Historically Tibet has served as a buffer zone between India and China

 Historically Tibet has served as a buffer zone between India and China. In 1959, China occupied Tibet and since then the border has became a contentious issue between India and China. The Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru made substantial efforts to create peace with China and they reached an agreement, which is known as the Panchsheel agreement. This was Nehru’s strategy to build a partnership with China to consolidate the non-alignment movement in the world. This Sino India partnership did not last very long. In 1962, China launched a war against India and India lost 3270 Indian soldiers. This was an unprecedented defeat for India and a huge victory for China. Thus both countries suspended their diplomatic relations. In 1979 the countries restored their diplomatic relations and they exchanged a head of the states visit but in 1998, India tested its first nuclear weapon, which China strongly condemned. Again the diplomatic relations between the two countries were suspended but they resumed the again 2005. In 2005 Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited India and established trade relations and strategic dialogue regarding the border dispute. The trade between the two has progressed but border dialogue has not made any notable progress. There has been indirect competition between the two in the North of India and in South East Asia. China has been rapidly advancing its military bases towards the Northern border of India and making its presence seaports in South East Asia. India and China are hugely different in terms of political ideology and culture. Due to these issues, confrontation between the two in the future is inevitable.

The history of the Sino Indian relations began in 1949 when India became the first non-communist state who recognised the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the legitimate government of China. Jawaharlal Nehru was the Indian Prime Minister and was the founding architect of Indian foreign policy, which vigorously opposed global military alignment. India supported the new independent states of Asia to pursue a policy of non-alignment.[1] This was a core Indian foreign policy to approach any other states including China. India viewed China as an essential partner for India to strengthen the non-alignment movement in the world. On the eve of India’s independence, Nehru expressed an “Asian Monroe Doctrine,” which described a complete removal of the Western militaries from Asia,[2] for which cooperation with China was vital. Therefore, Nehru actively engaged with China in the 1950s and as a result India signed an agreement with China, which was known as ‘Panchsheel’ or ‘five principles’, of peaceful coexistence between two nations. In that agreement, India supported the one China policy, which stated that Tibet was a part of the PRC.[3] From 1949 to 1959, these two nations maintained a decade long good relationship. This period was described as “Hindi Chini Bye Bye” which meant that Indians and Chinese were brothers. However, this period of peace came to an end when China ruthlessly cracked down on Tibetan protestors in Lhasa on the 10th March 1959, forcing the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan peoples to flee to India.  India granted refugee status for the Dalai Lama and Tibetan people in India. Thus the relationship between India and China worsened and it lead to the 1962 war between India and China.

The 1962 war between India and China deeply impacted on the contemporary Sino Indian relations. Under Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s leadership, India played a leadership role among Asian nations. The Bandung Conference was held in Indonesia in 1955. Jawaharlal Nehru dominated the session by proposing five principles of foreign policy, which were non-alignment, anti-colonialism, anti-racism, peaceful coexistence and respect of others’ territorial integrity.[4] There were twenty-nine state representatives participated in that conference and all members unanimously supported Nehru’s proposal. India gained a substantial legitimacy over international affairs. At the same time the Asian nations expected to see leadership from India and India also claimed itself as a dominant power in Asia. However, in the 1962 Sino India war, China defeated India militarily and psychologically. The war went for thirty-two days and left 3270 Indian soldiers dead, and it proved that India was in a militarily weak position.[5] Therefore, many Asian nations turned away from India because they saw India was unable to provide security for them. India lost its credibility as a great international power – indeed India had to live with great humiliation. This was the worst period in the history of the Sino Indian relations.

The Sino Indian diplomatic relationship was restored between the two countries in 1976. The ambassadors were restored in both countries’ capitals and the ambassadors attempted to make improvements to the relationship by establishing further diplomatic exchange. In 1979, Indian foreign minister Mr Behari Vajpayee visited China and he signed an agreement, which stated that both countries promised to keep peace in the region.[6] In 1988, Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited China. This was the highest Indian politician to visit China since the 1962 war. This was a turning point and both countries hoped it would improve their relationship beyond the war. Indeed, both countries began to look forward to developing their relations. In 1991, the Chinese Premier Li Peng visited India and then in 1993, the Indian Prime Minister Narasimha Rao went to China. In 1993, the Chinese President Jiang Zemin visited India, marking the first time a Chinese head of state had visited India. During Jiang’s visit, they agreed to build a constructive and cooperative relationship based on the five principles of peaceful co-existence.[7] Above all, the diplomatic exchanges demonstrate that both countries fully restored a diplomatic relationship after the 1962 War. However, there was no progress in regards to border and security issues.

India carried out its first nuclear tests in 1998 and this overturned its diplomatic relationship with China. China vigorously condemned India’s nuclear test and China took the lead in drafting the UN’s Security Council Resolution 1172, which strongly condemned the tests.[8] India understood the consequences of testing nuclear weapons without the United Nations’ permission but the Indian politicians considered it as absolutely necessary to demonstrate India’s security capabilities. China and Pakistan were a constant security threat to India and India viewed the security threat from these countries as inevitable. However, it resulted in China immediately suspending its diplomatic relations with India, viewing India’s nuclear test as a security threat. For two years there were no diplomatic engagements between the two countries. This was the second period in which the complex Sino India relationship was damaged badly.

Sino Indian diplomatic relations resumed in 2000 when the Chinese foreign minister visited India and met with the Indian foreign minister to start a security dialogue. In 2005, the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited India, which was a historic visit because the Premier upgraded the bilateral ties to a strategic level.[9] Premier Wen’s visit produced three points. Firstly, India and China agreed on a strategic and cooperative partnership for peace and prosperity in both countries. Secondly, they agreed to establish political guiding principles for the settlement of the disputed boundary issue. Thirdly, they created a five year plan for all-round cooperation and trade between the two countries.[10] Premier Wen’s visit was extraordinarily successful. In the following year Chinese President Hu Jintao visited India, which consolidated the bilateral ties between the two countries. Hu stated that “building trust through trade” was necessary and also declared that the two countries were “not rivals or competitors but partners for mutual benefit.”[11] During this visit, President Hu and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed to expand their trade target to $20 billion by 2008.[12] China became India’s largest trading partner in 2008 and it overtook the United States. The trade between the two countries is increasing and diplomatic visits between the two have become quite regular, including heads of the state. However, the core issues between Sino India of the border and security have so far not made any progress.

Historically India and China did not share a contiguous border. Tibet was an independent state, which served as a buffer zone between India and China. In 1959, China occupied Tibet with military force, killing millions of Tibetans. The Tibetan government was lead by the Dalai Lama, who fled to India on 10th March 1959. Since then China claimed that Tibet is a part of Chinese territory, which India reluctantly accepted. Thus, historically China did not share a border with India but since China occupied Tibet, China now shares a border with India. Therefore, China does not know the exact land border demarcation with India, and this is disputed. In 1914, British India, Tibet and China established the Shimla Treaty, which marked the demarcation between Tibet and India’s border, which is known as the McMahon Line.[13] Tibetan representatives and British Indian representatives signed this treaty and they recognised the McMahon Line was the legitimate border between India and Tibet, but China did not sign this treaty because Tibet and China did not agree with their border demarcation according to the Shimla Treaty.[14] Historically India and China both dealt with Tibet in regards to their border issue, but now China occupies Tibet and denies the history of Tibetan government and its legacy. Thus China does not recognise the Shimla Treaty and other Tibetan history. Therefore, China has no clear political guidance to solve the border dispute, nor does India. In history, India always dealt with Tibet with its border issues and they knew how to deal with Tibetans, but they are experiencing difficulties in dealing with the Chinese because they have never dealt with Chinese in regards to border issues. In recent years, the Indian Foreign Minister and the Chinese Foreign Ministers have met several times to discuss the border issues, but unfortunately there has been no sign of progress.

In recent years, the Chinese military have asserted claims over Indian controlled territories. Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh have frequently had Chinese military incursions. Thus, the Indians view the Chinese emerging power not as a peaceful one, but one that poses a serious security threat to India.[15] India sees the China and Pakistan alignment as a form of security threat to India. India also has ongoing extensive border disputes with Pakistan. Thus China and Pakistan’s nuclear cooperation is a clear indication to India that China is trying to indirectly undermine India’s stability. China has increased its influence over India’s neighbours such as Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Historically these countries were strongly influenced by India. Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka have historically and culturally been intertwined with India. However, in recent years, China has been aggressively engaging with these countries by providing unconditional vast aid. China is Myanmar’s largest trading partner and China has supported the military dictatorship in Myanmar for decades. This shows that China is strategically and geographically circling around India from land borders to the sea. China is preparing itself for India to be its major rival and competitor in the twenty first century in Asia.[16]

The competition between India and China is inevitable in the twenty first century in Asia. Historically both countries had been dominant empires in Asia throughout such periods as the Chinese Ming Empire and the Indian Mughal Empire. Today, China and India both want to restore their position in the world like their previous empires. China is already claiming it is a great world power and it is on its way to world super power status. China is the world’s second largest economy with a 1.3 billion population. According to the Fugel estimate, China will overtake the United States by the year 2040 and it will become the world’s largest economy.[17] China gained nuclear status in 1964 when it first tested a nuclear weapon. China is also rapidly modernising its military force by pumping a vast part of the budget into its military program. China developed its first aircraft carrier in 2013 and built aircrafts. The Chinese built the J-15, which is the newest model that China launched in 2010. Compared to China, India is far behind in terms of economic progress and modernising its military force. However, India tested it first nuclear weapon in 1998 and it is part of the world nuclear club. India has also developed a robust military personal with adequate war equipment. India’s economic growth is not as fast as the Chinese economy but it is one of fastest developing economies in the world. Both China and India claim to be the giant powers in Asia. This will be the challenge for the twenty first century in Asia – to keep these two countries peacefully co-existing.

India and China are such different countries politically and culturally. The current Indian government was founded by Mahatma Gandhi and is based on a liberal democratic ideology.  India achieved its independence through a nonviolent movement, which is unlike the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The nonviolent and liberal democratic values are rooted in contemporary Indian politics. Every five years an election takes place and people decide who governs the states. There are various political parties and politicians manage to form a federal government and opposition party. The government is accountable and transparent. India exercises freedom of expression and rights of civil liberty. India runs the freest media and this plays a significant role in its politics.[18] On the other hand, China is unlike India in terms of its political system and its culture. China is a one party system of government and the communist party of China is the only political party. There are no opposition parties therefore the government exercises absolute authority over its people. The communist party decides who governs the country and civilians have no voice in the Chinese political system. In China there is also no freedom of expression. States own the media and independent media is not allowed, thus the Chinese people are heavily influenced by the government’s control. The Chinese government claims that this authoritarianism is suitable for China because Chinese culture is rooted in Confucianism. Confucius views that the state owns absolute authority over its people.[19] These fundamental differences between India and China will pose certain challenges in Asia.

The ideological differences are more severe than geographical differences. In recent world history, the Cold War was based on an ideological confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. It is possible that this could happen between India and China. Many Indians are deeply scared by the 1962 War between India and China. In India, there are high profile politicians who think that a confrontation between India and China will be inevitable, thus they recommend the Indian government to align with Japan and the United States.[20] The confrontation between these two is already taking place when we look at North India and South East Asia. If a confrontation occurred between India and China then opportunities may occur for those nations that lost their independence to China such as Tibet and Xinjiang.

Historically China and India have both claimed to be the major power of Asia; today China claims its reposition in the world, in particular in Asia. India also claims its status as a dominant actor in the region. The previous Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru hoped that both countries could peacefully co-exist but it did not materialise and they went to war in 1962. This created unforgettable resentment in public and vast numbers of Indian politicians viewed China as India’s ultimate security threat in the 21st century. China is rapidly increasing its influence around India’s neighbours such as Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan Myanmar and Sri Lanka. This is a form of an indirect confrontation between India and China.



Chellaney, Brahma, Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan, pp. 153-166 and 186-214.


Chacko, Priya, Indian Foreign Policy: The Politics of Postcolonial Identity from 1947-2004, New York: Routledge, 2012.


Pardesi, Manjeet S. “India in Asia: India’s Relations with Southeast Asia and China, 1962-1991.” India in the World Since 1947, ed Andreas Hilger. New York: Peter Lang, 2012.


Sen, Rajaram. “sino-Indian relations: Dead Weight of Old Mindsets or Opening of New Vistas.” Foreign Policy of India and Asia – Pacific, ed Raja Reddy. New Delhi: New Century Publications, 2012.


Prakash, Arun and Ui, Yang. “Thinking Beyond Nuclear Doctrine and Strategy.” The China – India: Nuclear Crossroads, ed Saalman Lora. Washington: Carbegie Endowment for International Peace, 2012.



Jain, Ash. “Like-Minded and Capable Democracies: A New Framework for Advancing a Liberal World Order.” Council on Foreign Relations, 2013.

http://www.cfr.org/international-organizations-and-alliances/like-minded-capable-democracies-new-framework-advancing-liberal-world-order/p29484 (accessed October, 17, 2013).


Chakravprty, Maj Gen PK. “Chinese Agressiveness: Need for Approperiate Response.” Indian Defence Review, 2013. http://www.indiandefencereview.com/news/chinese-aggressiveness-need-for-appropriate-response/ (accessed September 24, 2013).


Fugel, Robert. “Chinese Estimated Economy by the year” Foreign Policy, 2010. 2040http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/01/04/123000000000000 (accessed September 24, 2013).

[1] Pardesi, India in Asia: India’s Relations with Southeast Asia and China, 15.

[2] Ibid, 16.

[3] Chellaney, Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan, 161.


[4] Pardesi, India in Asia: India’s Relations with Southeast Asia and China, 15.

[5] Chellaney, Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan, 164.

[6] Sen, sino-Indian relations, 334.

[7] Ibid, 334.

[8] Ibid, 335.

[9] Ibid, 335.

[10] Ibid, 336.

[11] Ibid, 336.

[12] Ibid, 3367.

[13] Chacko, Indian Foreign Policy: The Politics of Postcolonial Identity, 84.

[14] Ibid, 84.

[15] Chakravprty, Chinese Agressiveness: Need for Approperiate Response.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Fugel, “Chinese Estimated Economy by the year”.


[18] Jain, Like-Minded and Capable Democracies: A New Framework for Advancing a Liberal World Order, .6.

[19] Ibid, 6.

[20] Chellaney, Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan, 153-166 and 186-214.



About Himalayansun

I am passionate about human rights.
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