The 1962 war with India has been described as ‘a complete victory’ and is often cited as a ‘lesson’ taught to India.
Recently, starting from 7 January 2022, observersnews.com has been featuring excerpts from a newly published book entitled 《中印边境自卫反击作战一百问》(One Hundred Questions on Counterattack in Self Defense along the China–India Border) in a special feature dedicated to mark the 60th anniversary of the China-India border war. The book is written by Zhang Xiaokang, younger daughter of Zhang Guohua, the general who led People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) assault on Tibet in 1950-51, headed the committee that negotiated the 17-point agreement on Tibet with China, and was the field commander of the PLA’s attack in the Eastern Sector during the 1962 India-China war. With nationalistic fervours on the rise in China, and the prolonged military confrontation in the Western Sector of the India-China boundary, the publication is yet another war cry for the PLA after last year’s war movie, The Battle at Lake Changjin (Chosin Reservoir)《长津湖》and this year’s The Battle at Lake Changjin II《水门桥》on the Korean War, in which China sustained heavy losses and three companies of PLA “volunteers” froze to death. In contrast, the 1962 war with India has been described as “a complete victory” and often cited as a “lesson” taught to India. As regards the choice of using “counterattack in self-defense”, in true Confucian tradition of “rectification of names” the decision was taken on 3 December 1962, according to the article.
Going by the three excerpts that have appeared in Chinese media, the book is mostly on the lines of official and unofficial histories on India-China war such as《中印边境自卫反击战争史》 (History of China’s counter attack in self-defence along the Sino-Indian border), 《中印大战纪实1962》 (Records of the 1962 Sino-Indian War),《喜马拉雅山的雪》 (Snow of the Himalayas) published in the 1990s. According to the first article published on 7 January 2022, in order to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the “counterattack in self-defence” on the Sino-Indian border, Zhang Xiaokang organized war history researchers to compile this book on the basis of first-hand information and interviews with the veterans who had participated in the war. It says that though considerable time has passed, but the war has not been forgotten with the passage of time. In China, the article says that “generations of soldiers and military enthusiasts have always held a strong interest in the counterattack operation” of 1962, and have wondered how it was possible for the PLA “to annihilate more than seven brigades of the Indian army’s most elite forces in just a few days”, and some other questions such as why did the PLA “retreat unilaterally on the day of victory”, why did the PLA “release Indian prisoners of war and return their weapons and equipment” and many more are asked and answered perhaps on the lines of existing literature. The article has attempted to understand the nitty-gritty of the war from three facets, namely, “direction of the operation and command structure”, “stages of the operation and troop deployment”, and “outcome of the operation and strategic significance.”
The “counterattack” operation, according to the first article, was carried out under the unified command of Chairman Mao and the Central Military Commission along the two strategic directions of the eastern (1100 kilometres) and western (600 kilometres) fronts. The frontline command post of the Tibet Military Region was located at Ma Magou, Cuona County of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) headed by Zhang Guohua. The post was coordinating with Lhasa, the base command centre of the Tibet Military Region headed by Tan Guansan. The frontline command was located at Banggang, north of Tawang. It also gives details of other members associated with the operations at different levels. In the Western Sector, the command centre of the Xinjiang Military Region was at Kangxiwa headed by He Jiachan. Combat operation along the western front was divided into four defence areas, namely, Tiantian, Heweitan, Kongkashankou and Ali defence areas.
The operations are divided into two stages, i.e., from 20 October 1962 and 18 November 1962, and the closure dates are different along both the sectors. The directions of the combat in Eastern Sector were primarily in Kejielang (Khinzemane) and Tawang areas under 419 Unit (equivalent to 1 infantry division), and auxiliary operations under Chamdo Linzhi and Shannan military divisions. The direction of the operations in the western front was under the unified command of the 3rd Battalion of the 10th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Army Division, the 3rd Battalion of the 11th Infantry Regiment, the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, and the 2nd Infantry Regiment. The troop deployment, according to the article, was successful in annihilating each of the four battalions of the 114th Indian Infantry Brigade, and ejecting them from the 37 strongholds in the “occupied territories.” In the second stage, the main battle campaigns were, Xishankou-Bandila (Bomdilla) and Walong and some other smaller campaigns carried out by the Nyingchi Military Division in places such as Mechuka and Rimi, Jin, and Bolang, etc., areas, thus restoring the “traditional customary line.” In the Western Sector, remaining six strongholds of the Indian Army were also destroyed subsequently.
As regards fatalities, these remain same as declared by the earlier official accounts of the war. Indian fatalities and captured have been given as 4,885 and 3,968 respectively, whereas the PLA fatalities and wounded have been put at 722 and 1,697 respectively. Battles of Kejielang and Xishankou-Bandila are considered “big victories at a small price” (以小的代价夺取了大的胜利), accounting for 79% of annihilation rate of the Indian forces. The killing of Brigadier Hoshiar Singh and capture of Brigadier John Dalvi, also figures prominently in the narration. Brigadier Dalvi’s dramatic capture has been narrated in the third article published on 21 January 2022, a few paragraphs from his Himalayan Blunder have also been reproduced. Dalvi is quoted saying upon his capture that “you eliminated a brigade within 24 hours, which is rare in the world.”
The above-mentioned statistics have been considered as authentic, however, if corroborated with the PLA’s narration in other war histories, they are contradictory. Consider the following passage about the PLA campaign in the Western Sector from the Snow of the Himalayas: Sino-Indian War Records (1991) by Sun Xiao, a PLA officer: “…From the very beginning of the war, the firepower of the Indian army was extremely fierce. After two hours of fierce fighting, though the Chinese army occupied Galwan Valley, but the price it paid was too heavy. 874 Chinese soldiers fell on the icy snow of this river valley. It was not until the beginning of the1980s that the bodies of more than 800 soldiers were brought back from the frozen snow.” As regards the killing of Brigadier Hoshiar Singh, the official account of the 1962 war by S.N. Prasad (1992) says that he was ambushed by the Chinese on 27 November, a few days after declaring the ceasefire (p.194).
As regards the outcome and significance of the 1962 war, the article says: Militarily, it was a “complete victory” that “negated the illegal McMahon Line”, forced the traditional customary line, enhanced national prestige of China, and peace along the India-China border was established for the next 60 years. Politically, it “dealt a heavy blow to the regional hegemonism and expansionism of Nehru’s government”, forced India to abandon the obstinacy that “the Sino-Indian border issue is non-negotiable” (中印边界问题不谈判) and engage in peaceful negotiations of border issue “in accordance with China’s proposition” (按照中国的主张). Diplomatically, it “completely exposed the pursuit of power politics” (奉行强权政治) by the Indian government, tore the veil of Nehru’s “non-alignment” (撕掉了尼赫鲁“不结盟”的面纱), and shattered his illusion about being the “leader of an alliance” (打破了其当“盟主”的梦幻). Besides, the PLA established “huge psychological advantage” (巨大心理优势) over the Indian army, and “seized and maintained the initiative” (夺取和保持…主动权) on the Sino-Indian border. It also won China “high praise from peace-loving countries and people around the world, as well as a strong response from international public opinion.”
The essay refutes that it was “China’s India War” as pronounced by Bertil Lintner in his book, and hence the theory of Chinese invasion of India. It also refutes PLA’s voluntary withdrawal owing to weak logistical support. It doesn’t throw light on the three-year manmade famine in China and the power struggle within the Communist Party, as people like Liu Shaoqi and Peng Dehuai were pointing fingers of accusations at Mao for the manmade calamity that killed millions of Chinese people, nevertheless, the article does say that Deng Xiaoping wanted to buy time in the face of Mao’s order, for he was concerned about the food situation in Tibet. However, Mao had already ordered to “wipe out” the Indian forces from Kejielang on 8 October, for Tibet was treated as a “sacred territory” belonging to China. The second article of 14 January 2022, reveals that the leadership had taken into consideration the possibility of China suffering setbacks in the war, and in case it becomes a reality, the PLA “will not blame heaven and earth but their own incompetence”, nonetheless, there will be the day, when they will snatch it back.
With China consolidating its position and infrastructure in the disputed border areas by way of building border villages and naming a few more places inside Arunachal recently, India is also likely to hasten the pace of border infrastructure. This together with China’s policy of “competition continuum” along the disputed areas is bound to create more friction points and exacerbate the already delicate situation. China’s worsening relations with the United States, economic slowdown, domestic political compulsions, may result in greater challenges for India, and India in turn may have to respond to a hundred questions indeed.
B.R. Deepak is Professor, Center of Chinese and Southeast Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.