The modern Indian-Chinese relations began in 1950. Back then India was among the earliest nations to end formal affinities with the Republic of China (Taiwan) and to acknowledge the People’s Republic of China as the rightful government of Mainland China. Fast forward to now, both nations are the largest populates and among the fastest-growing economies in the world. As with any growing neighboring nations the bilateral relationship of India-China has been disquieting.

The 1950s

At the time, China declared that it would be obtaining Tibet. As a reaction, India sent a letter of objection advancing mediations on the Tibet issue. On the contrary, China became engaged with more intent and ended up deploying troops on the Aksai Chin border.

India chose to take a more diplomatic route instead of opting for a more hostile alternative. India was so keen on its relations with China that it refused to attend a conference for the conclusion of a peace treaty with Japan because China was not invited. Moreover, India even endeavored to pose as China’s delegate in Global affairs since China had been isolated from many issues

Chinese premier Zhou Enlai with Jawaharlal Nehru in 1960 | Picture Courtesy : Hulton Archive

In 1954, China and India settled the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. According to the treaty, India accepted Chinese sovereignty over Tibet. Symbolizing the cordial relation between the two nations the contemporary Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru championed the slogan “Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai”

Sino-Indian War

20 Oct 1962 – 21 Nov 1962


In the very same year, India issued new maps including the Aksai Chin territory inside the confines of India. Therefore, when India observed that China has constructed a road through the region, border disputes and Indian remonstrance became more prevalent.

The Dalai Llama with Jawaharlal Nehru, during his visit to India in 1956 | Picture Courtesy: Claude Arpi

Sparking further conflicts, in January 1959, PRC premier Zhou Enlai wrote to Nehru, pointing out that no government in China had accepted the legality of McMahon Line, which the 1914 Simla Convention marked the eastern division of the border between India and Tibet. In March of the same year, the Dalai Lama, spiritual and temporal head of the Tibet, solicited refuge in Dharmsala, Himachal Pradesh where he organized the Tibetan government-in-exile. Thousands of Tibetan refugees resided in northwestern India. As a result, China blamed India of expansionism and imperialism in Tibet.

The War:

On October 20, 1962, China’s People’s Liberation Army attacked India through Ladakh across the McMahon Line in the then North-East Frontier Agency. The Indian side was overly dismissive about the possibility of China attack. And therefore were thoroughly unprepared. India stationed only two divisions of troops in the region of the conflict, while heavily prepared Chinese troops had three regiments located

Chinese troops managed to push the Indian forces within 48 km of the Assam lowlands in the northeast. Besides, they conquered all the strategic points in the Aksai Chin and Demchok regions of Ladakh. Then they announced a unilateral ceasefire on 21 November. They demanded that both parties withdrew to 20 km behind its contemporary (post-war) line of control. However, India disagreed with the claim. Later in the wake of international pressure, China called back its troops. Notwithstanding, they subdued the Aksai Chin region for good.

According to China’s official military history, the war accomplished China’s policy goals of securing borders in its western sector.


The China-India relation further declined proportionately with the improvement of China–Pakistan relations. The PRC supported Pakistan in its 1965 conflict with India.

Later Conflicts:

In late 1967, there were two episodes where both nations returned fire in Sikkim. “Nathu La incident”, and “Chola incident”. This time India was ready and they pushed PRC back from Sikkim. In 1987 it marked another Sino-Indian skirmish. Decades later in 2017 the two countries once again involved themselves in a military standoff.

2020 Skirmish

In late May 2020, Chinese authorities took offense to Indian road construction in the Galwan River valley. And it triggered a retreat on 16 June. It ended in the reported deaths of 20 Indian soldiers and casualties along with 43 Chinese soldiers. This is the first time soldiers were killed in clashes since the 1962 war officially ended.