China–India relations

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China-India relations
Map indicating locations of India and China


PM Modi with President Xi Jinping of People's Republic of China, during latter's State Visit to India, September 2014.

China–India relations, also called Sino-Indian relations or Indo-China relations, refers to the bilateral relationship between the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of India. Historically, India and China have had relations for more than 2,000 years, but the modern relationship began in 1950 when India was among the first countries to end formal ties with the Republic of China (Taiwan) and recognize the PRC as the legitimate government of Mainland China. China and India are the two most populous countries and fastest growing major economies in the world. The resultant growth in China and India's international diplomatic and economic influence has also increased the significance of their bilateral relationship.

China and India are two of the world’s oldest civilisations and have co-existed in peace for millennia.[1] Cultural and economic relations between China and India date back to ancient times. The Silk Road not only served as a major trade route between India and China, but is also credited for facilitating the spread of Buddhism from India to East Asia.[2] During the 19th century, China's growing opium trade with the British Raj triggered the First and Second Opium Wars.[3] During World War II, India and China played a crucial role in halting the progress of Imperial Japan.[4]

Relations between contemporary China and India have been characterised by border disputes, resulting in three major military conflicts — the Sino-Indian War of 1962, the Chola incident in 1967, and the 1987 Sino-Indian skirmish.[1] However, since the late 1980s, both countries have successfully attempted to reignite diplomatic and economic ties. In 2008, China emerged as India's largest trading partner and the two countries have also attempted to extend their strategic and military relations.[5][6][7]

Despite growing economic and strategic ties, there are several hurdles for India and the PRC to overcome in order to establish favourable relations. Though bilateral trade has continuously grown, India faces massive trade imbalance heavily in favour of China. The two countries have failed to resolve their long-standing border dispute and Indian media outlets have repeatedly reported Chinese military incursions into Indian territory.[8] Both countries have steadily established heavy military infrastructure along border areas.[8][9] Additionally, India remains wary about China's strong strategic bilateral relations with Pakistan,[10] while China has expressed concerns about Indian military and economic activities in the disputed South China Sea.[11]

In June 2012, China stated its position that "Sino-Indian ties" could be the most "important bilateral partnership of the century".[12] That month Wen Jiabao, the Premier of China and Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India set a goal to increase bilateral trade between the two countries to US$100 billion by 2015.[13] In November 2012, the bilateral trade was estimated to be $73.9 billion.[14]

According to a 2014 BBC World Service Poll, 33% of Indians view China positively, with 35% expressing a negative view, whereas 27% of Chinese people view India positively, with 35% expressing a negative view.[15] A 2014 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center showed 72% of Indians were concerned that territorial disputes between China and neighbouring countries could lead to a military conflict.[16]

Geographical overview[edit]

Map of Eastern and Southern Asia.

(The border between the People's Republic of China and the Republic of India over Arunachal Pradesh/South Tibet reflects actual control, without dotted line showing claims.)

China and India are separated by the formidable geographical obstacles of the Himalayas. China and India today share a border along the Himalayas with Nepal and Bhutan acting as buffer states. Parts of the disputed Kashmir region claimed by India are claimed and administered by either Pakistan (Azad Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan) or by the PRC (Aksai Chin). The Government of Pakistan on its maps shows the Aksai Chin area as mostly within China and labels the boundary "Frontier Undefined" while India holds that Aksai Chin is illegally occupied by the PRC.

China and India also dispute most of Arunachal Pradesh at the far eastern end of the Himalayas. However, both countries have agreed to respect the Line of Actual Control here; the area just north of Tawang is seen as a potential flashpoint.[citation needed]

Country comparison[edit]

India Republic of India China People's Republic of China


1,339,724,852 (2010 Census)
Area 3,287,240 km² (1,269,210 sq mi) 9,640,821 km² (3,704,427 sq mi)
Population density 382/km² (922/sq mi) 139.6/km² (363.3/sq mi)
Capital Delhi Beijing
Largest city Mumbai Shanghai
Government Federal republic, parliamentary democracy Socialist, one-party state
First leader Jawaharlal Nehru Mao Zedong
Current leader Narendra Modi Xi Jinping
Official languages Hindi, English, Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Malayalam, Marathi, Manipuri, Nepali, Odia, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu (See Languages with official status in India) Standard Chinese (Mandarin), Mongolian, Tibetan, Uyghur, Zhuang (See Languages of China)
Main religions Hinduism (80.5%), Islam (13.4%), Christianity (2.3%), Sikhism (1.9%) Buddhism (0.8%), Jainism (0.4%) other religions (0.6%)[18] see also Religion in India >10% each: non-religious, folk religions and Taoism, Buddhism. <10% each: ethnic minority religions, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam. See also Religion in China
GDP (nominal) (2014) US$2.04 trillion US$10.35 trillion
GDP (nominal) per capita (2014) US$1,625 US$7,764
GDP (PPP) (2014) US$7.27 trillion US$17.43 trillion
GDP (PPP) per capita (2014) US$5,777 US$12,307
Human Development Index 0.586 (medium) 0.719 (high)
Foreign exchange reserves 319,390 (millions of USD) 4,009,553 (millions of USD)
Military expenditures US$45.785 billion (2.5% of GDP) US$166.107 billion (2012) (2.0% of GDP)
Manpower Active troops: 1,325,000 (2,142,821 reserve personnel) Active troops: approximately 2,285,000 (800,000 reserve personnel)

Early history[edit]


Xiangqi, or Chinese chess, which, like Western Chess is believed to be descended from the Indian chess game of chaturanga.[19] The earliest indications reveal the game may have been played as early as the third century BCE.

India and China had relatively little modern political contact before the 1950s. The first records of contact between China and India were written during the 2nd century BCE. The religion of Buddhism was transmitted from India to China in the 1st century CE.[20] Trade relations via the Silk Road acted as economic contact between the two regions.

China and India have also had some contact before the transmission of Buddhism. References to a people called the Chinas, now believed to be the Chinese, are found in ancient Indian literature. The Indian epic Mahabharata (c. 5th century BCE) contains references to "China", which may have been referring to the Qin state which later became the Qin Dynasty. Chanakya (c. 350-283 BCE), the prime minister of the Maurya Empire and a professor at Takshashila University, refers to Chinese silk as "cinamsuka" (Chinese silk dress) and "cinapatta" (Chinese silk bundle) in his Arthashastra.

In the Records of the Grand Historian, Zhang Qian (d. 113 BCE) and Sima Qian (145-90 BCE) make references to "Shendu", which may have been referring to the Indus Valley (the Sindh province in modern Pakistan), originally known as "Sindhu" in Sanskrit. When Yunnan was annexed by the Han Dynasty in the 1st century, Chinese authorities reported an Indian "Shendu" community living there.[21]

Middle Ages[edit]

The Shaolin Monastery in Dengfeng, Henan, China.

After the transmission of Buddhism from India to China from the 1st century onwards, many Indian scholars and monks travelled to China, such as Batuo (fl. 464-495 CE)—first abbot of the Shaolin Monastery—and Bodhidharma—founder of Chan/Zen Buddhism—while many Chinese scholars and monks also travelled to India, such as Xuanzang (b. 604) and I Ching (635-713), both of whom were students at Nalanda University in Bihar. Xuanzang wrote the Great Tang Records on the Western Regions, an account of his journey to India, which later inspired Wu Cheng'en's Ming Dynasty novel Journey to the West, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature.

Tamil dynasties[edit]

Chola Empire under Rajendra Chola c. 1030 C.E.

The Cholas maintained a very good relationship with the Chinese. Arrays of ancient Chinese coins have been found in recent years at the place which is considered to be the homeland of the Cholas (i.e. the present Thanjavur, Tiruvarur and Pudukkottai districts of Tamil Nadu, India), which confirms the trade and the commercial relationship which existed between the Cholas and the Chinese.[22]

Under Rajaraja Chola and his son Rajendra Chola, the Cholas had strong trading links with Chinese Song Dynasty.[23][24][25] The Chola navy conquered the Sri Vijaya Empire of Indonesia and Malaysia and secured the sea trade route to China.[23]

Many sources describe Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen school of Buddhism in China, as a prince of the Pallava dynasty.[26]

Tang and Harsha dynasties[edit]

During the 7th century, Tang dynasty China gained control over large portions of the Silk Road and Central Asia. Wang Xuance had sent a diplomatic mission to northern India, which was embroiled by civil war just following the death of Emperor Harsha (590–647). After the murder of 30 members of this mission by usurper claimants to the throne, Wang fled, and returned with allied Nepali and Tibetan troops to back the opposing claimant. With his forces, Wang besieged and captured the capital, while his deputy Jiang Shiren (蒋师仁) captured the usurper and sent him back to Emperor Taizong (599-649) in Chang'an as a prisoner with 2,000 other captives.

Faxian traveled in India.

During the 8th century, the astronomical table of sines by the Indian astronomer and mathematician, Aryabhatta (476-550), were translated into the Chinese astronomical and mathematical book of the Treatise on Astrology of the Kaiyuan Era (Kaiyuan Zhanjing), compiled in 718 CE during the Tang Dynasty.[27] The Kaiyuan Zhanjing was compiled by Gautama Siddha, an astronomer and astrologer born in Chang'an, and whose family was originally from India. He was also notable for his translation of the Navagraha calendar into Chinese.

Yuan dynasty[edit]

A rich merchant from the Ma'bar Sultanate, Abu Ali, was associated closely with the Ma'bar royal family. After falling out with them, he moved to Yuan dynasty China and received a Korean woman as his wife and a job from the Mongol Emperor.[28][29] Tamil Hindu Indian merchants traded in Quanzhou during the Yuan dynasty.[30][31][32][33][34] Indian Hindu statues were found in Quanzhou dating to this period.[35]

Ming dynasty[edit]

Stele installed in Calicut by Zheng He (modern replica)
Chinese fishing nets in Kochi, Kerala, India.

Between 1405 and 1433, Ming dynasty China sponsored a series of seven naval expeditions. Yongle Emperor designed them to establish a Chinese presence, impose imperial control over trade, and impress foreign people in the Indian Ocean basin. He also might have wanted to extend the tributary system, by which Chinese dynasties traditionally recognised foreign peoples.

Admiral Zheng He was dispatched to lead a series of huge naval expeditions to explore these regions. The largest of his voyages included over 317 ships and 28,000 men, and the largest of his treasure ships were over 126.73 m in length. During his voyages, he visited numerous Indian kingdoms and ports. On the first three voyages, Zheng He visited Southeast Asia, India, Bengal, and Ceylon. The fourth expedition went to the Persian Gulf and Arabia, and later expeditions ventured down the east African coast, as far as Malindi in what is now Kenya. Throughout his travels, Zheng He liberally dispensed Chinese gifts of silk, porcelain, and other goods. In return, he received rich and unusual presents from his hosts, including African zebras and giraffes that ended their days in the Ming imperial zoo. Zheng He and his company paid respects to local deities and customs, and in Ceylon they erected a monument (Galle Trilingual Inscription) honouring Buddha, Allah, and Vishnu.

Sino-Sikh War[edit]

Main article: Sino-Sikh war

In the 18th to 19th centuries, the Sikh Confederacy of the Punjab region in India was expanding into neighbouring lands. It had annexed Ladakh into the state of Jammu in 1834. In 1841, they invaded Tibet with an army and overran parts of western Tibet. Chinese forces defeated the Sikh army in December 1841, forcing the Sikh army to withdraw from Tibet, and in turn entered Ladakh and besieged Leh, where they were in turn defeated by the Sikh Army. At this point, neither side wished to continue the conflict, as the Sikhs were embroiled in tensions with the British that would lead up to the First Anglo-Sikh War, while the Chinese was in the midst of the First Opium War with the British East India Company. The Chinese and the Sikhs signed a treaty in September 1842, which stipulated no transgressions or interference in the other country's frontiers.[36]

British India[edit]

British India was suggested as a potential target by Wei Yuan after the Opium War.[37]

The Qing Emperors were aware of the existence of India and its colonization by Britain.[38]

The British East India Company used a variety of Indian opium grown in India to export to China. Britain used their Indian sepoys and the British Indian Army in the Opium Wars and Boxer Rebellion against China. The Congreve rocket which derived from the Indian Mysorean rockets was used by the British during the Opium wars. The British used Indian soldiers to guard the Foreign concessions in areas like Shanghai. The Chinese slur "Yindu A San" (Indian number three) was used to describe Indian soldiers in British service.

After independence[edit]

Jawaharlal Nehru based his vision of "resurgent Asia" on friendship between the two largest states of Asia; his vision of an internationalist foreign policy governed by the ethics of the Panchsheel, which he initially believed was shared by China, came to grief when it became clear that the two countries had a conflict of interest in Tibet, which had traditionally served as a geographical and political buffer zone, and where India believed it had inherited special privileges from the British Raj.

However, the initial focus of the leaders of both countries was not the foreign policy, but the internal development of their respective states. When they did concentrate on the foreign policies, their concern wasn’t one another, but rather the United States and the Soviet Union and the alliance systems which were dominated by the two superpowers.


On 1 October 1949 the People’s Liberation Army defeated the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) of China in a civil war and established the People's Republic of China. On 15 August 1947, India became an independent dominion under British Commonwealth and became a federal, democratic republic after its constitution came into effect on 26 January 1950. Mao Zedong, the Commander of the Liberation Army and the Chairman of the Communist Party of China viewed Tibet as an integral part of the Chinese State. Mao was determined to bring Tibet under direct administrative and military control of People’s Republic of China and saw Indian concern over Tibet as a manifestation of the Indian Government's interference in the internal affairs of the People’s Republic of China. The PRC sought to reassert control over Tibet and to end Lamaism (Tibetan Buddhism) and feudalism, which it did by force of arms in 1950. To avoid antagonising the People's Republic of 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 recognising PRC sovereignty but guaranteeing that the existing political and social system of Tibet would continue. Direct negotiations between India and the PRC commenced in an atmosphere improved by India's mediation efforts in bringing about a ceasefire to the Korean War (1950–1953).

Founding of the Sino-Indian Friendship Association on May 16, 1952 in Beijing.

India established diplomatic relations with the PRC on 1 January 1950, the second non-communist nation to do so.

In April 1954, India and the PRC signed an eight-year agreement on Tibet that set forth the basis of their relationship in the form of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence (or Panch Sheel). Although critics called the Panch Shila naive, Nehru calculated that in the absence of either the wherewithal or a policy for defence 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. It is the popular perception that the catch phrase of India's diplomacy with China in the 1950s was Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai, which means, in Hindi, "Indians and Chinese are brothers" but in 1958, Nehru had privately told G. Parthasarathi, the Indian envoy to China not to trust the Chinese at all and send all communications directly to him, bypassing the Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon since his communist background clouded his thinking about China.[39] Therefore, in unison with diplomacy, Nehru sought to initiate a more direct dialogue between the peoples of China and India in various ways, including culture and literature. Around that time, the famous Indian artist (painter) Beohar Rammanohar Sinha from Visva-BharatiSantiniketan, who had earlier decorated the pages of the original Constitution of India, was sent to China in 1957 on a Government of India fellowship to establish a direct cross-cultural and inter-civilisation bridge. Noted Indian scholar Rahul Sankrityayan and diplomat Natwar Singh were also there, and Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan paid a visit to PRC. Between 1957 and 1959, Beohar Rammanohar Sinha not only disseminated Indian art in PRC but also became skilled in Chinese painting and lacquer-work. He also spent time with great masters Qi Baishi, Li Keran, Li Kuchan as well as some moments with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai. Consequently, up until 1959, despite border skirmishes and discrepancies between Indian and Chinese maps, Chinese leaders amicably had assured India that there was no territorial controversy on the border though there is some evidence that India avoided bringing up the border issue in high-level meetings.[40]

In 1954, India published new maps that included the Aksai Chin region within the boundaries of India (maps published at the time of India's independence did not clearly indicate whether the region was in India or Tibet).[41] When India discovered that China built a road through the region, border clashes and Indian protests became more frequent and serious. In January 1959, PRC 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. The People's Republic of China accused India of expansionism and imperialism in Tibet and throughout the Himalayan region. China claimed 104,000 km² 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 Arunachal Pradesh 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.[citation needed]


Sino-Indian War[edit]

Main article: Sino-Indian War

Border disputes resulted in a short border war between the People's Republic of China and India on 20 October 1962. The border clash resulted in a crushing defeat of India as the PRC pushed the Indian forces to within forty-eight kilometres of the Assam plains in the northeast and occupied strategic points in Ladakh, until the PRC declared a unilateral cease-fire on 21 November and withdrew twenty kilometers behind its contended line of control.

At the time of Sino-Indian border conflict, a severe political split was taking place in the Communist Party of India. One section was accused by the Indian government as being pro-PRC, and a large number of political leaders were jailed. Subsequently, CPI split with the leftist section forming the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in 1964. CPI(M) held some contacts with the Communist Party of China in the initial period after the split, but did not fully embrace the political line of Mao Zedong.

Relations between the PRC and India deteriorated during the rest of the 1960s and the early 1970s as China–Pakistan relations improved and Sino-Soviet relations worsened. The PRC-backed Pakistan in its 1965 war with India. Between 1967 and 1971, an all-weather road was built across territory claimed by India, linking PRC's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region with Pakistan; India could do no more than protest, however 1971 war with Pakistan, India won a landslide victory. The PRC continued an active propaganda campaign against India and supplied ideological, financial, and other assistance to dissident groups, especially to tribes in northeastern India. The PRC 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. The flourishing wool, fur and spice trade between Lhasa and India through the Nathula Pass, an offshoot of the ancient Silk Road in the then Indian protectorate of Sikkim was also severed. However, the biweekly postal network through this pass was kept alive, which exists till today.

Sri Lanka played the role of chief negotiator to withdraw the Chinese troops from the Indian territory. It is the Colombo proposals which both countries agreed to adopt and settle this dispute.[42]

Later Conflicts[edit]

In late 1967, there were two more conflicts between Indian and Chinese forces at their contested border, in Sikkim. The first conflict was dubbed the "Nathu La Incident", and the other the "Cho La Incident".

In September 1967, Chinese and Indian forces clashed at Nathu La. On 11 September, Chinese troops opened fire on a detachment of Indian soldiers tasked with protecting an engineering company that was fencing the North Shoulder of Nathu La. This escalated over the next five days to an exchange of heavy artillery and mortar fire between the Indian and Chinese forces. Sixty-two Indian soldiers were killed.[43]

Soon afterwards, Indian and Chinese forces clashed again in the Chola incident. On 1 October 1967, some Indian and Chinese soldiers had an argument over the control of a boulder at the Chola outpost in Sikkim (then a protectorate of India), triggering a fight that escalated to a mortar and heavy machine gun duel.[44] On 10 October, both sides again exchanged heavy fire. While Indian forces would sustain eighty-eight troops killed in action with another 163 troops wounded, China would suffer greater casualties, with 300 killed and 450 wounded in Nathu La, as well as forty in Chola.[45]


In August 1971, India signed its Treaty of Peace, Friendship, and Co-operation with the Soviet Union, and the United States and the PRC sided with Pakistan in its December 1971 war with India. Although China strongly condemned India, it did not carry out its veiled threat to intervene on Pakistan's behalf. By this time, the PRC had just replaced the Republic of China in the UN where its representatives denounced India as being a "tool of Soviet expansionism."

India and the PRC renewed efforts to improve relations after Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's Congress party lost the 1977 elections to Morarji Desai's Janata Party. The new Desai government sought to improve long-strained relations with India and the PRC. In 1978, the Indian Minister of External Affairs Atal Bihari Vajpayee made a landmark visit to Beijing, and both countries officially re-established diplomatic relations in 1979. The PRC 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. The PRC'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 other's news agencies, and Mount Kailash and Mansarowar Lake in Tibet, the mythological home of the Hindu pantheon, were opened to annual pilgrimages.


In 1981, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China, Huang Hua,[46] was invited to India, where he made complimentary remarks about India's role in South Asia. PRC Premier Zhao Ziyang concurrently toured Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

In 1980, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi approved a plan to upgrade the deployment of forces around the Line of Actual Control to avoid unilateral redefinitions of the line. India also increased funds for infrastructural development in these areas.[47][48]

In 1984, squads of Indian soldiers began actively patrolling the Sumdorong Chu Valley in Arunachal Pradesh (formerly NEFA), which is north of the McMahon Line as drawn on the Simla Treaty map but south of the ridge which Indian claims is meant to delineate the McMahon Line. The Sumdorong Chu valley "seemed to lie to the north of the McMahon line; but is south of the highest ridge in the area, and the McMahon line is meant to follow the highest points" according to the Indian claims, whilst the Chinese did not recognise the McMahon Line as legitimate and were not prepared to accept an Indian claim line even further north than that.[49][50][51] The Indian team left the area before the winter. In the winter of 1986, the Chinese deployed their troops to the Sumdorong Chu before the Indian team could arrive in the summer and built a Helipad at Wandung.[52] Surprised by the Chinese occupation, India's then Chief of Army Staff, General K.Sundarji, airlifted a brigade to the region.[48][53]

Chinese troops could not move any further into the valley and were forced to move sideways along the Thag La ridge, away from the valley.[54] By 1987, Beijing's reaction was similar to that in 1962 and this prompted many Western diplomats to predict war. However, Indian foreign minister N.D. Tiwari and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi travelled to Beijing over the following months to negotiate a mutual de-escalation.[48]

After the Huang visit, India and the PRC 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 the PRC 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. The PRC 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 the People's Republic of 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 co-operation, 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 co-operation 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 PRC premier Li Peng to India and the May 1992 visit to China of Indian president R. 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 (Mumbai) 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 defence 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 Premier Li Peng signed the border agreement and three other agreements, primarily dealing with cross-border trade, and on increased cooperation on environmental issued (e.g. Pollution, Animal extinction, Global Warming, etc.) 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 defence forces of the two countries." The visit, however, came at a time when press reports revealed that, as a result of improved relations between the PRC 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 PRC minister of national defence Chi Haotian visited New Delhi for extensive talks with high-level Indian trade and defence 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 km 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 Centre in New Delhi. The centre serves as the representative office of the Republic of China (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.

Sino-Indian relations hit a low point in 1998 following India's nuclear tests in May. Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes declared that "China is India's number one threat", hinting that India developed nuclear weapons in defence against China's nuclear arsenal. In 1998, China was one of the strongest international critics of India's nuclear tests and entry into the nuclear club. During the 1999 Kargil War China voiced support for Pakistan, but also counseled Pakistan to withdraw its forces.


Indian and Chinese officers at Nathu La. Nathu La was re-opened in 2006 following numerous bilateral trade agreements. The opening of the pass is expected to bolster the economy of the region and play a key role in the growing Sino-Indian trade.

With Indian President K. R. Narayanan's visit to China, 2000 marked a gradual re-engagement of Indian and Chinese diplomacy. In a major embarrassment for China, the 17th Karmapa, Urgyen Trinley Dorje, who was proclaimed by China, made a dramatic escape from Tibet to the Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim. Chinese officials were in a quandary on this issue as any protest to India on the issue would mean an explicit endorsement on India's governance of Sikkim, which the Chinese still hadn't recognised. In 2002, Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji reciprocated by visiting India, with a focus on economic issues. 2003 ushered in a marked improvement in Sino-Indian relations following Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's landmark June 2003 visit to China. China officially recognised Indian sovereignty over Sikkim as the two countries moved towards resolving their border disputes.

2004 also witnessed a gradual improvement in the international area when the two countries proposed opening up the Nathula and Jelepla Passes in Sikkim which would be mutually beneficial to both countries. 2004 was a milestone in Sino-Indian bilateral trade, surpassing the US$10 billion mark for the first time. In April 2005, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Bangalore to push for increased Sino-Indian cooperation in high-tech industries. In a speech, Wen stated "Cooperation is just like two pagodas (temples), one hardware and one software. Combined, we can take the leadership position in the world." Wen stated that the 21st century will be "the Asian century of the IT industry." The high-level visit was also expected to produce several agreements to deepen political, cultural and economic ties between the two countries. Regarding the issue of India gaining a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, on his visit, Wen Jiabao initially seemed to support the idea, but had returned to a neutral position on the subject by the time he returned to China. In the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit (2005) China was granted an observer status. While other countries in the region are ready to consider China for permanent membership in the SAARC, India seems reluctant.

A very important dimension of the evolving Sino-Indian relationship is based on the energy requirements of their industrial expansion and their readiness to proactively secure them by investing in the oilfields abroad - in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. On the one hand, these ventures entail competition (which has been evident in oil biddings for various international projects recently). But on the other hand, a degree of cooperation too is visible, as they are increasingly confronting bigger players in the global oil market. This cooperation was sealed in Beijing on 12 January 2006 during the visit of Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, who signed an agreement which envisages ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) and the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) placing joint bids for promising projects elsewhere. This may have important consequences for their international relations.

On 6 July 2006, China and India re-opened Nathula, an ancient trade route which was part of the Silk Road. Nathula is a pass through the Himalayas and it was closed 44 years prior to 2006 when the Sino-Indian War broke out in 1962. The initial agreement for the re-opening of the trade route was reached in 2003, and a final agreement was formalised on 18 June 2006. Officials say that the re-opening of border trade will help ease the economic isolation of the region.[55] In November 2006, China and India had a verbal spat over claim of the north-east Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. India claimed that China was occupying 38,000 square kilometres of its territory in Kashmir, while China claimed the whole of Arunachal Pradesh as its own.[56] In May 2007, China denied the application for visa from an Indian Administrative Service officer in Arunachal Pradesh. According to China, since Arunachal Pradesh is a territory of China, he would not need a visa to visit his own country.[57] Later in December 2007, China appeared to have reversed its policy by granting a visa to Marpe Sora, an Arunachal born professor in computer science.[58][59] In January 2008, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited China and met with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao and had bilateral discussions related to trade, commerce, defence, military, and various other issues.

Until 2008 the British Government's position remained the same as had been since the Simla Accord of 1913: that China held suzerainty over Tibet but not sovereignty. Britain revised this view on 29 October 2008, when it recognised Chinese sovereignty over Tibet by issuing a statement on its website.[60][61][62] The Economist stated that although the British Foreign Office's website does not use the word sovereignty, officials at the Foreign Office said "it means that, as far as Britain is concerned, 'Tibet is part of China. Full stop.'"[63] This change in Britain's position affects India's claim to its North Eastern territories which rely on the same Simla Accord that Britain's prior position on Tibet's sovereignty was based upon.[64]

In October 2009, Asian Development Bank formally acknowledging Arunachal Pradesh as part of India, approved a loan to India for a development project there. Earlier China had exercised pressure on the bank to cease the loan,[65] however India succeeded in securing the loan with the help of the United States and Japan. China expressed displeasure at ADB[66][67] for the same.


Prime Minister Narendra Modi meeting with the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress of China Zhang Dejiang

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao paid an official visit to India from 15–17 December 2010 at the invitation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.[68] He was accompanied by 400 Chinese business leaders, who wished to sign business deals with Indian companies.[69]

In April 2011, during the BRICS summit in Sanya, Hainan, China[71] the two countries agreed to restore defence co-operation and China had hinted that it may reverse its policy of administering stapled visas to residents of Jammu and Kashmir.[72][73] This practice was later stopped,[74] and as a result, defence ties were resumed between the two countries and joint military drills were expected.

It was reported in February 2012 that India will reach US$100 billion trade with China by 2015.[75] Bilateral trade between the two countries reached US$73 billion in 2011, making China India's largest trade partner, but slipped to US$66 billion in 2012.[76]

In the 2012 BRICS summit in New Delhi, India, Chinese President Hu Jintao told Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that "it is China's unswerving policy to develop Sino-Indian friendship, deepen strategic cooperation and seek common development" and "China hopes to see a peaceful, prosperous and continually developing India and is committed to building more dynamic China-India relationship".[77] Other topics were discussed, including border dispute problems and a unified BRICS central bank.

In response to India's test of a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to Beijing, the PRC called for the two countries to "cherish the hard-earned momentum of co-operation".[78]

A three-week standoff between Indian and Chinese troops in close proximity to each other and the Line of Actual Control between Jammu and Kashmir's Ladakh region and Aksai Chin was defused on 5 May 2013,[79] days before a trip by Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid to China; Khurshid said that both countries had a shared interest in not having the border issue exacerbate or "destroy" long-term progress in relations. The Chinese agreed to withdraw their troops in exchange for an Indian agreement to demolish several "live-in bunkers" 250 km to the south in the disputed Chumar sector.[80]

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang made his first foreign visit to India on 18 May 2013 in a bid to resolve border disputes and to stimulate economic relations.[81] According to Mr. Li, there were three main reasons for his visit. First was to increase diplomatic co-operation. Second was to cement relations in trade and other areas and finally to formulate strategy for common prosperous future.[82]

Indian President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, a northeast Indian state that China recognizes as "South Tibet", in late November, 2013 and in his speech calling the area an "integral and important part of India" generated an angry response from Beijing.[83] Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang's statement in response to Mukherjee's two-day visit to Arunachal Pradesh was "China's stance on the disputed area on the eastern part of the China-India border is consistent and clear.[84]

In September, 2014 the relationship took a sting as troops of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have reportedly entered two kilometres inside the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Chumar sector.[85] The next month, V. K. Singh said that China and India had come to a "convergence of views" on the threat of terrorism emanating from Pakistan.[86]

The relationship between India and China has never been too strong in modern times, though the bilateral trade is expected to touch $1 Trillion by 2050. There have also been speculations on Indian side on how to tackle the rising trade deficit with China which currently stands up at $40 Billion.[87]

Bilateral trade[edit]

China is India's largest trading partner.

Chinese imports from India amounted to $16.4 billion or 0.8% of its overall imports, and 4.2% of India's overall exports in 2014. The 10 major commodities exported from India to the China were:[88][89]

  1. Cotton: $3.2 billion
  2. Gems, precious metals, coins: $2.5 billion
  3. Copper: $2.3 billion
  4. Ores, slag, ash: $1.3 billion
  5. Organic chemicals: $1.1 billion
  6. Salt, sulphur, stone, cement: $958.7 million
  7. Machines, engines, pumps: $639.7 million
  8. Plastics: $499.7 million
  9. Electronic equipment: $440 million
  10. Raw hides excluding furskins: $432.7 million

Chinese exports to India amounted to $58.4 billion or 2.3% of its overall exports, and 12.6% of India's overall imports in 2014. The 10 major commodities exported from the China to India were:[89][90]

  1. Electronic equipment: $16 billion
  2. Machines, engines, pumps: $9.8 billion
  3. Organic chemicals: $6.3 billion
  4. Fertilizers: $2.7 billion
  5. Iron and steel: $2.3 billion
  6. Plastics: $1.7 billion
  7. Iron or steel products: $1.4 billion
  8. Gems, precious metals, coins: $1.3 billion
  9. Ships, boats: $1.3 billion
  10. Medical, technical equipment: $1.2 billion

See also[edit]

Sino-Indian relations[edit]

Border disputes[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]