Even before the 1962 war China eyed Galwan. Here's why
When India became independent, it did not have a strong military to man the entire length of its borders. An immediate war with Pakistan furthered stretched its deployment thin. On the Chinese side, a rebel military that was expert in guerrilla warfare was strengthening its position. It forced the existing government to flee what makes up Taiwan today. Before India could focus on the boundary question and was still busy with constitution-making and building a new nation-state, China had mutated into an expansionist force. It had occupied Tibet by 1950. China had set its eyes on Ladakh but it was not yet strong enough to lay open claim but claimed Aksai Chin as its territory. The region was not manned by Indian military and China took advantage of it in building a highway connecting Xinjiang with Tibet. A revolt against Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959 changed Chinese policy in Ladakh too. After suppressing Tibet revolt, writes political science professor M Taylor Fravel of the MIT in his book on China's territorial disputes, "China began to expand its military presence in the western sector to secure the Xinjiang-Tibet highway." China's aggressive manoeuvres in Ladakh led to a clash with Indian forces in Kongka Pass. Earlier, Indian patrol teams had reported that "China had no post there in 1958". The increasing Chinese presence in Ladakh alarmed India, which re-evaluated its strategy leading to the "forward policy" of improving military presence in the region. The Chinese forces went belligerent in Ladakh under Mao Zedong's belief that "attacking India could create 10 years of border stability" as he interpreted. India gave a go-ahead to its forward policy in late November 1961 but could not roll it out due to onset of winter. It tried to counter Chinese move after February 1962. This resulted in several minor face-offs in which the Chinese would typically come close to Indian posts before retreating. Face-off in the Chip Chap Valley, not very far from Galwan Valley, in May 1962 was one such incident. In July, the first major face-off took place in the Galwan Valley, the site of current scuffle leading to casualties on both sides. In a book, "India and the China Crisis", published by Berkeley's University of California, author Steven Hoffmann underlines that there was serious threat of China occupying the Galwan Valley. This understanding of the government based on inputs from the Intelligence Bureau (Research and Analysis Wing was not yet born) had led then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to preside over a meeting with the defence minister and the army chief on the question. The book says, "At that meeting he [Nehru] had identified the Galwan Valley as the place that needed to be occupied quickly if possible." India planted a platoon-sized Indian post at Galwan on July 5 in 1962. It cut the line of communication to a Chinese outpost further down the valley. The face-off became tenser when Indian soldiers blocked Chinese supply party. China reacted in the same manner as Chip Chap Valley face-off earlier. It surrounded the Galwan post outnumbering Indian troops by five-to-one. The significance of the Galwan post was such that the Indian troops, virtually under siege, were given instructions to open fire if the Chinese came any closer. The Chinese pulled back some distance on July 14 allowing air supply to Indian post. But this came only after India threatened wider retaliation if China attacked Galwan, says the author of 'India and the China Crisis'. The Galwan and similar face-offs in Ladakh had prompted Nehru to tell Parliament that the things were "drifting badly" in the region. It was also during these months - May to July 1962 - that India made a unique offer to the Chinese allowing them to use the Aksai Chin road for civilian traffic if China withdrew from Ladakh. China rejected the offer made by the Nehru government. Finally on October 20, China attacked Indian posts in Ladakh beginning the 1962 war in which Indian forces were overwhelmed. The Galwan post was taken by the Chinese. China retreated after announcing ceasefire unilaterally, the same way it launched military aggression against India. But by then, China had altered the status quo of "1956 claim line" in Aksai Chin which identified the line of control to the east of Galwan river. Now, China claimed the LAC west of the Galwan river, a position it had shifted to in 1960. The war of 1962 had taken India by surprise. Reports suggest a similar surprise to have been effected by China as it moved several kilometres into the Indian side of the LAC in Ladakh. At present, China appears to be executing its fresh plan to change the status quo. In 1962, China objected to India's claims of its own territory. Now, it is objecting to India's infrastructure building and carrying out of development activities in its own territories near the LAC. Read | Ladakh standoff: A deep dive into Galwan Valley where India, China are confronting Also read | Army Colonel, 2 jawans killed in violent face-off with Chinese troops in Ladakh's Galwan Valley Also read | Galwan Valley conflict | 3-4 Chinese troops killed in face-off with Indian Army in Ladakh: Sources Also read | India-China border scuffle: Last time when bullets were fired Watch | Army Colonel, 2 jawans killed in violent face-off with Chinese troops in Ladakh's Galwan Valley
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