India-China relations are based on their border dispute which has been continuing since British rule. India’s first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru tried to resolve the dispute but couldn’t do it, unfortunately. This unsettled dispute has been a big problem for India on geopolitical, defense, and economic fronts. The India-China border is 3,488 km in length which includes the Ladakh region of Kashmir as well which Pakistan also claims. Its border can be divided into 4 parts for better understanding.
India-china Border Divisions
1. Arunachal Pradesh
India gave it the status of a state in 1987, previously it was called NEFA (North East Frontier Agency). However, China considers it Tibet still. Its length is 1226 km. India considers the Mcmohan line to be the border in this region which a British administrator settled with the Tibetan delegation in 1914. According to China, Tibet was never an autonomous state then how did it decide this Mcmohan line? So, China doesn’t consider this border still. The total area of Arunachal Pradesh is 84000 km2 and all area is under India’s control.
Secondly, there is an Indian State between Bhutan and Nepal, Sikkim. This state is 198 km in length. Previously, it was an autonomous state then in 1975, by a constitutional amendment it was given the status of a state. China objected to this too.
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3. Uttrakhand and Himachal Pradesh
This border is 554 km long. However, it includes northern parts of both states Uttrakhand and Himachal Pradesh.
This is one of the most controversial places these days as three countries China, Pakistan, and India claim this region. This border is 1500 km in length. The sector of 38,0000 km2 on this border, including Aksai Chin, is under China’s control. Moreover, more than 5000 km2 region of Shaksgam valley, which was given to China because of an agreement by Pakistan in 1963, also lies in this sector. India still claims this region.
The total disputed area between India and China is about 135,000 km2. This region includes Aksai Chin, some areas of Ladakh, all of Arunachal Pradesh, parts of Shaksgam valley, ceded by Pakistan in 1963, and some parts of the middle sector of the border. It is so big that in the whole world, 139 countries are smaller in size than this region. AJK Pakistan and the Jammu and Kashmir area of India is not included in this yet.
The Historical Perspective
Back in the British period, Tibet was not part of China. It always claimed itself an autonomous state but China never considered it and there were frequent battles between these two on this issue. British India never considered it a danger because at that time both states were weaker than British India.
British rulers had trade relations with Tibet and China. When China ended the autonomous state of Tibet in 1950, India gave all of the properties to China unilaterally to maintain good relations with China. It means India didn’t have any issue against China for taking control of Tibet.
Probably, Nehru didn’t have any issue because he wanted China to accept the Indian stance on the Ladakh area. Consequently, it ended the buffer zone between China and India. The entire border of India with China was through Tibet and still, it is. After Tibet came under the control of China, then the army chief of India recommended to Nehru that now on the border, china, a powerful country has become a neighbor and can be a potential threat.
Therefore, strategic steps should be taken to improve India’s defense. But Nehru couldn’t take it seriously. It turned out to be a big mistake later. They considered Pakistan the only threat to them and not China. China was also involved in the Korean war at that time so it also ignored it.
Prime minister of India Nehru visited China in 1954 and signed an 8-year agreement with China, known as the Panchsheel agreement. In this agreement, there was a focus on mutual cooperation and healthy relations. However, the border dispute was not focused on this agreement. Rather, it was left for the future.
The critics of Nehru still object to this agreement. they claim that China got a benefit from this agreement and that they controlled the border more firmly. They could get 8 years more t have no threat from India. It also gave a weak country, China, the to develop its armed forces. In the meantime, China was still having skirmishes in Tibet.
During this tenure, in 1959, the spiritual leader of China, Dalai Lama fled to India with his disciples and India gave them refuge. This step of India was complete a violation of the Panchsheel agreement. Nevertheless, India ensured China that China’s land will not be used for any kind of aggression in Tibet or China. Dalai Lama established a government in exile for Tibet which exists even now.
It is not like India didn’t accept the merger of Tibet with China. It has clearly been accepted in many events till now. However, India has given Dalai Lama refuge to put pressure on China because it wants to use it in the future.
Why Aksai Chin region of Ladakh is Important?
Aksai China region of Ladakh has significant importance because the road that connects Xinjiang with Western Tibet to keep a strong Chinese stronghold goes from here. That’s why China never wants to cede it. Access to Aksai Chin is easier from the Chinese side than from the Indian side. It is because of the Karakoram range. Zhou Enlai was willing to declare the Karakoram range as the border but India didn’t want to cede Aksai Chin at any cost.
Nehru’s refusal made this matter linger and get more stressed which resulted in a war in October 1962. India had to face defeat in NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh) on the eastern side. In this war, the whole of the 7th brigade along with the brigadier was arrested by China. Clearly, India didn’t have supplies and there was no infrastructure to build a supply chain. The performance of the Indian army was better at the Western border in Ladakh.
In November 1962, China declared a ceasefire unilaterally. Almost all of the NEFA region has gone under Chinese control. However, after the ceasefire, the Chinese army went back to its pre-war position. It means that they gave the whole area back to India. However, the Ladakh region, conquered by the Chinese, was not given to India. It included 38,0000 km2 of Aksai Chin.
LAC & Chinese Claim Line
Consequently, after the war, a 320 km long temporary army line was established in this region of Ladakh which was called LAC (Line of Actual Control). The Chinese still claim the point in Ladakh which they had reached in the 1962 war and consider it the Chinese claim line. However, India doesn’t recognize this line obviously. Since China voluntarily withdrew its troops back from this line, India still claims the old border.
Pakistan-China Agreements and India’s Reactions
In 1963, Pakistan and China made some agreements under which they exchanged some areas. China ceded some parts of Shimshal and Khunjerab to Pakistan. In return, Pakistan gave a 5000 sq km area of Shaksgam valley to China. India objected to this obviously but China stated that this agreement was temporary until the Kashmir dispute settlement. They would re-evaluate this agreement with the country whoever gets this area.
Way Forward: India-China Relations
How much longer this situation will continue, no one can gauge this situation. because LAC is still a temporary line, not a border. recent actions of China suggest that china wants to go back to the 1959 claim. It means it wants to go to the border which was offered by Nehru to Zhou Enlai. In the 1962 war, China had obtained this whole territory but after the ceasefire, China moved back to 20km from this claimed line. Moreover, India was also asked to move back to 20km and it was decided that a 40km area would be a demilitarized area.
But after the ceasefire, Nehru refused to do this. From India’s perspective, LAC is different because there were Indian troops and posts on some of this 20km area. Some experts claim that China only wants to control India and doesn’t want India to build roads and bridges in the border area. Because it may threaten China’s dominant position.
It is also said that China is trying to put pressure on India because it wants to prevent it from becoming a part of any global alliance against China. In the South China dispute, China also considers the agreement between Japan, Australia, USA, and India as hostility towards China.