Tuesday, July 16, 2024
HomeOpinionsIndia and China: Revisiting the 1962 war and 2020 Galwan attack

India and China: Revisiting the 1962 war and 2020 Galwan attack

In Mao’s China, his Great Leap Forward policies were a catastrophic failure. Between 35-45 million Chinese people had died because of the Great Leap Forward, which caused a famine instead of the imagined rapid industrialization. Mao thought that the best way to regain power and legitimacy was by unifying the nation, especially the armed forces against an outside enemy which happened to be India due to the accusations of a forward troops movement.

The simultaneous emergence of China and India as economic powers is one of the greatest events of the first decades of the 21st century. Both the countries are one of the oldest civilizations of the world and have co-existed in peace most of the time in millennia. Along with being the ancient civilizations, India and China have a colonial past, current challenges, and future potentials. In the history of India-China relations, the year 1962 was a “Himalayan” blunder.

As of 2022, it has been 60 years since the incident took place. Yet even after 60 years of horrific war, again in the year 2020, China once again surprised India in a violent clash at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Galwan valley. Against this backdrop, this article attempts to explore the bilateral relations, draw parallels between the 1962 War and the 2020 Galwan standoff while analysing the success of diplomatic dialogues between the two countries.

Establishing Bilateral Relations

Contemporary relations began when India and China achieved independence in 1947 and 1949 respectively. India was one of the first countries to recognize the People’s Republic of China (PRC) shortly after the latter was founded and on April 1, 1950, it became the first non-communist country to establish diplomatic relations. The two nations had cordial relations in the 1950s at a time when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Premier Zhou Enlai were key advocates of strong solidarity between the two countries. In fact, during 12 days visit to China, the then PM, Mr Nehru was welcomed with thousands of Chinese waving Indian as well as Chinese flags at the airport. This era could be termed as the era of “Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai” (Indians and Chinese are brothers) as the two sides developed the “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence” (Panchsheel, or Panch Shila) that still guide today’s foreign policies. However, the tensions between these two countries commenced towards the end of the 1950s, and war broke out in the year 1962, deeply hurting the bilateral relationship, the repercussions of which are still felt today. 

Origins of the conflict

The year 1962 is embedded in the collective memory of India as national humiliation when Beijing “surprised” Delhi and sent its troops over disputed territory across the LAC. The main cause of the 1962 war was a dispute over the sovereignty of the widely separated Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh border regions, while the escape of the Dalai Lama to India in 1959 acted as a catalyst. Aksai Chin, a disputed area between India and China is the significant geopolitical reason for the 1962 war.

This dispute goes back to even before Indian independence, at a time when William Johnson, a civil servant with the Survey of India, proposed the “Johnson Line” in 1865, which put Aksai Chin in Kashmir. However, this map was not shared with China since Xinjiang prefecture at that time was not under the control of China. It came under Chinese control years later and it was not until 1892 that China erected boundary markers at Karakoram Pass.

Following in the year 1897, British military officer, Sir John Ardagh, proposed a boundary line along the crest of the Kun Lun Mountains, north of the Yarkand River. This line accounts for territory further north to the Sanju Pass in the Kun Lun Mountains. The strategic importance of this area became prominent when the Chinese constructed a road from Tibet to Xinjiang province in 1950, which was left unattended from the Indian side. Despite the Aksai Chin region being uninhabitable owing to a lack of life-sustaining resources, it remains supremely strategically important for China as it connects Tibet to Xinjiang province

58 years after the 1962 war, in a violent clash between India-China at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) near the Galwan valley, nearly 20 Indian soldiers were martyred. While the reasons behind the recent face-off remain uncertain, several incidents and developments may have provoked Chinese aggression. Firstly, in 2018-19, the Ministry of Defence in its annual report stated that the government will be constructing the roads along the India-China border of which Phase 1 of this project has been completed. The 2nd phase encourages 32 roads to be built along the border. China has been opposing this construction as it doesn’t want India to fully utilize the road. Secondly, On August 5, 2019, India scraped Article 370. After the abrogation of Article 370, two separate Union Territories were created- first Jammu and Kashmir and second Ladakh which was opposed by China, claiming that India has included the Chinese territory (Ladakh) in its administrative jurisdiction.

China has been receiving a lot of international criticism on the issue of Human rights violations of Uighur Muslims. Besides, China passed the Hong Kong National Security Law which faced widespread criticism both at the national and international levels. China is also facing international pressure over the origin and spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Besides, in the year 2014, a joint statement made by India and the USA addressed their concerns regarding the South China Sea. Further, during the Trump administration, a response to the Chinese construction of the military facilities, including airstrips and radar towers, on the artificial islands, was necessary. Hence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and American President Donald Trump also sent out a message to China, underscoring in a joint statement that a close partnership between their two nations was “central to a free, open, inclusive, peaceful, and prosperous Indo- Pacific region.” These international tensions may have contributed to the regional escalations, indirectly or directly, attacking Chinese expansionist policy and Xi Jinping’s Chinese dream that led to the border face-off.

Drawing parallels

Despite the six decades gap between 1962 and 2020 and a series of agreements after resuming diplomatic activity in 1976, both the incidents have certain parallels in between. The foremost parallels between 1962 and 2020 are the geopolitical importance of the region where the 1962 war and border faceoff in 2020 occurred. The Galwan River Valley situated in the Sub Sector North (SSN) is considered a point of great strategic importance for both India and China. Indian construction activities such as the bridge across the Shyok river and the 255km Darbuk-Shyok-DBO road will provide a crucial connection between Leh and Daulat Beg Oldie. It is an advanced landing ground that lies quite close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China which irked the Chinese. The valley is also an important connecting factor with Chinese-controlled Aksai Chin. Thus, India’s presence in Aksai Chin irks China which withholds the crucial Xinjiang-Tibet highway passing through the river valley.  

The second most commonality between the two face-offs is the element of surprise and betrayal. To resolve the long withstanding unresolved border dispute, negotiations were underway between Chou En-lai and Nehru, right up till 1961. However, this bonhomie did not contain the Chinese to invade India in October 1962. The lack of reading Chinese intentions or missing intelligence analysis has put us on the backfoot since Independence. India completely missed the construction of Trans- the Karakorum Highway. It was only on August 31, 1959, that Nehru informed the Rajya Sabha that according to an announcement made in China, the Yehcheng-Gartok Road, which is also called the Sinkiang-Tibet Highway, was completed in September 1957.

Lastly, an interesting parallel between Mao Zedong’s and Xi Jinping’s China could be observed by looking at their domestic situation in 1961 and 2020. Xi Jinping envisaged the China Dream in his speech at the 19th Party Congress which included (1) A powerful and rich state (Guo Jia fuqiang 国家富强), (2) Renewal of the nation (minzu Fuxing 民 族复兴) and (3) Happiness of the people (Renmin xingfu 人民幸福). In reality, looking at the economic condition, none of these three components is qualifiable as China’s economic activity is based on export and as per World Bank analysis, the global economy was in a deep recession. Consequently, the Chinese economic growth rate dropped by 6.8 per cent year on year in the first quarter of 2020, with a negative growth rate of 3 per cent, wherein investment shows a negative 10 per cent growth year on year, and 600 million Chinese people are not “well off”.

Similarly, in Mao’s China, his Great Leap Forward policies were a catastrophic failure. Between 35-45 million Chinese people had died because of the Great Leap Forward, which caused a famine instead of the imagined rapid industrialization. Mao thought that the best way to regain power and legitimacy was by unifying the nation, especially the armed forces against an outside enemy which happened to be India due to the accusations of a forward troops movement. In the case of Xi, unemployment, mismanagement of covid19, a decline in investment and Hong Kong protests led to questions to Xi’s leadership. Like the conditions leading up to the border skirmish with India in 1962, an external enemy was found yet again in India in 2020

The success of diplomatic dialogues and India’s heavy hedge against China

While there have been certain parallels between the two face-offs, somewhat success of bilateral relations has worked in our favour to contain the loss of soldiers. For instance, the two nuclear-armed neighbours have fought without conventional firearms on the border, following the treaties signed by the two countries. However, the military escalation in Ladakh should be treated with equal importance by both sides.

Besides, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a statement made in 2020 made it crystal clear that “India would respond firmly to any attempts to transgress the Line of Actual Control (LAC)”. He specifically emphasised that in contrast to the past neglect of such challenges, Indian forces now decisively counter any violations of LAC, the statement further said.

In addition, in light of the Galwan standoff and engagements near Pangong Tso lake area, the Indian Army has bought 17 flat bottomed boats, the majority of them to be deployed at the Pangong Tso in eastern Ladakh for rapid deployment of troops in case of contingencies as well as patrolling. Before its recent deployment, The Army had seven-eight years ago inducted 17 QRT (quick-reaction team boats) for patrolling the Pangong Tso. However, it was only in the year 2020 that the army inked two contracts for the specialized boats.

Plus, in October 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated Atal Tunnel which holds strategic importance for the Indian Army. The Atal Tunnel has put China at discomfort as the 9.02-km long tunnel, the longest highway tunnel in the world, connects Manali and the Lahaul-Spiti valley throughout the year, which earlier was cut off for nearly six months every year due to heavy snowfall. India is giving a major push to boosting connectivity and use of high-tech surveillance along the nearly 1,350-km Line of Actual Control in the Arunachal Pradesh sector to ensure quick mobilisation of troops and heavy weaponry to deal with any eventuality in the face of the standoff with China in eastern Ladakh. In fact, around 20 bridges, a number of tunnels, airbases and several key roads are being developed in strategically key areas in Arunachal Pradesh.

Furthermore, as late Sushma Swaraj ji once said, “if China expects India to adhere to One China Policy then China must respect the One India Policy“. Apart from bilateral arrangements between India and China, India should continue to work aggressively upon “Neighbourhood First” and form strategic partnerships like QUAD, ASEAN, BIMSTEC etc. In addition to military rebuttal, India also needs to explore economic and diplomatic actions. For instance, India depends on China for about 70 per cent of the APIs that it uses in pharmaceutical manufacturing. While banning Chinese products could be seen as a temporary solution, more crucial sectors like health and manufacturing could be explored to reduce dependency on China. India also needs to strengthen the QUAD, further, its economic and diplomatic ties with Taiwan, express greater support to Hong Kong, and strategically address the issue of the South China sea to maintain peace and order at the border as well as rise in South Asia further a global power. 

Join OpIndia's official WhatsApp channel

  Support Us  

Whether NDTV or 'The Wire', they never have to worry about funds. In name of saving democracy, they get money from various sources. We need your support to fight them. Please contribute whatever you can afford

Dnyanashri Kulkarni
Dnyanashri Kulkarni
(Dnyanashri Kulkarni is working at Public Policy Research Centre, New Delhi as Assistant Research Fellow. Before joining PPRC as a researcher, she has interned at Indian Council for Cultural Relations. She has pursued her bachelors in French Literature from Mumbai University and is currently a Masters student of International Relations at Jindal School of International Affairs.)

Related Articles

Trending now

Recently Popular

- Advertisement -