The Sino-Indian War Was “A Masterstroke That Placed China as the Leader of the Third World”

22 October 2017

More than 55 years ago, on 20 October 1962, China launched a series of attacks on Indian positions in the former North Eastern Frontier Agency—present-day Arunachal Pradesh—in the eastern front, and in the Aksai Chin region on the western front. Both regions formed part of the disputed territories along the border between the two countries. The attacks marked the beginning of the Sino-Indian War, which ended unexpectedly a few weeks later. On 21 November, China declared a unilateral ceasefire and withdrew to a position 20 kilometres north of the Line of Actual Control—the disputed border between the two nations.

In the aftermath of the war, India was largely perceived as the provocateur, due to the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s Forward Policy, as part of which India allegedly established a string of outposts on and beyond the Line of Actual Control. This narrative gained currency after the release of Neville Maxwell’s 1970 book, India’s China War. Maxwell, a journalist, said he had received access to classified intelligence reports. In the book, he argued that China’s offensive was triggered by India’s decision to set up an outpost in Dhola, in the eastern front of the border, which had been dormant until then.  

Nearly 50 years after Maxwell’s book, Bertil Litner, a journalist and author, has written an alternative account of the war in his 2017 book China’s India War. Lintner argues that China began planning the war as early as 1959. He writes that he accessed the classified documents on which Maxwell based his arguments, and that they “state little more than that India was ill-prepared for the war.” In the following extract from the book, Lintner argues that the motivation to attack India was not a response to India’s outpost in Dhola, but a part of China’s strategy to establish its international political dominance.

It is also astonishing to note how many Western writers, not only Maxwell and Alastair Lamb, have decided to accept China’s crude propaganda and fanciful interpretations of the border conflict and related issues such as the reason for the war in 1962. This could be because Lamb and the others who accept the Chinese view do indeed present the issues in “much clearer and persuasive terms than the Beijing Government,” to quote the Berkeley professor Leo E Rose. In other words, they present the general Chinese view minus crazed outbursts about “Indian expansionists,” “British imperialists,” and “traitorous and subversive Tibetan cliques.”

The claim that Indian troop movements around the Dhola Post and some skirmishes between the Indians and the Chinese in mid-October determined the timing of the attack is part of this twisted interpretation of the causes of the 1962 War. A much more plausible explanation is that an event that was taking place far from the Indian subcontinent made the Chinese decide that 20 October would be the most appropriate day to launch an attack and that, of course, was the Cuban missile crisis, which lasted from 22 to 28 October.

Bertil Lintner is an author and journalist who is currently with Asia Times Online and Asia Pacific Media Services. Lintner has written 17 books on Asian politics and history.

Keywords: china Third World Sino-Indian War North East Frontier Agency Cuban missile crisis Aksai Chin