History's Hostage: China, India and the War of 1962
Image Credit: Rajkumar1220 (Flickr)

History's Hostage: China, India and the War of 1962


Fifty years ago, on October 20, 1962, with the world’s terrified gaze fixed firmly on the U.S.-Soviet nuclear standoff in Cuba, China attacked India. Provoked by a territorial dispute and tensions over Tibet, the war was brief and China emerged victorious. However, the war still casts a long shadow over Sino-Indian relations and, despite substantial improvement over the years, continues to influence the bilateral relationship in three principal ways.

First, the war of 1962 sealed the fate of the Tibet issue as an eternal source of tension in Sino-Indian relations. Long before the war Tibet began to plague Beijing and Delhi’s relationship as China accused India of trying to undermine its rule in Tibet while India charged China with suppressing Tibetan autonomy. The war served to solidify those suspicions. This has had both strategic and tactical consequences.

Strategically, the Dalai Lama’s presence in India, which the war made de facto irreversible, is a constant strain on Sino-Indian relations and the embodiment of the unresolved status of the Tibet issue. For Beijing, the Dalai Lama’s government in exile in Dharamsala has been a constant challenge to its rule in Tibet. For Delhi, it has been a symbol of Beijing’s refusal to grant real autonomy to Tibet. It has also proved a double-edged sword for India. While it has given India the so-called “Tibet card” to play against China, it has also boxed it in as Delhi cannot control the Tibetan leader nor throw him out for fear of the domestic and international reaction. All this has guaranteed constant tensions between the two Asian giants.

On a tactical level, Sino-Indian relations have been held hostage by events in Tibet and the relationship between the Chinese government and the Tibetans. As C. Raja Mohan has characterized it, “When there is relative tranquility in Tibet, India and China have reasonably good relations. When Sino-Tibetan tensions rise, India’s relationship with China heads south.” However, as such tensions reflect ethnic conflicts inside Tibet, clashes between the Tibetan clergy and the local Chinese authorities and the policy of the Dalai Lama, they are often beyond the control of Beijing and Delhi. As a result, Sino-Indian relations have become difficult to predict and more difficult to manage in times of crisis. This inherent instability has been aggravated by a time bomb which can explode anytime, the inevitable reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.

Second, 1962 has bequeathed to China and India the border dispute that started the war and has made resolving it a Herculean task. Thus to this day China continues to claim the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, while New Delhi lays claim to the Chinese-controlled Aksai Chin territory. This dispute continues to prevent the full normalization of relations despite almost a quarter decade of negotiations and Prime Minster Vajpayee’s 2003 visit to China. Despite efforts to sideline this issue it has not only remained central to bilateral relations, but has powerfully reasserted itself in recent years. A series of incidents- including Indian officials visiting the disputed areas, Beijing refusing to issue visa’s to Indian officers stationed in the disputed area, and official Chinese references to Arunachal Pradesh as “South Tibet”- have rekindled the dispute and led to a new cycle of accusations and tensions.

In addition, the territorial dispute has led to dangerous militarization of the Sino-Indian border, especially in disputed areas. Both sides have built transportation infrastructure, airstrips, and outposts and have deployed large numbers of troops to the border, including a Tibetan paramilitary special force employed by India’s intelligence service. The result has been frequent stand-offs and even occasional skirmishes between Indian and Chinese soldiers. Provoked by border incursions and patrolling in disputed areas, such incidents could escalate into a larger armed conflict. Earlier this year, China and India signed an agreement designed to manage tensions by establishing a mechanism for contact between the two sides in case of border incursions. However, it is uncertain how productive it will be in light of the failure of previous attempts to reduce tensions.

Third, the border war has instilled deep mistrust and a strong sense of rivalry between the two sides.

Vishal Shinde
April 27, 2013 at 03:13

Perfect answer Mr. Dyson and well elaborated facts and files. hoping to see the bilateral ties flourish and India becomes the world's largest economy

[...] History’s Hostage: China, India and the War of 1962 (thediplomat.com) [...]

December 21, 2012 at 07:59

@Bankotsu That was a mistake…I as an Indian agree. India did support LTTE and I think it paid a heavy price for that soldiers lost as part of IPKF and killing of former prime minister who tried to make it right Rajiv Ghandhi. No denying that…its a fact.

December 10, 2012 at 03:40

brother………,tommy………,the whole world is on the cork of pakistan and islamic republic of iran……….,iran  will soon take over the iran in next 10  yrs ………….,i bet u………………………………,

American Patriot
October 14, 2012 at 23:44

You need to put aside your religious prejudice and face the reality of a world of spiritual diversity (including atheism) The idea of Chinese government against Tibetans because of their religion is absurd. There are hundreds of millions of Chinese Buddhists in China who are hardly meddled and "oppressed" by Chinese authorities. So what is wrong with Dalai Lama crowd? The answer is that he and his cohorts mixed politics with religion and are trying to establish a medieval Iranian kind of theocracy. The world is progressed far enough to even look back to the Dark Age with any nostalgia.
You need to move on, John (or whatever you real name is) and find some meaningful things to do instead of obsessing with your Shangari-la fantasy. 

[...] History’s Hostage: China, India and the War of 1962 [...]

September 17, 2012 at 04:39

The problem with the border issue is the fragile ego of Indians. Their government cannot tell them the truth about their part which instigated the war. India plays the we are the victim propaganda card so as not to shatter Indian self esteem due to the fact that they started a war with China and got their butts kicked! Until Indians come to the truth of the events leading up to the war, they will always claim victimization. Too bad so sad!

September 13, 2012 at 20:35

Dear Mr James,
Your Smithsonian Institute has an excellent library in Washington. Probably the best in the world. You should do some reference there, before you come to erroneous and contrived conclusions. India's military was never forward deployed in 1962. That was the first mistake. When the forward deployments began under General Jacob ( I am proud to say that this brave soldier was an Indian first and Jewish later), Chinese called a ceasefire. Then there was pressure from your government under that democratic president Kennedy. That is why democrats are nevery liked in India. They are politicians with forked tongues. But please visit the Smithsonian institute, for correcting your warped version of history. Rgds. Shivkumar

September 7, 2012 at 15:01

Hi Raj, Please read Henry Kissinger's Book about whose troops crossed over  the border first! It will be a real eye-opener!

August 27, 2012 at 22:41

What about India supporting the Tamil Tigers terrorists in the past?

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