The Bittersweet Transition of the Sino-Indian Relations

“I am firmly convinced that, in the future years, China and India will join hands in playing a more active role in maintaining peace and stability in the region and the world at large and make due contribution to the cause of human progress and development.”


This prediction made by Li Peng, the fourth Premier of China, may not hold as much validity as the Chinese politician had hoped in today’s day and age.


India and China are two major regional powers of Asia. The correspondence between both nations is characterized by frequent border disputes and economic discourse, and since these two regions are rapidly developing nations, keen on asserting their geopolitical and economic supremacy, there are inevitable power clashes. However, Sino-Indian relations were not always tainted with hostility.


Favourable relations between China and India in the age of antiquity allowed the transmission of Buddhism to India[1]. [2]There have been mentions of China as the ‘Qin’ state in the Indian historical epic ‘Mahabharat’. Furthermore, the existence of trade relations between India and China via the Silk Route indicates a harmonious economic relationship between both regions in the early half of the first millennium BCE. The cordial relationship between India and China was furthered in the middle ages. The Chola Dynasty, in particular, is proven to have a friendly relationship with the Chinese.[3] The Yuan Dynasty of China had also proven themselves to be allies of India by establishing strong economic links with the Tamil merchants.[4]

The Indo-Chinese relations took a turn for the worse with the advent of the 19th century. The Sino-Sikh war of 1841 led to the defeat of the Indian Sikhs and soured the well-established relation between both nations. This exacerbation of relations was abetted by the British Raj over India. Under the British reign, the Indian sepoys were involved in the war against the Chinese during the Opium Wars[5]. They also participated in the suppression of the xenophobic, anti-Christian Yihetuan Movement of China. As a result, the Chinese grew a deep disdain for the Indian soldiers and addressed them using the slur ‘Yindu-A-San’.


However, this amity was short-lived as conflicts arose concerning the territory of Tibet. The People’s Republic of China claimed Tibet as its region, and to maintain the recently established harmony, Nehru renounced all political and territorial ambitions regarding Tibet, seeking the concession of China’s part that their traditional trading rights in the region are not interfered with.


This led to an agreement, between India and China that heavily favoured Chinese interests[6]. Hereon, new maps were published that demarcated Indian and Chinese territories as two regions separated by the McMahon Line.[7] These maps furthered territorial disputes as India claimed regions that China refused to recognize as a part of India. The Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai even wrote to Nehru signifying his refusal to legally recognize the McMahon Line as a valid border.


In 1959, India gave sanctuary to thousands of Tibetan exiles including the spiritual head of Tibet, Dalai Lama. This caused a clash between India and China where China accused India of imperialism and expansionism. China then claimed large swathes of Indian land and clamoured for the correction of the McMahon Line.

The border clashes boiled to a war that eventually resulted in India’s defeat.[8] China claimed important regions of India like the Aksai Chin and Demchok Regions of Ladakh. The Indian government was accused of supporting the Chinese Republic, and the conflict between both nations caused internal turmoil within India. As the Sino-Indian relations took a turn for the worse, Sino-Pakistani relations grew stronger. China began backing Pakistan in its conflicts with India, which put it in a diplomatically weaker position with the Western nations. The People’s Republic of China continued showing hostility towards India and went even so far as to support the dissident groups in Northeast India.


After Indira Gandhi lost the 1977 election to Moraji Desai, there were renewed efforts directed towards reconciliation of Indo-Chinese relations. A series of talks, conferences, and meetings went into making amends[9], however, decades’ worth of tensions could not be dissolved by these efforts.


The early 2000s saw a fairly amicable side of the Indo-Chinese relations, but it worsened when China denied the visa application of an IAS officer from Arunachal Pradesh in 2007. They claimed Arunachal Pradesh as their territory and denied the visa because the officer “did not need a visa to visit his territory”. This statement reignited the spark of geopolitical conflict between both these nations.

Post-2010, there was an effort on the part of both nations to restore normalcy. There were films like Kung-Fu Yoga[10] released by conjoined efforts of both countries and military drills were resumed. There was an active effort on the side of China to maintain harmonious relations with India, as was signified by Hu Jintao in the BRICS Summit of 2012. This amity was once again interrupted by the Depsang Standoff of 2013 which was defused in 3 weeks[11].


Although on the face of it, the Indo-Chinese relations had mellowed to normalcy, tensions regarding Arunachal Pradesh and Chinese claims over it had still not been resolved. Both nations accuse each other of failing to maintain the status quo by intruding into what they claim to be their territory. They maintained a façade of good relations by going the half-mile, but the fact that India refused to participate in the Belt and Road Initiative, sheds light on the fact that both nations had concerns that needed to be addressed. [12]


The year 2020 allowed this tension to finally rise to the surface. The Sino-Indian clash at Nathu-La, Sikkim stood as a testament to the fact that the diplomatic efforts made by both nations to maintain harmony did not avail the results they had hoped for.[13] This was followed by the Galwan Valley conflict that led to the death of soldiers on both sides. India took up an offensive stance instead of staying on the defensive, and banned 59 Chinese apps from the Indian market.[14] As India had a large population and was a prominent market for Chinese apps, Chinese trade took a hit. This was coupled with Indians being urged to give up goods that were imported from China. China, which was already suffering a hit due to the pandemic took a heavy blow.


India and China are two of the most powerful regions in Asia, and disputes between these large, heavily-populated nations result in southeast Asia being viewed as a region of turmoil. Li Peng’s vision of Indo-Chinese solidarity needs to be the future as it would be in the best interests of both nations. Both the countries need to settle the regional and economic disputes to mitigate the large-scale loss of life that results from the clashes between them.


[1] Indian Embassy, Beijing. India-China Bilateral Relations – Historical Ties. Archived 21 August 2013 at the Wayback Machine [2] Zhao, Deyun (2014). "Study on the etched carnelian beads unearthed in China" (PDF). Chinese Archaeology. 14: 176–181 – via The Institute of Archaeology (CASS) [3] "Old coins narrate Sino-Tamil story". The New Indian Express. Archived from the original on 5 June 2016. Retrieved March 5, 2021. [4] Ananth Krishnan (19 July 2013). "Behind China's Hindu temples, a forgotten history". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 21 June 2014. Retrieved March 5, 2021 [5] The Sino-Indian Border Disputes, by Alfred P. Rubin, The International and Comparative Law Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 1. (January 1960), pp. 96–125. [6] "China, quid without a quo: 1954 India-China trade agreement was one-sided affair". The Financial Express. 9 July 2020. Retrieved 8 August 2020. [7] Raghavan, Srinath (2010), War and Peace in Modern India, Palgrave Macmillan, ISBN 978-1-137-00737-7, pp. 241-242. [8] Maxwell, Neville (2015). India's China War (2nd Ed). New Delhi: Natraj Publishers in Association with Wildlife Protection Society of India. ISBN 978-8181582508. [9] Lin Liangguang Ye Zhengjia and Han Hua, Contemporary China's Relations with South Asia Countries, Beijing: Social Sciences Documentation Publishing House 2001. [10] Patrick Frater (4 November 2015). "AFM: Golden Network Kicks Off With Jackie Chan Movie Pair". Variety. Archived from the original on 2 February 2017. Retrieved 1 November 2016. [11] "India says China agrees retreat to de facto border in faceoff deal". Reuters Editorial. 6 May 2013. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 16 May 2016. [12] "India won't join BRI, its concept won't apply to us: Jaishankar". Asian News International. 4 October 2019. Archived from the original on 6 October 2019. Retrieved 5 October 2019. [13] Vedika Sud; Ben Westcott (11 May 2020). "Chinese and Indian soldiers engage in 'aggressive' cross-border skirmish". CNN. Archived from the original on 12 May 2020. Retrieved 12 May 2020. [14] "Tik Tok ban in India: Centre bans 59 mobile apps including Tik Tok. This action was taken by the Indian government after a border conflict with China that left over twenty Indian soldiers dead. UC Browser, others". The Times of India. 29 June 2020. Retrieved 29 June 2020.

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