Revisiting the Sino-Indian war

Tokyo

Brahma Chellaney’s Oct. 19 opinion piece, “Lessons of the Sino-Indian war,” on the Sino-Indian frontier war of October 1962, accusing Beijing of surprise and unprovoked aggression against India, seriously distorts the facts.

I was China desk officer in Canberra’s foreign ministry when the fighting broke out. Throughout 1962 we had been concerned over clashes taking place along the full length of the Sino-Indian Himalayan border as Indian troops probed Chinese defenses.

In the east, the line separating Chinese and Indian troops — the McMahon Line — had also come under pressure. On Oct. 12, India said it would send troops into a contested area, the Dhola Strip, which both Chinese and Western maps had shown as north of the McMahon Line. Eight days later Chinese troops crossed the Thagla Ridge into the Strip and on Oct. 24 called for a ceasefire. Failing to get a proper reply, the troops advanced further south into the NEFA (North East Frontier Area), which China had been claiming in its frontier negotiations (the area has a large Tibetan population).

Two weeks later, having defeated the Indians, China withdrew its troops to the McMahon Line, returning to India all the weapons it had captured. Chinese troops also cleared Indian posts and troops from other contested areas in the western Ladakh portion of the border.

In cables to London and Washington I was able to confirm for Canberra our understanding of how the clash had occurred. At the time we concluded that India was foolish not to have accepted Beijing’s apparent willingness to trade its NEFA claim for the Ladakh claim. In a significant hardening of its position China’s claim now extends well into the Tibetan populated area of NEFA.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

gregory clark