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Anton Harder: Defining Independence in Cold War Asia: Sino-Indian Relations, 1949-1962 | PhD thesis from 2015

16 June 2020

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A PhD thesis from the LSE - May 2015 on India China Relations 1949-62


In the early hours of 20 October 1962, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) launched a series of devastating assaults on Indian posts stretched along thousands of miles of mountainous border. The attack drew a line under several years of acrimony over the border and an even longer period of uncertainty and ambiguity regarding each sides’ respective claims. However, the Sino- Indian War was far more than just a territorial scrap, bloody as it was. It was widely perceived as a Chinese attack on Nehruvian non-alignment, a peculiar foreign policy posture that he had developed to counter the Cold War. By rejecting Nehru so firmly, Beijing was demonstrating a clear turn from the moderation it had pursued in tandem with the Soviets to engage non-socialist Asia through the mid-1950s. Mao’s attack on India was then a firm rejection of both Delhi’s moderation and Soviet partnership and a major turning point in the history of the Cold War and Asia.

This thesis adds to the existing histories of the war by exploring Sino-Indian relations from 1949 when the two Asian giants cautiously swapped ambassadors. The ambiguous relationship between Beijing and Delhi is examined from the perspective of Nehru’s ambitious overall foreign policy agenda, rather than just a narrow focus on the border and Tibet. The deterioration of ties between Delhi and Beijing is often characterised as the result of conflicting territorial and indeed imperial ambitions. But it is also true to say that from early in the 1950s there was a remarkable effort at collaboration and accommodation of their respective ambitions. Simultaneously, collaboration was always underpinned by an acute sense of competition for influence in Asia, in particular over the appropriate model of development for the region. In particular, this thesis gives far greater emphasis on Beijing’s function within the dynamics of Sino-Indian relations, and shows how vital were the ideological shifts within the Chinese leadership. The ideologically framed judgements about Indian economic development policies had a major impact on how Beijing assessed the ongoing feasibility of its entire experiment with a moderate foreign policy in general and cooperation with Delhi specifically. By illustrating how these understandings of India also affected Chinese views of the Soviet leadership’s competence, this thesis also makes an important contribution to the historiography of the Sino-Soviet split. Ultimately, relations collapsed with Delhi not just because of hard territorial interests, but because Mao came to believe that the continued deferral of revolutionary goals was leaving the field clear for reactionary elements in China, India and beyond

download and read the full thesis here:

Defining Independence in Cold War Asia: Sino-Indian Relations, 1949-1962 | PhD Thesis by Anton Harder, LSE, May 2015