From 1950 to 2020: Understanding Indo-China relations on Jawaharlal Nehru's death anniversary


On the eve of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s death anniversary, skirmishes between Indian and Chinese troops along the Sino-Indian border continued on Tuesday evening along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

India’s issues with China go back to 1962, where India was defeated by the neighbouring country when Nehru was prime minister of India. Today, while the BJP and its supporters single out Nehru for that defeat (this report strengthens their argument) they are in a situation where India has to play every diplomatic trick it has in the book to ensure that the standoff isn’t escalated at a time where the country is already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, unemployment, a migrant crisis, and more recently a locust attack.

India’s relationship with China has seen a 180-degree difference since the ‘Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai’ slogan that was coined by Nehru with the Mao Zedong-led Chinese government. Here’s a look at the diplomatic relations between the two nations:

1950s: While India enjoyed a ‘firm friendship’ with China, it chose to be ignorant of maps published in Beijing that showed the northeast end of Jammu & Kashmir as Chinese territory.

1962: Instead of confronting China, the Nehru-led government chose to remain silent. At the time, there was no Line of Actual Control, so resolving the matter without war could have been easy. Instead of having a conversation, India set up the ‘forward policy’ of creating military posts at posts that China considered its territory. Both Nehru and Defence Minister Krishna Menon believed that China would take no action. The war, however, suggested differently and the Indian troops were defeated. Lt Gen BM Kaul, the chief of the Indian Army resigns and later in a report blames Menon more than Nehru for the debacle.

1967: India and China exchange fire at Nathu La in Sikkim. 62 Indian soldiers are killed. Soon afterwards, there is another clash, where 88 Indian troops and 300 Chinese troops are killed

1971: India signs a Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Co-operation with the Soviet Union. China sides with Pakistan during the 1971 war against India. China denounces India as a ‘tool of Soviet expansionism’ in the United Nations.

1977: Moraji Desai government looks to improve relations with China. Then External Affairs Minister Atal Bihari Vahpayee makes historic trip to Beijing. Both nations resume diplomatic relations in 1979. China modifies its pro-Pakistan stand on Kashmir; appears willing to remain silent on India's absorption of Sikkim and its special advisory relationship with Bhutan. Mt Kailash and Mansarowar Lake in Tibet open to Indian tourists.

1980: Prime Minister Indira Gandhi approves a plan to deploy forces around LAC; India undertakes infrastructural development in disputed areas. Indian and Chinese troops start patrolling the Samdorong Chu valley in Arunachal Pradesh.

1987: Experts believe another war may break out. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and External Affairs Minister ND Tiwari fly to Beijing to de-escalate the situation. Both nations agree to achieve a "fair and reasonable settlement while seeking a mutually acceptable solution" to the border dispute.

1999: After a near-perfect decade of no conflict, Defence Minister George Fernandes calls China ‘enemy number 1’ after India conducts the nuclear tests at Pokhran.

2003: China officially recognises Indian sovereignty over Sikkim as the two countries move towards resolving their border disputes. Nathula and Jelepla passes are open in 2006 for trade

2007: China denies a visa application from an IAS officer in Arunachal Pradesh, stating that since Arunachal is a territory of China, the IAS officer would not require a visa to ‘visit his own country’

2008: Britain says Tibet is part of China. According to an article in The Economist, although the British Foreign Office's website does not use the word sovereignty, officials at the Foreign Office said "it means that, as far as Britain is concerned, 'Tibet is part of China. Full stop.'

2009: Asian Development Bank recognises Arunachal Pradesh as a part of India and gives India a loan for a development project. India succeeded in securing the loan with the help of the United States and Japan. China expresses displeasure with the Bank.

2013: a three-week standoff between Indian and Chinese troops at the Line of Actual Control is diffused after China withdraws its troops on condition that India rid its bunkers in the area

2017: Sikkim standoff occurs at Doklam, a territory claimed by China and Bhutan, an ally of India. It begins with Chinese troops begin building a road at Doklam. India responds with bulldozers. The stand-off lasts two months till August 28, 2017.

2020: Between April and May 2020, the Sino-India border has witnessed tension in at least four different locations of the line of actual control

What has caused the latest tension?

The latest stand-off in Galwan Valley was caused after the Chinese moved in troops and equipment to stop construction activity by India. However, the Narendra Modi-led government in New Delhi says that the construction work is being done well within India’s side of the LAC.

Why hasn’t LAC been demarcated?

India has been proposing an exercise to clarify the Line of Actual Control, but China has rejected this exercise, viewing it as another complication on the on-going boundary negotiations.