Despite Indo-China’s strained relationship, China is set to host the 3rd Trans-Himalaya Forum for International Cooperation in Nyingchi, Tibet, on October 4 and 5. The event will be attended by Pakistan’s caretaker Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani, which is expected to complicate India-China relations further.
India and China are two of the major regional powers in Asia, the two most populous countries and among the fastest-growing major economies in the world. Growth in diplomatic and economic influence has increased the significance of their bilateral relationship. However, the association is also marked by challenges and conflicts, such as border disputes, trade imbalance, strategic rivalry, and ideological differences.
The Trans-Himalaya Forum was established in 2018 to promote increased cooperation among neighboring countries on aspects such as geographical connectivity, environmental preservation, ecological conservation, and the reinforcement of cultural bonds. The forum’s last in-person meeting was held in 2019.
The two countries have held several talks to resolve the border standoff, but no breakthrough has been made. The border between India and China is not demarcated and has been a source of tension and conflict for decades.
The Line of Actual Control (LAC) separates Indian-controlled territory from Chinese-controlled territory. Still, its alignment is disputed by both sides. It is divided into three sectors: the Eastern Sector (Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim), the Middle Sector (Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh) and Western Sector (Ladakh).
China claims around 90,000 sq km of Arunachal Pradesh as its territory, calling it “South Tibet.” India claims around 38,000 sq km of Aksai Chin in Ladakh as its territory, which China occupied during the 1962 war.
The two countries have fought three wars over the border issue:
- The Sino-Indian War of 1962
- The border clashes in Nathu La and Cho La in 1967
- The Sumdorong Chu standoff in 1987
The latest incident occurred in October 2023, when Indian and Chinese troops clashed in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang sector, beating each other with sticks and canes.
The strained India-China relationship has implications for the region and the world. The two countries are nuclear powers, and a conflict between them could have devastating consequences. The association also affects global trade and supply chains, as China is a major trading partner for many countries.
It is important to note that the India-China relationship is complex and multifaceted. There are many areas where the two countries cooperate, such as trade, investment, and climate change. However, the border dispute remains a major obstacle to improved relations.
India and China have a large and growing trade relationship, but it is heavily skewed in favor of China. India’s trade deficit with China widened to a record high in 2022-23, as exports to China fell by 28% to $15.32 billion, while imports from China rose by 4.16% to $98.51 billion.
In simpler terms, India bought more goods from China than it sold to China in 2022-23. The difference between the two is known as the trade deficit. India’s trade deficit with China has grown recently, reaching a record high in 2022-23.
China is a major exporter of manufactured goods, while India is a major exporter of raw materials. This means that India needs to import more goods from China than it exports to China.
- Pakistan: China considers Pakistan, its “all-weather friend” and has supported it politically, economically, and militarily for decades. China has invested heavily in Pakistan under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), part of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). CPEC passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), which India claims as its territory. India opposes CPEC as a violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. China has also shielded Pakistan from international pressure on terrorism financing and human rights violations.
- Tibet: India had hosted the Dalai Lama and his Tibetan government-in-exile since 1959 when he fled from Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule. China considers Tibet an integral part of its territory and views any support for the Tibetan cause as interference in its internal affairs. India recognizes Tibet as part of China but also asserts that it has historical ties with Tibet that predate Chinese occupation.
- Indian Ocean: India considers the Indian Ocean its sphere of influence and has a strong naval presence. China has been expanding its footprint in the Indian Ocean through its naval deployments, port development, and maritime cooperation with countries such as Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh, Myanmar, etc. India views China’s activities as threatening its security and interests in the region.
- Quad: India is a member of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), along with the US, Japan, and Australia. The Quad is an informal grouping that promotes a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. China perceives the Quad as a containment strategy against its regional rise and influence.
Implications for India
China’s hosting of the Trans-Himalaya Forum in Nyingchi, Tibet, and Pakistan’s participation in the event are seen as provocative moves by India. India has accused China of trying to change the status quo in the border region and Pakistan of supporting China’s aggressive actions.
China could use the Trans-Himalaya Forum to further its regional interests, such as promoting the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI is a global infrastructure development initiative that China has been using to expand its influence around the world.
The 3rd Trans-Himalaya Forum for International Cooperation is a significant event that has the potential to complicate India-China relations further. China’s hosting of the event in Nyingchi, Tibet, and Pakistan’s participation are both seen as provocative moves by India. China could use the forum to further its regional interests, such as promoting the BRI.
India needs to be vigilant and take steps to counter China’s growing assertiveness in the region. This could include working with other regional countries, such as Japan and Australia, to build a counterweight to China’s growing power. India should also strengthen its defenses along the border with China to deter further aggression from Beijing.
The future of India-China relations is uncertain, but it is clear that China is trying to assert its dominance in the region. India must be prepared for a long and difficult struggle to protect its interests.