Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Future of relations with China


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Galwan river, Shyok River

Mains level : Paper 2- India-China relations

This article calibrates the changes our future engagement with China will experience following the Galwan incident. The first casualty has been the trust between the two countries. And next could be strategic communications between the two countries. So, India’s response to the incident should be based on these changes.

What explains China’s aggression

  • Hubris, internal insecurities in China, the COVID-19 pandemic and the complex and confused external environment explains it.
  • Challenge posed by India from the ideological, strategic and economic points of view can be the other factor.

Violation of many agreements

  • China’s recent military actions in Ladakh clearly violate the signed agreements of 1993, 1996, 2005, etc on maintaining peace and tranquillity along the LAC.
  • These actions are in violation also of other signed agreements, including at the highest level.
  • It also contradict positions taken by Xi himself at the informal Wuhan and Chennai summits in 2018 and 2019.
  • In 2003, two countries signed a Declaration on Principles for Relations and Constructive Cooperation between our two countries.
  • The third principle states: “The two countries are not a threat to each other. Neither side shall use or threaten to use force against the other.”
  •  This was more than reiterated in the agreement signed in April 2005 on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for settlement of the India China boundary question.
  • . Article 1 states, inter alia: “Neither side shall use or threaten to use force against the other by any means.”

Doklam and informal summits

  • .A qualitative change though occurred in Chinese perceptions after the Doklam face-off.
  • That necessitated the first informal summit at Wuhan in April 2018.
  • One important outcome of that summit was the agreement to continue to meet at the highest level and to enhance trust and strengthen strategic communication.
  • The second informal summit took place between Xi and Narendra Modi in Chennai in October 2019.
  • It was in the aftermath of the revocation of Article 370 by India and China’s unnecessary and unsuccessful attempt to raise the issue in the UN Security Council.
  • By then, many other developments — both internal and external — had added pressure on China.
  • At Chennai, the Chinese undoubtedly drew some red lines.

Which red lines does China feel India has crossed

  • One fundamental red line is China’s long-held and strategic interest in parts of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Jammu and Kashmir border Xinjiang and Tibet and allow connectivity between the two.
  • It is wrongly argued that it is Pakistan that is the issue in J&K.
  • China is as big an issue but has quietly hidden behind Pakistan’s cover.
  • That is no longer feasible as democratic India becomes economically and otherwise stronger.

Future of Special Representative process

  • The Special Representatives process to address the boundary question seems stalemated and its usefulness needs review.
  • The 2005 agreement contains the necessary parameters for a boundary settlement but there is obviously not adequate common ground.
  • Some positivity can, however, be brought in if the LAC clarification process is revived and completed in a time-bound manner.
  • But this is easier said than done in the prevailing circumstances.
  • Patrolling procedures will need to be revised, preferably by mutual agreement.

Unsustainable economic partnership

  • The current nature of the economic partnership between India and China is not sustainable.
  • India’s annual trade deficit with China in recent years virtually finances a CPEC a year!
  • China has still not fulfilled all its commitments to India on joining the WTO in 2001.

What should be our trade policy

  • Indian business and industry must stop taking the easy option.
  • Some costs will no doubt go up but there can be environmental advantages of switching to other sources of technology and equipment.
  • There is more than one available source of financial investments in Indian ventures.

What will be the nature of bilateral dialogue

  • Bilateral dialogue mechanisms will continue their desultory course.
  • On issues of interest to India such as terrorism, we get no support from China.
  • Cooperation on river waters has not evolved.
  • On the global agenda, on issues such as climate change, dialogue and cooperation will continue in multilateral fora depending on mutual interest.

What should be the nature of governments response

  • The response to China’s recent actions in Ladakh must be an all-of-government one, indeed an all-India one.
  • It should be covering all sectors including heightened security and be coordinated, consistent.
  • This is not a question of nationalism or patriotism but of self-esteem and self-respect.

Consider the question “What should be the basis of India’s evolving policy response to China’s new approach to the border dispute?”


Bilateral relations between India and China cannot progress unless there is peace on the borders and China recognises that India too has non-negotiable core concerns, aspirations and interests.

Get an IAS/IPS ranker as your 1: 1 personal mentor for UPSC 2024

Attend Now

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


Join us across Social Media platforms.

💥FREE for 24 Hours Prelims Notes
This is default text for notification bar