How Aggressive is China?

India's China War

by Neville Maxwell
Pantheon, 475 pp., $10.00

Jawaharlal Nehru
Jawaharlal Nehru; drawing by David Levine

Peking’s “expansionism” has been the major justification for the United States’s containment policy. The sudden Chinese attack on Indian border forces in October, 1962, was denounced by India as unprovoked aggression, and it still contributes to the American image of a China that is, as Mr. Nixon sees it, “expansionist.” Now this pillar of the containment doctrine is carefully examined by Neville Maxwell, who breaks it up and throws it to the winds. His book is an object lesson in international astigmatism, primarily that of the Indians, but also ours. His story tells us something about the Chinese style in boundary disputes, if not in foreign relations generally, and raises questions to ponder as we look at the Sino-American future and the question of Taiwan in particular.

Neville Maxwell is a forty-five-year-old Australian educated at McGill and at Cambridge, who spent three years in the Washington bureau of the London Times, and then in 1959 went to New Delhi as the Times’s South Asia correspondent. There he reported on the Sino-Indian border dispute as well as on the last years of the Nehru government. After eight years in and around India, he went to London to research this book at the School of Oriental and African Studies. As he says, no recent international quarrel has been “so fully documented and…so widely and totally misunderstood.” He follows in the footsteps of Alastair Lamb* and other British researchers, and his full, meticulous documentation is informed not only by his own experience on the scene but also by confidential sources from the Indian side.

Even without Maxwell’s having any inside view from Peking, the Chinese performance in this dispute as shown in the Indian record begins quite early to shine forth as both rational and reasonable, while the Indian performance grows steadily more unreasonable and irrational. The tone is illustrated by Nehru’s oft-repeated statements that (1) in the cause of peace he would talk to anyone, anywhere, at any time, and (2) over India’s sacred boundaries he would absolutely never negotiate. Nehru’s distinction between “talks” and “negotiations” enabled him to appeal to the world while avoiding any settlement with China.

The Sino-Indian boundary offered a fine opportunity for statesmanship, involving far less flammable issues than the Taiwan question does today. For more than two thousand years the Chinese and Indian peoples had developed their great civilizations on either side of the Himalayan massif with an absolute minimum of contacts. But the Chinese and Indian republics, when they got rid of their imperial rulers, immediately claimed the imperial boundaries that their late rulers had built up.

Thus the Chinese Republic after 1911, having ended the Manchu dynasty, at once laid claim to all territories the Manchus had conquered, including Outer Mongolia and Tibet. Chiang Kai-shek has always had the same idea, but the Chinese were not strong enough to make good these claims in…

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