Love thy neighbour is a commandment that has been a traditional moot point for India since the time of Independence in 1947. India has had strained relations with its primary neighbours namely Pakistan and China and any improvements in relations has never enjoyed a sure footing and is fraught with complications. However, in a major attempt to revamp relations, Indian government is working on improving its relations with China steadily.
Historically, India and China have co-existed peacefully for almost 2000 years. Trade flourished between the two countries and The Silk Route was considered one of the most important trade routes in the world. There were major cultural exchanges including the spread of Buddhism from India to China. There have been accounts of Chinese travellers as early as fifth century AD such Fa-Hien who visited India during the Gupta period.
In a more modern day setting, when India became a republic in 1950, India signed diplomatic relations with People’s Republic of China. However, relations became tricky soon with Indian involvement in Tibet which China controlled forcibly by 1950. In order to appease China, India government assured that it had no political or territorial ambition in the region. the then Indian government was trying to build a highly Pan-Asia foreign policy post the second world war. In 1954, then Indian PM Pt.Jawaharlal Nehru signed the Panchshil treaty on Tibet based on Five principles of Peaceful Co-existence and was many considered only to be a soft measure with China. Eventually, in the late 1950s, the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of the Tibetean people sought sanctuary in India at Dharamshala and refugees fled from Tibet to India.
Relations between the two countries soured with Indian claims in Aksai Chin region and China disputing the McMohan line in India’s north-eastern border. The tensions resulted in full-scale war in October of 1962 in which India lost territories in the North-east and Ladakh region prior to unilateral ceasefire almost a month later. Things took a further nosedive with increasing support of Pakistan by China and by 1965 Pakistan went to war with India backed by PRC and even roads connecting Pakistan and China were built on Indian territories and backed rebels in North-eastern region of India. Eventually, Sri Lanka intervened and both countries agreed to settle based on the proposals from Colombo. Diplomatic relations were at their lowest although not suspended in the 1970s with PRC indirectly supporting Pakistan in 1971 war with India which resulted in liberation of Bangladesh
In 1977, after Janata Dal government came to power, things began to look up as the Moraji Desai government made efforts to improve relations and Dr.Atal Behari Vajpayee made an important visit to Beijing as a part of the same. 1980s saw a few sporadic tensions along the Arunachal Pradesh border but overall situation improved and 1990s marked a solid upward trend but hit a roadblock with the 1998 Nuclear tests by India and China’s support towards Pakistan in 1999 Kargil war but at the same time moved towards resolving the conflict as well.
2000s marked a new era with bilateral visits by then Indian President K.R.Narayanan’s China visit in 2000 and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit in 2005 that resulted in Sino-Indian trade pacts, cooperation in hi-tech industries. China had initially supported India’s bid for a permanent seat in UN Security Council but returned to a neutral position soon after. Wen Jiabao later visited India again in 2010 and agreed for cooperation during the BRICS summit in 2011. However, tensions escalated over Arunachal Pradesh which is recognized by both countries as part of their respective territory. Eventually, the relations saw an upswing when Chinese Premier Xi Jinping visited India in 2014 in which agreements were signed which saw a $20 billion investment over five years.
Most recently, Indian Prime Minister Modi visited China and met with Premier Xi Jinping. The visit included meeting with key leaders in China and bilateral agreements were signed between the two nations to improve trade relations. There were several proposals made on the border definition and conduct that has long bothered both nations without any significant resolution. The visit received a lot of international attention owing to the long running border dispute and increasing trade deficit between the two countries. Since both countries are major players in the politics of Asia, cordial relationship between the two is the key to stability in the region. With improving Indo-US relations, China might be getting irked with India. As tensions escalate in the South China Sea with US beginning to get involved as China demonstrates its increasing military power, India might be faced with a critical decision of siding with one of the countries. As no one knows the response to such a situation until a full scale conflict, it will be a waiting game to see if India takes a side or returns to its long standing and historical policy of non-alignment. Either response would be a landmark decision in its own way as that would lead to a very different phase in relationship with China and US as well.
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