Chou En Lai: The Indians said that we created the Ladakh incident. It occurred on a peak of the Karakorums on the Aksai-chin Plateau of Sinkiang. At this point a ridge of the Karakorums falls off very sharply downward on the Kashmir side. The elevation is very high and even the Soviet helicopters used by the Indians could only gradually work their way up the steep slope. Our people were on top of this ridge and could see down on the Soviet helicopters gradually coming up. The Aksai-chin Plateau is the route along which we have to travel when crossing from Sinkiang to the Ali district of Tibet. The height of the plateau is 5,000 meters. We started to build this highway in 1951.
Henry Kissinger: The Indians call this region Ladakh.
Chou En Lai: Ladakh is farther below, but the Indians call all of its region Ladakh. Even the British colonial maps do not show this as part of India, and Nehru was only able to provide a claim on the basis of a map drawn by a British traveller. Even three years after the road was built, Nehru didn’t know about it. It runs all the way from Western Sinkiang to Ali district of Tibet. In my discussions with Nehru on the Sino-Indian boundary in 1956 he suddenly raised the issue of the road. I said, ‘You didn’t even know we were building a road the last three years, and now you suddenly say that it is your territory.’ I remarked upon how strange this was. Although the so-called McMahon Line was a line that no Chinese government ever recognized, at least it was a line drawn by a Britisher, even though in drawing it he included more than 90,000 square kilometers of our territory in India. However, in the western sector there was no such line. There was no agreement with us either in 1956 or 1957. And so in 1959 the Indians sent small patrols crawling up the steep slopes to attack our post. Our guards were at the passes. This was in December and the weather was extremely cold – 40 degree below zero. Our post was in the form of a fort and we could see them climbing up. So when the Indians attacked they suffered more heavy losses than we. However, we did have some wounded, and we raised a protest with the Indian government. TASS [Soviet news agency] said of this incident that the Chinese committed aggression against India. Khrushschev, without inquiring, took the same position on the grounds that the Indians had suffered such heavy casualties. This was the first such anti-China statement from the USSR.