War’s Legacy Still Frustrates Sino-Indian Relations

Despite increasing Sino-Indian trade, border disputes complicate the bilateral relationship.

Prime Ministers Wen Jiabao of China and Manmohan Singh of India in New Delhi, December 16, 2010 (AP)
Prime Ministers Wen Jiabao of China and Manmohan Singh of India in New Delhi, December 16, 2010 (AP)

There is a popular Marxist axiom that says history repeats itself. That may be the case in many social sciences but a challenging proposition in international relations because of the constant changes that take place in the structure of the world system.

Many analysts consider the future of Sino-Indian relations through the prism of the Marxist theory. Foreign policy hawks and nationalists in both countries maintain that the two rising powers will reengage in war at some point. On the other hand, there are liberals and supposedly pacifists who do not buy this argument and claim that the two Asian giants will rise peacefully.

The debate has raged since the mid 1990s when both China and India started showing high economic growth. Fifty years after the two went to war, questions about the future Sino-Indian relationship are increasingly relevant. Hence the war itself is subject to intense historical scrutiny.

Many theories, indeed some conspiracy theories, have emerged into the reasons of the 1962 conflict. Almost all of them point to the border dispute as the war’s impetus. But that was rather an excuse than a cause.

Chinese ambitions of regional hegemony reemerged after the Communist Party had firmly established itself in Beijing. Indonesia, Japan and Malaysia were seen as hurdles to such a position but not an outright challenge. India, due to its sheer size and political clout, was. To claim a leadership position in Asia, China had to check India’s own aspirations through political or military means.

China’s unilateral ceasefire declaration without putting up serious terms or conditions suggests that its only wish indeed was to remind India of its power. Secondly, there was the clash of personalities between India’s prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who saw himself as the leader of the Nonaligned Movement, and China’s Mao Zedong, who contested for the leadership of the communist bloc. Mao’s willingness to go to war may at least in part have stemmed from his desire to degrade Nehru’s status on the world stage.

China and India reestablished diplomatic relations in the late 1970s. Trade has since increased between them. By 2015, the volume of Sino-Indian commerce is expected to top $100 billion per year.

Yet all is not well. Despite engagement for more than two decades, the two nations have yet to resolve their border disputes. They have also, intermittently, engaged in spats over political issues.

The present combination of cooperative economic engagement and political instability explains why questions over the future of Sino-Indian relations remain relevant. In the near term, economic necessity will preserve the cooperation that is seen in that sphere but even if another war seems unlikely, unresolved political disputes continue to frustrate a truly “peaceful rise” of both nations.


  1. Indian minds are brilliant, as good as any in the world, if not better. But surely there are better ways to overcome the Chinese than combing through the cobwebs of 50 years ago.
    The Chinese have forgotten about the border skirmishes at the remote frozen wastes of the empire. The Chinese intellectuals acknowledge the embarassment of their mistake in going to war with a civilization that is historically their Equal.
    They freely concede that much of Chinese spirituality is Indian-Buddhistic in origin. Even now millions of Chinese Buddhist adherents are reading and learning Sanskrit. The Land of the Ganga is the Holy Land of the Buddhists. The Greatest Chinese Saga repeatedly retold to generations of Chinese, the Journey to the West, was to India, not Europe.
    Could not India conceive of a renewed Indianisation of China and the whole of East and South-East Asia. Must Mother India make war on Her spiritual offspring?

  2. China is India’s natural neighbor. In 1962, some unwanted incidents occurred in India-china border, which could have been avoided by proper diplomatic intelligence. However, in 1965, when Indian army reached Lahore, an important city of Pakistan, India-china border remained peaceful. In 1971, when Indian army reached Dhaka, the then capital of East Pakistan, India-china border remained peaceful. In 1993 India-china border agreement is signed. The agreement is such that both sides are supposed to continue with their “claim”, but nobody will take any “action” and status quo will be maintained. So, presently India-china border is peaceful calm and quiet. One should be realistic before fabrication of fictions and unrealistic story of “probable attack from north” or story of “Sino – Pakistan axis”.

  3. China is India’s nature-deputed neighbor. In 1993 India-china border agreement is signed which has solved many problems permanently. Both Arunachal Pradesh and aksai chin are under subjective partition between India and china. Regarding aksai chin, subjective partition signifies that India will claim but china will rule. Regarding Arunachal Pradesh subjective partition means china will claim and India rule. So, Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India as far as governance is concerned. However the agreement allows china to claim arunachal, which India is not bound to accept as per the same agreement. So both arunachal and aksai chin problems are solved by conversion of the dispute into a non-antagonistic contradiction. The Simla pact 1972 has solved the POK problem also. The Simla pact has converted the line of control in the Kashmir sector into a permanent line. So POK is in the Pakistan side of line of control and J & K is in Indian side. Tibet was and is province of china. British made an illegal agreement with TIBET by-passing china’s central govt. So, agreement with a province of a country created Tibet question, which is fully solved after British left India; the illegal agreement of Tibet and British has no relevance after 1947. Dalia lama and his associated are food-spoiler of china; they are allowed to spoil food of India by Nehru govt. However they are not allowed to spoil country’s foreign policy.

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