Sumdorong Chu standoff

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Sumdorong Chu standoff
Date1986–1987
Location
Sumdorong Chu Valley, McMahon Line (Indo-Tibetan border)
27°46′54″N 91°46′53″E / 27.7818°N 91.7813°E / 27.7818; 91.7813Coordinates: 27°46′54″N 91°46′53″E / 27.7818°N 91.7813°E / 27.7818; 91.7813
Result Standoff ended with status quo maintained
Indian prime minister invited to Beijing
Belligerents
Flag of India.svg India Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg China
Commanders and leaders
Flag of India.svg President R. Venkataraman
Flag of India.svg Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi
Flag of India.svg General Krishnaswamy Sundarji
China General Secretary Zhao Ziyang
China Chairman Deng Xiaoping
China Premier Li Peng
China President Li Xiannian
Sumdorong Chu standoff is located in Tibet
Sumdorong Chu standoff
Location within Tibet
Sumdorong Chu standoff is located in Arunachal Pradesh
Sumdorong Chu standoff
Sumdorong Chu standoff (Arunachal Pradesh)
Sumdorong Chu and vicinity

In 1986–87, a military standoff took place between India and China in the Sumdorong Chu Valley bordering the Tawang district, Arunachal Pradesh and Cona County, Tibet. It was initiated by China moving a company of troops to Wangdung, a pasture to the south of Sumdorong Chu that India believed to be its territory. The Indian troops stood their ground on the neighbouring Longro La ridge and both the sides moved a large number of troops to the border. The crisis was diffused after the visit of Indian External Affairs minister to Beijing in May 1987. The standoff was the first military confrontation along the disputed McMahon Line after the 1962 war and gave rise to fears of escalation. Subsequently, India and China formulated agreements for managing future border tensions.[1][2]

Background[edit]

Since 1962, India had not returned to the site of its major defeat at Namka Chu, an east-west running stream which separates the Thag La ridge to the north and the Hathung La ridge to its south. India's efforts to occupy the Thag La ridge was the casus belli for the October 1962 Chinese military attack on India.

Because there were no other feasible defensive locations north of Tawang, the Indian government had more or less decided that in the event of a new war, they would abandon the Tawang town and prepare for battle at the Se La pass to its south. However, after a 1980 review, it was decided by the military strategists that it was important to defend Tawang in a future conflict.[3] The army made it clear that the only viable line of defence for Tawang would be along the Hathung La ridge.

In 1983, an Intelligence Bureau team went to the pasturage of Sumdorong Chu which is north-east of the confluence of the Namka Chu and Nyamjiang Chu. The intelligence team stayed through the summer and returned in winter. This procedure was followed for two years. In 1986, the Indian team found that the Chinese had preceded them and set up semi-permanent structures there and were not willing to budge.[4]

Under the orders of General Sundarji and codenamed Operation Falcon, the Indians undertook an airlift of troops and vehicles to Zemithang from 18 to 20 October 1986. Taking up locations on multiple heights, including the Hathung La ridge, Indian troops were able to strategically occupy the high ground near Sumdorong Chu. This was followed by more mobilisation by both sides. China called for a flag meeting on 15 November. The standoff continued until May 1987.[4]

Political context[edit]

At the end of 1986, India granted statehood to Arunachal Pradesh. The Chinese government proceeded to protest. But the military movements in Tawang, taken in conjunction with this political action were seen as a provocation by the Chinese. In early 1987 Beijing's tone became similar to that of 1962, and with the Indian Army refusing to stand down, Western diplomats predicted war.

The result was a thaw. Indian Foreign Minister N.D. Tiwari arrived in Beijing in May 1987 en route to Pyongyang, North Korea. He carried with him messages from Indian leaders that there was no intention on New Delhi's part to aggravate the situation. The first formal flag meeting to discuss “ the freezing of the situation” since 1962, was held on the fifth of August 1987 at Bum La in the aftermath of the Wangdung affair.[5] Both sides decided to take up talks with renewed urgency and the following year in 1988, Rajiv Gandhi visited Beijing, returning Zhou Enlai's '60s visit.[6]

Aftermath[edit]

Both India and China realised the danger of an inadvertent conflict and, after initial posturing, a decision was made to de-escalate their deployments. The fallout from the standoff resulted in India and China restarting dialogue, which had been dormant since the 1962 war. After Rajiv Gandhi's 1988 visit, there was a hiatus of sorts because of political turmoil in India. But finally in 1993, the two countries signed an agreement to ensure peace along the LAC.

The agreement brought in an interesting concept of "mutual and equal security" where thinning of forces was envisaged, based on geographical and logistical considerations. However, its most important element was to have the two sides work out a mutually acceptable Line of Actual Control. As of now, the two sides have their own versions of the line and there are points, especially in the Sikkim-Bhutan-India trijunction, the Sumdorong Chu area and so on, where each other's claims continue to be disputed.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lintner, China's India War (2018), pp. 210–211.
  2. ^ Pardesi, Managing the Sumdorong Chu Crisis (2020), pp. 537–538.
  3. ^ Line of Actual Control remains sore point between India and China ("LAC: Chequered Past", printed along with "George in China Shop"), India Today, 18 May 1998.
  4. ^ a b Joshi, Manoj (3 July 2017). "Operation Falcon: When General Sundarji took the Chinese by surprise". ORF. Retrieved 10 October 2020.
  5. ^ "Sikkim standoff: India should be ready for long haul as impasse may go beyond Wangdung incident". Archived from the original on 10 July 2017.
  6. ^ Manoj Joshi, "Warrior as a Scholar", "India Today ".

Bibliography[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]