India Table of Contents

Although India and China had relatively little political contact before the 1950s, both countries have had extensive cultural contact since the first century A.D., especially with the transmission of Buddhism from India to China (see Buddhism, ch. 3). Although Nehru based his vision of "resurgent Asia" on friendship between the two largest states of Asia, the two countries had a conflict of interest in Tibet (which later became China's Xizang Autonomous Region), a geographical and political buffer zone where India had inherited special privileges from the British colonial government. At the end of its civil war in 1949, China wanted to reassert control over Tibet and to "liberate" the Tibetan people from Lamaism (Tibetan Buddhism) and feudalism, which it did by force of arms in 1950. To avoid antagonizing China, Nehru informed Chinese leaders that India had neither political nor territorial ambitions, nor did it seek special privileges in Tibet, but that traditional trading rights must continue. With Indian support, Tibetan delegates signed an agreement in May 1951 recognizing Chinese sovereignty and control but guaranteeing that the existing political and social system in Tibet would continue. Direct negotiations between India and China commenced in an atmosphere improved by India's mediatory efforts in ending the Korean War (1950-53).

In April 1954, India and China signed an eight-year agreement on Tibet that set forth the basis of their relationship in the form of the Panch Shila. Although critics called the Panch Shila naive, Nehru calculated that in the absence of either the wherewithal or a policy for defense of the Himalayan region, India's best guarantee of security was to establish a psychological buffer zone in place of the lost physical buffer of Tibet. Thus the catch phrase of India's diplomacy with China in the 1950s was Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai (Hindi for "India and China are brothers"). Up to 1959, despite border skirmishes and discrepancies between Indian and Chinese maps, Chinese leaders amicably had assured India that there was no territorial contro-versy on the border.

When an Indian reconnaissance party discovered a completed Chinese road running through the Aksai Chin region of the Ladakh District of Jammu and Kashmir, border clashes and Indian protests became more frequent and serious. In January 1959, Chinese premier Zhou Enlai wrote to Nehru, rejecting Nehru's contention that the border was based on treaty and custom and pointing out that no government in China had accepted as legal the McMahon Line, which in the 1914 Simla Convention defined the eastern section of the border between India and Tibet. The Dalai Lama--spiritual and temporal head of the Tibetan people--sought sanctuary in Dharmsala, Himachal Pradesh, in March 1959, and thousands of Tibetan refugees settled in northwestern India, particularly in Himachal Pradesh. China accused India of expansionism and imperialism in Tibet and throughout the Himalayan region. China claimed 104,000 square kilometers of territory over which India's maps showed clear sovereignty, and demanded "rectification" of the entire border.

Zhou proposed that China relinquish its claim to most of India's northeast in exchange for India's abandonment of its claim to Aksai Chin. The Indian government, constrained by domestic public opinion, rejected the idea of a settlement based on uncompensated loss of territory as being humiliating and unequal.

Chinese forces attacked India on October 20, 1962. Having pushed the unprepared, ill-equipped, and inadequately led Indian forces to within forty-eight kilometers of the Assam plains in the northeast and having occupied strategic points in Ladakh, China declared a unilateral cease-fire on November 21 and withdrew twenty kilometers behind its new line of control (see The Experience of Wars, ch. 10).

Relations with China worsened during the rest of the 1960s and the early 1970s as Chinese-Pakistani relations improved and Chinese-Soviet relations worsened. China backed Pakistan in its 1965 war with India. Between 1967 and 1971, an all-weather road was built across territory claimed by India, linking China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region with Pakistan; India could do no more than protest. China continued an active propaganda campaign against India and supplied ideological, financial, and other assistance to dissident groups, especially to tribes in northeastern India. China accused India of assisting the Khampa rebels in Tibet. Diplomatic contact between the two governments was minimal although not formally severed. The flow of cultural and other exchanges that had marked the 1950s ceased entirely. In August 1971, India signed its Treaty of Peace, Friendship, and Cooperation with the Soviet Union, and the United States and China sided with Pakistan in its December 1971 war with India. By this time, Beijing was seated at the UN, where its representatives denounced India as being a "tool of Soviet expansionism."

India and China renewed efforts to improve relations after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. China modified its pro-Pakistan stand on Kashmir and appeared willing to remain silent on India's absorption of Sikkim and its special advisory relationship with Bhutan. China's leaders agreed to discuss the boundary issue--India's priority--as the first step to a broadening of relations. The two countries hosted each others' news agencies, and Kailash (Kangrinbogê Feng) and Mansarowar Lake (Mapam Yumco Lake) in Tibet--the mythological home of the Hindu pantheon--were opened to annual pilgrimages from India. In 1981 Chinese minister of foreign affairs Huang Hua was invited to India, where he made complimentary remarks about India's role in South Asia. Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang concurrently toured Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

After the Huang visit, India and China held eight rounds of border negotiations between December 1981 and November 1987. These talks initially raised hopes that progress could be made on the border issue. However, in 1985 China stiffened its position on the border and insisted on mutual concessions without defining the exact terms of its "package proposal" or where the actual line of control lay. In 1986 and 1987, the negotiations achieved nothing, given the charges exchanged between the two countries of military encroachment in the Sumdorung Chu valley of the Tawang tract on the eastern sector of the border. China's construction of a military post and helicopter pad in the area in 1986 and India's grant of statehood to Arunachal Pradesh (formerly the North-East Frontier Agency) in February 1987 caused both sides to deploy new troops to the area, raising tensions and fears of a new border war. China relayed warnings that it would "teach India a lesson" if it did not cease "nibbling" at Chinese territory. By the summer of 1987, however, both sides had backed away from conflict and denied that military clashes had taken place.

A warming trend in relations was facilitated by Rajiv Gandhi's visit to China in December 1988. The two sides issued a joint communiqué that stressed the need to restore friendly relations on the basis of the Panch Shila and noted the importance of the first visit by an Indian prime minister to China since Nehru's 1954 visit. India and China agreed to broaden bilateral ties in various areas, working to achieve a "fair and reasonable settlement while seeking a mutually acceptable solution" to the border dispute. The communiqué also expressed China's concern about agitation by Tibetan separatists in India and reiterated China's position that Tibet was an integral part of China and that anti-China political activities by expatriate Tibetans was not to be tolerated. Rajiv Gandhi signed bilateral agreements on science and technology cooperation, on civil aviation to establish direct air links, and on cultural exchanges. The two sides also agreed to hold annual diplomatic consultations between foreign ministers, and to set up a joint ministerial committee on economic and scientific cooperation and a joint working group on the boundary issue. The latter group was to be led by the Indian foreign secretary and the Chinese vice minister of foreign affairs.

As the mid-1990s approached, slow but steady improvement in relations with China was visible. Top-level dialogue continued with the December 1991 visit of Chinese premier Li Peng to India and the May 1992 visit to China of Indian president Ramaswami Venkataraman. Six rounds of talks of the Indian-Chinese Joint Working Group on the Border Issue were held between December 1988 and June 1993. Progress was also made in reducing tensions on the border via confidence-building measures, including mutual troop reductions, regular meetings of local military commanders, and advance notification of military exercises. Border trade resumed in July 1992 after a hiatus of more than thirty years, consulates reopened in Bombay (or Mumbai in the Marathi language) and Shanghai in December 1992, and, in June 1993, the two sides agreed to open an additional border trading post. During Sharad Pawar's July 1992 visit to Beijing, the first ever by an Indian minister of defence, the two defense establishments agreed to develop academic, military, scientific, and technological exchanges and to schedule an Indian port call by a Chinese naval vessel.

Substantial movement in relations continued in 1993. The sixth- round joint working group talks were held in June in New Delhi but resulted in only minor developments. However, as the year progressed the long-standing border dispute was eased as a result of bilateral pledges to reduce troop levels and to respect the cease-fire line along the India-China border. Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and Chinese premier Li Peng signed the border agreement and three other agreements (on cross-border trade, and on increased cooperation on the environment and in radio and television broadcasting) during the former's visit to Beijing in September. A senior-level Chinese military delegation made a six-day goodwill visit to India in December 1993 aimed at "fostering confidence-building measures between the defense forces of the two countries." The visit, however, came at a time when press reports revealed that, as a result of improved relations between China and Burma, China was exporting greater amounts of military matériel to Burma's army, navy, and air force and sending an increasing number of technicians to Burma. Of concern to Indian security officials was the presence of Chinese radar technicians in Burma's Coco Islands, which border India's Union Territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Nevertheless, movement continued in 1994 on troop reductions along the Himalayan frontier. Moreover, in January 1994 Beijing announced that it not only favored a negotiated solution on Kashmir, but also opposed any form of independence for the region.

Talks were held in New Delhi in February 1994 aimed at confirming established "confidence-building measures" and discussing clarification of the "line of actual control," reduction of armed forces along the line, and prior information about forthcoming military exercises. China's hope for settlement of the boundary issue was reiterated.

The 1993 Chinese military visit to India was reciprocated by Indian army chief of staff General B.C. Joshi. During talks in Beijing in July 1994, the two sides agreed that border problems should be resolved peacefully through "mutual understanding and concessions." The border issue was raised in September 1994 when Chinese minister of national defense Chi Haotian visited New Delhi for extensive talks with high-level Indian trade and defense officials. Further talks in New Delhi in March 1995 by the India-China Expert Group led to an agreement to set up two additional points of contact along the 4,000-kilometer border to facilitate meetings between military personnel. The two sides also were reported as "seriously engaged" in defining the McMahon Line and the line of actual control vis-à-vis military exercises and prevention of air intrusion. Talks in Beijing in July 1995 aimed at better border security and combating cross-border crimes and in New Delhi in August 1995 on additional troop withdrawals from the border made further progress in reducing tensions.

Possibly indicative of the further relaxation of India-China relations--at least there was little notice taken in Beijing--was the April 1995 announcement, after a year of consultation, of the opening of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Center in New Delhi. The center serves as the representative office of Taiwan and is the counterpart of the India-Taipei Association in Taiwan; both institutions have the goal of improving relations between the two sides, which have been strained since New Delhi's recognition of Beijing in 1950.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress