Nixon & Mao vs India: How American foreign policy did a U-turn about Communist China’s India aggression

Nixon & Mao vs India

How American foreign policy did a U-turn about Communist China’s India aggression. The Government of India should publish its official history of the 1962 war.



First published in The Sunday Statesman, Jan 6 2008, The Statesman Jan 7 2008

Editorial Page Special Article

THE 1972-74 conversations between Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger on one hand and Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping on the other, especially about India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, have been public for a few years now. They make disturbing reading for Indians and Bangladeshis, and for Pakistanis too who may be concerned about the political health of their country. Yahya Khan, Pakistan’s debauched military dictator, made the Nixon-Mao meeting possible and received much praise from Zhou and support from Nixon and Kissinger. Pakistan’s official assessment of Yahya following the 1971 military defeat and secession of Bangladesh was far more candid and truthful, giving the lie to the praise bestowed upon him by Nixon and Zhou in their conversation.

Nixon and Kissinger were decidedly second-rate intellects in political power who believed themselves first-rate ~ a dangerous circumstance. Their policy caused Chiang Kaishek’s Republic of China to be expelled from the UN, its veto-wielding seat taken by Mao’s People’s Republic. The Government of India, under influence of communist sympathisers like Krishna Menon, KM Pannikar, KPS Menon et al, had been pleading the same case at the UN since 1949/1950, rebuffed each time by American veto. Now Nixon and Kissinger yielded to the idea to the delight of Mao-Zhou, and ganged up with Pakistan’s military against democratic India and the new Bangladesh.

Nixon went to Beijing at a time the catastrophic American involvement in Vietnam had reached a peak ~ something that itself was an outcome of the Dulles-Nixon doctrine of a “domino effect” in South East Asia. The Americans failed to comprehend Vietnamese nationalism against France or recognise how that had been historically directed at imperial China. Nixon’s carpet-bombing of Cambodia in needless extension of the Vietnam conflict was to cause the rise to power of Pol Pot and his vicious Khmer Rouge (to remove whom Vietnam attacked, causing China to attack Vietnam in 1979).

Nixon was in Beijing in February 1972 ostensibly to seek Chinese cooperation in ending the Vietnam War, as well as opening an Eastern Front in the Cold War against the USSR. Nixon fancied himself a Metternich-like statesman whose wisdom and brilliance would redesign the international order for a century. What was plain to unsentimental observers was that his underlying purpose was greedy and hardly statesmanlike, namely, winning re-election in November 1972 by outflanking domestic left-wing criticism using photos of having been toasted by Mao himself. That Nixon was no Machiavelli, Metternich or Bismarck but more likely just delusional and paranoid came to be revealed in his subsequent political debacle over Watergate.

The US attitude towards China’s 1959-1962 aggression against India changed drastically because of Nixon’s Beijing visit. Tibet’s people and culture had not been attacked and brutalised by Chiang Kaishek’s Nationalist Army nor by India’s soldiers ~ the Mao-Zhou Communist war machine, fresh from their Korean adventures, did that. There would have been no border conflict between China and India today in 2008 if Communist China had not first invaded and occupied Tibet.

All such fundamental facts used to be perfectly clear to the Americans as to everyone else. India’s Defence Ministry’s excellent official history of the 1962 war acknowledges the vital aid sent by President Kennedy with the help of Ambassador Galbraith. Ten years later, in 1972, Nixon and Kissinger in Beijing changed all that completely and did a U-turn against India using the dubious book of a single journalist as cover for their dissimulation:

“ZHOU: …. Actually the five principles (of peaceful coexistence) were put forward by us, and Nehru agreed. But later on he didn’t implement them. In my previous discussions with Dr Kissinger, I mentioned a book by Neville Maxwell about the Indian war against us, which proves this.
NIXON: I read the book.
KISSINGER: I gave it to the President.
NIXON: I committed a faux pas ~ Dr Kissinger said it was ~ but I knew what I was doing. When Mrs Gandhi was in my office before going back, just before the outbreak of the (1971) war, I referred to that book and said it was a very interesting account of the beginning of the war between India and China. She didn’t react very favourably when I said that. (Zhou laughs)
ZHOU: Yes, but you spoke the truth. It wasn’t faux pas. Actually that event was instigated by Khrushchev. He encouraged them. In looking at 1962, the events actually began in 1959. Why did he go to Camp David? In June of that year, before he went to Camp David, he unilaterally tore up the nuclear agreements between China and the Soviet Union. And after that there were clashes between Chinese and Indian troops in the western part of Sinkiang, the Aksai Chin area. In that part of Sinkiang province there is a high plateau. The Indian-occupied territory was at the foot of the Karakorums, and the disputed territory was on the slope in between.
KISSINGER: It’s what they call Ladakh.
NIXON: They attacked up the mountains.
ZHOU: We fought them and beat them back, with many wounded. But the TASS Agency said that China had committed the aggression against India…..They just don’t want to listen to reason. Anyway, the TASS Agency account had the effect of encouraging India. And also Maxwell mentioned in the book that in 1962 the Indian Government believed what the Russians told them that we, China, would not retaliate against them. Of course we won’t send our troops outside our borders to fight against other people. We didn’t even try to expel Indian troops from the area south of the McMahon Line, which China doesn’t recognize, by force. But if (Indian) troops come up north of the McMahon Line, and come even further into Chinese territory, how is it possible for us to refrain from retaliating? We sent three open telegrams to Nehru asking him to make a public reply, but he refused. He was so discourteous; he wouldn’t even do us the courtesy of replying, so we had no choice but to drive him out. You know all the other events in the book, so I won’t describe them, but India was encouraged by the Soviet Union to attack.
NIXON: I would like to ask the Prime Minister a question with regard to Bangladesh recognition. We have delayed recognition though Britain and other countries have done so.
ZHOU: France has also recognised Bangladesh.
NIXON: Before we make a decision on that, we have tried to find the attitude of (Zulfikar Ali) Bhutto. And Bhutto indicated he does not object to recognition. In fact he could see that we would have some advantage in not leaving the field clear to the Soviet Union in that region. It is our understanding that India is supposed to withdraw all its forces from Bangladesh by the 24th of March. And based on what we have for consideration, we have for consideration the possibility of recognising Bangladesh about that time….”
“ZHOU: …. we truly wish to see (India) truly withdraw their troops in East Pakistan, now called Bangladesh. We wish to see them truly do this and not just with words. Of course they can only do that superficially, because if they get some Bengali forces to remain and join Mujibar Rahman, there would be no way to be sure because the Bengalis all look the same. But that would trouble to the future of India and Mrs Gandhi herself. The Indians said they have no territorial ambitions, but the development of events is that they have remained in their place and refused to withdraw. Once again we can only cite the events of Indian aggression in the 1962 war. At that time our troops pressed to the foothills quite close to Tezpur in Assam, and when they reached that place, Chairman Mao ordered that all troops should turn back. We turned back to the Indians ~ this is in Maxwell’s book ~ and we withdrew all troops back north of the so-called McMahon Line because one must show one can be trusted and must not wait for others to act…. India should withdraw its troops from the areas it is occupying in West Pakistan, and Pakistan should also withdraw from the lesser areas it occupies in India. Bhutto agrees. These two things, at least, the Indian side should abide by. If the US recognises Bangladesh after this situation is brought about, then we believe this would raise the prestige of the US in the United Nations.
After all, what you want is to bring about the withdrawal of all troops from Bangladesh and West Pakistan. Also, you will be able to encourage Mr Bhutto and give him some assistance. That is what they need. You said your actions should be parallel to ours, and we don’t mind that. We said this both to Yahya, the former President, and to the present President. Both of us owe something to Yahya, although he didn’t show much statesmanship in leading his country, for (bridging) the link between our two countries.
NIXON: He is a bridge.
ZHOU: We should not forget and we cannot forget, especially that Dr Kissinger was able through him to come secretly for talks here. And when a man makes a contribution to the world, we should remember him.
KISSINGER: Actually the President sent a message to Bhutto that he should treat Yahya well in retirement and we would not look favourably on any retribution. It was a personal message from Pakistan.
ZHOU: …. At the time of the ceasefire they (the Pakistanis) still had 80,000 troops in East Pakistan. It was not a situation in which they couldn’t keep fighting….. Yahya should have concentrated his troops to win a victory, and once the Indians had suffered a defeat they would have stopped because West Bengal was not very secure either. So at that time even our Vice Foreign Minister still believed they could win the war. Bhutto too…. .
KISSINGER: (Reading from a cable) Mr President, you were speaking of military shipments. We have information that the Soviet Union has shipped since November 150 tanks from Poland and 100 armored personnel carriers from Czechoslovakia. They were shipped in two ships each month in November and December. In January a third ship was to bring military equipment to India.
NIXON: To India?
NIXON: The problem is to find some way that West Pakistan can find some military equipment and assistance. On our side, what we will do is to supply substantial amounts of economic assistance to West Pakistan. That would enable West Pakistan to ~ we would think in the interest of its defence ~ to acquire arms from other sources. As a matter of fact, that is the tragedy of our policy in India. We supplied almost 10 billion dollars in assistance to India in the last 20 years ~ very little was military assistance, it was economic ~ and that relieved India so it could purchase very substantial amounts of arms from the Soviet Union, and also manufacture arms. That was not our intent, but that’s what happened. With regard to our aid to India on this point ~ economic assistance ~ we are going to move in a very measured way. I am resisting considerable pressure from the public and the press to rush in and resume economic assistance at former levels. We are going to wait and see what India does with regard to the border problem and our relations generally.
ZHOU: And India actually is a bottomless hole. (Nixon laughs)
NIXON: When the Prime Minister referred to the problem India has with Bangladesh, as I look at India’s brief history, it has had enough trouble trying to digest West Bengal. If now it tries to digest East Bengal it may cause indigestion which could be massive.
ZHOU: That’s bound to be so. It is also a great pity that the daughter (Madame Gandhi) has also taken as her legacy the philosophy of her father embodied in the book Discovery of India (in English). Have you read it?
KISSINGER: He was thinking of a great India empire?
ZHOU: Yes, he was thinking of a great Indian empire ~ Malaysia, Ceylon, etc. He would probably also include our Tibet. When he was writing that book in a British prison, but one reserved for gentlemen in Darjeeling. Nehru told me himself that the prison was in Sikkim, facing the Himalayan mountains. At the time I hadn’t read the book, but my colleague Chen Yi had, and called it to my attention. He said it was precisely the spirit of India which was embodied in the book. Later on when I read it I had the same thought.
NIXON: …. Germany and Japan, received US aid…. why (they) have done so well, it is because they have qualities of drive and are willing to work hard, whereas some other countries we have helped do not have this quality. This brings me to the point: it is not the help that is provided a country that counts, it is whether the people of that country have the will to use this help. If they don’t have that, the money just goes down a rathole. A pretty good example is aid to India. (Zhou laughs)… India is not able to do much with aid because as compared with Japan, it does not have the drive, or the spirit of determination that the Japanese people have…..”

Every Bangladeshi knows the causal role Z A Bhutto had in Pakistan’s civil war yet it is upon the word of such a man that Nixon’s recognition of their nation seemed based. The famous “Archer Blood telegram” by the American Consul-General in Dhaka reporting the genocidal Yahya-Tikka assault on East Pakistan starting March 25 1971 meant nothing to Nixon and Kissinger. Benazir retained her charm in Washington’s power circles because she was Bhutto’s daughter. Similarly, as recently as the 1999 Kargil conflict, Bill Clinton flatteringly referred to China for advice on how to deal with India and Pakistan.

Perversely enough, many in New Delhi, Kolkata etc express so much confused love for both China and the United States that they have accepted as their own the biased baseless opinions about India expressed by Nixon, Kissinger and the Communist Chinese. They would do well to read instead the Defence Ministry’s excellently researched historical account of the 1962 war, which the Government of India should not only publish properly at once but have translated into Mandarin as well.

Dr Manmohan Singh has as recently as 29 November 2007 expressed the opinion: “The type of leadership that China has produced since the days of Deng, I think, is the greatest asset that China has”. Dr Singh might have said, but did not, that China’s greatest asset has been in fact the preservation of Confucian values despite decades of communist tyranny and destruction. With such deep misapprehension about post-1949 China on the part of India’s present Head of Government, it may be unlikely that New Delhi or Kolkata acquires a realistic view of our neighbour or of a healthy China-India relationship in the 21st Century.


Understanding China

Understanding China

The World Needs to Ask China to Find Her True Higher Self

by Subroto Roy

First published in The Statesman, October 22 2007, Editorial Page Special Article,

The most important factors explaining China’s progress since the deaths of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai have been the spread and quick absorption of modern Western technology under conditions of relative peace and tranquillity. The “capitalist road” came to be taken after all and the once-denounced Liu Shaoqui was posthumously rehabilitated by his shrewd old friend Deng Xiaoping.

To be sure, the new technology itself has combined with democratic hatred felt by young Chinese against the corrupt elitist police-state gerontocracy, and this produced first a Wei Jingsheng and Democracy Wall and later the Tiananmen Square protests. There have been also in recent years many thousands of incidents of peasants resisting State-sponsored brutality, fighting to prevent their lands being stolen in the name of purported capitalist industrialisation, in an economy where, as in India, land is an appreciating asset and the paper-currency remains weak because inflation by money-printing is the basis of public finance. China’s multitudinous domestic tensions continue to boil over as if in a cauldron, and it seems inevitable Chinese Gorbachevs and Yeltsins will one day emerge from within the Communist Party to try to begin the long political march towards multiparty democracy and a free society ~ though of course they may fail too, and China will remain condemned to being a dictatorship of one sort or other for centuries more.

Absence of war

What has been seen in recent decades is the relative absence of war. The last military war the Chinese fought was a month-long battle against fellow-Communist Vietnamese in 1979, after Vietnam had run over and destroyed the Chinese (and Western) backed Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Before that, fellow-Communists of the USSR were fought in a border war in 1969. Before that was the border-war with India in 1959-1963 and occupation of Tibet 1950-1959.

The really savage, fierce large-scale fighting in 20th Century Chinese history was seen in the Second Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945, the Civil War of 1945-1949 and the Korean War of 1950-1953. The occupation of Tibet and fighting against India resulting from Tibet’s occupation were really, from a Chinese Communist point of view, merely light follow-ups to those major wars of the Mao-Zhou era, especially fighting the USA and UN in Korea. Peaceful Tibet and naïve non-violent India stood no chance against the aggressive highly experienced Mao-Zhou war-machine at the time.

It may even be that Mao could live only with incessant external tumult ~ after fighting military wars, he orchestrated domestic conflicts in the Little and Great Leap Forward of 1949-1963 and Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of 1964-1969, all among the failures of a cruel ill-educated man who led his people into social, political and economic disaster from which trauma they have been slowly recovering over the last thirty years.

Today, Communist China’s military is geared to fight the non-Communist Chinese of Taiwan in a continuation of the Civil War. It seems unlikely there will be an actual invasion for the simple reason that Taiwan, though much smaller, may not suffer eventual defeat but instead inflict a mortal wound upon invading forces. Mao succeeded in driving Chiang Kaishek across the Taiwan Straits but it is post-Chiang Taiwan that displays the model of how strong, prosperous, democratic and self-confident Chinese people really can strive to be in the modern world. Everyone agrees Taiwan and China must one day unite ~ the interesting question is whether Taiwan will get absorbed into China or whether China shall take Taiwan as its new model! Just as Liu Shaoqi had the last word over Mao on the question of taking the capitalist road, Chiang Kaishek may yet have the last word over Mao on the best constitutional method for modern China’s governance.

Peculiarly enough, China’s Kuomintang and Communists were both allies of Russian Bolshevism (not unlike India’s Congress Party and Communists). Sun Yatsen’s collaboration with Comintern’s founders began as early as 1921. By 1923 there was a formal agreement and Stalin sent Gruzenberg (alias Borodin) to China as an adviser, while Sun sent many including Chiang to Russia on learning expeditions. “In reorganising the party, we have Soviet Russia as our model, hoping to achieve a real revolutionary success”, said Sun hopefully. But by March 1926, Sun’s successor Chiang, had begun purging Communists from the Kuomintang-Communist alliance; in July 1927 Borodin returned to Russia after failing at reconciliation; and by July 1928 Chiang had unified China under his own leadership, and Moscow had repudiated the Kuomintang and ordered Chinese Communists to revolt, starting the Civil War and instability that invited the vicious Japanese aggression and occupation.

China’s problems today with Taiwan and with Tibet (and hence with India) will not come to be resolved until China looks hard in the mirror and begins to resolve her problems with herself. No major country today possesses a more factually distorted image of its own history, politics and economics than does China since the Communist takeover of 1949. “Protect the country, destroy the foreigner” was the motto of the Boxer revolts in 1900, a natural defensive reaction to the depredations and humiliations that Manchu-dynasty China suffered at the hands of the British, French, Germans, Russians, Japanese etc for more than a century. The Boxer motto seemed to implicitly drive Mao, Deng and his modern successors too ~ hence the “One China” slogan, the condemnation of “splittism” etc. But the ideology that Mao, Liu, Deng et al developed out of Stalin, Lenin and Marx seems base and stupid when it is unsentimentally compared to the great political philosophy and ethics of ancient China, which emerged out of wise men like Mo Tzu, Meng Ko (Mencius) and the greatest genius of them all, K’ung Fu Tzu, Confucius himself, undoubtedly among the few greatest men of world history.


India has not been wrong to acknowledge Outer Tibet as being under China’s legal suzerainty nor in encouraging endogenous political reform among our Tibetan cousins. The Anglo-Russian treaty of 1907 undertook that Tibet would not be dealt with except through China, and the Indian Republic has been the legal successor of British India. Lhasa may be legitimately under Beijing as far as international relations goes ~ the more profound question is whether Beijing’s Communists since 1949 have not been themselves less than legitimate, and if so whether they can now transform themselves in the post Mao-Zhou era through good deeds towards greater legitimacy.

The root problem between China and India has not been the Tibet-India border which was almost always a friendly one and never a problem even when it remained imprecise and undefined over centuries. The root problem has been the sheer greed and aggressiveness of Chinese Communists ~ who now demand not merely Aksai Chin but also a minimum of some 2000 sq km of Tawang and Takpa Shiri in Arunachal. The CIA’s 1959 map of the region, which would be acceptable to the USA, UK, Taiwan and the international community in general as depicting the lawful position, shows the Communist Chinese territorial claim to be baseless and Indian position to be justified.

Nehru’s India was naïve to approach the Mao-Zhou Communists with the attitude of ahimsa and a common Buddhism. But Mao-Zhou Communism is dead, and the Deng capitalist road itself has lost its ethical way. What India and the world need to do now is ask China or help guide China to find her true higher self. China’s Tibet problem and hence border-dispute with India would have been solved peacefully by application of the ways of great men like Confucius, Mencius and Mo Tzu, who are and will remain remembered by mankind long after petty cruel modern dictators like Mao, Zhou and Deng have been long forgotten. Why China’s Communist bosses despise Taiwan may be because Taiwan has sought to preserve that memory of China’s true higher self.

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