25 February 2023

Beware if China Calls for Truce! When the ‘Pacification of Tibet’ Meant its Complete Annihilation

Just as ‘truce’ doesn’t have the same meaning for the outside world as for Mao’s children, ‘pacification’ for the Great Helmsman in the 1950s was not what we usually understand.

Today, very few remember that as far back as 776 BC, the Greeks had introduced the Olympic Truce: A truce or ékécheiria (‘laying down of arms’); always announced before the Olympic Games so that all athletes and spectators could travel safely to the Games and peacefully return to their respective countries.

Of course, the truce has been thrown to the wind in Xi Jinping’s China and the International Olympic Committee, which primarily serves its own economic ends, is ever ready to kowtow to totalitarian China for the purpose. The truce has no meaning for Beijing; just look at the number of Chinese military planes entering Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ) every day. In January alone, a total of 142 PLA Air Force aircraft were tracked in the ADIZ, including 102 fighter jets, three bombers, and 37 turboprops.

Further Qi Fabao, the aggressive PLA regiment commander who triggered the Galwan Valley border clash on 15 June 2020 (on the occasion of Xi Jinping’s birthday), has been nominated as a torchbearer during the Winter Olympic Torch Relay in Beijing. At the same time, Beijing wants India to remember 1962.
According to The Hindu: “Ahead of the 60th anniversary of the 1962 India-China war which falls in October this year, official Chinese military researchers have compiled a new history of the war reassessing its significance and legacy, bringing the spotlight back to the war amid the current tensions in relations.”

The author is Zhang Xiaokang, the daughter of General Zhang Guohua, who commanded the Tibet Military Command (TMC) and directed the Chinese offensive against India in the eastern sector in October 1962. Her ‘new history of the war’ is titled One Hundred Questions on the China-India Border Self-Defence Counterattack. However, reading extracts published on a Chinese website show that there is nothing new in her book, apart from the usual lies.

For example, Zhang writes that the 27 senior Indian PoW officers (led by Brig John Dalvi) insisted on going on a tour of New China after their release from the PoW camp in Tibet in March 1963. The truth is that they had repeatedly pleaded with the Chinese authorities that they wanted to return to India as soon as possible to be reunited with their families, but the Chinese did not budge.

Another blatant lie is that the officers were paraded on Tiananmen Square on 1 May 1963. It is true that the Chinese brought the PoWs to the Chinese capital on the eve of Workers’ Day, but Brig Dalvi put his foot down and refused to be used by the Chinese propaganda during the 1 May Parade.

There is, however, one confirmation: China decided to call the war a ‘counter-attack’ only after the conflict was over.

According to Zhang Xiaogang, on 3 December 1962, the PLA’s General Staff Department issued instructions about the “Question of Naming the Operation Against the Invading Indian Army”. Orders from Mao clearly stipulated that “with regard to the naming of the counterattack against the invading Indian troops, for the sake of unified use internally and externally, the full name of the counterattack on the Sino-Indian border would be, China-India Border Self-Defence Counterattack”. Thereafter, all accounts, memoirs of officers, etc, have carried this name.

Another Book

Far more important and vital to understand the 1962 war with China is another book just published by Stanford University Press in the US: When the Iron Bird Flies: China's Secret War in Tibet authored by the Chinese scholar Jianglin Li.

Based on Chinese archival documents (mainly from local archives in Tibet, Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai), this “untold story reshapes our understanding of Chinese and Tibetan history”, says the blurb.

The presentation explains: “From 1956 to 1962, devastating military conflicts took place in China's southwestern and northwestern regions. Official records at the time scarcely made mention of the campaign, and in the years since only lukewarm acknowledgement of the violence has surfaced. When the Iron Bird Flies, by Jianglin Li, breaks these decades-long silence to reveal for the first time a comprehensive and explosive picture of the six years that would prove definitive in modern Tibetan and Chinese history.”

It is what Mao called the ‘pacification of Tibet’. Interesting for us in India, the ‘pacification’ campaign was considered by the Chinese strategists as a rehearsal for the war against India in October 1962. Jianglin explains: “At the end of 1959, Chinese military operations had been ongoing for four years in Sichuan, nearly two years in Qinghai, and nearly one year in central Tibet. PLA troops had occupied cities, towns, and pastoral regions on the Tibetan plateau, pressing Tibetan resistance forces into remote, mountainous regions.”


Mao Zedong. AFP

In January 1960, the TMC ordered: “Clear out the bandit gangs in autumn, clear out the remnants at the end of the year, and basically complete democratic reform.” This refers to the ‘communes’ so dear to Mao, which resulted in tens of millions of deaths in the Mainland.

The military operations were divided into four battle zones.

Though Chinese sources never mention that herders were engaged in military actions in Southern Tibet, thousands of nomads were massacred, simply because “this scarcely populated pastoral area more than 4,000m above sea level abutted Nepal and Bhutan to the south, providing a potential escape route to fleeing Tibetans.” Mao Zedong's instructions were clear that the tactic for the ‘pacification of rebellion’ was to close the doors ‘to beat the dog’.

The first battle in 1960 prevented Tibetans from escaping across the border into Nepal and Bhutan; with the herders grouped together during the winter; it was easy for the PLA “to round up and wipe out the whole gang”. Tens of such battles are described; during each of these battles, there was an ‘attacking phase’ and a ‘cleanup phase’.

Originally Published in FirstPost on 21 Feb 2022