MS Risk Blog

Sino-Indian Relations: Between Tensions and Rivalry

Posted on in China, India title_rule


In 1962, China and India were at war. The conflict was a territorial dispute about two portions of the border: the Askai Chin in the western part and the Arunachal Pradesh eastward. India considered these areas as part of its national territory due to the frontier legacy of the British Indian Empire. China, one its hand, rejects the legitimacy of these “colonial” plots and believes that the two areas are an extension of its regions of Tibet and Xinjiang. Winning the war, Beijing had imposed its sovereignty over Aksai Chin while withdrawing troops from Arunachal Pradesh, allowing New Delhi to re-establish its authority. Since then, the status quo prevails but the dispute keeps poisoning the bilateral relationship of the two asian giants.


Territorial tensions: towards a peaceful border?

In September 1993, China and India signed an agreement “to maintain peace and tranquillity” along their disputed Himalayan border. This agreement between the two Asian giants – which required both sides to respect the Line of Actual Control (LAC), that is to maintain the status quo pending a peaceful, final boundary settlement and to reduce military forces along the border in accordance with the principle of “mutual and equal security” – has been described as a “landmark agreement” and “a significant step forward” in their uneasy relations since the 1950s.

However, incidents might still occur within the border. In April 2013, in the border between the Chinese Tibet and the Indian Ladakh, an incident happened between the two. In April, around 50 soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army entered in a territory the Indian considers their territory. Chinese militaries established a camp of about 5 tents whereas the Indian soldiers established their position about 300 meters away. The face to face lasted about 3 weeks and stopped in May, when an agreement has been signed by both parties, requiring each side to withdraw from the disputed area. Hence, this Himalayan region seems to remain a source of unsolved tension between India and China.


Maritime rivalry

In the South China Sea (SCS), the rivalry between India and China is also a current issue. Indeed, SCS is a multi-party maritime dispute involving China, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. Of the 3.5 million sq. km. area of the SCS, almost 70 per cent is disputed. Even though India does not claim any of the islands of this area, India, under Vietnam’s request, explores oil within the region. China opposes this oil exploration in the SCS) by calling the area of exploration a ‘disputed’ area and asserting ‘Chinese sovereignty’ over the SCS. It has been continuously expressing its reservation in this regard in the last few years. India has taken note of the Chinese reservation and has carefully gone ahead in signing a few agreements with Vietnam for oil exploration in the SCS.

These tensions over the SCS seem to be not only about oil but also about influence within the region of South East Asia. China is in conflict with all the other parties involved in the SCS and numerous incidents happen with ships and fishermen boats within this region. India, on the other hand, seems to use this conflict to enhance its influence by supporting China’s rivals in the SCS. In addition, India is able to send warships into the South China Sea and that can make China nervous.


Sino-Pakistani relations: a source of tension

The cooperation between China and Pakistan is another source of tension and of preoccupation for India. Indeed, Pakistan is the historical rival of India and the territorial dispute over the Kashmir region has been unresolved for the last half century.

Started in 1962, China and Pakistan got closer whereas Pakistan was the historical rival of India. In 1963, both countries signed a Border Agreement. The cooperation is deep and various: for example, the Pakistani army’s equipment is 60% Chinese. Also, China is currently engaged on a variety of investment projects and infrastructural building activities in the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), and these will be expanded under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.

Hence, Chinese officials call their investment and activities in POK as ‘livelihood project’; not being ‘political’, they are just ‘commercial’ in nature. Until now, China has maintained a ‘neutral’ position on the Kashmir dispute in recent times, particularly after the Kargil conflict, terming it as a ‘bilateral historical dispute’ between India and Pakistan. China’s presence in PoK has emerged is an issue between India and China. China’s massive commercial presence in PoK through CPEC would render China’s formal neutrality over the Kashmir issue irrelevant.


Two giant’s partnerships

Even though tensions occur within the two countries, many partnerships and diplomatic gestures illustrate their relations. Several agreements have been signed between Shanghai and New Delhi such as the India-China Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity in 2005. The May 2015’s agreements is another example: China and India signed in Shanghai 21 commercial and cooperation agreements for an amount of 22 billion of dollars. From an economic point of view, commercial trades have significantly increased: from 3 billion in 2000 to 61,7 billion in 2010. China became one of the first economic partners of India.

These agreements also shows the diplomatic relations between China and India with different agreements such as: “(…) with both sides showing mutual respect and sensitivity to each other’s concerns, interests and aspiration” or The two sides believed that enhanced military ties are conducive to building mutual trust and confidence”.

Moreover, the respective leaders have been welcomed in the other country several times in the last decades.

(The full Joint Statement here:


Battle for spheres of influence

India and China do play a great game of sorts, competing for economic and military influence in Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. But these places are generally within the Greater Indian subcontinent, so that China is taking the struggle to India’s backyard. The whole map of Asia now spreads out in front of defence planners in New Delhi and Beijing, as it becomes apparent that the two nations with the largest populations in the world are encroaching upon each other’s spheres of influence. And so, India and China are eyeing each other warily.

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