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China-India Relations in the Contemporary world: Post Cold war Era – Part II; By Madhumitha K

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Article 31/2020

Relationship between the Soviet Union and India:

When the world split into two distinct blocs during the Cold war and other countries trying to side with one or the other India took a conscious decision to stay “non- aligned” as India didn’t want to be in a secondary position in the international system and wanted to be a crucial actor. Even though India took the path of non-alignment, Stalin felt that India was a product of Anglo-American imperialism, and thus it wasn’t until the death of Stalin in 1953 did USSR and India forge a cordial relationship. India and USSR shared a very cordial relationship ever since Stalin’s demise. The Soviet Union took it upon itself to reach out for “friendly co-operation” with the non-aligned countries in Asia and Africa.

The forging of friendly relations includes high-level visits and bilateral trade relations included, along with this cultural and scientific tie also were established. The Soviet Union also was very supportive of various aspects of India’s foreign policy like the Panch Sheel and advocated India’s position on Jammu and Kashmir. The soviet also championed India in the 1962 India-China war. A defining moment in the relationship was in 1971 when both the countries signed the “Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation” in August. The treaty was very critical and this was a major factor that caused China’s involvement in the 1971 Indo-Pak war. Both the countries revived it in 1993 but deleted the security clauses.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, India found it perplexing on the way the relationship would go, but they re-oriented their relations with Russia that emerged as the most prominent country from the disintegration.

History of the Indo-Sino relations:

The evolution of India China relations has been of ups and downs including, conflict and cooperation. Them being the two most populous countries with certain ancient cultural connections and geographical proximity didn’t have a patterned relationship. It may be due, to the ideological discord between the two countries.

Historically speaking so, PRC and India did share cordial relations even before the age of Independence owing to the establishment of the silk route dating back to the 14th century, but it was mostly through the 1950s that was also echoed in India’s policy of non- alignment. The friendship between these two countries reached an emotional pitch when the Sino- India relations developed maturity with the signing of the ‘Five Principles’ called ‘Panchsheel’ in 1954, which was followed by the visit of Chinese Premier Chou-En-Lai to India. With his visit, both leaders of the countries Nehru and En-Lai reaffirmed the principles in the joint communique. This writes T N Kaul “gave Panchsheel added weight and respectability” (“India and Her Neighbours” by N Jayapalan). But as seen in the article “China as a Factor in Indo-Pakistani Politics” by S. P. Seth the honeymoon period didn’t last when in the same year (1954) some maps published in China showed large parts of Indian territories as Chinese territory.

In the book “India and Her Neighbours” the author N Jayapalan also describes how the Tibet issues that once again rose in 1959 seriously affected the Sino-Indian relations. China reacted to the action of India, in giving shelter to Dalai Lama by levelling false charges against India and increasing intrusions into Indian territory. The watershed in the Sino-Indian relations came about in 1962, when the Chinese then made a sudden breakthrough the Indian lines on the Eastern sector (NEFA), and followed this up by massive attacks on Indian positions in both the Eastern and Western (Ladakh) borders. This all escalated into the immemorial war fought between China and India in the same year.

After, this it took almost three decades for China India relations to resume. With Rajiv Gandhi’s visit in 1989 and his meetings with Deng Xiaoping, marked the beginning of a new phase, this also started off the period of Normalization wherein both countries took measures in normalizing the relations that once were hostile and on standstill.

Changes in India after the collapse of the Soviet Union:

The end of the cold war brought about major shifts in the world order. India wasn’t far off from going through the changes. India after its independence opted for a closed economy. The year 1991 for India is very momentous, with the collapse of the USSR India now got an opportunity to move away from the Soviet Union’s shadow and etch a place for itself, it wasn’t a choice. India though was non- aligned on paper had a partnership with the Soviet Union not only in principle but also in trade, the Soviet Union also took stand for India diplomatically in the Kashmir issue and supplied arms and ammunition. The fall of the Soviet Union, made India rethink its plans for sustenance. But before that India had other grave choices to make concerning their economy which was on the brink of collapse. India under the leadership of Narasimha Rao decided to realign India’s foreign and foreign economic policies. The move to realign was needed for India to keep up with the global world that was accelerating due, to globalization. India’s profound shift came with the “Look East Policy”, that guided India to focus on the region it belonged to particularly the ASEAN member states.

Another shift was in the domain of economy. India who looked up to the Soviets followed a closed and mixed economy that was socialistic in nature. By 1991 India faced the risk of, going through an economic depression. This, led to India opening up its economy and allowed the concept of economic liberalization along with privatization. India also opened itself for foreign investments ready to be a part of the global economy. Regional relationships also were forged through BRICS and IBSA. India gradually expanded its strategic partnerships with foreign countries who also were global players like China, USA, EU and Russia to name a few.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, it had an impact on India and the leadership decided the socialistic outlook wouldn’t lead to any growth. India went through a policy-metamorphosis that led to its transformation to what it is today- an unabashed capitalistic actor thriving in the world.

China and India’s relations after the Cold war:

Post-Cold war the world moved from defensive strategies to more integrative ones. The world moved from conflict and rivalry to one which focused on global interdependence. Though India and China were hostile during the Cold war period it all changed and they adopted a more cooperative outlook. Many scholars feel that the disintegration of the USSR led to both o the Asian countries realize their convergence of interests in certain areas. The post-cold war era conceived that economy preceded politics and both the countries did the same, they put peaceful coexistence and economy over politics.

It can’t be ruled out that there is a certain level of competition among both the countries to be the dominant force in the Asian region that is the epicentre of economic growth. The South Asian region has been the area to witness the superpowers, namely China, India, and since, the course of the decade the presence of China in the world order has risen up to a great extent with it coming up to the level of the United States. Along with this came about the presence of extensive role of China in the Global South especially the region of South Asia. But the fact also remains that India also has been viewed as a rising power. As analyzed in the article- “The Great Power ‘Great Game’ between India and China: ‘The Logic of Geography’ by David Scott (2008) Geopolitics is crucial while undertaking Sino- Indian dynamics.  Geopolitics in its classical sense is the way in which geography affects politics or rather international politics. The same is seen in terms of the Sino- Indian relations, overlapping “territory and location”. And with India strengthening her nuclear capacities it became pertinent to Beijing to warm relations with India who is considered as a major neighbour by China.

Areas of India and China cooperation:

One of the major areas of China’s foreign policy was the engagement of bilateral relations, and this with India has heightened since the year 2001. Another new orientation of China’s foreign policy included forging diplomatic ties or relations. There have been political, economic, military, and cultural exchanges including high-level visits. The relations forged doesn’t exclude their aspects of Modernization that is blended with Nationalism and Regionalism.

China and India have shown grater maturity in their interactions in the economic front. China’s cheap goods, found a big market in India and China used this and changed its policies towards India to be more favourable. The intensification of trade and commerce is what has kept the two countries float despite the tremors in their relation. A very crucial phase towards the normalization of the relationship was seen in 1993, with the signing agreement on “Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity” along border areas. This didn’t exactly solve the border issue but rather shelved the matter which is still today is a matter of contention. Mechanisms just like the India-China Financial Dialogue and Strategic Economic Dialogue allow both countries to form efforts to spice up their economic ties. The SED (Strategic Economic Dialogue) forum established in 2010 further strengthened their bilateral relations especially economic relations. India and China are collaborating within the establishment of the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor. This project will link Kolkata with Kunming, the Capital of Chinas’ province, passing through Myanmar and Bangladesh, with Mandalay and Dhaka being the focal points. China was India’s largest trading partner in goods until the year 2018. China holds its dominance in the power and telecommunications sectors in India. The thriving bilateral trade and economic cooperation have intensified between these two Asian giants, this also helps them to reassure the benefits of a non-confrontational relation.

Challenges faced in the Sino – India relationship:

As mentioned Sino Indian relations haven’t always been of cooperation and do have certain underlying bouts of conflict in their relationship. There’s the divergence of interests which causes the lack of smooth ties and hurdles in their relation. Some of the areas of conflict include the border disputes that’s been going on since the 1950s and acts as a chief irritant to this date. The Tibet issue is also a challenge in the relations. China’s friendly relations with Pakistan are a source of tension between China and India due to the withstanding rivalry between India and Pakistan. India finds its (Pakistan and China’s) all-weather friendship as a security threat and concerned about the arms sale and transfer of technology especially nuclear and missile. China encircling India by occupying neighbouring ports also is a point of contention. If the above-mentioned challenges can be overcome then the relations of these two countries would be smooth.


The bilateral relations of India and China is of great importance not only to these two Asian giants but to the world as well, as both are assumed to be global powers. Their relations are of interest as they have gone through times of war and peace, as well as conflict and cooperation.

The Cold war proved that the economy preceded politics, China found India as a potential market for its good and products and changed its policy towards India.  There was a noticeable change in China’s South Asian policy in the mid-1990s, adopting a more subtle and neutral approach towards India. This directed to a greater level of talks and negotiations on the economic and political front between the two powerhouses. India too found China of great help in the export market because of the collapse of the USSR.

Though the relations aren’t rosy and both the countries view each other as competition its’s vital for both countries to go on forward and conduct relations in a pragmatic manner. China also holds India, a key with fear of India siding with the West. Though, both sides look at each other with certain suspicion it can be seen as to how, since the Soviet Union’s disintegration there’s been an impact in the way both these countries carry on their relationship. The principles of Panch Sheel, especially the first principle which is “mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty” holds vitality to cope with challenges faced by both the countries at present. A transformation of India China relations could transform the regional dynamics. The way both of them handle their relations have an impact on the way the Asian era is paved.

(Madhumitha Kamalan is a research intern at Chennai Centre for China Studies. She is pursuing her second year  M.A in International Studies at Stella Maris College, Chennai. The views expressed are personal)




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