ACROSS THE HIMALAYAN GAP
between the two Asian giants, India and China were at their best, at
least on the surface, during the Nehru years. They came to be at their
worst also, at the end of the Nehru years. How did this come about?
Indian historians and analysts generally attribute the best of motives
to Nehru and they are convinced that China had the worst of motives
vis-a-vis India. When elaborated through examples, it almost becomes a
genetic theory of behaviour. If Nehru is criticised, it is for his
innocence and gullibility and, of course, for listening to wrong advice.
If the Chinese are “praised”, it is in the same perverse way as some
Arabs may praise the Israelis, for their cunning, ruthlessness and
perfidy. In contrast to the almost uniform Indian view, the view from
the Chinese side is not so clear cut. Nehru is seen as a bourgeois
leader, no doubt, to be dealt with wary circumspection. But his motives
are not central to Chinese thinking; they are one factor among many, The
British imperial legacy, the US design against China, Soviet
machinations in the later period and the internal power struggle in
China itself become equally important factors.·
caveats when discussing the relations between the two states of India
and China are in order. Jawaharlal Nehru was only one actor, albeit the
most important one. The others included his peers such as Vallabhbhai
Patel, S. Radhakrishnan Moraji Desai, Govind Ballabh Pant and Krishna
Menon. Then there were the invisible actors: B N Mullik, the head of
this Intelligence Bureau, and officials of the Ministry of External
Affairs, the military chiefs and the ambassadors accredited to China.
Above all, there were the files of the British Raj which Nehru must have
consulted from time to time.
Nehru’s initial years in power he was more or less the sole maker of
China policy. But after 1958 in additional to the different views of his
colleagues within his own party, he was subjected to increasing
pressures from the opposition leader as well as the news media. The role
played by such foreign powers as the United States, Britain and the
Soviet Union must remain largely in the realm of speculation until the
documents on foreign affairs are released for scholarly examination. In
fact, the denial of access to all archives pertaining ‘to China from
1911 onwards, far beyond the conventional thirty year rule, makes
analysis of India-China relations very tentative. The situation for
scholars looking at the Chinese side is much worse; even secondary
sources are scarce.
Patel’s view on China stood in stark contrast to Nehru’s. He was not
only a nationalist, but also a staunch anti-communist, hence he saw a
conflict with China as inevitable. In fact, he clearly conceived China
as India’s national enemy (in addition to, of course, Pakistan). Some
of Patel’s concerns must have been shared by Nehru because he took
steps to extend India’s security perimeter to the northern borders of
Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim. He also immediately started pushing India.
right up to the McMahon line and sent military aid to the new government
in Burma to fight communist insurgency in its northern part which
bordered on India. But Pate1 died in 1950 and thereafter foreign policy
became almost exclusively Nehru’s domain.
the other leaders became active only in the late fifties when Nehru’s
China policy ran into difficulties, Mullik, Chief of the Intelligence
Bureau (IB), carried forward Patet’s legacy. Mullik was
uncompromisingly anti-communist. He had direct access to Nehru, perhaps
as a result of his work done in Kashmir. He took Pakistan and China as
India’s direct enemies and persuaded Nehru to accept them as such as
far as intelligence work and covert actions were concerned.
He fought his own private war with China through Tibetan refugees,
through the rebellious Khampas inside Tibet and through the
establishment of IB posts along the bordes. As far as published
accounts go, not once did Nehru disagree with Mullik intelligence
assessment, nor did he ever object to the IB’s overt and covert
Nehru’s talks to the intelligence community, as reported by Mullik,
carried an entirely different message from the Asian ‘bhai-bhai”
stance he adopted in public.
The Kongka Pass incident of 1959, which became the turning point in
India-China relations was engineered by Mullik; his Army and External
Affairs Ministry colleagues frontally accused him and the IB of
“aggression” and “expansionism”.
But this did not deter Mullik al all; he pursued his private war with
China until the two armies clashed in 1962. Although a mere civil
servant, he must be counted as a major contributor to the making of
Nehru’s China policy. In fact, it is difficult to say whether the tail
was wagging the dog or whether Nehru had a split-level approach towards
essay does not allow enough space to discuss the contributions of
Nehru’s collegues in the government and the party nor can it discuss
the role of his critics in the Opposition and the media.
But the importance of files pertaining to “frontier affairs” must be
mentioned however briefly. It is through these files (and partly through
Mullik’s mindset) that the British imperial legacy lived on during
Nehru’s years and well beyond. Nehru made some departures from the
imperial legacy such as giving up British Indian rights in Tibet. But,
while not exactly playing the “Great Game” (which emphasised the
north-western frontier), he nevertheless accepted the British imperial
view that the defence of India began at the topographical frontier,
i.e., the Himalayan high crest in the north. This is why despite his
respect for nationalism, soon after the Chinese communists came to power
he concluded treaties with Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim which reaffirmed the
British imperial arrangements.
He also viewed Tibet as a buffer state just as the British did. Hence
the distinction between “suzerainty” and “sovereignty”; it meant
nothing to the Chinese and only made them suspicious. And hence the
importance given by Nehru to “autonomy” for Tibet when he would have
rejected outright similar autonomy for the north-east or Tamil Nadu.
the imperial legacy claimed more and more of Nehru’s imagination, it
got reflected in Indian official cartography. The 1950 new Indian map
showed the McMahon line as “undemarcated”;
for the middle and western sector, the legend said “boundary
undefined”. In that map, Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan were shown outside
India. But in the map published in 1954, the McMahon line was shown as a
firm boundary and so were the boundaries in the middle and western
sectors. In this map, Sikkim and Bhutan were shown within India’s
northern border with a legend explaining that they were so by “special
treaty”. These changes were not discussed in Parliament; we do not know whether
they were discussed within the Cabinet. By 1959, the Indian boundary
claim in the western sector had become as firm as the McMohan line but
this time after Parliament’s approval. Now it was a matter of
officially and overtly filling out the boundary with Indian armed
presence. It looked to the Chinese that the British imperial “Great
Game” had been resumed.
were glaring asymmetries in the way India and China looked at each
other, Perhaps as a result of Western scholarship, English educated
Indians had developed an “orientalist” view of China. To Western
scholars, the “Orient” or Asia was a cultural continuum,
particularly because of the Buddhist connection. In the English educated
Indian mind, however, it became “Indianisation” of China. This
perspective gave a distorted picture of India’s place in China’s
world-view. In reality, Buddhism started on the periphery of the Chinese
society and by the time it acquired a large number of adherents, it had
become so transformed that it ceased to be Indian. Politically, Buddhism
was strongly opposed by the Confucian mandarins who thought it subverted
Chinese values. The much talked about “missions” were from and to
the peripheries of both societies and by the early fifteenth century
they had stopped altogether. But westernised consciousness in India took
such contacts to be between nations.
Hence the myth of India and China being Asian sister-countries
a myth given currency not only by Nehru but many others.
Chinese communists also adopted the myth during the “bhai-bhai”
But their ancestors rarely ever showed any interest in India whatsoever
except to acknowledge the remote origins of Buddhism in the “Western
Until the early fifties, Chinese scholars had not produced a single work
on India as a country.
“India” entered Chinese consciousness as the land from which
soldiers of the British Indian Army came to loot and kill; it was from
where opium came.
All state-to-state contacts were with British India where Indians were
not the decision-makers. They saw Indians in China as “zou gou”
(running dogs) of the British. Through translated works, they came to
know that Buddhism had disappeared from India, that India had first gone
under Islamic rule and then western “barbarian” rule.
Public affairs, which were central to Chinese thinking, were mismanaged
by Indians. Chinese thinkers when debating the Western challenge to
China cited India as a negative example. They would deal with the West
in their own way, decidedly not as India had done.
asymmetries formed the psychological substratum of Indian and Chinese
leaders when state-to-state contacts began in the late forties.
Jawaharlal Nehru’s view of China had three principal latent
characteristics: He nursed a pan-Asian sentiment ever since his student
days in Britain. He felt proud when he heard the news in 1905 that
Japan, an Asian country had defeated Russia, a European country. His
pan-Asian sentiment, particularly with regard to China, was exuberantly
expressed at the Brussels Conference of 1927 and twenty years later at
the Asian Relations Conference of 1947. In Brussels, he wanted Indians
to follow the “notable example” of the Chinese.
And at “the New Delhi Conference, he repeatedly spoke of “we
Asians”, fellow Asians” advancing together.
for Nehru, however, the leaders of other Asian countries and colonial
territories were barely conscious of Asia as anything more than a
geographical term; they certainly did not share any sentiment of “Asianness”.
No eminent Chinese leader, communist or non-communist, ever did. Nehru
probably did not realise that for East Asians particularly, Japan was
not an Asian brother but a deadly enemy even before the turn of the
Apart from Nehru no other Asian leader seems to have thought of holding
a pan-Asian meeting.
second element in Nehru’s thinking was India as the bridge between the
East and the West. At the Asian Relations Conference, he described India
as the “meeting point” between the West and East. The perception came about
undoubtedly as a result of his westernised upbringing and western
education to be later fused with his Indian nationalism. His personal
feeling that he was a man of both worlds made him believe that India,
too, was a bridge between those worlds because of its geographical
location, the history of having received Islamic and Western cultures
and also having “sent” Buddhism to the rest of Asia. Nehru’s
perception of India’s role made him offer himself as a mediator
between the US and China. He sought to interpret Chinese policies to
American leaders and vice versa. Despite resistance from both ends, he
doggedly pursued the mediatory role. He did this during the Korean War
and then during the Vietnam conflict after 1954.
the perception of India’s role among the Chinese leaders was quite
different. They used India only as a channel of communication with the
US; the only other channel available to them was the Soviet Union but
its efficacy depended on US-Soviet relations at any given point of time.
That is why they used India to convey the warning to the US that China
would enter the Korean War if the US threatened to carry the war beyond
the Yalu rivet. But when they realised that the warning conveyed through
India did not carry credibility in Washington, they became more cautious
about using the Indian channel. Later, during the Korean Armistice
negotiations they often expressed their dissatisfaction with India’s
mediation, While Indians tried their best to appear neutral to both
sides, the Chinese, often suspected Indians to be partial towards the
They appeared to trust Indians more later since they accepted India as
the Chairman of the Control Commission over Indochina. But India never
earned China’s complete trust as a mediator.
the Bandung Conference in 1955, Nehru decided to adopt a low profile for
himself and to promote Zhou Enlai and the new Chinese state on the
international scene. It is doubtful if Zhou saw it that way. He was too
sophisticated to reject Nehru’s helping hand but he proceeded to
behave as a leader in his own right and to establish direct contacts
with other leaders, including those of Pakistan.
China, Zhou indicated, did not need any one to mediate for her.
third aspect of Nehru was his strong streak of unilateralism. Just as he
was unilaterally pan-Asian and “unilaterally” often a self-appointed
mediator, his views on the India-China border question were declared as
the final truth without conceding any legitimacy to the Chinese views or
actions. Without a Chinese surrender on major issues Nehru was not
prepared to consider even minor concessions. In his eyes the McMohan
line became “final”, “map or no map”. Later, the boundary in
the western sector also became final.
The depiction of the Himalayan states on Indian official maps, too, was
a unilateral decision. His pronouncements on Tibetan autonomy also bore
the same mark. Nehru’s unilateralism was not just limited to China. In
his other policies, too, he seldom bothered to consult his cabinet
colleagues; the unreserved support he extended to Krishna Menon and his
request to the US for an “air umbrella” are glaring examples of his
It is doubtful whether he consulted any of his colleagues when approving
Mollik’s covert actions.
Chinese on the other hand, always recognised that the border was not a
settled issue; they wanted negotiations and suggested mutual
concessions. On Tibet, they took Nehru’s view into consideration when
signing the 1951 agreement with the local government of Tibet. Whatever
else may be said about Chinese evil motives, bad faith, duplicity, etc.,
they did not adopt a unilateralist stance even after 1959.
these three latent elements, Nehru’s pan-Asianism suffered rapid
erosion after he came to power. Already at the Asian Relations
Conference he had become aware of the fact that there was little
Asianness shared by the participants. Each country had its own
preoccupations. They could agree about decolonisation but little else.
The Chinese delegate (of the Kuomintang government) strongly protested
against Tibet being shown as an independent country on the Conference
map: that map had to be withdrawn. Most countries remained suspicious of
Japan. Nehru’s pan-Asian sentiment must have suffered a below.
the subsequent years, as the Cold War progressed, there was nothing to
encourage Nehru’s sentiment. Asian countries were deeply divided by
ideology and irridenta. This became all too apparent at the Bandung
meeting. Both the New Delhi and Bandung meetings were held at India’s
initiative; no other country in Asia carded forward the idea. A second
Bandung was never held. Nehru no longer spoke of Asianness; he probably
ceased to believe in it.
with the erosion of his pan-Asianism, Nehru began to pay more attention
to realpolitik. He
consolidated the northern border, occupied Tawang and concluded treaties
with the Himalayan states. He rejected the notion of a plebiscite for
Kashmir. Despite his earlier dislike of communism in the Soviet Union,
he dramatically improved relations with that country, perhaps in
response to the new alliance relationship between Pakistan and the US.
It is this change from idealism to realpolitik which made him more receptive to the advice tendered by
Mullik of the IB.
the above mentioned latent elements underlay Nehru’s thinking and
style of diplomacy, his explicit foreign policy framework also had three
elements: nationalism, non-alignment, and peaceful co-existence. He
sought to fit the new Chinese state into this framework. But once again, there was
asymmetry in the understanding of all these concepts. By nationalism
Nehru meant the new nationalism of the decolonised countries; he thought
that his new nationalism would be free of the European inheritance of
war, rivalries and blocs. New nations would spontaneously opt to be
nonaligned vis-a-vis the Cold War participants in the Old World;
non-alignment did not submerge national independence and sovereignty as
the alliance system did. As for peaceful co-existence, Nehru believed
that modem wars were caused by rival universalist ideologies like
capitalism and communism. New nationalism like China’s would rise
above the extra-Asian communist ideology, just as India would rise above
capitalism. Together the two would show the Old World and America how to
co-exist peacefully despite differences in social systems.
India and China would reshape the world order. To Nehru, the Chinese
appeared to acquiesce to his framework. But, in reality, they perceived
things quite differently. Whatever the substratum of Chineseness in the
thinking of the communists (which they never articulated), they
perceived everything in ideological terms. Indian bourgeois nationalism
under Nehru could, for them, become a component of the “United
Front” against imperialism and colonialism. The bourgeoisie was always
double faced and wavering; its anti-imperialist face was acceptable.
Non-alignment did not make any sense to them; they believed that in the
titanic struggle between imperialism and socialism, it was necessary to
“lean to one side”. At the same time it was necessary to win over-as
many countries as possible in the front against imperfalism. The
non-aligned group offered an attractive target; they would reserve their
differences with its members and seek common ground. Peaceful
co-existence made even less sense. War and peace for the Chinese were
class issues. So long as international class struggle existed, war was
inevitable. When war between the two systems came, the new bourgeois
nationalists would appear in their true colours.
Until then, their anti-colonialism would serve the United Front.
the articulated level, it was a remarkably crude ideological analysis.
But the innate Chineseness of Zhou Enlai took away much of its edge when
it came to diplomacy and negotiations.
thought that in recognising the People’s Republic of China soon after
it was established, he was acknowledging the new nationalism in China,
not its communism. So he ignored China’s professed ideology and the
crude negative ideological statements about India and himself. He
translated all Chinese ideological rhetoric in nationalist terms. Its
sharpness, he believed, stemmed from the fact that Chinese nationalism
was misunderstood and isolated by the rest of the world. He would reduce
that isolation by befriending China and mediating between China and its
the Chinese leaders never forgot that Nehru was a bourgeois leader. They
never admired his nationalism but thought that his anti-colonialism only
temporarily concealed his own colonial impulses towards Sikkim, Nepal,
and Tibet. Buddhism having disappeared from India, the argument about
“cultural affinity” between India and Tibet, sounded absolutely
spurious to Chinese ears. For Chinese leaders, the Indian revolution was
yet to come and Nehru was an impediment in its path. Nehru showed his
true colour in his counter-revolutionary policy against the communist
revolutionaries in India. He was opposed to the socialist transformation
of Tibet and chose to join the US imperialists and Kuomintang
reactionaries to counter it. Nehru was, the Chinese eventually
concluded, the true heir to the British imperialist legacy.
so, it may be said that the Chinese leaders did not frontally challenge
Nehru’s foreign policy framework; otherwise the challenge would have
come immediately. After Patel’s death Nehru adopted a political, not
legal, approach towards China. This gave him much flexibility in dealing
with bilateral issues.
His initial belief was that Chinese communism was radically different
from the European variety.
Its signification could be hastened by reducing China’s isolation. So,
he refused to brand China as an “aggressor” in the Korean War and
promoted the case of China both in the United Nations and in the
nonaligned group. Against this background the Chinese had no difficulty
in acquiescing to his overall policy framework.
the India-China border, Nehru did not take a legal stand until 1959.
While he unilaterally declared that the McMahon line was India’s
border, he never explicitly claimed that it was a legal boundary that it
had been accepted by the Chinese or that it was legally binding on
China. He was more ambiguous about the western sector; he did not
initially say that the line there was “firm”, “identifiable” or
“non-negotiable”. This is perhaps why, despite the knowledge that
China had built a road through Aksai Chin, he did not lodge any
diplomatic protest. (Even at their talks in 1960, Nehru did not raise
India’s claim over Aksai Chin.) In fact, up to 1958. India and China
went on consolidating their control over areas in the eastern and
western sectors respectively, and neither objected to what the other was
all these years the Chinese maintained that there was no territorial
dispute with India. Such statements are taken by Indian historians as
examples of Chinese duplicity. Perhaps because Nehru also thought that
the time was not yet “ripe” to adopt a legal approach to the whole
issue, he too did not press for any clarifications from China. (K M
Panikkar has been blamed for this but the ultimate decision was always
Nehru’s). So China did not need to confront the problem. It is not
that China had a border policy which it wanted to conceal from India to
mislead Nehru. China had no border policy at all vis-a-vis any of its
neighbours. The Kuomintang government of China had a clear policy which
it maintains even today: had that government been in power the border
problem would have arisen right away. But during the first decade of
their rule, the communists had yet to make up their minds about
China’s historical claims precisely because they claimed theirs to be
a revolutionary govemment.
Theirs was a political, not a legal approach. By the time they came to
power, Outer Mongolia, Korea and Vietnam were already independent
states. The disputed areas along the Sino-Soviet border were under the
control of their Soviet ally. The Chinese leaders were very uncertain as
to what to do about pre-revolutionary historical claims.
the circumstances, they seem to have decided to accept accomplished
facts of history, but as de facto
control, not as legal claims. This is why while tacitly accepting
India’s de facto control up
to the McMahon line
and also the de facto
independence of Outer Mongolia, they did not recognise the validity of
the Simla convention. They took their time to recognise the juridical
independence of Outer Mongolia and delayed the conclusion of border
treaties with Burma, Nepal and Afghanistan. All this was a radical
change from the traditional Chinese position but Nehru does not seem to
have comprehended it. On the other hand, the Chinese hastened to extend
control over what were not accomplished facts of history; the
independence of Tibet had not been recognised by any state and the
western sector of the India-China frontier had remained a no man’s
adoption of an explicitly legal stand by India in 1959 forced China to
make legal counter-claims. The rebellion in Tibet in the same year also
made ambiguity very dangerous from the Chinese point of view. Above all,
in the Sino-Soviet ideological dispute China decided to take the mantle
of Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism away from the “revisionist” Soviet
Union. China could no longer even tacitly accept such concepts as
nationalism, non- alignment and, more particularly, peaceful
co-existence. “Soviet revisionism” was openly endorsing Nehru’s
concepts and both had to be exposed. This probably explains the
crudeness of the Chinese attacks on India. Nehru became a
“reactionary”, a “compradore”, a ‘running dog of
imperialism” and his entire foreign policy framework was challenged by
Beijing. By 1960, the Chinese were convinced that Nehru wanted to keep
the border dispute alive by escalating both territorial claims (now in
the western sector) and preconditions (China must withdraw first).
ideological crudity was matched by Nehru’s racial-cultural
explanations of Chinese behaviour. If Mullik is to be believed - no one
in authority in India has yet repudiated him - Nehru was stressing
China’s Smperialistic tendencies” as early as 1950.
In fact, he asked Mullik not to be misled by the open professions
of his own government vis-a-vis China. In 1952 Nehru told Mullik that
China had “always been an aggressive country”. He had added that the
“war between the two cultures was not over… and would go on for a
Friendship with China was an expedient until India was strong enough to
take on China. Chinese economic power combined with its large
population, Nehru said in a briefing to the IB, was an “explosive”
missile; it would become a danger to the whole world in the next couple
By 1960, he was saying all this publicly. China now became a “danger
to the whole world”. It was an “aggressive, arrogant and
expansionist neighbour”. After the 1962 war, he spoke of
“Chinese-ism” as the “tradition of expansionism”.
colleagues, most opposition leaders and the media were even more
unsophisticated; they resorted to outright racist slurs. All the Western
steriotypes of “Mongoloid hordes”, “human wave tactics”,
“cheapness of Chinese life” gained currency in India. Chinese food
habits were derided as barbaric. The Chinese were described as “sly,
wily, untrustworthy”, etc.
Later, as the tension mounted, a law was passed in India declaring all
persons of Chinese extraction, regardless of their nationality, as enemy
aliens. (It possibly stands in the books even today). Some Chinese in
India were rounded up and detained in camps.
1959, it is difficult to say who formulated India’s foreign policy. It
was, at any rate, no longer Nehru’s exclusive preserve. Nehru came to
be constantly accused of “appeasing” China and was forced to adopt
an increasingly hard stand. Whether he intended it or not, his tough
stance vis-a-vis China earned him US support and financial aid.
He was aware of the intensity of the Sine-Soviet dispute and reasonably
confident of Soviet neutrality in the India-China dispute. His reading
was that China had become a pariah state, devoid of any friends whereas
India could count on several powerful ones. His persistent judgement
that China would not resort to war, that it would not dare, was not
altogether wrong, given Nehru’s assumptions. He always maintained that
an India-China war would be a world war, even a nuclear war.
This judgement made him test the Chinese resolve. It made him issue even
intemperate statements about “throwing out the Chinese”. The victory
in the war over Goa also reinforced his confidence. Moreover, he knew
that China was passing through extremely difficult times because of the
failure of the Great Leap Forward, the three drought years of 1959, 1960
and 1961 and the withdrawal of the Soviet aid. The morale of the Chinese
Army was low. China was at its most vulnerable point. It was simple realpolitik
to press one’s advantage.
pointed out to him the other side of the coin. China had taken the great
risk of entering the Korean War when it was very vulnerable. It had once
again taken such a risk at the time of the Quemoy Crisis. China had also
defied the Soviet Union at perilous risk to its own economy. Nobody told
Nehru either that the Indian Army was not prepared to take on China,
that it was incompetent even if better equipped than the Chinese
People’s Liberation Army.
acts appeared very aggressive to India while China thought it was merely
resisting India’s “Forward policy”. But at that time, China felt
severely threatened “from all four sides”. During the fifties the US
had encircled China all around its southern perimeter. The Soviet Union,
too, threatened from the north. India could become a possible opening.
Hence, the Chinese leaders were actively thinking of adopting as
conciliatory a line towards India as was possible. The proposal to do so
came from Wang Jiaxiang, an important official connected with foreign
affairs, in February 1962, as war clouds were gathering thick and fast.
Wang’s proposal vis-a-vis India is worth quoting:
for the India-China border question, …we should continuously and
endlessly repeat: that China and India must be friends; that there is no
objective basis at all for any conflict between India and China: that
the India-China border dispute is the troublesome legacy handed down
from the time imperialism ruled over both China and India in the past;
that the border dispute must be solved on the basis of mutually
empathetic understanding and through negotiations: and that it can
indeed be solved.
we say so and also act accordingly, it means that we hold high the
banner of China-India friendship, hold high the banner of the Five
Principles of Peaceful Coexistence and hold high the banner of resolving
the China-India dispute through negotiations.
course, relations between countries are not determined purely by the
subjective efforts (of only one side). In the final analysis, they are
determined by the nature of each country, by the class to which the
power holders belong, the policy line of that social stratum, the
relationship between the strengths of the countries and the benefit and
harm (arising out of this) as well as the nature of the contentious
debate and its scope and so forth ….
we should never underestimate (Chinese) subjective initiative; otherwise
it will do us IW good. It seems that there will be advance and there
will be retreat, there will be attack and there will be defence, there
will be contention and there will be yielding, reins will be tight and
they will be loose. It seems all these are methods which will not be
found wanting in external struggle.”
internal and secret proposal, part of a much larger proposal on Chinese
foreign policy initiatives, was circulated among the leaders of the
Chinese Communist Party. After two of Wang Jiaxiang’s senior
colleagues had endorsed it, the proposal was sent to Zhou Enlai, Deng
Xiaoping, Chen Yi and Liu Shaoqi who did not disagree with anything said
in it. The proposal was then circulated to members of the party’s
Secretariat. Finally, it reached Chairman Mao Zedong who also did not
think that there was anything the problem with it.
the war have been avoided? Around 1976 Mrs. Indira Gandhi, when
reminiscing about India-China relations seemed to think so. Once again,
a full quotation which the Chinese publishers have chosen to reproduce,
is in order:
1953, we visited China. We saw Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong. Mao had never
been to India; I heard later on that he was waiting for an invitation to
him from us. If we had invited him to visit India, a lot of things,
perhaps, would have been quite different. Had we known then that he had
such thought, he would have become the most welcome and respected guest
in this country.
liked Zhou Enlai. He was extremely knowledgeable. He was the only person
we met in China who had travelled abroad. He was extremely experienced
and mature in foreign affairs. He was a cut above the others in
or not she was right, there is no doubt that during the mid-fifties,
more consultations between India and China, rather than unilateral
assertions and actions, could have given a very different turn to the
course of India-China relations. An agreement extremely favourable to
India in the eastern sector (without bringing in the McMahon line or the
Simla Convention) was a distinct possibility.
But the opportunity was missed. Similarly, by 1956, the Chinese had been
implementing their 1951 Agreement with the Tibetan local government.
China had already withdrawn 9 per cent of Han cadres from Tibet and also
some troops from Lhasa. China was considering the withdrawal of all
troops from Tibet if there was internal peace there.
But Khampa rebel attacks started and escalated from that year. Nehru
surely knew - Mullik certainly knew - the American CIA and the
nationalist regime on Taiwan were aiding the rebels. He did nothing to
stop them; he certainly did nothing to curb the anti-communist
activities of the Tibetan refugees in India. After 1959, India’s
support to the Tibetan rebels was all but open. But all this did not
achieve any purpose. It did not lessen the suffering of the Tibetans
because Chinese oppression was stepped up. It also harmed the cause of
would seem that even if we grant all the compulsions on the Indian side
once the border dispute became open and bitter - Nehru’s publicly
committed positions, pressure from the Opposition, the ferocity of
Indian public opinion - there was enough room to cool tempers without
appearing to be appeasing.
“The new posts set up in the western sector during March
1962 and which led to firing by Chinese troops were not necessary at the
time. It is not that Nehru was left with no flexibility. He was prepared
to negotiate but chose to impose too many preconditions; almost in all
instances he wanted the Chinese to withdraw first as a price for talks.
He did so in the belief that when it came to a show down, China would
make the concessions Nehru so badly needed vis-a-vis his domestic
critics. The Chinese probably did not understand Nehru’s domestic
compulsions. Even if they did, they looked at the whole Indian
government; Nehru was not central to their thinking.
Wang Jiaxiang’s proposal shows, there were no compulsions on the
Chinese side to go to war. Indeed, the opposite was the case. Military
preparations were, of course, made by the military professionals as a
contingency exercise but the decision to initiate action rested with
Beijing. According to Wang Jiaxiang’s memories, there was only one
person, Kang Sheng, who opposed Wang’s proposal. However powerful Kang
may have been, he could not have overruled others. So, the only
conclusion one can come to is that all the signals from New Delhi were
interpreted in Beijing as a determined preparation for war against
China. Once that conclusion was reached, the Chinese decided to take
pre-emptive action. And when one dose of such action in October 1962 did
not produce results, they administered a second one in November.
is quite extraordinary that until the war actually came, Nehru refused
to believe that China would go to war. But once it had taken place, his
judgement came exactly to the opposite conclusion: he did not believe
that the ceasefire declared by China would last; he thought the war
would go on for several years.
Chinese withdrawal to the McMahon line was assessed as temporary because
of climatic and extended supply lines. (Actually, the Chinese supply
lines in the western sector where there was no withdrawal were just as
extended and the weather was just as cold). Military actions were
interpreted in purely military terms: their political import was not
comprehended in New Delhi at all. The Chinese message was: China accepts
the Indian claim in the east; India should accept the Chinese claim in
the west. That remains the broad Chinese position even today.
the worst of motives to the Chinese leaders, Nehru’s China policy must
be reckoned as having failed. He could not solve the border problem with
China nor could he avoid armed conflict with that country, At the end of
his tenure, his tacit assumptions lay in ruins. There simply was no
Asianness outside the westernised segment of Indians, waiting to be
tapped for friendship and cooperation. India was never accepted as the
bridge Nehru thought it was destined to become. Instead, it was India
which was seeking the mediation of the Colombo Powers in the India-China
dispute after 1962. Nehru died a broken hearted man but without
realising that he had been self-righteous. He admitted to having lived
in a world of his own making but that was a protestation of innocence in
the face of Chinese perfidy. He believed that his practice of realpolitik
was wholly moral; the Chinese practice of the same craft was wholly
nationalism during the Nehru years turned out to be no different from
nationalism of the Old World; it was, in fact, much worse, because of
territorial disputes, internal repression and adherence to universal
ideologies, often for selfish ends. Non alignment gathered many
adherents from among the newly independent countries but in the context
of the India-China dispute, they became non-aligned vis-a-vis both.
Nehru’s judgement that one could not be non-aligned vis-a-vis China
sounded bizarre; it made sense for India but not for the entire
non-aligned group. In any case, when the military situation became
serious, Nehru turned to the West (and even Israel!) for military
support. He almost took India into the Western military bloc. That he
resisted from doing so showed his strong personal faith in non-alignment
but other Asian and African countries drew their own lessons. After
Nehru’s death, the concept was transformed into vaguely defined
‘Third Worldism”; member states could now belong to one military
bloc or the other.
first joint declaration on Panchsheel, the Five Principles of
Peaceful co-existence, Nehru believed, committed China to the third
element of India’s foreign policy i.e., peaceful co-existence. What is
more, Nehru found an ally in Nikita Khrushchev who also supported it.
However, there was a tremendous difference of interpretation between
Nehru and Khrushchev on one side and the Chinese on the other. Nehru and
Krushchev took the term to mean peaceful co-existence between the
capitalist and the socialist systems worldwide whereas the Chinese
interpreted the term much more narrowly. For one thing, peaceful co-existencewas
only one among the Five Principles and it applied only as long as the
four other principles were also applied faithfully. Moreover, it applied
between countries. particularly neighbouring countries, not social
systems. This is why China made such joint declarations with only its
neighbours. Nehru thought that with that declaration ‘all problems”
between India and China were “solved”. In Chinese eyes, the problems
could be solved by working out mutual benefits (mentioned in Panchsheel)
but they were not actually solved. China took Nehru’s unilateral
stance on the border and Tibet as a violation of two principles : mutual
respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty and mutual
non-interference in internal affairs. But what really determined the
fate of peaceful co-existence was China’s ideological dispute with the
Soviet Union. In any case, Nehru too had come to the conclusion that
peaceful coexistence with an “imperialist and expansionist” China
nationalist scholarship has its uses: it helps the process of nation -
and state-building and it can help mobilise and people for defence and
development. But as Nehru has himself pointed out in the quotation cited
at the beginning of this essay, it distorts truth. In India-China
relations, truth was distorted on both sides. Jawahartal Nehru left
behind two legacies : friendship with China and bitter enmity towards
China. India and China cannot live in enmity forever. Distorted truth
becomes an impediment in the solutions to problems. If Nehru’s former
legacy is to be restored, we must reorder India-China relations once
again on the basis of all the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.
Recently, a beginning seems to have been made by both India and China in
his Glimpses of World History
(Delhi : Oxford University Press, 1982) p. 443.
this essay, I refer primarily to the perceptions of the leaders of
the People’s Republic of China. The leaders of the rival Chinese
regime on Taiwan did not take an ideological view of Nehru or India
but they remained convinced of the Chines case on Tibet and on the
India-China border question. They blamed the “Chinese Communist
bandits” for being aggressive but approved their action in
“defending” the border against India’s “expansionist”
Mullik, My Years with Nehru The
Chinese Betrayal (Bombay: Allied Publishers, 1971). pp. 84-85.
are scattered references to this throughout Mullik’s book.
very substantial body of literature is available on this subject.
Most such writings started around 1959 and the stream tapered off
only towards the end of the sixties.
made it clear that an attack on Nepal would be regarded as an attack
on India. See Sarvespalli Gopal, Jawaharlal
Nehru: A Biography,
Vol.. II (Oxford University Press, 19&i), p. 68. We do not know
if he got the concurrence of the Nepal government before making such
asked China not to send troops into Tibet. Ibid,
Mb-a Sinha, “China: Making and Unmaking of Nehru’s Foreign
Policy”, China Report
(Delhi), Vol. 15, No. 2, March-April 1979, pp. 5164.
an extended discussion of the Buddhist connection, see K.P. Gupta.
‘The Making of China’s Image of India”, pp. 39-40.
Jawaharlal Nehru, op. cit.. pp. 28, 328.
among them was the poet Rabindranath Tagore. He established the
Cheena-Bhavana for researches into India-China “historical
relations at the Visvabharati University, Santiniketan during the
constantly spoke of ‘2000 years of friendship” between India and
China. But it was a political construct, not a historical fact.
region of India was also called ‘Tian
Zhu” or The Land of Heavenly Bamboo but it was neither a
geographical nor a political expression.
Yuan Chuanwei, ‘Indian Studies in China” (unpublished paper).
Literature on the opium trade is extensive. Most textbooks on the
history of Modern China also discuss the deployment of Indian
soldiers during the Opium Wars and the Boxer uprising.
F.W. Drake, China-Charm the
World Hsu Chi-yu and His Geography of 1848 (Cambridge : Harvard
University Press, 1975), p. 102.
Teng and John K. Fairbank, China’s
responses to tie West (1975) pp. 152-53. Kang Youwei, who
had spent soma time in India, was particularly contemptuous of India
his speech at the Brussels Congress, Selected Works of Jawaharlal
Nehru, Vol. II (Delhi Orient Longmans, 1972) p. 272-7 6 .
Jawaharlal Nehru’s Speeches
(New Delhi: Publications Division, 1967) pp. 297304.
sympathisad very much with China’s struggle against Japanese
imperialism. Hence the despatch of the Indian medical team to China.
But he did not understand how bitterly the Chinese disliked the
Jawaharlal Nehru’s Speeches, op. cit.
Gopal cites numerous examples of Nehru’s attempts at mediation
between not only the US and China but also between the US and the
Soviet Union. See his Jawaharlal Nehru : A Biography, Vols. II and
II, pp. 138-75.
made a number of such statements. For a sample see Lok Sabha
Debates, 2nd Series, Vol. XIX, pp. 4629.32.
Kenneth Galbraith, Ambassador’s
Journal (London : Hamish Hamilton, 1969). pp. 406551. All
these chapters covering the border war and thereafter are extremely
the following analysis of the framework of Nehru’s foreign policy,
I draw largely on Mira Sinha’s article cited in note 10 supra.
The literature on the concepts of the United Front both in the
domestic and the international context is too extensive to be
quoted. But specific references to Nehru are found, after he ceased
to be a reliable partner in Chinese eyes in two major articles. See
Editorial Department of the Renmin Ribao (People’s
Daily), “Revolution in Tibet and Nehru’s Philosophy”, Renmin
Ribao, 6 May 1959 (trs. New China News Agency); and “More on
Nehru’s Philosophy in the Light of the Sine-Indian Boundary
Question”, Renmin Ribao,
27 October 1962 (trs. New
China News Agency).
views are laid out in extenso
in The Great Polemics (Peking:
People’s Publishers, 1965).
unhappiness about the development of independent Chinese relations
with Nepal was very well known to China.
Renmih Ribao, 24 April 1959.
See Mim Sinha, op. Cit.
expresses this belief at the Brussels Congress. See Selected Works, op. cit. see also, S. Gopal, Vol. II, op. cit., p, 64.
Sinha, op. cit.
probably were thinking of imitating Lenin’s policies immediately
after the Bolshevik Revolution.
Enlai’s statement about Chinese maps being old Kuomintang maps and
the new government not having had the time to revise them is quoted
by Indian scholars as yet another example of Chinese cunning. It
seems to me that they genuinely did not, know how to go about
Gopal, citing an unpublished document, says that Zhou Enlai tdd the
Burmese leaders that China would accept the McMahon
with Neville Maxwell, The Sunday
Times (London), 19
Mullik, op. cit., pp. 64-85. Mullik repeats this throughout his book.
his interview to The Saturday
Evening Post, 19
daily proramme. “India and the Dragon”, on All India Radio save
currency to such views. The Indian newspapers were full of such
articles and news items.
becomes abundantly clear from Galbraith’s journal, op. Cit.
Gopal. Vol. III, pp. 204-14.
working translation from Chinese. The ellipses are as in the
original. See, Wang Zhongli, Liming
yu Wanxia (Daybreak
and evening twilight), (Beijing: Publishing House of People’s
Liberation Army, 1986) pp. 394-95.
working translation from the Chinese translation. Emphasis is mine.
The implication of what Mrs. Gandhi is saying is that things went
wrong somewhere after the mid-fifties and neither Mao nor Zhou were
to blame for what happened. See. Ya Nanze. Gandi
Furen Zishu (My Truth), (Beijing : Contemporary Pubfishers,
1995). p. 72.
note 39, supra.
G. Ginsberg and Michael Mathos, Communist China and Tibet (The Hauge;
martin Nijhons, 1974), pp. 113-15.
Enlai was determined not to go back to China without achieving some
agreement. But he was decisfvefy rebuffed in Delhi.
S. Gopal, Vol. Ill, op. cit., pp. 23739.
©1998 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi
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