This article was initially published in the Security and Land Power Journal
Vol. 2 No. 3 (2023): July to September
The reconfiguration of the map of power in the world is starting to be located on the Asian continent. Both China and India are increasingly exerting influence in various fields; However, there is a border conflict between the two nations and constant displays of military power that do not reach total confrontation, due to a shared pragmatic vision. In this article, we will proceed to analyze the agreements and disagreements that occur between these powers, the intervention of various actors and the role of politics in each of their actions, in a world scenario where war operations prevail.
Keywords: China, India, Border conflict, Military Power, Shared Pragmatics.
At the end of the second decade of the millennium, events of great magnitude developed continuously and even traumatically. In this sense, the configuration of world power was affected, since the predominance of the West would be replaced by the Asian continent, specifically by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of India (IN). Both nations have the largest population in the world and, for years, have shown steady economic growth; in addition to expansionist policies in manufacturing and strengthening of its armies, including its production in the nuclear field.
Currently, China and India are active participants in international politics and share agreements or harmonize positions on controversial issues, as happened at COP 27 in Indonesia or their abstention from sanctioning Russia in the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN). However, there is no denying the undeclared rivalry in the quest for greater commercial and military influence in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Despite this, they opt for the pragmatism of avoiding major conflicts and prefer to live together in an atmosphere of “tense calm”.
This article makes a chronological analysis of how the two countries have been strengthening in the midst of internal and external problems, based on a discourse characterized by its practicality and that allows a line of predictability of how international politics will be in a few years.
The Frontier of Conflict
The boundary problems between these nations begin with the distribution of territories and occupations following the presence of the British Empire in the area. In the case of India, the main antagonisms occurred with the domination of Pakistan and, on the other hand, China, at the end of the civil war it experienced in 1949, was configured as the PRC. The border that was established, not officially, was one made in 1914 between the representatives of the British Raj and Tibet establishing an imaginary line known as the McMahon Line that only traced 890 kilometers of the 2500 that separated India from China. The boundaries were again modified after World War I and the British Empire decided to divide the British Raj between India and Pakistan, since China took over an area in Kashmir (claimed by India), thus expanding its border. The breakdown of relations originates in 1950 with the occupation of Tibet by China that always claimed this region as its territory. Four years later, in the midst of negotiations, China and India reached an agreement that was finalized when the Indian government recognized China’s sovereignty over Tibet (the Chinese constitution created the Tibet Autonomous Region).
In 1962 the Sino-Indian War occurs, because India considered that the limits had been defined with the original international treaties and China did not know these documents, endorsing its position on the traditional borders, which is why it crossed the McMahon Line on October 20, 1962 and expelled all Indian settlers from the Aksai Chin area. For Gatto, quoting Pardesi, three factors were presented that defined the Chinese attack: “… the status of Tibet, the militarization of its unresolved border and fears of containment.” India asked Britain and the US for support, however, before getting a response, inexplicably, on November 21, 1962, China unilaterally decided to withdraw from the territories taken except for Aksai Chin. The following months were marked by diplomacy and strategic alliances until, in 1965, China signed a border treaty with the classic Indian rival: Pakistan, which again undermined the progress.
Thepicture worsened when, in September 1967, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army entered Sikkim, territory for which membership was also disputed. In this fight there were casualties on both flanks, although this time the Indian reaction was instantaneous and managed to repel them. This action favored India and got China to accept that Sikkim was an integral part of its rival. During the eighties, in the middle of the Cold War, Chinese incursions into the valley of the Sumdorong Chu River resumed, actions that lasted until the following year. India reacted by mobilizing troops to the area and conducted the “Chessboard” exercise as a demonstration of its military might, especially air. This fact endangered the coexistence of the region and there was a cessation of actions. By December 1988, Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, along with his Chinese counterpart, decided to resolve the dispute. They concluded that while they would agree on their border situation peacefully, this did not represent the impossibility of working together in other fields, thus establishing a “Working Group (known as JWG) that dealt with border issues at the level of deputy foreign ministers.”
Then, in 1989, the region was marked by the Tiananmen events in China and the critical political situation in India. At the end of 1991, the PRC Prime Minister Li Peng, on a visit to New Delhi, managed to re-establish the respective consulates and predicted greater cooperation in commercial, scientific, among other aspects. The visit was returned in September 1993 by the then Indian Prime Minister, Pamulaparthi Venkata Narasimha Rao, and – in a historic event – they signed the agreement of “Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility” of the Line of Control Current (LCA) in the border areas, this being what determined a de facto border, as a palliative so that the disagreement does not escalate. In this document it was agreed to reduce troops on the border (only those required) and maintain a process of building trust.
At the end of the millennium, the talks and state visits were strengthened, but -at the same time- both countries made demonstrations of military power (especially for the military aid that China gave to Pakistan). At the beginning of the twenty-first century, a period of détente arises, as Oviedo mentions, producing different visits between the rulers of China and India, in order to deal with the border issue and negotiate points such as the Indian recognition of Tibet as part of Chinese territory. Also, in reciprocity, China recognized the territory of Sikkin as part of India.  Although in 2003 demilitarization and ceasefire were agreed, the following years were of conflict, highlighting the skirmishes of 2008 and 2014-2015. In June 2017, the governments of China and India blamed each other for assaults on their sovereignty. Faced with this alert, they acted quickly diplomatically to obtain a momentary peace.
In 2020, the biggest confrontation in decades occurred, days later, to avoid a major conflagration, both nations decided to resolve it through high-level talks. Currently, relationships present a greater number of tense situations compared to other years. According to the opinion of analysts in the field, it is due to India’s rapprochement with the US and, conversely, to China’s wear and tear with the same country.
Both China and India today are ranked among the states with the highest nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as reported by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). China becomes the second strongest economy, after the United States of America, while India ranks fifth, surpassing and displacing other European countries. In addition, the predictions of S&P and Morgan Stanley have a more optimistic view regarding India, since their calculations indicate that it could be the third world economic power in 2030, surpassing Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom. This continuous Indian economic growth would be due to multiple factors such as market liberalization (labor market reform), the implementation of infrastructure projects, among others; all as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government plan, who has a nationalist vision of turning India into a manufacturing powerhouse.
It should be noted that this accelerated growth and positioning in economic and military issues allowed a greater presence and influence on the international scene, demonstrating that their decisions are comparable to today’s powers. A manifestation of power from both China and India occurred during the early days of the Russian-Ukrainian War. The abstention position of China and India could reflect a superficial reading regarding labeling them as allies of Russia; although, in the chess of international relations, there are movements that usually seem confirmations that are later contradicted. Examples include the military exercises organized by Russia in September 2022. As expected, spokesmen for both governments pointed out that there was no relationship between their participation in the aforementioned exercises promoted by Russia and the international situation, (and) unless (this) implies the affectation of world peace.
The truth is that India does not intend to wear down its ties with Russia, since it is an important partner for this nation, as Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishanka pointed out, since his country increased purchases of Russian oil, due to recent discounts and the energy deficit suffered by the second country with the largest population in the world. Non-alignment is part of India’s political tradition and his diplomatic pragmatism would not allow him to exclusively join a bloc that alienates him from other countries. This is demonstrated by India as a member of the most advanced nations with emerging economies, such as Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa (BRICS). It is even a member of the Indo-Pacific Treaty (with the US, Japan and other countries), a commitment that represents the equivalent of 40% of global GDP.
In June 2022, the XIV BRICS Summit was held, even though one of its main members was in the middle of the war, the attendance was total and was in charge of Chinese President Xi Jinping. At this summit, India’s role was very active. The Chinese government’s support was evident during India’s turn to preside over two important institutions in 2022, such as the United Nations Security Council during the month of December, where it focused on “Reformed Multilateralism and Anti-Terrorism” and the presidency of the Group of 20 (G20). Prime Minister Narendra Modi considered that the agenda of this meeting would focus on “climate change, terrorism and pandemics (that) can be solved, not by fighting each other, but only by acting together … (in addition to) depoliticizing the global supply of food, fertilizer and medical products so that geopolitical tensions do not lead to humanitarian crises.”
The eventual allies are not limited to economic or industrial issues, as they show concern for the environment, signing the joint pronouncement of the group of new industrialized countries, BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) against certain proposals promoted at the Climate Summit, known as COP 27, held in Egypt in November 2022. BASIC members concluded that there was a “double standard” on the part of wealthy states and pressure to abandon the use of fossil fuels: “Such double standards are incompatible with equity and climate justice,” the joint statement said. For its part, China also opts for pragmatic and diplomatic discourse, as demonstrated by the statements of President Xi Jinping, who pointed out that a future world with an exclusive hegemon is not mandatory, but that the ideal is that both they and India prosper equally.
Under the perspective of realpolitik, a country conducts itself according to its interests, as is the case with India and its integration into new groupings where several of its members are not exactly allies of China; on the contrary, they see in this Asian country dangerous “expansionist policies”, as were the last Chinese incursions into the Indian Ocean. which put India and Japan on alert, in order to work together as members of the QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue composed of Australia, India, Japan and the United States).
On the other hand, in November 2022, India had an important intervention in the joint Indo-American training exercises “Yudh Abhyas 22”, near the LCA, a training scheduled since 2004 and that is not limited to cooperative combat, but to the practice of humanitarian aid situations in disasters. Automatically, the Chinese government interpreted this act as a provocation for two aspects: first, one of the participants, the United States of America, in these months, had demonstrated an express rapprochement with the government of Taiwan; and, second, the exercises were conducted in the state of Uttarakhand, 100 km from the LCA; therefore, this protest was immediate “alleging that (the choice of location) violates the border agreements signed by China and India in 1993, referring to the maintenance of peace and tranquility along LCA in the border areas and that of 1996” which revolved around confidence-building measures in the military field.
Currently, Japan’s rapprochement with India is increasing as it sees in this country an essential ally to counter certain Chinese initiatives with the Chinese Belt and Road in the face of a possible blockade of a war. It should be noted that, in August 2022, five Chinese ballistic missiles fell southwest of Okinawa and by early 2023 Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced a change in investment policy; Well, after 70 years of economic prominence, they would turn to remilitarization and double defense spending. In this context, and as the balance of the area is disturbed, Japan and India come together to plan, design and carry out large projects not only of defense, but of construction in the region, as happened in 2017 with the construction of the Asia-Africa growth corridor, with a view to expanding their commercial areas. India is eyeing the creation of new communication routes, such as the transport network of connectivity of the eastern waterways, as the focus is again on the sea lanes.
On the other hand, during the year 2022, the altercations that China has with another island off its coast increased: Taiwan, a territory that the Chinese government considers belongs to it for historical reasons and, since 2005, with the approval of the “anti-secession law” argued that it could resort to “non-peaceful measures” if it sought its official independence; therefore, the unexpected and express approach of the US government to Taiwan caused a stir, an approach that had not occurred in past administrations and that avoided any friction with the Chinese government, opting to move in the diplomatic discourse. In August 2022, tempers were inflamed by the visit of the speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, breaking for the Chinese, at least symbolically, the “one-China policy”. Consequently, on the same day of Pelossi’s visit to Taiwan, the Chinese government announced military maneuvers near that island.
Since before the pandemic, there were great expectations about the early dominance of the Asian continent (either due to industrialization or rapid expansion in different markets) and the progressive debacle of the West; However, in recent times, various internal obstacles have been presented to the uninterrupted growth of the two nations. For example, the recent social protests in China in reaction to the strict policies regarding Xi Jinping’s “COVID Zero” strategy or the worsening of the environmental situation due to external factors in India, according to the report of the Center for Science and Environment. However, even with these events causing social instability, foreign policy has been continuous and very competitive.
Narendra Modi’s India maintains the pragmatic discourse and avoids direct confrontations, even with China, a country with which it not only has latent border setbacks in the Line of Actual Control; It also analyzes the latest actions taken by the Chinese government in the region, expanding its fleet in the Indian Ocean and especially on the Indian Ocean Region Forum and the Indian Ocean Basin Association organized by the China Agency for International Development Cooperation (CIDCA). which stands for China International Development Cooperation Agency), in the city of Kunming. These actions are translated by a sector of the Indian political class as a threat.
The aforementioned G20 Summit, in some way, calmed the tensions between the participants, because – prior to the talks in Bali (Indonesia) – the US president announced that there would be no “new Cold War” with China and added that the two nations agreed on the non-use of nuclear weapons in the Russian-Ukrainian war or in any other conflict. In this event, the leaders of the new powers were the most requested by the heads of state of other countries, as well as by the press, to discuss their position on war, issues of food insecurity, energy and rising inflation.
As can be seen, tensions escalate and “cool” due to the constant shifts in international politics, which does not allow us to create certainties because, although the globalization of the world allows the coexistence between different idiosyncrasies, it also reinforces or resurrects archaic nationalisms or simple samples of arms power in this competition to impose themselves. Almost a year after military actions began on the border of Ukraine, the position of the leaders was transformed into messages of concern, such is the case of the statements of Xi Jinping, which occurred in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) of Uzbekistan in September 2022 or those of Modi, Stressing that “this is not the time for war.”
2022 will be remembered as a year of conflicts and contradictions. The war in Europe is becoming part of normality and the two Asian countries are increasing their field of action.
The border conflict between China and India is still latent and, in recent months, aggressions between the border soldiers of both states have increased. However, the pragmatic policy that characterizes India and the level of concentration on various flanks that China has as the next power makes the two nations avoid conflicts while they are strengthening; Therefore, its actions are based on strategic alliances (commercial or military field) and international cooperation with industrialized countries.
This situation does not mean that they put aside their national interests, which have as their main objective to become the next powers of the world. Along the same lines, there are no certainties about what the new world order will look like. This uncertainty is generated by different factors ranging from armed conflicts (in which the only agreement is the “non-use of nuclear weapons”), international terrorism, new pandemics and climate change.
- Laura Gatto, “Duelo de titanes: tensiones entre India y China”, Journal de Ciencias Sociales (2017),163-165, https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/230166675.pdf ↑
- Eduardo Daniel Oviedo, “Introducción a la historia de las relaciones chino-indias (1947-2005)”, Repositorio Hipermedial UNR (Buenos Aires: 2006), 27-54, http://rephip.unr.edu.ar/bitstream/handle/2133/2658/27_pdfsam_2006%20China%2c%20India%20y%20Tíbet.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y ↑
- José Elías Esteve Moltó, La disputa fronteriza entre India y China: origen y evolución de la controversia, (Revista electrónica de estudios internacionales, 2008),1-23, https://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/revista?codigo=2177 ↑
- Lawrence Sáez, “Pakistán y la política exterior de la India”, UNISCI Discussion Papers (2012), 35-44, https://www.redalyc.org/pdf/767/76724487003.pdf ↑
- GS, “India-China 1987-Arunachal Pradesh”, Global Security (2018), https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/india-china-1987.htm ↑
- Eduardo Daniel Oviedo, “Introducción a la historia de las relaciones chino-indias (1947-2005)”, Repositorio Hipermedial UNR (Buenos Aires: 2006), 27-54, https://rephip.unr.edu.ar/handle/2133/2658 ↑
- Ibid. ↑
- BBC, “Los 2 territorios que se disputan China e India, los dos gigantes de Asia”, British Broadcasting Corporation BBC News Mundo (June 29, 2017), https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-internacional-40418777 ↑
- BBC, “China vs India: qué es la Línea de Control Actual y por qué durante décadas ha enfrentado a las dos potencias asiáticas”, British Broadcasting Corporation BBC News Mundo (June 18, 2020), https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-internacional-53073610 ↑
- Jessie Yeung, “Indian and Chinese troops fight with sticks and bricks in video”, CNN World (December 15, 2022), https://edition.cnn.com/2022/12/14/asia/india-china-border-tensions-video-intl-hnk/index.html ↑
- WP, “2022 World Population by Country”, World Population Review (2022), https://worldpopulationreview.com/ ↑
- Marta González, “India podría convertirse en la tercera mayor economía del mundo en 2030, según S&P y Morgan Stanley”, El Economista (December 4, 2022), https://www.eleconomista.es/economia/noticias/12067440/11/22/India-podria-convertirse-en-la-tercera-mayor-economia-del-mundo-en-2030-segun-SP-y-Morgan-Stanley.html ↑
- DW, “Vostok 2022: Rusia inicia grandes maniobras militares con la participación de China”, Deutsche Welle (September 1, 2022), https://www.dw.com/es/vostok-2022-rusia-inicia-grandes-maniobras-militares-con-la-participaci%C3%B3n-de-china/a-62996683 ↑
- WP, “2022 World Population by Country”. ↑
- Ignacio J. Domingo, “India gana músculo global con un doble ‘sorpasso’: quinta economía del mundo y país más poblado del planeta”, El Diario (December 3, 2022), https://www.eldiario.es/economia/india-gana-musculo-global-doble-sorpasso-quinta-economia-mundo-pais-poblado-planeta_1_9766679.html ↑
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- DW, “Brasil, India, China y Sudáfrica critican doble moral climática de países ricos”, Deutsche Welle (November 16, 2022), https://www.dw.com/es/brasil-india-china-y-sud%C3%A1frica-critican-doble-moral-clim%C3%A1tica-de-pa%C3%ADses-ricos/a-63781998 ↑
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- DW, “Vostok 2022: Rusia inicia grandes maniobras militares …” ↑
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