Letters from China

Letter Number 6a
The Return of the Weapons

Jan 30, 1963

Dear friends,

One of the most remarkable incidents in that whole amazing Cease-Fire and Withdrawal which China unilaterally declared on the Sino-Indian border was the return of the weapons to India. The story was first told by the Indian side as a complaint against China. On Jan. 8, 1963 a spokesman of the External Affairs Ministry in Delhi announced that some army equipment belonging to India had been turned over by the Chinese in a "heavily damaged condition" and that China was clearly doing it "for propaganda purposes".

Following this, Indian newspapers spread the tale as one more evil act by Chinese, whom they accused of various things, ranging from "propaganda campaign" to "a treacherous maneuver" together with other charges that the Chinese had "looted the area", and had "broken their own 'Cease Fire' over thirty times."

China's account was first released January 16 by a spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who said that China had not made public the return of the captured weapons and had not intended to do so, but since this measure had been "distorted by slander" they now released facts.

After the voluntary Cease Fire (on Nov. 21st), the Chinese government ordered the Chinese border guards to collect the weapons, ammunition and other military supplies which they had captured and return them to the Indian side. This was first done on Dec. 6, 8 and 11 at Limeking, Sati and Mechuka where the weapons were left with local headmen with letters addressed to the Indian authorities, and lists of the military supplies, and instructions to turn them over to the Indian authorities.

In the two larger towns, Walong and Dzong, the return was more formal. It took place Dec. 19. Here a much larger quantity of military supplies was handed over to Indian authorities especially sent to receive them, the Chinese having notified the Indian government on Dec. 14 and 16. In these notes China had expressed "the hope that the weapons would not again be used against China and that border clashes would not again occur, since the Sino-Indian border should be settled by peaceful negotiation and could not be settled by armed force".

A list of the returned military equipment was then appended, which had been signed by both sides, stating the quantity and condition of the weapons thus returned. It covered two pages of single-space typing and is too long to give here but it contained items like the following:

75 British-made 51mm mortars (58 in good condition, 17 with parts missing)

54 British-made 81mm mortars (15 in good condition, 36 with parts missing, 3 heavily damaged)

down to smaller items like:

552 Canadian machine-guns (448 in good condition)

2,105 British-made rifles (1,750 in good condition)

22,400 shells (all in good condition)

19,337 hand-grenades (all in good condition)

Over two million cartridges (all in good condition)

Other interesting items were 1,625 army blankets in good condition, 2,410 Indian army uniforms in good condition and 350 worn-out uniforms.

The list was clearly a partial one for it did not contain any motor vehicles of which a considerable quantity-autos, trucks, jeeps and even tanks, were mentioned in a report from Dirang Dzong. But the list was enough to show that the Chinese had returned a large quantity of military supplies,mostly in good condition, to India and had receipts from the Indian officials for it. This was such an unprecedented act in warfare that the question naturally arose: "WHY?"

Before considering this, let us note some details of the turnover, as given by Hsinhua Jan. 17. Despatches had come from the front in December, but had not been released and there had been no intent to release by Hsinhua, until it became necessary to refute the Indian slanders. The first despatch came Dec. 11 from Nlechuka, a small place at the furthest reach of the Chinese advance. Here it was related that on Dec. 6 at Limeking and Dec. 11 at Mechuka, supplies had been turned over to local headmen. The list of supplies and the names of the headmen were given. In Limeking the supplies were stored in two warehouses, "neatly packed", "clothing, bedding and parachutes were laid on wooden racks to prevent mildew". In Mechuka the supplies were in four warehouses. The five headmen counted the supplies before signing for them. An interesting detail is that in Limeking a headman signed by his finger-prints, probably being illiterate. All headmen agreed to hand the supplies over to the Indian authorities as soon as possible.

In Dirang Dzong and Walong the procedure was much more formal. Dirang Dzong especially is a central town for a large area: it is located on the main line of march from Tawang south to Bomdila. The despatch from Dirang Dzong, dated Dec. 19, but not published till Jan. 17, stated that "today supplies were handed over of weapons, munitions and other supplies captured from the Indian troops in the Tawang, Dirang Dzong and Bomdila areas". In other words, the entire line of the main drive.

"The handover took place at Yuwang village, northwest of Dirang Dzong. On a big square the weapons and other supplies lay in good order, 126 artillery pieces, more than 220 light and heavy machine-guns,over 2,200 rifles, semi-automatic rifles and submachine-guns, over 13,000 shells of various sizes, over 1,100,000 cartridges of various sizes, and 117 motor vehicles, 12 road-building machines and two U.S.-made tanks.

"These weapons and vehicles had been cleaned by Chinese frontier guards and glistened in the sun. Passersby expressed surprise on learning that they were to be returned to India"....

At 11 a.m., in accordance with the notice sent by the Chinese government, three Indian administrative officials and five attaches arrived in three jeeps, headed by F.V.N. Paul, assistant political commissioner of the Bomdila area. Col. Tsai Hung-chuan, a commanding officer of the Chinese frontier guards in charge of the work, informed them of the number and condition of the weapons and expressed an ardent wish for friendship between the Chinese and Indian peoples. He said:

"China wants to live in peace and friendship with India. The Chinese frontier guards do not want to cross swords. We have always held that the boundary should be settled by peaceful negotiation and that no armed clashes should have occurred. That is why we ceased fire and withdrew of our own initiative. Now, on our government's instructions, we return to you a quantity of captured arms ... as fresh evidence of our sincere wish for reconciliation."

At 3 p.m., the Indian representatives began to count the supplies item by item, checking on a list furnished by the Chinese in both Chinese and English, and assisted by fifteen captured Indian officers and men, who were released by the Chinese to take care of the weapons. All guns had been cleaned, all weapons and supplies neatly sorted and piled, dangerous articles especially marked, road-building, motor vehicles and tanks cleaned and filled with petrol.

"At the request of the Indians, Chinese soldiers started up and drove the U.S. tanks and two cars picked at random, to show that they were in good working order." (Note by ALS. And perhaps also to allay Indian suspicion that they might be booby-trapped.) Both sides signed the list and the Indian officials drove back to Bomdila in seven of the vehicles that had been handed over.

This impressively simple report is paralleled by a similar report from Walong, at the extreme eastern edge of the disputed area and of the Chinese advance, with only a few differences due to conditions. Because of Walong's distance from the main line, the supplies were smaller, and the Indian officials arrived in three helicopters instead of in jeeps. After handing over the weapons, the Chinese Lt.-Col. Chao informed the Indians: "A helicopter of yours was shot down at Chiva and has been entrusted to the headman of Sati. Please go and get it; it is in serviceable condition." The Indian representative Barluch then gave a receipt for the helicopter also, and shook the hand of the Chinese officer saying: "I thank you on behalf of my government."

The photos I have of Dirang Dzong show far more weapons than the Chinese could well have taken up the mountains. Their choice, realistically, lay between destroying, abandoning to the local tribes or giving to India. Some non-Chinese friends felt they might have given to the local tribes, largely hostile to India. China, it seems, was not "exporting revolution" by promoting disorder though she somewhat raised the status of tribal leaders by making them her go-betweens. She also showed to all a new kind of army. The Indians, fleeing Tawang and Walong, burned supplies and with them many people's houses. The Chinese PLA rebuilt houses and bridges for the people, helped reap the trampled harvests, cleaned the weapons, piled them neatly, and even, God knows where, got petrol for the tanks. It was peace they offered with order.

It was a message of friendship that recognized in India a multi-national state whose tribes China would not subvert even in the areas she claimed, yet beyond this she signalled a new kind of order to Indians and tribesmen alike. This, I think, is what the "five principles of coexistence" mean.