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India To China From Conflict To Cooperation History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

1. India and China are two emerging global powers, with common aspirations & having vast potential to stake their legitimate claim as premier nations of the 21st century. The two countries share centuries of cordial relations and peaceful co-existence.

2. Despite the unfortunate lone blemish of the 1962 border conflict and perceived rivalry for regional and global status in the recent years, shared ancient cultural ties, geographical proximity and the benefits of a shared vision, suggest a greater degree of give and take and cooperation between the two Asian giants for mutual benefit and progress therein.

3. In recent times, Sino-Indian relations have largely been looked at from the narrow prism of mistrust, potential conflict and competitive assertiveness. This article aims to examine the way beyond some of these present irritants in the bilateral relationship with a view to establishing closer ties based on mutual benefit and harmonious co-existence between the two countries.

Ancient Ties Between India and China

4. India and China share a long history of peaceful coexistence that goes back to the third millennium. Trade relations flourished through the famous “Silk Route”. The advent of Buddhism in China saw further cementing of religious and cultural ties between the two great nations.

5. In the middle ages, the relations dwindled due mixed influences. India was colonized and China, absorbed by the Middle Kingdom Complex withdrew from the outside world. However, even during these times, trading relations flourished.

6. As sovereign nations in the 20th century, India and China moved forward simultaneously. India extended full support to China in the international arena. It advocated Chinese entry into the United Nations and voted against UN resolution branding China as an ‘aggressor’ in the Korean crisis. This was the time of ‘Hindi-Chini Bhai-bhai’ days which culminated into numerous cultural and technical exchanges along with high level political exchanges.

7. This euphoria took a back seat when mutual reservation began to be articulated openly during the late 1950s. The border problem took a serious turn by 1962, with India adopting the ‘Forward Policy’ and led to the short war between India and China. [1] 


The Sino-Indian Border Dispute

8. The Sino-Indian border had been peaceful for centuries. Problems began with the demarcation of the border along the British drawn McMohan line in 1914, which was not ratified by the Chinese.

9. ‘Panscheel’ and the overt gestures by both countries to appease each other in the early 1950s did not quite sow the desired seeds of lasting friendship at that time. The infamous ‘Forward Policy’ adopted by Nehru in the late 1950s and early 1960s saw the issue snowball into the only war between India and China in 1962. A brief genesis of the border problem is at Appx A.

10. It is interesting to note that China inherited territorial dispute with many countries including Russia, Myanmar and Vietnam. Other than India, most of these disputes have been settled. For resolving these border problems, China has adopted the strategy of Calculative Security approach to secure its basic interests. In case the dispute is trivial to China’s larger interests, China has sought to resolve it amicably, for example, resolution on Sino-Russian and Sino-Kazakhstan and Kyrgystan borders. In case the dispute is significant but cannot be solved peacefully to China’s advantage at present juncture, it is indefinitely postponed through long term negotiations. Two instances of this are China’s disputes with India and Japan. Many Indian strategists legitimately think that China is dragging the border dispute to some future date when it will be able to settle it to its advantage from a position of strength. [2] 

11. Way Ahead for India. Right from the visit of Rajiv Gandhi in 1988, both India and China have held a number of Joint Working Groups to settle the border issue amicably. These need to continue towards logical fructification. Two landmark confidence building measures (CBMs) have been inked by both countries, namely the Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement (BPTA) of 1993 (when Prime Minister Narasimha Rao visited China) and the CBMs of 1996 (during Jiang Jemin’s visit to India). A brief outline of these treaties is at Appx B. In finding a long lasting solution to the vexing border problem, patience here is the watchword. India needs to keep engaging with the Chinese amicably, assert herself positively during all discussion forums therein and point out the tangible gains to both countries in finally settling the issue once and for all. At the military level, the CBMs have been largely responsible for ongoing peace on the borders. Some of the noticeable gains in the diplomatic initiatives incl the fwg:-

Chinese recognition of the sovereignity of India over Sikkim.

Grant of statehood to both Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.

Continued high profile religious and political visits to Arunachal Pradesh despite occasional murmurs from the Chinese side.

Sino-Tibet Equation and India’s Suggested Stand

12. Chinese Interests in Tibet. China’s policy on Tibet hinges on’ Economic Development and Social Stability’ to ensure greater assimilation of Tibet into a ‘Unified Chinese State’. A continued focus on ‘Party building’ was stressed for Communist Party networking in Tibet. The term ‘Leap Over Model of Development’ was coined for economic development. Tibet now has more than 300 moderate sized modern industrial units.

13. The Chinese view Tibetan culture, religion and Dalai Lama’s influence as a threat to China’s stability and detrimental to the policies followed by the Chinese Communist Party. By depicting it as underdeveloped, Beijing has tried to legitimize the Central Government’s control over Tibet, despite its autonomous status. The Chinese have carried out large scale population transfers of the majority Han population into the Amdo(Qinghai) and Kham administrative regions. Holistic development of Tibet is aimed at weaning Tibetan masses away from the influence of the Dalai Lama. The year 2001 was celebrated as the 50th anniversary of ‘Tibet’s liberation’. [3] 

14. The stress on infrastructure development would better integrate Tibet and increase logistic capability and facilitate speedier induction of additional forces, both from mainland China into Tibet and move within Tibet from one sector to another. Three major highways connect TAR to Mainland China. Of these, Gormo-Lhasa is the most important and is termed as ‘Tibet’s lifeline.’ A major high altitude railway line also connects Gormo to Lhasa. There are a number of operational airfields in Tibet. The highest oil pipeline in the world, about 1100 kms long , from Gormu to Lhasa, meets some of Tibet’s requirements of petroleum, oil and lubricants.

15. Practical Response by India. Since the beginning, India has kept itself from meddling in the affairs of Tibet and has equivocally supported Tibet as an integral part of China. [4] While hosting the Dalai Lama and over 100,00 Tibetan exiles since the 1950s, India has made it clear that the Dalai Lama will not carry out any political activity inimical to China on Indian soil.

16. No basic change in our policy on Tibet is required. However, we must create an environment in which it is possible for us to have a closer look at Tibet. The thrusts that could be considered are as follows:-

(a) Establish diplomatic presence in Tibet by setting up a consulate at Lhasa.

(b) Increased trade with Tibet which will ensure greater interaction and dependence of that region on India.

(c) More visits to Tibet by various commercial, religious and military delegations.

(d) Promotion of Tourism both through land as well as air routes.

(e) Modernisation of the Indian Armed Forces with added emphasis in the Eastern Sector. We must create separate land-air ‘credible’ counter offensive capabilities in the North and NE for limited offensive operations into selected areas of the Tibetan plateau. No war can be won on the basis of defensive deterrence however strong the defensive posture may be. [5] 

Working Through Sino-Pak Friendship

17. The downswing in India-China relations following the 1962 Chinese aggression paved the way for convergence of Sino-Pak relations. This was strengthened with Pak ceding over 5000 sq km territory in POK to China in March 1963. Sino-Pak relations are now an “all weather friendship” and the Karakoram highway symbolises it.

18. China has been continuously assisting Pakistan in its nuclear weapon and missile programmes to ensure parity with India in this field. Several Pakistani missiles which target Indian population centres are of Chinese origin. The Gwadr deep water port and the Makran Coastal Highway are important infrastructural projects being undertaken by China with Pakistan. Comprehensive arrangements exist for supply of weaponry, ammunition and spares to Pakistan at friendship prices. There is also extensive intelligence sharing, moral, diplomatic and material support between the two countries. [6] 

19. India’s Response. India has always behaved maturely in the face of overt Sino-Pak ties inimical to her interests. She has endeavoured to keep the powder dry with regard to her security interests on both fronts. At the same time she has exploited diplomatic initiatives by actively engaging bilaterally with China and with the rest of the world in voicing her legitimate concerns. The growing stature of India in the world community and her peaceful initiatives in progressing legitimately to her rightful destiny have had positive if not grudging impact on China. In recent times, the friendship between China and Pakistan has taken practical overtones. As John Garver notes, “China distanced itself from Pakistan during the process of Sino-Indian rapprochement” by no longer threatening to intervene militarily on Pakistan’s side during periods of conflict with India over Kashmir. [7] 

20. Changing Face of Sino-Pak Friendship. Chinese willingness to reduce somewhat its military assistance to Pakistan stems not only from its desire to improve relations with India and the United States, but from genuine worries about Pakistan’s internal weakness and fears that it could become a “failed state.” China has rejected Pakistani efforts to have the Kashmir issue discussed at the United Nations. During the Kargil conflict, implicitly criticizing Pakistan’s actions, China urged dialogue between India and Pakistan for the peaceful settlement of the Kashmir issue based on the line of control. China condemned the Parliament and Mumbai attacks in strong terms. Beijing has sought to decouple Sino-Indian and Sino-Pakistani relations and attempts to reassure the India from time to time, by briefing her about the substance of her relations with Pakistan. [8] 

Sino-Myanmar Friendship

21. The close friendship between China and Myanmar is another area of concern. The military regime was accorded a pariah status by the outside world, including India, with one notable exception being China. Today the China-Myanmar nexus has rewarded China many times over. The moral high ground adopted by India initially, failed to adequately factor in the strategic importance of a country with which it shares a 1000 km long eastern border. [9] 

22. The military junta has been a recipient of advanced weaponry from China, besides getting assistance in the construction of several military facilities. Chinese military assistance has enabled an increase in Myanmar’s Armed forces from 180,000 to 450,000 troops during the 1990s. [10] Military bases have reportedly been built by the SPDC for China, namely Hainggyi, Mergui and the Coco Islands (situated merely 30 nautical miles from the Andaman islands, giving China a strategic presence in the Indian Ocean. There are also reports that many naval installations have been refurbished with Chinese help. These can effectively be used to disrupt free passage through the straits of Malacca and such a strategic presence is bound to have deep portents for the region’s security. [11] 

23. India’s Response. India has been engaging effectively with Myanmar in the recent years. The recent visit of Senior General Than Shwe was a case in point. India’s policy should by guided by a spirit of realism, considering the fact that she shares 1000 kilometres of common borders with Myanmar. It is in Myanmar’s interest too to establish profitable relations with other countries, besides China. The close historical and cultural linkages could provide a congenial starting point for further developing Indo-Myanmarese ties. [12] BIMSTEC is an important regional forum that India can exploit effectively for mutual benefit. India’s infrastructural ventures in Myanmar to include road and rail projects have the potential to augment trade, tourism and other linkages between the two countries. [13] By making parallel inroads into Myanmar in a spirit of friendship and cooperation, irrespective of the regime in place, India would do well to counter balance Chinese influence therein.

String of Pearls Policy


The Positive Impact of Bilateral Visits

24. The pre 1962 bonhomie enjoyed by both India and China was reversed post the conflict into a long period of deep freeze in bilateral relations, spanning several decades thereafter. Mutual suspicion, insecurity and the deep scars of the infamous war has taken time to heal.

25. The landmark visit of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to China in 1988 saw the rekindling of warmer bilateral relations thereafter. Reciprocal high profile visits between both countries over the years thereafter have greatly improved bilateral relations between the two countries and shown the way ahead towards positive rapprochement.

26. Post Rajiv Gandhi’s visit, the Joint Working Groups (JWGs) on the border issue were rekindled and have had several meetings over the years thereafter. Besides Rajiv Gandhi, several other Indian Prime Ministers have visited China. During Narasimha Rao’s visit in 1993, the BPTA of 1993 was signed reciprocated by the famous CBMs of 1996, signed during President Jiang Jemin’s visit to India in 1996. [14] 

27. President Narayan’s visit to China in 2000 marked the completion of 50 years of India-China relations. [15] Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji’s visit to India in January 2002 was important in the wake of the ongoing tensions between India and Pakistan, which he distanced himself from. To facilitate personal exchanges between the two countries it was decided during this visit to open regular flights from New Delhi to Beijing. [16] Vajpayee’s visit in 2003 saw a joint declaration between both countries for the first time covering multifarious issues from economy, trade to identifying processes to resolve the border issue. It is certain that official level of maturity between New Delhi and Beijing reached a level of maturity that was not anticipated earlier. [17] In between, two Indian defence ministers, Jaswant Singh and George Fernandez visited China and were received warmly.

28. Premier Wen Jiabao’ visit to India in 2005 coupled with President Hu jintao’s visit in 2006 were further indications of the growing importance paid by China towards strengthening bilateral ties with India. In fact, 2006 was marked as Sino-Indian Friendship year.

29. More recently, President Pratibha Patil paid an important visit to China, the first Indian President in ten years since President Narayan in 2000. Several sensitive issues to include resolution of the border dispute, support for India’s permanent seat at the United Nations, bilateral trade improvement and so on were discussed across the table in an extremely cordial and warm atmosphere.

Economic Cooperation

30. Historically, economic relations between India and China have been much less important than their cultural interactions. This is in part due to the high cost of transport across the Himalayan border. The border war of 1962 and the subsequent chill in bilateral political relations effectively eliminated much trade and other economic relations between the two countries. Bilateral trade was suspended and did not open till 1977.

31. With the liberalization of each others’ economies in the nineties, bilateral trade grew rapidly thereafter. In the year 2002, total trade was of the order of $ 3 billion as compared with a paltry $ 2.45 million when trade opened in 1977. Trade expansion has since been even more rapid. It was $ 18.7 billion in 2005 and US $ 24.9 billion in 2006. According to Shanghai Daily Newspaper, India became China’s 10th largest trading partner in 2006. The two way commercial activity showed an average annual increase of 45 percent since 2000. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao during his visit to India in 2005 had said that the two countries must take their trade to US $ 30 billion level by 2010. [18] In fact bilateral trade crossed US $ 40 billion in 2008 itself and is poised to touch US $ 60 billion by end 2010.

32. Cooperation in Science and Technology (particularly in the field of aerospace) and Information Technology, as well as exchange of economic and cultural delegations have considerably expanded in the recent past. Both India and China have set up over 50 joint ventures in various fields.

33. There are a number of products such as coking coal, iron ore, raw silk and silk fabric that present the potential for a substantial expansion in trade. India is rich in iron ore resources, the bulk of which is high grade and has low exploitation cost. China has a huge demand for iron ore. There are excellent prospects for Sino-Indian joint ventures in iron and steel. [19] Also, possibilities exist for two way trade of items within broad product categories such as textiles and apparel.

34 Bilateral trade in services and bilateral flows of FDI are increasing as well. India’s lead in software and China’s capability in hardware have opened up possibilities of increasing trade in products and services of the IT sector.

35. The enhancement of trade needs to be viewed as a CBM resulting in greater interaction and mutual confidence not only in border communities but the top business houses from both sides. In the long run, expansion of mutual trade and investment will help in creating mutual commitment ensuring peace and security between India and China. China outlined a five point agenda, including reducing trade barriers and enhancing multilateral cooperation to boost trade. Both countries have agreed for a joint feasibility study for a bilateral Free trade Area. Some other measures which can be taken for better trading relations between both countries include:-

(a) Address the problem of information gap between the business communities or possible opportunities for trade and investment.

(b) Provide direct airline and shipping links.

(c) Expedite and simplify visa procedures.

(d) Sharing of information on several areas of mutual interest on several areas of mutual interest such as mega infrastructure projects, state sector reforms, labour issues and so on. [20] 

Engagement Through Regional and Global Associations

(early evolving stg of study in prog)

Shanghai Cooperation Association (SCO)

36. China has used its cooperative influence with the Central Asian States to take effective steps in safeguarding her territorial integrity and national unity, combating terrorism and stabilizing the North Western region, Xinjiang. The SCO was one of the first international organizations to focus on countering the menace of terrorism. India’s concerns deals with the dangers of militant Islam moving from Pakistan and Afghanistan to gaining a foothold elsewhere in Central Asia. India therefore stands to gain from entering this forum. Kazakhstan has thus far been backing her entry into the SCO. [21] Chinese, Central Asian Republic and Indian fears over terrorism brewing in this region can be commonly studied and effective joint counter terrorism responses put in place. Besides, the potential of exploiting trade initiatives with and through this region can be exploited by India iwith no threat to China.


37. As India and China grow in economic and strategic importance and begin to stretch their influence, they would expand into each other’s erstwhile domain. China’s observer status in SAARC and India’s at Shanghai Cooperation Association are examples of mutual accommodation keeping into account shifting geopolitical power plays. [22] China is a dialogue partner of ASEAN and has the privilege of holding Sino-ASEAN summits. In the past China has opposed the holding of Indo-ASEAN dialogue. China has shown interest in becoming a member of SAARC. Possibly, Pakistan may press its case for membership.




(still in early evolutionary stg of study)

Striking a Balance

39. India-China relationship will be characterized by both strategic consonance as well as divergence. Competitive elements in their relationship cannot be wished away when one takes into account their respective size, vast resource base, ambitions to enhance their power projection capabilities, underpinned by the fact that both inhabit the same geo-strategic region. [23] The key strategic issue that is binding China and India is the common understanding that both are increasingly acquiring a dominant position in the world and will need to get the current global power structure to accommodate them and their interests. [24] 

40. China and India are developing countries and both share similar views on many international issues. They oppose the developed countries tendency to attach additional conditions for providing aid to developing countries and appeal for creating an international environment favourable to the development of developing countries. [25] 

41. Ma Jiali a veteran South Asia expert at China Institute of Contemporary Relations (CICR), says India’s recent economic performance combined with its growing importance in international relations has led to a rethink of Beijing of India as “Zhong he Guoli’ a Chinese term translating roughly as a comprehensive national power. [26] 

42. To safeguard her national interests and to checkmate increasing Chinese influence in its neighbourhood as well as the Indian Ocean region, India needs to take some aggressive foreign policy initiatives. There is a need for India to further improve her relations with the countries of the region both in South as as well as SE Asia. Strategic and trade relations with Japan need to be boosted considerably. India also needs to develop trading relations with Taiwan, while politically and diplomatically maintaining a low profile. India should diplomatically dissuade Beijing from continuing its nuclear and missile aid to Pakistan by directly raising strategic costs for China. The costs can be increased through strategic cooperation with countries that share Indian concerns over China viz Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan. The Central Asian Countries are traditionally mindful of China’s growing military might. India can assist these countries in training, servicing and up gradation of their indigenous military hardware. There is a need to vitalize a Bay of Bengal community for preserving the peace and security of this region. Further this community could be a natural bridge between SAARC and ASEAN for exploiting maritime resources, trade, commerce and allied commercial activities including port development, tourism and cultural activities for the overall development and prosperity of the littoral states. [27] 

Sub Regional Cooperation

43. India and China need to be involved in sub regional cooperative zone. India’s North East and China’s South West could form a growth triangle with Myanmar and Bangladesh. The former two regions face similar development impediments such as being land locked, economically backward with mountainous terrain and inadequate infrastructure. Both are blessed with a rich natural resource base. As political tensions between these countries further reduce, the ‘do it alone’ development policies will give way to cooperative framework. India’s North East, as BG Verghese said”is not just a distant extremity, as too long regarded, but a bridge to a most dynamic neighbourhood beyond which it has always had close, historic, ethnic and cultural links.” Common interests could be explored through bilateral exchanges in the academic and cultural fields, study of tribal languages, spiritualism, Budhism,Tibetology and so on. [28] 


44. It needs to be appreciated that at grassroots level there is considerable goodwill in China towards India, the land of the Budha. Chinese generally have a good image of India as an ancient civilization. Enhance people to people contact will strengthen the bond of friendship between the two nations over a period of time which will minimize tension and reduce the risk of any hot or cold war between the two. India is a peace loving nation and will not do anything to aggravate the situation. In international relations there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies.

45. While we must continue to engage China at all levels in different fields, we should also keep the powder dry. Only an economically vibrant and militarily strong India will be able to face China in the years ahead. [29] 

Appx A

(Ref to Para of Article

India-China: Conflict to Cooperation)


1. India and China have had undefined borders for centuries. The 3917 km long India-China border was demarcated along the British drawn McMohan line in 1914. The treaty was not ratified by the Chinese at that time. After both countries became independent, while India thought that the border was already demarcated, Chinese perception was that the boundary was the legacy of the colonial era and required to be renegotiated.

2. The Sino-Indian border is divided into three sectors-Western, Middle and Eastern. While the 400 mile long Middle Sector covering Himachal and Uttar Pradesh is relatively non contentious, the problem areas are in the Western and Eastern Sectors. The 1100 mile long Western Sector that contains 15000 sq kms of Aksai Chin also contains about 2700 sq miles of area that Pakistan ceded to China from Pak Occupied Kashmir in March 1963. The Eastern Sector is 140 mile long boundary along Sikkim and 710 miles long Arunachal Pradesh. China has finally rescinded its claim on Sikkim, officially recognizing it as part of India.

3. During the 1962 war, in the Eastern Sector, the Chinese over-ran the state of Arunachal Pradesh and threatened the plains of Assam. After the ceasefire, the Chinese went back to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) which generally approximates to the McMohan line.

4. The disputed area is, however, 33500 kms in the Western Sector, 2000 sq kms in the Central Sector and 90000 sq kms in the Eastern Sector. As many as 13 Joint Working Groups (JWG) meetings on the border issue have taken place since 1989.

5. China continues to improve its infrastructure in Tibet and the areas adjoining pockets on the border where the LAC is perceived differently. While India continues to seek some progress as a result of these JWG meetings, China it appears is encoded in its belief of growing world power status and is content with keeping the schedule and pace to suit its long term ‘designs’.

6. It is interesting to note that China inherited territorial dispute with many countries including Russia, Myanmar and Vietnam. Other than India, most of these disputes have been settled. For resolving these border problems, China has adopted the strategy of Calculative Security approach to secure its basic interests. In case the dispute is trivial to China’s larger interests, Chian has sought to resolve it amicably, for example, resolution on Sino-Russian and Sino-Kazakhstan and Kyrgystan borders. In case the dispute is significant but cannot be solved peacefully to China’s advantage at present juncture, it is indefinitely postponed through long term negotiations. Two instances of this are China’s disputes with India and Japan. Many Indian strategists legitimately think that China is dragging the border di

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