it, but the Tibetan notables called a council and angrily refused. Nehru was in a hurry because Lhasa just then was negotiating an Agreement with the new Chinese People's Republic, by Which Tibet would "return to the motherland" and install the People's Liberation Army (PLA) as guard at the national frontier. So India got there first. When the PLA reached the frontier at the end of 1951 or later, Indian troops held possession, in the name of McMahon, of some 35,000 sq. mi. of China's Tibet. Thus began the problem of the border....

China's position throughout was that the McMahon Line was illegal and that China expected India to negotiate a friendly border but meantime Chinese troops were ordered not to cross the McMahon Line to avoid clashes with India. Nehru's position was that until China recognized the McMahon Line no negotiation could begin. After 1959 India made new claims in the high wilderness of ice and rock on the western sector of the border. From he nature and timing of these claims, which began after the 1959 Lhasa rebellion failed, it seemed that the question was not primarily the border, but the control of Tibet, that India not only wished to inherit Britain's special interest in that area, but was pushed on by the long arm of a newer and stronger imperialism, that America's fingers reached through India to grasp that high strategic plateau and complete the encirclement of China.

For three years India built roads, sent troops, set up military posts until by Oct. 1962 she had 43 posts in the high wilderness where neither British nor Indian control had penetrated before. They were between and behind the Chinese posts already there, harassing Chinese guards, ambushing their transport, breaking their supply Lines. India also built additional posts in the eastern sector of the border, taking new land even north of the McMahon Line.

Against all these aggressions China had a definite policy, explained to me by a man recently returned from the frontier. The Chinese guards were ordered never to fire the first shot, and not to fire at harassments except to save their lives, to stop shooting if the enemy stopped, and not to pursue if the enemy withdrew. They sought thus to convince the Indian soldiers that they did not want to fight but to be friends and to convince nearby nations that they sought not aggression but peace. This they were to do as long as possible, but if and when it came to a general offensive from India, they were to be ready to hurl it back by a strong, swift counter-attack. They also warned India of this.

This it seems occurred in October when Nehru on the 12th ordered his troops to clear out all the Chinese, and unleashed on the 17th an artillery barrage that caused heavy Chinese casualties, and on the 20th began a pre-dawn general offensive along the border. The Chinese hurled it back within the hour and routed the Indian forces in a few days. Yet even as they for the first time crossed the McMahon Line, they appealed for negotiation, for peace, and for Afro-Asian help in this.

Nehru refused, but the Afro-Asian nations didn't. The first responses came from the nearest nations, Nepal, Pakistan, Ceylon where the press began to support China's "triple proposal". The press in Cambodia, Indonesia, Iraq followed, then governmental consultations for mediation began in Cairo and Bagdad. Very significant was the attitude of Bhutan, a tiny semi-independent state, with only 700,000 people, whose border runs so close to the hottest fighting that the people probably heard the guns. Yet Bhutan's premier, when summoned to Delhi, refused any Indian military help and told the Calcutta newsmen on his way home that there was in Bhutan no mobilization, no "state of emergency" and they weren't going to join this war.... The calm in Bhutan rebuked the hysteria in India.

The West now supports Nehru with arms for war, which Washington will try to turn to the seizure of Tibet. But little Bhutan, with a ring-side seat on the battles, shows faith in China's non-aggressive strength. Bhutan's faith will affect other Asian and African nations, as they seek to help China make, not war but peace.