India-China Tussle continues

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  • After over a year, the stand-off between Indian and Chinese troops in eastern Ladakh shows no signs of resolution. Disengagement has stalled, China continues to reinforce its troops, and talks have been fruitless. The India-China bilateral relationship has ruptured and is marked by increasing hostility and distrust. India has reversed its long-held policy and has stated that it will no longer overlook the problematic border dispute for the sake of a potentially lucrative wider relationship with China.

Mains: GS II-

  • India and its neighbourhood- relations.
  • Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
India-China Relations- An Overview 


  • As two ancient civilizations, India and China have had cultural and trade ties since at least the first century. The famous Silk Road allowed for economic and trade ties to develop between the two, with the transmission of Buddhism from India to China giving a further cultural dimension to the relationship. The advent of western colonialism broke this engagement which took some time to get steady.
  • The rise of post-colonial India and China – Jawaharlal Nehru’s vision of Asian solidarity was premised on strong ties between China and India.
  • India and China signed the famed Panchsheel agreement in 1954 that underlined the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence as forming the basis of their bilateral relationship. These were the hey-days of Sino-Indian ties, with the Hindi-China Bhai-Bhai phrase a favourite slogan for the seeming camaraderie between the two states.
  • But that was not to last long.
  • In 2005, both nations agreed on Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India- China Boundary Question, broad principles to govern the parameters of any dispute settlement.
  • At the global level, their rhetoric has been all about cooperation and indeed the two sides have worked together on climate change, global trade negotiations, and in demanding that global financial institutions be restructured in light of the global economy’s shifting centre of gravity.
  • The case for Sino-Indian cooperation has been built by various constituencies to offer a counterweight to US global and regional hegemony. Concerns that the US had become too powerful and unilateral, and that a unipolar US-dominated world would not be in the best interests of weaker states like India, has made the idea of Sino-Indian partnership attractive to certain sections of the Indian strategic elite. For example- India and China took strong exception to the US-led air campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999, the campaign against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq in 2003, Both also favour more democratic international economic regimes. They have strongly resisted efforts by the US and other developed nations to link global trade to labour and environmental standards.
Chronology of the Relations


  • India and China established diplomatic relations on 1st April 1950.
  • India was the first non-socialist country to establish relations with the People's Republic of China and the catchphrase ‘Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai’ became famous.


  • Both countries attended the Asian-African Conference in which 29 countries participated in Bandung, Indonesia and jointly advocated the Bandung Spirit of solidarity, friendship and cooperation.
  • It has led to the decolonisation of the whole of Asia and Africa and to the formation of a Non-Aligned Movement as the Third Way between the Two Blocs of Superpowers.
  • The First NAM Summit Conference took place in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, in September 1961.


  • The border conflict led to a serious setback in bilateral relations.


  • China and India restored ambassadorial relations and bilateral ties improved gradually.


  • Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited China, initiating the process of normalization of bilateral relations.
  • The two sides agreed to look forward and develop bilateral relations actively in other fields while seeking a mutually acceptable solution to boundary questions.


  • Indian President R. Venkataraman visited China.
  • He was the first President who visited China since the independence of the Republic of India.


  • Chinese President Jiang Zemin visited India.
  • He was the first head of state from China who visited India since the establishment of bilateral ties.
  • Agreement between the Government of China and the Government of India on Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas was signed.


  • Indian President K R Narayanan visited China on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and India.


  • “A Shared Vision for the 21st Century” was agreed upon by the two governments.


  • The 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and India.
  • In December, the two countries issued a Joint Communiqué.


  • It was the ‘China-India Exchange Year’.
  • Both sides held a series of people-to-people and cultural exchange activities.
  • Both of them signed a memorandum on a joint compilation for the ‘Encyclopedia of India-China Cultural Contacts.


  • It was the ‘Year of China-India Friendship and Cooperation.
  • The head of the governments met each other on the sidelines of the 4th BRICS Summit and the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.


  • The two sides met on the sidelines of the 7th BRICS Summit in Ufa, Russia and the Leaders' Meetings on East Asia Cooperation in Malaysia.
  • China decided to open the Nathu La Pass (Sikkim) to Indian official pilgrims to Xizang.
  • India celebrated the India Tourism Year in China.


  • Chinese President held an informal meeting with the Indian Prime Minister in Wuhan which set up a new model of exchanges between two leaders.
  • Indian Prime Minister visited China to attend the SCO Summit in Qingdao.
  • The two leaders met again on the sidelines of the 10th BRICS Summit and the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires.


  • The second informal meeting was held in Mamallapuram, Chennai which reaffirmed the Wuhan consensus.
  • Both nations agreed to build a closer partnership for development, enhance in-depth strategic communication, promote mutually beneficial cooperation in various fields and advance exchanges and mutual learning between the two civilizations.
  • Both sides met on the sidelines of the SCO Summit in Bishkek and the 11th BRICS Summit.


  • It marks the year of the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and India.
  • It is also the China-India Year of Cultural and People-to-People Exchanges, where the two sides agreed to hold 70 celebratory activities to demonstrate the historic connection between the two civilizations as well as their growing bilateral relationship.
Areas of Conflict
  • The biggest problem is of Tibet & Dalai Lama.
  • This led to the first-ever war between these two nations. China is very sensitive about territorial sovereignty and having Dalai Lama run a shadow government in India has historically been a major irritator for them.
  • India's support for the Dharamsala regime is a huge issue for China, but not even headline-worthy for India.

Border Disputes:

  • One in a region called Aksai Chin and another in a region called Arunachal Pradesh. Both nations claim both regions although China controls the former and India the latter. In both these places, the geography favours the current arrangement. With both nations nuclear-armed, it is inconceivable for any solution other than formalizing the status quo.
  • When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited China in May 2015, one of his objectives was to persuade the Chinese leadership to restart discussions on the clarification of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) through the exchange of maps.
  • The rationale for India’s demand was that, pending a final settlement of the border question, LAC clarification would help ease border tensions. But the Chinese leadership was not enthusiastic about India’s proposal. Instead, China called for a comprehensive ‘code of conduct for the forces deployed along the border. Here, it is useful to remember that both LAC clarification and Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) are part of the agreed principles in the 2005 agreement.

Domination of Indian Ocean:

  • China has been accused of pursuing strategic manoeuvres on a well-thought-out route encircling India in the Indian Ocean.
  • Beijing has been reaching out to India’s neighbours on the premise of development and trade, allegedly recreating the Silk Route. From Nepal in the southeast to Myanmar, Bangladesh to Sri Lanka in the south and Pakistan in the west, China plans to choke India diplomatically.

Water issue:

  • The dispute between India and China is mainly regarding the Brahmaputra River flowing through the two countries
  • The search for water resources in China and India has persistently been a source of tension between the two countries.
  • Chinese efforts to divert the water resources of the Brahmaputra River away from India will worsen a situation that has remained tense since the 1962 Indo-China war.
  • The melting glaciers in the Himalayas as a result of accelerating global climate change will have a dramatic effect on this river’s water supply. This will increase water scarcity as well as the likelihood of floods, impact agrarian livelihoods and strain the fragile equilibrium between the two Asian giants.

Pakistan factor:

  • The longtime friendship between China and Pakistan, rooted in a time when both countries were deeply mistrustful of India, has long made New Delhi nervous.
  • The relationship has mainly gone one way, with China providing economic assistance and political backing to Pakistan.
  • Islamabad is also anxious for an alliance it can use to balance the growing economic and political clout of India.
  • But Pakistan also offers China a gateway to South Asia, Iran and the Arabian Sea, one of the economic beltways that President Xi Jinping has sought to build through the region.

South China Sea issue and India:

  • China opposes India’s oil exploration in the SCS (which has been undertaken at Vietnam’s request) by calling the area of exploration a ‘disputed’ area and asserting ‘Chinese sovereignty over the SCS in the historical context.
  • It has been continuously expressing its reservation in this regard in the last few years, and sometimes quite belligerently at that. India has taken note of the Chinese reservation and has carefully gone ahead in signing a few agreements with Vietnam for oil exploration in the SCS. These exploration fields are very much within the maritime space under the actual control of Vietnam.
  • But at the same time, China casually shrugs off the issue of India’s ‘sovereignty' over POK in the historical context. China is currently engaged in a variety of investment projects and infrastructural building activities in Gilgit-Baltistan, and these will be expanded under the CPEC project.
  • China further explains that the Sino-Pak understanding to implement CPEC through POK is based on a range of bilateral agreements and understandings, including their 1963 Border Agreement.
Areas of Cooperation
  • Despite their rivalries, the two countries have played up their cultural links-such as the importation of Buddhism into China by wandering Chinese monks more than 1,500 years ago and have found ample room for economic cooperation.
  • Both are members of the BRICS grouping of emerging economies, which is now establishing a formal lending arm, the New Development Bank, to be based in China's financial hub of Shanghai and to be headed by a senior Indian banker.
  • India also was a founding member of the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which plans to be formally established by year's end and seeks to emulate institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
  • Educational areas: India and China signed Education Exchange Programme (EEP) in 2006, which is an umbrella agreement for educational cooperation between the two countries. Under this agreement, government scholarships are awarded to 25 students, by both sides, in recognized institutions of higher learning in each other’s country. The 25 scholarships awarded by India are offered by Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).

Trade cooperation:

  • Two countries have shown tremendous economic growth. Change in the dynamics of the global economy has provided the opportunity to both countries to cooperate on a wider scale.
  • China and India are the major trading partners in the region. During the last decade, bilateral trade has increased notably. In 2014, the trade between China and India exceeded over $65 billion mark
  • Bilateral trade has expanded substantially in recent years. Nevertheless, the balance of trade still remains in China's favour. 
  • Though, compared to the past, the economic cooperation between the two countries has accelerated. However, there are still enormous opportunities that have not been exploited in such fields as manufacturing, construction, electricity, gas and water industries, infrastructure (such as, roads, buildings, transportation, storage and communication), hotels and tourism, financial institutions, agriculture, healthcare, education and the various training sectors.
  • China and India have synergies in many areas. China has wide experience and expertise in the field of the construction industry. Due to its international recognition, Chinese firms have been successful in creating an infrastructure base for many countries. India could utilize Chinese expertise in the development of its high-speed railway network, metro lines and other infrastructure facilities.

Components in India China Relations

  • The India-China relationship can be considered to have four main components. The boundary dispute and bilateral security competition is one. But regional security competition in India’s neighbourhood was always a second factor. Two other elements were previously considered dampeners of the India-China competition. Economic relations grew after 2003 but Indian enthusiasm waned as Chinese market access proved limited and the trade deficit widened. The fourth aspect was global governance cooperation.
  • While China and India found common cause at BRICS, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, Beijing’s emphasis on international coalition-building was eventually surpassed by its own superpower ambitions.
  • India continued to reject both the BRI and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The boundary question remained unanswered. Even on economic relations, China made only minor concessions on agricultural and pharmaceutical imports.
  • China’s stubborn efforts to nibble away Indian land through armed incursions, its claim over the entire Arunachal Pradesh, unsustainable trade deficit, “all-weather” friendship with Pakistan, attempts to encourage India’s neighbours to turn hostile against it, and its rising global ambitions to establish China-centric world order through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) were mostly confined to academic or strategic affairs community. But now these issues are being watched debated in political circles.
  • With growing power, China wants to reshape the global order to suit its revisionist interests. India has been tentative at best in coming to terms with the fact that a revisionist great power has risen on its borders. It is a message from Beijing to New Delhi: Step back and lay off, do not try to step into the breach created by the pandemic and posit India as a potential supply lines hub in the post-COVID19 world;
  • The calls for destroying the omnipresence of Chinese goods in India may be rooted in ignorance of economic realities but they reflect the emerging mood about China.
  • And this mood will dictate India’s domestic politics and foreign policy. The evolution of public opinion will have an impact on political discourse. India’s China conundrum: How to bring a bully to heel? 
Vulnerabilities Of China
  • Unemployment in China is currently estimated to be at 10%, which is four percentage points more than what is admitted officially. Just as they did not expect the ‘Wuhan Virus’ would shrink the Chinese economy by 6.8 per cent in the first quarter of the year compared to the first quarter of 2019.
  • Their promotion and projection of Xi Jinping as a strong and resolute leader above criticism at home and beyond reproach abroad has not quite turned out the way it was supposed to be. The handling of the ‘Wuhan Virus’ outbreak, the making of a pandemic and the absence of concern, compassion or contrition on the part of the Xi regime has had the opposite effect.
  • From abusing and threatening Australia ( it was called a “dog of America” in a replay of Chairman Mao’s description of Jawaharlal Nehru as a “running dog of American imperialism”).
  • During the initial days of the pandemic, China faced the wrath of European and other countries due to the substandard test kits, PPEs and F95 masks it supplied. All this impacted China’s reputation.
  • In the Post Covid Era China may stand to lose out as the world become more sceptical of the Chinese regime and demands accountability in the origins of the Corona Virus.
  • The world is coming together and an Anti China sentiments building especially in some western countries and South East Asain Nations.
  • The coming together of Quad and talks of formation of Quad Plus that rallies together an alliance of democracies and calls for new supply chains and restructuring of the world system grows louder a China may find itself against the wall.
  • There has been a strong demand from many countries and US allies on restricting bilateral trade with China. Huawei’s 5G entry into the world is facing rough weather. The UK has announced revisiting its bilateral trade with and over reliance on China.
  • Human Rights Violations:
    • More than any other government, Beijing has made technology central to its repression.
    • A nightmarish system has already been built in Xinjiang, the northwestern region that is home both to some 13 million Muslims—Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Turkic minorities—and to the most intrusive public monitoring system the world has ever known.
    • The Chinese Communist Party has long sought to monitor people for any sign of dissent, but the combination of growing economic means and technical capacity has led to an unprecedented regime of mass surveillance.
    • Uyghurs: Uighur Muslims for decades, under the false accusation by the Chinese government of terrorism and separatism, have suffered from abuses including persecution, forced detention, intense scrutiny, surveillance and even slavery.
    • China claims that Uighur groups want to establish an independent state and, because of the Uighurs’ cultural ties to their neighbours, leaders fear that elements in places like Pakistan may back a separatist movement in Xinjiang.
  • China's Assertiveness: 
    • Events of the past year have shown that the imperative for the world is to display solidarity with partners in Southeast Asia and with those who have fallen victims to China's assertiveness and Wolf warrior diplomacy ( Recently Chinese Amabasddor threatened Bangladesh for suffering substantial damage to bilateral ties if it joins Quad.
    • India and the group of Democracies must stand with small countries which are falling into Chinese Debt traps and they must do so by publicly stating their discomfiture with Chinese assertiveness and by strengthening strategic partnerships with like-minded countries in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • No regard for Democratic  Values:
    • The emergence of China is anything but Democratic, it has relied on crude repression, Crony Capitalism, Forced Child Labour, Mass Surveillance etc. This does not boast well for the Democratic values of the free world in the 21st century. 
  • Soft Power: 
    • The Hegemony of the USA has been partly due to its ideals of Democracy, freedom, Liberty and its regard for Human Rights which are manifested in the form of Soft Power has influenced and attracted people all over the world. China does not possess such soft power credentials.
How to Contain China

  • As former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee sagely observed, “You can change friends but not neighbours.” That observation still holds true.
  • However, the twin pillars of India’s China policy, cooperation and competition, need to be repositioned to competition and cooperation.


  • India should stick to doing those things and building a Great Wall of Democracies. India must not only embrace but incubate a rainbow coalition of democracies that believe in, and subscribe to, a rules-based world order.
  • In the coming days, as Hong Kong becomes a hot item on the global political agenda, India must actively seek to keep China and its feckless proxies out of leadership positions in global organisations.
  • There is no percentage in sticking to bogus ‘anti-West’ ideological positions of the past or seek South-South cooperation in a world where North and South, East and West are fluid geographies. 
  • The Ministry of External Affairs would do well to discard its crusty old ‘Karo Na’ principle of not doing anything that would disrupt South Block’s settled policy of playing a safe game of dribbling the ball without shooting at the goalpost lest the stands get excited.
  • Sophistry as diplomacy has run its course and is of little value in this day and age of fluid alliances and alignments.
  • Tyrants and tyrannies are not without the proverbial Achilles’ heel. In China’s case, it is the fear of democracy. India has to get smarter in order to game the system through which control is seized and exercised over international organisations. China has mastered the art of manoeuvring itself into positions of control, influence and power.
  • Big powers, as has been wisely said, not only have the capacity to absorb punishment, they also have the ability to inflict punishment. The first without the latter is the hallmark of a failed power.

A mix of Three Approaches

  • In India’s China policy, a mix of three approachesFirst is internal balancing, strengthening themselves and developing capabilities in response to China’s growing power.
  • The second is engagement, working with China to reach understandings, although this requires some give and take by both sides.
  • The third is external balancing, cooperating with others to gain more leverage and security vis-à-vis Beijing.
  • External balancing involved a series of arrangements with partners the intention of improving interoperability, facilitating intelligence and assessments, and boosting each other’s economic and defence capabilities example – logistics support, increasing maritime awareness, upgrading military exercises, and regularising strategic dialogues with the US, Japan, Australia, Russia, France, South Korea, Southeast Asia, and others.
  • The recent border standoff between China and India at Ladakh confirms two political realities that must not be ignored.
    • First, India must not allow the intrusion of Chinese firms into its telecommunications network. If societies will be digital, China should not be permitted to encode India’s public sphere.
    • New Delhi must not license Huawei or ZTE to provide equipment for its 5G rollout. And second, India must not allow any Chinese-origin firm into its critical infrastructure in much the same manner that it was kept away from certain industrial projects in the past.
  • For India’s national interest, the choice is clear. There is no more room to accommodate China’s economic affections while being scorched by the Dragon’s fire.
  • National security is not a choice. It is a primary assumption and the first responsibility of statecraft. “A country that uses its military power to threaten other nations and its economic power to pervert free trade and steal technologies, will not think twice before using its technological influence to advance its strategic ambitions and lust for territory.”
  • Beijing cannot expect economic returns from India without making commensurate investments in building strategic trust. To rephrase, China has to climb its way up the trust vanguards of India before it enters the trust vaults of India.
  • Until then, Made in China firms must be treated with as much caution and precaution as the nation is treating the Made in China pandemic.
  • Galwan may not be the last foray by the Chinese. Smarting under the setback, they will try to strike back somewhere else because 2020 is not 1967 when not many got to know that the Chinese had suffered a defeat at Nathu La. Today the entire world knows what happened in Ladakh, and China will want to save face.
  • In the long term, we need to accept that Pakistan and China will not change. Assess your choices and capabilities for the long haul, not base the entire judgment on one or two military battles. 
  • With established global supply chains fraying, we must first decide whether we’ll be “atmanirbhar” or an alternative workshop of the world. Either way, industrial ecosystems cannot be created by magic. example- Pimpri- Chinchwad, Madurai-Coimbatore, Faridabad-Gurgaon regions did not come up overnight, but over several decades.
  • The US alliance appears to be the most seductive option. Without putting down serious money we can get a free ride on Uncle Sam’s back
  • Remember, though, that when you sign up with the greatest power on earth, orbited by economic giants like the UK, Germany and Japan, you do not have the vanity of deciding your role.

What are China’s views on the Quad?

  • There is a general understanding that the Quad would not take on a military dimension against any country. The strategic community in China, nevertheless, had branded it an emerging “Asian NATO”.
  • Notably, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s “Confluence of Two Seas” address to the Indian Parliament gave a fresh impetus to the Quad concept. This recognised the economic rise of India.

Why there is a need for formalisation?

  • Despite renewed efforts, the QUAD has faced criticism over its lack of formal structure. There have been calls for institutionalisation, a formal agreement to transform the group into a formidable anti-China bloc.
  • A lot has changed over the years. Each member state has faced the heat of China’s increased aggression.
  • China has grown in might and influence and is keen on picking up fights.
  • After attempting to influence Australia’s domestic policies, it slapped punitive tariffs on the country.
  • It is engaged in what has become a routine border confrontation with India.
  • China has flared up territorial disputes with Japan with regards to the Senkaku Islands and is battling a fully-fledged trade war with the United States.


Boundary Dispute

Past Events

  • In 2013, the first major standoff between India and China in 26 years occurred on the remote Depsang Plains when China attempted to establish a permanent presence in the disputed territory just as India prepared to open a high altitude airfield at nearby Daulat Beg Oldi.
  • A more significant standoff occurred in 2017, involving China’s territorial dispute with Bhutan, an Indian ally. Indian forces intervened to stop Chinese road-building in disputed territory, resulting in a brief spike in tensions. (Doklam conflict)
  • Earlier in 2020, as a critical Indian road to Daulat Beg Oldi, came closer to completion, Chinese forces deployed in larger numbers at the LAC, and as Indian troops matched them, standoffs occurred at four points.
  • One was the Galwan River Valley, an area that had witnessed fighting in 1962 but had not been a major source of friction since. To the south, by a picturesque lake called Pangong Tso, Chinese and Indian forces entered into a tussle in May. In between, near an area known as Hot Springs, two smaller buildups took place.

Disputed Areas

  • The term “border dispute” tends to evoke images of a limited standoff, but the India-China row is over a territory larger than the state of Pennsylvania. It consists of three distinct sectors.
    • Disputes in the middle sector are relatively small and include grazing grounds and passes that link India with Tibet. 
    • The eastern sector includes China’s claim to almost the entire Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, home to more people than Montana, which China calls “South Tibet.” That section includes the town of Tawang, the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama, and thus has particular significance for Tibetans, and by extension, for Chinese claims to Tibet.
    • The western sector is in the Indian union territory of Ladakh, Here, the borders with Tibet were never clearly demarcated. This land resembles a high-altitude desert: impossibly rough terrain with steep ravines, glaciers, and peaks rising to over 20,000 feet.
    • Ladakh is important for India not only for its own sake but for supplying Indian forces along the disputed Line of Control with Pakistan, meaning this area is considered crucial to Indian security and to the geopolitical balance of power across a large part of Asia.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi while addressing Indian troops in Leh – the age of expansionism is over and that this is the age of development.
  • He added for good measure that such expansionist forces are either destroyed or forced into retreat. Modi didn’t name the great bully of Asia. 
  • There are five major takeaways from the ongoing crisis in Ladakh that will inevitably shape India’s China policy significantly.
    • The first is that Xi Jinping’s China is at a stage—and in a year—where it has simply ceased to care about global public opinion or parameters of reasonable conduct. It has little interest in healthy relations with India and considers the diminishing of India’s role, growth, weight and presence as a key foreign policy objective the message is clear—the “Hu & Wen” days of “partnership”, of an “Asian Century for all”, of “BRICS for a better world” are passé. This is Imperialism with Chinese Characteristics.
    • The second takeaway is that China is perfectly at ease with the coexistence of commerce and conflict, trade and war. It has perfected the ability to sleep with its enemies and selling to them as well. Beijing has successfully done so with the Americans for decades.
    • The third takeaway points to the Chinese strategic ability to manipulate and game democratic societies. China creates dissent and discord through misinformation and propaganda. This summer, it has weaponised the openness of the Indian public sphere. And it will continue to do so.
    • Delegitimising the government and political system of the enemy is a central objective of long wars, and there should be no doubt that this is an epic struggle, which may have started in the Himalayas but will travel to maritime Asia and the Pacific
    • The fourth takeaway: “No way, Huawei”. India must attach costs to Chinese ambitions. Even though there is a stark asymmetry between the economic and military capabilities of the two countries, the defender has the advantage of being able to deploy specific tools that even unequal realities
    • Battlefield grit and determination will be of utmost importance in the dark days that may define the  Himalayan relationship. Similarly, interdiction and disruption capability in the oceans will be crucial.


The Ladakh crisis offers India three key lessons in managing the intensifying strategic competition with China

Revamping military strategies:

  • The Indian military’s standing doctrine calls for deterring adversaries with the threat of massive punitive retaliation for any aggression, capturing enemy territory as bargaining leverage in post-war talks.
  • However, the experience from the Ladakh stand-off seems to indicate that military strategies based on denial are more useful than strategies based on punishment.
  • The threat of retaliation did not deter China from launching unprecedented incursions in May 2020.
  • The Indian military’s occupation of the heights on the Kailash Range on its side of the LAC in late August, an act of denial, helped deny key terrain to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and gave the Indian Army a stronger defensive position from which it could credibly defend a larger segment of its front line.
  • The doctrine of denial will serve the following benefits for India. The focus on denial will give the Indian military greater capacity to thwart future land grabs across the LAC.
  • This strategy is also more likely than punishment to preserve crisis stability. In the long term, improved denial capabilities may allow India to reduce the resource drain of the increased militarization of the LAC.

Imposing political costs on China:

  • Given the fact that China’s defence budget is three to four times larger than India’s, the material burden of the crisis is unlikely to disrupt China’s existing priorities along the LAC, which is aimed at making small tactical gains along the disputed border to ensure a stronger say in the negotiations.
  • China is more likely to be deterred or coerced with the threat of political costs, rather than material costs.
  • India successfully raised the risks of the crisis for China through its threat of a political rupture by restricting bilateral trade and investment while also indicating India’s inclination towards greater participation with the Quad.
  • The prospect of a permanently hostile India seems to be a very high price for China given the rising anti-Chinese sentiments.
  • Given the limits of individual nations, even large powers such as India, to tackle the increasing assertiveness of China, should focus on coordinated or collective action with other like-minded countries.

Focus on Indian Ocean Region:

  • The Ladakh crisis, by prompting an increased militarisation of the LAC, may prompt India to defer long-overdue military modernisation and maritime expansion into the Indian Ocean. This is a cause of concern.
  • India should rather consider accepting more risk on the LAC in exchange for long-term leverage and influence in the Indian Ocean Region due to the following reasons.
  • India has traditionally been the dominant power in the Indian Ocean Region and stands to cede significant political influence and security if it fails to counter the rapid expansion of Chinese military power in the region.
  • China’s military expansion into the Indian Ocean poses multiple risks for India and its partners such as Australia and the United States. These like-minded partners should build their strategic leverage – political relationships and military capability – to manage these risks.
  • India enjoys unique advantages in the Indian Ocean, due to its geography and informal networks across the region and must use them to its advantage.
  • India could focus on more actively binding itself to smaller regional states – as it already does by sharing maritime domain awareness and space-based surveillance data. Building strategic interdependence would cultivate smaller states’ desire for continued cooperation with India, and institutional resistance to Chinese attempts to coerce or bribe their political leadership.
  • India could also enhance its sea denial capabilities. Improving its anti-submarine warfare capabilities and expanding its stock of long-range precision missiles, for example, would help to deter the prospect of Chinese direct military intervention.
  • To counter China successfully in the choppy waters of the Indian Ocean, arms sales, military strength and partnerships must be accompanied by more economic investment and trade with countries in the IOR.
  • Strengthening its position in the Indian Ocean would also give a strategic advantage for leverage China's Malecca Dilemma.
  • The measures as recommended on LAC and beyond will help ensure that India is better postured to meet the challenge posed by an increasingly assertive China and manage the strategic competition with it.


Kashmir issue

  • China resurrected the Jammu and Kashmir issue in the Security Council in August 2019 following the Indian decision to nullify Article 370, the special status given to the state of Jammu and Kashmir under the Indian Constitution. China said the Indian decision was “unacceptable.” India rejected China’s criticisms, saying the decision was an internal matter with no impact on its external borders. China has persisted.
  • Chinese Foreign Ministry stated that Beijing pays close attention to the Kashmir issue and that “any unilateral change to the status quo in the Kashmir region is illegal and invalid.” The spokesperson added that the issue has to be “and peacefully resolved through dialogue and consultation between the parties concerned.”
  • India responded harshly, stating that “The Chinese side has no locus stand whatsoever on this matter and is advised not to comment on the internal affairs of other nations.
  • Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar pointedly stated that “the state of the border and the future of our ties… cannot be separated,” in essence suggesting that the standoff at the border will affect the bilateral relationship.
Should India play Tibet card?

  • About 10 days after the Galwan clash, Pema Khandu, chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh, referred to the Line of Actual Control dividing India and China as the India-Tibet border.


  • An attempt at rekindling the Tibet issue, which India has done every now and then when there is a conflict with China. This was of course music to the ears of Tibet activists, who have been seeking active Indian support for a long time.
  • Tenzin Tsundue, a Tibetan writer said that the border must be called “the Tibet border and not the China border.”
  • Prominent BJP ideologues have supported reopening the Tibet issue, even supporting the right of Tibetans to live “as a free nation.”
  • Such voices have become louder. A retired senior Army officer wrote about the strategic importance of Tibet and argued that time has come “to challenge the very legitimacy of the Chinese claim over Tibet.
  • He argued that a new Indian policy approach on Tibet “has the real potential of causing major turbulence in China’s underbelly.” He added that India might do well to “align its policy on the issue with the U.S. and support the ‘Tibet Policy and Support Act (2019)’ that has been passed by the U.S. Congress
  • India has had an inconsistent approach to Tibet, it said, “Delhi now needs to shed its hesitation, not just because Tibet is a ‘card’, but is intertwined with the values of freedom and peace central to the vision to resist China.”
  • Arguing for honouring the Dalai Lama with the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour, and for India to take up the rights of Tibetans on international platforms and build deeper links with the younger generation of Tibetan activists who are the face of the new resistance.


  • Suhasini Haidar, – the idea of the Tibet card is “out of step” with shifting ground realities in Tibet and cautioned the Indian establishment against using “the Tibetan population in India as a strategic tool,”
  • Sudha Ramachandran, – India never did have a Tibet card, considering that India and even the Tibetans have accepted the One China formulation and India’s efforts to keep the Tibet card has only angered China, “without yielding tangible dividends.”
  • P. Stobdan, a China analyst who had previously argued that the idea of a Tibet card is a folly, declares in a recent book that China’s slow invasion tactic has been successful in dealing with India whereas New Delhi, even after 60 years, has made no significant gains in its China policy India rolls the dice on Hong Kong.

Hong Kong's New Law


  • Chinese President Xi Jinping signed a controversial national security law that gave Beijing unprecedented powers to shape the future of Hong Kong.
  • It dramatically reduced Hong Kong’s autonomy and gives Beijing the ability to crack down against dissent under the garb of tackling crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.


  • For most Hong Kongers, it is clear that it cuts at the very heart of their freedom of expression and organisation, effectively repudiating the so-called “one country, two systems” principle on which the relationship between Hong Kong and mainland China has been premised since 1997. Hong Kong has been rocked by anti-Beijing protests since June 2019 and the new law is effectively Xi Jinping’s revenge on Hong Kongers for making him withdraw the controversial extradition bill of last year.
  • Since then a broader anti-China and pro-democracy movement have been gathering momentum in Hong Kong which Beijing is now determined to demolish with this new law.

India's Approach

  • New Delhi chose the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva to react where it argued India has been keeping “a close watch on recent developments” in Hong Kong given the presence of a large Indian community there.
  • New Delhi had in the past been reluctant to talk about the Hong Kong issue but recent violent clashes in the Galwan Valley of Ladakh, perhaps, made it imperative for India to change its approach.
  • In past India has been reluctant to even give visas to pro-democracy activists of Hong Kong and Indonesia was the only other member state of the G-20 last year that refused to even meet pro-democracy activists.
  • India also maintained a studied silence over China’s ill-treatment of its Muslim minority in Xinjiang. The border crisis this year has challenged the very foundations of India’s China policy and all aspects are being recalibrated by New Delhi – from trade and technological engagement to China’s domestic political imperatives. 
  • Major powers like the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and Japan have all spoken out against the new Chinese law.
  • Hong Kong is also important for India for economic reasons. For global investors, it has always been an attractive destination, leading to its emergence as one of Asia’s most powerful financial centres.

Way Ahead

  • As a mature democracy, we should be able to articulate and defend our positions to our global stakeholders. It is what makes India different from China and a more reassuring global presence China has never hesitated to meddle in Indian domestic matters in the past.
  • India’s past diffidence in challenging China on its ‘internal’ matters has not really paid New Delhi any significant dividends. India’s Hong Kong move has been noticed the world over calls for India to play the Taiwan card grow louder.

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