Recent developments have , in fact, caused a shift in the realm of Indian diplomacy towards China, from blind optimism to cautious pragmatism. This article attempts to trace a picture of the current developments in and the challenges facing Sino-Indian relations in the present globalised world order.
To better understand Indo-China relations in the present global scenario, it would be in order to take a few steps back and examine from a historical point of view, exactly why relations between the two countries have always seemed so strained and fraught with tension. This can be examined under certain broad headings, as follows.
1) The Border Question: To begin with, both nations drew different conclusions out of their experiences of colonial domination. While India, under Nehru, chose to adhere to its colonials bequeathed borders, the new Communist Chinese leadership refused to accept the advances the British in India had made into the far reaches of what they believed was clearly Chinese territory. Thus, almost immediately after India’s independence in 1947, and the Communist takeover in China in 1949, the two nations were fast, and perhaps inevitably, hurtling into tumultuous relationship, with the border dispute being a constant irritant and obstacle as far as any sort of reconciliation was concerned.
2) Tibet- while the border issue has remained more central to India, the concerns over Tibet have always been more pertinent for Beijing. India had to concede its privileges in Tibet to China, post its independence as granted by British administrators, which included the right to maintain a small diplomatic mission in some Tibetan territories. When China invaded and occupied Tibet in late 1949, the Indian leadership remained silent of that, too, fearing Chinese belligerence towards their own borders, which was to be avoided at all cost in the Cold War conditions of the time.
What then irritates China is the presence and putative activity of thousands of Tibetans and their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama in India, and India’s tacit support to Tibet in granting this political asylum. The two nations went to war in 1962 over Tibet, and have since been at odds in this respect.
3) The Pakistan Factor- China, sensing the presence of a viable buffer to India’s strengthening position in the subcontinent, in the geographically vast and populous nation of Pakistan, moved to make clear overtures to the country’s leaders in a bid to win them over. Pakistan, with the animosity towards India that it had inherited at its very inception, was ideal to keep India tied up in conflict and to prevent its ascent, especially as a nuclear power in Asia.
Post the war of 1962 and the 1965 war between India and Pakistan, China has aided and assisted Pakistan financially and supplied it with nuclear materials and technology for its nuclear capability programme, as a deterrent to India.
The defeat of 1962 meant that India has to concede 14,000 square kilometres of territory to China, and ever since China in a package deal, has offered to relinquish the regions it occupies in Aksai Chin in exchange for the regions of the North East Frontier Agency, now the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.
Thus, relations between the two countries have always been strained given these contentious border and territory issues and lack of clarity and agreement on the Tibetan region, despite India’s recognition of Chinese occupation of Tibet. The two countries constitute the most populous nations of the world, and in 2028, India is expected to overtake China. They are also two of the world’s most economically intriguing nations, with economies that have shown tremendous growth and potential. Both also have demonstrated nuclear capability. These, among many other geo-political and strategic factors, are a cause for concern for much of the world, especially the West that has begun to lag. Peace between the two nations, and in the South-Asian region is not only a matter of convenience, it is now a necessity. Therefore, the recent breakdown of relations and Chinese incursion into Indian territory has raised an alarm calling for a more concerted approach by Indian leaders towards its seemingly intractable neighbour.
China, being the larger nation, and the economic power it is, has fears of encirclement by other powers, especially the erstwhile global hegemon that is the United States of America. It fears India’s compliance with such a plan, especially given the Indo-American Civilian Nuclear Deal. The need to contain India is thus more urgent than ever.