India’s Foreign Relations with China, Pakistan & Sri Lanka

India’s Relations with its Neighbours

Following the breakdown of the USSR and the resultant end of the Cold War, India began the practicing theLook East Policy. Under this, it renewed relations with its South East Asian neighbours and realized the strategic and economic importance it held in the area. Below are discussed India’s relations with a few of its neighbours.


Perhaps the most important neighbour India has – in terms of political boundaries as well as competition in the economic sphere – is China. While the 1962 Sino-Indian war created mistrust between the two countries, and several trespassing incidents along Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh have led to tensions, India’s relationship with China has gradually and steadily been improving. A number of high profile visits have helped improve the equation. In 1996, then-PRC President Jian Zeming visited India while touring South Asia and signed a number of confidence-building measures relating to political and geographical boundaries. There was a setback in the 1998 as India tested its nuclear weapons and the then-Defence Minister of India justified these tests giving apparent threats from China as a reason. However, this setback was minor as in 1999, during the Kargil crisis, India’s former Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh visited China and said that China did not pose a threat. As soon as 2001, relations were on a mend. So much so, that both countries handled the shift of the 17th Karmapa from Tibet to India with considerable care and tact. In 2003, India recognized Tibet as a part of China and in return, China recognized Sikkim as a part of India in 2004. Things have been on the rise not only in terms of friendly relations, but also in terms of trade, since then. China became India’s single largest trading partner in 2007 with Sino-Indian trade reaching US$ 36 billion. In a recent visit to India, Wen Jibao made a pact with his Indian counterpart to increase this figure to US$ 100 billion. Both countries are also in competition with each other, however, in Africa as they are both the biggest Asian investors and compete for access to resources.


Relations with Pakistan are debatably the biggest source of tension to the Indian government, out of all of India’s neighbours. This is an area with a lot of literal and metamorphical rocky territory as centuries of joint history tie the two nations together. In 1998, India’s Pokhran-II tests and Pakistan’s Chagai-I tests were symbolic of both countries flexing their muscles. The Lahore Declaration in February 1999 briefly improved relations – or at least it seemed so. A few months later, Pakistan infiltrated Kashmir and this led to aggravation in the Kargil conflict as India’s troops flushed out the militants. Though a war was avoided, Pakistan has always been dealt with caution since the incident. Relations reached a new low in December 1999 as Pakistani involvement in the attack on Indian Airlines flight IC814 was unearthed. Even peace measures such as the Agra Summit in 2001 failed, as Pakistani involvement in the attack on the Indian Parliament was suspected in December 2001. Although Pakistan denied this allegation and condemned the attack, tensions escalated with the possibility of nuclear weapons being used rife. This was successfully avoided with the initiation of a peace process that started in 2003. As a part of this process, the Delhi-Lahore Bus Service and the Samjhauta Express were started and led to an increase in contact between people in both the countries. Other Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) were the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Bus Service (2005) and the opening of trade alone historic routes along the Line of Control (2008). After the Kashmir Earthquake of 2005, the Indian government had sent aid to affected areas in Pakistan, as well. After the Mumbai attacks of 2008, however, mistrust has set in again as the Pakistani government is allegedly being difficult in providing justice. Trade figures between the two countries surged 21% last year to U$ 2.4 billion.

Sri Lanka

The two countries are separated only by the Palk Straight. Relations between the two have always been good, disturbed only by Sri Lanka’s Civil War, India’s unwillingness to help and India’s alleged support for the Liberation Tigers Tamil Eelam (LTTE). However, India remains of utmost importance in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy. This is adequately shown in the increase in ties between the two countries that are supported by both political parties in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has also supported India’s candidature as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

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