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China’s Territorial Disputes with India

By Shelly Zhao

Jun. 10 – China and India have a number of territorial disputes along their roughly 4,000 kilometer-long border. Some of the disputed areas border the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) or the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and are geographically significant, with Tibetan refugees and the Tibetan government-in-exile (Central Tibetan Administration) in the neighboring Himachal Pradesh state. This article discusses how the main territorial disputes have challenged Sino-Indian relations, particularly in the context of both China and India’s rise, and examines a case study of the Asian Development Bank’s loans and Arunachal Pradesh. This is a follow-up piece to our article on China Briefing last week titled “China’s Territorial Disputes in the South China Sea and East China Sea.”

Sino-Indian relations and territorial issues
With India’s independence in 1947 and the People’s Republic of China established in 1949, both countries needed to reassess their roles, especially in the Cold War system, and saw a redefining of relations. After establishing diplomatic relations in 1950, a central component of border relations was Tibet. China and India signed the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence/Panscheel Agreement in 1954, which lasted for eight years. Minor clashes occurred from the mid-1950s, and in 1959, Tibetan refugees settled in Himachal Pradesh to the north of India (south of Jammu and Kashmir), and China found this an encroachment of territory.

Conflicts culminated in the 1962 border war that changed the political landscape – China taking control of much of the disputed territories to the west, and India gaining control of the Arunachal Pradesh region to the east. Sino-Indian relations deteriorated further in the 1960s and 1970s with China supporting Pakistan in the 1965 Indo-Pakistani War; India signing a Treaty of Peace, Friendship, and Cooperation with the Soviet Union in 1971; and skirmishes occurring between China and India in 1967 (Chola Incident) in Sikkim and 1987 in Arunachal Pradesh.

Bilateral relations have improved since the 1980s, with eight rounds of border negotiations occurring between 1981 and 1987 (though without concrete agreements achieved) and dialogue through the Indian-Chinese Joint Working Group on the Border Issue between 1988 and 1993, and a border agreement signed in 1993. In recent years, however, the disputes continue to affect bilateral relations and seem far from resolution. Below, the following tables summarize the major disputed territories, divided into the western and eastern areas.

Jammu and Kashmir
The Jammu and Kashmir dispute is predominantly an Indo-Pakistani conflict that has seen open conflict over the decades. The issue has affected Sino-Indian relations and Sino-Indian-Pakistani relations, and China has supported Pakistan’s claims. India reportedly declared Jammu and Kashmir as well as Arunachal Pradesh to be within its “core” interests in December 2010 during Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to India.

Aksai Chin
The two main disputes are Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh. In the western disputed territorial area, India considers Aksai Chin and the Trans-Karakoram Tract part of its Jammu and Kashmir state, while China considers it part of its Tibetan plateau. The area does not have significant inhabitants or economic resources, but the China National Highway 219 is a major throughway that connects the TAR and XUAR, and road construction was one of the main triggers in the 1962 border war.

Arunachal Pradesh
Up until 1972, the eastern areas had been the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA), following 1972 being the Union Territory of Arunachal Pradesh. After the 1962 Sino-Indian Border Conflict, India retained control of Arunachal Pradesh, though China has continued to claim Arunachal Pradesh as South Tibet and part of Tibet. The region is significant due to its closeness to Tibet as well as its agricultural resources (See further analysis from

Case study: Arunachal Pradesh and ADB loans
The case of the Asian Development Bank’s proposed loans to India (including the Arunachal Pradesh region) is an interesting study of China pursuing interests in a multilateral institution. The ADB was created in 1966 to promote economic and social development in Asian and Pacific countries through giving low-interest loans, technical assistance, grants, and policy dialogue. The United States and Japan are the two largest shareholders, both with 14.2 percent (figures as of May 2010). China has 5.9 percent and is the third largest overall shareholder (along with Pakistan), while India has 5.8 percent.

In June 2009, China sought to block a multilateral development loan-funding plan to India. This US$2.9 billion lending plan spanning three years (2009-2012) included US$60 million worth of watershed development projects (including flood management, water supply, and sanitation) in the Arunachal Pradesh region. China asked the ADB to remove Arunachal Pradesh from the loan plan, since for China this implied that the ADB endorsed India’s territorial claim. According to Qin Gang, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, China expressed “strong dissatisfaction” over the matter to the ADB, saying that the ADB’s actions “not only seriously tarnish its own name, but also undermines the interests of its members.” In India, tensions rose after China voiced disapproval, with the governor of Arunachal Pradesh announcing that the Indian military was deploying extra troops and fighter jets to the area.

China was able to force a postponement of the board meeting on the issue. The ADB board later overruled China’s objection and approved the loan, made possible because the United States, Japan, and South Korea had large voting shares in the ADB, and voted in India’s favor. The Indian Express newspaper called this a “major diplomatic victory” for India. In the end, however, India decided to drop the projects in Arunachal Pradesh from its list of projects to be funded by the ADB in 2010. The ADB had approved about US$2 billion in loans for 2009, but India chose to seek only US$1.6 billion loans, which was 40 percent less lending from the previous amount.

News sources such as The New York Times remarked that it was the first time that China tried to influence the territorial dispute through a multilateral institution. States pursing national interests through multilateral institutions is not a new concept, and in this case, the Arunachal Pradesh region had long been historically sensitive in Sino-Indian relations. China had generally objected to India asserting itself in the region, such as protesting visits to the region by the Dalai Lama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. In this sense, the Chinese objection was to be expected. Much like the territorial disputes in the South China Sea and East China Sea, China has regarded encroachments on its claimed sovereignty to be unacceptable.

What is of interest is that the dynamics between Chinese domestic concerns can spill over into the international arena through multilateral institutions. For regional observers, this can be disconcerting, pointing to the seemingly less benevolent features of a rising China. As China gains more global influence, there is concern of China gaining future voting power – and therefore, influence – in institutions like the ADB. These issues can cause multilateral tensions as well as erode the institutional credibility of the ADB.

A crucial question will be how the countries fare in the new situation in relation to China’s rise. In August 2010, the U.S. Pentagon expressed concern over China’s intentions and pointed deterrence measures needed in the region (see further analysis from It is probable that some degree of institutional balancing in the future will be present. Sujit Dutta has said in The Washington Quarterly (2011) that India pursues a three-pronged China policy of “engagement, balancing, and support for a stable Asian security environment.” Desire for geopolitical leverage and mutual wariness may incentivize China’s desire to protect its interests through multilateral mechanisms.

The other side of the “Chindia” coin is that China and India have many cooperation-impeding issues, including territory. The rise of the two countries remain “unconnected” and lack people-to-people engagement, say David M. Malone and Rohan Mukherjee in Survival (2010). Jonathan Holslag (2009) has also pointed to a persistent security dilemma in Sino-Indian relations, “a vehement race for regional influence, both for geopolitical and economic purposes.” Furthermore, political, historical and cultural, and economic differences make the “Chindia” tag perhaps convenient, yet arguably reductive.

Sino-Indian territorial disputes will no doubt remain a sizeable security impediment to the bilateral relationship, and concerns of Tibet and Indo-U.S. relations can complicate matters. During his visit to New Delhi in December 2010, Premier Wen Jiabao said on the territorial issues, “It will not be easy to completely resolve this question. It requires patience and will take a fairly long period of time.” As the Arunachal Pradesh ADB case has showed, territorial disagreements can become entangled with multilateral and development issues as well. China and India have seen increased convergence in the 21st Century. Nonetheless, the territorial disputes sandwiched between both countries remain hindrances that reflect strategic incongruities, and working toward border resolution and demarcation will be fundamental for deepening future bilateral relations.

Related Reading

China Considers Diverting the Brahmaputra River

Pakistan Offers China a Naval Base on Indian Ocean

China, Vietnam Trade Blame in Recent South China Sea Incident

China’s Territorial Disputes in the South China Sea and East China Sea

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12 Responses to China’s Territorial Disputes with India

  1. Ijaz Jabbar says:

    A well written Article….Thank you for putting in the view…:))

  2. The author has forgotten the history of Sino-Indian dispute and also the very clever and graduated scale of Chinese aggression.
    The root cause is the enormous clout of India and Non alignment movement which it headed along with Tito of Yugoslavia and Nasser of Egypt.China was being sidelined due to its being bracketed along with Soviet Union as a Communist nation.They were waiting for a chance to show their “Independence” from Comintern.
    Though they were far superior in Military might,the Chinese were not liking the foot patrols of Indians in Aksai chin area which had the strategic highway connecting Sinkiang with Tibet.At that time none knew that Sinking and LopNor are very important to Chinese.
    The asylum granted to Dalai Lama by Nehru without sufficient Military backup, was an opportunity not to be missed.The US/Soviet union eye ball to eyeball confrontation over bay of pigs was that opportunity.They just invaded when Nehru was getting fed up of minor pinpricks of Chinese in NEFA at Thagla ridge.They achieved their strategic aim of putting India in its place in military terms, showed India’s begging bowl to Imperialistic USA for military help and also exposed Soviet Union. Territory wise they had the whole of Aksai chin and NEFA was open to them upto Tezpur which the Chinese DID NOT TAKE due to their own assessment not due to Indian defence.Nehru could get due to Colombo proposals a cease fire wherein China had its territorial gain as it wanted and secured the Sinkiang Highway.India was psychologically humiliated and militarily exposed.
    Again in 1965, the Chinese supported Pakistan by giving ultimatum to India to return 80 goats and 2 Yaks which strayed into India and killed 3 of our border policemen in Dungti/Dumchele area and crossed the Line of Actual control established by Colombo peace plan and occupied thousand of more square miles of territory north of Indus.(this was not well reported in media due to 1965 Indo-Pakistan war).But they also got bloody nose in Sikkim due to General Sagat singh and his use of force to defend in 1970s.Now the Chinese fear Indian missiles and nukes and also its airpower but they know they can take on Indian Army in landwarfare any time.As Wen Ziabao said, the Chinese will wait for a favorable Internationale condition to take towang or other territory which they think is important to them now with their increased Military might.India has to be unpredictable like Pakistan with relation to China to keep it under check.

  3. Ijaz Jabbar says:

    @ captainjohann

    You have ur points my friend. Very well put. May b the chinese aggreassion to other countries including India has done better good than loose. ALmost every country is happy with India and Russia being an Ally. WIth these terrorial disputes and US breathing down on it, China is an Island in this world with no more than a few country it can HOPE to come if a need arise.

  4. Frank says:

    captainjohann has a clear head of the situation.

    If Indians cannot see what captainjohann sees, history will repeat.

    That said, history always repeats.

  5. Ijaz Jabbar says:


    A country like China is no longer a CALL MAKER…its not developed…Its developing…ANd history? Well if its a war, I doubt that….No country is stupid enough to go for a war…Especially Nuclear capable…

  6. Ronnie B says:

    China is not emotional like the Pakistanis. China will bide its time as long it believes that India is weaker and wait for a favorable international situation to grab Indian terrotory it claims. The solution is to build up the border so that China feels that it will NOT be able to grab Indian border territory without serious pain. India does not have to be stronger than China; it merely has to have credible BORDER defenses so that China does not believe it has a clear chance of winning. As far as a broader China-India War, that is simply not going to happen–too much to lose for China. China wants to win and it will only attack when it is fairly certain that it will win. Even though Chess was invented in India, the Chinese are better geopolitical chess players.

  7. Ijaz Jabbar says:

    I agree to Ronnie on that. Even a super power like US can’t finish a war on Afganistan. What r chances where worlds largest army meet with the worlds 2nd largest….Its gonna be a long lose for both sides…Never a win

  8. swpanil says:

    I agree with izaz, at the end of day, nobody is winner, it is better to avoid war , not for any country, but for human race. As regra war between china and India, i do not forsee any, as India is not exactly a weak nation now, and can put up a strong defence in conventional war with china, A prolong war can assure victory for China, but international pressure will not allow prolong war , hence military benifits would be limited for China and not worth to take such a big gamble, china would prefere to indulge in psycological war fare and will ty to isolate india in international forum.

  9. truthnotseen says:

    The fact is, Dalai Lama, who WAS NOT an indian, was born in what is now the so-called Arunachal Pradesh, which was a part of Tibet very long ago. Another fact is, the so-called Arunachal Pradesh was now occupied by India, which has for the past decades tried to move its people there.
    As to the reason of Sino-indian war, do you think it plausible to ascribe it to a feeling of being sidelined on the Chinese part? How ridiculous! A war caused by a feeling of not being taken seriously! Is that the history they taught you?
    Ok, now answer me: why Dalai Lama fled to India and why India was willing to accept him? Was it because China was sidelined? If you don’t believe my story of the war, you at least could see, by logical thinking, that India and China was not on good terms not because the latter was sidelined. It was because of territory disputes in the first place. Nehru had tried to take what is now called by India Arunachal Pradesh from China. And his reason is the McMahon Line, which was casually drawn by McMahon, regardless of the fact that Tibetans had lived areas south of that line for centuries. It was act of encroachment by the British. It as stealing! The Indians refused British occupation and freed themselves at last, but Nehru took a different stand when it comes to territoris taken by the aggressors from China, and wanted to Chinese to accept the encroachment and stealing. He even wanted to include Tibet in the “Big Inida” he dreamed of. By the way, the Indian opened fire first and killed first.

  10. truthnotseen says:

    Correction: ……which was a part of Tibet Not very long ago. (I ommited the “not” due to carelessness)

  11. Arya says:

    India is and of Aryas. China has started the war. This is war of civilizations. It started in 1962 by Chienese and will be ended by us. Race of Aryas(local Indian people we dont agree with western theory about Aryans tribe fooling there way down to India…lol) will no leave a trace f chienese.Furthermore, we still have or TURUP KA PATTA which is that leave Kashmir and Arunachal aside first lets solve Tibet. Its disputed. Kailash Mansarovar is holy to Hindus. Hand it over to us. China doesent agree. Welcome to the battlefield. We lost in 1962 because we have fools like Nehru and Menon , today we still have that loser party in power but to counter them we have Nationalist Party like BJP which will take very tough decision in this matter and 120 crore Indians will standby. So betterdont think about it, else our swords are thirsty for love

  12. vipin says:

    in my view, Nehru has taken a wrong track by not negotiating the bordr dispute with china as did by other countries. china was ready to accept mcmohan line as international border as it did in case of burma. the area of aksi chin never belonged to india. it was only included by british officers once the full aksai chin and later the half part of it. it was never communicated to chinese government. india sent petrols to establish more and more milityr posts in the disputed area not china

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