India - China Relations

The intricate web of India – China Relations or Sino-Indian relations has perennially held a pivotal role in shaping the geopolitical landscape of Asia. This comprehensive article unravels the multifaceted dimensions of the relationship, delving into historical milestones, persistent challenges, and potential pathways for diplomatic resolution.

Historical Background:

The beginning of diplomatic ties on April 1, 1950, marked India as the first non-socialist bloc country to engage with the newly formed People’s Republic of China. At the heart of this engagement was Jawaharlal Nehru’s vision of a ‘resurgent Asia,’ rooted in the camaraderie between the two largest states in the region. Nehru’s commitment to ethical foreign policy principles, encapsulated in the Panchsheel (1954), laid the groundwork for a collaborative future. 

However, the shadows of the 1962 border conflict, ignited by disputes over Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh, cast a lasting impact.  The border clash resulted in a crushing defeat of India as the PRC(People’s Republic of China) pushed the Indian forces to within forty-eight kilometers of the points in Ladakh, until PRC declared a unilateral ceasefire on November 21 and withdrew twenty kilometers behind its contented line of control, resulting in a notable setback for India.

Problem Areas in Sino-Indian Relations:

Land Border Dispute:

  • The Western sector dispute over Aksai Chin and the Eastern sector claims on Arunachal Pradesh have been enduring challenges.
  • The Johnson Line, proposed in 1865 and accepted by India, designates Aksai Chin as Indian territory.
  • Conversely, the McDonald Line, proposed in 1883 and favored by China, designates Aksai Chin as Chinese territory.

India’s International Standing:

  • China’s persistent opposition to India’s inclusion in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) poses a considerable hurdle.

Issue of Tibet and Dalai Lama:

  • India granted asylum to Dalai Lama in 1959 also one of the main reasons of rift between the two countries. Even today, the presence of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, in India remains a persistent source of tension, amplifying the complexity of bilateral relations.

Strengthening of India-US Relations:

  • Dynamics such as the MALABAR Naval exercise and India’s alignment with the United States in safeguarding freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea contribute to the strained ties between India and China.

Territorial Sovereignty:

  • India’s resistance to China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, particularly the contentious China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passing through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK), adds another layer of complexity.
  • China’s ‘String of Pearls’ initiative, involving the construction of ports and naval bases around India’s maritime reaches, further exacerbates tensions.

Brahmaputra Dispute:

  • India and China have disputes over the Brahmaputra River’s water-sharing, impacting both countries. Tensions arise due to dam constructions, affecting regional ecosystems and exacerbating geopolitical tensions.
  • Recently, China is planning to built a mega dam on the Yarlung Zangboo River, which flows from Tibet and eventually becomes Brahmaputra raises further tensions between two countries.

Various Peace Agreements, Summits and Visits:

1. Shimla Agreement (1914):

  • The agreement was signed between British India, the Tibetan government, and the Chinese government to address the border issue in the Himalayan region.
  • Attempted to establish a clear boundary between Tibet and North East India, recognizing Tibet’s autonomy and setting the MacMohan Line as the boundary between India and Tibet.

2. Panchsheel Agreement (1954):

  • Enshrined the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence – mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality, and peaceful coexistence.
  • Panchsheel Symbolized an attempt to strengthen diplomatic ties and promote peaceful relations between the two nations.

3. 1989 – Joint Working Group for Confidence Building Measures (CBMs):

  • Established a Joint Working Group to address and settle all boundary disputes, focusing on confidence-building measures to enhance mutual trust and understanding.

4. 1993 – Agreement for Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along LAC:

  • Aimed at maintaining stability along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) to prevent any escalation of tensions in the border regions.

5. 2003 – Declaration on Principles for Relations and Comprehensive Cooperation:

  • Marked a significant milestone as China officially recognized India’s sovereignty over Sikkim, signaling a willingness to find common ground and deepen bilateral cooperation.
  • This emphasized the need for a comprehensive approach to cooperation, not limited to political and economic aspects.

6. 2007 – Hand in Hand Exercise:

  • Started in 2007, it serves as a joint military exercise between the Indian and Chinese armed forces, fostering military-to-military cooperation and enhancing understanding between the two nations.

7. 2008 – Regional Trade Agreements (RTA):

  • The RTA reflected the recognition of the economic potential for both nations through enhanced trade ties, encouraging economic cooperation and regional stability.

8. 2011 – China-India Exchange Year:

  • The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the joint compilation of the Encyclopedia of Indian-China Cultural Contacts aimed at promoting cultural understanding and people-to-people ties.

9. 1992 – President R. Venkataraman’s Visit to China:

  • R. Venkataraman became the first Indian President to visit China since independence, marking a significant diplomatic milestone.

10. 1993 – Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao’s Visit to China:

  • Prime Minister Rao’s visit emphasized the importance of high-level diplomatic engagements in fostering understanding and cooperation.

11. 1996 – Chinese President Jiang Zemin’s Visit to India:

  • Marked another step in enhancing bilateral relations as the Chinese President visited India, showcasing a commitment to diplomatic engagement.

Understanding the depth and context of each agreement and visit provides a nuanced perspective on the evolution of India-China relations, encompassing diplomatic, military, economic, and cultural dimensions.

Informal Summits: Building Bridges Amidst Complexity

In the pursuit of thawing diplomatic tensions and fostering a more collaborative relationship, India and China have engaged in two significant informal summits, the Wuhan Summit in 2018 and the Mamallapuram Summit (Chennai Connect) in 2019. These summits served as crucial platforms for leaders from both nations to engage in candid discussions and establish common ground.

Wuhan Summit/Spirit 2018:

The Wuhan Summit, often referred to as the Wuhan Spirit, unfolded with a focus on five pillars that sought to reshape the narrative of Sino-Indian relations:

Simultaneous Emergence: Acknowledging that both India and China are poised for simultaneous emergence on the global stage.

Respect for Foreign Policy: Emphasizing the importance of respecting each other’s foreign policy choices, recognizing the sovereignty of individual nations.

Sensitivities and Concerns: Urging both nations to recognize and address each other’s sensitivities and concerns, fostering a climate of mutual understanding.

Common Interests: Prioritizing matters of common interest, where collaboration could yield mutual benefits and contribute to regional stability.

Global Peace Maintenance: Recognizing the shared responsibility of maintaining global peace and stability, underlining the significance of cooperation between India and China on the global stage.

Mamallapuram Summit (Chennai Connect) 2019:

The Mamallapuram Summit, also known as the Chennai Connect, further solidified the commitment to constructive engagement through three key pillars:

Rule-Based International Order: Advocating for a fair and rule-based international order that promotes equity and justice in global affairs.

Geopolitical Peace and Economic Development: Recognizing the interconnectedness of geopolitical peace and sustainable economic development, emphasizing the need for cooperation in fostering growth.

Inclusive Security Architecture: Proposing the establishment of an inclusive security architecture for Asia, facilitating a non-violent transition to multipolarity. Additionally, a Sister State Relation was established between Tamil Nadu and Fujian Province, adding a subnational dimension to the diplomatic ties.

India – China Relations Post 2020

The evolving relations between India and China, especially in the aftermath of the 70th-anniversary milestone in 2020, are intricately connected to a series of significant events and geopolitical developments.

The Galwan Valley clash in June 2020 not only highlighted the historical border tensions but also spurred India to reassess its strategic positioning in the Indo-Pacific region. In response to growing concerns over China’s assertiveness, India deepened its engagement with like-minded countries, most notably by actively participating in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, commonly known as the Quad. Comprising the United States, Japan, Australia, and India, the Quad seeks to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific, fostering cooperation in areas such as security, infrastructure, and technology. India’s active involvement in the Quad underscores its strategic recalibration and growing alignment with nations sharing similar concerns about China’s actions in the region.

Furthermore, India’s decision to ban several Chinese mobile applications in 2020, citing data privacy and security concerns, added another layer of complexity to the bilateral relationship. This move reflected India’s increasing wariness of Chinese influence in its digital space and highlighted the emerging challenges in economic and technological spheres.

China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) also played a role in shaping India’s approach. India has been cautious about participating in the BRI, expressing reservations about the strategic implications and potential debt-related vulnerabilities associated with the massive infrastructure project. This caution has contributed to a more cautious and nuanced engagement between the two nations, particularly in the economic domain.

The geopolitical landscape in South Asia has witnessed a shift with India deepening ties with other regional actors. Strengthening partnerships with countries like Japan and Australia, both Quad members, as well as pursuing enhanced cooperation with Southeast Asian nations, reflects India’s commitment to fostering a regional balance of power and enhancing its strategic influence.

Overall, the changing relations between India and China post-2020 are multifaceted, encompassing border tensions, strategic realignments, economic considerations, and a broader recalibration of regional partnerships. The Quad and India’s cautious approach to the Belt and Road Initiative contribute to the evolving narrative, as both nations navigate a complex geopolitical landscape.

Recent Developments and Challenges:

As of Recent news and developments, various dynamics have shaped the trajectory of India-China relations:

US-India Defense Cooperation: A notable development is the collaborative effort between the United States and India in co-developing drones. This partnership aims to strengthen ties between the two nations and is viewed as a strategic move to counterbalance China’s influence in the region.

Mutual Interests and Accommodation: India’s External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar, emphasized the mutual interest of India and China in finding ways to accommodate each other. This sentiment is rooted in the broader context of the rise of Asia, hinging on constructive collaboration between the continent’s largest economies.

UN Security Council Dynamics: China’s repeated blocking of joint India-U.S. attempts to list Pakistan-based terrorists on the UN Security Council’s 1267 Al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee has added complexity to the relationship. India has criticized China for what it perceives as “double standards” in addressing terrorism-related issues.

Disengagement in Gogra-Hot Springs: In a positive turn, both India and China agreed to disengage from forward locations in the Gogra-Hot Springs region in September 2022, indicating a commitment to de-escalation and fostering stability along the disputed border.

Scholarly Perspectives on India-China Relations:

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (2005):

“Cooperation is just like two pagodas (temples), one, hardware and one, software. Combined, we can take the leadership position in the world.”

This statement, made during Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to India in 2005, emphasizes the potential for collaboration between India and China in both technological (“hardware”) and intellectual (“software”) aspects. The analogy of pagodas suggests a harmonious and mutually reinforcing relationship that could propel both nations to a leadership position on the global stage.

C. Raja Mohan (Author of ‘Samundra Manthan: Sino Indian Rivalry in the Indo-Pacific’):

Mohan argues that the triangular relationship between China, India, and the United States plays a crucial role in determining the future stability of the Indo-Pacific region.

This perspective underscores the interconnectedness of major powers and their impact on regional dynamics. The idea is that the interactions and alignments between these three nations will significantly shape the geopolitical landscape in the Indo-Pacific.


As India and China commemorated the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations on April 1, 2020, it is essential to reflect on the insights provided by these scholars. The 3000-year history between the two nations carries immense significance, making cooperation not only beneficial for their citizens but also crucial for global peace, stability, and development. 

In conclusion, As both nations navigate their shared history and future aspirations, the path forward involves a delicate balance of cooperation, dialogue, and mutual understanding to address not only bilateral concerns but also contribute positively to the evolving global order.

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