Never again

Resolution of the border must be prioritised.

Fifty years after China inflicted a bruising defeat on India in a war they fought in the Himalayas, the scars of that brief but brutal military encounter remain. For India, the 1962 war was a turning point in multiple ways. It brought realisation that its idealism and pacifism of the previous decades was out of sync with the thinking of the rest of the world.  This realisation forced it to dramatically change its defense and foreign policies.  China, which in the 1950s was regarded by Delhi as a friend, became an enemy. India began investing heavily in defense preparedness thereafter.  Importantly, it forced India to look to nuclear weapons for security. If the defeat was traumatic so were the changes that India had to make in its dealings with other countries.

Sino-Indian relations have come a long way since the 1962 war. The two countries are now engaged in negotiations to settle their disputed border. Neither side believes that war is the way to resolve issues. However, there is reason for concern. The border dispute still simmers. Many rounds of talks have taken place. Reports suggest that China’s claims have grown over time. But has India been needlessly intransigent too?  Both sides must realise that so long as this core problem persists, normalisation on other fronts is but ephemeral. Besides, both sides could reduce their defense budgets if they did not have to deploy heavily along their disputed border. Resolution of the border must be prioritised.

The 1962 war holds lessons for India and China. It grievously damaged a relationship that carried immense potential. If the war hadn’t happened, the two countries could have emerged as an Asian force to reckon with.  If the US today is able to use India as a tool in its ‘containment of China’ strategy, it is because the ‘China threat’ remains potent in the minds of many Indians, especially in the context of China’s close military-nuclear co-operation with Pakistan. Beijing must convince India that its ties with other countries like Pakistan do not pose a threat to India’s security.  It must be able to accept India’s rising stature in the world.  India on its part must avoid getting embroiled in Washington’s quarrels with China. This is not the best way to deal with its threat perceptions from China. Fifty years after the war, it is clear that no good came of the military engagement. Beijing and Delhi must act to ensure that they never go to war again. A settlement of the border will be a step in that direction.

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