1962 Flashback: When a Non Aligned Team Tried to Help India-China Negotiate Peace
Sri Lanka led the six nation NAM group
COLOMBO: In the on-going Sino-Indian conflict over Galwan, no third country has taken serious steps to intervene. An off-the-cuff offer by US President Trump was politely rejected by both India and China, and Russia has said that no third country involvement is needed.
But during the earlier more serious Sino-Indian conflict in 1962, six top non-aligned countries led by the then Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, had taken the initiative to bring about a lasting ceasefire and enable the start of bilateral talks to end the border dispute.
That NAM move was made with the express consent of India and China. Both needed an excuse to end the hot war.
The six-member non-aligned group comprised Ceylon ( as SriLanka was known at that time), the United Arab Republic (which is Egypt now), Ghana, Indonesia, Burma (now Myanmar) and Cambodia.
In the Sino-Indian war, which broke out on October 20, 1962 and ended on November 21, 1962, the Chinese had seized the Chip Chap River Valley, Galwan Valley and Pangong Lake in Ladakh in the Western Sector bordering Sinkiang and Tibet. Tawang, Thagla Ridge, Dhola Pass (Che Dong for the Chinese) and Walong in India’s North East Frontier Agency (now called Arunachal Pradesh) had also been over-run. On their maps, the Chinese were showing 57,936 sq km of the North Eastern Frontier Agency and 19,312 sq km of Ladakh as being part of China.
While the fighting was going on, on October 24 and November 4, the Chinese Premier Chou-En-Lai proposed a three point peace plan. It envisaged a 20 km withdrawal by both sides from the Line of Actual Control (LAC); military disengagement; and talks between himself and Indian Prime Minister Nehru.
But Nehru rejected the offer and insisted that the withdrawal should be to positions held before September 8, 1962 when the Chinese first attacked triggering a full scale war. Despite the distressing news from the front in which Indian troops were retreating, Nehru declared his intention to fight till the end.
“We are taking all possible help from friendly countries and there is no limit at all for such help,” he said alluding to Western aid. Nehru’s lurch towards the West further irked China and Chou-En-Lai warned against the ‘internationalization’ of the border war.
However, on November 21, China unilaterally declared a ceasefire and said that it would withdraw its troops 20 km from the Line of Actual Control (LAC) by which it meant the LAC as of November, 7, 1959. But China stipulated that the Indians should not go up to the ‘illegal’ McMahon Line (the Sino-Indian border drawn by the British in 1914) in the Eastern Sector. The Indians should keep a clear 20 km distance from the line. India should also not reoccupy Walong, a major base in that sector, China said.
In the Western Sector, China said that India should withdraw 20 km and not try to get back to the Chip Chap River Valley, the Galwan River Valley and the Pangong Lake. India was told not to re-establish any of the 43 ‘strong points’ it had set up in the Western Sector prior to the war. Beijing said that Chinese troops would begin withdrawing from December 1 onwards, but would ‘hit back’ if the Indians failed to observe any of the stipulations.
Rejecting the humiliating conditions intoned in an arrogant way, Nehru declared that India did not propose to negotiate, unless the Chinese forces went back to the LAC which existed before September 8, 1962.
Nehru said: “Events since 8 September, 1962, have completely shattered any hope that anyone would have entertained about settling the India-China differences peacefully in accordance with normal principles observed by all civilized governments. India would never submit, whatever the consequences, and however long and hard the struggle may be.”
The Chinese argued that if the September 8, 1962 line was accepted as the LAC, 6000 sq km of Chinese territory would be in Indian hands. However, on November 23, India ordered its troops “not to take any provocative action,” even as it sought military aid from the US and UK.
Meanwhile, alarmed by the unbridgeable gulf between the Indian and Chinese positions, and the possibility of resumption of hostilities leading to an expanded war involving the US and the West, Ceylon’s Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike called for an ‘informal’ meeting of Non-Aligned countries.
In letters sent to the UAR, Ghana, Burma, Cambodia and Indonesia, Sirimavo said:
“The grave international situation arising from the present state of the Sino-Indian Border Conflict, in my view, requires immediate and concerted attention to influence the Governments of India and China to avert the outbreak of a world war. I have been in communication with the Prime Ministers of India and China and I am aware that several other Prime Ministers of other non-aligned countries have made similar approaches, but it seems to me that individual efforts have not met with much success. It is therefore, extremely urgent that Heads of State/Prime Ministers of such non-aligned countries, as may be able to assist in influencing India and China should, if possible, meet and consult one another and decide upon an immediate joint appeal to India and China. I propose, therefore, for your urgent consideration, an immediate informal meeting of the Heads of State and Prime Ministers of UAR, Indonesia, Ghana, Burma, Cambodia and Ceylon, in the capital city of any one of these countries. If that is possible, I should be happy to suggest Colombo as the venue of such a meeting. I shall be glad to have your views if there are other non-aligned countries, who in your view, should be invited to such a meeting. I propose that the meeting should be held at the latest possible moment, and I suggest the first week of December. I shall be grateful to have an immediate reply.”
The UAR, Indonesia, Burma, Ghana and Cambodia, agreed to join a peace mission. The group of six agreed to meet in Colombo from December 10 to 12.
On December 12, 1962, the six-non-aligned group came out with the Colombo Conference Proposals (CCP): The CCP said that in the Western Sector (namely Ladakh), the Chinese military should go back by 20 km while India could keep its posts up to the LAC as of November 7, 1959. The demilitarized zone of 20 km created by Chinese military withdrawals will be administered by civilian posts of both China and India. With regard to the ‘Eastern Sector’, the Indian Forces can move up to the McMahon Line , except in two areas.
While India accepted the proposals in toto, China rejected them. On January 6, 1963, China said: “Since the conflict occurred in both the Eastern and Western Sectors, the same principle of withdrawal should apply to all sectors. In no case should one side be called upon to withdraw, and the other side allowed to advance. If there should disengagement, this should be done all along the entire Sino-Indian Boundary and not just in one of the sectors.”
The Colombo proposals had allowed India to advance up to the McMahon Line, a line which China had not accepted as legitimate. It wanted the line to be renegotiated.
However, despite disagreement on the CCP, neither India nor China resumed hostilities. This was partly due to the threat of US involvement on the Indian side, and partly due to the moral pressure exerted on both China and India by the non-aligned group led by Mrs. Bandaranaike.