Holy sheep! India-China 1967 dispute may have been triggered by petty argument over animals

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The current India-China standoff over Doka La, a disputed territory between China and Bhutan, will hopefully not escalate further. But a similar border dispute between India and China over Sikkim in 1967 may have been triggered by something trivial.

According to a report in Hindustan Times, missing sheep and yaks may have been behind the conflict between India and China in 1967. The report says that besides allegations of territorial intrusions, a missing flock of 800 sheep and 59 yaks may have triggered the conflict.

Another India Today report says that after China complained of a herd of sheep being stolen in Sikkim, a group of Indian protesters — including then MP Atal Bihari Vajpayee — drove a herd of around 800 sheep to the Chinese Embassy on Shantipath in New Delhi.

Some of the protesters had even carried placards saying, “Eat me but save the world.”

A complaint from the ministry of foreign affairs (MFA) in Beijing to the Embassy of India in China on 26 September, 1965 described the protesters as “a mob of Indian hooligans”.

Even though the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in India responded to the plaint saying that India knew nothing of the missing yaks and sheep, the dispute escalated and the military standoff took the lives of over 80 Indian soldiers and around 300 to 400 Chinese troops.

This is probably a good example of how a petty dispute can escalate into a deadly military conflict.

The worrying part is that China on Tuesday ruled out a compromise in the military standoff with India in Doka La, and put the onus on New Delhi to resolve the “grave” situation.

Chinese ambassador Luo Zhaohui said “the ball is in India’s court” and it was for the Indian government to decide what options could be on the table to resolve the standoff.

Asked about remarks by official Chinese media and think-tanks that the conflict can lead to a “war” if not handled properly, the ambassador told PTI: “There has been talk about this option, that option. It is up to your government policy (whether to exercise military option).”

The Chinese government is very clear that it wants peaceful resolution, he asserted, adding that the withdrawal of Indian troops from the area is a “pre-condition” to peace.