Millennium Post

Lessons of the 1962 war

This October is 50 years since the Sino-Indian war took place. The 1962 war was a serious blow to the relations between India and China. India, which became free in 1947, had supported the anti-colonial movements in China. It saw China as the bearer of an ancient and great civilisation, as it, indeed, saw itself. For India, its independence, and China’s emergence from the shadow of imperialism, were positive steps that were likely to lead to a renewal of these ancient civilisations. India viewed China positively, as a friend and as a partner in international relations. This was a perspective that was reflected in the Asian Relations Conference, held in New Delhi in March-April 1947, where much was made of China and was to lead to an euphoristic vision of Sino-Indian relations as reflected in the slogan of
‘Hindi-Chini bhai bhai’.
This was perhaps too rosy a view of our neigbour, which did not share our perspective. Its approach was based on more realistic territorial considerations. China rudely shattered India’s vision of an asiatic partnership through its aggression in 1962. There was, at that time, an Indian who had a far more realistic understanding of Chinese intentions. This was Sardar Patel who wrote to the then prime minister that ‘[Chinese] Communists are as good or as bad imperialists as any other.’ He also  wrote that ‘Chinese ambitions in this respect not only cover the Himalayan slopes on our side but also include important parts ofAssam...’

His warning went unheeded at that time. Fifty years later it is perhaps time to review our relations with China in the light of the 1962 war. China is now a far more powerful country and an emerging power in the world. Its large population and its success with economic policies have made it a dynamo on the world stage. We, on the other hand, severely lag behind. China has a powerful military and shows little signs of having given up the imperialist outlook that the learned Sardar Patel talked about. There is no doubt that there are civilisational synergies between India and China and it is also true that India has friendly intentions towards China, attempting once again to break the ice. However, India cannot be sure that China reciprocrates these feelings. Within the Chinese establishment, the thinking is still militeristic and still revolves around the boundary questions. The Chinese doubts about Indian territoriality persist. The lesson of 1962 was that trusting the dragon beyond a point was too dangerous. Over-friendliness then led to India dropping the guard only to face the withering breath of dragon fire. Therefore, while India should be friendly to China, it must not abandon caution.    


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