Zhou Enlai’s Delhi visit was an outcome of Beijing’s policy to defuse tensions and arrest a worsening of its geopolitical environment.(HTPHOTO)
Zhou Enlai’s Delhi visit was an outcome of Beijing’s policy to defuse tensions and arrest a worsening of its geopolitical environment.(HTPHOTO)

When China wanted to make peace with India

India spurned overtures from China between 1959 and 1960 to reach an amicable settlement. More importantly, policymakers misread India’s relative position in the changing international environment. This proved costly with India sleepwalking into conflict with a radicalised Mao in 1962.
By Zorawar Daulet Singh
UPDATED ON NOV 24, 2020 11:46 PM IST

In April 1960, Zhou Enlai embarked on an ambitious diplomatic mission to India to attempt a resolution. Let us recall the context. The previous year, Sino-Soviet differences had come to the fore, ironically because Moscow publicly broke ranks with Beijing by taking a neutral position on the India-China dispute, and by the first half of 1960, Moscow had withdrawn its experts from China and suspended all economic contracts. The year 1959 had also witnessed two border skirmishes between India and China, including an especially nasty one in the western sector in Ladakh where nearly a dozen Indian security personnel were killed during a patrol in October.

As a consequence, the Chinese had come under pressure, particularly from the Soviets. In a rather heated conversation between Nikita Khrushchev and Mao Zedong shortly after that skirmish, the Soviets came down hard on the Chinese for escalating the dispute:

Mao Zedong: “Nehru also says that the events in Tibet occurred on our fault. Besides, in the Soviet Union they published a TASS declaration on the issue of conflict with India.”

NS Khrushchev: “Do you really want us to approve of your conflict with India? It would be stupid on our part.”

NS Khrushchev: “...If you allow him (Dalai Lama) an opportunity to flee to India, then what has Nehru to do with it? We believe that the events in Tibet are the fault of the Communist Party of China, not Nehru’s fault.”

(After an intense exchange, Mao placates the Soviets and promises a peaceful settlement.)

Mao Zedong: “You will see for yourselves later that the McMahon line with India will be maintained, and the border conflict with India will end...The border issue with India will be decided through negotiations.”

It was in such a backdrop that Beijing made a decision in January 1960 to take a more pragmatic line on the dispute with India as well as other unresolved frontier disputes with neighbouring countries. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was also ordered to adopt a policy of restraint and avoid armed clashes. Mao sensed that China was facing a difficult international environment and, therefore, decided to seek a negotiated settlement.

This basic sense of insecurity is reflected in a May 1959 Chinese note to India, which might have been personally drafted by Mao.

“The enemy of the Chinese people lies in the east — the US imperialists have many military based in Taiwan, in South Korea, Japan and in the Philippines which are all directed against China. China’s main attention and policy to struggle are directed to the east, to the west Pacific region, to the vicious and aggressive US imperialism, and not to India or any other country in the southeast Asia and South Asia....our principal enemy is US imperialism...China will not be so foolish as to antagonize India in the west. Our Indian friends! What is [on] your mind? Will you be agreeing to our thinking regarding the view that China can only concentrate its main attention eastward of China, but not south-westwards of China, nor is it necessary for it to do so. Friends! It seems to us that you too cannot have two fronts. Is it not so? If it is, here then lies the meeting point of our two sides. Will you please think it over?”

But Jawaharlal Nehru felt this Chinese telegram had been “discourteous” and he rebuffed the implied suggestion to stabilise the crisis with China. Foreign minister Chen Yi was equally candid when he shared Chinese threat perceptions to Swaran Singh in April 1960. Chen candidly admitted, “Our relations with the US and Japan in the east are tense. It would be stupid if we created a tense situation with India in the west also. The USA has its bases around us, atomic missiles and atomic weapons around us. Our dispute with India is very small...We are in a serious situation and need your friendship...The situation in the east being so tense we cannot afford to have trouble in the west also...If two ordinary countries are negotiating, they do not expose their difficulties to each other. (But) I am telling you about our difficulties... It would be best if we could reach some overall settlement, but if that is not possible some interim arrangement could be made.”

Zhou’s Delhi visit was an outcome of Beijing’s policy to defuse tensions and arrest a worsening of its geopolitical environment. In his meeting with Nehru, Zhou explicitly offered that the Line of Actual Control could form the basis of a settlement. But, for India, how could there be any swapping of claims or “horse trading”, as Nehru put it, if all the territory, whether Arunachal Pradesh in the east or Aksai Chin in the west, were Indian?

India spurned overtures from China between 1959 and 1960 to reach an amicable settlement. More importantly, policymakers misread India’s relative position in the changing international environment. This proved costly with India sleepwalking into conflict with a radicalised Mao in 1962.

Zorawar Daulet Singh is an adjunct fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi. This is an excerpt from his new book, Powershift: India–China Relations in a Multipolar World
The views expressed are personal
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
app
Close
A video of an unruly tractor moving waywardly towards police personnel at ITO emerged on Tuesday as farmers protesting against farm laws deviated from their route and moved inside the Capital.
A video of an unruly tractor moving waywardly towards police personnel at ITO emerged on Tuesday as farmers protesting against farm laws deviated from their route and moved inside the Capital.

How unruly farmers tried to embarrass India on Republic Day

UPDATED ON JAN 27, 2021 02:09 PM IST
The tractor-borne unruly farmers were minutes away from India Gate when they were blocked by New Delhi Range police.
Close
How do we address this cyclical pattern of hailing and rubbishing financiers? It is time for an honest review of the entire issue (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
How do we address this cyclical pattern of hailing and rubbishing financiers? It is time for an honest review of the entire issue (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The policy landscape around digital and physical micro-lending

By Amol Agrawal
UPDATED ON JAN 25, 2021 06:08 AM IST
In 1870s, a similar backlash emerged in Poona and Ahmednagar districts of the Bombay presidency. The agriculture boom in the early 1860s led farmers to take loans from moneylenders
Close
A tiny tax on stock market transactions can help fund India’s vaccination drive without burning a hole in the wallets of stock market investors and give the government headroom for other expenditure to help save lives (AFP)
A tiny tax on stock market transactions can help fund India’s vaccination drive without burning a hole in the wallets of stock market investors and give the government headroom for other expenditure to help save lives (AFP)

Vaccinating all Indians, for free

By Praveen Chakravarty
UPDATED ON JAN 25, 2021 06:08 AM IST
The markets are at an all-time high. Impose a Covid-19 surcharge on transactions and use it for vaccination
Close
Why is it that, despite the government displaying its willingness to take a step back, the matter was not resolved? (PTI)
Why is it that, despite the government displaying its willingness to take a step back, the matter was not resolved? (PTI)

Farm protests: The costs of a prolonged standoff

By Shashi Shekhar
UPDATED ON JAN 25, 2021 06:08 AM IST
The government has extended an olive branch. The farmers must respect this and reciprocate. The tone set on Saturday should pave the way for a permanent solution.
Close
Pushing against the climate crisis — in spite of the terrible fire and hurricane damage — was his way of putting the economy before all else. This is what Biden-Harris will have to overcome with smart policies and even smarter communication. (AFP)
Pushing against the climate crisis — in spite of the terrible fire and hurricane damage — was his way of putting the economy before all else. This is what Biden-Harris will have to overcome with smart policies and even smarter communication. (AFP)

On climate, what the US needs to do

By Sunita Narain
UPDATED ON JAN 24, 2021 06:25 AM IST
Joe Biden has done well to rejoin the Paris accord. But his administration will have to overcome Trumpism, take responsibility for historic emissions, and change energy consumption patterns at home
Close
The JPC, hence, has a daunting task ahead, balancing the needs of State security against individual privacy. Giving entry to security agencies will compromise the encryption grid and data of millions. The State has to collaborate with tech giants in using the meta-data more meaningfully and for meeting other requirements without breaking the encryption. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
The JPC, hence, has a daunting task ahead, balancing the needs of State security against individual privacy. Giving entry to security agencies will compromise the encryption grid and data of millions. The State has to collaborate with tech giants in using the meta-data more meaningfully and for meeting other requirements without breaking the encryption. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Data bill: The security vs privacy debate

By Yashovardhan Azad
UPDATED ON JAN 24, 2021 06:26 AM IST
The Data Protection Bill also does not touch upon State surveillance methods. Who watches over the watchers? How can an officer of the same rank give permission to another for snooping? And how can another in the same system oversee its justification?
Close
The massive sacrifice of hundreds of Secret Service officers of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army remains a secret and an enigma. On the 125th anniversary of Netaji’s birth, I appeal to the nation to document and recognise these sacrifices (HT PHOTO)
The massive sacrifice of hundreds of Secret Service officers of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army remains a secret and an enigma. On the 125th anniversary of Netaji’s birth, I appeal to the nation to document and recognise these sacrifices (HT PHOTO)

The secrets of Netaji’s secret service

By Amit Mitra
PUBLISHED ON JAN 22, 2021 06:49 PM IST
The Indian National Army’s Secret Service men remain unrecognised, despite their sacrifices during the freedom struggle. We must revere them
Close
Prime Minister Imran Khan has contended that Pakistan's economy has made a remarkable turnaround.(Facebook/ImranKhanOfficial)
Prime Minister Imran Khan has contended that Pakistan's economy has made a remarkable turnaround.(Facebook/ImranKhanOfficial)

Imran Khan jumped the gun. This time, over Pakistan’s economic turnaround

UPDATED ON JAN 22, 2021 03:51 PM IST
  • Pakistan's GDP growth had slowed down much before the coronavirus outbreak, growing by 1.9% in 2019 as compared to a decade-high of 5.8% the previous year when Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf came to power.
Close
While social media has the ability to democratise politics, it can also silence voices. This is troubling (AFP)
While social media has the ability to democratise politics, it can also silence voices. This is troubling (AFP)

The democratic dilemma posed by social media

By Manjari Chatterjee Miller
UPDATED ON JAN 22, 2021 06:20 AM IST
The banning of Trump and others from Twitter and Facebook, and the shutdown of Parler made clear that the power to silence voices, whether of the one or of millions, lies with just three men on the planet – Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jack Dorsey of Twitter, and Jeff Bezos of Amazon. No wonder defending democracy will be a huge and unenviable task for President Biden’s team.
Close
The Supreme Court, in 2019, acknowledged that internet access is integral to the right to freedom of speech and expression while adding that any restriction on internet access must pass the test of proportionality, and suggested the evolution of a rules-based mechanism to govern the internet. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
The Supreme Court, in 2019, acknowledged that internet access is integral to the right to freedom of speech and expression while adding that any restriction on internet access must pass the test of proportionality, and suggested the evolution of a rules-based mechanism to govern the internet. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Putting the consumer at the centre of Digital India

By Lloyd Mathias
UPDATED ON JAN 22, 2021 06:21 AM IST
One way to empower consumers is by creating mechanisms to ensure inter-operability, by making it easier to switch services from one platform to another. In telecom, interoperability is implemented. However, in the internet space, and more prominently in the app space, consumers do not have this choice.
Close
Project finance economies have different imperatives from working capital economies. They need investment to fill the gaps in their infrastructure and lack the resources to do so (Pratik Chorge/HT PHOTO)
Project finance economies have different imperatives from working capital economies. They need investment to fill the gaps in their infrastructure and lack the resources to do so (Pratik Chorge/HT PHOTO)

The working of a ‘project finance economy’

By Janmejaya Sinha
UPDATED ON JAN 22, 2021 06:19 AM IST
It is time to question neo-classical economic precepts on deficit and inflation for an economy of India’s nature
Close
Their success highlights the depth and strength of talent in the country (PTI)
Their success highlights the depth and strength of talent in the country (PTI)

Courage, calibre, character: India’s greatest series win

By Ayaz Memon
PUBLISHED ON JAN 20, 2021 08:07 PM IST
The experienced pros and newcomers combined to prove a point to themselves, the opponents and the world. And created history
Close
The Centre ensured the supply of drugs with equitable and integrated access (REUTERS)
The Centre ensured the supply of drugs with equitable and integrated access (REUTERS)

Managing drug security effectively in times of a pandemic

By Sudhansh Pant
UPDATED ON JAN 20, 2021 09:19 PM IST
The Centre’s strategy to ensure sufficient access, monitor stocks and distribution, issue approvals, maintain seamless supply chain of drugs, effectively communicate with stakeholders, and evolve a dynamic Clinical Management Protocol (CMP) has contributed significantly to India’s Covid-19 management success
Close
A new report by Chatham House describes India as UK’s ‘rival’ or ‘at best, an awkward counterpart’ on par with Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. It also weighs in against the idea of expanding G7 to include India (Getty Images)
A new report by Chatham House describes India as UK’s ‘rival’ or ‘at best, an awkward counterpart’ on par with Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. It also weighs in against the idea of expanding G7 to include India (Getty Images)

Is ‘Global Britain’ inimical to India?

By Syed Akbaruddin
UPDATED ON JAN 20, 2021 09:10 PM IST
There are disturbing signals from both segments of British polity and civil society. India will need to assess the UK’s position carefully
Close
Pakistan's opposition parties had united last year under the aegis of Pakistan Democratic Movement to launch coordinated attacks on Prime Minister Imran Khan(AFP)
Pakistan's opposition parties had united last year under the aegis of Pakistan Democratic Movement to launch coordinated attacks on Prime Minister Imran Khan(AFP)

Imran Khan gets squeezed between shrinking economy and proactive opposition

UPDATED ON JAN 20, 2021 05:48 PM IST
  • Differences between China and Pakistan over funding of CPEC's biggest railway project spotlights the growing pressures on PM Imran Khan on the economy front
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP