The Sino-Indian War of 1962 broke out because of the Cuban Missile Crisis. After the Chinese annexation of Tibet in 1950, many protested, but that’s all they did. So when the world’s focus was on the US-Soviet tensions over Cuba in October 1962, this gave China the cover it needed to annex part of India’s Aksai Chin province.
Aksai Chin spans some 14,380 square miles of barely-habited high-altitude deserts and mountains. Next to the Indian state of Kashmir, it also connects China’s Xinjian province with Tibet.
The Sikh Confederacy had clashed with China over Aksai Chin in 1841 when the former tried to invade Tibet. Then the British defeated the Sikhs in 1846 and set up the Johnson Line to separate British-India from China. In 1893, the MacArtney-MacDonald Line was created, followed by the McMahon Line in 1914.
India used the Johnson Line in 1947 to define its western border. But in 1951, China built the China National Highway 219 across the Line to connect the Tibet Autonomous Region with Xinjiang. India protested, but China used the MacArtney-MacDonald Line to legitimize its actions.
Then came the failed Tibetan Uprising of 1959 which forced the 14th Dalai Lama to flee to India. This convinced China that India was involved in the rebellion, resulting in several skirmishes in Akshai Chin.
Russia sided with India, so in retaliation, China took the North East Frontier Area (NEFA) and offered it to India if the latter handed over Aksai Chin. India’s response was to initiate the Forward Policy in 1961 to drive Chinese troops out by creating military outposts throughout Aksai Chin. Despite some skirmishes, India was sure there’d be no war.
Then on 31 August 1962, the US claimed that the Soviets were building nuclear missile sites in Cuba. They were, so China threatened to side with America if Russia kept backing India. The threat worked.
On September 8, Chinese soldiers seized an Indian outpost at Dhola on Thag La Ridge, north of the McMahon Line. Before this, Indian troops could only fire in self-defense as they built more outposts. But on September 11, they launched attacks on the Chinese but failed to retake Thag La.
More Indian troops made their way to Yumtso La when they were fired upon by Chinese soldiers on October 10. The former lost 25 men, while the latter lost 33. As the Indians retreated, the Chinese buried both sets of dead with honors.
On October 12, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru told reporters that he’d ordered the Indian Army to liberate national territory in the Northeast. Two days later, the Chinese People’s Daily newspaper quoted him and said it meant that India would invade China.
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