Home The 1965 Chinese Ultimatum - A Bird's Eye View of Coercion

The 1965 Chinese Ultimatum - A Bird's Eye View of Coercion

In his seminal work “Arms and Influence” Thomas Schelling had introduced the term Coercion. In his perception Coercion includes both Deterrence (discouraging through fear) and Compellence (active efforts to change a situation).Escalation is part of the strategy of coercion. In the globalised world coercion includes a mix of diplomacy and military capability.This article is about Chineseattempts to coerce during the 1965 Indo Pak war.

The focus of activities on the 1965 War was on the actions which took place on the Western Front. Out of the limelight were the activities on the Eastern Front where India faced Chinese coercion, and did not blink. The Chinese aimed to achieve the following:

  • Prevent India from moving troops from the Eastern (Chinese) front to the Western (Pakistani) Front.
  • Cause discomfiture to India for its perceived pro US tilt after the US and Western allies bolstered India’s defence capabilities after the 1962 war and also set up a Tibetan guerrilla force based in India.[i]
  • Prolong the India- Pakistan War and get maximum gains for China at minimum risk.[ii] This included diverting the attention of US from Vietnam where the US was directly and China indirectly, involved in a power struggle.
  • Make this an opportunity to weaken the Indian military which had become stronger after the 1962 defeat. Probably the Chinese felt that a rearmed India may try to retake Aksai Chin.

As the war started in 1965, the new found ally of the Pakistanis, China, started making noises. The war in the Western Front had started from 05 August with Pakistani infiltrators coming into Kashmir; by 28 August the infiltrators were beaten and Hajipir pass captured. When they failed, Pakistan launched Operation Grand Slam, the attack at Chhamb. At this stage the Chinese started raising the ante to prevent India from shifting troops to the Western front. The Chinese who had hitherto remained away from the watershed, moved troops forward. They accused India of having set up posts in their territory. They had made such accusations on 27 August. When India dramatically enlarged the conflict outside J&K on 06 September by attacking the international border opposite Lahore, the Chinese stated “the Chinese government firmly condemns India for its criminal aggression, firmly supports Pakistan in its just struggle against aggression, and solemnly warns the Indian government that it must bear responsibility for all the consequences of its criminal and extended aggression”.[iii]

To achieve the above they issued what became known as ‘The Ultimatum’, which by definition means ‘either you do what I want you to do—or else….’ The implied threat in this case was ‘or else we will attack you’. The formal Ultimatum was issued by China on 16 September[iv] asking India to withdraw from 56 alleged incursions into Tibet[v] within three days or “face the consequences”.[vi]These incursions were in some cases crude shelters put up by the Indian Army for its observation posts to protect the sentry from the vagaries of weather. Because of the ambiguity of the watershed, in some places they were in the Chinese perception of their territory. These could have been easily resolved by talks and did not merit an ultimatum.

On19 September, the Chinese again extended the ultimatum by another three days, to 22 September 1965. By this time they knew that, contrary to their tacit exhortations to Pakistan to fight on, cease fire was already being negotiated.

Prior to the 1965 Indo Pak war, the Chinese never came up to the watershed, infact prior to 1965 no PLA troops were ever seen by our troops in the area.[vii] Location of the alleged incursions was in Sikkim for obvious reasons. From the tip of the Chumbi Valley to then East Pakistan at the narrowest point is only 23 kms. Any PLA threat here would be coercive as any attack here would target the jugular to the North East - to which India was the most sensitive.

11th Battalion The Jammu & Kashmir Rifles (11 JAK RIF) a newly raised five-month old battalion, took over the defences at ChoLa (16,000 ft) in Sikkim in July 1965. From Cho La looking into the Chumbi Valley through the frequent spells of whiteouts, mist and sleet there was never any sign of Chinese presence.[viii]The Battalion was part of 112 Mountain Brigade , 17 Mountain Division. The other battalions of the brigade were 17 Maratha Light Infantry (at Nathu La 14,000 ft) and 5 Bihar in depth. The Brigade Commander was Brigadier (later Major General) Eustace D’Souza, The Divisional commander Major General (later Lieutenant General)Sagat Singh and the Corps Commander (later COAS) Lieutenant General General GG Bewoor.

As the situation became tense orders were given to lay minefields on the appreciated approaches. This was done at night often in inclement weather. It was on one such night that the young and dashing 2ndLieutenant Raman Bakshi[ix] of 11 JAK RIF had an accident while laying an M16 mine[x] and was the first martyr of the 1965 war on the Chinese front.[xi]

The PLA also made aggressive demonstrations in front of Indian defences at Nathu La and Cho La. On 17 September they again accused India of disturbing the peace and tranquility on the border.On that day, the Brigade Commander received calls from both 11 JAK RIF and 17 Marathas that they could see large groups of Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) moving towards their passes. This was reported by Lieutenant Bhandral of 11 JAK RIF from Cho La[xii] and Captain VN Thapar[xiii] of 17 Maratha LI from Nathu La.[xiv] The tactic they employed was, starting from Chumbi Valley, they moved in bounds of a few 100 feet and then stopped, and then they moved again and stopped and so on. They were armed and in tactical formation. The Indian army held its ground and avoided firing as the instructions were clear, which was to avoid escalation of the situation which was exactly what the Chinese wanted.

Thereafter the Chinese tried to grab Indian soldiers deployed at isolated observation posts. They tried to do this with 17 Marathas at Yak La. During the course of this Indian troops retaliated; in the firing the PLA killed one Indian soldier and then tried to recover his body from the Indian side. 17 Maratha retaliated and the firing continued for two hours during the course of which they managed to recover their dead soldier’s body. On Chinese radio, it was announced that two Chinese soldiers had been killed by the Indian Army.[xv] Sporadic firing continued all over the front as the Chinese made repeated attempts to escalate the situation but India exercised restraint as ordered, not wanting a war on two fronts.

Nevertheless troops were pulled out for the Western front to make up casualties or bolster units involved in the intense war there. To avoid the impression of units having been pulled out from the Chinese front, all units shed only a platoon or more of men per battalion who were sent as reinforcements to the Western front.[xvi] Some small exchanges of fire took place between Indian and Chinese troops, but by and large the Indians kept their nerve as the Chinese carried out some feints.

After 22 September, to save face, the Chinese formally rescinded the ultimatum stating that the “Indian soldiers had all run away”.[xvii]This however was not the case and even after the war in the Western front ended, in Sikkim, the psychological war which they had started during the period of the ultimatum, continued. The Chinese would play sad Hindi songs at night over loudspeakers and in chaste Hindi ask why the ‘poor’ Indian jawan was being troubled by the uncaring Indian government.The Indian Army knew that the rations that the PLA got were not fresh food, whereas the Indians were issued fresh meat on hoof in the form of goats from Rajasthan; so they unloaded the goats in full view of the PLA soldiers and then took them to their cook houses. The Chinese soldiers would look on with longing.[xviii]

If the Chinese thought that they could coerce the Indians they failed. The government rightly deduced that the ultimatums were a bluff. The Sino-Soviet split had started prior to the 1962 Sino-Indian war. India had also built up relations with the USSR and the Chinese were unlikely to risk a war with the US or draw the USSR to South Asia.[xix]

Views expressed here by the author are personal.



[i]Special Frontier Force.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Frontier_Force. Accessed 29 Aug 2015.

[ii] J.D Armstrong. Revolutionary Diplomacy -Chinese Foreign Policy and United Front Doctrine. (Los Angles:University of California Press 1980). P.168.

[iii]Armstrong, p.167.

[iv] Ibid.

[v][v]Shruti Pandalai. Recounting 1965- War, Diplomacy and Great Games in the Subcontinent. Journal of Defence Studies, IDSA, Vol 9, Number 3, July-Sept 2015. P. 21

[vi] Armstrong. P. 168

[vii] Lt Col RS Katoch (Retd) father of the author was Second in Command of 11 JAK RIF at Cho La -Narrated to the author.

[viii] Lt Col RS Katoch.

[ix] Brother of the prominent Defence Analyst Maj Gen GD Bakshi (Retd) also from JAK RIF.

[x]A deadly jumping fragmentation mine.

[xi] Lt Col RS Katoch .

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii]Father of the Kargil martyr Capt Vijayant Thapar who commanded a JAK RIF battalion.

[xiv] P. Chako Joseph. Chinese PLA Menace at Nathu La in 1965.Narrated to him by Maj Gen (Retd) Eustace D’Souza.Frontier India.http://frontierindia.net/chinese-pla-menace-at-nathu-la-in-1965/. Accessed 29 Aug 2015.

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] Lt Col RS Katoch.

[xvii] P Chako Joseph.

[xviii] P. Chako Joseph and corroborated by Lt Col RS Katoch.

[xix] Pandalai, p.22.

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Ghanshyam Katoch

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