Chinese-Indian territorial disputes

6 May

Chinese and India have recently been at a military stand-off in one of many disputed Himalayan border regions. This occurred as Chinese troops were accused of setting up tents within Indian territory, in the Depsang valley in Ladakh, in eastern Kashmir, on April 15th. Potential conflict was only avoided by talks between the two parties on May 5th, however no permanent agreements have been made surrounding the position of the disputed border. Although both sets of troops have now agreed to retreat to their pre-stand-off positions, this was an indicator of the historical, and possible future, tensions surrounding the Chinese-Indian border.

These border tensions between China and India are nothing new; in 1962, the Sino-Indian War was fought over the disputed Himalayan territory which resulted in the battle of land troops for the control of Ladakh. China gained control of Rezang La in Chushul and Tawang, though they agreed to a ceasefire on November 20th 1962 and withdrew troops from the captured regions. However the border dispute resulted in only a small war which did not include any deployment of naval or air forces by either side, though this conflict did show the potential violence which could potential result from this long-standing border dispute. In 1967, the Chola incident, also known as the 1967 Sino-Indian skirmish, was a day-long military conflict between Chinese and Indian forces after members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army had infiltrated Sikkim, which at the time was a land-locked state in the Himalayas and a protectorate of India. This skirmish involved another conflict between, what is now, the Chinese-Indian border, with fighting occurring in the Himalayan Mountains, after China disputed the British-made border. The result of the skirmish was a Chinese withdrawal. Though the dispute was a lot smaller and concentrated than the previous border dispute, in did show the continuation of border tensions which were reduced when China recognised that part of the border in 2003, as a result of India agreeing to recognise Tibet as a Chinese administrative area. The 1987 Sino-Indian skirmish was the latest skirmish between Chinese and Indian forces along their border. This conflict took place in Sumdorong Chu Valley after a further border dispute occurred surrounding the statehood of Arunachal Pradesh which was granted by India but disputed as China claimed the region. However this skirmish did not result in any fighting, despite the deployment of Indian troops to the disputed region, and in fact led to a thaw in relations. Though, despite this, border contention as a whole remains present and has not been solved by any of the previous conflicts or the negotiations in their aftermath, but some agreements have lasted which have decreased the likelihood of war.

It has been argued that these border conflicts were a result of geopolitical aims rather than a genuine attempt for expansion. However, as these two nations continue to grow in power and, at least with India, in population, the disputed border region may feature more prominently as these future powers fight for control of land and global position. Although the disputed land is largely mountainous, Kashmir is renowned as a source of cashmere and is largely habitable with a largely agrarian economy, and this region may be to solution to India’s impending problem with over-population. However, it must be stated that Kashmir has been partitioned between India and Pakistan and has largely involved disputes between those nations in the region. Nevertheless, border tensions between all three parties have the potential to ignite conflict between two potential superpowers and Pakistan, which is made all the more threatening to China with the growing populations of India and Pakistan and the future fight for living space.


Raghavan V.R. (1998) India-China Relations: A Military Perspective. Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts: New Delhi. Available from: [Accessed May 6 2013]

Nalpathamkalam A. R. (2012) Cooperation without trust: India-China relations today. Available from: [Accessed May 6 2013]

3 Responses to “Chinese-Indian territorial disputes”

  1. de1g11 May 7, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

    The future of territorial disputes between China and its neighbours may not be played out in a full scale war as implied by the article. What may be more likely is China committing to a show of force rather than fighting to dissuade any potential conflict. The evidence for this is the current dispute over the islands of the South China Sea. China is building its naval force very publicly in order to highlight how its strength can only improve and at sea its few vessels act aggressively including its fishing boats. This is all in an attempt to ward off any possible aggressors.

    With the China-India border what may happen is a large build of troops and some diplomatic hot air but a war over the borders is highly unlikely. Unless China is forced into it by some unforeseen circumstances, such as intense domestic pressure from the public.

    • gcb1g12 May 7, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

      The article was not meant to imply to likelihood of full-scale war, however I believe that the article did argue that due to the factors of growing populations and conflicting needs from India and China over the region, such as living space and the economic benefits of the region, a localised small-scale conflict is more likely and has a historical pretext.

      Despite this, there have been cooling in relations between China and India, as seen as the result from the 1967 and 1987 Sino-Indian skirmishes, and the economic cooperation between these two states is certain to discourage any escalation of violence in the future. China and India have great economic dependency on each other; China is one of India’s biggest trading partners and both nations have recently agreed a new $100bn (£65bn) bilateral trade target for 2015, compared to $66bn in 2012, which shows a significant growth in trade relations. Furthermore, on November 26th seven economic cooperation agreements, worth $5.2 billion, were signed by representatives of the two nations. Li Zhu of the Yunnan University of Finance and Economics says that China and India can form “one huge trading bloc”, as the two largest populations in the world’ this is made likely by the complementary nature of the two economies, with India supplying agricultural and engineering equipment and information technology education to China, and China supplying electronic hardware, white goods, construction machinery and power transmission equipment to India. China is also developing its western trading routes through its gateway province of Yunnan and is also opening up new trading routes in order to form closer economic relations with India.

      Therefore, I would conclude by saying that, although a localised territorial dispute may be likely in the future, a large-scale conflict between China and India is extremely unlikely due to economic cooperation and mutually beneficial peace


  2. pw9g10 May 8, 2013 at 10:08 am #

    Considering that recent conflicts have been called ‘skirmishes’ it appears that the tensions have not been severe enough to evoke a full-scale war. However, the existence of such tensions threatens to undermine the relationship between China and India and could potentially lead to a fall in relations.

    Despite this, the seeming insignificance of this dispute relative to the economic interdependence of the two nations will surely guarantee that conflicts of this size do not amount to anything more than skirmishes. The extent of bilateral trade proves that China and India are pulling in the same direction rather than opposing one another and coupled with the actual cooling of tensions it is increasingly unlikely that a war would break out.

    What is unsure is how the two nations will continue to approach this dispute. It appears to be the case that neither want to back down as a show of force but with neither wanting to push too far in gaining a positive solution for themselves. Therefore, the dispute may phase out with the status quo being maintained with neither China nor India likely to completely back down. From the economic situation in this region it is unlikely that either nation would risk losing a massive trading partner or want to have a bordering country as big as they are opposing them.

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