Author name: 
Lt Gen J R Mukherjee, PVSM, AVSM, VSM (Retd), Graduate from Staff College Camberley, United Kingdom; alumnus of the National Defence Academy, the Indian Military Academy and the National Defence College; commanded 15 Corps from late 1999 to 2001; retired in 2005 as Chief of Staff, Eastern Command, Indian Army.

Deterioration of Relations


Unfortunately from 2006 onwards, just prior to President Hu Jintao’s visit to India when China reactivated its claim to Arunachal Pradesh – something which had been more or less accepted as settled – coupled with increased intrusions, relations between both countries deteriorated, with China becoming more belligerent and assertive towards India, and consequent strong reiteration of its entire claim. Visas to Arunachalis were also denied on the grounds that Arunachal Pradesh was claimed to be a part of China. Accusations were also levelled in relation to Kashmir and PLA troops inducted into Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. This state of affairs continued with it almost reaching sabre rattling dimensions by both sides during the Lhasa rebellion of 2008, and incidents thereafter.


Both countries reportedly reinforced deployment on the borders with China speeding up its emphasis on building warlike infrastructure in Tibet towards the Indian Border, and India commencing to raise two additional divisions of troops besides reinforcing Air Force deployments in the North East. It is only during a meeting at Hun Hua, when Manmohan Singh and Wen Jiabao met on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Conference that the two premiers reached an understanding. The two countries would have a strategic partnership for regional peace and stability and narrow differences on the border issue through dialogue based on political principles already agreed upon. Both Premiers agreed to ensure peace and stability in border areas and to improve cooperation on bilateral issues. Consequently, relations between India and China and trade improved.


Unfortunately, incidents in Tibet reoccurred in 2010-2011 and relations again deteriorated. Relations have now plummeted to an extreme low from 2014 onwards after the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government came to power in India.


Reasons for Non-Resolution


The question is: Why is this occurring? It is important to find out the reasons for the same as herein lay the path to problem resolution of the dispute. In the author’s opinion, the roots of the problem remain largely unchanged since 1962 – the same reasons for which China attacked India.


As it was then and also now, the issue remains primarily Tibet and the Chinese failure to quell the Tibetan rebellion and assimilate the Tibetans into their mainstream civilisation and politics, which had primarily occurred due to Mao Tse Tung totally mishandling Tibet through continuous repression. In the pre-1962 war period, support to the rebellion in the form of training and provision of arms to the rebels from the Indian soil, was considered by China to be an act of war.  Consequently, current Indian support to the Tibetans and relations with the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan refugees is looked upon with great suspicion by China.


It must not be forgotten that in 1909, the then Dalai Lama fled to India when the Manchus invaded Tibet and he returned to Tibet after three years to push the Chinese out of Tibet and declare Tibet independent. This is an issue that China has never forgotten till date particularly since India has given the Dalai Lama and more than a lakh Tibetans asylum. India has allowed the Tibetans to set up a Government in Exile at Dharamsala. India had also upgraded the level of dealing with the Tibetans from Under Secretary to that of a Joint Secretary and arranged meetings between the Dalai Lama and the Indian Foreign Secretary.


As far as China was concerned, this amounted to recognition to the Tibetan Government in Exile – a blatantly anti-Chinese act. India also allowed Tibetan leaders to have a conclave at Dharmsala, where the Chinese claim the rebellion was plotted. According to Chinese claims, it is from here that the pro-independence movement and rebellion in Tibet is being plotted. The rebellion is being claimed to have been coordinated over mobile phones and the internet. All this led to direct anti-India rhetoric, particularly when the Indian Prime Minister was to visit Arunachal Pradesh and reversed China’s previous agreement with India for the resolution of the dispute without disturbing settled populations – an extremely retrograde step. Even the Tibetan rebellion in Sichuan and demonstrations in Delhi over the meeting between the two countries’ Special Representatives for the border talks were reported adversely by China. China has now declared Tibet a ‘core interest’ for its full assimilation into the Middle Kingdom.


It must also be understood that the Dalai Lama has demanded autonomy for not only Tibet but also all old Tibetan areas of greater Tibet surrounding it and includes a major part of Yunnan and adjacent regions – almost a quarter of China. The terms of autonomy demanded almost amount to independence – a status similar to what Bhutan enjoyed with India in the past. With all the international attention Tibet is now getting, China is frantic and is prepared to go to any lengths to prevent Tibet breaking away. This includes going to war if need so arises.


China’s support to Pakistan (including in the nuclear field), setting Pakistan up as a proxy to deal with India and its recent induction of a large number of PLA members into the Northern Areas, thereby posing a further threat to the western claimed area of Aksai Chin and Jammu & Kashmir, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC – part of China’s One Belt One Road strategy) and its reiteration of claims to Arunachal Pradesh, are now major irritants. China’s continued support to Pakistan against India’s allegations of the former’s strategy of state-sponsored terrorism against the latter; as well as China’s act of blocking India’s entry into the UN Security Council and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) has not helped matters. These have been further compounded by a perception that India is joining hands with the US, Japan, Australia, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries in a perceived strategic alliance against China – this perception started with the Indo-US Nuclear Deal and strategic partnership. India’s Act East policy,  now being part of the ‘Quad’ to police the South China Sea and becoming a trade and scarce natural resources competitor, disputes over Chinese damming and proposed diversion of waters of River Brahmaputra in Tibet, have also complicated relations in spite of the surge in Sino-Indian trade. There is also the fact that it is only recently being perceived that Arunachal Pradesh has tremendous natural resources that China is now eyeing. All these issues have only added fuel to the fire in the relations between India and China.


Chinese realisation of their growing confidence, internationally enhanced position, economic and military strength and that the balance of power is shifting from the West to the East is also a recent phenomenon, which has rendered the Chinese more belligerent and assertive.




In reality the reasons for China’s recent assertiveness over Arunachal Pradesh and other issues therefore lie primarily within the scope of China’s and India’s foreign and economic policies. It is these policies that need to be harmonised to the extent feasible so as to avoid belligerence and to facilitate resolution of the dispute. In case India wishes a resolution of the border dispute, the author is strongly of the view that there is a need to rein in the activities of the Tibetans in this country and for that matter the Dalai Lama. India needs to be prepared to follow a policy of give-and-take in reference to the actual dispute whilst bearing in mind the sentiments of the Indians, particularly those of Arunachal Pradesh. Notwithstanding these foreign policy measures, India must be able to negotiate with China from a position of strength, i.e. military strength, adequate border infrastructure to support countermeasures against China, and most importantly by developing Arunachal Pradesh adequately.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the view of Manipal Advanced Research Group.




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