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50 years before Doklam standoff, there was a face-off in Nathu La: How India killed over 300 Chinese soldiers in 1967

Barely five years after the 1962 war, India and China had again clashed militarily at Nathu La in 1967 not far from the northwest of the Doklam plateau. The conflict, which China rarely talks about, had led to killing of more than 300 Chinese army men in just four days by jawans, even as India lost 65 of its own. In comparison, in the month-long war in 1962, China lost 722 soldiers.

The military clash in Nathu la was the last conflict between the two countries, according to The Indian Express. However, throughout the recent Doklam standoff, the Chinese media bristled with belligerent rhetoric, reminding India of its defeat in the 1962 war.

Nathu La, which is at 14,200 feet, is an important pass on the Tibet-Sikkim border through which passes the old Gangtok-Yatung-Lhasa trade route. Here at this high point, the Chinese and Indian soldiers are deployed at the closest they are anywhere along the 3,488 km Sino-Indian border which is barely 30 metres apart. The northern shoulder of the pass is held by the Chinese while India holds the southern shoulder, as per IE.

Sikkim became an Indian protectorate in 1967, as the Indian Army was deployed on its borders with China. Two Indian diplomats had been expelled from Peking (as Beijing was then called) on June 13, 1967, as China accused them of espionage. The other staff who worked in the embassy were kept captive inside the compound. Giving a befitting reply, India also responded with reciprocal action against the staff at China’s mission in Delhi. However, the siege was lifted on July 3 but the relations between the two giant Asian countries had worsened.

Major General Sheru Thapliyal (retd), who later commanded the Nathu La brigade, has said the Chinese had given an ultimatum to India to vacate both the Nathu La and Jelep La passes on the Sikkim-Tibet border during the Indo-Pak war of 1965. After orders to vacate the passes were sent to the Army, Jelep La was vacated — and it remains under Chinese control even now, the report said.

But Maj General Sagat Singh (later Lt General and a hero of the 1971 Bangladesh War), refused to pull out of Nathu La. The Chinese had, at that time, also warned the Indians of a fate similar to 1962. However, when the Chinese Army advanced in large numbers, on reaching the border, they were stopped, turned around and withdrew which left them fuming, as per IE.


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