Vappala Balachandran | 22 JUNE, 2015
Indian troops forming a man-tow for artillery over rough mountain terrain during 1962 War
Recently a friend of mine sent me the views of a less known Chinese commentator on the Chinese perception of the 1962 Indo-China war. He wrote this on May 15, 2015 which coincided with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Xian which renewed Indo-China bonhomie. He said that the 1962 war is never remembered by China. It is considered a very minor part of China’s modern history. Even if it is mentioned, it is mostly defined as “conflict” rather than “war”.
Compared to China’s humiliating wars with foreign powers in the 19th-20th centuries which almost dismantled it as a nation, the 1962 war with India was too minor. Twenty million Chinese lives were lost during this period on account of Wars, civil disturbances and by the 1979 Vietnam conflict. He says: “But if you asked whether China had war with India, most of the Chinese would say: ‘Yes, but it is a small play.’ End of story. It is treated as trivial as a quarrel between two neighbors at large. So when Chinese realized that to Indian people this war means something as serious as “an invasion to India”, most of nowadays’ Chinese simply cannot grasp this concept. “We do not understand at all. We cannot believe it.”
But for most of us who are still pained by the 1962 defeat, this analysis would be considered as an example of Chinese arrogance. We firmly believe that China is destabilizing us on our Northern and N.Eastern borders, arrogantly considering Arunachal Pradesh as part of China, challenging us in the Indian Ocean and preventing us from doing business in the East China seas. When our soldiers were ambushed on June 4 in Chandel, Manipur by Naga (Khaplang Faction) there was a chorus in some sections of our media that China had helped the Nagas. However my purpose in writing this piece is not to analyze the Chinese Government’s policy towards us but to compare these contradictory perceptions between common people of both countries.
Irrespective of what anyone might say about the long British rule on India, one striking result of the colonial rule was the emergence of India as one geographical nation. The British bureaucracy, their Army and police system helped in preserving our unity although we had to be partitioned on the eve of our freedom. This also gave us some stability as a distinct nation. The British also guarded us from other colonial powers’ interference which, if successful, would have dismembered us into British, French, Dutch or Portuguese pockets like in Africa. Similarly the British control over the 562 princes through the Subsidiary Alliances, “Residency system” and Doctrine of Lapse helped us in applying psychological pressure on some wayward princes who might have revolted after our independence and made our country look like pock-marked Swiss cheese.
China escaped total colonial occupation but suffered horrendous upheavals due foreign interference and domestic problems throughout the 20th Century. I have a long list of their misfortunes starting with the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1900). Barbara Tuchman, biographer of American General Joe Stilwell says that six foreign armies, while rescuing the foreign legations from Boxers, looted and then burnt “every town, every village, every peasant’s hut in the path of troops”. The capital was occupied and China was forced to sign a “Boxer Protocol” paying heavy reparations to foreign powers for 37 years. After the fall of the Quing dynasty, China saw KMT’s struggle for power under Sun Yat-sen (1912) his exile next year and his return in 1916, each event resulting in disorder. Then came the formation of Communist Party and their joint struggle with KMT against the warlords (1921) then rupture between them when Chiang Kai-shek assumed KMT leadership (1927).
The Japanese occupied Manchuria in 1932 and the Communists began their Long March from 1934. KMT and Communists fought together during the Sino-Japanese war in 1937 but they also fought against each other from 1937 to1945. Japanese surrendered in 1945 and Mao chased KMT away to Formosa in 1949. After the Communists assumed power the population faced terrible calamities like the “Great Leap Forward” (1958-60), Cultural Revolution in 1966, death of Mao and power struggle in 1976. This phase ended with the bloody China-Vietnam war in 1979. Roughly 2 million soldiers died between 1928 and 1936 while 6 million civilians died in internal disturbances between 1945 and 1949. During the Great Leap Forward 23 millions died. Western authors say that during Cultural Revolution at least 1, 00,000 were killed in 1968 in Guangxi alone. 7,000 Chinese soldiers were killed during the 1979 Vietnam War.
As against this, independent India faced only 5 major wars ( 1947 Kashmir war, 1962 Chinese war and Pakistan wars in 1965, 1971 and 1999 ).1962 was especially bad in our memory since we were very badly defeated. We had won all other wars except perhaps 1965 which was a stalemate. We are still fixated on our 1962 defeat. We don't know how irrelevant the 1962 war was in the overall context of the 20th Century's upheavals. We suffered only about 1,500 military casualties in the 1962 war.
This is not to say that we should let our guard down vis-à-vis China or for that matter against any other foreign power. But our vigilance should not result in a national phobia resulting in ridiculous steps like preventing foreign NGOs from operating in our country. This is Xenophobic and will push us backward. In most democracies NGOs are recognized as critical change agents in promoting scientific research, economic growth, human rights and social progress. We are trying to banish the much maligned “Greenpeace International” from India. It will be of interest to know that United States have officially taken into account a 2014 “Greenpeace” study “ Clicking Clean: How companies are creating the Green Internet” on the next generation internet system.
Our political leadership should rise beyond chauvinism and neurosis and guide our public. They should not create divisions among our people with “Ghar Wapasi” or anti-Christian propaganda or by pursuing narrow thinking through academic or cultural institutions by planting partisan leadership on them.