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US assurance critical to China’s 1962 India attack

A critical element in the Chinese decision to launch military action lay in an “assurance” to Beijing that Chinese nationalists would not launch twin military operations along with New Delhi against China, reports Amit Baruah.
Hindustan Times | By Amit Baruah, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 10, 2007 04:15 PM IST

A critical element in the Chinese decision to launch military action against India in 1962 lay in an “assurance” to Beijing that Chinese nationalists would not launch twin military operations along with New Delhi against China, according to declassified CIA papers.

The papers argue that the Chinese were worried about their security in June 1962. The efforts to achieve an overall border settlement earlier in the year were frustrated by “Indian demands for Chinese withdrawals.” Soon after, Beijing was alerted to a move by the Indian troops moving up between and even behind some Chinese posts in April 1962.

“Based on personal contacts with (Premier) Chou En-lai and (Foreign Minister) Chen Yi….(blanked out portion)…in 1962 that the Chinese leaders expected the Chinese nationalists and the Indians to launch simultaneous military actions against China 'anytime' between June and mid-summer,” the CIA documents stated.

“However, assured in late June that the nationalists would not attack, they (the Chinese) turned their attention to planning for a major clearing action against Indian posts…the establishment of a new (Indian Army) special corps…in early October and the killing of 33 Chinese soldiers…on the 9th and 10th (of October) precipitated the final phase of Chinese preparations,” the documents added.

The “assurance” tallies with previous information that half-a-million Chinese troops were stationed in Fujian province to repel a full-scale assault from Chinese nationalists. Essentially, the Americans assured that they would not support a nationalist attack on the mainland.

“An urgent meeting of (Chinese and American) envoys was convened in Warsaw on June 23, 1962, where Ambassador Wang Bingnan warned Ambassador John Moors Cabot against supporting a KMT invasion. He was assured that the U.S. would not support any such venture. President Kennedy confirmed it publicly later,” A.G. Noorani wrote in his review of ‘The Origins of the Cultural Revolution,’ Vol. 3: The Coming of the Cataclysm 1961-1966 by Roderick MacFarquhar in Frontline in December 1998.

“Ambassador Wang wrote in his memoirs that the statement of American policy ‘'had a great impact on policy decisions at home.’ Around this time, Mao returned from his retreat to assume complete charge of the government,” Noorani added. On October 13, 1962, Foreign Secretary M.J. Desai confirmed to US ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith of the Indian Army plan to “evict the Chinese from the NEFA (North East Frontier Agency, now known as Arunachal Pradesh)”.

“Moreover, Desai continued, there would be no extensive Chinese reaction because of their fear of the US - “It is you they really fear.”

In a section entitled “The Prospect”, the CIA predicted that the Sino-Indian dispute would remain unsettled for many years, primarily because the Indians would continue to insist that the Chinese withdraw from the Aksai plain.

“The decisive implication of (Chinese President) Liu Shao-chi's statement to (Ministry of External Affairs Secretary-General) R.K. Nehru in July 1961 is that China has as much right to retain the (Aksai) plain occupied since 1956 as India has to NEFA occupied since 1951. Even in the best case — that is, a complete Indian withdrawal from NEFA — Liu implied that China would only 'consider' a pullback from the plain,” the document dated May 5, 1964 stated.

According to the CIA, although the Chinese attack in October 1962 “deflated Indian military pretensions”, it intensely humiliated Indian leaders and vitally affronted the pride of the nation that the “deep desire” for “ultimate vindication” — to fight and win with new weapons and troops.

Such Indian feelings — to rebuild their military strength and fight again — may well prevail over the more sober calculation that the safest way out of the deadlock is a “political settlement on Chinese terms” — the CIA believed.

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