July 04, 2020
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‘You Wave A Gun, And I’ll Wave A Gun’: Mao

The dramatis personae and some of the major developments in Sino-Indian relations leading up to the 1962 war

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‘You Wave A Gun, And I’ll Wave A Gun’: Mao
‘You Wave A Gun, And I’ll Wave A Gun’: Mao

The Backdrop

Some of the major developments in Sino-Indian relations leading up to the 1962 war

  • 1949 People's Republic of China is formed;  India one of the first to recognise it
  • 1950 PLA moves in to 'liberate' Tibet; Nehru affirms McMahon Line as boundary
  • 1954 India-China Agreement on Tibet and five principles of peaceful coexistence; Zhou Enlai visits India; Nehru visits China.
  • 1955 Nehru and Zhou meet at Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung, Indonesia
  • 1956 Zhou visits India, holds wide-ranging talks; Nehru concerned over Chinese maps showing 1,20,000 sq km territory as Chinese
  • 1959 Dalai Lama flees Tibet, takes refuge in India; Mao says Nehru encouraging rebels; border clashes between Sino-Indian forces
  • 1960 Zhou visits India, greeted by protests; talks on boundary issues hit a dead-end
  • 1961 India embarks on 'forward policy' to push back Chinese "intruders"
  • 1962 War erupts over boundary dispute


The Dramatis Personae

India   China

Jawaharlal Nehru, prime minister Chief negotiator on the boundary dispute, wanted close, strong ties with China   Mao Tse-tung, chairman of PRC Unquestioned leader and chief formulator of China's foreign policy
Krishna Menon, defence minister One of Nehru's closest aides and negotiators on the boundary dispute with China   Liu Shaqi, PRC president Looked after the day-to-day affairs of the country during Mao's absence
General P.N. Thapar, chief of army staff The key planner for the armed forces during the war   Zhou Enlai, premier Key advisor of Mao and chief negotiator during the boundary dispute
Lt Gen B.M. Kaul, corps commander in the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) The chief army commander in the eastern sector of the Sino-Indian boundary   Deng Xiaoping, general secretary of the CPC  Tasked by Mao with planning the war. Later played a key role in improving Sino-Indian ties.
B.N. Mullick, director, IB Key advisor to Nehru tasked with assessing and reporting Chinese activities along the borders   Chen Yi, foreign minister One of the boundary dispute negotiators who, with Menon, came close to a breakthrough
M.J. Desai, foreign secretary Negotiator on the boundary dispute and advisor 
during the war
  Zhang Guohua, Chinese general Played a key role during the invasion of Tibet. Chosen by Mao to play an important part in the 1962 war as well.


The Border
Sino-Indian boundary: total over 3,500 km

Divided into three sectors—eastern, middle and western. It is through the eastern sector that the controversial McMahon Line runs. Earlier known as the North Eastern Frontier Agency (NEFA), it’s now the state of Arunachal Pradesh. The middle sector, encompassing the boundaries of Uttar Pradesh (now Uttarakhand) and Himachal Pradesh, is considered the least contentious among the three. In the western sector, the boundary lies along Ladakh, including the Aksai Chin plateau. Much of Aksai Chin and some adjoining land are now under Chinese control. The Line of Actual Control (LAC) now divides the troops of the two countries.


The Dispute

Two inter-linked issues, Tibet and the boundary. The McMahon Line was drawn as part of an agreement between British India, Tibet and China after the Simla Conference of 1914. China participated in the conference but refused to ratify the agreement. Independent India accepted the McMahon Line as its border with China on the eastern sector, though it indicated that the western sector was not "well-defined". China's refusal to accept the McMahon Line as the border and India's insistence on it led to a series of failures to resolve the issue peacefully. A brief bonhomie between the two sides, seen after Bandung, soon dissipated. The Dalai Lama’s decision to flee Lhasa and take refuge in India, coupled with the Tibetan rebels' activities from the Indian soil against China, put further strains on bilateral ties.

The mounting pressure on Nehru in the face of perceived Chinese intransigency led to the "forward policy" to throw out Chinese "intruders", which further deepened the crisis. Soon after, the boundary clashes turned into a war on October 20, 1962, lasting some four weeks. After moving deep inside Indian territory, the Chinese forces withdrew to their original position behind the McMahon Line, later called the Line of Actual Control. Though in the western sector, Aksai Chin and some other parts were wrested from India's control by the Chinese and remain so till date.


Henderson-Brooks Bhagat Report

In the aftermath of the 1962 war, Lt Gen Henderson Brooks and Brigadier Bhagat, two senior officials of the Indian army, were tasked with analysing the reasons that led to the Indian defeat. Described as ‘Operational Review’, the report has become much sought after since to date it remains a classified document. British journalist Neville Maxwell, who authored the controversial book on the Sino-Indian conflict, India's China War, was reportedly given access to the report. But citing "extremely sensitive" and "current operational value" as reasons, the Indian government has so far refused to make the report public.

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