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?
KISSINGER: 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.
War between China and Taiwan would lead to nothing but disaster all around. Everyone recognises this yet China’s military and political establishment threaten it sporadically when provoked by Taiwan’s leaders, and both sides continue to arm heavily and plan for such a contingency. China’s military is mostly congregated in its North West, North, East and South East with between one third and one half of its total forces facing Taiwan alone in an aggressive posture for an amphibious invasion. Taiwan faces 900 Chinese missiles targeted at it. China’s South West has been left relatively unguarded as no threat has been perceived from India or the Tibetans in fifty years.
The 23 million people of Taiwan have made themselves relatively secure across the 100 miles of sea that separate them from the Mainland. A sea-borne Communist invasion following a heavy missile barrage and blockade would undoubtedly leave the Taiwanese badly bruised and bleeding. But there is enough experience from World War II to suggest that trying to invade and occupy islands turns out as badly for the invader as it does for the defender. The Taiwanese military are confident they may be able to defeat an attempted invasion after two or three weeks of fierce fighting even if their promised American ally fails to materialize by their side.
In any case, for China to succeed in forcibly establishing its rule someday over Taiwan would be a pyrrhic victory, since it would lead to tremendous political and economic costs upon all Chinese people. Gaining control after a terrible war would rule out the Hong Kong “One Country Two Systems” model, with nominal Chinese sovereignty being established over an otherwise unchanged Taiwan. Instead the Chinese would have to institute a highly repressive political system, which will incorrigibly damage Taiwan’s flourishing technologically advanced economy, as well as lead to drastic irreparable political and economic retrogression on the Mainland.
Political repression will lead backwards again to the long-gone era of Mao-Zhou communism, displacing the glacial positive trends seen since Deng Xiaoping. Foreign confidence and investment would vanish, boycotts may cause China to lose lucrative and hard-earned new markets in the USA, Europe and Asia, as the world recoiled from the bloodshed to wait to see what the new repression led up to. The Chinese Communist Party (CPC), tiny as it is in size compared to China’s vast population, would become much weakened and lose whatever little confidence it has among an increasingly modern- minded and aware Chinese public. Occupying Taiwan in the 21st Century will not be a tea-party.
The alternative to war is “peaceful reunification” which is the official policy of the CPC, and which also has been a major plank of United States foreign policy since the time of George C Marshall. Unlike Britain, Japan, Russia, France, Germany, even Sweden and Belgium, the Americans were not among the 19th Century powers that exploited China, and that is something that has left some residual goodwill, implicit as it may be, since all Chinese despise the fact their country was humiliated by greedy foreign powers in the past. The USA has subscribed to “One China” and peaceful unification even after its cynical near-betrayal of Taiwan since 1972, having normal diplomatic and trade relations with Communist China while agreeing to help Taiwan if the Communists attempted a military invasion.
Communist China’s strategy towards peaceful reunification with Taiwan has been unlimited allurement: offer Taiwanese businessmen a free hand in investing in China, offer Taiwan students places in Mainland universities, offer Taiwanese airlines flying rights etc. The Taiwanese see their giant ominous neighbour offering such allurements on one hand and threatening a missile attack and invasion and occupation on the other, as if they are animals who will respond to the carrots and sticks of behaviourism.
Taiwan in recent decades has seen its own history and future much more clearly than it sees the Communists being able to see theirs. A marriage can hardly occur or be stable when the self-knowledge of one party greatly exceeds the self-knowledge of the other. It is thus no wonder that the Taiwan-China talks get stalled or retrogress, as the root problem has failed to be addressed which has to do with the political legitimacy of a combined regime.
Political China consisted historically of the agricultural plains and river-valleys of “China Proper” and the arid sparsely populated mountainous periphery of Inner Mongolia, Tibet and Sinkiang. The native people of Formosa (Taiwan) had their own unique character distinct from the Mainland until 1949 when Chiang Kaishek’s Kuomintang moved there after being defeated by Mao Zedong’s Communists.
Today the Hong Kong Model of “One Country Two Systems” can be generalized to “One Commonwealth/ Confederation of China, Six Systems”, whose constituents would be Mainland China, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), Chinese Hong Kong, Tibet, Sinkiang and Inner Mongolia. A difference between a commonwealth and a confederation is that a commonwealth permits different heads of state whereas a confederation would have one head of state, who, in view of Mainland China’s predominance, could be agreed upon to be from there permanently.
Taiwan is the key to the peaceful creation of such a Chinese commonwealth or confederation, and Taiwan may certainly agree to “reunification” on such a pattern on one key condition ~ the abolition of totalitarian Communist one-party rule on the Mainland.
The CPC’s parent party was the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party which became the Bolshevik Party which became the All-Union Communist Party in 1925. This still exists today but to its great credit it agreed sixteen years ago, more or less voluntarily, to abandon totalitarian power and bring in constitutional democracy in the former USSR. East European Communist Parties did the same, mostly transforming themselves back to becoming Social Democrat or Labour Parties ~ so much so that Germany’s present elected head of government is a former East German.
Hearts and minds
Mainland China must follow a similar path if it wishes to win the hearts and minds and political loyalties of all Chinese people and form a genuine confederation ~ which means the CPC must lead the way towards its own peaceful dissolution and transformation.
Historically, China’s people followed an admixture of three non-theistic religious cultures, namely, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, individually choosing whichever aspects of each that they wished to see in their daily lives. Lamaist Buddhism governed Tibet and Mongolia and deeply affected parts of Mainland China too. China’s theists include the Uighurs of Sinkiang who were and remain devout Muslims, as well as the many Catholics and other Christians since the first Jesuits arrived five hundred years ago. Sun Yatsen himself was a Christian. Marx, Engels, Stalin, Mao and even Deng have never really been able to substitute as a satisfactory new Chinese pantheon.
A free multi-party democracy in Mainland China, flying the Republican or some combined flag and tracing its origin to the 1911 Revolution, even one in which Communists won legitimate political power through free elections (as has been seen in India’s States), would earn the genuine respect of the world, and be able to confidently lead a new Chinese Confederation. The Chinese people who have been often forced against their will to resettle in Tibet and Sinkiang under the present totalitarian regime would be free to move or stay just as there are many Russians in Ukraine or Kazakhstan today. And of course the Dalai Lama would be able to return home in peace after half a century in exile. Freedom is the road to the peaceful resolution of China’s problems. Let freedom ring.
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