A detailed discussion on the history of India-China relations which led to the present condition.


India and China, both countries with very old civilizational past, shared history of humiliating colonial rules, huge influence in the subcontinent and also all over the world could have been best friend forever. But in reality, these two neighbouring countries chose to become arch rivals. There are several disputes between them and most important of them is the boundary dispute. India and China have economic dispute too, but border dispute is the bone of contention between these two neighbouring countries.


The article elaborates the background, the friendship and subsequent enmity between India and China. It details in front of us the hegemonic ambitions of China. The developments which led to China-India war of 1962 and subsequent developments. Simultaneously it also discusses in details the various aspects of Chinese foreign policy towards other countries as well as the world scenario which helps us to put the thing in a clearer perspective. This is the first part of the two-article series. In the second part we will elaborate the present reality.

India and China share a long boundary of almost 3400 km which is divided into three parts- western sector, middle sector and eastern sector. Western sector covers the Union Territory of Ladakh and Aksai Chin, middle sector covers parts of Himachal Pradesh and Uttrakhand and eastern sector covers Sikkim, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh. There are no major disputes in the middle sector as of now because India has the advantage of higher altitude. On the other hand, China always created problem in the western and eastern sector. As both countries have humiliating colonial past, the boundaries between two countries were not properly defined. India and China have different approach towards solving the border disputes. India during the immediate post-independence period followed the Gandhi-Nehruvian policy of peaceful coexistence. India wanted to solve it on the table through discussion but China had entirely different plans. China did not follow the philosophy of peaceful co-existence, they followed Mao’s philosophy. There revolutionary leader Mao Zedong had expansionist ambitions. After the century of humiliation and the long bloody civil war, China wanted to reclaim their past glory. They wanted the fame of middle kingdom era. To achieve this, Mao proposed his ‘Hand-Palm-Finger technique’. According to this, hand is mainland China, palm is Tibet and fingers are five Himalayan states named Arunachal Pradesh, Bhutan, Sikkim, Nepal and Ladakh. Their dream of powerful China is not complete without the incorporation of these territories within mainland China.

India got her independence in 1947 and the civil war in China ended and People’s Republic of China (PRC) immerged in 1949, nearly simultaneously. Both countries started their independent journey in almost same time but their philosophies were poles apart. As already mentioned, one believed in peaceful coexistence and another in aggression. To fulfil Mao’s dream, China first invaded Tibet, a free country, which never been a part of mainland China, forcefully occupied it by sending armed troops of People’s Liberation Army (PLA). To understand why China invaded Tibet we need to go back further in to history. In 1912 when first civil war broke out in China against the rulers of Qing dynasty, Tibet declared itself a free country. In 1914 Great Britain brought British India, Tibet and China together on the table of discussion to formalise the boundary issues between Tibet and British India so that Tibet remains a buffer state between India and Republic of China of Sun-Yet-Sen. This is known as Shimla accord. By this time the great game between imperial Russia and Britain was on, and Britain wanted to keep the Russians at bay. By the way, even after signing on the first draft, China refused to sign on the final agreement. Only signatories of this accord were British India and Tibet and McMahon line became the border of India and Tibet. In this accord it was also decided that Tibet will be divided into two parts – outer Tibet and Inner Tibet. Inner Tibet will be ruled by Chinese government but there would be no Chinese involvement in outer Tibet. Chamdor river will act as a border between outer and inner Tibet. It also needs to be mentioned here that that this is the period before 1937, so by British India, we are talking about both

India and Burma, which during that time was part of British India, only to be separated in 1937.

In October 1950, just one year after the establishment of PRC (Communist China under Mao Zedong), Chinese army crossed the Chamdor river and invaded Tibet to ‘free’ it from the clutches of colonial powers. Despite being neighbours for centuries, Indian government led by Pandit Nehru didn’t move in support of Tibet, other than playing the role of mediator, where by it was decided that henceforth, Tibet will be a part of China, but the region would maintain it’s regional autonomy, especially in the matters of social and economic life. China saw this Indian behaviour as a sign of weakness and as an exposure of weakness of Indian military. After forcefully occupying Tibet, which is considered to be the ‘Palm’ of Mao’s ‘Hand, Palm and Finger Policy’, China was definitely looking for taking control of the fingers ie. the five Himalayan states.

In 1951, a 17-point agreement was signed between China and Tibet under India’s mediation, which we have mentioned above. Most important aspect of this agreement was China agreed to preserve the ancient Buddhist culture of Tibetans but as always China didn’t follow it. After some years they started taking steps with an aim to destroy Tibetan culture and that leads to an uprising against the oppressive communist regime in Tibet.

In 1954 Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai came to India, the two countries signed the Panchsheel agreement. Through this agreement both countries came to an understanding to respect each other’s territorial integrity & sovereignty, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in each other’s issues, equality and mutual benefit and most importantly peaceful coexistence.

Panchsheel agreement was not a binding agreement and China started violating it within two years. It was in 1956 that for the first time Peiking Public Library published a map showing 40,000 Sq kilometres of territory in NEFA as part of China. Nehru would personally take up the issue with Zhou Enlai, however Zhou would ignore it calling it a mere clerical mistake. Thus, begun the ‘Cartographic aggression’ of China. Subsequently we would see much more such claims being forwarded by china. Today the whole of Aksai Chin is under Chinese occupation and 27 different flash-point came up accordingly.

In January,1959 Zhou Enlai makes claim to approximately 40000 sq km territory of Ladakh and NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh). In April,1959 Dalai Lama escaped from Lasha and came to India for political asylum due to violent crackdown of PLA in Tibet. China didn’t like India’s decision of granting Dalai Lama political asylum. In April 1960 a meeting between Zhou Enlai and Nehru ended with no results. China refused to accept the official report published by Indian government with a detailed records, maps, documents relevant to boundary issues. Relationship between two countries started deteriorating in a fast pace after this. In February 1961 China refused to hold talks to discuss the Bhutanese and Sino Sikkim boundary dispute and further occupied 12000 sq miles in western sector. China started building military installations, roads and increased border patrol activity after that. In retaliation India launched the forward policy to curb the advancement of Chinese forces at the frontier in December,1961. Forward policy acted as a trigger point and Chinese troops launched a full-scale attack on Indian territory through western and eastern sectors on 20th October 1962. In November 1962 China declared a unilateral ceasefire and Chinese troops went 20 km behind the LAC. This was a humiliating defeat for India.

Nehru could not bear the deception and treacherous nature of China and it is believed that he died with a heavy heart due to this in 1964.Thus India China bilateral relationship hits a rock bottom.

Not only India, China fought a small-scale war with Soviet union in 1969 over boundary issues. Two communist countries fighting between themselves is something bizzare. Relation between China and USSR was very good at the beginning. In 1949, with the help of USSR , Mao Zedong established PRC and in the initial years Soviet Union invested heavily in China for their development as the newly formed country was in very bad condition economically due to civil war. In 1950, Sino Soviet friendship treaty further strengthened their relationship. First sign of split between two communist countries came to light in 1956 when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev introduced his ‘De- Stalination’ policy. Stalin was treated as a cult figure in USSR which needed to be stopped. That’s why Nikita Khrushchev started taking decisions which will decrease the importance of Stalin in USSR. Mao didn’t like it because as per him it will tarnish the image of communists in front of rest of the world. So, Mao Zedong expressed his displeasure regarding this policy. In the same year China again criticized USSR’s handling of Hungarian uprising and soviet didn’t like it. In reality, Mao started harbouring the ambition of replacing Soviet Union and becoming the leader of the Communist World.

In 1959 USSR get a chance to criticize China. Soviet Union was not happy with Mao’s great leap forward which killed millions of Chinese citizens. In 1960, USSR signed nuclear test treaties with USA and China tried to portray this as a surrender by Soviet Union to the western power. In 1962 two countries ended their diplomatic relations and border dispute between two countries got momentum which finally led to a small-scale war in 1969 in both the eastern sector, centering around the Damansky island on Ussuri River and western sector at the Sino-Soviet border of Xinjiang. Both countries then handled the situation diplomatically and declared ceasefire. China and Soviet Union called their army back and returned to status quo.

Though it was a small-scale war its impact was far reaching. Cold war between USA and Soviet Union was at it’s peak and the war between two big communist countries was an opportunity for USA to bring China in their side. We must also acknowledge the role played by Pakistan in this respect, in bringing the two sides close through several rounds of secret diplomatic negotiations.

After the war China and USA started talking through secret channels for the normalisation of their relationship. At that time, though India was officially a part of Non-Alignment Movement but in reality, India had started tilting towards Soviet Union. In 1971, Indira Gandhi Government signed the ten-year long Indo-Soviet Union Friendship treaty and with the help of USSR sliced Pakistan with two parts and formed a new country Bangladesh.

America didn’t like India’s growing cooperation with USSR, as they didn’t want India to become a new breeding ground for Communism in Asia. Simultaneously, the Richard Nixon Government in USA had an inherent apathy towards India. It is in this situation that Pakistan played a major role in bringing USA and China together. China was against India from the beginning and now Americans were not happy with India – Pakistan thought if they can bring China and USA together, they can create pressure over India. Pakistani president Yahya Khan had good relation with the leaders of both countries and Pakistan played the role of a catalyst here.

In 1972, President of USA Richard Nixon travelled to  China (PRC) and met with Chairman Mao Zedong and PRC premier Zhou Enlai. Over the course of this visit, the two governments negotiated various issues which improved relations between the United States and the PRC after many years of hostility. This trip was successful and diplomatic relation between two countries established. PRC got the permanent seat at the security council of United Nations, which till now was held by Taiwan. This was a great diplomatic win for China. In 1976 after the death of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping became the supreme leader of China. Deng was a visionary leader. From 1978 onwards he changed the economic policy of the country and opened their economy for the rest of the world. Deng Xiaoping scrapped Mao’s idea of closed economy and welcomed foreign investment. This decision of Deng Xiaoping would change the future of the country and China immerged as fast developing economy. Under Deng’s leadership, China scrapped strict ideological barriers of the past and embraced practical policies .As a result of economic reforms and greater engagement with the international community, China achieved a remarkable  economic and social development in a short span of 1978 to 1989.

In 1991, when cold war officially ended with the disintegration of USSR, China automatically became the new leader of the communist bloc. After disintegration of Soviet Union, China changed their aspirations and started projecting themselves as a new superpower. To achieve this, they started establishing diplomatic relations with new countries. Trade relations with USA and other countries helped them to boost their economy in an unprecedented way. Their primary obstacles in becoming a superpower were identified to be India and Japan. They realised that these two countries together can give them hard time in being a superpower.

Japan, with which China has a bitter colonial past, was now a very much developed nation and can challenge their hegemony in south China sea as well as in East Asia. India being a huge country with tremendous potential to become the world leader, has always been a headache for China. Indian Navy has upper hand in Indian ocean region which China cannot digest inspite of being a superior naval force.

In the next part we will discuss China’s plan of controlling the Indian ocean region and their hostile relationship with almost every neighbouring countries. China acts like a bully towards their neighbours. They regularly issue threats to the countries of South China sea region. After the covid-19 pandemic situation is changing fast and China is somehow losing battle of narrative.


****to be continued****

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