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Boundary disputes between India-China

By July 15, 2022May 22nd, 2023Mains Answer Writing, PSIR OPTIONAL

Ques.  Boundary disputes between India-China and impact on their relationship.


  • “Boundary dispute is most complicated legacy and resolution is not going to be easy.” – Xi Jinping at BRICS 2014.
  • The deadliest clash in 45 years in June 2020 at Galwan valley led to a months long military standoff with China and at least 11 rounds of military talks. It resulted in the death of 20 Indian soldiers and five Chinese military officers and soldiers, as acknowledged by the Chinese recently, forming a serious setback in bilateral relations between both nations.

Historical perspective

  • Historically, India and China have both claimed territory along the Himalayas. The two countries share one of the world’s longest unmarked borders, which stretches out for over 3500 km of land. The main areas of contention include the border next to the region of Ladakh in Kashmir, and the one above the province of Arunachal Pradesh in North-Eastern India.
  • The dispute dates back to the Simla Convention of 1914, during which British representatives in India and Tibet agreed on an eastern border between the two regions known as the McMahon Line. While the Indian government adopted the border without opposition, the invasion and annexation of Tibet by the Chinese state in 1951 meant that Beijing never officially agreed to it, and has sought to revise it ever since.
  • In 1962, the Chinese PLA (People’s Liberation Army) crossed the line in the East and started advancing westwards, triggering a month-long war with India. Subsequent disputes about the fixed emplacement of the LAC led to the continuation of tensions throughout the 1960s, with the important Nathu La and Cho La clashes causing hundreds of casualties in 1967.
  • In September 2014 the relationship became strained as troops of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) reportedly entered two kilometers inside the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Chumar sector.
  • 16 June 2017 Chinese troops with construction vehicles and road-building equipment began extending an existing road southward in Doklam while 2020 faced aggression in the Galwan and DoB regions.

Impact on the relationship

  • Ashley J Tellis fears that the Ladakh faceoff between India and China could well escalate into an armed conflict between the two Asian giants. He described China’s troop movements in the Ladakh region as a clear attempt to change the status quo to its advantage. He also said that India has no choice but to “play the game to its conclusion” and “to try and do it in ways that do not end up in open conflict”.
  • Domestic:
    • Domestically speaking, the potential for economic fallout between the two nations has not been eliminated and could have a disastrous impact on both countries.  While China is its neighbour’s largest trading partner alongside the US, India is the biggest foreign market for Chinese businesses. Following the Galwan incident, actions were taken on the Indian front to boycott Chinese products and cancel contracts with Chinese firms.
    • In addition, relations remain tense between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi following the ban of over 150 Chinese apps from India – including the very famous TikTok – due to security concerns.
  • Regional:
    • The recent disputes have also had broader regional implications, as they have highlighted increasing Indian and American convergence particularly in Indo-Pacific (QUAD) followed by a strengthening of China’s alliance to India’s long-time rival Pakistan.
    • Indeed, New Delhi and Washington have grown closer in recent months, maintaining regular contact and conducting joint military exercises. Needless to say, these events have displeased Beijing, which views Indian-American proximity as an attempt to block its rise to power.
    • Since Pakistan and India are also at odds over Kashmir – which they both claim as their own – Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmoud Qureshi has vowed to support China. This has led to greater regional polarization despite recent negotiations.
  • Multilateral:
    • The BRICS bloc, comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa; the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), in which India is the second- largest capital contributor; the New Development Bank; and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which India recently joined, have all been arenas for cooperation despite the countries’ ongoing security competition.
    • But with escalating security tensions, New Delhi may re-examine its level of interaction in other areas.
  • Foreign Policy:
    • According to CFR expert Alyssa Ayres, the border clash will likely illustrate for India’s foreign policy planners that its preferred formulation—“the world is one family,” i.e., “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” derived from a Sanskrit saying—does not apply to all its bilateral relationships, unless the interpretation of “one family” includes family members working against India’s national interests.
    • According to C. Rajamohan, China compels India to think strategically. Post Galwan, India would not hurry in forming peace alliances, rather engage with west (like QUAD) to contain Chinese influence in the region.
    • Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar pointedly stated that “the state of the border and the future of our ties… cannot be separated,” in essence suggesting that the standoff at the border will affect the bilateral relationship. Therefore, despite Beijing’s reluctance in resolving the border dispute, continuous efforts should be made from the Indian side to bring the Chinese on the table.
    • Although the Chinese are perfectly at ease with the coexistence of commerce and conflict, but India should delegitimize this theorization by compelling China to resolve the dispute, either by playing Tibet card or the Taiwan card, whatsoever may be required.

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