According to numerous international media sources, India, on the 3rd of April 2023, reacted strongly to China’s recent attempts to rename several locations in the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh. This is in light of rumours that eleven locations along a contentious Himalayan border area within the state have received new names from China. This article details the main disagreements between India and China after the current incident.
Let us look into the history of their relationship
The Silk Road significantly influenced the history of India and China’s commerce and culture. Throughout the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), Indian entrepreneurs built trading ties with China, and frequent diplomatic and cultural exchanges occurred. Buddhist professors and monks from India travelled to China to teach Buddhism and Indian philosophy. This intellectual and artistic interchange helped China develop a distinctive Buddhist tradition with Chinese and Indian cultural aspects.
Trade between China and India thrived during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE). China valued Indian spices, textiles, and precious stones highly, whereas India imported Chinese silk, tea, and porcelain. These trades not only boosted economic progress but also helped both cultures grow.
The two countries’ art and architecture were greatly influenced by one another and their economic and cultural contacts. Indian sculptures and paintings significantly influenced Chinese art, and Indian architectural designs were incorporated into Chinese society. Before the British Empire, there were no significant battles between India and China, though there have occasionally been minor border disputes and clashes involving Tibet.
A conflict-filled journey fueled by the British Empire
India and China have had several points of a dispute over the years. Here are some of the major ones:
Border dispute: China and India have disputed boundaries, and both nations have staked territorial claims there. They have a 2100-mile shared boundary. The two nations’ century-old border dispute has led to several military standoffs.
The early 20th century, when Tibet was an independent state and the British ruled India, was when the border conflict between China and India first surfaced. The Simla Accord, which established the border between Tibet and British India, was signed between British India and Tibet in 1913–1914. The Chinese government, a sovereign power in the region then, didn’t sign the agreement.
The new Chinese government seized the land under the Tibetan administration’s jurisdiction after the Communist Party took power in China in 1949, disregarding the Simla Accord. According to the Chinese government, Tibet is a part of China, and the border between Tibet and India needs to be redrawn.
In 1950, China annexed Tibet. After the Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959, India granted him sanctuary. This action led to an increase in the seriousness of the border conflict between India and China.
In 1962, the border dispute turned into a full-fledged war. China dominated the battle, which lasted for a month, and took over Aksai Chin, an area in India’s Ladakh region. The most recent one took place in 2020 when Indian and Chinese troops violently clashed in the Galwan Valley, killing 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of Chinese soldiers.
Sir Henry McMahon, a British colonial administrator, also drew the border called McMahon Line between British India (now India) and Tibet, which is another point of contention between India and China. The McMahon Line is a boundary between Tibet and British India that was agreed upon in maps and papers exchanged by respective plenipotentiaries on the 24th and 25th of March 1914 in Delhi as part of the 1914 Simla Convention. The line delineated the two nations’ previously undefined areas of influence in the eastern Himalayan region along northeast India and northern Burma (Myanmar). It runs primarily over the crest of the Himalaya for 890 kilometres (550 miles) from Bhutan’s corner to the Isu Razi Pass on the Myanmar border.
India and China have had disagreements about the McMahon Line. China has asserted sovereignty over the whole state of Arunachal Pradesh, including the land covered by the McMahon Line. India, on the other hand, insists that the McMahon Line serves as the two countries’ official border.
What are the global implications of the India-China hostility
The ongoing rivalry between India and China has been a topic of much debate and analysis in recent years. The two countries, both regional powers with rapidly growing economies, have a complex relationship marked by deep-seated historical grievances and contemporary geopolitical tensions. The rivalry between India and China has significant global implications, affecting not only their respective regions but also the wider international community. As the world’s two most populous nations and major players in the global economy, any escalation of tensions between India and China could have far-reaching consequences for the global community. In this article, we will explore the roots of the India-China rivalry, the various factors that contribute to it, and its potential global implications in the coming years. We will also examine the challenges and opportunities that this rivalry presents for the international community and how it can be managed in a way that promotes regional stability and global cooperation.
Factors influencing China-India relations
Dalai Lama Factor
The Dalai Lama is the spiritual head of the Tibetan people and one of the most significant personalities in Tibetan Buddhism. He left Tibet in 1959 after an unsuccessful struggle against Chinese control. The Dalai Lama was welcomed by the Indian government, headed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and was given political sanctuary there.
India’s strategic objectives also influenced the choice to house the Dalai Lama. India viewed the Dalai Lama as a potential partner in its regional stand against China, which was considered a security threat because it had already seized Tibet.
Since then, the Dalai Lama has resided in India, where he set up the exiled Tibetan government and continues to fight for Tibet’s independence from China. The Dalai Lama and other exiled Tibetans are permitted to continue their cultural and religious practices in India, and India has also backed the cause of Tibetan autonomy. Besides, the West has been involved with India on the subject of the Dalai Lama and Tibet primarily through diplomatic and political assistance.
It has denounced China’s record on human rights in Tibet and stated its support for the Dalai Lama’s call for greater autonomy for Tibet.
Mainly the United States has actively backed the Dalai Lama and given political and monetary support to the Tibetan government-in-exile stationed in India.
The Western allegiance to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan cause has significantly influenced India’s stance on the matter. To exert pressure on China to address the Tibet issue and back the Dalai Lama’s desire for more autonomy for Tibet, India has been able to enlist the assistance of Western nations. India’s efforts to address the Tibet issue and to oppose China’s influence in the region have benefited greatly by Western participation with India on the Dalai Lama issue.
China and Pakistan have had a solid strategic alliance since the early 1950s. China has given Pakistan significant military and economic assistance, including transferring nuclear and missile technologies. This alliance has become more assertive in recent years due to China’s significant investments in Pakistan through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiatives.
On the other side, since the partition of India in 1947, there has been hostility between India and Pakistan. The struggle between the two nations—which has been waged in three major and numerous minor wars—remains focused mainly on the territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
India has long accused China of supporting Pakistan militarily and economically, which India views as a security danger. India thinks China’s assistance to Pakistan is intended to limit India’s influence in the region and prevent its emergence as a regional power. India has also criticized China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which it sees as an effort on the part of China to undermine India and gain more economic and strategic clout in the region.
China has refuted India’s allegations and insisted that its backing of Pakistan is motivated by its strategic interests and not a desire to undermine India. China has also urged both nations to display prudence and prevent tensions from rising, calling for a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. In general, the ongoing hostilities between India and Pakistan have been greatly exacerbated by the tight ties between China and Pakistan.
Regional Influence Factor
China and India are the two most powerful nations in the area, and both have a geopolitical and economic impact outside their borders. India, which sees itself as a regional power, has been extremely concerned about China’s economic and military influence. Due to its recent tremendous economic growth, China now boasts the second-largest economy in the world and is a significant player on the global stage.
China’s expanding military presence in the Indian Ocean is also seen by India as a threat to its regional strategic interests. Historically, India has viewed the Indian Ocean as its sphere of influence. Through organizations like the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), it has worked to uphold regional security and stability. Along with developing naval bases and participating in joint marine exercises with other nations, India has improved its maritime and security infrastructure and capabilities.
As a regional power and a participant in several international organizations, like the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the BRICS group of emerging countries, India has been trying to assert its regional influence. Additionally, it has worked to deepen its strategic alliances with nations in the region like Japan, Australia, and the United States. Through programs like the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), India has also taken the lead in fostering regional integration. Through programs like the Indian Ocean Outreach Programme, India has also worked to improve connections with nations in the Indian Ocean region, including Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and Mauritius.
With the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) increasingly deploying ships and submarines in the area, China has also increased its naval capabilities.
The Indian Ocean region, a critical strategic location due to its crucial marine lanes of communication, natural resources, and geopolitical significance, is where China and India seek to expand their strategic influence.
Opportunities for the West from India-China antagonism
The rivalry between India and China offers the West various opportunities to strengthen its position. Among the potential advantages are the following:
Economic opportunities: To compete with one another, India and China have invested extensively in infrastructure, technology, and innovation. This gives Western nations a chance to invest in these industries and deepen their economic relations with both countries.
Strategic alliances: To balance each other’s influence, both China and India have been working to strengthen their partnerships with Western nations, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union. The West now has the chance to improve its strategic relationships with these nations and broaden its sphere of influence in the region.
Security cooperation: Due to their rivalry, China and India have bolstered their armed forces and increased their naval presence in the Indian Ocean. The West now has the chance to strengthen its security cooperation with both nations and broaden its sphere of influence in the area.
Diplomatic Leverage: Leverage in international organizations and forums, including the United Nations and World Trade Organization, has become more competitive due to India and China’s rivalry. This offers chances for the West to strengthen its involvement in influencing regional and international issues through diplomacy.
Risk Factors for the West
Although there is much potential for the West to expand its influence in the region due to India and China’s competition, there are also a lot of risks and difficulties involved. To maximize gains and reduce risks, the West must carefully negotiate this complicated geopolitical situation.
Economic risks: Trade tensions and greater protectionism could result from India and China’s competition, which could harm the world economy. Western nations might be affected by these tensions, which would result in less trade and investment prospects.
Strategic risks: India and China’s rivalry could result in higher military tensions and regional instability, harming international security. Western nations might become embroiled in regional wars and experience more severe security risks.
Diplomatic risks: India and China’s rivalry may deepen the struggle for influence in international bodies and forums, exacerbating current polarization and impasse in global governance. The ability of the international community to address global concerns may suffer as a result of this.
Ethical risks: As there is a strong Western narrative that both nations work to repress dissent and maintain their authority, the rivalry between China and India could result in more biased news of human rights abuses and violations. If Western nations put their strategic and economic interests ahead of human rights and democratic principles, they again risk being perceived as complicit in these atrocities.
Analysing the risks and benefits of the rivalry for India and China
China can benefit from the rivalry between India and China in several ways, such as expanding regional influence, securing resources and markets, challenging India’s global influence, and positioning itself as a counterweight to India’s growing influence. On the other hand, the rivalry presents several opportunities for India to enhance its economic, strategic and diplomatic influence, such as greater regional influence, strategic partnerships with the west, economic gains, and diplomatic leverage.
The rivalry also presents several risks and challenges for both China and India, including military conflict, economic risks, strategic risks, and diplomatic risks. Therefore, India and China must balance its economic and strategic interests with the need to maintain regional stability and avoid escalating tensions.
Ladakh as a dormant volcano
The most vulnerable place in the India-China rivalry is the disputed border areas, particularly in the Ladakh region. The border dispute between India and China dates back several decades, and the two countries have been engaged in a series of border disputes and skirmishes, including the recent military standoffs in 2020. The disputed border areas are of significant strategic importance to both countries, and any escalation of military tensions in these areas could have significant economic and strategic implications for both India and China. In addition, the Ladakh region is geographically isolated and located in the northernmost part of India, bordering Tibet in the east, the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh in the south, the Pakistani-administered region of Gilgit-Baltistan in the west, and the Chinese-administered region of Aksai Chin in the north. The area has limited infrastructure, which makes it particularly vulnerable to external security threats. The region is home to several key infrastructure projects, including highways, airfields, and military installations, which are critical to India’s security and economic interests in the region. In addition, Ladakh is strategically important for its location along the Karakoram Pass, a critical transit point for trade and transportation between India and China. As such, managing the security and stability of the region is a critical priority for both India and China, and any escalation of tensions in this area could have significant economic and strategic implications for both countries.
Cooperation between India and China has the potential to increase regional stability. Both nations wield considerable sway in their respective regions, and their cooperation can help to advance peace and stability. This is advantageous not only for India and China, but also for other nations in the region.
In addition, there are concerns that certain Western nations may look to increase the rivalry between India and China for their own gain. India and China can prevent this from occurring by cooperating. They can present a unified front and safeguard regional interests.