China and India are separated by the formidable geographical obstacles of the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayan mountain chain, with Tibet serving as a buffer region between the two. China and India today share a border along the Himalayas and Nepal and Bhutan, two states lying along the Himalaya range, and acting as buffer states. In addition, the disputed Kashmir province (jointly claimed by India and Pakistan) borders both the PRC and India. As Pakistan has tense relations with India, Kashmir's state of unrest serves as a natural ally to the PRC.
Two territories are currently disputed between the People's Republic of China and India: Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh. Arunachal Pradesh is located near the far east of India, while Aksai Chin is located near the northwest corner of India, at the junction of India, Pakistan, and the PRC. However, all sides in the dispute have agreed to respect the Line of Actual Control and this border dispute is not widely seen as a major flashpoint.
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 BC) contains references to "China", which may have been referring to the Qin state which later became the Qin Dynasty. Chanakya (c. 350-283 BC), 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 BC) and Sima Qian (145-90 BC) 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 first century, Chinese authorities reported an Indian "Shendu" community living there.
After the transmission of Buddhism from India to China from the first century onwards, many Indian scholars and monks travelled to China, such as Batuo (fl. 464-495 AD)—founder 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.
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 one usurpers claiments 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 Tang Taizong (599-649) in Chang'an as a prisoner.
During the 8th century, the astronomical table of sines by the Indian astronomer and mathematician, Aryabhata (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 AD during the Tang Dynasty. 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.
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, 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 honouring Buddha, Allah, and Vishnu.
In 1791 the Gurkhas returned in force. Qianlong urgently dispatched an army of 10,000. It was made up of around 6,000 Manchu and Mongol forces supplemented by tribal soldiers under the able general Fu Kang'an, with Hailancha as his deputy. They entered Tibet from Xining (Qinghai) in the north, shortening the march but making it in the dead of winter 1791-1792, crossing high mountain passes in deep snow and cold. They reached central Tibet in the summer of 1792 and within two or three months could report that they had won a decisive series of encounters that pushed the Gurkha armies across the crest of the Himalaya and back into the valley of Kathmandu. Fukang'an fought on into 1793, when he forced the battered Gurkhas to accept surrender on Manchu terms. The Nepalese were forced to retreat and pay heavy repatriations. The victory of 1793, however, did not prevent repeated Nepalese incursions thereafter.
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 the nations 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 of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the alliance systems which dominated by the two superpowers.
Meanwhile, India was the 16th state to establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China, and did so on April 1, 1950.
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 Shila). Although critics called the Panch Shila naive, Nehru calculated that in the absence of either the wherewithal or a policy for defense 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. Thus 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". 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.
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). When an Indian reconnaissance party discovered a completed Chinese road running through the Aksai Chin region of the Ladakh District of Jammu and Kashmir, 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 most of India's northeast 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 based on uncompensated loss of territory as being humiliating and unequal.
Border disputes resulted in a short border war between the People's Republic of China and India in 20 October 1962. The PRC pushed the unprepared and inadequately led Indian forces to within forty-eight kilometres of the Assam plains in the northeast and occupied strategic points in Ladakh, 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 Sino-Pakistani 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. 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.
In 1967 a peasant uprising broke out in Naxalbari, led by pro-maoist elements. A pronunciation by Mao titled "Spring Thunder over India" gave full moral support for the uprising. The support for the revolt marked the end for the relations between CPC and CPI(M). Naxalbari-inspired communists organized armed revolts in several parts of India, and in 1969 they formed the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). However, as the naxalite movement disintegrated in various splits, the PRC withdrew its political support and turned non-committal towards the various Indian groups.
On 11th September 1967, troops of the Indian Army's 18th Rajput Regiment were protecting an Engineering Company that was fencing the North Shoulder of Nathula, when Chinese troops opened fire on them. This escalated over the next five days to an exchange of heavy artillery and mortar fire between the Indians and the Chinese. 62 Indian soldiers, from the 18th Rajput, the 2nd Grenadiers and the Artillery regiments were killed. Major Harbhajan Singh of the Rajput Regiment was awarded a MVC (posthumous) and Naib Subedar Pandey a VrC (posthumous) for their gallant actions. The extent of Chinese casualties in this incident is not known.
In the second, on 1 October 1967, a group of Indian Gurkha Rifles soldiers (from the 7th Battalion of the 11th Regiment) noticed Chinese troops surrounding a sentry post near a boulder at the Chola outpost in Sikkim. After a heated argument over the control of the boulder, a Chinese soldier bayoneted a Gurkha rifleman, triggering the start of a close-quarters knife and fire-fight, which then escalted to a mortar and HMG duel. The Chinese troops signaled a ceasefire after three hours of fighting, but later scaled Point 15450 to establish themselves there. The Gurkhas outflanked them the next day to regain Point 15450 and the Chinese retreated across the LAC. 21 Indian soldiers were killed in this action. The Indian government awarded Vir Chakras to Rifleman Limbu (posthumous) and battalion commander Major K.B. Joshi for their gallant actions. The extent of Chinese casualties in this skirmish is also not known.
In August 1971, India signed its Treaty of Peace, Friendship, and Cooperation with the Soviet Union, and the United States and the PRC sided with Pakistan in its December 1971 war with India. 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 the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 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 others' news agencies, and Mount Kailash and Mansarowar Lake in Tibet, the mythological home of the Hindu pantheon, were opened to annual pilgrimages from India.
In 1981 PRC minister of foreign affairs Huang Hua 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.
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, while the Chinese did not recognize the McMahon Line as legitimate and were not prepared to accept an Indian claim line even further north than that. 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. Surprised by the Chinese occupation, India's then Chief of Army Staff, General K.Sundarji, airlifted a brigade to the region.
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. 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.
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 cooperation, 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 cooperation 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 defense 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 (on cross-border trade, and on increased cooperation on the environment 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 defense 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 defense Chi Haotian visited New Delhi for extensive talks with high-level Indian trade and defense 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 Center in New Delhi. The center 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 Defense Minister George Fernandes declared that "China is India's number one threat", hinting that India developed nuclear weapons in defense 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. Relations between India and China stayed strained until the end of the decade.
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 $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 twenty-first 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 nations. 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 January 12 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 July 6 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 formalized on June 18th, 2006. Officials say that the re-opening of border trade will help ease the economic isolation of the region. 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. In May 2007, China denied the application for visa from an Indian Administrative Service officer in Arunachal Pradesh, saying that since Arunachal Pradesh is a territory of China, he won't need a visa to visit his own country. 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. 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, defense, military, and various other issues. In July 2008, at the 34th G8 summit in Japan, Hu Jintao and Manmohan Singh had a friendly meeting. In the wake of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, India offered aid to help the earthquake victims.