By Hong Yuan, Global Times
It has been half a century since peace returned to the Sino-Indian border following the end of the border war in 1962. But 50 years ago, when China faced several difficulties both domestically and internationally, the Nehru administration, encouraged by the US and the Soviets, brought more trouble to the Sino-Indian border between 1959 and 1962.
China initially tried to avoid military confrontation, out of respect to India’s ancient culture and sympathy that it had suffered a similar painful past of oppression by colonial powers. However, India’s persistent provocation eventually breached China’s bottom-line, and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was forced to join the battle in self-defense.
Under the command of the central military commission, Chinese soldiers fought bravely and selflessly despite harsh conditions. They not only broke India’s offense, but also destroyed its elite forces, such as the Seventh Brigade of the Fourth Infantry Division, and captured Brigadier John Parashuram Dalvi.
But when the sound of China’s artillery reached New Delhi, the PLA decisively halted its military operation and pulled back its troops. The PLA’s performance in the war shocked Western strategists and did its country proud. Its victory has also brought peace on one of China’s most important borders for half a century.
War is a negotiating approach, but not a goal. Similarly, China’s decision to fight back against India in the 1962 border war was to strike a peace with its neighbor. Therefore, while fighting with the Indian troops, China constantly urged the Indian government to end the conflicts and solve the border issue on the negotiating table.
China’s peaceful intentions were further testified by its unilateral ceasefire on November 22, 1962, and its withdrawal of troops a few days later to 20 kilometers from the line of actual control since November 7, 1959.
China also carefully treated Indian prisoners of war. Injured Indian soldiers were given proper medical treatment and were sent back to their homeland. Chinese soldiers were even ordered by their commander to polish seized Indian weapons and return them back to the Indian army. This was unprecedented.
Then Chinese leader Mao Zedong believed the battle with India was also a political combat, and the real target was not Nehru but the US and the Soviets that had been plotting behind the scenes against China.
As to Nehru, Mao wanted to wake him up from the superpowers’ influence by giving him a heavy punch, so that he would come to his senses and end the war. War is an extreme means of communication between civilizations. The Sino-Indian Border War was not only a special interaction of two ancient civilizations, but also an unfortunate tragedy between two formerly colonized and oppressed states.
Mao understood this from both a historical and philosophical perspective, and so gave India room to maneuver and think during the war. By calling for a unilateral ceasefire when in an advantageous position, pulling back troops and returning prisoners of war and well-maintained weapons to India, Mao wanted to send a message of peace to India, and to lay a good foundation for long-term friendship.
Some in India argued that these peaceful gestures were made to humiliate the Indian army. Such an understanding is narrow-minded.
The Chinese and Indian civilizations have generally been in a friendly relationship for 2,500 years. In ancient times, Chinese Buddhists believed that India was the paradisiacal home of Buddha, and this positive feeling about India has never faded.
Now, the two countries have found more similarities. They both suffered gravely from colonial invasion and oppression in the 18th and 19th centuries, and they are both now powerful emerging countries and key members of the BRICS. These similarities and historical bonds indicate the border issue between China and India can be solved, as the issue was a result of former colonial rule.
Fifty years ago, the Indian government was blinded by selfish interests, and wanted to force the Chinese to accept an illegal border line created by colonial powers. This was boldly rejected. Today, both countries need to learn from their ancient friendly ties and the lesson from the war. For the Chinese, they love peace but they will also firmly defend their land.
The author is a deputy secretary-general and researcher with the Center of World Politics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.