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India-China Relations: The Emerging Drift

India and China are emerging giants of Asia. Both of them are the world's most populous countries and the fastest-growing major economies in the world. The far-reaching development in the global diplomatic and economic influence of China and India has also enhanced the importance of their bilateral relations.

China and India are the two oldest civilizations in the world that have coexisted in peace for millennia. China has emerged as India's largest trading partner and the two countries have tried hard to expand their strategic and military ties. The economic relationship between the two countries is considered as one of the most important bilateral relations in the current global economic scenario and this trend is expected to grow in the coming years.

The Flowering relationship between India and China in the early 1950s was based on peaceful coexistence. But after 1962 the war between the two countries, faded in an atmosphere of mutual enmity. India and China has a long history of troubles with its 3,488 kilometer-long border, including a war in 1962 and several more conflicts such as the Doklam standoff which took place in the year 2017.

The current Line of Actual Control that creates an effective border between the two countries is based on the borders were drawn before India's independence in 1947 and have been the subject of several rounds of negotiations and agreements. Emerging trends indicate that both India and China will continue to be highly competitive in the global and regional trade and economic sphere, and will continue to compete for position and influence, particularly in the Asian region and especially in South Asia. This article aims to analyze the inception of and reasons for the emerging drift between two giants; India and China.

This article begins from the consensus-building and pragmatism has increasingly become the basis of India-China relations. There was extensive cultural contact between the two countries since the spread of Buddhism from India to China in the first century A.D. There was a conflict of interest between the two countries in Tibet. At the end of the Civil war in 1949, China wanted to regain control of Tibet and to free the Tibetan people by Lamaism and feudalism with the use of weapons in 1950.

Nehru communicated with the Chinese leaders that India has no political, regional interest nor does it want any special principles in Tibet. With Indian support, Tibetan representatives signed an agreement in May 1951 believing that Chinese sovereignty would make progress in the current political and social system in Tibet. At the end of the Korean War (1950-1953), direct negotiations between two Asian veterans began to support India's mediation efforts.

In 1954, India and China signed an eight-year agreement in Tibet, which laid down the foundation of their relationship as Panchsheel. (Peaceful coexistence agreement between India and China, not interfere between each-others work, 5 things were agreed btw them. And within 10 years of this treaty, India's china war occurred which destroyed the essence of the agreement.)

In the 1950s the term Hindi-Chini-Bhai-Bhai was taken into consideration by the citizens of the country. However, relations between these two countries were better discussed after their independence from foreign powers at the end of the fifth decade of the 20th century. The relations between India and China have been cold since the 1962 war and the mistrust between these two countries has been prevalent since then.

We can say that the veteran of economies on the world stage is China; it has developed itself at that level. But, it has miserably failed in granting human rights, democracy, and social freedom. On the other hand, India has managed to balance economic development with wide-ranging human rights. Although it has not managed to keep pace with China as far as economic prosperity is concerned, however, it has preserved its cultural diversity, secularism, democratic socialism.

It is surprising that two states with such a rich and sometimes frightening history, including the border conflict in 1962, could have such a largely sensitive relationship. An unstable and largely unprofitable preoccupation with the Indian past, and an equally intense preoccupation with domestic consolidation on the Chinese side, have tarnished the relationship. For outsiders, India and China shows some striking similarities. In the mid-twentieth century both regionalist civilizations reborn as modern republics, and are now growing forces Both have nuclear weapons, the economy is booming, military budgets and large reservoirs of manpower expanded, and are dying for influence in the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf, Africa, Central Asia, and East Asia.[1]

Historically, negotiations between India and China have always been few and far between. An analysis of India's relations with China today must take into account the historical perspective, differences in the global situation, domestic policies, and perceived national security interests. Given the issues and diversity in which India and China are engaged, the India-China relationship can be described as a very complex engagement.

Conflict Of 1962

One of the turning points in the relationship between India and China, when China's perception of India became one of the most prominent causes of the Sino-Indian War for its rule over Tibet Various military incidents flared up between India and China during summers, and over 350 Chinese soldiers surrounded an Indian outpost in Chushul and used loudspeakers to convince the Gurkhas that they should not fight for India.

The Chinese attacked in the North Eastern Border Region (NEFA) and Ladakh on 20 October 1962 and occupied about 5000 square miles of Indian Territory. China announced a unilateral ceasefire on 10 November 1962 and retreated the McMahon Line in the NEFA sector. Although it gained about 3000 sq. km in the Indian Territory, however, according to China, it does not occupy even an inch of Indian Territory. In the same year, the Indian Parliament passed a resolution to wage a united struggle until the recovery of the Indian Territory from China and it also refused to close any territory occupied by China as part of any settlement.

The 1954 Agreement on Tibet was buried before the conflict. Business relations between India and China broke down after 1962 but were later resumed in the year 1978. The anti-India policy adopted by China was not only to encourage and incite Naxalite violence in India but also to train Nagas and Mizos in China to fight against India and send them back after the training was over.

The 1962 China conflict was also reflected in China's policies towards India during the 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan. China had already signed a friendship treaty with Pakistan in 1963. It is clear that the Indo-China border conflict in 1962 severely damaged the friendship between the Chinese and the Indians. The shadow of the 1962 conflict has still not disappeared. Therefore, it was indeed one of the biggest challenges to change the mindset and seek anarchy in India-China relations, which reached a nadir after 1962 conflict.

The period during 1959-1976 for India-China relations is portrayed as a period of mutual mistrust, suspicion, and unfriendliness. India and China had gone through and witnessed an important era during 1976-1988 where both nations have made maximum efforts to clear misunderstandings among themselves. These efforts were mainly in the context of understanding each other to create a positive environment.

The year 1976 was a historic year in India-China relations as both countries were able to restore their diplomatic relations by restoring their ambassadors. Sikkim's declaration with India in 1975 shocked the Chinese authorities. China had refused to accept and continued with its policy of autocracy. Despite efforts, India was able to restore confidence among the Chinese people and reactivated their ambassador positions.

In 1991, border trade was revived at a minimum, but it is a shadow of its former self. China's economic reform and opening up to the world brought unprecedented change within the country and produced a major global impact. Years passed, and by 2010 it had become the largest trading partner of goods in India. The volume of trade symbolizes the diversification of relations beyond historical and political.

The Current Dynamic

After understanding many ideas of the Sino-Indian relationship it is the believed that two growing powers with fast-growing economies and global ambitions at such close quarters cannot co-exist peacefully.

In the past, China has formed alliances and partnerships with countries in the Indian periphery, most notably with Pakistan, and also with Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and, most recently, with Afghanistan. Combined with the Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean region, this has caused some concern among Indian policymakers of the strategic enclosure. Relations between India and China have improved significantly in the last nine to ten years. However, generalization does not mean that differences in strategic perceptions between the two have suddenly transformed or that conflicts of interests and differences on different issues have disappeared. Despite the improvement in India and China relations, many issues have come up as bottlenecks. The main issues are as follows:

Border And Territorial Dispute

China has been claiming some northeastern parts of the territory of India for a long time. China claims 90,000 square kilometers as its territory, calling it South Tibet which is a significant territorial part of the state of Arunachal Pradesh. It refuses to recognize Arunachal Pradesh as part of India.

The border is now known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in both India and China. Later, China was found occupying the Aksai Chin region, northeast of Ladakh. India claims that around 38,000 sq. km in Jammu and Kashmir was occupied. Under the Sino-Pakistan border agreement of 1963, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 sq. km of Indian Territory (Trans-Karakoram Path) to China. The transfer is disputed by India as it is a part of Jammu and Kashmir.[2]

These were some of the major border issues that are being violated by China, despite signing bilateral agreements, and most recently in the year 2020, the Galwan Valley incident was fought on the Line of Actual Control (LAC). There was the third round of core commander-level talks was held between India and China. Both sides emphasized rapid and stage-wise de-escalation in the areas close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh as a priority.

On May 5th and 6th, Indian and Chinese troops scrambled at Pangong Tso in Ladakh during the clash, and risked 20 Indian soldiers' lives, and an unknown number of casualties on the Chinese side. The stand-offs in the Galwan valley of Ladakh had increased due to infrastructure projects undertaken by India in recent years. India is constructing a strategic road through the Galwan Valley which is close to China, connecting the region to the airstrip. This was the biggest flashpoint of the 1962 conflict.

The border or Line of Actual Control has not been demarcated and China and India have different views on where it should be located, which leads to regular border conflicts. Chinese try to change these disputed areas unilaterally. This is part of China's 'nibble and negotiates policy'. Their objective is to ensure that India does not build any infrastructure alongside LAC. This is their way of achieving a political goal with the military while gaining more territory in the process and this is the main reason behind the conflicts and disputes. [3]

Conflict Amidst Covid-19

Plagued by a lack of trust, the COVID-19 epidemic added a new twist to the old tale. India was the first non-communist country in Asia to establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China on 1 April 1950. It's been 70 years of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and India.

To celebrate the milestone, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping named 2020 as India-China Cultural and People-to-People Year and marked the milestone planned to organize 70 activities. Both sides had the planning for deepening exchanges between their assemblies, political parties, cultural and youth organizations, and military forces at all leve1. However, plans came to a halt due to the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The move which was seen as targeted at China at the very first was, in April. During which India called for greater scrutiny of investment from neighboring countries to prevent the opportunistic takeover of businesses that may have been facing financial issues due to the epidemic. Under the new policy, all countries that share a border with India, including China, Nepal, Bhutan, and Myanmar, earlier it was only applied in Bangladesh and Pakistan that can only invest under the government route, which requires government approval. During these situations, the Indian council of medical research (ICMR) decided to return all the test kits rapidly that were produced by Chinese firms over quality issues.[4]

Well, the response from China was an argument that the move is a 'Discriminatory Act' performed by India and it violates the principle of non-discrimination which is one of the core principles of WTO law and policy. Beijing stressed the need to "treat investments from different countries equally, and promote an open, fair, and equal trade environment".[5]

To boost its screening and virus testing, India ordered more than half a million Chinese test kits but as earlier the decision which was taken by the Indian council of medical research (ICMR), the Chinese Government reacted that India is labeling Chinese products faulty and irresponsible These approaches highlight the increasing extravagance resulting from the epidemic between India and China. These feelings will only get stronger with time.

Further, discord is expected over the disintegration between the US and China, seeing India as a US ally and a stakeholder for potential movements of the global supply chain. As it has crossed the 70s, India-China relations will see more flow and remain under more tension, even as the two countries seek to maintain peaceful co-existence.

Banning Chinese Applications In India

On June 29, the Government of India decided to ban the use of 59 Chinese apps in India. However, tensions between China and India increased with the Indian government calling for apps to be blocked for security reasons. An interim order was issued in this regard by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology cited in Section 69A of the Information Technology Act (2000), which empowers the central government to block online public access to any information.

Section 69A Power to issue directions for blocking for public access of any information through any computer resource[6]

However, India has banned 47 more apps that were primarily clones of the previously banned 59 apps. According to reports, the Ministry of Home Affairs has prepared a list of over 250 Chinese apps, which can be declared based on national security breaches. Although China has said that it violates the World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, it is unclear whether it will approach the WTO against the Indian apps ban. With its digital protectionist policies, the possibility of China taking the issue to the World Trade Organization seems limited.

The problem in India-China relations is the lack mutual awareness, understanding, and trust. As a result, India's Chinese policy has been described as slow, although it has been largely successful in maintaining peace and tranquillity between the two countries. Therefore, it appears that with their gradual expansion to each other's existence and profile, there has been competition between India and China. The gradual march of human civilization into the future will only make this fact more transparent and clear.

It is clear from the experience of the past 70 years that India-China relations are complex and there are challenges for both practitioners and scholars of international relations. The future of Sino-Indian relations lies in the cooperative working with each other. Under the present circumstances, India-China relations have acquired strategic importance in a world of uncertainty. The way forward for them is to approach the problem pragmatically and positively, with cooperation and mutual understanding.

  1. David M. Malone & Rohan Mukherjee, India and China: Conflict and Cooperation, Survival, vol. 52, (February-March 2010
  2. India China Relations a Perspective History Essay, UK Essays, November 2018, available at: (accessed on 02/09/2020 at 02.13 am.)
  3. See Galwan Valley Clash, Drishti IAS, and 29 June 2020, available at: on 02/09/2020 at 02.50 am.)
  4. See: Amrita Jash, China relations: Compromises and conflicts amid Covid-19, 1 3 May 2020, available at: accessed on 02/09/2020 at 3.00 am)
  5. Ibid.
  6. See: Section 69A, The Information Technology Act, 2000, Indian Kanoon, available at:,or%20public%20order%20or%20for (accessed on 02/09/2020 at 03.15 am.)

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