By: Soham Thakare
“India – China Bilateral Relations along with the disputes”
On April 1, 2020, China and India usher in the important moment of the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. Looking around the world, China and India, as the only two emerging countries with a population of more than 1 billion, shoulder the historical mission of national rejuvenation, play a key role in the process of the collective rise of developing countries, and inject strong momentum into the profound change’s unseen in a century.
At this moment, it is particularly important to revisit the original aspiration of establishing diplomatic relations 70 years ago and carry forward the spirit of good neighbourliness and friendship, unity and cooperation.
Looking back at the past 70 years, China-India relations have moved ahead despite wind and rain and gone through an extraordinary development path. In the 1950s, the leaders of the older generation of the two countries made the historical decision to establish diplomatic relations between China and India, and jointly advocated the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.
“Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai” (Indians and Chinese are brothers) resounded throughout our two countries. From the 1980s, the two sides agreed to solve the boundary question through peaceful and friendly consultation, established strategic and cooperative partnership for peace and prosperity, and achieved all-round development of bilateral relations.
After 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi initiated the “hometown diplomacy”, held two informal summits in Wuhan and Chennai respectively, carried out strategic communication on overarching, long-term and strategic issues of global and regional importance, and agreed to strengthen the closer partnership for development between the two countries.
View of Prime Minister and President:
Indian President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have both said that the whole world is a family, which strike a chord with Chinese philosophy concept of “universal peace” and “universal love”.
The ancient oriental wisdom is still full of vitality today. I believe that China and India have enough foresight and ability to join hands to realize “Dragon-Elephant Tango”, create a brilliant future in the next 70 years and write together a new chapter in building a community with a shared future for mankind!
On 1 April 1950, India became the first non-socialist bloc country to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. Prime Minister Nehru visited China in October 1954. While the India-China border conflict in 1962 was a serious setback to ties, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s landmark visit in 1988 began a phase of improvement in bilateral relations.
In 1993, the signing of an Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on the India-China Border Areas during Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s visit reflected the growing stability and substance in bilateral ties.
Visits of Heads of States/Heads of Governments:
Cumulative outcomes of the recent high-level visits have been transformational for our ties. During Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit in 2003, India and China signed a Declaration on Principles for Relations and Comprehensive Cooperation and also mutually decided to appoint Special Representatives (SRs) to explore the framework of a boundary settlement from the political perspective.
During the April 2005 visit of Premier Wen Jiabao, the two sides established a Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity, while the signing of an agreement on Political Parameters and Guiding Principles, signalled the successful conclusion of the first phase of SR Talks.
During the State Visit of Chinese President Mr Xi Jinping to India from 17 to 19 September 2014, a total of 16 agreements were signed in various sectors including, commerce & trade, railways, space -cooperation, pharmaceuticals, audio-visual co-production, culture, the establishment of industrial parks, sister-city arrangements etc.
The two sides also signed an MoU to open an additional route for Kailash Mansarovar Yatra through Nathu La. The Chinese side agreed to establish two Chinese Industrial Parks in India and expressed their intention to enhance Chinese investment in India.
There were 24 agreements signed on the government-to-government side, 26 MoUs on the business-to-business side and two joint statements, including one on climate change.
Geographical Dispute between both the Nation:
The border between India and China is not clearly demarcated throughout. Along certain stretches of its 3,488-km length, there is no mutually agreed Line of Actual Control (LAC). India, following Independence, believed it had inherited firm boundaries from the British, but this was contrary to China’s view.
China felt the British had left behind a disputed legacy on the boundary between the two newly formed republics.
Aksai – Chin and Sino-Indian border Dispute:
The India – China border is divided into three sectors namely, Western, Middle and Eastern. The boundary dispute in the Western Sector pertains to the Johnson Line proposed by the British in the 1860s that extended up to the Kunlun Mountains and put Aksai Chin in the then princely state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Independent India used the Johnson Line and claimed Aksai Chin as its own. China initially did not demur when India said so in the early 1950s; however, in the years that followed it reversed its position and stated that it had never acceded to the Johnson Line and therefore did not see why it should cede Aksai Chin to India.
In the Middle Sector, the dispute is a minor one. It is the only one where India and China have exchanged maps on which they broadly agree. The disputed boundary in the Eastern Sector of the India-China border is over the MacMahon Line.
Representatives of China, India and Tibet in 1913-14 met in Shimla, where an agreement was proposed to settle the boundary between Tibet and India, and Tibet and China. Though the Chinese representatives at the meeting initialled the agreement, they subsequently refused to accept it. The Tawang tract claimed by China was taken over by India in 1951.
Till the 1960s, China controlled Aksai Chin in the West while India controlled the boundary up to the McMahon Line in the East.
Nearly six decades have passed since then, but the border issue remains unresolved. It has turned into one of the most protracted border disputes in the world. Since 1981, when the first round of border talks was held, officials from India and China have met a number of times to find a solution to the issue.
The two countries are also engaged in Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) on the border with bilateral agreements signed in 1993, 1996, 2005, 2012 and 2013. By the beginning of the 21st century, the two sides had agreed not to let the border dispute affect bilateral engagements.
This was inked into the Agreement on Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question signed in 2005. During Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to China in 2003, the two sides agreed on the appointment of special representatives for consultations aimed at arriving at a framework for a boundary settlement that would provide the basis for the delineation and demarcation of the border.
Although denial and underplaying of incidents on the Sino-Indian border was the general trend, at least on one occasion, the Indian government admitted the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) intrusion into Indian territory.
The PLA reportedly entered 10 km inside the Indian territory in eastern Ladakh and set up a platoon-sized camp on 15 April 2013. The incident preceded Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s state visit to India on 19 May 2013. The April 2013 episode was not an innocent transgression; it was, by the Indian government’s own definition, an intrusion—an intentional and provocative breach of the LAC.
Types of Incidents:
The lone incident that lasted between two to seven days was in 2013. It was reported that the Chinese entered 20 km into Indian territory in the Changlagam area of Arunachal Pradesh on 11 August and stayed there for about four days. This intrusion was detected on August 13 by the Indian troops which asked the Chinese to go back.
Only two incidents were found to have lasted for more than seven days. These were the three-week standoff in Daulat Beg Oldi, near Aksai Chin in April-May 2013, and the week-long faceoff in Ladakh’s Chumar region in September 2013.
The distribution of incidents according to their duration indicates that the Chinese PLA, on crossing over to the Indian side of the LAC, remained only till the Indian army detected the anomaly and asked the Chinese to withdraw from the Indian side.
The lone incident of Chinese intrusion that continued between two and seven days was due to the delay in detection of the intrusion by the Indian Army. The Daulat Beg Oldi incident in April-May 2013 that lasted three weeks signalled new activism on the border issue by China.
Chinese President Xi Jinping on 29 March 2013, before the Daulat Beg Oldi incident, had made a statement in Durban, South Africa, that the border issue between China and India should be resolved “as soon as possible”.
If the Chinese action on the ground at Daulat Beg Oldi is taken in conjunction with President Xi Jinping’s statement in Durban, it is clear that China was signalling new activism in its border dispute with India. This also becomes evident from Beijing’s official statements during two of the three-week-long military action.
The two countries have fought only one war, in 1962, when India suffered a humiliating defeat. But simmering tensions involve the risk of escalation – and that can be devastating given both sides are established nuclear powers.
There would also be an economic fallout as China is one of India’s biggest trading partners. The military stand-off is mirrored by growing political tension, which has strained ties between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
We can say that talks are the only way forward because both countries have much to lose. the border clash will likely illustrate for India’s foreign policy planners that its preferred formulation— “the world is one family,” derived from a Sanskrit saying—does not apply to all its bilateral relationships unless the interpretation of “one family” includes family members working against India’s national interests.
From this realization, India may begin to make more choices about its partnerships, recognizing that it isn’t possible to maintain equal ties with all indefinitely.