Blame the British for China and India’s Border Problems

October 3, 2017

In August 2017, The New York Times reported China Tells India That It Won’t Back Down in Border Dispute. “China’s military has warned India not to underestimate its resolve to hold a mountainous piece of land at the heart of a standoff between the two Asian powers. … Beijing defending its claim to the 34 square miles of disputed land at a corner where China, India and the small kingdom of Bhutan meet. India does not claim the land but says it has been acting on behalf of Bhutan.”

So far, no shots have been fired, but this isn’t the first time India has had border conflicts, and the world can probably blame the British Empire for this problem that never seems to go away.

In the 19th century, with the reckless stoke of a pen or pencil, British Explorer McMahon drew the borders on maps that created India, and due to this, International Border Consultants reports, “India has had border disputes/wars with China, Nepal, and Pakistan.”

What’s interesting is that before the British Empire established the Raj, Victorian Web.org says India wasn’t a country, and no Chinese government was included in the changes McMahon made to the borders between Tibet and India.

When McMahon drew those borders for India, the Qing Dynasty like the Yuan and Ming Dynasties before it considered Tibet part of China.

In 1947, soon after the end of World War II, India gained its independence from Britain, and the Indian government refused to negotiate with China over land that had once been part of Tibet, but after 1949, Mao’s government told India that some of the land behind the McMahon line in India had been part of Tibet and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) wanted it back.

For the next thirteen years, China and India had a series of diplomatic conversations about this boundary issue. Zhou Enlai, the first prime minister of the PRC, attempted to convince Jawaharlal Nehru to resolve the boundary issue peacefully.

With the failure of peaceful negotiations, Chinese troops were sent to the McMahon Line.

India’s Nehru government repeatedly rejected China’s requests to negotiate the border dispute over the McMahon Line. Instead, the Indian army built bases and outposts in the disputed area while Chinese troops strengthened their defenses on their side of the disputed border.

Then India sent patrols into territory occupied by China and some of its troops were captured. In the next move, on June 4, 1962, Indian troops built fortified outposts deep in the disputed territory.

On September 8, 1962, Chinese troops surrounded the Indian outposts to stop further advances.

Chinese intelligence reported that the Indian army would soon attack due to India’s Seventh Brigade being deployed to launch Operation Leghorn. On October 9, Indian troops crossed the river between the two armies and attacked Chinese positions.

The resulting battle caused the Indian Seventh Brigade to collapse and large numbers of Indian troops surrendered and were taken prisoner by the Chinese. Chinese troops counterattacked and crossed the river pushing south as the Indian troops retreated faster than the Chinese army could advance.

To stop the Chinese, the Indian army sent four brigades to set up defensive positions along the only mountain road leading south through the rugged mountainous terrain, and India was planning to launch an assault on the Chinese army.

In a risky flanking maneuver, the Chinese sent 1,500 troops along a dangerous mountain trail to attack India’s Army in the rear and cut them in half. The move succeeded.

India’s Sixty-second Brigade collapsed the first day, and India’s Sixty-fifth Brigade abandoned their positions without a fight. News of the Indian army’s defeat reached New Delhi, and the people panicked causing large numbers of refugees to flee south.

China declared a unilateral cease-fire.

India’s army in their haste to retreat had left their weapons behind, but Chinese troops gathered the weapons and returned them to India along with the Indian troops that were POWs.

China’s next move was to withdraw its troops to the border it claimed to keep only the disputed territory. Similar to the Korean Conflict, that brief conflict ended without a treaty.

Since that 1962 war, China and India have continued to argue about sections of the border, which includes a portion of Kashmir and the eastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.

Another area in dispute is Ladakh. For centuries, Ladakh was an independent kingdom but is now part of India but with obvious cultural links with China.

In Ladakh, no one knows where India ends and China begins. China and India still share the biggest stretch of disputed border in the world divided by Nepal and Bhutan from Arunachal Pradesh in the south to Kashmir in the north.

The Indian army keeps a heavy military presence on India’s side of the border in Ladakh. Once again, India is not interested in negotiating a peaceful settlement.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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