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Neville Maxwell discloses document may help solve present Sino-India tensions/conflicts

Neville Maxwell discloses document revealing that India provoked China into 1962 border war

Journalist’s Snowden-like revelations about 1962 war boost China’s claims of ‘peaceful rise’

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 March, 2014, 5:31am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 July, 2017, 3:51pm
11 Jul 2017

At an official banquet in Beijing in 1971, Neville Maxwell had the shock of his life. Premier Zhou Enlai and Pakistan’s then prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto rose from the head table and walked to the foreign correspondents’ table, where The Times reporter was seated.

“Mr Maxwell,” said Zhou through his interpreter, “your book has done a service to truth, and China has benefited from that.” Zhou called for a glass of mao-tai and offered him a toast.

“That moment at the banquet is deeply engraved in my memory, failing as it sometimes is,” Maxwell said in an interview with the South China Morning Post.

The 87-year-old Australian journalist and historian likes to make jokes about his supposedly fading memory. But he won’t let India forget its past errors which, he says, led to the 1962 Sino-Indian war.

Beijing would welcome the revived attention to their India dispute
Journalist Neville Maxwell

For nearly half a century he has been going against the grain of Indian collective memory that remembers the humiliating defeat in the month-long border war as an unprovoked act of aggression by a country it considered a friend.

This month he pulled a Snowden on India. He exposed a top-secret Indian war report that returned the spotlight to a period in history that still sours public opinion in India and bars normal ties between the two Asian giants.

In a specially created blog, Maxwell published a chunk of the secret war report that harshly criticised the highest echelons of power in India at the time for pursuing a flawed strategy of provoking China without the means to handle a backlash.

India’s toll in that short war in the high Himalayas was 1,383 killed, 1,047 wounded and 1,696 missing. China never declared its losses. The war ended when Beijing suddenly called a unilateral ceasefire and ordered its troops to retreat to their previous positions – all after dealing India its worst military drubbing.

India called the “attack” a stab in the back. But China maintained it was a necessary counterattack to fend off India’s advances on its territory – Maxwell’s thoughts exactly. “I had been trying for years to get the report on to the public record but it had begun to look as if the report might never be published, and I thought that would be dreadful,” Maxwell told the Post in an exclusive interview. Speaking from Sydney, it was the first time he discussed his disclosure that has made waves in India.

Maxwell covered the 1962 war as The Times‘ India correspondent. Like all Western journalists, he unquestioningly accepted India’s line that China had been the aggressor and reported it as such. Later, when he took a sabbatical to study the conflict more deeply, he said he began to see China’s side of the story.

“I was blinded by ideology … liberal anti-communism. You’ll see the same affecting many journalists today, as American policy continues the cold war,” he said.

In 1970, a converted Maxwell published an influential yet controversial revisionist tome, India’s China War – the object of Zhou’s praise at the banquet the following year. The book chronicled how India provoked Beijing into the fight, challenging the narrative of Chinese aggression. For his conviction, Indians denounced Maxwell as a China apologist and an India-basher.

The inspiration for Maxwell’s epiphany was widely believed to be a document that gave him a rare insight into the workings of the then Indian establishment. The so-called Henderson Brooks-Bhagat Report was an operational review of India’s military debacle commissioned by New Delhi that Maxwell managed to obtain.

Compiled by Lieutenant-General Henderson Brooks and Brigadier Premindra Singh Bhagat in 1963, it has been kept secret by the Indian government despite repeated appeals that it be declassified. The government’s excuse for keeping the report under wraps “for national security” has few takers in India. The predominant view is that the government aims to protect the legacy of the then prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Disgraced by the 1962 defeat, Nehru died a broken man within two years. But the Nehru-Gandhi clan, through its grip on the ruling Congress Party, has continued to maintain a near monopoly on the levers of power.

The report is a dry army operations review, its terms of reference narrowed to military preparedness to insulate the civilian leadership from a witch hunt. But the authors still manage to make a scathing implicit attack on top civilian and military authorities.

In particular, they rip into the so-called “forward policy” pushed by the Nehru government, under which Indian troops were told to advance from their existing positions to stake out new territory and force out the Chinese.

The report details how this brinkmanship was forced down the throats of ground commanders despite their repeated warnings about reversing the border’s status quo without sufficient preparation. Such moves, they said, were bound to provoke the Chinese.

Half a century on, as India and China struggle to overcome the mutual suspicion left over from the war, peaceniks hope Maxwell’s outing of the secret war report might lead to more critical examination within India about its own role in the war and help reset bilateral relations.

Indian media organisations have been widely covering the report, long seen as the key to bringing closure to a national shame. Opposition parties have renewed demands for the report to be declassified, but the government has refused to budge. In a moving piece thanking Maxwell, Indian Express editor Shekhar Gupta wrote that the report was still being treated as top secret only to “protect our carefully crafted and preserved mythologies of 1962”.

For China, the significance of the disclosure goes beyond India. At a time when there is growing disquiet in the region over China’s claim to a “peaceful rise”, a revisiting of the 1962 war helps it polish its credentials while reaffirming its ideological steel in view of its disputes in the South China and East China Seas.

“Beijing would welcome the revived attention to their India dispute,” Maxwell said. “Its lessons are that China is conflict-averse and will do all it can to reach peaceful solutions, but that it can’t be pushed around and will never back away from defending what it sees as its basic security concerns. If the issue becomes fight or surrender, the PRC will always fight.”

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Sikkim Stand-Off: China and India Collide in the Himalayas

India’s ultra-nationalist government under Prime Minister Nahendra Modi is engaged in an aggressive face-off with China that could end in a large-scale military conflict. Although the strip of land, called Donglang, that is at the center of the dispute has long been acknowledged as Chinese territory under an 1890 agreement between China and Great Britain, the Indian authorities are trying to block a road-building project initiated by the Chinese in the region. In June, Indian troops crossed the border into Donglang and confronted the Chinese, and the stand-off continues. New Delhi claims that the road, if constructed, would give the Chinese the ability to cut off India from its northeastern provinces, where various insurgencies against the central government have been ongoing for years.

Legally, the Chinese are in the right: the 1890 agreement clearly gives the Chinese sovereignty in this area. Furthermore, previous Indian governments have pledged to uphold this agreement. But the ultra-nationalist Modi, who rose to power on the strength of a “Hindutva” movement that invokes a vision of Indian supremacy, is playing to his domestic constituency: Indian troops have been rushed to the border, and Modi – perhaps emboldened by his recent talks with President Donald Trump – shows no signs of backing down.

The 1890 treaty was primarily about the fate of Sikkim, an ancient Himalayan kingdom lodged between China, India, and Indian-dominated Bhutan, directly adjacent to Donglang: ruled by a hereditary monarch, Sikkim was ceded to the British while the Donglang region was given to China, then ruled by the Qing dynasty. Although close to India, Sikkim was an independent country until 1975, when India annexed it by force. After Indian troops moved in, an “election” was held in which over 97 percent of the 59 percent of the population eligible to vote chose union with India. Altogether, a very dicey situation: indeed, in 1978 then Indian Prime Minster Moraji Desair “apologized” for the annexation, while maintaining that it is “irreversible.”

The Indians are trying to muddy the dispute by hiding behind Bhutan’s claim to Donglang: but Bhutan is yet another case where Indian imperialism has nearly nullified an ancient state’s sovereignty. Until 2007, when Bhutan’s absolute monarchy was transformed into a parliamentary system, India exercised a de facto protectorate over the country, controlling its foreign affairs. When the Bhutanese sought to establish closer relations with China, the Indians retaliated during the 2013 elections by cutting off subsidized energy exports: the result was the defeat of then Prime Minister Jigme Thinley. India accounts for 75 percent of Bhutan’s imports and is its biggest trading partner.

India has used the same bullying tactics against Nepal, another independent Himalayan country on the long Sino-Indian border. In 2016, after Nepal adopted a new constitution that favored native Nepalese over Indian immigrants, India initiated an informal blockade, cutting off the mountainous country from vital supplies. China moved quickly into the breach, rushing in oil, food, and other necessities. Chinese investment in Nepal now surpasses that of India.

If we step back, and look at the larger picture, what is happening is another episode in the ongoing encirclement of China by the US and its allies in the region. During a recent meeting between Modi and Trump, the latter affirmed a closer military relationship with New Delhi, and the Washington Postreported that the State Department “approved the $365 million sale of a C-17 military transport aircraft to India. The administration is also set to offer a $2 billion sale of U.S.-made unarmed drones to help in surveillance of the Indian Ocean.”

The movement that propelled Modi to power in New Delhi is no ordinary nationalist movement: it is a militant and militaristic cult with a mass following. As I wrote way back in 2002, warning of the danger represented by this trend:

“The rise of Hindu fundamentalism as a political force in India catapulted the Bharatiya Janata Party to power and sought to expunge the Gandhian pacifism of the old militantly secular Congress Party tradition, replacing it with a new martial spirit. The idea of Hindutva, which energizes the Hindu activists, sees India not only as a Hindu state, but as a militantly revanchist force in the region, a nation determined to recapture its old empire. As I explained in a previous column devoted to this fascinating subject, the Hindutva movement has created a whole mythology based on the idea of ethnic Indians as the first and only pure Aryans: the swastika is an ancient Hindu symbol, and has been revived by what I call the Hindu-fascist forces in India. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological center of Hindutva, has a provision in its constitution that its leader must be a blue-eyed Sarasvat Brahmin.

“I hesitate to use the term ‘neo-Nazi’ to describe a contemporary political movement, as it has become almost a ritualistic term of abuse. However, in this case, the label fits precisely.”

India, I would remind you, is a member of the nuclear club. We have to ask ourselves: would the Hindu fanatics now in charge in New Delhi hesitate to use nukes in a war with China? I’m frankly afraid to answer my own question.

As for the Chinese, they beat the Indians once before when ongoing border disputes escalated into violence – remember the Sino-Indian war of 1962? – and I have little doubt that they have the capacity to do so again. Indeed, they are evoking this memory to remind the Indians that they’re in for another beating if they don’t turn down the heat.

However, India didn’t have nukes until 1974, when it tested its first nuclear device. China tested its first nuclear weapons in 1964. This time around, in the event a large-scale Sino-Indian conflict breaks out, who plays the nuclear card first? With China’s military advantage, it is New Delhi that will have the incentive to put its nuclear ace on the table.

The world is revved up about North Korea’s nuclear testing, and the recent launching of an ICBM prototype, but that danger pales before what’s happening in the Himalayas.

The US must stop encouraging the Indians in their confrontation with China – especially if we’re expecting Beijing to intervene on our behalf with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. That arms deal with New Delhi should be nullified until and unless the Indians withdraw their forces from Donglang. And, finally, the state of Sikkim, unlawfully annexed by India, must be restored to full independence: India has no more claim to Donglang than it does to Sikkim proper. Contrary to former Prime Minister Desai, the annexation is indeed reversible – because injustice cannot be allowed to stand on the strength of brazen coercion.

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Japan’s Legacy of War Crimes in China

Unit 731 Museum


During World War II, Japan’s imperialist military invaded Northeast China and afterward spread throughout Southeast Asia, then on to an ill-fated attack on Pearl Harbor. Japanese crimes were many during the war and included the coerced services of ianfu (comfort women) for Japanese troops, slave labor, and experimentation on living humans.

Today Japanese right-wingers clamor for a re-expansion of Japanese militarism; prime minister Abe Shinzo pays visits to a shrine venerating Japanese dead — among them war criminals; the Diet demonstrates belligerence toward North Korea, a country Japan had formerly occupied; Okinawans’ (Japanese living on the southern archipelago) call for the removal of US military bases goes unheeded; and Japanese grapple with racism still rife toward ethnic Koreans in Japan. The current status post-WWII is not pretty and does not bode well for a Japan aspiring to a permanent United Nations Security Council seat.

Chinese seem particularly well-informed about the situation in Japan albeit biased.

A few months back, a neighbor in Harbin expressed her disdain for the Japanese prime minister Abe Shinzo. This was in response to Abe having visited Tokyo’s Yasukuni shrine, which houses the kami (spirits) of Japanese war criminals. Such is the palpable acrimony still felt by many Chinese people toward Japan. The criticism of Japan is widespread, but seems especially strident among all age groups in the northeastern city of Harbin – understandably so.

Seeking a better understanding for the animosity, I boarded the 338 bus in the Nangang district of Harbin and headed south to Ping Fang on the outskirts of Harbin. I asked the bus driver to inform me when we reached the stop for the Unit 731 Museum, founded on the site where many Japanese war crimes took place. The Japanese dissembled Unit 731 as the Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung Army (the Imperial Japanese Army of that WWII era), which was set up on secret decree from Japanese emperor Hirohito. [1]

Ruins of Unit 731 boiler room


After alighting the bus, I walked down a side street and came to a gravel field surrounded by barbed wire fencing; in the near distance stood the ruins of Unit 731’s boiler. I crossed the gravel field to see the ruins close up and then proceeded to the Exhibition Hall of Evidence of War Crimes by Japanese Army Unit 731 (Unit 731 Museum). The museum opened to the public on 15 August 2015; admission is free and translations of the evidence are available in English, Japanese, Korean, and Russian.

The museum’s darkened entrance to the exhibits features an imposing spotlighted stone wall informing the visitor that evidence of inhuman atrocities lies beyond.

I was aware of Japanese World War II crimes and atrocities in China, having visited the Nanjing Massacre Hall in 2003. There the number 300000 is on bold display for the claimed number of victims. The memorial hall’s evidence drives home the horrors that the late author Iris Chang wrote of in her book, The Rape of Nanking.

Inside the Unit 731 Museum, visitors will see evidence of biological and chemical weapons experiments that used squirrels, rats, fleas, and humans as guinea pigs. Clearly such experiments constituted insidious forms of torture. The victims were mainly Chinese, but included Koreans and Russians, and even some Americans. To the Japanese, however, their victims were not humans; they were maruta (logs).

Group photo of members from Training and Education Division of Unit 731

The physician-/torturer-in-charge was lieutenant-general Ishii Shiro whose name has not been accorded the widespread infamy of the German SS physician/torturer Josef Mengele. Proceeding further in the museum, a photo captured my attention. There were six rows of people, men and women of the Training and Education division of Unit 731. Much as one might have no difficulty envisioning horns and a piked tail attached to Ishii, the everydayness of these people quite embodies the banality of evil. These Japanese were associated with the freezing, gassing, infecting, and live vivisection of maruta.

The prisoners were infected with 29 major species of bacteria such as typhoid, plague, anthrax, and cholera. Plague rats were bred, as well as plague-bearing fleas, and these were dropped onto Chinese villages and the results recorded. At other times, prisoners were bound to wooden crosses in a clearing to which ceramic, poison gas-filled canisters were dropped from the sky.

Frost-bite experiments were often carried out in the extreme cold of Inner Mongolia

The experiments/tortures included freezing prisoners in various states of undress to determine optimal thawing methods.

Another shocking exhibit was of an airtight cubicle in which two frightened, young girls were clinging to each other. Outside the cubicle stood four Japanese observing and recording the effects of the poison gas experiment. These experiments were repeated until the victims died.

The most grotesque experiments were vivisections performed on living humans, usually without anesthesia. The victims were strapped down and their mouths were stuffed with medical gauze to stifle their screams. [2]

Despite such grotesquerie, the 731 Museum exhibits are displayed in a thoroughly restrained manner. The intent is not to shock or repulse visitors, rather it is to inform. Japanese war criminals have testified to this. Yutaka Mitsuo, formerly with a Japanese military police in Dalian, said,

“The Chinese government has adopted a merciful and lenient attitude toward Japanese war criminals – that is, to hate the crimes rather than the sinners.” [3]

Conversely, the Japanese government has endeavored to cover up the war crimes. Japan has neither acknowledged nor apologized for the war crimes committed by Unit 731.

At the end of WWII, the Japanese were forced to destroy and flee their 100 biological and chemical weapons facilities in 19 provinces, municipalities, and autonomous regions of China. [4] The razed facilities left behind a ticking time bomb of plague for the Chinese. [5]

The United States was fully complicit in the cover up of Unit 731. In exchange for turning over documentation on Unit 731’s experiments, the US agreed to protect the Japanese war criminals fromEdward Hill prosecution. , an American investigating Japanese biological warfare remarked of the research data obtained from Unit 731:

“Such information could not be obtained in our own laboratories because of scruples attached to human experimentation.” [emphasis added] [6]

Apparently such scruples did not apply to skirting justice to obtain the morbid information. The US cover-up has been criticized for “sacrificing and sabotaging the interests of China and the Soviet Union.” [7]

The Unit 731 Museum serves an educative function. The atrocities are meant to deter future war crimes and promote peace. The Unit 731 Museum is also a testament to a dark epoch in Japanese history for which the country has never taken responsibility. Having lived a number of years in Japan, my experience is that most Japanese are unaware of war crimes committed in WWII. The Japanese government’s elision of this shameful history has been effective. In 2010, a questionnaire given to Japanese medical students in Tokyo found that 62% knew nothing about Unit 731. [8] That is, these students knew nothing of the sordid history in which the Japanese medical establishment was deeply involved.

The present generation of Japanese did not commit the crimes. These sordid crimes belong to their ancestors. However, until Japanese society does what is right and just by its past victims, the war crimes will endure as a historical and present-day blight on Japan. Until Japan deals forthrightly with its unatoned-for militarism, the stain of war crimes will linger. [9]


Unit 731 Museum presents a conclusion, upon which I can not improve:

The exhibits of crime evidences of Unit 731 publically demonstrate the historical facts and crimes of Japanese biological warfare and Unit 731. The objective of disclosing its war crimes, responsibility and post-war damages to a full extent is to arouse awareness and remembrance of the history, from which lessons can be learnt, and deep reflection can be made about the relationship between war and medical science, war and conscience, as well as war and peace. From there, we should also learn how to respect human rights and freedom, in pursuit of peace and a civilized world.

Kim Petersen is a former co-editor of the Dissident Voice newsletter. He can be reached at: Twitter: @kimpetersen.


1. Yang Yanjun, Japan’s Biological Warfare in China (Beijing: Foreign Language Press, 2016): 13.

2. Ibid, 57.

3. Ibid, 50.

4. Ibid, 109.

5. Ibid, 110-112.

6. Ibid, 133.

7. Ibid, 143.

8. Ibid, 179.

9. I write as a Canadian passport holder who resides in China. The present generation of “Canadians” did not commit the ethnic cleansing and extirpation of Turtle Island’s Indigenous peoples (albeit the racist attitudes and crimes continue on a lesser scale), but the genocide still demands political and societal atonement. For elaboration, see Kim Petersen, “Biological Warfare in the Pacific Northwest,” Dissident Voice, 29 July 2013. See also Robert Davis and Mark Zannis, The Genocide Machine in Canada: The Pacification of the North (Montreal: Black Rose, 1973); Tom Swanky, The Smallpox War in Nuxalk Territory(Lulu Press, 2016); James Daschuk, Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life (University of Regina Press, 2013).

All images in this article are from the author.

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