Sino-Indian Border War (1962)
The Chinese-Indian War arose over a border dispute along the Himalayan Mountains in Ladakh and Aksai Chin in the west and the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) in the east. The small-scale border conflicts began in August 1962, and in October, China launched a large-scale offensive campaign against the Indian garrison. By late November, when China declared a cease-fire, both sides had engaged more than 100,000 troops with a total of 11,100 casualties and losses.
Part of the border dispute in the east concerned the McMahon Line, a border based on a 1914 British-Tibetan agreement. Tibet had served as a buffer zone between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and India since 1949, when Beijing (Peking) recognized the autonomy of the Tibetan government. In 19 51, the central government negotiated with Tibet and signed the Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet on May 23, 1951.
Then the Chinese government sent the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to Tibet to safeguard its borders with India and Nepal. The agreement affirmed Tibet’s political autonomy, social system, and religious freedom. In 1959, however, the central goverment accused the Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, of organizing a separatist movement in Tibet. The PLA troops suppressed the rebellion. The Fourteenth Dalai Lama escaped into India.
As a result, Chinese-Indian relations reached the lowest point since the founding of the PRC. Afterwards, the Indian government granted sanctuary to the Dalai Lama, who denounced China’s “aggression” in Tibet and continued to be “active in exile.” Armed clashes escalated during the summer of 1959. On August 25, a small group of Indian troops crossed into the Longju area north of the McMahon Line and exchanged fire with a Chinese border patrol.
On October 21, there was another incident along the border of the western sector at Kongka Pass. Both sides claimed that the other fired first, and both prepared an escalation of the border conflict. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) and the Indian government reinforced the border areas to pressure the Chinese through this “forward policy.” Nehru also turned to the Soviet Union for more economic aid and military support.
In Beijing, the Central Committee and Central Military Commission (CMC) of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP, or the Communist Party of China) instructed the PLA to mobilize the frontier troops and plan a “counteroffensive campaign.” The PLA employed four regiments in Tibet, about 13,000 men, and two regiments in Xinjiang, about 7,000 men, as combat troops. The Chinese high command also deployed a large number of transportation and communication troops across Tibet since their large-scale offensive campaign took place at altitudes of over 14,000 feet, which posed enormous logistics problems.
China’s large-scale attacks began on October 20 against the Indian garrisons in Ladakh/ Aksai Chin and the NEFA. In the east, the PLA troops crossed the border and destroyed defense points of the Indian Army. On the 22nd, the PRC Defense Ministry announced that the PLA operation would not be limited by the “illegal McMahon Line.” By the 28th, the PLA’s Tibet regiments wiped out 43 strongpoints on the Indian side of the McMahon Line. In the west, the Xinjiang’s regiment crossed the border and took over 37 Indian strongpoints by traveling over 1,000 kilometers along the borders.
The Indian troops, ill prepared and poorly supplied, fell back under the PLA assaults. The Nehru administration, however, did not give up. While requesting military aid from the West, including the United States, Nehru reinforced the border areas with an additional 30,000 men in November. His defense effort still focused on the east. In early November, the Indian troops launched their own counteroffensive along the eastern borders.
Facing the Indian attacks, the CMC deployed more troops to the borders. By mid-November, the PLA had reinforced eight infantry and three artillery regiments along the eastern borders; four regiments at the middle section of the eastern borders; and one regiment in the west, totaling 56,000 troops. The troops in the east encircled the Indian troops and cut their supply lines by November 17. The next day, the eastern troops launched an all-out attack on the Indian troops. By the 21st, the PLA eliminated the Indian presence along the eastern borders.
In the west, the PLA also attacked the Indians. By November 21, the PLA accomplished its goal. On the 22nd, the Chinese government announced a cease-fire along the Chinese-Indian borders. After December 1, Chinese forces began pulling out of Indian territories and returned to the old boundary, or “traditional border.” According to the Chinese reports, between October 20 and November 21, India lost 8,700 troops, including 4,800 killed and 3,900 captured. Total PLA casualties were 2,400 dead and wounded.
The 1962 Sino-Indian War “validated” the PLA war fighting doctrine and their basic principles of war, including “discipline, surprise, flexibility, mass, and maneuver.” But no Tibetan people’s war existed at this time. The PLA faced new social and political issues such as religion, minority, geopolitics, and independence movements in Tibet and Xinjiang. Unlike their wars in the 1930s and 1940s, the Chinese troops fought in the middle of a hostile population-Tibetans. The Tibetans had the same religions, ethnic tradition, close political connection, and similar languages as the Indian troops. Unlike the North Koreans in the Korean War, the local Tibetan and Uygur (Uighur) people did not provide much support, even moral support, to the Chinese troops.
The few Tibetan and Uygur soldiers in the PLA could not bridge the social, cultural, and political gaps between the Chinese troops and local people. The PLA’s warfighting experience in India demonstrated that the Chinese troops were much better prepared for a foreign war than they were in Korea 10 years earlier. The improved logistics supply, communication and transportation, and chain of command all reflected positive results of Peng Dehuai’s (P’eng Te-huai) (1898-1974) reform efforts. The technology and professionalism achieved in the mid-1950s was maintained to some extent after the fall of Peng in 1959 and the Sino-Soviet split in 1960.
Dr. Xiaobing Li
See also: China, People’s Republic of; Chinese Communist Party; Dalai Lama; Korean War; Lin Biao; McMahon Line; Peng Dehuai; People’s Liberation Army; Sino-Soviet Conflict; Soviet Union; Tibet.
References Lal, Dinesh. Indo-Tibet-China Conflict. Delhi, India: Kalpaz Publications, 2008.
Lamb, Alastair. The China-India Border: The Origins of the Disputed Boundaries. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1964.
Maxwell, Neville. India’s China War. New York: Pantheon Books, 1971.
Mishra, Keshav. Rapprochement across the Himalayas: Emerging India-China Relations in Post Cold War Period ( 19472003 ). Delhi, India: Kalpaz Publications, 2004.