The Sino-Indian Border Dispute

19 Feb

The relationship between India and China has been like a Rollercoaster ride Since India became Independent (1947) and Chinese revolution (1949) which resulted in formation of Peoples Republic of China. The single historical event of armed clash in 1962 looms large in determining their mutual perceptions. India shares a 4,500-km long Himalayan border with China and the disputes are related to the Status of Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh. Although India and China have initiated a series of measures to resolve the border disputes, yet none of them have yielded positive results.

The Background of Border Disputes

Dispute on Kashmir (Aksai Chin)

The very first attempt to demarcate border between India and China was done in 1865 by W. H. Johnson, a civil servant during the survey of India which is known as “Johnson Line”, it showed Aksai Chin as a part of Jammu and Kashmir. But his work was severely criticized for gross inaccuracies, and he was reprimanded by the British government. By 1878 China reconquered Xinjiang and erected boundary markers at Karakoram pass in1892. Later Sir John Ardagh, proposed a boundary line along the crest of the Kun Lun Mountains north of the Yarkand River in 1897. It was a modification of the Johnson line, and became known as the “Johnson-Ardagh Line”.

During 1890s when China showed an interest in Aksai Chin, Britain proposed a revised boundary, initially suggested by Georg Macartney, which showed most of Aksai Chin in Chinese territory. The British presented this line to the Chinese in a Note by Sir Claude MacDonald. The Chinese did not respond to the Note, and the British took that as Chinese acquiescence. This line, known as the Macartney-MacDonald line, is approximately the same as the current Line of Actual Control.

From 1899 to 1947 both the Johnson-Ardagh and the Macartney-Macdonald lines were used on British maps of India. In 1927, British abandoned the Jhonson line in favour of Mcdonald Line. However the maps were not updated, and when British officials learned of Soviet Officials surveying the Aksai Chin, they again advocated the Johnson Line. At this point the British had still made no attempts to establish outposts or control over the Aksai Chin, nor was the issue ever discussed with the governments of China or Tibet, the boundary was not demarcated at India’s independence.

Dispute on Arunachal Pradesh

British India and China gained a common border on the eastern Himalayan region in 1826, with British annexation of Assam in the Treaty of Yandoba at the conclusion of the first Anglo-Burmese War. Later the borders with China expanded eastwards, to include the border with what is now Myanmar. In 1913-14, representatives of Britain, China, & Tibet attended a conference in Shimla, and drew up an agreement concerning Tibet’s status and borders. British negotiator Henry McMohan proposed a boundary between Tibet and India for the eastern sector which came to known as McMohan Line. Though the three representatives’s initiated the agreement, China objected to the proposed Sino-Tibet boundary and repudiated the agreement. The British and Tibetan negotiators signed the Shimla Convention as a bilateral accord. According to ex Indian Army Chief the basis of these boundaries, accepted by British India and Tibet, were that the historical boundaries of India were the Himalayas and the areas south of the Himalayas were traditionally Indian and associated with India.

Because of doubts concerning the legal status of the Accord, the British did not put the McMahon Line on their maps until 1937, nor did they publish the Shimla Convention in the treaty record until 1938. Rejecting Tibet’s 1913 declaration of independence, China argued that the Shimla Convention and McMahon Line were illegal and that Tibetan government was merely a local government without treaty-making powers.

As a result when British withdrew from India it left a dangerous legacy of carelessly and arbitrarily drawn borders.

After Independence in 1947, The Indian government used the Johnson Line as the basis for its boundary in the west which included the Aksai Chin. On the eastern border Tibet requested India to recognize Tibetan authority in the trading town of Tawang, south of the McMahon Line. This request was rejected by India and it used Mc Mahon line as the border.

Factors that led to Sino-Indian war

During the 1950s, China built a 1,200 km road connecting Xinjiang and western Tibet, of which 179km ran south of the Johnson Line through the Aksai Chin region. Indians came to know about it only when Chinese maps were published in 1958. The Indian position, as stated by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru , was that the Aksai Chin was “part of the Ladakh region of India for centuries” and that this northern border was a “firm and definite one which was not open to discussion with anybody”. Whereas Chinese argued that the western border had never delimited, and Macartney-Macdonald line, which left the Aksai Chin within Chinese borders was the only line ever proposed to a Chinese government. China also didn’t recognized McMohan line as it was not party to the Shimla Agreement.

In 1960 China’s Former Prime Minister Zhou Enlai, asked India to recognize China’s control of Aksai Chin in the west as a quid pro quo for China’s recognition of the McMahon line. India rejected this swap offer and initiated a “forward policy” to control the disputed territories in the Himalayas.

As a result a war broke out in 1962 with Chinese army entering south of Johnson line, China Captured 45,000 sq Km of land in Aksai Chin, on the eastern side Chinese almost reached the plains of Assam before withdrawing to their present positions on the Tibet-Arunachal Border. A formal ceasefire line was never established.  Since then there have been no major clashes between India and China except in 1967 at Nathu La Pass.

The border issue has something more to it, than merely national pride issue.

China is a land locked Country which has minimal access to sea route mainly through South and East China sea which increases its problems as its very time consuming and costly to transport the goods from its eastern ports to its western land locked region. Today nearly 11, 000 Chinese troops are in Jammu and Kashmir’s Gilgit-Baltistan region held by Pakistan and have taken up various development projects such as roads, highways, tunnels, hydro power plants in POK.

The Chinese intension in POK is very clear:

With this development China wants to connect its western underdeveloped region with the Gadwar Port in Pakistan which will enable it to enter Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean. This will drastically reduce the tortuous sea route entries to its compulsive markets of western regions. Secondly China has a history of using other countries as a base for exporting its goods e.g. Singapore was used as a base to tape the markets of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and even further off in Australia. Thirdly there are separatist’s movement going in China’s Xinjiang province to from East Turkmenistan and free Tibet movement in the southwest region. China wants to curb these movements, it has also constructed 4000 Km long highway connecting Xinjiang in the North through Aksai Chin along Line of Actual Control down towards Tibet.

These Chinese moves are viewed with suspicion by India as this highway can be used for civil and military purposes, and can play a key role in case of any clashes. This will give China an Upper hand as it can move its troops from interior to borders within hours. Further Indian military analysts believe that China can corner India by deploying a large army in POK along with naval & air force bases in Pakistan pretending to protect its trade route and One China Policy.

On the other hand India mainly wants to control this region in order to protect its highly contentious border along with long term ambition to connect India Afghan border and get access to Central Asia. Further India also aims to build a gas pipe line from Russia which is struck due to lack of border connectivity between them. The problem-solving mechanism of negotiations between the Special Representatives of India and China over their intractable boundary dispute has stayed on course since 2003 but it has not yielded any concrete results.

As a result the border issue is still disputed as this region is most important for both to meet their economic ambitions then merely nationalist emotions attached to it. In the present circumstances when India is also rising along with China and aspires to be a great power in its own right, a solution to the boundary question seems to be a far cry.

By Sumedh Lokhande


Tibet, India, China, and the Yearning for Freedom

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Growing intrusion by the Chinese army on the Indian side of LAC has set alarm bells ringing. Can the Indian army maintain its restraint?

‘India behind Tibet problem’

India climbdown may help China border dispute

India, China are destined by geography to be rivals: Narayanan

The India–China border dispute: re-thinking the past to claim the future

Pak-China discuss PoK-Xinjiang rail line

Strategic Road-Building along the India-China border


13 Responses to “The Sino-Indian Border Dispute”

  1. anuragtagat February 24, 2013 at 4:01 pm #

    Well done, man. It’s one of the most interesting lessons in india’s political history. Good to see you pointed out how the Kashmir border dispute came about. Surely that was a bit ignored at the time, considering the partition became top priority?

    • sumedh March 3, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

      Hi Anurag, thanks for appreciating my work.
      Yes, this issue was underplayed by India as it was occupied with a number of other political and economic problems. Till 1954 India – China border remained undemarcated; this allowed China to build a road connecting Xinjiang and western Tibet through Aksai Chin. India did not learn of the existence of the road until 1957. To counter this India began its so called ‘Forward policy’, it started sending Indian troops and border patrols into disputed areas, aiming to create outposts behind advancing Chinese troops to interdict their supplies, forcing them north of the disputed line but neither increased its military spending nor prepared any strategy to tackle a possible war. On the other hand China viewed this as further confirmation of India’s expansionist plans directed towards Tibet. First ignorance, and then a panicked reaction was one of the main reasons that led to Indo-China war.

  2. Pooja Shivaji Diwekar February 28, 2013 at 8:42 am #

    Hey well done sumedh.. i really appreciate your work. Keep it up ..!!

    • shirish samant March 3, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

      well done sumedh good you wrote on the issue, which is center to India’s International politics …..

  3. Dinesh Nadar March 3, 2013 at 4:32 pm #

    Good Job.
    Never new of this stuffs before. Awaiting for more such articles from you.
    Till then Thanks for the info.


    • niranjan oak March 7, 2013 at 4:35 pm #

      hey sumedh, informative article…came to know history of border dispute. Good one man. By the way even if china wants to get connected to Gwadar, it s impossible to avoid sea route for few decades from now because of volatility of the region (north-eastern pakistan, xinjiang region as mentioned in the article). Also for india, gas pipelines through that region is not possible in near future.

  4. krutika March 17, 2013 at 9:20 am #

    Nice Info …Keep it up

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