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India-China Relations

India-China Relations


Wing Commander Dinesh Mathur, VSM (Retd.)



The Background: India and China are two undisputed Asian giants and the 21st century belongs to these two in the background of receding American influence. The geopolitical landscape of the world is likely to transform accordingly. Unfortunately, instead of adapting a cooperative posture, China tends to dominate over its neighbors, with whom she has numerous disputes. For India that fancies itself as an emerging superpower, learning to live with an assertive China is one of its greatest foreign policy challenges. As of now, India is still a lesser power than China in terms of its economic and military might, both conventional and non-conventional.

Indian policy makers find China’s approach to India quite perplexing. On the border, China has vastly superior military machinery. Its economic muscle is much bigger. And yet it appears keen to avoid any major confrontations along the 4,056 km undemarcated border. But on many issues of bilateral import, China takes a far more belligerent stand-like seeking to check India’s bid for a place in the UN Security Council; trying to keep India out of an Asian economic community; blocking ADB from giving Arunachal money for a water project; denying Arunachal residents Chinese visas; not allowing India to join nuclear supply group of nations etc.

Major Issues between India and China: The steady emergence of India as a powerful player is not looked upon favourably by China. A theme dominant in all Chinese commentaries is that India’s growing power-backed by US-would bring about a shift in the Asian balance of power which may not be favourable for China. In the past, China has been trying to prevent clashes with its neighbours but the situation seems to be changing with India recently.

India-China boundary dispute is a major problem between India and China. The India-China territorial dispute is a 4,056 km long problem that stems from British expansionism in the early 20th century. Imperial Britain tried to push its line of control and carve buffer zones around the jewel in the crown. Sir Henry Mc Mohan, the foreign secretary of British India at the time, drew the 890 km McMohan Line as the border between British India and Tibet. The so-called McMohan Line, drawn primarily on the highest watershed principle, demarcated what had previously been unclaimed or undefined borders between Britain and Tibet. The McMohan line moved British control substantially northwards and became something the Chinese never accepted. Independent India inherited the dispute and despite Nehru’s bhai-bhai, a full-scale war erupted in 1962. China occupied the Switzerland sized barren area of Aksai Chin in North-Eastern Ladakh and the PLA stomped into Arunachal Pradesh. Since then, there has been discomfort on both sides of India-China border.

Beijing claims approximately 90,000 sq. km in the Middle Sector of the India-China boundary. Beijing does not recognize Arunachal Pradesh. The border has never been officially delimited and none of it features in the mountainous area marked on a map. Recently, China is insistent upon its access to Tawang.

China’s defence-budget and Armed Forces are more than double of India’s and China possesses 250-500 Nuclear war heads compared to less than 100 of India. China maintains almost four times the Fighter jets India has. Though, India cannot match China’s military might, yet its forces are capable of giving a big blow to China in a battle. And China is well aware of this reality.

On the business front, despite promises and agreements, China’s foreign direct investment in India is very low. China can become India’s number one trading partner. India complains that its manufactured goods cannot enter China because of tariffs. But, China has similar problems with India due to security measures taken by India. India’s success in information technology, English language skills and widespread poverty are endlessly discussed in Chinese media.

Tension over Tibet has been yet another issue between India and China. China thinks that India has problems with domestic succession, particularly in Tibet. China is afraid that India could play a problematic role in Tibet. Even though India allows the Dalai Lama to pursue his spiritual mission, China feels India will use him for geopolitical ends. Indian still considers Dalai Lama an honored guest. But, China considers him a “Separatist”.

In the recent past, China has become more dominating and a protector of Pakistan. The fact remains that China is the main provider of Pakistan’s missile and nuclear arsenals, and with the purpose of balancing that country against India. There are reports that China is increasing its influence in Nepal by extending its rail link to the Tibet-Nepal border, which will extend right up to Kathmandu and reduce Nepal’s dependence on India. Rail link will enable China to supply combat readiness material to airports built at high altitudes in Tibet. China is all set to establish rail links between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan in Central Asia. Further, India’s plan to build a railway network for Afghanistan had been off set by China.

New Delhi has not been pleased with Beijing’s hardened stance on Kashmir; and about the increasing Chinese strategic presence in the Indian Ocean. The most recent irritant for China has been India’s project to explore for oil and gas in the South China Sea in partnership with Vietnam.

Recent Problematic Issues: Recently, China has come up with the idea of extending the ‘BRICS PLUS’ Bloc by inviting other developing countries to join the BRICS group of nations. India views this development as an attempt to dilute Delhi’s role and to expand China’s influence by inviting its allies to join the group. India will obviously oppose this idea floated by China.

Dalai Lama is scheduled to visit Tawang in Arunachal in the near future and China would definitely oppose his visit due to obvious reasons and China’s stance against the Dalai Lama. It has been reported that China will deploy 1 lakh marines at ports in Gwadar and Djibouti to increase its control and keep a check on all movements in the Indian Ocean. Even though Beijing denies that these would be military bases, Gwadar port is in Pakistan and Djibouti is a country in East Africa, all these actions of China demonstrate its dominating attitude which India has to cope with

Conclusion: in view of the above factors and the fact that India cannot wish away its neighbours, there is a growing realization in both nations that the simmering tension just cannot be allowed to get out of hand. After the election of new US President, US has shown a soft attitude towards China. Recently, China granted approval to 38 Trump trademarks, a full sweep approval which is surprising. Chinese President is also likely to visit US soon. India needs to build the kind of interdependence with China that will give both nations increased stakes in each other. China would like to have a foothold in South Asia and India has to reflect on this reality. After all, world is quite big for both India and China to cooperate at the same time. 

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