China will not compromise its territory in any way. In a meeting with US Defense Secretary James Mattis, Chinese President Xi Jinping said Beijing would ‘not concede an inch’ regarding its disputed areas such as Taiwan and the South China Sea. He reiterated their stance was steadfast and clear-cut regarding China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. This may be an indication for India to back off too.
Last year, the world witnessed a two-month standoff between the Indian Armed Forces and the People’s Liberation Army of China over the Chinese constructing a road in Doklam, a disputed area. Also known as Donglang in Chinese, Doklam is an area with a plateau and a valley. It lies between Tibet’s Chumbi Valley to the north and Bhutan’s Ha Valley to the east and India’s Sikkim state to the west. Another disputed area is divided into two, China controls the Aksai Chin which is part of the Ladakh region, and India controls Arunachal Pradesh – this borders Tibet. China also lays a claim on Arunachal Pradesh, saying it to be South Tibet. A state-controlled China Daily in its recent editorial stated that “under India’s illegal rule, the residents of Southern Tibet live difficult lives, face various kinds of discrimination and look forward to returning to China”.
Tibet is the Core Issue
Another disputed territory in which both China and India have their eyes on is Tibet. As a matter of fact, Tibet is the core issue in Beijing’s relations with fellow neighbouring countries Nepal and Bhutan as well as India. It lays claims on the basis of purported Tibetan ecclesial rather than any professed Han Chinese connection. The only section of the Indo-Tibetan border it does not dispute is the Sikkim-Tibet frontier. India claims that these borders were agreed between British India and the independent or semi-independent authorities in Xinjiang and Tibet in the early days of the past century.
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Despite the Dalai proposing that all Tibetan regions be able to have genuine ethnic regional autonomy under the framework of the Ethnic Regional Autonomy Law of the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese government regards him to be a separatist element who is trying to split Tibet from China. According to declassified Chinese documents, China believes that India has had an influence on Tibet since ages, particularly after the Younghusband expedition. But since 2010, in a joint statement with China, India has stopped making any reference to Tibet being part of China. It has also linked any endorsement of ‘one China’ to a reciprocal Chinese commitment to a ‘one India. Political analysts and foreign media reports have described India and China’s relationship as a state of apathy, bitterness and mistrust fuelled by lack of constructive dialogue.
South China Sea Dispute
China holds the South China Sea close to its heart. The Asian giant is involved in multiple disputes in the South China Sea over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial for global trade, potential oil and gas reserves. Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam have raised concerns about the Chinese building military structures on the disputed islands. The US has questioned China’s ‘broader goals’ saying that the militarization on the islands stands in stark contrast to the openness of US strategy. India has also jumped into the South China Sea by implementing its Look East Policy (LEP).
Geographically, it connects the Indian Ocean and the East China Sea via the Malacca Straits. This is one of the busiest sea lanes in the world and it serves as a vital economic artery. India’s total international trade volume is sea-borne, half of which passes through these straits. Moreover, the Association of South Asian Nations (ASEAN) constitutes one of India’s largest trade partners, trade value totalled at $71 billion in 2016 – 2017. India’s interest in the South China Sea is also because of energy. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) in 2013 estimated the region to contain up to 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in reserves. India has been conducting oil exploration and bidding for new oil and gas blocks in the South China Sea since the early 1990s. This has also translated into national security interests.
China is also India’s largest trading partner but their relationship is imbalanced even though their bilateral trade reached $88.44 billion in 2017. Trade analysts regarded this as a landmark despite the bilateral tensions including the China – Pakistan Economic Corridor. China took India for a ride by blocking its efforts to bring about a UN ban on J-e-M leader Masood Azhar. China also blocked India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group
Overall, China and India do not have an agreed Line of Actual Control (LAC) to separate the jurisdictions under their army’s control.