Free Critical Thinking About Sino-Indian Relations

Type of paper: Critical Thinking

Topic: China, War, Countries, India, Water, Region, Conflict, Energy

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2020/11/09


The People’s Republic of China and India have a relatively long history. Being neighbors, the two countries have interacted trade wise and culturally for thousands of years. In fact, the two countries have engaged in countless interactions that have or the most part benefitted both nations across the social, political and economic domains. However, even with this cooperation, the two countries’ relationship has not always been rosy. In the course of their historical interaction, the countries have differed on several key matters and this difference in opinion and view has often threatened to escalate to a full blown to full war. China and India are the largest countries in South-East Asia in terms of both population, and size. As such, they have the capability to wage war with each other. A case in point is the 1962 war between the two nations over unresolved border issues. In the aftermath of the war, the two countries continued to engage in a cold war until 1976 when they resumed diplomatic ties. A full blown war between these two nations would inadvertently have a lot of casualties given the large populations of the two nations, and consequently, efforts should be taken to facilitate the avoidance of such a war. This paper looks at the conditions that could precipitate the outbreak of a war in the next year. The paper looks at the nature of these conditions and the characteristics that would propel the probability of war among these two greatly populous nations. In addition to this, the paper also looks at possible solutions that could be applied to avoid conflict and foster a cool relationship between the two nations.


The Sino-Indian relations are well documented, from the era of the Han Dynasty in China, spanning through the Tang, Song and Yuan dynasty, all the way to modern times (Arif, 2013). In modern times, the two countries have had a relationship characterized by friendship, normal relations, and conflict. For instance, India was the first non-communist country to recognize and establish diplomatic ties with China while other countries viewed communism as a threat. The countries cooperated and coexisted peacefully even despite the Chinese military takeover of Tibet in 1950. However, there are remains several probable reasons that could propel the two nations to war even if the state of affairs between the two nations currently appears to be relatively cool
The first probable reason for a Sino-Indian war in the next year is territorial dispute. China and India share a vast boundary, spanning all of 3,488 kilometers. Whereas majority of the border is not in dispute, the Arunachal-Pradesh region of Northeast India is an area which is in dispute. This dispute has its roots in the Chinese Revolution of 1911 and the fall of the Qing dynasty. This led to the subsequent declaration of China, Tibet, and Mongolia as equal and separate countries. However, the latter two struggled for international recognition. In 1913-14, the then British administrator of India, Sir Henry McMahon, drew up the 550-mile McMahon line. This was done during the Shimla Conference. This line defined the India-China border. In 1947, however, the Chinese government rejected the McMahon line. The two countries continued to engage in hostilities over this region, eventually culminating in the Sino-Indian war of 1962 where China attacked India laying claim to the region. An amicable solution to the conflict was reached in 1963, which saw the war brought to an end. However, China has never completely renounced its claim to the region and skirmishes between the two countries’ forces continue to be reported. This is in spite of diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue terminally.
China has been growing in leaps and bounds economically over the last few years. This economic and military might may justify a fresh attempt to expand its territories. This logic can best be explained by the theory of offensive realism. This theory holds that states expand, as they grow stronger simply because they can, if for no other reason (Tang, 2008). That, coupled with some particular conflicts of interest, primarily linked with territorial control could further explain this. The first conflict could be that of lateral pressure. As a state expands, natural resources continue to be depleted. This in turn creates a need for more resources to sustain the economic growth. Though these resources can be obtained through purchasing, they can also be got through territorial expansion. This provides a very enticing reason for China to invade the Arunachal Pradesh region and spark a new war.
Another factor that may drive the offensive realism is population pressure. China, especially in its imperial past, has a history of territorial expansion. In the past, as Chinese individuals moved beyond its borders to pursue economic opportunities, the Chinese government often felt compelled to govern those areas. A similar occurrence may be observed in the near future with this region. Yet another factor may also be nationalism. Nationalism may result in expansion where national leaders feel a need to expand in order to rescue co-ethnics resident in other countries. The country may also feel a strong desire to correct historical injustices or regain historical lands (Fravel, 2010). China has historically claimed the Arunachal Pradesh region as its own. Hence, it may make another move for the territory, provoking an armed conflict.
Though military might is an option to solve this problem, it may not be the best solution. There exist a number of different other solutions that can be applied to settle this conflict. An example of these methods could be mediation. Under this option, the governments of both countries can agree to refer the dispute to a regional or international mediator. This mediator should be impartial and objective, and both parties should agree to abide by the decision. An example of a body that can mediate the border dispute is the United Nations, through the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the International Court of Justice.
The other reason that may lead to a militarized conflict between India and China is the issue of food security. This issue is brought about by the Chinese government’s insistence on pushing on with the Brahmaputra Dam project. The Brahmaputra River rises in the Kailas Range region of the Himalayas, in Chinese-controlled Tibet. This river flows through the disputed Arunachal Pradesh region and onwards into the Assam state of India (Hydropower ambitions of South Asian nations and China: Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers basins, 2012). Thus, the river is a major source of water for the region and is vital for food security. The decision of China, as an upper riparian state, to build a dam and divert the water has a major impact on the lower riparian states, India being among those. Once the dams have been built, there runs the risk of untold human suffering in India through induced food shortage.
That China continually refuses to enter into any water sharing agreements with its neighbor only complicates the issue. As such, if China goes ahead with the damming and diversion projects, and these lead to water shortage in India, armed conflict may arise. The Indian government and its military would feel forced to take action by destroying the dams. This would then create a flashpoint that would wind up in an all-out war. Food security is of paramount importance and in military action may be warranted to guarantee it.
That said, military action need not be the only way out. The two states can enter into bilateral water-sharing treaties. International water laws can guide these agreements. Examples of such laws are the 1966 Helsinki Rules on the Uses of the Waters of International Rivers and the UN Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses. However, China is neither a party to, nor a signatory of this treaty. The treaties can also be based on the provisions of agreements such as the Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan or the Ganges Treaty between India and Bangladesh (Eckstein, 2008).
Yet another potential cause of a Sino-India war could be energy security. China and India are the world’s most populous nations. The two nations are also emerging Asian giants who are engaged in a neck-to-neck energy competition battle. Both nations are rapidly modernizing which has seen an unprecedented level of energy competition arise. This competition is being driven by the soaring and seemingly insatiable demand for energy by both countries. A case in point is the demand for oil in China, which stood at 8.6 million barrels per day in 2010, with expectations that this will increase to 14.2 billion barrels in 2030 (Liu, 2006). Despite China having increased its refining capacity by a massive scale, it is still expected that approximately 11.7 million crude oil barrels will need to be imported in 2030, up from the current 4.8 million barrels. The rising demand for energy resources in both countries is however not the main reason why war could break out. As it is, both countries are currently pursuing efforts to obtain leverage over petroleum producers.
This is being done in an effort to become price makers as opposed to takers. Evidence of this phenomenon is visible in the two countries’ investments in the Middle East and Africa. This investment takes the form of direct sourcing for exclusive oil resources use by National Oil Companies. Examples of these companies are India’s ONGC Videsh, which has huge investments in Russia, Sudan, and Angola. It is these playgrounds that could eventually turn into flashpoints when the resources start to become even scarcer, a situation which could eventually precipitate a war.
A possible solution to this could be discussion about managing future energy security. Instead of the current competitive and mercantilist method currently at play, a collaborative mechanism should be adopted. This can include collaboration in research to explore alternative energy sources. These sources would go a long way in ensuring there is enough for everybody instead of scrambling for the little there is at present. The two governments must drop their rigid approaches and cooperate with each other
In conclusion, it is evident that despite the relative peace and calm being observed at present, underneath the surface tension continues to bubble. How much longer this state of affairs can continue before a full-blown war erupts is anyone’s guess. The proverbial elephant in the room remains the ownership of the Arunachal Pradesh region. The longer this issue remains unsolved, the greater the likelihood of war. All efforts should be made to avert a war and the resultant economic ramifications.


Arif, S. M. (2013, December). A History of Sino-Indian Relations: From Conflict to Cooperation. International Journal of Political Science and Development , 129-137.
Eckstein, G. (2008). Examples of the Political Character of International Water Law. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting (American Society of International Law) , 364-366.
Fravel, M. T. (2010, December ). International Relations Theory and China's Rise: Assessing China's Potential for Territorial Expansion. International Studies Review , 505-532.
Hydropower ambitions of South Asian nations and China: Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers basins. (2012). International Journal of Sustainable Society , 131–157.
Liu, D. X. (2006). China’s Energy Security and Its Grand Strategy. The Stanley Foundation: Policy Analysis Brief , 3-9.
Tang, S. (2008, September). Fear in International Politics: Two Positions. International Studies Review , 451-471.

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