Why did the victorious Chinese army withdraw in 1962? - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 21 November 2022

Why did the victorious Chinese army withdraw in 1962?


By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 21st Nov 22


Sixty years ago, on November 21, 1962, with advancing Chinese columns virtually on the outskirts of Tezpur and the Indian Army in full retreat, Beijing unexpectedly declared a unilateral ceasefire and undertook to withdraw its forces 20 kilometres (km) behind the McMahon Line. This amounted to a declaration of victory, riding on the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) October attack on the handful of Indian soldiers of 7 Infantry Brigade, which was deployed on the Namkha Chu river north of Tawang.


To this day, opinion is divided on what motivated Beijing to call off the game at the moment of victory. Indian Army units deployed at Dirang and Mandala were racing for the exits, their attention focused on putting the Brahmaputra River between the PLA and themselves. Barely one-tenth of India’s fighting forces had been committed to battle against the Chinese, but the fullness with which the PLA had put them to the sword made it seem as if the entire Indian military had been thoroughly vanquished. New Delhi’s discomfiture was complete after Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru appeared to have declared defeat in a radio broadcast on the eve of the ceasefire.


“We have had reverses at Walong, Se La and today Bomdila, a small town in NEFA, has also fallen. We shall not rest till the invader goes out of India or is pushed out. I want to make that clear to all of you, and especially our countrymen in Assam, to whom our heart goes out at this moment,” said Nehru in a choked voice.


Tezpur, the first major Assam town, presented a scene of chaos. Flames flickered in the night as government officials frantically burnt documents. Outside the treasury, there was a bonfire of banknotes. The doors of the local “lunatic asylum” were thrown open to save “lunatics” from falling into Chinese hands. Tezpur was where the Indian public had received the Dalai Lama in 1959, so it was felt that the PLA would exact revenge here. The ferry across the Brahmaputra, operated by a private company – the RSN&IGN Company – was packed to capacity with fleeing citizens. Prominent locals, such as tea garden managers (many of them European) flew out in Indian Airlines flights, cramming them to capacity. Towards the end, the notables were leaving their vehicles at the airport with keys inside; they never thought they would come back and see their cars again.


Compared to this chaos, the area north of Bomdila was a picture of calm. Chinese troops had marched in and distributed themselves between villages, with individual units charged with administering specific jurisdictions. Acting on clear instructions to win the hearts and minds of the local Monpa people, Chinese soldiers helped locals with fetching water, harvesting crops and looking after livestock. The PLA had clear orders to win over the Monpas, which was evident from the similarity in PLA behavior all across the border from Walong to Tawang. Unfortunately for the Chinese, the Monpas accepted their help but gave no loyalty in return. The reason, Monpas still say, was simple: The Chinese are untrustworthy! After subjugating Tibet in the 1950s the PLA had similarly tried to woo over the locals. But, very quickly, they revealed their true faces to the Tibetans. With no love forthcoming from the Monpas, the PLA saw no benefit in a long-term presence in Tawang.


A simultaneous PLA ploy was to highlight the Indian administration’s abandonment of Tawang in the face of the Chinese offensive. The Indian government, which fled ignominiously, was incapable of looking after them, argued the Chinese to the Monpas. However, given China’s treatment of the Tibetans in the 1950s, the Monpas clearly preferred the “cowardly” Indians.


Each of these reasons mutually reinforced an ever more compelling administrative case for the Chinese to vacate Tawang, having “taught India a lesson”. Ultimately, however, it is likely to have been a tactical-operational consideration that took the PLA back across the McMahon Line in December 1962. Withwinter setting in rapidly, the PLA’s extended supply line was becoming a vulnerability. Soon, the snowed-under passes would have made it extremely difficult to maintain troops across the McMahon Line. 


Meanwhile, in response to Jawaharlal Nehru’s plea to US President John F Kennedy, American arms, ammunition and extreme cold clothing were flowing into India and being transported to Assam. The handful of Indian soldiers that had been defeated by the PLA was being replaced, reinforced and equipped with US weaponry.


At the extended points in Assam that the PLA reached on 20 November 1962, logistics would have made it easier for India to mobilise reserve formations, equipped with heavy artillery and tanks. The PLA faced the unappealing prospect of fighting US-equipped Indian forces without a route of withdrawal across the Himalayas. Deciding to quit while they were ahead, the PLA declared victory and withdrew to Tibet.


  1. N.J.N.-N.J. Nanporia the Editor of the Times of India was first to write before the Chinese declared unilateral withdrawal that they would come out with a Peace Offensive.
    In the first place why Chinese decided to stab in the back of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru! Thanks for enlightening us with your Analysis

  2. Dear you missed the real point: Chinese well tested strategy is launch and secure stunning short term victory and declare its win and withdraw just to prepare enemy psychologically that PLA is invincible and then take its political benifit: chip away foreign terrotary and make the enemy unwilling to fight. China does not like to fight a full war - it has no courage.

  3. @shreepal..they did not fight a full war because it is stupid to. They achieved their aim and fucked us over. Game over.

  4. Under nehru's misrule, our Army lost, but under Modiji's rule, our Army can easily crush those chinese pest (pla)

    1. Just have a try. You will receive a Bigger Shame than 1962.

    2. who genuinely thinks of India as a threat to China? What a joke. The PLA would see you crying in a day, while indians will gloat over propaganda

    3. Why be scared you Chinese people? Comment under your real name. Or are you afraid Xi will go after you.

  5. The present war fare does not depend on number of population but on weaponry, strategy,and daring political decision. A country like China thinking several times before going for large scale offensives against small countries like Myanmar or Tawiwan. India is too big now.But nobody will risk a war now.

  6. Dear, now keep assuming that the retreated due to US weapons. They didn't retreat in Vietnam nor in Korea war. So don't make excuses. They seriously damaged us and they still can. Now Pakistan is also with them trust me we were luxky that Chinese didn't got involved in Balakot adventure the shame we have to face internationally at the hands of Pakistan is something we NRIs can't explain to locals and our media says we struck inaide Pakistan what a joke not a single solid proof. Instead our own minister of that time claimed that it happened due to Modi

  7. Jawaharlal Nehru didn't understand strategic matters at all. That's why even when IAF pilots reported war preparations by Chinese across the border, Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon and Nehru, kept on chanting Hindi- Chini bhai bhai. Jawaharlal Nehru sent our ill prepared Army with no modern weapons into war with Chinese. It was poor leadership of Nehru, that was to be blamed and we proud Indians need not own up the mess he left behind. Post 2014, after about three decades of coalition governments, we have a very capable and visionary leader , Narendra Modi ,trying to reverse the Congress culture of dithering to rapidly creating border infrastructure and modernising our armed forces. Chinese hegemonic leadership has taken note of it and that's why it attempted sabre rattling across the LAC during Galwan conflict in 2020 and even afterwards. According to DG,Border Roads Organisation, our border infrastructure would surpass that of China, within the next 3-4 years. Other dimensions of military and economic power are also getting modernised . Drones and UAVs are being inducted in a big way . Chinese mindgames won't work on Indian armed forces nor leadership any more . Today's India is preparing to be a much more formidable multi dimesional power and that's the stage when China will learn to negotiate and not attempt sabre rattling. One caveat " Narendra Modi should win the 2024 parliament election and continue his leadership.


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