Bertil Lintner, who challenges Maxwell’s thesis, shares some of his views on key overlooked questions while dealing with the Sino-Indian war.
Is the Henderson Brooks report adequate to understand the 1962 conflict?
The Henderson Brooks report examined lacunae in India’s defence before the 1962 war, but it does not explain why China attacked. One has to put the ’62 war in context—then it becomes clear that it had more to do with internal power struggles in China than the border dispute, or Nehru’s forward policy.
What was the internal struggle in China?
Mao Zedong launched his ‘Great Leap Forward’ in 1958 and it lasted until 1961, in which an estimated 18 million to 31 million died from starvation. It was a disaster and Mao had to take the blame for it. He would have been purged by his critics in the ruling Communist Party. To regain power and sideline his enemies, he indentified an ‘outside enemy’ and decided to rally the party and, more importantly, the army against it. India became that country. It had granted asylum to the Dalai Lama and allowed him to set up a government in exile on its soil. Additionally, there was also the excuse of the border dispute.
Neville Maxwell, who put the Henderson report on his website, thinks Indians should read it for a better understanding of the conflict. What do you think?
That’s rubbish. Maxwell should broaden his horizons and realise that the border dispute was not the reason for the 1962 war. It is worth noting that China, in January 1961—a year before the war—sent a combined force of three divisions, or 20,000 men, of regulars from its People’s Liberation Army across the border into northeastern Myanmar. The target was a string of secret, Nationalist Chinese Kuomintang camps across the border in Myanmar, which were used to launch raids into China. It was swift and over in a matter of weeks. Then, the Chinese troops withdrew to their side of the border—just as they did a year later in India’s Northeast.
So you see a link between these two?
I often look at the 1961 Mekong River Operation as a ‘rehearsal’ for the even bigger operation that occurred in 1962.
How did it help Mao?
You can see what Mao gained from all this. He managed to reposition himself within the party; the army was won over; and his enemies were sidelined, even purged, not Mao.
What areas is Maxwell glossing over?
Maxwell glosses over the geopolitical factors behind the 1962 war, or, I would argue, he is probably unaware of them. His approach to the issue is superficial and lacks substance.