German Historians Discover Logic Behind Communist Military Strategy
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, Nov 5 2007
There are four main aspects to the China-Tibet-India problem over the last century, some of which are only now becoming apparent. The first is historical prior to the 1949 Communist takeover, in which the British, Tibetans and Kuomintang were participants in background discussion and events. The second is historical too, namely, the appeasement by Nehru and his diplomats of the Mao-Zhou Communists and betrayal of normal Tibetan and Indian interests in the period 1949-1959. The third is political, to do with reaction, confusion and conflict among Indian Communists leading to the CPI/CPI-M split in response to Communist attacks upon Tibet and India. The fourth is military, to do with the 1962 war itself, the nature of the surprise Chinese attack and Indian defeat.
A 1954 Beijing publication not only claimed Tibet but alleged vast areas of Asia to be Chinese: Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, NEFA (Arunachal), Assam, the Andaman Islands, Burma (Myanmar), Malaya, Singapore, Thailand, Indo-China, the Sulu Islands, the Ryukyus, Korea, Formosa (Taiwan), the whole of East Turkestan (Sinkiang), Kazakhstan, Siberia west of the Amur River, maritime provinces east of the Amur down to Vladivostok, and Sakhalin (viz., Coral Bell in FS Northedge (ed) Foreign Policies of the Powers, 1973).
America’s CIA reported in a secret 1962 analysis, declassified in May 2007, that the Left faction of India’s Communists had been repeating what Mao Zedong said to Ajoy Ghosh: “that Tibet, Sikkim, Bhutan, and NEFA are provinces peopled by the same race, that China had a historic right to these territories, that the McMahon line was not valid, and that the Indian government’s raising of ‘the bogey of Chinese aggression’ had resulted from its realisation that Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and India would be deeply affected by the social and economic revolution in Tibet” (CIA The Indian Communist Party and the Sino-Soviet Dispute, Feb 1962, page 76). Referring to Chinese designs on Mongolia, Kruschev’s USSR condemned its fellow-Communists: “… The true schemes of the Chinese leaders (are) obvious. They are permeated through and through with great-power chauvinism and hegemonism”, Pravda 2 Sep 1964, quoted by Bell, op.cit.
China’s 1962 India war was rationally consistent with carrying out precisely such an expansionist policy in Sinkiang and Tibet. As the German historians Hermann Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund have stated most succinctly, the NEFA conflict was merely a deliberate diversionary tactic which has worked brilliantly for decades:
“The consolidation of the Chinese hold on Tibet, as well as on other areas of Central Asia… (required military infrastructure) to maintain it and a ring road was constructed which led from China to Tibet and from there via the Karakorum Range to Sinkiang and Mongolia and then back to China. At a crucial point some Indian territory (Aksai Chin) obstructed this connection. Beyond Aksai Chin was the terrible desert, Takla Makan, which was a major obstacle. Faced with the dilemma of violating Indian territory or getting stuck in the desert, the Chinese opted for the first course and quietly built a road through Aksai Chin. In the meantime, they provoked incidents on the northeastern border so as to divert attention from their real aims. They also published maps which showed the border in Assam at the foot of the mountains rather than on the watershed. The watershed line had been settled by the McMahon border commission, which had also included a Chinese delegate who initialled the protocol, although it was not subsequently ratified by the Chinese government. Actually, there was no disagreement about the watershed line at that time when debate was focused on a different line, supposed to divide Tibet into an Inner and Outer Tibet on the same pattern as Inner and Outer Mongolia. Inner Tibet was to be under Chinese influence and Outer Tibet under British influence. But Communist China made use of the fact that the agreement had not been ratified and accused India of clinging to the imperialist heritage with regard to the Himalayan boundary. This harping on the legal position in the northeast was a tactical move made in order to build up a bargaining position with regard to Aksai Chin where the Chinese could not raise similar claims… Finally, a border war broke out in October 1962. It was a typical demonstration war conducted with great finesse by the Chinese. They completely perplexed the Indian generals by pushing a whole division through the mountains down to the valley of Assam and withdrawing it again as quickly as it had come. The Indian strategic concept of defending the Himalayan boundary by cutting off the supply lines of the enemy if it ventured too far beyond the border could not be put into operation: the Chinese were gone before the supply lines could be cut. But why did they do this? They wanted to divert attention from their moves in the northwest, where they did reach the Karakorum Pass in a swift offensive and did not withdraw as they had done in the east.” (History of India, 1998, pp 321-322).
Chinese casualties were some 1,460 dead, 1,697 wounded, Indian casualties some 3,128 dead, 3,968 captured, 548 wounded, each as reported by itself. JK Galbraith, the friendliest and fairest observer India may have hoped for, found our Army populated by “tragically old-fashioned” peacetime generals full of bluster, while brave soldiers under them remained woefully ill-equipped and came to be outgunned and out-manoeuvred.
Mao Zedong’s racist reference to the people populating NEFA being of Chinese origin was misguided, even nonsensical. On such a basis, China might claim Japan or Korea next, as might West Africa claim sovereignty over North and South American blacks or Mongolia over Turks and Afghans. NEFA’s five administrative divisions ~ Kameng, Subansiri, Siang, Lohit and Tirap ~ are populated by indigenous animistic tribes including the Momba, Mishmi, Abor, Miri, Dafla and Aka, each with defined areas. The 1883 Survey of India showed these areas administered de facto by British India from Assam. The 1908 Edinburgh Geographical Institute’s map by JG Bartholomew showed most of the same to be part of Bhutan, a British Indian protectorate, as did earlier 18th Century maps.
Less than legitimate
Communist China’s claims of sovereignty over NEFA (Arunachal) in any case derive from its claims of sovereignty over Tibet. Britain, India and other nations guided by international law have allowed that Lhasa, though long independent, may acknowledge Chinese suzerainty ~ but only subject to the condition of traditional autonomy. The 1907 Anglo-Russian Treaty stipulated Tibet would be dealt with officially through China, leading to the Henry McMahon Commission of 1914 which followed the normal international cartographic practise of the watershed defining the boundary in NEFA. That came to be generally followed by British and Indian maps of NEFA since. The CIA’s official 1959 map of the region concurred and the United States Government explicitly instructed Galbraith, its New Delhi Ambassador during the 1962 war, that the American position was the same as the British and Indian. There appears to be no record of any serious Chinese cartography of the region ever ~ Chinese maps prior to 1935 agreeing with the British Indian position but disputing it afterwards, placing Tibet’s boundary along the margin of the Assam plain. China was ravaged by war, civil war and revolutionary excesses during much of the 20th Century and hardly had well-preserved national archives at a time when its own capital and central government was changing several times.
China’s Communists, being themselves in political power for decades somewhat less than legitimately as a one-party dictatorship, have been loath to admit all such inconvenient facts, and instead continue in their hegemonic mode. A new liberal democratic China guided by law on the Taiwan pattern may have to be awaited before this conflict comes to be resolved.
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August 21, 2010 at 5:49 pm
I found this analysis very interesting. Neville Maxwell in his book ‘India’s China War’ holds a different view.
August 21, 2010 at 9:03 pm
I thank Mr Saha and say that the title of my article was indeed inspired by the book he mentions; the author of that book is mentioned in https://independentindian.com/2009/01/01/indias-archives-must-be-opened-to-world-standards/