Illustration: Liu Rui
In recent months, India has taken a high-octane stance in commemorating the 50th anniversary of the China-India Border War. A friend of mine Jagannath P. Panda, a researcher at the New Delhi-based Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses published an article accusing China of being "in no mood to accept its own fault." He believes China should commit to that "an incident like the war in 1962 should never be repeated" and demanded China apologize for the harm it inflicted on Indians and the mistrust in bilateral relations.
We have communicated over the border war issue before and I felt sorry that he has not deeply reflected on the causes of the war.
In disputes and conflicts between two countries, we shouldn't purely place the blame on one side. Even if one side does bear the main responsibility, we should make an overall reflection.
Divergences on the McMahon Line between China and India were the fundamental reason for the border war. The McMahon Line was forcibly imposed on China and India by the British Empire, since China's former Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and India's old Mughal Dynasty (1526-1707) had their frontiers defined by a traditional line instead of a "boundary" in the modern sense. US former secretary of state Henry Kissinger pointed out it is in essence "the interpretation of colonial history." Now, the UK Ministry of Foreign Affairs has admitted the illegality of the McMahon Line, but India remains determined to uphold the views of British colonists.
India supported the Dalai Lama's uprising. After India provided shelter for the Dalai Lama in exile in 1959, China had to handle the boundary issue with India from a strategic perspective. But the Chinese government has always been in favor of solving the issue through negotiations. China's then premier Zhou Enlai flew to New Delhi in April 1960 to negotiate the border issue with then Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, but he refused negotiations. The attitude of Nehru was surely influenced by India's domestic politics: Nehru and his ruling party were attacked on the border issue by opposition parties.
That China was forced into a counterattack in the 1962 war was not only believed by regional specialists but also by strategists like Kissinger. After the first military clash between China and India in the border area in 1959, the Chinese military was ordered to retreat 20 kilometers to avoid an escalation of the conflict. This came while India initiated a forward policy of sending troops and border patrols into disputed areas. Since China's policy to stop India's further encroachment failed, a lightning strike to force India to the negotiating table was the last resort. China's passive counterattack was aimed at ending the harassments from Indian troops and bilateral confrontation.
The war was detrimental to both India and China. Even though China did make India negotiate, India since then has taken China as its biggest threat and taken a militaristic stance. China not only failed to get back its lost territory but created a new rival. This was unexpected.
In the 21st century themed around "peace, development, cooperation and mutual benefit," the leadership of China repeatedly emphasized that China and India will never be at war again. If the border problem cannot be solved, it could be temporarily put aside.
The two should view the issue objectively. However, from India's high-profile memorial for the 50th anniversary of the border war, it seems its military leaders and strategists are not doing so. Their reflection is allegedly confined to their country's military weaknesses, such as outdated equipment, misconduct, and poor logistics. If they continue deliberately ignoring the fundamental reason that caused the war, the China-India border problem will never be solved.
It's laudable that some Indian scholars have begun objective research and studies on the border war, calling for a change in attitude from some officials. Hopefully, India's leaders can focus on improving people's livelihoods instead of eyeing bigger defense budgets.
The author is a research fellow of the Center for South Asia Studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies. email@example.com