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India-China Relations: An Indian Perspective

July 1, 2010

By D.S.Rajan
Economic Observer (People's Republic of China)
June 29, 2010

Observer (India), page 42, issue 473, June 14, 2010
Translated by Ding Li
Translated article: [Chinese]

The writer, Mr D.S.Rajan, is presently Director
of the Chennai Centre for China Studies, Chenai,
India. The views expressed are his own. He had
worked in the Indian Government and think tanks
as a China analyst for a long time. This article
is a contribution to the Chinese newspaper, The Economic Observer.

There is a growing perception now that the global
economic gravity has shifted to Asia and that
India and China, the emerging economic
powerhouses in the region, will shape the
twenty-first century. In making such feelings a
reality however, the nature of the future
dynamics of domestic conditions as well as
external relations of the two nations appears a
crucial factor; this article attempts to focus in
particular on the future prospects for
India-China ties on the premise that this, along
with the roles of other Asian powers like Japan,
is going to be important in the matter of
guaranteeing the stability and prosperity of the
region as well as rest of the world.  The article
tries to present the Chinese side with Indian
perspectives of key developments. Chinese
perspectives are already being made available in
India in a similar manner. The writer feels that
put together, such exchanges will facilitate
creation of a better mutual understanding between
the two sides, impacting favourably on the
overall India-China relationship.

Growing Optimism
Broadly speaking, India-China ties at government
levels remain stable at this juncture; New Delhi
and Beijing have  established a ‘strategic and
cooperative partnership for peace and prosperity’
and signed a document on ‘shared vision for the
21st century’, signifying that the Sino-Indian
ties have gone beyond the bilateral context and
acquired a global character.[1] Accordingly,
India and China are cooperating on international
issues related to the diversification of global
energy mix, climate change, arms control and
disarmament, non-traditional security threats,
counter-terrorism, WTO, WMD, human rights and
South-South Co-operation. Bilaterally, the two
sides now aim at building ‘a relationship of
friendship and trust, based on equality, in which
each is sensitive to the concerns and aspirations of the other’[2].

They are not viewing each other as a security
threat and are by and large satisfactorily
implementing confidence building measures in the
disputed border, besides carrying out joint
military exercises. Special Representatives of
India and China have so far held thirteen rounds
of border talks, though with no tangible results.
Most important is that with an attitude of
promoting ties looking beyond the unsolved and
‘complex’ border dispute, India and China are
speeding up their trade and economic contacts.
Bilateral trade is fast gathering momentum, with
the volume to the tune of $40 billion US dollars
now and projections for US$ 60 billion by 2010.
China has emerged as India’s largest trading
partner, replacing the US, in April 2008-February
2009 period.[3] Also significant is the ongoing
momentum in their exchanges of high level visits
reflecting the desire of each party to forge
stronger ties, of which the recently concluded
state visit of Indian President Ms Patil to China is a prominent example.

Notwithstanding the encouraging picture brought
out above, there are issues deeply dividing India
and China; resolving them once for all is of
utmost necessity, to further strengthen their
relations. There are some talks in India about
the past civilizational contacts helping
resolution of the issues; they however lack
substance. As modern nation states, India and
China have developed geo-political interests,
which often tend to clash. What follows is a
discussion on the conditions contributing to
India-China frictions and the likely scenario in bilateral ties in future.

Problem Areas

Boundary Issue
As this writer sees, the boundary issue comes
foremost in the list of problem areas. It is most
sensitive one for both India and China as it
relates closely to territorial integrity and
sovereignty in respect of each side. It therefore
needs to be handled carefully by the two nations.

China's understanding of Indian perspectives on
the boundary issue will remain incomplete if it
does not take into account the traditional doubts
prevailing in India on China having been
territorially ambitious. Examples being quoted in
India in this regard include Mao's description of
China's 'palm' (Tibet) and 'five fingers' (Nepal,
Sikkim, Bhutan, NEFA and Ladakh); references are
also being made in India to the PRC’s sense of
'historical loss' of territories expressed
through their maps and atlas series, published in
the eighties. Such maps had even been seen
claiming that India’s Assam, even Andamans, were 'historically' parts of China.

Proceeding from 'doubts' to substantive issues,
it is being seen in India that the border
positions of India and China are in conflict with
each other and hence are difficult to solve.
China's claims are based on its historical stand
– all its borders, including with India, are as
defined during the Qing dynasty period which
ended in 1912.The root of the border problem with
India lies in Beijing’s position that a large
chunk of its territory, especially the 90,000 Sq
km area in the Eastern sector, were illegally
taken away by British India, after the 1914 Simla
Convention and that India inherited the British
legacy. This has provided the rationale for
Beijing in rejecting the McMahon line, a product
of the Convention and in claiming the entire
Arunachal Pradesh state of India as part of
Chinese territory, referred to as  'Southern
Tibet,' authoritative scholars in China have
categorically stated that Beijing cannot
recognize the McMahon line; if it did so, it
would amount to Chinese admission of the 1962
conflict as a 'war of aggression' as well as an
implicit acknowledgement that Tibet was once
independent of China[4].  On the other hand, for
India, the McMahon line remains the ‘de facto’ border with China.[5]

The Sino-Indian border problem remains
complicated with the Chinese claiming recently
the 2.1 square kilometer 'finger area' of Sikkim,
the status of which as already received 'de
facto' recognition as an Indian state by Beijing.
On the current scenario, meriting attention are
India's concerns arising from various factors -
the reported Chinese intrusions, said to number
270 in 2008, into the Indian border, the adverse
reaction of Beijing to the visit of the Indian
Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to Arunachal
Pradesh, China’s bid to stop the loans for
Arunachal Pradesh from the Asian Development Bank
and strong Chinese state-controlled media
criticisms of India’s dispatch of additional
troops to and positioning of advanced fighter
aircraft in its Eastern border. Adding to India’s
discomfort has also been the rise in the level of
Chinese media rhetoric against India, noticed in
2009; this has, however, subsided now.

Sino-Indian border talks, despite thirteen rounds
of talks so far between two special
representatives, have not led to any tangible
result in finalising a 'frame work' for a
boundary settlement in accordance with the
Agreement on Political Parameters, reached in
2005. While Beijing's stand is to approach the
border issue in the spirit of 'mutual
understanding and mutual accommodation', India
wants 'ground realities' to be taken into
account. In regard to the reported Chinese claim
over Tawang, an interesting argument is that
besides strategic factors, the same has been due
to the China's fears that Buddhist monasteries in
the border including the one in Tawang have been
centers of Tibetan resistance to the Chinese
authority and as such, they should be taken over
by it.[6] Interestingly, the Chinese have
introduced some new elements to the border
question by questioning the already agreed
position of keeping areas with settled
populations out of the dispute. Is China ready
for accommodation on the border issue? The
statement made by the PRC Ambassador to India in
November 2006 that both sides should make
compromises on the ‘disputed’ Arunachal may be meaningful in this regard.

China's general stand is to 'shelve' the
difficult border issues like the one with India
and instead work for 'common development'. For
example the PRC wants to 'shelve' the South China
Sea territorial dispute, leave the Senkaku issue
with Japan for 'future generations' to solve and
'put aside the Sino-Indian border dispute waiting
for a suitable climate for solution' (Deng
Xiaoping to the then Indian leader Vajpayee,
Beijing, 1979). What is being noticed in India is
that China never gives up its claims on
sovereignty over disputed areas. An example is
Japan-China settlement on exploring the disputed
Chunxiao gas field in the East China Sea. Though
Beijing has agreed for joint development of the
field, it has declared that China's sovereignty
over the field is indisputable. The Chinese
'shelving' formula needs close scrutiny of India
in particular. As this writer views, this formula
has inherent flaws – for some at least, the
projected completion of China's military
modernization in 2050 may create new pressures on
the leaders in Beijing at that time to become
aggressive on all border issues. What are
therefore needed are serious efforts from India
and China at their border talks, leading to a
'compromise' based solution to the issue, much sooner than later.

Other Bilateral Issues

Tibet Issue
The Tibet issue is prominent among other
problems. It can be said that with India
accepting the Tibet Autonomous Region as an
integral part of China and standing firmly
against any anti-China activity of the Dalai Lama
from India's soil, this issue does not figure in
Sino-Indian state to state relations. However,
Beijing appears to be having reservations on
India's motives with respect to the Dalai Lama.
The state-controlled media allegation[7], made on
the eve of the Manmohan Singh – Wen Jiabao
meeting in Thailand, that the Dalai Lama is
colluding with India whenever Sino-Indian border
talks are held, along with the Chinese official
view[8] that the proposed visit to Arunachal
Pradesh by the Dalai Lama in November 2009,
'further exposes the anti-China and separatist
nature of the Dalai clique' and a subsequent
authoritative comment that such visits cast a new
shadow on Sino-Indian relations[9], firmly point
to Beijing's approach  linking the Dalai Lama
factor with the Sino-Indian border question.

China’s fears need to be understood in the
context of March 2008 unrest in Tibet, posing a
challenge to China's sovereignty over that
territory, even weakening Beijing's position in
its border negotiations with India. Also, the
question as to why India is tolerating the
Tibetan Government in Exile in its soil, seems to
be bothering China. Premier Wen Jiabao's
description[10] of the Tibet issue as a
'sensitive' one in relations with India, assumes
significance in the context of what has been said
above. The writer feels that Chinese suspicions
on India-Dalai Lama relations are not going to
disappear soon; the picture may change if talks
between Beijing and the exiled spiritual leader
succeed, but chances in this regard appear to be
bleak at least for the moment.

China-Pakistan Nexus
China-Pakistan nexus is the next major bilateral
issue. A better understanding is required in
China about India's sensitivities on this
account. The Chinese military, missiles and
nuclear help to Pakistan continues, but Beijing
is not in a position to give a guarantee to India
that Pakistan will not leverage such support from
China, to fight against India. Not surprisingly,
New Delhi perceives that China's military
assistance to Pakistan has direct implications for India.[11]

China's Defence Modernisation
On the third issue of China’s military
modernization programme, India's concerns are
being expressed through its important government
documents, for e.g. the Defence Ministry's Annual
Report (2008-2009) has said that the programme
has implications for India's defence and
security. Asking Beijing to show greater
transparency in its defence policy and postures,
particularly on the double-digit growth in
defence spending in last two decades, it has
observed that China's stated aim in its Defence
White Paper for 2008 to develop missiles, space
based assets and blue water naval capabilities
will have an effect on the overall military
environment in the neighbourhood of India. The
Chinese side should properly address such concerns of India.

China's policy towards India's Neighborhood
India's concerns also relate to China's attempts
to establish a strategic presence in India's
neighbourhood, for e.g port projects like Gwadar
(Pakistan), Hambantota (Sri Lanka), Chittagong
(Bangladesh). They are giving rise to fears in
India of a Chinese encirclement of the country,
under what has come to be known as a 'string of
pearls' strategy. The PRC has taken care to
officially repudiate such concerns, by asserting
that it has no plans to try for domination of the
shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean and has no
intentions to establish a chain to encircle
India.[12] An India-China understanding on the
issue is a must for further improving bilateral relations.

India-US Relations
Chinese critical positions on the India-US
relations are also a matter of India's concern.
The Chinese have welcomed the India-US Strategic
Dialogue and are themselves promoting ties with
the US. Still, China seems to nurture fears about
US-India collusion against it. Its official media
description[13] of India's policy as
one  'befriending the far and attacking the near'
is unmistakably an indirect, but strong criticism
of the developing strategic relations between India and the US.

East Asia Integration
It would be necessary for China to pay attention
to the Indian perception that it hesitates to
accept India's leading role in the East Asian
regional integration process on the plea that the
process should only be based on ASEAN+3 (China,
Japan and South Korea) cooperation,[14] and that
'outsiders' like India, Australia and New Zealand have no place in it.

India's Defence Strategy
Reports in India about the country's defence
strategy visualizing war on two fronts - Pakistan
and China, have been commented upon in China. A
Chinese commentator (China Youth Daily) has said
that India's real target is China, not Pakistan.
Indian strategic planners have only done a
scenario building; war is not an option for
India, which wants to settle its historic
problems with its two neighbours peacefully.
Under the strategy, both land and sea power are
getting emphasis in India, which reflects a
logical consideration of the country's geopolitical position.

How to read Chinese Media?
The Indian public does not understand the reasons
for appearance of hawkish views on India in some
of China's strategic journals/websites. Global
Times and writers like Colonel Dai Xu, have often
given controversial views on India. How far such
views reflect official thinking remains a
question in India. The answer may lie in the need
for reporting transparency in China.

Questions are being asked in China on how India
will use its economic power. They are similar to
doubts in India and abroad about China's
intentions once its modernization programme is
completed, in say 2050. China has announced
peaceful development as its goal. India's
objectives are along the same lines - enriching
the entrepreneurial and economic potential of the
country through a suitable reform strategy as
well as integrating the country with the world’s
economic system under a new order.

India's increasing role in G-20 mechanism speaks
to the latter in particular. Another basic point
relates to attempts to compare the development
models of India and China. Which one is the
better? A debate may be unending in this regard -
generally, the Indian model based on democracy is
being viewed favourably from a long term point of
view than that of China which rests on a
one-party system. The main difference is that
while China has been following a model based on
investment flow from abroad and exports. India
has been giving a boost to entrepreneurship and
free enterprise. In the opinion of the writer,
the Indian superiority in the service sector
notwithstanding, it will not be easy for India to
catch up with China any time soon, which has
already emerged as a manufacturing giant.

What will be India's global interests as an
emerging power is another topic getting focus
in  China. As Dr Manmohan Singh, the Indian Prime
Minister puts it, India's goal is to gain its
rightful place in the comity of nations, making
full use of the opportunities offered by a
globalised world, operating on the frontiers of
modern science and technology and using modern
science and technology as important instruments
of national economic and social development. The
emerging India's partnerships with the US and
other powers, India's role in the G-20 mechanism
etc stand to explain its interests in the 21st
century. Realizing its responsibilities as a
growing power, India is cooperating with other
nations in addressing issues of global concern
like terrorism, climate change,disarmamament, world trade etc.

In conclusion, it can be said that there are
mixed views on China in India; Indians are
noticing the prevailing good atmosphere in
bilateral relations at state levels, but their
concerns are continuing on China’s strategic
intentions vis-à-vis India. More and more people
to people contacts between the two sides can
bring a beneficial change to such conditions.


[1] Zhang Yan, PRC Ambassador to India, New
Delhi, 7 March 2008,quoting President Hu Jintao’s
speech at the time of Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh’s visit to China in January 2008. Also, the
Annual Report of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, 2007-08
[2] "A Shared Vision for the 21st Century of the
PRC and India," Beijing, January 2008.  "The two
sides remain firmly committed to resolving
outstanding differences, including on the
boundary question, through peaceful negotiations,
while ensuring the such differences are not
allowed to affect the positive development of bilateral relations”.
[3] Statement of Minister of State for Commerce,
Lok Sabha, 27 July 2009; India-China Trade -about
US$ 36 Bn, India-US trade about US$ 34 Bn.
[4] Article by Zhu Hua, China Institute of
International Strategic Studies, Beijing, 18 March 2008
[5] Remarks of Mr Pranab Mukherjee, Indian
External affairs Minister, Newstoday, Chennai, 4 June 2008
[6] Professor M.Fravel Taylor, MIT,, 23 October 2009
[7] People’s Daily, 22 October 2009
[8] Remarks of PRC Foreign Ministry spokesperson
Ma Zhaoxu, Beijing, 20 October 2009
[9] People’s Daily online, 29 October 2009
[10] Xinhua, 18 March 2008
[12] PRC Ambassador to India, Zhang Yan , Asia
Society luncheon, Hong Kong,,  20 June 2008
[13] Peoples Daily, 14 October 2009
[14] Xinhua, "in search of truly regional community", 28 October 2009
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