Letters from China

Letter Number 3
Question Now -- Whither India?

Dec. 10, 1962

Dear friends,

Events unprecedented in history took place on the Sino-Indian border in the last November days. Chinese forces, still called "border guards" in Peking's laconic reports, so different from the war fever of Delhi, swept in four days, Nov. 16 to 20, down the rugged Himalayan slope, bypassing and trapping Indian armies strung out hundreds of miles in the Northeast Frontier Agency. Panic hit Tezpur, India's war-base on the Brahmaputra, as soldiers, officers, civil authorities and civilians streamed over the river in flight. Pandemonium broke in Parliament when Nehru announced the fall of Walong, Se La, Bomdi La, last gates to Assam. In two more days, it seemed, his government might fall. Air-India grounded all planes but one line to Bombay, and prepared to save British personnel from Assam's tea and jute plantations, which account for one-fourth of India's foreign trade.

Suddenly, at midnight Nov. 20, Peking announced that the fighting was over, that Chinese would "Cease Fire" in twenty-four hours, and begin on Dec. 1 to withdraw back up the mountain to the positions they held Nov. 7, 1959, before the fighting began. They would then withdraw all armed patrols yet another 20 kilometers, so that effective disengagement might prevent clashes. In the intervening space they would keep only civilian police to protect inhabitants from bandits. They had offered this many times and they hoped this time India might make similar disengagement, so that tensions might relax and negotiation be held to settle the border. Whether or not India did, China would cease fire and withdraw unilaterally, reserving the right of self-defense if attacked.

Never in history has so victorious an army halted after such a victory and declared a Cease-Fire and Withdrawal to the positions held before conflict. New Delhi could think of no reply except to call it a trick. The Western press, astounded, spoke of the "inscrutable Oriental mind". Then Nehru recovered and demanded that China withdraw not to its 1959 positions but to the positions of Sept. 8, 1962. What this meant was clear when Peking replied, politely but firmly, that the Sept. 8 position was "unacceptable" because it would "legalize" all of India's seizures of territory for three years and establish the positions India took to launch her recent offensives. Such positions were neither "reasonable" nor in the "interests of peace". The 1959 positions, before India pushed forward and set up positions for attack, were "reasonable and conducive to peace and preserved equal dignity on both sides".

It thus became clear to all that between Nov. 7, 1959 and Sept. 8, 1962, India had taken by force of arms some 4,000 sq. km. of territory from China, and China had now taken it back in a matter of days.

America, Britain, France, West Germany, Australia poured arms into India, encouraging the thought of a long, long war. The Afro-Asian Bandung nations promptly welcomed the Cease-Fire-Withdrawal, and began to urge negotiations for a long, long peace.

So the question became: Which will India choose?

This spectacular Cease-Fire-Withdrawal which the West called "inscrutable" seemed to Peking the only way left to proclaim to the world -- especially to India and the Afro-Asian nations: "We don't want war! We don't want victory! We don't want an inch of Indian soil! We want a peaceful border and Indian friendship. This cannot be had by fighting but only by mutual accommodation in which both sides negotiate with equal dignity." Did China have to take the entire Himalayan slope in order to say this? It seems she did! Many times in three years she asked for Cease-Fire and disengagement; India always refused. China even waited three weeks in Tawang near the top of the slope and again asked for disengagement. India declared a new offensive with new American arms. So China had to disperse that Indian army that pestered her for three years. She did it by taking them on the Himalayan slope, the 90,000 sq. km. of territory that India includes in NEFA but that was Chinese territory till India took it in 1947-51. China called that seizure illegal but kept the border peaceful by not crossing India's new line. But in 1959 India made more claims to 33,000 sq. km. of high icy wilderness on the Western Border, called Aksai Chin, "China's White Stone Desert", which contains China's only route between Sinkiang and Tibet. India never in history owned it and has no use for it, except to block China's road to Tibet.

For three years, 1959-62, Indian troops advanced into this area, and set up 43 armed posts, encircling China's border posts, cutting their supply lines, harassing the border guards. China protested in diplomatic notes but withheld her fire. India kept right on. Finally on Oct. 20, 1962 India launched a massive general offensive to drive all Chinese out. China made two counter-attacks and drove the Indians out instead. Then she refused the fruits of victory and went back where it started, and laked again for Cease-Fire, disengagement and negotiation. If this time India again refuses, at least the world will know who asked for peace. For this dramatic victory and withdrawal makes everyone look at the border and ask what it is all about. It also brings America openly into the conflict and calls the Afro-Asians to try to help the peace.

American friends ask questions both friendly and cynical:

1) WHY does China fight for all that ice and rock?

2) Did China need a shooting war to build morale at home?

3) Hasn't China just thrown India into America's lap?

1) The fighting is NOT for ice and rock and not for a border. It is for control of Tibet. The nature of India's demands and attacks have shown it; Nehru's order Oct. ..12 to clear the Chinese out entirely was final proof. America, like Britain before her, seeks through India control of that strategic roof of the world. China cannot yield to India the Tibetans who once were serfs and now are free; nor can she permit America to complete China's encirclement by control of the high plateau of Tibet.

2) India, not China, needs a shooting war to build morale. China tried to avoid this war. When she had to fight, she did it as quickly, effectively and economically as she could, without mobilization, demonstrations, or gloating, without even using the word "victory". The "border guards", somewhat expanded, did the job; the rest of China concentrated on its economy which steadily goes ahead.

3) India was already "in America's lap", but now the world knows it. Aid granted India by the U.S.A. and U.S.-controlled funds in the past ten years (see "Foreign Aid" of U.S. International Cooperation Administration) averaged only $105.2 million a year for the first six years when India was a neutral; then from mid-1956 to 1959 when she moved to the right, India got $645.5 million yearly; now for the three years 1959-62 in which she fights China, she averages $1,290.8 million a year. Is Nehru any longer a fully "free agent"? Or is he bound to his creditors?

China's action forces the question:

Will India now choose peace or is she bound to war?

Even as the arms and military aid from all the NATO and SEATO nations pour into India, tempting her to a long, long war, China's act has rallied the Afro-Asian nations to work for peace. As I write these words, six nations meet in Colombo, to seek for peace between China and India. They want India as an anti-imperialist Bandung partner, not an example of "Asians fighting Asians" for Washington's gain.

* * *

Meantime the Chinese border guards withdraw up the wintry Himalayan slopes towards the positions they held in 1959. Steadily they release the sick and wounded Indian prisoners into the hands of the Indian Red Cross before they leave. The Hsinhua reporters see the "prisoners" waving goodbye and thanking their Chinese doctors, but the Western press is not allowed to interview them when they reach Tezpur.

Moving stories come of farewells by local inhabitants, few of whom are Indian by nationality or with any love for Indian troops. One is from Walong at the extreme eastern tip of the disputed area, near Burma. "Starting on Nov. 30, the frontier guards cleaned the houses where they had lodged eleven days, drew water and gathered firewood for the householders. At S. they left 40 bricks of tea to pay labor on a bridge that was damaged in the fighting. In Ch. they had rebuilt houses of poor people that Indian soldiers burned; before the Chinese left, they helped the people move into their new houses and got firewood for them. The people said: 'We shall never forget you, as kind as Buddha!'

"Early in the morning the local people, often whole families, waited on the road to bid farewell. In one village of fifteen families, everyone walked with the guards as far as the river, helping their old folks and leading their children; then they all waved goodbye as the guards crossed. Scores of peasants brought bananas and sweet potatoes and thrust them into the guards' pockets. In Walong where the guards rebuilt many burned houses, some people told them: 'We have no written language to record your kindnesses, but we shall tell them to our Children down generations.' "

Few in the West will believe these stories; I record them for those few. In China such acts of solidarity and help to poor people are known as the tradition of the People's Liberation Army. Now these acts have been done in India too. But is this India? Or is it China? It is the disputed land. Wherever the frontier may here be settled, its peoples will be "Asian brothers" to the PLA.

This is the only victory they take with them from the territory they claim and won yet will not take unless it comes by negotiation in peace.