India got independence in 1947 from the British empire but not the entire India – as we know it today – was part of the British empire back then. The state of Goa and the union territories of Dadra Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu were under Portuguese rule and they continued being so even after 15th August 1947.
Among these, Dadra and Nagar Haveli was the first one to declare independence from Portugal, when in 1954, members of Azad Gomantak Dal, National Movement Liberation Organisation (NMLO), United Front of Goans (UFG) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) attacked police posts and liberated the territory, forming a virtually independent country that later integrated into India in 1961 along with Goa and Daman & Diu.
1961 was the year when India decided to liberate the remaining Portuguese colonies i.e. Goa and Daman & Diu and integrate them into the Indian union. Just like Operation Polo was launched in 1948 to bring the State of Hyderabad under Indian control, Operation Vijay was launched by the Indian Army on 18th December 1961 to finally end the Portuguese occupation of these territories for good.
After the resounding success of the operation, the world’s reaction was diverse. Some saw it as a country breaking itself of the shackles of western imperialism, while others saw it as a country using military force to fulfill its political objectives.
Towing expected lines, the Soviet Union wholeheartedly supported India’s action while the US condemned it. What stood out was China’s reaction. As put out in a paper published at Stanford (pdf link), China sent mixed signals:
The Chinese government stressed its “resolute support” for the struggle of the people of Asia, Africa and Latin America against “imperialist colonialism”. However, the Hong Kong Communist newspaper Ta Kung Pao (regarded as reflecting the views of the Peking Government) described the attack on Goa as “a desperate attempt by Mr. Nehru to regain his sagging prestige among the Afro-Asian nations.”
The Chinese government’s unofficial propaganda newspaper, which was published first, was critical of Operation Vijay wherein it stated that Jawarlal Nehru chose to annex Goa in desperation to recover his sagging prestige. But on the 19th of December 1961, the official statement of the Chinese government praised the move by stating its support for the people against imperialist colonialism.
Such an ambivalent response by China towards the issue was perhaps due to its relations with India that was strained after India welcomed the Dalai Lama into the country after his exile from Tibet in 1959. Plus other disputes like the border disputes in 1960 and India’s forward policy had ensured that all was not well between New Delhi and Peking.
The liberation of Goa has also been dubbed as one of the justifications by China for going to war with India the following year in 1962. After declaring liberation of Goa a struggle against imperialism, the same Chinese government took a u-turn and cited it as an example of expansionist designs of India, against which China had to defend itself!
While China’s u-turn as well as the first “unofficial” criticism can be explained on the basis of strained relationship between the two nations due to border and other disputes, what explains the initial support they offered? A theory suggests that the initial positive response of the Chinese government was just a guile by China to lure India and Pandit Nehru into a sense of security over the Indo-China relations.