The world is eagerly looking at yet another age old heated up rivalry between the two Asian giants, whilst the Great Himalayas are witnessing a major military bloodshed after two decades, the last one being the Indo-Pak skirmishes of Kargil in 1999. The timing of occurence points finger mostly to China, as it is caught in a myriad of problems including the mishandling of corona virus, Hongkong policies and aggression against Taiwan and the south china sea controversies with its neighbours. The analysts term it as a ‘Muscle Flexing by China’ on its path of acquiring a “Superpower” status.

India shares a long border of 3,488km with China spread althrough the Himalayas and divided into 3 sectors the northern (Ladakh), middle(Himachal & Uttarakhand) and eastern(Arunachal Pradesh). Although face-offs and stand-offs are kind of usual business in the region, the current context acquires specific importance due to its wide geographical spread and simultaneous occurences. The contentions occuring at different points are mostly because of the unsettled boundaries and perception differences. Due to differing perceptions troops cross each others territories during patrols and are sometimes caught in face-offs, which then will be solved at the local level by military commander through delegations and discussions.

India – China border

The history of the disputes dates back to the colonial era, British India and the Tibetan Empire where they accepted McMahon line in the east as the boundary in 1919. The middle sector also had settled borders while the Ladakh which was not a part of British India, but part of the British Empire sharing border with Xinjiang province had undemarcated borders. Ladakh was part of the J&K ruled by the Dogras and they possessed a map with boundaries, that India claims today and not accepted by the Chinese. When J&K acceded to India in 1947, this map was transferred to India. When the actual cartographic exercise of India was concluded in 1950 with its onground marking under Sardar Vallabhai Patel, they released two white papers, but in both of them the eastern boundaries of Ladakh was demarcated as undefined and as to the area upto which both sides exercised actual control. Nehru, in 1954, wanted to revisit the maps and told the officials to properly define the boundaries according to historical evidences and cartographic proofs and the maps so obtained were to be printed in textbooks and other documents. Thus the map passed on by J&K as of marked in current India’s map was adapted and the process was completed.

In 1951, China annexed Tibet, which according to the Chinese, the Tibetan palm. In the late 1950s, there was repeated requests from the Chinese premier Zhou Enlai to discuss the boundary disputes with Nehru which was ignored as Nehru thought altering the boundaries would lead to ceding the land in Chinese favour which would not acceptable to India. Repeated denials from India and its action of giving to asylum to Dalai Lama led eventually to the 1962 war, which was least expected and the result was a humiliating defeat to India. After the war, the PLA was ordered by China to retreat back 20kms from the LAC according to the Chinese perception thereby creating a virtual demilitarized zone.

Nehru and Zhou Enlai

The historic visit of Rajiv Gandhi to Beijing in 1988 opened the possibility of talks and a new chapter in India-China relations. Deng Xiaoping, the founder of modern china, a visionary scrolled that the India-China cooperation is the base for an Asian century. The uptick of relations from then on led to the signing of Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement in 1993, and ban on fire arms in LAC in 1996. The relations maintained an upward trajectory till the rise of Xi Jinping in 2013.

Rajiv Gandhi and Deng Xiaoping in Beijing

Xi Jinping did not believe in Deng Xiaoping’s idea of peaceful rise and wanted to flex the muscles. The 2013 incursions of PLA in Depsang marked the Chinese policy shift and the strategic bottlenecks that India will have to face. Although easing the standoff was a diplomatic victory to India,it realized the depth of its underestimation and ramped up its border infrastructure construction along the LAC, which underwent decades of neglect and was moving at snails pace.

India’s road construction in the Himalayas

The heat of incursions was not alone confined to the Indian border, but was felt along the South China sea for its maritime neighbors including Vietnam and Philippines. Termed by China, as was routine patrols intially for its vessels traversing, the mood soon changed to building artificial islands and claiming Exclusive Economic Zone and navy deployment. The retreat of US, post the insurrection of Trump and his transactional diplomacies,led to a strategic shift across the Indo Pacific with the diminishing role of a Net Security Provider along the Indo Pacific betrayed countries like Japan and Philippines which stationed the US troops.

The Trump policies along with the increasing closeness of India towards the US camp and the formation of QUAD ( US, India, Japan,Australia) which is seen as an anti-China grouping fuelled the insecurities of China. China leveraged the opportunities to expand its wings and unveiled the grand BELT & ROAD INTIATIVE, to revive the ancient silk route through road and maritime connectivity.


To be continued…

Part 2 – The Aggressive Rise of Chinese Expansionism


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