India-China Relations – A Comprehensive Analysis for UPSC Civil Services Examination

In this topic,  a detailed analysis has been given regarding the relationship between India and China from a historical, geographical, social, political, and economic point of view, especially after independence. It is important to know about China’s contribution to Ancient and Medieval India through religion and trade. The disputes, agreements, economical conditions, environmental issues between the countries are also noteworthy. Outwardly, India and China have a good kinship but their conflict lies in the boundary. 

Subject wise insight for UPSC civil service exam (Prelims and mains)

Mains GS1 – History

Even from ancient times, India and China have been the neighboring countries that have been maintaining a good relationship. The relationship between India and China commenced with the introduction of Buddhism and trade, in India into China in the first century A.D.


Buddhism was founded by Gautama Buddha in 537 BCE after his enlightenment in Bodh Gaya (Bihar). It focused on four great truths – the attainment of nirvana, the noble eightfold path, middle path and salvation, ahimsa or non-violence, emphasis on morality. Buddha had established Buddist sangha or the Holy Order of Monks (bhikshus – monks, bikshunts – nuns) to spread Buddhism. Buddhism was the primary root which connected India and China. From the Seventh to early Ninth century the Buddhist scholars from India had laid the foundation of Buddhism in Tibet. It spread over China during the Tang Dynasty 618-907 A.D.

 Silk route

Silk was a major trading good in ancient times. A road that linked West China to Asia’s minor region and India was known as the Silk route. Since the 2nd century, it was considered as a historical trade route. The two great civilization such as China and Rome exchanged their goods and idea through this route. During the Kanishka period, the silk route was open to India. They exchanged silk for wools, gold, and silver. Buddhists from India went to China through the silk route. Countries like India, Persia, Arabia, and Italy have come under this silk route.

Important Travellers from China
  • Fa-Hein: He was a Chinese Buddhist monk who traveled ancient India and visited many sacred Buddhist sites in Central Asia and South East Asia. He visited India during the 5th century. Fa-Hein crossed the icy desert and mountain passes to reach north-west (Pataliputra). He visited the Chandragupta II Kingdom towards Lumbini which was the birthplace of Gautama Buddha. He mentioned that Pataliputra was a very prosperous city in his famous book, “A record of Buddhist kingdoms”.
  • Hieun Tsang: He visited India at the beginning of the 7th century. He gave a detailed account of the interactions between Chinese Buddhism and Indian Buddhism. He had been known as the ‘Prince of Pilgrims’ and ‘Master of the law’

China’s Relationship in Ancient and Medieval period

  • During the Cholas dynasty, the territory of Rajendra-I extended till South East Asia, and they maintained a good relationship with the Chinese Empire. And, the epigraphs in Kanchipuram, Thanjavur, Thiruvarur confirmed the commercial and trade relationship with Chinese, even in the period of Rajendra Chola-I and Kaluthunga.
  • During the Chalukya kingdom, Khusrau II, the last king of the Sassanid dynasty, had a close relationship with the Tang dynasty in China.
Trade in Ancient and  Medival Period

Even in the ancient period, India had a good relationship with China. Maritime trade across the Indian Ocean was an integral part of Indian trade during medieval India. The main reason was its geographical location. Till the 17th century, ships from China rarely traveled further west beyond the ports of Kerala. The ports like Malacca and Calicut were called ‘entrepots’ or intermediate points in the regional segment trade. So, this proved that the trade happened between India and China and the major imports from China were silk, Chinese ceramics, gold, spices aromatic, woods, and camphor.

Imperialism in India and China
What is imperialism?

Imperialism is defined as the policy of extending a country’s rule over the others or the aggressive behavior of one state against another or a country’s domination over the political and economic interest of another nation to exploit its natural resources.

In the late 19th century and the early 20th century, European Nations extended their territory in other nations. They established their colonies in Asia and also it created an impact over the political and economic life of India and China. In the beginning, the British made a comfortable trade with India but in the case of China, they demanded gold as a mode of exchange.

First opium war – British started to grow opium in India and sold it to China with high customs duties. The Chinese thought that the trade was disturbed by Europeans. So, opium trade resorted to war in 1839 and it was called the first opium war. Chinese were defeated and enforced to sign the treaty of Nanking in 1842.

Communist Party of China

  • The Communist Party of China was formed in 1921 and it came under the control of Mao Zedong in 1927. Eventually, Mao led a revolution, and the communist party obtained control in 1947. After the Sino-Soviet split in the 1950s, Mao split the traditional Marxism-Leninism and developed Maoism. To increase the economy, the Maoists started movements like the Great Leap Forward (1958-61) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). However, this was considered to be a failure because many Chinese starved to death. In the cultural revolution, Mao holocaust his enemies.
  • Till now, Communism is the largest political party in China.

Mains GS1 (Geography)

India-China Border

Boundaries are the lines of political zones. Generally, the boundaries of the nation are divided based on geographical, cultural, historical and political factors. India shares 4056 km of border with China. The border of India and China has been divided into three sectors. They are

  • Western sector – It shares the border of 2350 km in Jammu & Kashmir with Xinjiang.
  • Middle sector – It shares the border of 625 km in Himachal Pradesh & Uttarakhand with Tibet area.
  • Eastern sector – It shares the border of 1,140 km Sikkim & Arunachal Pradesh with Tibet area.
Borderline of India and China
  1. McMahon line: A foreign secretary of British India, Sir Henry McMahon named the borderline between India and China as McMahon line. The new boundary between Arunachal Pradesh and Tibet was separated according to the Shimla Accord 1914. After independence, India inherited the McMahon line and considered it as a legal national border but it was rejected by China.
  2. Line of Actual Control or LAC: It separates the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir from Chinese controlled territory in Jammu & Kashmir which is approximately 38000 sq km and is also called as Aksai Chin. It also separates J&K from Pakistan occupied Kashmir and its approximately 78000 sq km of Indian territory.

Disputes Between India and China

The dispute between China and India started because of the Himalayan border and India’s interference in the political issues of Tibet with China which led to the India-China war in 1962.

14th Dalai Lama Issue:

Dalai Lama did a major role in the India-China disputes. Dalai Lama, a Mongolian word which means Monk of Gelug (school of Tibetan Buddhism). His original name was Tenzin Gyatso and he was born in Tibet. He had a good relationship with India and he respected India and its sovereignty. Even he said that he was the son of India. These actions made China very angry. Chinese press mentioned that “Dalai Lama is no more a Tibetian”.

When the situation went wrong between Tibet and China, China started to suppress Tibet. China pressured the Tibetan government to accept the Seventeen Point Agreement in 1951. Though the Government of Tibet was not interested in this, China compelled Tibet to sign the agreement. Due to that agreement, Tibet lost its power. So, Tibetians started to uprise against China in the year 1959. Rebels in Tibet and Chinese forces made a war. As a cautionary measure Dalai Lama, who was one of the major rebellions, escaped from Tibet and entered India through the monastery.

Meanwhile, Jawaharlal Nehru received an urgent letter from Dalai Lama to accept him as a refugee in India. The request was accepted by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. As India gave asylum to Dalai Lama, China was furious about India. This was one of the reasons for the dispute between India and China.

To maintain a good relation with China, Jawaharlal Nehru signed a treaty with Chinese premier Chou-En-Lai in 1954, which was called as Panchsheel. It aims at

  • Mutual respect of each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty
  • Non-aggression
  • Non-interference in each other’s internal affairs
  • Equality and mutual benefit
  • Peaceful co-existence
 Sino-Indo War (1962)

India had certain political and economical rights in Tibet as part of its cultural inheritance. Meanwhile, the Tibetan Government and China signed the Seventeen Point Agreement in 1951. This Agreement destroyed the buffer state between India and China. Thus, India and China implemented their strained relationship. After Dalai Lama’s asylum affair, China started to violate the relationship between India. By putting obstacles in Indian trading policies, China indirectly attempted to violate the Panchsheel Agreement.

In September 1962, Chinese troops crossed the McMahon line in the Kameng Division of NEPA. In the same month, they crossed the McMahon line in the ThogLa region and launched an assault. During that time, Nehru had gone to London to attend another Conference and he came back and went to Colombo. But on October 19th, China did a massive attack in the western and eastern sectors.

At that time, The Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru requested The United States of America and Great Britain for help. They helped without demand. Later on, they send a high-level delegation. Mr.Duncan Sandy led the British delegation while Averell Harriman was the leader of the American delegation. The Chinese troops withdrew the war in November which cost nearly 1400 lives.

Doklam Issue
India-Bhutan Relationship

Bhutan, a landlock and Peaceful country, had signed an agreement named Treaty of Friendship with India in 1949. According to this treaty, Bhutan depended on India for petrol and other resources. Moreover, for petrol, India provided subsidies. When Bhutan became democratic in 2007, it canceled the agreement and only the common interest policy was signed between two countries. After democracy, the Prime Minister of Bhutan started a friendly relationship with China which became a threat to India. To solve the issue, India disconnected subsidies for petrol during the 2012 election time. So, this situation favored India.

Doklam is a tri-junction that connects India, China, and Bhutan. It is exactly located at west of Bhutan. It is a disputed plateau between Bhutan and China. Siliguri corridor, which is a narrow stretch with less than 27 km, that connects India with northeastern states is located near  Bhutan. According to China, this Doklam region is a part of China. So china tries to capture this region to build a roadway. 

China’s motive to capture Doklam plateau

     China wanted to be the hegemony of the global economy, especially in the Asia -Pacific region, so it tried to capture the Doklam plateau as this could easily disconnect the North-Eastern states of India which could help China have an influence over these regions. But Indian troops stopped Chinese action in this particular region. Bhutan wanted to make a peace treaty with China. But China accepted the proposal on a demand by offering 400 square kilometers in the exchange of 289 square kilometers Doklam plateau. Since India and Bhutan had a friendly relationship, Bhutan did not accept this treaty. In 2017, India and China agreed to maintain a “Status Quo” (to remain as it is).

India-China relationship during the 21st century:

In 2003, Indian Prime Minister Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited China which showed a positive move for Sino-India’s relations. During this visit, both countries concluded that leaving the disputes to be solved with time on another route, a new route for cooperation can be created simultaneously. In this way, both the countries agreed to increase trade cooperation at Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Sikkim. After the talks, China removed Sikkim from its website as a separate nation and showed it as a part of India. Both have some disagreement over Arunachal, Sikkim, and Tibet. 

Recent dispute 

In May 2020, Chinese and Indian troops faced a serious standoff near Pangong Lake, Galwan valley. Nearly 20 Indian soldiers have been killed in the attack. To sort out the issue, the Prime Minister of India has visited the spot and has given a strong message to the soldiers that the era of expansionism will be over. And also, the army is preparing for the long haul with the standoff expected to continue well into the winter. India’s best option now is to persuade China to restore the status quo ante on the border without further military conflict through a process of de-escalation and strategic disengagement of troops.

Pacts and Agreements

24 Pacts Between India and China

India and China signed 24 agreements in May 2015, which would, for the first time, spur a pervasive dialogue among India and Chinese states, cities and businesses as they became the key drivers of foreign policy with China. They are,

  • Establishment of consulates in Chengdu and Chennai.
  • Cooperation in vocational education and skill development.
  • Cooperation in trade negotiations.
  • Cooperation between Foreign ministry and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CCCPC).
  • An action plan between the national railway of China and India.
  • MOU on the educational exchange program.
  • Cooperation in mining and minerals.
  • Space cooperation outline.
  • Safety on importing Indian rapeseed meal.
  • Agreement between CCTV and Doordarshan.
  • Cooperation in the field of tourism.
  • MOU on India China thinks tanks forum.
  • MOU between Niti Aayog and development research center.
  • MOU on cooperation in earthquake science and engineering.
  • MOU on cooperation in ocean science, climate change and Cryosphere.
  • MOU in geoscience.
  • MOU on the establishment of states/provincial leaders’ forum.
  • Cooperation between states and municipalities.
  • Agreement on the establishment of sister states Sichuan and Karnataka.
  • Agreement on the establishment of sister cities between Chennai and Chongqing
  • Agreement on the establishment of sister cities betDunhuang.
  • MOU for the establishment of Gandhian studies in ICCR and Fudan University.
  • MOU for the establishment of yoga College in Kunming.
Agreements between India and China
  • Agreement between India and China on co-operation in the field of tourism (May 2015)
  • Agreement between India and China on mutual administrative assistant and co-operation in customs matters (September 2014)
  • Agreement on audio-visual co-production between India and China (September 2014)
  • Agreement between India and China on radio and television co-operation (September 2013)
  • Agreement between India and China to facilitate co-operation and linkages between Indian and Chinese cities and states (May 2013)
  • Agreement between India and China on trade and safety of feed and feed ingredients (May 2013)
  • Agreement between India and China on the establishment of a working mechanism for consultation on Indo-China border affairs (January 2012)
  • Agreement between India and China on streamlining the visa application formalities for the airline staff of the two countries (May 2010)
  • Agreement between India and China on the establishment of direct secure telephone link between the P.M. of India and Chinese premier (April 2010)
  • Agreement between India and China on the issue of the property of the consulate general of India in Shanghai (November 21, 2006)
  • The agreement on forestry co-operation between India and China (November 2006)
  • Agreement between India and China on preventing theft, clandestine excavation and illicit import and export of cultural property (November 2006)
  • Agreement between India and China for the promotion and protection of investments (November 2006)
  • Agreement of co-operation on inspection of iron ore between India and China (November 2006)
  • Agreement between India and China on political parameters and guiding principles for the settlement of India-China boundary questions (April 2005)
  • Agreement on mutual administrative assistance and co-operation in customs matters between India and China (April 2005)
  • Agreement between India and China on co-operation in the field of tourism (January 2002)
  • Agreement of co-operation between India and China (June 1997)
  • Agreement on co-operation for combating illicit trafficking narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances and other crimes between India and China (November 1996)
  • Agreement of co-operation in the field of health and medicine between India and China (September 1994)
  • Agreement between India and China for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion concerning taxes on income (July 1994)
  • Agreement between India and China on environmental co-operation (September 1993)
  • Agreement on scientific and technological co-operation between India and China (September 1992)
  • Agreement between India and China on re-establishment of consulates- general at Bombay and Shanghai (December 1991)
  • Agreement between India and China relating to civil air transport (December 1988)
  • Cultural agreement between India and China (May 1988)
  • Agreement between India and China on trade (August 1984)
  • Trade Agreement between India and China (October 1954)

Mains GS3 – Security

Indian Prime Ministers’ approach towards China

Prime minister Narendra Modi’s introduction of bottom-up approach towards India’s engagement with China was evident from his remarks during the launch of India-China Forum, which seeks China as a partner to draw state-level businesses into global mainstream which was launched after India made it plain that it wanted “to develop a more positive narrative of our relationship, and to build a higher level of trade”.

Steps were taken by the Indian Government to protect the border area.
  • The government has asked All India radio AIR and Doordarshan (DD) to develop special content and strengthen coverage of the Indo Nepal border to counter attempts to whip up tension in this region.
  • The Indo Nepal border is a key focus area under that 12th plan of Prasad Bharat and 22 FM transmitters have been sanctioned on the borders to counter Chinese propaganda. AIR and DD have special programs tailor-made for regions on the borders with Pakistan China Bhutan and other countries.
Nuclear Supplier Groups

China’s approach towards India’s membership in NSG: India failed to climb a membership of the nuclear suppliers’ group. Though 38 countries supported India, China was unrelenting in thwarting New Delhi despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged Chinese President Xi Jinping in the year 2017 during a meeting in Tashkent to support India’s case on its merit.

South-East Asian region:

ASEAN Nations come under this southeast Asian region. After the look East policy of India, the trade and political relationships with these countries have been increased. Till that time India had negligible trade with them and few political interactions. After the 1992 “look East policy of India” was included as a regional dialogue partner of ASEAN in 1995, it was accorded “Full Dialogue Partner status” and in 1996 India got membership in the Asian Regional Forum (ARF). In 2011 India and China involved in a free trade agreement of ASEAN. Moreover strategically, India acquires better importance to diffuse the military tension in the block by large Chinese forces as only India is another major military player in this bloc.

Banning  Chinese app 

Recently, the Government of India has banned 59 Chinese mobile apps for the country’s safety, security, sovereignty, defence, unity, and integrity of India by protecting data and privacy of people of India. The ministry of Information Technology, invoking it’s power under section 69A of the Information Technology Act read with the relevant provision of the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking of Access of Information by Public) rules 2009 and because of emergent nature of threats has decided to block 59 apps.

Mains GS3 – Economic Development

Effects of China’s trade in the Indian market

Due to the liberalization of foreign trade, China got a chance to export goods like toys, crackers, etc, to India. So, they started exporting plastic goods to India. Then, Indian buyers had an opportunity to choose between Indian and Chinese products. Chinese products became popular in the Indian markets due to its cheaper price and new design Within a year, Chinese products replaced 70 to 80% of Indian products. But, Indian manufacturers faced a great loss as their products are selling much less.

Bilateral trade between India and China

The trade and economic relationship between India and China had seen rapid growth in the last few years. Trade volume between the two countries at the beginning of the century, 2000 stood at US dollar 3 billion. In 2008, bilateral trade reached US dollar 51.8 billion with China replacing the United States as India’s largest trading partner in goods. In 2018, bilateral trade reached an all-time high of US dollar 95.54 billion.

Of the total bilateral trade volume of US dollar 95.54 billion, India’s export was US dollar 18.8 billion. China had an 11.09% share in India’s exports for the year 2019-20 and a 17.71% share in India’s imports for the year 2019-20. India was the 7th largest export destination for Chinese products and the 27th largest exporter to China.

During the period January to July 2019, India-China trade stood at US dollar 53.3 billion of the total trade. India’s exports to China were US dollar 10.38 billion and China’s export to India was US dollar 42.92 billion. India’s major export items include court and copper and diamonds and Chinese exports include machinery, telecom and power-related equipment, organic chemicals, and fertilizers.

From the above facts, we can conclude China holds stronger cards than India in industry and trade. To control China’s aggression, India needs to improve its industries, trade, and further strengthen its borders.

Mains GS3 – Environmental Studies
  • India surpassed China on premature death due to air pollution, according to the new study -the `State of Global Air in the year 2017′ which was conducted by US-based health research institute, India accounted for the maximum number of premature deaths from air pollution in the world. It was for the first time that India had lost more people to outdoor air pollution than China. The study noted that India’s lives lost to the tiny particular matter was higher than China’s numbers. Both the countries together accounted for 52 % of the Global death attributable to ozone air pollution.
  • India and China are the most populous countries that are severely affected by Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) death. As per the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), Ozone related early deaths recorded in India are 33 % higher than China.
Other Important facts:
  • During World Wars, India and China were not directly involved but the British used the troops from India and China.
  • India is one of the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). China and Russia have created this organization along with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan in June 2001
  • Since 1975 and 2001, India and China are members of the Asia Pacific trade agreement which is previously known as the Bangkok Agreement. It was signed in 1975 and considered as the oldest trade agreement for the Asia Pacific region.
  • India from 1995 and China from 2001 became a member of WTO (world trade organization) which is the largest international economic organization commenced from 1995. Indo-China bilateral trade has risen due to the participation of China from 2001 in the WTO.
  • BRICS-Brazil Russia India China and South Africa are members of this international organization. Commercial cultural and political cooperation is exchanged between member countries.
  • India and China are members of the World Health Organisation (WHO), it is the United Nations specialized agency which is working for global health and international public health policy.

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