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India China Relations Perspective History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

China as an emerging power generates fear, concern and mistrust among the countries across the globe including the USA. Its rapid economic growth, fuelling an equally rapid military modernisation coupled with enhancing trans border capabilities has sent wake up calls, particularly to the United States, Japan and India. China is following a two pronged strategy of reassuring it’s neighbours of its peaceful intentions, even while pressing ahead with huge military expenditure. Now that China stands poised to emerge as a global power, the international community is uncertain about China’s intentions, despite all the peace rhetoric that emanates from its political leaders and state organs.

India China Relations : Historical Perspective

2. Prior to the independence, the leaders of the national liberation movement of both the countries deeply sympathised with their respective popular struggles to put an end to colonialism. India’s view of China was to a great extent shaped by Nehru’s ability to persuade the Indian elite to try and take an objective view of both the positive and negative aspects of Chinese nationalism.

3. The Tibet Problem. The British regarded Tibet as a buffer state, and, in the Shimla Conference of 1913, recognised Chinese suzerainty, but not sovereignty, over Tibet,this was never accepted by any Chinese government. In 1950, the PLA invaded Tibet to integrate it into the Chinese State. [2] In 1959, a rebellion took place against Chinese rule in Tibet, and the Dalai Lama fled to India with his followers. This large-scale influx of Tibet refugees into India headed by the  Dalai Lama led to heightening of tensions.

4. The  1962  Conflict. India claimed that the McMahon Line demarcating  the Indo – China  border was an internationally  recognised  boundary. [3] The  Chinese policy centred on re-negotiations and  delineation  of borders  where  no  treaty or agreement  existed.  The  differing positions  on  the status of the boundary  laid  the basis of the conflict. The Chinese attacked in North Eastern Frontier Area (NEFA) and Ladakh beginning from 20 October 1962 and occupied about 5000 square miles of the Indian Territory. China declared a unilateral ceasefire on 10 November 1962 and withdrew behind the McMahon Line in the NEFA Sector. However, it gained about 3000 square kms of Indian Territory, though, according to Chinese version, it does not occupy even a single inch of Indian Territory. Instead it asserts that more than 90000 square kms of the Chinese territory is still under Indian occupation.

Beginning of the New Era

5. Mr Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to China in December 1988 marked a turning point in the normalisation of relations between the two countries [4] . During this visit, the two states formally agreed to put aside their past differences and to rebuild  their relations on the basis of the five principles of ‘Panchsheel’. Both sides agreed to settle the border issue through mutual consultations through Joint Working Group(JWG), consisting of military experts, cartographers and foreign policy officials and pledged to  maintain  peace and  tranquillity  on  the border while taking  other  confidence building measures.

6. China showed no response to India’s nuclear tests on 11 May 1998 but reacted sharply after May 13 tests, when Vajpayee’s letter to Clinton was made public. China adopted a brazenly partisan attitude by terming India’s nuclear tests as “outrageous” but describing Pakistan’s nuclear tests as only “regrettable”. [5] 

7. Reopening of the Nathu La (06 July 2006). The Nathu La Pass used to be a part of the ancient Silk Route, a vital trade link between India and China, prior to its closure in 1962. During the visit of the former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in 2003 China recognised Sikkim as a constituent of India and signed a MoU to resume trade .Nathu La Pass reopened after 44 Years on 06 July 2006 when India and China formally inaugurated trade through the Nathu La Pass, linking Sikkim and the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). [6] 


8. Relations between India and China have improved considerably in the last nine to ten years. However, normalisation does not imply that divergences in the strategic perceptions between the two have suddenly converged or that conflicts of interests and differences of opinion on a range of issues have disappeared. Despite an improvement in India China relations, a number of issues emerge as irritants.

The  Boundary and Territorial  Dispute

9. Refer figure 1. The border dispute can be traced.back to the Shimla Conference of 1914 wherein it was decided that Tibet was an autonomous country and the McMahon Line would be the boundary between India and Tibet though Chinese sovereignty of some sort would extend over Tibet. At the. conference the representatives of India and Tibet signed the agreement, China did not, thus disputing the McMahon Line.Therefore,the McMahon Line in the East and the boundary (Aksai Chin) along Ladakh in the West remained notional as per understanding. The result was that the exact boundary was not demarcated, which led to the conflict in 1962 and the Chinese penetration into the .Sumdorang Chu Valley of Arunachal Pradesh in 1986.

Figure 1

10. The Main issues of the Border Dispute are as under [7] :-

(a) Arunachal Pradesh. China refuses to recognise Arunachal Pradesh as part of India. China claims 90,000 square kilometres as their territory whuch is almost the whole of Arunachal Pradesh , calling it “South Tibet”. The boundary is now known in both India and China as the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

(b) Aksai Chin. India accuses China of occupying 38,000 square kilometres in Jammu and Kashmir,in the Aksai Chin region, north east of Ladakh.

(c) Trans-Karakoram Tract. Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 sq km of Indian territory (Trans-Karakoram tract) to China in 1963 as part of the China-Pakistan Boundary agreement .The transfer is disputed by India as it is part of Jammu and Kashmir.

11. India’s position. it does not recognise the Chinese claim over any part of Indian territory which includes Aksai Chin,parts of Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim correspond to the McMahon Line and hence the boundary. India also states that China is occupying Indian territory since the 1962 conflict and also that the territory west of Karakoram in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) legally belongs to India and has been illegally ceded by Pakistan to China.

12. China’s Position. China claims 90,000 sq km, which is almost the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh.Occupies 38,000 sq km, which is Aksai Chin in Kashmir. Occupies 5,000 sq km of Shaksgam valley ceded to it by Pakistan in June 1963 and does not recognise the McMohan Line.

China’s Infrastructure development Along the Border

13. Defence Minister A.K. Antony told the Rajya Sabha on 14 December 2011, that India has taken a serious note of Chinese infrastructure development in the border regions opposite India in Tibet and Xinjiang Autonomous Regions. The infrastructure development included the Qinghai-Tibet railway line, besides roads and airport facilities. In response India is paying special attention to the infrastructure development in the border areas to meet India’s strategic and security requirements.

China Objection to Indian Defence Minister’s Visit to Arunachal Pradesh

14. In February 2012, the Defence Minister Mr. A.K. Antony visited Arunachal Pradesh to mark the 25th anniversary of its Statehood. China cautioned India from undertaking provocative actions in sensitive areas and told not to complicate the border issue. The Defence Minister emphasised that, like Jammu and Kashmir, Arunachal Pradesh was an integral part of India and as the Defence Minister it his his duty to visit all the border States.

China’s Development Activity in Pakistan occupied Kashmir [8] 

15. On 14 October 2009, India called upon China to stop developmental activities in areas illegally occupied by Pakistan.India was reacting to China’s assurance to Pakistan of help in upgrading the Karakoram highway and construction of the Neelam-Jhelum hydel project in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). India noted that Pakistan had been illegally occupying parts of Jammu and Kashmir since 1947, and China was fully aware of India’s position and concerns about Chinese activities in PoK. India hoped that China would look pragmatically at the Indian concerns and cease unwarranted activities in areas illegally occupied by Pakistan.

Sino-Pak Strategic Equation

16. China’s elusive strategic equation with  Pakistan poses a hindrance to any substantive  improvement in  India’s  relations with China.The core of Sino-Pakistan ties comprises the transfer of military hardware and technology besides nuclear co-operation. Islamabad has been getting weapons at subsidised prices from China. The overt.and covert.military assistance by. China. to. Pakistan is the biggest impediment. in improving India-China relations. The Sino-Pakistan collusion in the nuclear field is seen as China’s long term strategy in gaining supremacy over India.

Status of Tibet and Dalai Lama

17. Despite the government of India’s acceptance of Chinese ‘sovereignty’ over Tibet, China  is still not satisfied. The main reason being that India has  given asylum  to Dalai Lama and has become a refuge for  “disaffected” Tibetans  fleeing  the country. Beijing is suspicious of India’s continued willingness to host the Dalai Lama and his Tibetan Government in exile. [9] 

Issuing Stapled Visas to Indian Citizens Domiciled in Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh [10] 

18. In October 2009, it came to light that the Chinese embassy in New Delhi was issuing paper visas to Indian passport holders from Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh instead of stamping the passports. The separate sheet visas for Kashmiris was labeled by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) as an action which questions the Indian sovereignity on Jammu and Kashmir. India strongly conveyed that it would not accept anything that questions the status of and Arunachal Pradesh which were an integral part of India. On 06 January 2012, India cancelled the visit by a military delegation to China after one of its members, an Indian Air Force (IAF) officer from Arunachal Pradesh was denied visa by China.

19. Much diplomatic water has flowed under the bridge of Sino-Indian relations since 1962 and we need to take a pragmatic view of it. Such a view needs to be informed by an appreciation of the several common features that India and China share as civilisational entities which are trying to cope with modernisation of their traditional societies, on the one hand, and the process of integrating with the international system, on the other China is not only an important civilisation ‘out there’, it is India’s largest neighbour ‘right here’. [11] Thus, there is a need for making independent assessments of China’s capabilities and intentions rather than borrowed judgments made from different strategic viewpoints.

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