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Revisiting Sino-Indian Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) On the Eve of 60th Anniversary of Panchsh

There is enormous possibility of India and China working together as the world has enough space to accommodate the growth ambitions of both countries. Dr.MANMOHAN SINGH


Soon after their independence, it seems that India and China realized the importance of CBMs which is evident from the conclusion of Panchsheel Agreement in 1954. However some authors trace the origin of Sino-Indian CBMs to the post-cold war period. India and China have had numerous discussions that have aimed at resolving many of the issues that divide them since the 1950s. The Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) are an important component in conflict resolution process. CBMs are intended to increase the military transparency and openness, limit the military deployment and military activities and express the friendly attitude towards the other side so that countries concerned increase their mutual confidence, reduce misunderstanding and miscalculation of the other’s military activities, which pose the danger of triggering a war. Towards this end several agreements have been concluded since 1954. However, it is very sad to note that none of these agreements or discussions have prevented India and China going to war in 1962, or border skirmishes and has resulted in a permanent settlement of any of the problems that actually trouble their relations.

Although it is said that both India and China have realized the importance of CBMs much earlier that is in the starting of the cold war itself, there were and are stumbling blocks standing in the way towards peaceful conflict resolution. Therefore, in this paper an attempt is made to conceptualize and then look into the CBMs between India and China in terms of positives and negatives. Then it attempts to identify the factors that act as stumbling blocks towards conflict resolution and then analyze them critically. The overall objective of the paper is to assess and find how far the role of CBMs has been effective in influencing the resolution of disputes between India and China. It has also become an imperative to review the Sino-Indian CBMs in the light of the Ladakh intrusion of 2013, power transition in China and the 60th year celebration of Panchsheel Agreement. And finally this paper comes out with new solutions and suggestions as options for India.


First of all let me briefly delve into the basics of CBMs per se before going into the contours of India-China relations in terms of disputes, divergences and CBMs. CBMs are arrangements designed to enhance assurance of mind and belief in the trust-worthiness of states. Confidence is the product of much broader patterns of relations than those which relate to military strategy. These patterns encompass economic, cultural, technical and social relationships. Thus military and non-military initiatives have to be undertaken by antagonistic states to reduce tensions and enhance mutual confidence. CBMs are designed to increase understanding by reducing suspicions. They are separable into military and non-military CBMs and into those having unilateral, bilateral or international content. Military CBMs are also classifiable into transparency, communications and constraint measures to perform the related functions of information, notification, observation and stabilization. CBMs can further be catalogued into provisions enabling exchange of information, mutual access to observation or arrangements to handle incidents and crises.

Now coming to the Sino-Indian relations, even though more than fifty years had passed since the outbreak of the Sino-Indian war, the present regional and bilateral conditions are still far from congenial. India and China display a peculiar case of “constrained cooperation,” with economically convergent interests tending to artificially overshadow prevailing strategic differences. China acknowledges that it shares an interest in a peaceful and stable South Asia. Nevertheless, strengthened Indo-U.S. ties are widely perceived in Beijing as an attempt by Washington to enlist India as a counterweight to China. This situation is despite the fact that India and China are among the world’s great civilizations.


The new governments of independent India and communist China showed a natural desire to assert their authority in all the territories, however remote and inhospitable, to which they believed they had a just claim. Given the nature of the terrain and troubled history of the border regions, it was almost inevitable that there should be uncertainty and disagreements about the exact course of the boundaries between the two countries. In October and November 1962, India and China fought a two-front war along the eastern and western sectors of their Himalayas border. After pushing Indian forces back and occupying a large portion of territory, China unilaterally called for a ceasefire and offered to withdraw its forces twenty kilometers from the Line of Actual Control without a demilitarized zone. Both countries understood that these arrangements were not to prejudice any future settlement of the border dispute. However, China knows that India is no longer a push-over of the 1962 variety because of the growing strength of the Indian armed forces.

Theoretical Framework of the CBMs

At the outset of this section it is desirable to define CBMs. Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) are regarded as “diverse arrangements that can help reduce tensions and promote good neighborly relations. Traditionally they are designed to make the behavior of states more predictable by facilitating communication among or between states and establishing rules or patterns of behavior for state’s military forces [1].” Succinctly CBMs can be defined as broader concept to defuse tension and increase the possibilities of peace among the hostile nations by concerted efforts. It has been fashionable in much of the English literature on the subject to visualize confidence building measures (CBMs) essentially in their Western framework. However, the CBMs in the Asian context have preceded all these Western models, most of which owe their origins to the Final Act of the Helsinki process of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) that was concluded in 1975. Besides, the Asian CBMs have also been far more broad based than even those Western mechanisms that were launched later under the Document of the Conference on Disarmament in Europe held in 1986 at Stockholm (Sweden). Similar arrangements had been for long experimented amongst various Asian nations, including both China and India [2] There are propositions saying that India-China CBMs were borrowed from the western literature which is not true. The truth of the matter is that the CBMs had been institutionalized in Asia much earlier the Helsinki Accord of 1975 [3]. The peace process consists of three stages namely Conflict Avoidance Measures (CAMs), Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) and Peace Building Measures (PBMs).

a) Conflict Avoidance Measures (CAMs)

It means the avoidance of unwanted and unintended conflicts or wars arising particularly from miscalculations or misinterpretations. To start the peace process, we need here a minimum political will to stop wars. This is workable especially in the nuclear era. These initial steps like the establishment of hotlines between two countries’ military, or even between Prime Ministers or Presidents but cannot solve underlying political and territorial disputes. Nevertheless, it has enormous worth in the context of nuclearisation of both India and China. CBMs have been particularly ineffective, if not absent, during times of conflict, because despite declarations to the effect, neither country has moved beyond the point of ‘conflict avoidance’, towards actual confidence building measures, and finally, towards strengthening peace. One thing you have to keep in the mind that to start negotiations between adversaries especially one whom you consider as someone stabbed in the back is very very difficult. Whereas which is not so in the case of parties where no prior enmities exist. Of course if you see Henderson Brooks Report it says it is India which started war than the normal perception in India looking at China as aggressor.

b) Confidence Building Measures (CBMs)

The second stage of this process is far more difficult as it requires far more political capital to resolve the deep-seated grievances or core issues. In the case of Sino-Indian conflict, the transition phase from conflict avoidance to confidence building is extremely difficult, because of the persistence of irritants between India and China. Probably this transition might be easier if there are no core issues blocking the way. The 1954 Sino-Indian Agreement on Trade and Intercourse between India and the Tibet Region, the 1962 Colombo Power Proposals, various Border Talks, the 1993 Agreement on Maintaining Peace and Stability in the Region in the Vicinity of the Actual Control Line were some of the examples of confidence building measures. Probably this transition might be easier if there are no core issues blocking the way. However, following the June 1989 Tiananmen Square incident, while most world powers had imposed sanctions, thus, completely isolating China, the relations between China and India not only continued to be smooth but experienced a greater momentum: the period between the second half of 1989 and 1990 saw ten high-level visits between the two countries that included visits to New Delhi by Vice Premier Wu Xueguian in October 1989 and Foreign Minister Qian Qichen in March 1990 [4]. This bonhomie can be attributed to the mutual goodwill of India and China which is essential for the success of CBMs.

c) Peace-Building Measures (PBMs)

This last stage requires enormous amount of political will for conflict reconciliation and resolution, where the peace process have to encounter with vested interests, hardliners. It is here the role of leadership is put to test as leaders must be able to take risk taking efforts for peace against their own constituencies. If formidable hurdles like the 1962 aggression, sporadic border skirmishes can be crossed to avoid war and to negotiate a fragile peace, national leaders can go ahead with further broadening and deepening existing patterns of co-operation and making positive developments as irreversible as possible. It is here the role of people to people contacts must also be emphasized. Perhaps if we all made a conscious effort to ignore our preconceptions and be more optimistic, the road to peace would be smoother [5].

Main Developments: Sino-Indian CBMs process

In this section we will be seeing the various CBMs between India and China and will be delved the most important agreements among them. There was no improvement in bilateral relations until the reestablishment of full diplomatic ties in 1976. In 1986-87 India and China were involved in a crisis in the Sumdorong Chu area of Arunachal Pradesh where a Chinese incursion had taken place. This led to the mobilization of both Indian and Chinese forces and something of a stand-off ensued. This tension lasted over twelve to eighteen months. At least one lesson relevant to CBMs was that even in a period of relative calm things can veer out of control to the detriment of both sides. Relations began to improve after the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, visited China in December 1988. The border question still remains unresolved. However, even in the absence of a formal settlement, both countries have been willing to negotiate CBMs to avoid conflict and to provide the basis for increased cooperation. In 1981 for example, China unilaterally allowed Indian pilgrims access to pilgrimage sites in Tibet. Between 1981 and 1988 a series of eight official discussions on the border issues and Sino-Indian relations took place. Following Rajiv Gandhi’s visit, an India –China joint working Group (JWG) was established to go into the boundary dispute. Relations improved markedly with the visit of the then Indian Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, to Beijing in September 1993.

The mandate of the JWG is to settle the border issue and to promote peace and tranquility along the frontier. Some of the measures negotiated by the JWG include:

1) Military-to-military meetings to be held twice a year, in June and October, along both the eastern and western sectors of the border at Bum La Pass and Spanggur Gap. 2) Military-to-military communication links to be installed at key points along both the eastern and western sectors of the border. 3) An agreement was reached on the establishment of dedicated communication links, or “hotlines,” between military headquarters. 4) Local commanders are to be encouraged to conduct meetings, as needed, using color-coded flags to initiate contact. 5) Exchanges between defence educational institutions and between Strategic Studies Research Institutes were to be arranged. 6) An agreement was reached regarding prior notification of military maneuvers and troop movements along the border. 7) An agreement on the prevention of airspace violations was arrived at. 8) Exchanges between defence educational institutions and between strategic studies research institutes wee to be arranged. 9) Exchanges between high-level defence officials began with Sharad Pawar, the then Indian Defence Minister, who visited Beijing in July 1992. 10) Another working group was established in 1988 to cover issues relating to economic cooperation, trade, science and technology.

In addition to progress on border issues through the JWG, India and China have begun to explore other areas of cooperation. The Sino-Indian rapprochement that began with the Narasimha Rao–Li Peng Summit in Beijing in September 1993 led to what has been an epoch-making agreement on the Maintenance of peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China border Areas. This agreement begins by reiterating the five principles of peaceful coexistence mutually agreed upon by the two countries in the April 1954 agreement on trade between India and the Tibet Region of China. This Sino-Indian rapprochement culminated in a historic visit by the then Chinese President Jiang Zemin to New Delhi in December 1996. During his visit, the two countries signed the agreement on CBMs in the military field along the line of actual control in the china-India border Areas.

Thanks to the joint efforts, China and India have established following CBMs:

1) In 1990, China and India decided to establish the meetings between the soldiers on both sides of the actual control lines on an unfixed basis. 2) In 1992, the two countries established a hotline between the meeting stations on both sides of the actual control line. 3) In September 1993, China and India signed the Agreement on Maintaining Peace and Stability in the Region in the Vicinity of the Actual Control Line. The agreement stipulates that the two sides should seek solutions to the border disputes through peaceful means: the two sides do not use force or threaten to use force; before the final solution to the border issue, two sides strictly respect and obey the actual control line; the military strength of reach side in the respective area of actual control line should be kept at minimum size, which serves to match the relationship of friendly neighbourhood between the two countries; the two sides should reduce the armed forces to the limit reached between them in the areas along the actual control line etc. 4) In 1993, for the implementation of the afore-mentioned agreement, a special working group composed of diplomats and military experts was established. 5) In 1995, China and India agreed to withdraw from the two confronting outposts near the actual control line and agreed that they would never enter them. 6) Also in 1995, China and India agreed to carry out mutual visits by the personnel from the military agencies, organize joint expeditionary part for exploration of ventures; the two sides also agreed to forbid hunting, firing guns and explosion in the area near the actual control line. 7) In 2005, an agreement on ‘political parameters and guiding principles for settlement of the boundary dispute’ was signed when the then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was in Delhi. 8) Hand-in-Hand 2008: The India-China Joint Military Exercise 9) In 2010, India and China signed an agreement to establish a hotline between the Prime Ministers or heads of the two countries. 10) In 2013, India and China signed set of CBMs called Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA).

Of all these agreements, the author thinks that only two agreements are significant to be mentioned in detail. They are the 1993 and the 1995 agreements because these agreements were actually responsible for paving the way for the institutionalization of the subsequent CBMs.

Agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity, 1993

This Agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control” (henceforth MPTA) which is widely considered as the first CBMs was signed between the then Prime Ministers Narasimha Rao and Li Peng at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on September 7, 1993 which was rightly hailed as the first major conventional arms control agreement between two Asian countries without any role played by third countries [6].

As the first thing, it reiterates its faith in Panchsheel and asserts that these Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence should be revived to form the basis of inter-state relations. But far from the earlier Sino-India Panchsheel Agreement of April 1954 where only India made major concessions, this clearly represents the equality of the two nations and lays out various CBMs that should further buttress Sino-India understanding and mutual confidence [7]. This spirit and sincerity is crystal clear throughout its concise text that details on a number of CBMs.

Article I of the MPTA starts by highlighting the consensus where both sides wish to resolve the boundary question “through peaceful and friendly consultations” and both undertake to “strictly respect and observe the line of actual control” and never to “use or threaten to use force” and whenever necessary “jointly check and determine the segments” of their borders. Article II makes a far more concrete recommendation asking the two sides to keep their border military presence “to a minimum level compatible with the friendly and good neighbourly relations” and in fact to further agree “to reduce” them “in conformity with the requirements of the principle of mutual and equal security.” Taking off from here, Article III talks of evolving “effective CBMs” and asks each side to not “undertake specified levels of military exercises in mutually identified zones” and to “give the other notification of military exercises” along the border. Then Articles IV and V speak about their agreement to create mechanisms for dealing with intrusions and other exigencies while in Article VI both sides clarify that despite these resolutions, nothing in this treaty shall “prejudice their respective positions on the boundary question.”

To actually kick off initiatives, Article VII asks both sides to start by specifically defining the “form, method, scale and content of effective verification measures,” and Article VIII initiates this process by asking each side to “appoint diplomats and military experts to formulate, through mutual consultations, implementation measures for the present agreement,” and this setting up of an Expert Group can be easily described as the greatest achievement of this pact in terms of building Sino-Indian CBMs. Finally, Article IX gives its date of coming into effect and declares all its versions–Hindi, Chinese, and English–as equally valid.

CBMs for Line for Actual Control, 1996

This second CBMs is the twelve-Article agreement on CBMs was signed during President Jiang Zemin’s November 1996 visit to New Delhi. Amongst some new initiatives, this treaty is primarily geared to fulfill the agenda of their first such agreement of 1993 and it seeks to further extend their existing CBMs to more specific and sensitive areas in the military field [8].

Going by its first Article that reads, “Neither side shall use its military capability against the other side,” it virtually stands out as a no-war pact and both sides have also projected it in that spirit. The agreement once again affirms their commitment to the LOAC (Article II) while this time fully recognizing that both have “different perceptions” on certain segments for which the two agree “to speed up process of clarification” and start “to exchange maps indicating their respective perceptions…as soon as possible” (Article X). It in this businesslike approach to these sensitive questions that gives hope for the future as it depicts their mutual confidence in the current state of their rapprochement. Besides, all these years there had been major confusion as China does not consider its deployments in Tibet as being open for mutual reductions and India believes that Chinese forces on the Tibetan plateau have a clear one-to-ten advantage against Indian forces who will have to operate from below.

Accordingly, Article III of this agreement provides that in keeping with “the principle of mutual and equal security” all future ceilings are expected to be based on “parameters such as the nature of terrain, road communications and other infrastructure and time taken to induct/deinduct troops and armaments.” Article IV clearly categorizes certain types of offensive weapons, withdrawal of which will be given priority. These include combat tanks, infantry combat vehicles, guns (including howitzers) with 75 mm or bigger calibre, mortars with 120 mm or bigger calibre, surface-to-surface missiles, surface-to-air missiles, and to start with, the two sides will “exchange data on the military forces and armaments” that are to be reduced. It also exhorts the two to “avoid holding large scale military exercises involving more than one division (15,000 troops) in close proximity to the LOAC” and to inform the other side on “type, level, planned duration and areas of exercise” in case it involves more than a brigade (5,000 troops), and about deinduction “within five days of completion,” and the other side shall be free to seek any number of clarifications as it deems necessary.

Taking a major step forward, the two agree that no combat aircraft which “include fighter, bomber, reconnaissance, military trainer, armed helicopter and other armed aircraft” shall be allowed to fly “within ten kilometers” of the LOAC “except by prior permission” from the other side (Article V). Similarly, Article VI prohibits any use of “hazardous chemicals, conduct blast operations or hunt with guns or explosives within two kilometers” of the LOAC unless it is “part of developmental activities” in which case the other side shall be informed “through diplomatic channels or by convening a border personnel meeting, preferably five days in advance.” Then to “strengthen exchanges and cooperation between their military personnel and establishments,” Article VII provides that the two sides shall expand (a) “meetings between their border representatives at designated places; (b) “telecommunication links” between these border points; and (c) establish “step-by-step medium and high-level contacts between the border authorities” of the two sides. Should any land or air intrusions take place “because of unavoidable circumstances like natural disasters,” the other side is expected under Article VIII to “extend all possible assistance to them” and the two shall exchange information and have consultations to work out “modalities of return of the concerned personnel.”

And finally, as under Article XI the Sino-Indian Joint Working Group on Boundary Question starts “mutual consultations” for “detailed implementation measures”, once again under Article IX each side shall have “the right to seek clarification” regarding the “manner in which the other side is observing the agreement” or on any “doubtful situation” in the border region, and under Article XII, though all Hindi, Chinese and English versions are “equally authentic,” but “in case of divergence, the English text shall prevail” and like most other agreements, it is also subject to ratification and “shall enter into force on the date of exchange of instruments of ratification.”

Other CBMs

Apart from being a major take-off point for many fresh initiatives, these two agreements also provide a major boost for their other existing channels for Sino-Indian border related CBMs. Within less than two months of the MPTA, for example, a Chinese ship, Zheng He, made a port visit to Bombay, which was the first of its kind in the last 35 years. Before this only the INS Mysur had visited Shanghai in 1958. This was followed by these important visits to New Delhi: Li Ruihuan (Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Consultative Committee), Wen Jiao (an alternate member of the Central Politburo), Wu Yi (Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation Minister) and Chi Haotian (Defence Minister) respectively in December 1993 and January, June and September 1994. Qiao Shi, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) came to India in November 1995 and finally President Jiang Zemin (who is also Chairman of the Central Military Commission) paid a three-day visit to New Delhi in November 1996.

Also working on the basis of the Chinese guanxi (personal contacts), principle, exchanges between other opinion makers and members of strategic research institutions (like the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, United Services Institution of India, Centre for Policy Research, and Rajiv Gandhi Foundation from India and China Institute for Contemporary International Relations, China Association for Friendly International Contact, Fudan University, etc from China) have also been increasingly formalized. Similarly, Xinhua, People’s Daily and Beijing Review have their accredited correspondents in India and India’s Press Trust of India has a resident reporter in Beijing. The agreements on exchange of scholars (between the Indian Council for Social Science Research and Chinese Academy of Social Sciences signed at New Delhi in January 1992) and their Agreement on Radio and Television Cooperation (signed in Beijing on September 7, 1993) have also contributed to expanding mutual awareness. Contacts have also evolved between various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) like trade unions and women’s organizations, stimulating a great deal of interest and goodwill. The Festival of China was staged in India in 1992 and the Festival of India was held in China in April 1994. In fact, the Communist Party of China now has direct links with the Indian National Congress, the Bhartiya Janata Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The two countries had also opened up direct flights between New Delhi and Beijing and now have telecom lines between various cities of the two countries.

The Joint Working Group (JWG) on Boundary Question has been a most effective and generic forum for implementing Sino-Indian CBMs. To begin with, the JWG has institutionalized regular meetings of military commanders from both sides at Bumla and Dichu in the eastern sector, Lipulekh near Pithoragarh (U.P.) in the middle sector and Spanggur near Chushul in the western sector. These meetings are organised and conducted by the area commanders from the two sides to establish facts on the ground and can also be held more than once or in case of any exigencies. Besides, commanders on both sides are provided with “hotline” links to ensure consultations in case of any intrusions or other emergencies. Advance notice of proposed military maneuvers on one side is provided to the other and mechanisms for handling possible intrusions on either side are put in place. The high point of these JWG meetings occurred during its eighth meeting during August 1995 at New Delhi where the two sides agreed to actually disengage their troops from four border posts in the Wangdong tract where they had been deployed at an alarming proximity to each other. Apart from their land borders, the two Air Forces have also been building ties and officers of the People’s Liberation Army-Air Force (PLAAF) have already visited India’s Air Force bases in 1995 [9].

Similarly, the two Navies have also been working together, allaying each other’s doubts about the Chinese naval presence in Myanmar or India’s maritime capabilities at its Fortress Andaman. India has suggested that China’s envoy visit the Indian naval base at Port Blair in Andaman and Nicobar. At a certain stage there were even reports of China and India preparing for joint military and naval exercises which, however, was soon denied by the Chinese officials [10].

Stumbling Blocks in the Normalization Process

These CBMs though good per se could not take the peace process to its logical conclusion in spite of the consent of both the parties. Notwithstanding the progress in certain directions, there have been some problems which the author views as stumbling blocks in the developing relations between India and China. These are discussed below.

a) The Nuclear Factor

The Sino-Indian rapprochement had got stalled due to Pokharan II. But it is only a matter of time before the process comes back to its normal equilibrium. Looking at China’s own example, India can perhaps afford to wait or even ignore China’s criticism. In the face of China’s own nuclear explosions in October 1964, the Kennedy Administration had even thought of physically eliminating China’s nuclear facilities. In such adversity, Beiujing had, however, continued to denounce American reactions to its nuclear weapons and Washington had to finally give up its policies and build détente with the Chinese. During the 1990s, the two countries had intimate interaction in the economic sphere and the two sides have since evolved into the economic sphere and the two sides have since evolved into strategic partners. It is the sovereign right of India to determine whether or not its security compulsions require it to go in for nuclear weapons as an ultimate shield, notwithstanding the opinion of the western nations. One example in this context would suffice. After the North Korean missile test in August 1998, the U.S. and Japan decided to conduct joint research on a missile defence system to protect Japan and US troops in Korea. It was argued that in the absence of this, despite possessing nearly 10,000 nuclear weapons, the U.S. needs a new system of missile defence to protect its troops abroad, then surely India can have a small number of nuclear weapons to protect itself from any country in the neighbourhood truing to blackmail it. This is bound to have its impact on Indian decision making as well.

b) Cartographic Aggression

It has become the habit of Chinese to commit cartographic aggression very often without the feeling of guilty. The Chinese maps continue to show large tracts of Indian Territory (particularly Arunachal Pradesh) as belonging to China. When these in accuracies are pointed out to China, it tries and wishes them away as errors in map making. This typoe of aggression is always a serious matter and cannot be countenanced as it had led to the 1962 war with China. Further, China and India had agreed under Article X of the 1996 Agreements to exchange maps of the entire LAC an important CBM for the two countries-but China did not do so. Since 1996 the CBMs have not made the progress they should have.

c) Territorial Claims

The border and territorial disputes remain one of the biggest sticking points in Sino-Indian relations. On the border issue it needs to be recognized that the 4,000 km long border has been tranquil over the last several years. It is only last year that the 19 kilometers deep intrusion by an armed patrol of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) into the strategically sensitive area around Daulet Beg Oldi in the Aksai Chin region occurred, and detected by India on 16 April 2013, which has been unprovoked [11]. Despite years of high-level special representative talks, India’s border with China remains largely undefined. China also claims sovereignty over the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, and tensions have flared in recent years over Beijing’s refusal to grant Chinese visas to residents of the disputed state, on the grounds that Arunachal Pradesh’s residents are, in their eyes, already Chinese citizens.

d) The Sino-Pakistani Relationship

China’s security relationship with Pakistan can be characterized as enduring and strengthening, a dynamic that gives pause to many in New Delhi. The increased presence of Chinese military engineers in the border flashpoint of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir has Indian defense experts especially concerned. The PRC sees Pakistan as a strategic surrogate against India. China’s military, missiles and nuclear assistance to Pakistan continue. There is no guarantee that Pakistan will not use Chinese supplied arms against India.

e) The Tibet and Tibetan Diaspora

Tibet is another issue that is significant source of friction between the two countries. Relations between India and China took a nose-dive with the flight of His Holiness Dali Lama to India in 1959. Over 100,000 Tibetan exiles currently live in India, but Beijing and New Delhi have done little to formalize their status. The author is of the opinion that this issue could become more pressing in the coming years, especially if the youngest generation of Tibetans proves more assertive in its dispute with China. Despite New Delhi’s assurance that the spiritual leader would not be allowed to engage in any anti-China activity from India’s soil, Chinese suspicions in this regard remain strong. Authoritative views in China allege that India wants to play the Tibet card against the PRC and as examples, point to India’s not banning Tibet government in exile and continuing support to the Dalai Lama coming from eminent Indian personalities [12].

Impact of these Disputes on Sino-Indian Relations or CBMs

Given these disputes and divergences, bilateral relations between Asia’s giants remain, in the words of Zhang Yan, China’s ambassador to India, “very fragile, very easy to be damaged, and very difficult to repair.” Both have massive manpower resources, a scientific and industrial base, and million-plus militaries. For the first time in more than fifty years, both are moving upward simultaneously on their relative power trajectories. As the pivotal power in South Asia, India perceives itself much as China has traditionally perceived itself in relation to East Asia. Both desire a peaceful security environment to focus on economic development and avoid overt rivalry or conflict. Still, the volatile agents of nationalism, history, ambition, strength, and size produce a mysterious chemistry. Neither power is comfortable with the rise of the other. Both seek to envelop neighbors with their national economies. Both are nuclear and space powers with growing ambitions. Both yearn for a multi-polar world that will provide them the space for growth and freedom of action. Both vie for leadership positions in global and regional organizations and have attempted to establish a sort of Monroe Doctrine in their respective neighborhoods without much success.

And both remain suspicious of each other’s long-term agenda and intentions. Perception has been one of the major problems of international relations. And India and China is not an exception to this trend. Each perceives the other as pursuing hegemony and entertaining imperial ambitions. Both are non–status quo powers: China in terms of territory, power, and influence; India in terms of status, power, and influence. Both seek to expand their power and influence in and beyond their regions at each other’s expense. China’s “Malacca paranoia” is matched by India’s “Hormuz dilemma.” If China’s navy is going south to the Indian Ocean, India’s navy is going east to the Pacific Ocean. Both suffer from a siege mentality born out of their elites’ acute consciousness of the divisive tendencies that make their countries’ present political unity so fragile. After all, much of Chinese and Indian history is made up of long periods of internal disunity and turmoil, when centrifugal forces brought down even the most powerful empires. Each has its vulnerabilities—regional conflicts, poverty, and religious divisions for India; the contradiction between a market economy and Leninist politics for China. Both are plagued with domestic linguistic, ethno-religious, and politico-economic fault lines that could be their undoing if not managed properly.

In other words, China and India are locked in a classic security dilemma: one country sees its actions as defensive, but the same actions appear aggressive to the other. Beijing fears that an unrestrained Indian power—particularly one that is backed by the West and Japan—would not only threaten China’s security along its restive southwestern frontiers (Tibet and Xinjiang) but also obstruct China’s expansion southwards. Faced with exponential growth in China’s power and influence, India feels the need to take counterbalancing measures and launch strategic initiatives to emerge as a great power, but these are perceived as challenging and threatening in China [13]. As a result of all these power struggle the ultimate victim is the CBMs which remain a half-hearted measures which sarcastically described by some as conflict building measures.

What India must do?

In view of the above disputes and divergences in perceptions and approaches, a vital question arises over what are the options for India to pursue? How then do we deal with China’s growing strength and assertive attitude on issues or core interests for India?

First, we need to increase our own defensive capabilities particularly in the border areas.

Secondly, it will be useful for decisions and policy makers to consider the possibility of bringing the Tibet issue with China with frank and direct conversation.

Thirdly, we need to consider whether we could apply pressure on China by enhancing our official and non-official contacts with Taiwan.

Fourthly, we need to strengthen our capacity and capabilities in the Indian Ocean region and not to allow China to enhance its presence there.

Last but not the least we need to establish strong and active relations with like-minded countries like USA, Japan, Germany, Britain and Australia to put a psychological balancer in the minds of our adversaries [14].


Both have gained nothing in pursuing the course of confrontation so far. Both sides have realized that the peaceful relations between India and China are in the interests of both the countries. This can happen only if there is agreement on the terms of coexistence-equality, a fair and early settlement of the border dispute, appreciating each other’s security concerns, an agreement on nuclear security, good neighbourly relations without ulterior aims, and expanding economic, political and security cooperation. Only then can the two states shed their legacy of mistrust. Just like in the international relations people generally say that nothing is permanent except national interests, let us hope that Sino-Indian rivalry too is not permanent.

The above discussed CBMs have been reached on the basis of political trust than any international thrust. They in turn advanced the political trust between the two countries. Since early 1990s when China and India began to establish the CBMs, politicians and scholars in the two countries have understood the importance to improve the relations between them. Both sides saw that only the constructive relationship can be materialized on the basis of political trust. Furthermore these two big powers have a lot of similarities and common in the changing world. These again prompt them to have better mutual understanding and wider and closer cooperation in international affairs. Therefore they joined their efforts, the relations between the two. Thanks to their efforts, the relations between the two countries have been steadily improving and the situation in the border areas have been kept peaceful and stable, although there have been minor setbacks, such as the accusations by some politicians that China poses a threat.

To sum up, though there are disputes and divergences that prevent them from reaching a compromise to all these problems, there is no denying of the fact that the CBMs between the two countries have played a very important role in the development of the bilateral relations. Specifically speaking, CBMs between China and India have contributed positively in the following ways:

-the hotline liaison between the meeting situations;

-the reduction of the armed forces in the disputed area;

-the diminishing of the armed conflict in the border regions;

-the exchange of visits by the top military leaders;

-the relaxation of tensions in the border region;

-the increase of mutual understanding and trust;

-the stability and development of the bilateral relations.

This kind of contributions in the face of long and severe disputes and crises are worth accomplishing. The existing CBMs have brought about an atmosphere for further CBMs in the future and in wider areas. In the future, the CBMs between China and India can be expanded to the following areas-limiting the activities which may lead hostilities; limiting the military activities which may lead to confrontation; carrying out dialogues in the military conversions; carrying out cooperation in the non-operational and non-sensitive areas, such as military medicine, military sports, military arts, military history, exchange of military students. There is a realization in both the countries of late that the only way to reduce the potential friction between them is to go for new confidence-building measures (CBMs) between India and China. Barring the exceptional skirmishes, by and large the Sino-Indian border has not suffered any major disruptions during these last ten years thanks to this process of evolving CBMs. This, when compared to India’s experience of incessant firing incidents and infiltration on its borders with Pakistan, makes the Sino-Indian border look almost peaceful.

Therefore considering the above benefits of CBMs on the Sino-Indian relations, it can be said that its role has been significant in moulding the course of the India-China relations, though at times not up to the mark. It is ironically found during the course of the study that the Sino-India CBMs were effective in the peace times rather than in the war times. This irony certainly defeats the very purpose for which CBMs are forged that is good neighbourly relations and reduction of tensions. This is the reason why in spite of so many treaties, India and China could not resolve tensions that erupts occasionally. It is this increasing realization and understanding on the part of India and China of late that they lack political will in executing CBMs in letter and spirit, that gives hope that this complicated boundary question can be resolved in the course of time. Sometimes some commentators negate these Sino-Indian CBMs citing that they have not resulted in resolving the Sino-Indian boundary question. But keeping in mind the complexities involved, the gradual evolution of CBMs has not only preserved peace between these two Asian giants but also generated a great deal of mutual trust and understanding giving hope towards eventually resolving their border dispute. Keeping in the mind of the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s statement that he considered the improvement of relations with India as his ‘historic mission’, I would like to end this article with the positive note that there is bright future for the CBMs as far as the India-China relation is concerned because of the following factors which gives hope that all the disputes may be solved. The factors having potentiality for facilitating the Confidence-Building Measures are as follows:

A Good First Step: CBMs on certain mutually important issues say border skirmishes may sow the seeds for broader Sino-Indian cooperation, no matter whether the disputes between the two powers are too significant for such an approach. In this regard, it is a welcoming fact that both the countries had already opened the telephone hotline between the Prime Minister of India and the Chinese Premier. This can be extended to the levels of sector headquarters and the Director General Military Operations (DGMOs) so as to have a strategic communication between India and China. Such a hotline is expected to help in early resolution of situations like the one which happened in Depsang Valley in Ladakh on April 16 2013, when Chinese troops intruded 19 km into Indian Territory crossing the Line of Actual Control. A Shared Enemy: Both China and India have confronted and fallen victim to terrorist violence and there is common ground for CBMs to combat this threat. Beijing and New Delhi have already taken steps to collaborate on counterterrorism, coordinating joint military exercises and setting up a high-level policy dialogue.

Nuclear Perspectives: In my view, Chinese and Indian philosophies on nuclear weapons have much in common—both favor disarmament and No First Use policies—which creates room for agreements on how best to develop a stable nuclear balance in the region. In my opinion this convergence may lead to a wide range of nuclear CBMs, from joint advocacy of global disarmament to the separation of land-based nuclear warheads from their delivery systems.

Endnotes [1] Krepon, Michael, (ed.), (1993): A Handbook of confidence Building Measures for Regional Security, Handbook No.1, Washington DC: The Henry L. Stimson Center. [2] Sumit Ganguly, “Mending Fences” in Michael Krepon and Amit Sevak eds., Crisis Prevention, Confidence Building and Reconciliation in South Asia, (London: Mcmillan, 1995), pp. 11-24; also Reinhard Drifte, “Arms Control and the Superpower Balance in East Asia,” in Gerald Segel ed., Arms Control in Asia, (London: Macmillam, 1987), pp. 37-38. [3] Zhao Weiwen and Giri Deshingkar, “Improving Sino-Indo Relations”, in Krepon and Sevak, Ibid., p. 227; Ganguly, Ibid., p. 12. [4] Zhen Ruixiang, “Shifting Obstacles in Sino-Indian Relations,” The Pacific Review, vol. 6, no. 1, 1993, p. 66. [5] Krepon, Michael, (ed.), (1993): A Handbook of confidence Building Measures for Regional Security, Handbook No.1, Washington DC: The Henry L. Stimson Center. [6] Singh, Jasjit “Future of Sino-Indian Relations, Strategic Analysis, vol. xvi, no. 11, February 1994, p. 1517. [7] Lt. Gen. K.K. Nanda (Retd), “Promising New Turn in Sino-Indian Relations,” Defence Seminar, vol. III, no. 3, March 1993, pp. 5-7. All subsequent quotations from this treaty are from the text published in this article. [8] Agreement between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People’s Republic of China on Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas. Signed November 29, 1996. All the subsequent quotations from this treaty are from this text. [9] “Officers of PLAAF Have Been Visiting Indian Air Force Bases,” Times of India, December 22, 1995, reprinted in Strategic Digest, vol. xxvi, no. 3, March 1996, pp. 444-45. [10] “Sino-Indian Joint Military Exercises Plans Denied,” Xinhua (in English) printed in Foreign Broadcast Information Service–China (henceforth FBIS-CHI), 94-244, December 20, 1994, p. 12. [11] Ranada Jayadeva, Intrusion in Ladakh: Warning from China, Inside China, The IPCS China Research Programme Quarterly July-September 2013, Vol.3.No.3, p..4 [12] D.S.Rajan, Sino-Indian Relations, Occasional Paper India –China Relations Chennai Centre for China Studies, 27 September 2010, p.37. [13] [14] Ambassador Sajjanhar, Ashok India-China Relations, Scholar’s Voices, Centre for Defence Studies, Vol.3.No.1, January-June 2013, p. 8

(The writer Dr.G. Thanga Rajesh, Research Officer, Chennai Centre for China Studies, email: The views expressed are his own.

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