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Kashmir conflict: India and Pakistan, but why China?

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Kashmir conflict: India and Pakistan, but why China?

Jammu and Kashmir, commonly known as the Kashmir region, is a disputed territory divided between India and Pakistan, claimed in its entirety by both sides. For decades, this issue had severed Indo-Pakistan relations and brought the two countries on the verge of a nuclear catastrophe. However, it is relatively unknown that 20 percent of the whole of Kashmir is administered by the region’s other nuclear power, China. India and China fought a war in 1962 and since then have been unable to settle their border dispute.

Like many territorial disputes around the world, the conflict over Kashmir began with independence from a colonial power. When India fell under colonial rule in the late 1700s, the British grouped people by their religion, castes, languages, and nationalities, to prevent a unified nationalist wave that could topple imperialism. The Hindus and Muslims had slowly turned into estranged communities they had never been before colonialization. Britain's divide-and-conquer tactic ensured that by the time the Indian independence movement ended colonization in 1947, the prospects of a united India would diminish. Areas with a Muslim majority was to become Pakistan, those with a Hindu majority were to be India. The task of parting the two countries was assigned to Sir Cyril Radcliffe, a lawyer who had never been to India before. Radcliffe drew up his maps in less than five weeks, dividing provinces, districts, villages, and homes. The hasty partition led to the displacement of approximately 17 million people and the loss of more than 1 million lives in mass riots. Adding fuel to the fire, the British also told the nominal rulers of 600 princely states, who were tax collectors for the British, to decide themselves either to join India or Pakistan. While Kashmir was a Muslim-majority state, it was ruled by a Hindu monarch named Hari Singh. The monarch initially hoped for independence, but when Pakistani guerrillas attacked the region, he decided to join India in return for military assistance. India then invaded Kashmir, which led to a bloody war between Pakistan and India. The war ended after two years in 1949 with the de facto division of the state along the Line of Control, which is still recognized as the unofficial border. Both sides signed an agreement that two-thirds of Kashmir belongs to India and the remainder, called Azad Kashmir, belongs to Pakistan.

Following India’s Independence, China felt that the British had left behind a disputed legacy on its doorstep. The 3,440-km long border between India and China was never officially drawn on maps, and there was no Chinese approval over the Line of Actual Control that separates the two countries. Once China annexed Tibet in 1950, Mao Zedong initiated the construction of a road to connect Xinjiang and Tibet through Aksai Chin, a region claimed by India to belong to Kashmir and whereas by China to be part of Xinjiang. The relations between the two countries hit rock bottom in 1959, when Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled into exile after another Chinese invasion. Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru granted the Dalai Lama sanctuary in India, infuriating Mao. From then onwards, border clashes broke out along the disputed lines. In 1961, India attempted to establish border outposts and patrols north of Chinese positions, to cut them off from their supply line. Additionally, India authorized its troops to fire not only in self-defense but to push the Chinese back. As a result, on October 20, 1962, the People's Liberation Army of China launched a two-pronged attack to drive away Indian force in Aksai Chin, ending up gaining full control over the territory within only two days. Beijing then instructed its army to halt, as they sent a peace proposal to Indian prime minister, Nehru. The Chinese offered that both sides disengage and withdraw twenty kilometers from their current positions. Nehru responded that Chinese troops needed to withdraw to their original position instead and demanded a wider buffer zone. On November 14, 1962, the war resumed with an Indian attack. After five days, the two sides announced a formal ceasefire, as the Chinese realized that both Britain and the United States were willing to provide material support to India.

The Sino-India war lasted just one month but claimed the lives of 1,383 Indian and 722 Chinese troops, with China retaining control over 38,000 square kilometers area of Aksai Chin that had been initially under Indian administration. In 1963, China refueled tensions by signing the Sino-Pakistan boundary agreement, in which Pakistan agreed to cede a substantial section of Kashmir under its control to China. This agreement changed the regional balance by bringing Pakistan and China closer to each other, but making the ties between Pakistan and the United States strained at the same time. China quickly started constructing the Karakoram Highway to connect its Xinjiang province to the north of Pakistan. India deemed the 1963 border agreement as illegal and objected to the construction of the highway. Regardless of the disapproval and further interruption by the Indo-Pakistan war, China completed the 1300-km-long Karakoram highway in 1979, which has now become a niche adventure tourism destination. At an elevation of 4,693 meters above sea level, it is one of the highest paved roads in the world. Nearly 1000 workers lost their lives, mostly in landslides and falls, while building the highway.

Over the years, the world’s two most populous countries made slow progress in resolving differences over their shared Himalayan frontier. Much of it, 3,268 km, still falls into three disputed areas: Arunachal Pradesh, Aksai Chin, and Sikkim. China continues to challenge India by strengthening Pakistan, India’s arch enemy. In 2017, China declared to invest 57 billion dollars in Pakistani infrastructure and energy projects as part of its Belt and Road initiative. Meanwhile, the Indian government still does not recognize the border agreement the Chinese reached with Pakistan in 1963. Several standoffs between China and India in recent years have attracted media attention. In 2013, Chinese forces objected to the construction of an Indian observation post near the Line of Actual Control in the Depsang Valley. A 21-day standoff ensued. Just days before Xi’s first visit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, over 200 Chinese troops entered Indian territory in the western Himalayas to build a road. In 2017, Chinese engineers also tried to build a road through the Dolkam plateau, an area in the Himalayas claimed by both China and Bhutan. Indian troops on their side of the border directly intervened and pushed the crew back.

A border standoff between India and China has sparked once again in May 2020. India’s government says that unprovoked Chinese troops threw rocks at Indian soldiers in the western Himalayas. Beijing counters that claim and instead criticizes Indian forces for illegally walking into Chinese territory. However, the real reason that infuriated Beijing seems to be India's decision to develop infrastructure near the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which could boost Delhi's capability to move men and material rapidly in case of a conflict. Tension has been growing in the past year over the disputed areas. When India controversially decided to end Kashmir's limited autonomy in 2019, it also redrew the region's map. The new federally administered region of India, Ladakh, included Aksai Chin, which, as described above, is under Chinese control since 1962. In May, thousands of soldiers from both sides have camped out in the Galwan Valley, accusing each other of trespassing. Chinese trucks have moved equipment into the area and raised concerns of a long confrontation. Former Indian diplomat P. Stobdan, an expert on India-China affairs, said, "We routinely see both armies crossing the LAC - it's fairly common and such incidents are resolved at the local military level. But this time, the build-up is the largest we have ever seen." According to international media accounts, India was caught off guard. The country's soldiers were outnumbered and surrounded when China promptly diverted men and machines from a military exercise to the border region.

In the past decade, the Chinese Army has built a road and rail network of over 58,000 km and nine new military airfields on the Tibetan plateau. It took the Chinese two years to deploy 22 divisions against India in the 1970s. It can now deploy 34 divisions in a month. The Chinese defense budget, at USD 225 billion, is four times of that of India. Indeed, Delhi authorities abruptly recognized that the Indian Army was not ready for a war with China. On June 6th, military leaders of both countries met at the border to peacefully resolve the situation. News outlets stated that the two commanders had a one-on-one conversation for nearly three hours before delegations were brought in. During the meeting, the Indians told the Chinese that the construction of roads shall continue as planned as it is well within the Indian boundary. In what may have been the first signs of de-escalation of tensions along the LAC, Indian and Chinese troops moved back from standoff positions at different points in Ladakh. India’s Foreign Ministry said that China and India have stepped back from a tense confrontation along their shared border and pledged to resolve the issue through a diplomatic approach. At the time, it seemed like the military-to-military conversation had gone well. Yet, on June 15th -16, India lost twenty soldiers during another clash in the Galwan Valley. China accused Indian forces of carrying out “provocative attacks” on its troops without offering more details and did not disclose if any of its soldiers died. An Indian government minister had said that China lost at least 40 soldiers in the clash. Both sides insist no bullet has been fired in this latest skirmish. How a clash that did not involve an exchange of fire could prove so lethal is unclear. On Monday, two nations held hours-long talks and reached at a "mutual consensus to disengage" along the LAC. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said both sides "agreed to take necessary measures to promote a cooling of the situation".

Although it is safe to say that the latest fire is going out on its own, the regional rivalry might not disappear anytime soon. Over the years, China has claimed territories of 23 countries, even though it only has borders with 14. The total area of China’s claims on other countries exceeds the size of modern-day China itself. History shows that China has tended to avoid inflaming its territorial disputes. Communist Party leaders have settled 17 of China’s 23 disputes since 1949, sometimes receiving less than 50 percent of the land at issue. But Xi’s foreign policy vision is opposite to those of the late leaders. Xi talks about the third era in China’s long recovery from its century of humiliation at the hands of colonial powers like Japan and Britain. He has famously pledged that by 2049, China will have achieved the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”, a term that includes both economic and territorial significance. A decade ago, it was common to hear China advocate for its peaceful rise. Countries in the region had nothing to worry about, but not anymore. Since the mid-2010s, China had embarked on an aggressive campaign against its neighbors.

In the past few months, China has been asserting its sovereignty in the South China Sea through small incidents. China sunk a Vietnamese fishing vessel in April. It then increased its push against U.S. warships, using aggressive signaling, dangerously close maneuvering, and illuminating ships with fire-control radar, which suggests the imminent launch of weapons. In the future, the Chinese communist party will probably perpetrate more aggressive nationalist moves against its neighboring countries time after time, as a measure to unify its people, deflect attention, and pursue a new route to the mandate of heaven, the historic Chinese term for the legitimacy of the ruler, bestowed with his right to the throne by the Heaven, the divine entity. Ultimately, it leaves us with the question of how the democratic world may cope with China’s new nationalism, and how would it reshape the world as we know it.


Unique journey through the Tibetan Plateau, the Roof of the World as it is commonly known, during the time of the Tibetan Shoton Festival. Indulge through this Tibet private tour in the complex world of Tibetan Buddhism, while taking in the mesmerizing views of the Himalayas rising high above the Tibetan plateau.



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