China’s Serious Border Disputes With Most Neighbours – Unilateral Approach – India the Bulwark – Comprehensive Story

anil chopra, air power asia, China Boundary Disputes

The Galwan Valley Stand-off has once again brought the attention of the world to Chinese approach to border disputes. Disputes with some countries have been resolved through arm-twisting and there are some like Pakistan who have ceded huge areas of land to seek military and financial help and the end to a great extent ceded sovereignty. It is interesting to know the various disputes and the approach being taken.

Japan – The Disputed Islands in East China Sea

            There is a territorial dispute over a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea called the Senkaku Islands in Japan and the Diaoyu in China. The archipelago has been controlled by Japan since 1895. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) started taking up the question of sovereignty over the islands in the latter half of 1970 when evidence relating to the existence of oil reserves surfaced. Taiwan (the Republic of China; ROC) also claims the islands. The territory is close to key shipping lanes and rich fishing grounds. The islands are included within the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan. In September 2012, the Japanese government purchased three of the disputed islands from their private owner, prompting large scale protests in China. As of early February 2013, the situation has been regarded as “the most serious for Sino-Japanese relations in the post-war period in terms of the risk of militarised conflict.” On 23 November 2013, the PRC set up the ” East China Sea Air Defence Identification Zone” which includes the Senkaku Islands, and announced that it would require all aircraft entering the zone to file a flight plan and submit radio frequency or transponder information.

Image Source: Wikipedia

            To up the ante, Chinese government ships had been spotted in the waters near the Senakaku/Diaoyu Islands regularly since mid-April 2020. Both Japan and China lay historical claim over the archipelago that includes five uninhabited islands and three barren rocks, making a total area of not more than 5 kilometers square. The area surrounding the islands, however, is a rich fishing ground and is believed to hold oil and other valuable resources like natural gas deposits. China says, the Diaoyu Island and its affiliated islands are an inherent part of China’s territory, and it is our inherent right to carry out patrols and law enforcement activities in these waters. Japan’s position is that if Chinese fishing crews, coast guardsmen, or military members landed on the Senkakus, then the Japan Coast Guard would no doubt seek to remove them in a law enforcement action. Given that China does not recognize Japan’s claims, it is certainly possible that Beijing could see this as an escalation, which might result in a substantial military response from China. If China takes any military action against Japan, the United States would have to make to come out in open in support of Japan. Since the US holds a mutual defence treaty with Japan, it becomes obligatory for the US to defend Japan from attackers.

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China – Vietnam Border Dispute

          The border between China consists of a terrestrial border, and a maritime border in Gulf of Tonkin and South China Sea (SCS). While disputes over the terrestrial border have been largely settled with the signing of a land boundary treaty between the two countries, the maritime border is currently been undefined due to disputes over the ownership of islands, including over the Spratly and Paracel Islands, and territorial waters. The two nations fought a brief border war in early 1979. China launched an offensive in response to Vietnam’s invasion and occupation of Cambodia in 1978, which ended the rule of the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge. Chinese forces entered northern Vietnam and captured several cities near the border. On March 6, 1979, China declared that the their punitive mission had been achieved. Chinese troops then withdrew from Vietnam. Both China and Vietnam claimed victory. As Vietnamese troops remained in Cambodia until 1989, one can say that China remained unsuccessful in its goal of dissuading Vietnam from involvement in Cambodia until 1989. Following the dissolution of the Soviet union in 1991, the Sino-Vietnamese border was finalized. Although unable to deter Vietnam from Cambodia, China PR succeeded in demonstrating that its Cold war communist and socialist adversary, the Soviet Union, was unable to protect its Vietnamese ally. The terrestrial border stretches about 1,444 km. The border passes through isolated mountainous areas inhabited by ethnic minorities of both China and Vietnam.

Image Source: Wikipedia

Spratly Islands dispute 

          The Spratly Islands dispute is an ongoing territorial dispute between China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Brunei, concerning “ownership” of the Spratly Islands. These are a group of islands associated “maritime features” (reefs, banks, cays, etc.) located in the SCS. The dispute is characterised by diplomatic stalemate and the employment of military pressure techniques (such as military occupation of disputed territory) in the advancement of national territorial claims. All except Brunei occupy some of the maritime features. There has been a sharp rise in media coverage owing mainly to China’s increasingly vocal objection to the presence of American naval vessels transiting the area in order to assert the right to freedom of navigation within international waters.

Image Source: Wikipedia

          The Spratly Islands are important for economic and strategic reasons. The Spratly area holds potentially significant, but largely unexplored, reserves of oil and natural gas, it is a productive area for world fishing, it is one of the busiest areas of commercial shipping traffic, and surrounding countries would get an extended continental shelf if their claims were recognised. The Spratlys sit astride major maritime trade routes to Northeast Asia, giving them added significance as positions from which to monitor maritime activity in the SCS and to potentially base and project military force from. In 2014, China began dredging activities within the Spratlys, amidst speculation it is planning to further develop its military presence in the area. In 2015 satellite imagery revealed that China was rapidly constructing an airfield on Fiery Cross reef within the Spratlys whilst continuing its land reclamation activities at other sites. Only China (PRC), Taiwan (ROC), and Vietnam have made claims based on historical sovereignty of the islands. The Philippines, however, claims part of the area as its territory under UNCLOS, an agreement parts of which have been ratified by the countries involved in the Spratly islands dispute.

Image Source: Wikipedia

          On 22 January 2013, the Philippines instituted arbitral proceedings against the People’s Republic of China in the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). The case was  solely a maritime dispute, and not territorial in nature. The Philippines sought clarification from the tribunal as to whether China’s 9-dashline can negate the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone as guaranteed under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), of which China is a signatory. As part of the case, the Philippines also sought clarification on whether rocks barely (1.8 meter) above water at high tide, (such as Scarborough Shoal), generate a 200-nautical-mile (370 km) EEZ, or only a 12-nautical-mile (22 km; 14 mi) territorial sea. According to a PCA press release on 12 July 2016 “[The] Tribunal concluded that, as between the Philippines and China, there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources, in excess of the rights provided for by the Convention, within the sea areas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’. On 22 July 1992, ASEAN issued a declaration on the SCS, emphasizing that the dispute should be solved peacefully without resorting to violence. An ASEAN-brokered agreement was reached between the PRC and ASEAN member nations whereby one country would inform the other of any military movement within the disputed territory, and that there would be no further construction. The agreement was promptly violated by PRC and Malaysia: claiming storm damage, seven PLA Navy vessels entered the area to repair “fishing shelters” in the Mischief Reef. Malaysia erected a structure on Investigator Shoal and landed at Commodore Reef.

Scarborough Shoal. Image Source:

          On 4 November 2002 in Phnom Penh, the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the SCS was signed by the 10 foreign ministers of ASEAN countries and China (PRC). The parties explicitly undertook in this declaration, “to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned”.

Scarborough Shoal:

          In July 2012, China (PRC) announced that it is open to launching discussions on the Code of Conduct in the SCS, thus opening the issue afresh. This announcement has been criticized by many neighbouring states because of the contradictions seen in the Scarborough Shoal at that time where China has established de facto control. On 2 August 2012, the United States Senate unanimously passed a resolution declaring that China’s July 2012 actions to unilaterally assert control of disputed territories in the SCS “are contrary to agreed upon principles with regard to resolving disputes and impede a peaceful resolution.”

          In 2014 Janes reported that during 2013–2014 China had begun a substantial program of dredging and land reclamation at three sites in the Spratlys. The strategic effect of China’s dredging and land reclamation makes it the most significant change to the SCS dispute. China will have its first airstrip in the Spratly islands – and a base from which to impose its interpretation of the surrounding features’ sovereignty. The main difference between was that China had modified existing land masses by constructing islands out of reefs that for the most part were under water at high tide. The phrase “great wall of sand” was first used by Harry Harris, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, in March 2015. In April 2015 new satellite imagery revealed that China was rapidly constructing an airfield at Fiery Cross Reef, in addition to its ongoing dredging activities in the Spratlys. In September, China had completed a 3125-metre runway.

Chinese airfield at Reclaimed Fiery Cross Reef. Image Source:

          Brunei claims the part of the SCS nearest to it as part of its continental shelf and the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). In 1984, Brunei declared an EEZ encompassing the above-water islets it claims in Louisa Reef. Brunei does not practice military control in the area, but their claim is based on UNCLOS. Malaysia claims a small number of islands in the Spratly Islands chain which are within its existing EEZ. Malaysia has militarily occupied three islands that it considers to be within its continental shelf. 

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          Both China and Taiwan claim all of the Spratly Islands as part of China based on history and not UNCLOS agreement of 29 July 1994. The claim is based on Chinese fishermen having fished around the islands since 200 BC. China claims to have discovered the islands in the Han dynasty in 2 BC. The islands were claimed to have been marked on maps compiled during the that time. Since the Yuan dynasty in the 12th century, several islands that may be the Spratlys have been labelled as Chinese territory according to them. Chinese archaeological surveys have found the remains of Chinese pottery and coins in the islands, cited as proof for the PRC claim, but they are more likely to have come from shipwrecks of passing Chinese junks. In 1877 it was the British who launched the first modern legal claims to the Spratlys. The Spratlys and the Paracels were conquered from France by Japan in 1939. Japan administered the Spratlys via Taiwan’s jurisdiction and the Paracels via Hainan’s jurisdiction. The Paracels and Spratlys were handed over to Republic of China control from Japan after the 1945 surrender of Japan, since the Allied powers assigned the Republic of China to receive Japanese surrenders in that area. The Republic of China drew up the map showing the U shaped claim on the entire South China Sea, showing the Spratly and Paracels in Chinese territory, in 1947.

          The Philippines’ claims are based on sovereignty over the Spratlys on the issues of Res nullius (Latin “owner less”) and geography. There was no effective sovereignty over the islands until the 1930s when France and then Japan acquired the islands, they claim. When Japan renounced their sovereignty over the islands according to the San Francisco Treaty, there was a relinquishment of the right to the islands without any special beneficiary. On 11 June 1978, President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines issued Presidential decree No. 1596, declaring the Spratly Islands (referred to therein as the Kalayaan Island Group) as Philippine territory. An argument used by the Philippines is that all the islands claimed by the Philippines lie within its 200-mile EEZ according to the 1982 UNCLOS. After ratifying UNCLOS on 25 July 1994, Vietnam declared sovereignty over the Hoang Sa and Truong Sa archipelagoes. Vietnam’s view is that the Chinese records do not constitute the declaration and exercise of sovereignty and that China did not declare sovereignty over the Spratlys until after World War II. Vietnam claims that it has occupied the Spratly and the Paracel islands at least since the 17th century, when they were not under the sovereignty of any state. The Cairo Declaration, drafted by the Allies and China towards the end of World War II, listed the territories that the Allies intended to strip from Japan and return to China. Despite China being among the authors of the declaration, this list did not include the Spratlys. On 26 October 1955, the Republic of Vietnam inherit of all the French Indochina’s Vietnamese territories under the 17th Parallel. As the Paracel and the Spratly archipelagos (which lay below the 17th parallel) were part of the French Indochina since 1933, they were part of “South Vietnam” territory. The French bestowed its titles, rights, and claims over the two island chains to the Republic of Vietnam.

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Nepal – China Boundary Issues

          Nepal shares a 1,439km Himalayan border with China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, and was demarcated by surveyors of the two countries in 1963 after a two-year mission along the world’s highest mountains. The demarcation set Mt Everest on the boundary between the two countries. China claims parts of Nepal dating back to the Sino-Nepalese War in 1788-1792, and says they were part of Tibet, therefore part of China. Nepalese media reports that several of its Himalayan villages are now in Chinese territory.

Chinese Inroads into Nepal. Image Source:

Meanwhile, perhaps on directions from the masters in Beijing, Nepal’s ruling Communist Party released new political map of Nepal that includes 363 sq km of Indian territory on its northwestern tip. Interestingly the present PM KP Oli government does not speak of Chinese border issues. Rui village in north Gorakha and Chyanga and Lungdek villages in northern Sankhuwasabha where inhabitants have documents to prove they are Nepalis, have reportedly fallen inside Chinese territory since a border territory swap between the two countries after a survey in 1963. Nepalese officials say the only pending border issues Nepal has with China are about three boundary pillars in Dolakha, and two in the vicinity of Mt Everest. Questions are being raised in the media about Nepal’s villages falling under Chinese territory in Tibet, about Huawei 5G towers on north side of Mt Everest, and about Chinese language teachers coming to Nepal, and the online meeting between the Communist Parties of China and Nepal.

Limpiyadhura-Kalapani-Lipulekh dispute. Image Source:

China -North Korea – Paektu Mountain and Jiandao

          There has been a historical dispute about the  Paektu Mountain. Manchu and Korean officials surveyed the area and negotiated a border agreement in 1712. To mark the agreement, they built a monument describing the boundary at a watershed, near the south of the crater lake at the mountain peak. The interpretation of the inscription caused a territorial dispute from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, and is still disputed. The 1909 Gando Convention between China and Japan, when Korea was under Japanese rule, recognized the area north and east as Chinese territory. The border was further clarified in 1962, when China and North Korea negotiated a border treaty on the mountain border in response to minor disputes. The two countries agreed to share the mountain and the lake at the peak, with North Korea controlling approximately 54.5% and gaining approximately 230 km2 in the treaty. Some South Korean groups argue that recent activities conducted on the Chinese side of the border, such as economic development, cultural festivals, infrastructure development, promotion of the tourism industry, attempts at registration as a World Heritage Site, and bids for a Winter Olympic Games, are an attempt to claim the mountain as Chinese territory. These groups object to China’s use of the name “Mount Changbai”. There are others who regard the entire mountain as Korean territory that was given away by North Korea in the Korean war. During the 2007 Asian Winter Games, held in Changchun, China, a group of South Korean athletes held up signs during the award ceremony which stated “Mount Paektu is our territory”.

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          Jiandao  known in Korean as  Kando, is a historical border region along the north bank of the Tumen River in Jilin province of China, that has a high population of ethnic Koreans. In the early 20th century, an expanding Japanese empire argued that ethnic Koreans living in this area should be placed under its jurisdiction. As one of its first set of attempts to annex northeast China and conquer other parts of mainland China, Imperial Japanese forces in Korea invaded Jiandao in 1907, but Japan withdrew its forces to Korea in 1909 and recognized the border that was present along Tumen River. The current Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture of present-day Jilin province covers roughly the same region as historical Jiandao. Approximately 42,000 square kilometers in size and home to about 810,000 ethnic Koreans. In China, Yanbian is the name used. Both Koreas recognize the region as a part of China, but there are some nationalist elements in South Korea that endorse the idea that the region should be a part of modern-day Korea.

Sino-Soviet Border Issues

          The Sino-Soviet border conflict was a seven-month undeclared war in 1969. The most serious of these border clashes, occurred in March 1969 in the vicinity of Zhenbao Island on the Ussuri River, near Manchuria. In 1933 in northwest China’s Xinjiang province, China’s nationalist Kuomintang recognized for the first time the ethnic category of the Uyghur people, following Soviet ethnic policy. This ethnogenesis of a “national” people eligible for territorialized autonomy broadly benefited the Soviet Union, which organized conferences in Soviet Central Asia, in order to cause “revolution” in southern and northern Xinjiang. They covertly allied to fight and support the revolution, although mostly the Muslim Uyghur rebels participated against Han Chinese, the turmoil eventually resulted in the replacement of Kuomintang rule in Xinjiang with that of the Communist Party of China. These pre-modern states’ wars against Chinese dynasties were cast as struggles for national liberation by the Uyghur ethnic group. The Soviet Union also encouraged migration of Uyghurs to its territory in Kazakhstan along the 4,380 km (2,738 mi) border. In May 1962, 60,000 Uyghurs from Xinjiang Province crossed the frontier into the Soviet Union, fleeing the famine and economic chaos of the Great Leap Forward. Despite the Soviet Union having granted all of the territory of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo to Mao’s communists in 1945, decisively assisting the communists in the Chinese Civil War, the Chinese now indirectly demanded territorial concessions on the basis that the 19th-century treaties transferring ownership of the sparsely populated Outer Manchuria, concluded by Qing dynasty of China and the Russian Empire, were “Unequal Treaties”, and amounted to annexation of rightful Chinese territory. Moscow would not accept this interpretation, but by 1964 the two sides did reach a preliminary agreement on the eastern section of the border, including Zhenbao Island, which would be handed over to China. In July 1964, Mao Zedong, claimed that Russia had stripped China of vast territories in Siberia and the Far East as far as Kamchatka. Outraged, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev then refused to approve the border agreement.

          The border dispute in the west centered on 52,000 square kilometers of Soviet-controlled land in the Pamirs that lay on the border of Xinjiang and the Soviet Republic of Tajikistan. In 1892 the Russian Empire and the Qing Dynasty had agreed that the border would consist of the ridge of the Sarikol Range, but the exact border remained contentious throughout the 20th century. In the 1960s the Chinese began to insist that the Soviet Union should evacuate the region.

          From around 1900, after the Treaty of Peking (1860) had assigned Outer Manchuria to Russia, the eastern part of the Sino-Soviet border had mainly been demarcated by three rivers, the Argun, Amur and Ussuri. The Ussuri River was demarcated in a non-conventional manner: the demarcation line ran along the right (Chinese) side of the river, putting the river itself with all its islands in Russian possession. China claimed these islands, as they were located on the Chinese side of the middle of the river were to be the border.

          For the war, Chinese numerical superiority was the basis of its strategy to deter a Soviet nuclear attack. Since 1949, Chinese strategy as articulated by Mao Zedong emphasized the superiority of “man over weapons”. The Soviets were not confident they could win such a conflict. A large Chinese incursion could threaten strategic centers in Blagoveshchensk, Vladivostok, and Khabarovsk, as well as crucial nodes of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Concerns about Chinese manpower and its “people’s war” strategy ran so deep that some bureaucrats in Moscow argued the only way to defend against a massive conventional onslaught was to use nuclear weapons. Some even advocated deploying nuclear mines along the Sino-Soviet border.

          In 1968 Soviets had 375,000 men, 1,200 aircraft and 120 medium-range missiles. China had 1.5 million men stationed at the border and it had already tested its first nuclear weapon in October 1964, at Lop Nur. The key moment in escalating Sino-Soviet tensions was the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia on 20–21 August 1968 and with it the proclamation of the Brezhnev Doctrine that the Soviet Union had the right to overthrow any Communist government that was diverging from Communism as defined by the Kremlin. Mao saw the Brezhnev doctrine as the ideological justification for a Soviet invasion of China to overthrow him and launched a massive propaganda campaign attacking the invasion of Czechoslovakia, despite the fact that he had earlier condemned the Prague Spring as “revisionism”. On 21 August 1968, the Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu denounced the invasion of Czechoslovakia virtually declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. Romania started to move in the Chinese sphere of influence. In 1968, China began preparations to create a small war on the border. Prior to March 1969 that the Chinese troops had twice attempted to provoke a clash along the border, but the Soviets, feeling weak, did not accept the Chinese challenge and retreated.

          On 2 March 1969, a group of people’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops ambushed Soviet border guards on Zhenbao Island. According to the Chinese sources, the Soviets suffered 58 dead, including a senior colonel, and 94 wounded. The Chinese losses were reported as 29 dead. According to the Soviet/Russian sources, no fewer than 248 Chinese troops were killed on the island and on the frozen river, while 32 Soviet border guards were killed, 14 wounded.

BM-21 “Grad” multiple rocket launchers. Image Source:

          The scholarly consensus is that the 1969 Sino-Soviet border crisis was a premeditated act of aggression orchestrated by the Chinese side. All of the documents speak of the Chinese as the aggressors. Even most Chinese historians now agree that on 2 March 1969, PLA forces planned and executed an ambush, which took the Soviets completely by surprise. The PLA had prepared for this confrontation for two to three months. From among the units, the PLA selected 900 soldiers commanded by army staff members with combat experience. They were provided with special training and special equipment. By the end of the day, with the Chinese in full control of the island, Soviets deployed then-secret BM-21 “Grad” multiple rocket launchers. The Soviets fired 10,000 artillery rounds in a nine-hour engagement with the Chinese along with 36 sorties. The attack was devastating for the Chinese troops and materiel. Chinese troops left their positions on the island, following which the Soviets withdrew back to their positions on the Russian bank of the Ussuri river.

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          On 5 May 1969, Kosygin traveled to India, an arch-enemy of China’s ever since it had been defeated in the 1962 war, to discuss with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi an anti-Chinese Soviet-Indian alliance. Kim on the other hand declined to move away from China, and in a show of support for Mao, North Korea sent no delegation to the world conference of Communist Parties that was held in Moscow in June 1969.

          Further border clashes occurred in August 1969, this time along the western section of the Sino-Soviet border in Xinjiang. Chinese troops suffered 28 losses. Heightened tensions raised the prospect of an all-out nuclear exchange between China and the Soviet Union. While US President Nixon was trying to befriend China, China felt that a war with the Soviet Union would weaken China’s hand vis-a-vis the United States. The Chinese were more interested in the possibility of a rapprochement with the United States as a way of re-acquiring Taiwan than in having the United States as an ally against the Soviet Union.

          Western historians believe the events at Zhenbao Island and the subsequent border clashes in Xinjiang were mostly caused by Mao’s using Chinese local military superiority to satisfy domestic political imperatives in 1969. In the aftermath of the conflict, China gained newfound respect in the US, who began seeing it as a competent ally against the USSR during the Cold War. China’s relations with the USSR remained sour after the conflict, despite the border talks, which began in 1969 and continued inconclusively for a decade. Overall, the Sino-Soviet confrontation, which reached its peak in 1969, paved the way to a profound transformation in the international political system.

          Serious border demarcation negotiations did not occur until shortly before the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. In particular, both sides agreed that Zhenbao Island belonged to China. On 17 October 1995, an agreement over the last 54 kilometers (34 mi) stretch of the border was reached, but the question of control over three islands in the Amur and Argun rivers was left to be settled later. In a border agreement between Russia and China signed on 14 October 2003, that dispute was finally resolved. China was granted control over some of the Islands. On 21 July 2008, an additional Sino-Russian Border Line Agreement was signed marking the acceptance of the demarcation of the eastern portion of the Chinese-Russian border. An additional protocol with a map affiliated on the eastern part of the borders both countries share was signed.

South Korea and China

          South Korea and China have a complex relationship. While the economies are in many ways interlinked, South Koreans are wary of Chinese power and a possible clash of ROK and Chinese interests. A source of friction is the unresolved demarcation lines with China in the Yellow Sea (known as the West Sea in South Korea). After ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1996, both countries declared a 200 nautical mile (nm) exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which resulted in significant overlap of the Chinese and South Korean zones. Multiple rounds of meetings to conclude a delimitation agreement, have not been successful. South Korea maintains that the boundary should be determined by the median line principle (UNCLOS, Article 15) drawn equidistant from the baselines of the concerned states. However, China has argued that the line should be proportional with consideration for China’s larger population and longer coastline. The lack of a delimitation agreement has generated a related problem concerning illegal fishing. A 2014 ROK estimate calculated that illegal Chinese fishing costs South Korea $1.2 billion. PLA Navy and coast guard vessels often cross into South Korean territorial waters under the guise of policing their fishing fleet. In addition to this ongoing dispute, China has increased its presence in the Yellow Sea in other ways that have troubled South Korea. PLA Navy restrains ROK Navy activities in the region. For many years, China and North Korea have used the 124-degrees east longitude line in the Yellow Sea as a maritime demarcation line. In 2013, China began insisting on S. Korea that same apply with them. However, the line has no legal standing, and South Korea has refused to acknowledge it. China has also sought to increase its presence in the Yellow Sea by installing buoys in various locations, including within the disputed EEZs. The first buoy was discovered in 2014 with over a dozen more placed in subsequent years. Beijing has argued that the buoys are a network of sensors to observe weather and ocean currents, but ROK officials fear the chief purpose is to monitor naval traffic and gather data on passing ships and submarines. China has also sent an increasing number of survey ships into these areas to monitor naval activities and conduct topographical surveys. There are concerns that China is doing this to strengthen its negotiating position in future EEZ delimitation talks with South Korea.

South Korea has asserted jurisdiction over Socotra Rock. Image Source: Wikipedia

          In 2013, China expanded its air defense identification zone (ADIZ), affecting a separate dispute with South Korea and that China calls Suyan Reef. The reef is located approximately 80 nm from the South Korean island Marado, about 70 nm closer than the nearest Chinese island. The interpretation affects the EEZ. Since the 1950s, South Korea has asserted jurisdiction over Socotra Rock, and in 2003 it constructed the Ieodo Ocean Research Station on the feature to observe weather, ocean currents, and fishing stocks. Chinese authorities have argued that building the facility is illegal since the reef falls within their disputed EEZs and should not have occurred until the dispute was settled. Concerns for jurisdiction over Socotra Rock resurfaced when China extended its ADIZ in the East China Sea.

          In late 2016, the United States and South Korea jointly announced the deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence (THAAD), allegedly in response to nuclear and missile threats by North Korea. The U.S. states that the deployment of the THAAD is “purely a defensive measure… only aimed at North Korea” and has no intention to threaten China’s security interests. But China has continuously expressed its opposition over South Korea and U.S.’s decision because of its concern that the deployment of THAAD might be a measure by the U.S. to contain China. Beijing opposed THAAD and its powerful radar that can see deeply into Chinese territory, saying it upsets the regional security balance.

Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence (THAAD). Image Source: Wikipedia

China’s Claims on Bhutan

          The kingdom of Bhutan and People’s Republic of China (PRC) do not maintain official diplomatic relations, and relations are historically tense. The PRC shares a contiguous border of 470 kilometers with Bhutan and its territorial disputes with Bhutan have been a source of potential conflict. Since the 1980s, the two governments have conducted regular talks on border and security issues aimed at reducing tensions. Bhutan has long had strong cultural, historical, religious and economic connections to Tibet. Relations with Tibet were strained when Chinese took over Tibet in 1950s. Unlike Tibet, Bhutan had no history of being under the suzerainty of China nor being under British suzerainty during the British Raj.

          Bhutan’s border with Tibet has never been officially recognized, much less demarcated. China officially maintains a territorial claim on parts of Bhutan to this day. With the increase in soldiers on the Chinese side of the Sino-Bhutanese border after the 17-point agreement between the Tibetan government and China, Bhutan withdrew its representative from Lhasa. The 1959 Tibetan uprising and the 14th Dalai Lama’s arrival in India the security of Bhutan’s border with China became a necessity for Bhutan. An estimated 6,000 Tibetans fled to Bhutan and were granted asylum, although Bhutan subsequently closed its border to China, fearing more refugees.

          Chinese claims on Bhutanese territory were first made when Mao Zedong declared that “the correct boundaries of China would include Burma, Bhutan and Nepal”. In his Five Fingers of Tibet policy, he also referred to Bhutan as a part of Tibet and therefore China. In 1959, China released a map in “A brief history of China” where considerable portions of Bhutan as well as other countries was included in its territorial claims.

          In July 1959, along with the occupation of Tibet, the Chinese PLA occupied several Bhutanese enclaves in western Tibet which were under Bhutanese administration for more than 300 years and had been given to Bhutan by a Ladakhi King Singye Namgya in the 17th century. These included Darchen, Labrang Monastery, Gartok, and several smaller monasteries and villages near Mount Kailas. A Chinese map published in 1961 showed China claiming territories in Bhutan, Nepal and the Kingdom of Sikkim (now a state of India). Incursions by Chinese soldiers and Tibetan herdsmen also provoked tensions in Bhutan. Imposing a cross-border trade embargo and closing the border, Bhutan established extensive military ties with India. During the 1962 Sino-Indian war, Bhutanese authorities permitted Indian troop movements through Bhutanese territory. However, India’s defeat in the war raised concerns about India’s ability to defend Bhutan. Consequently, while building its ties with India, Bhutan officially established a policy of neutrality. According to official statements by the Kind of Bhutan to the National Assembly, there are four disputed areas between Bhutan and China. The disputed area in the west of Bhutan at Doklam covers 89 square kilometers (km2), while the disputed areas in Sinchulumpa and gieu cover about 180 km2.  

          Until the 1970s, India represented Bhutan’s concerns in talks with China over the broader Sino-Indian border conflicts. Obtaining United Nations membership in 1971, Bhutan began to take a more independent course in its foreign policy. In the U.N., Bhutan, incidentally alongside India, voted in favor of the PRC filling the seat occupied by the PRC and openly supported the “One China” policy. In 1984, China and Bhutan began annual, direct talks over the border dispute.

          In 1998, China and Bhutan signed a bilateral agreement for maintaining peace on the border. In the agreement, China affirmed its respect for Bhutan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and both sides sought to build ties based on the Panchsheel (Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence). However, China’s building of roads on what Bhutan asserts to be Bhutanese territory, allegedly in violation of the 1998 agreement, has provoked tensions. In 2002, however, China presented what it claimed to be ‘evidence’, asserting its ownership of disputed tracts of land; after negotiations, an interim agreement was reached.

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          On 11 August 2016 Bhutan and China had the 24th round of boundary talks. Nothing changed. On June 29, 2017, Bhutan protested to China against the construction of a road in the disputed territory of Doklam, at the meeting point of Bhutan, India and China. A stand-off between China and India began in mid June 2017 at the tri-junction adjacent to the Indian state of Sikkim after the Indian army blocked the Chinese construction of a road in what Bhutan and India consider Bhutanese territory. Both India and China deployed 3000 troops on June 30, 2017. On the same day, China released a map claiming that Doklam belonged to China. China claimed, via the map, that territory south to Gipmochi belonged to China and claimed that it was supported by the Convention of Calcutta that former Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru had accepted. On August 10, 2017 Bhutan rejected Beijing’s claim that Doklam belongs to China.

Image Source: Wikipedia

          On 2 June 2020, China raised a new dispute over territory that has never come up in boundary talks earlier. In the virtual meeting of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), China objected to a grant for the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary in eastern Bhutan’s Trashigang district claiming that the area was disputed.

Taiwan — China Disputes and Relations

            Their relationship is complex and controversial due to the dispute on the political status of Taiwan after the administration of Taiwan was transferred from Japan at the end of World War II in 1945 and the subsequent split of China into the above two in 1949 as a result of civil war. At the end of WW II in 1945, the administration of Taiwan was transferred to the Mainland China by Japan, though legal questions remain regarding the language in the Treaty of San Francisco. In 1949, with the Chinese Civil War turning decisively in favour of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the Republic of China government led by the Kuomintang (KMT) retreated to Taiwan and established the provisional capital in Taipei, while the CPC proclaimed the People’s Republic of China (PRC) government in Beijing. No armistice or peace treaty has ever been signed and debate continues as to whether the civil war has legally ended.

          Since then, the relations between the governments in Beijing and Taipei have been characterized by limited contact, tensions, and instability. In the early years, military conflicts continued, while diplomatically both governments competed to be the “legitimate government of China”. Since the democratization of Taiwan, the question regarding the political and legal status of Taiwan has shifted focus to the choice between political unification with mainland China or de jure Taiwanese independence. The PRC remains hostile to any formal declaration of independence and maintains its claim over Taiwan.

          At the same time, non-governmental and semi-governmental exchanges between the two sides have increased. From 2008, negotiations began to restore the “Three Links” (postal, transportation, trade) between the two sides, cut off since 1949.

          The two governments continued in a state of war until 1979. In October 1949, PRC’s attempt to take the ROC controlled island of Kinmen was thwarted in the Battle of Kuningtou, halting the PLA advance towards Taiwan. The Communists’ other amphibious operations of 1950 were more successful: they led to the communist conquest of Hainan Island in April 1950, capture of Wanshan Islands, off the Guangdong coast (May–August 1950) and of Zhoushan Island off Zhejiang (May 1950).

          In June 1949, the ROC declared a “closure” of all Chinese ports and its navy attempted to intercept all foreign ships. Since China’s railroad network was underdeveloped, north–south trade depended heavily on sea lanes. ROC naval activity also caused severe hardship for Chinese fishermen.

          After losing China, a group of approximately 12,000 KMT soldiers escaped to Burma and continued launching guerrilla attacks into southern China. Their leader, General Li Mi, was paid a salary by the ROC government and given the nominal title of Governor of Yunnan. Initially, the United States supported these remnants and the CIA provided them with aid. Under U.N. pressure by the end of 1954, nearly 6,000 soldiers had left Burma and Li Mi declared his army disbanded. However, thousands remained, and the ROC continued to supply and command them, even secretly supplying reinforcements at times.

          The Kuomintang Islamic Insurgency in China was fought by Muslim Kuomintang army officers who refused to surrender to the communists throughout the 1950s and 60’s. During the Korean War, some captured Communist Chinese soldiers, many of whom were originally KMT soldiers, were repatriated to Taiwan rather than China. A KMT guerrilla force continued to operate cross-border raids into south-western China in the early 1950s. The ROC government launched a number of air bombing raids into key coastal cities of China such as Shanghai.

          Though viewed as a military liability by the United States, the ROC viewed its remaining islands in Fujian as vital for any future campaign to defeat the PRC and retake China. On 3 September 1954, the First Taiwan Strait Crisis began when the PLA started shelling  and threatened to take the Dachen Islands. On 20 January 1955, the PLA took nearby Yijinagshan Island, and the entire garrison of 720 troops killed or wounded defending the island. On January 24 of the same year, the US Congress passed the Formosa Resolution authorizing the President to defend the ROC’s offshore islands. The First Taiwan Straits crisis ended in March 1955 when the PLA ceased its bombardment. The crisis was brought to a close during the Bandung Conference.

          The Second Taiwan Strait Crisis  began on 23 August 1958 with air and naval engagements between the PRC and the ROC military forces, leading to intense artillery bombardment of Quemoy   (by the PRC) and Amoy (by the ROC), and ended on November of the same year. PLA patrol boats blockaded the islands from ROC supply ships. Though the United States rejected Chiang Kai-shek’s proposal to bomb Chinese artillery batteries, it quickly moved to supply fighter jets and anti-aircraft missiles to the ROC. It also provided amphibious assault ships to land supply, as a sunken ROC naval vessel was blocking the harbor. On September 7, the United States escorted a convoy of ROC supply ships and the PRC refrained from firing. On October 25, the PRC announced an “even-day ceasefire” — the PLA would only shell Quemoy on odd-numbered days. Despite the end of the hostilities, the two sides have never signed any agreement or treaty to officially end the war.

          Diplomatically until around 1971, the ROC government continued to be recognized as the legitimate government of China and Taiwan by most NATO governments. The PRC government was recognized by Soviet Bloc countries, members of the non-aligned movement, and some Western nations such as the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.    Both ROC and PRC engaged in proxy warfare in other countries to gain influence and allies. Things changed in 1979 after the establishment of diplomatic relations between the People’s Republic of China and the United States.

Taiwan China Island disputes. Image Source:

          In 1987, the ROC government began to allow visits to China. This benefited many, especially old KMT soldiers, who had been separated from their family in China for decades. This also proved a catalyst for the thawing of relations between the two sides. Problems engendered by increased contact necessitated a mechanism for regular negotiations.

          In 1988, a guideline, 22 point regulation, was approved by PRC to encourage ROC investments in the PRC. It guaranteed ROC establishments would not be nationalized, and that exports were free from tariffs, ROC businessmen would be granted multiple visas for easy movement. Asystem, described as “white gloves”, allowed the two governments to engage with each other on a semi-official basis without compromising their respective sovereignty policies.

          The PLA attempted to influence the 1996 ROC election in Taiwan by conducting a missile exercise designed to warn the pro-independence Pan-Green Coalition, leading to the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis. By 1998, semi-official talks had broken down. The strongly pro-Taiwan independence, Chen Shui-bian was elected President of ROC in 2000. This prevented improvement in cross-strait relations.

          Chen called for talks without any preconditions, repudiating the 1992 concensus while Hu continued to insist that talks can only proceed under an agreement of the “one China” principle. Chen Shui-bian and his party continued to express an ultimate goal of formal Taiwanese independence, that PRC considers provocative. At the same time, PRC continued a military missile buildup across the strait from Taiwan while making threats of military action against Taiwan should it declare independence or if the PRC considers that all possibilities for a peaceful unification are completely exhausted. Despite these provocations, in 2001 Chen lifted the 50-year ban on direct trade and investment with the PRC. During the 2003 Iraq war, the PRC allowed Taiwanese airlines use of China’s airspace.

          After the re-election of Chen in 2004, China changed the previous blanket no-contact policy. While continuing a no-contact policy, it maintained its military build-up against Taiwan, and pursued a vigorous policy of isolating Taiwan diplomatically. In March 2005, the Anti-Secession Law was passed formalizing “non-peaceful means” as an option of response to a formal declaration of independence in Taiwan. On the other hand, the PRC administration loosened its rhetoric in relation to Taiwan, and pursued contact with apolitical, or politically non-independence leaning, groups in Taiwan.

          Both sides chose deliberate ambiguity. PRC stopped mentioning “One China policy” in any official announcements. Former ROC President Ma Ying-jeau advocated that cross-strait relations should shift from “mutual non-recognition” to “mutual non-denial”. Chinese investors were permitted to invest in Taiwan’s money markets for the first time since 1949. On 30 January 2010, the Obama administration announced it intended to sell $6.4 billion worth of antimissile systems, helicopters and other military hardware to Taiwan. Beijing retaliated with China cut off all military-to-military ties with Washington and warned that US-China cooperation on international issues could suffer as a result of the sales. A report from Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense said that China’s current charm offensive is temporary and that do not undermine China’s claim to Taiwan and that the PRC would invade if Taiwan declared independence, developed weapons of mass destruction, or suffered from civil chaos.

          In September 2014, Xi Jinping appeared to adopt a more uncompromising stance than his predecessors as he called for the ” one country, two systems” model to be applied to Taiwan. On 7 November 2015, Xi and Taiwan’s Ma met and shook hands in Singapore, marking the first ever meeting between leaders of both sides since the end of Chinese Civil War in 1949. On 30 December 2015, a hotline connecting the head of the Mainland Affairs Council and the head of the Taiwan Affairs Office was established.

          In the 2016 Taiwan elections Tsai Ing-wen and the DPP had a landslide victory. Beijing expressed its dissatisfaction with Tsai’s refusal to accept the “1992 Consensus”.  Relations with the Mainland had stalled since Tsai took office in 2016. In April 2018, political parties and organizations demanding a referendum on Taiwan’s independence have formed an alliance to further their initiative. The “Formosa Alliance” was established, prompted by a sense of crisis in the face of growing pressure from China for unification. The alliance wanted to hold a referendum on Taiwan’s independence, and change the island’s name from the Republic of China to Taiwan, and apply for membership in the UN. In May 2018, China engaged in military exercises around Taiwan to pressure Taiwan not to become independent.

Tsai Ing-wen. Strong Pro Independence Laeder wins landslide victory. Picture Source:

          In January 2020 Tsai Ing-wen said that Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China (Taiwan), and Beijing must face this reality. Around 2020 the Taiwanese public turned further against mainland China, due to fallout from the Hong Kong protests and also due to China’s continued determination to keep Taiwan out of the World Health Organisation (WHO) despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Laotian – Chinese relations 

          China claims large areas of Laos on historical precedent (China’s Yuan Dynasty, 1271-1368). Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in December 1978 to unseat the Khmer Rouge regime provoked China into a limited invasion of Vietnam, approximately nineteen kilometers deep, to “teach Vietnam a lesson.” Laos was caught in a dangerous bind, not wanting to further provoke China, but not able to oppose its special partner, Vietnam. The Laotian leadership survived the dilemma by making slightly delayed pronouncements in support of Vietnam after some intraparty debate and by sharply reducing diplomatic relations with China to the chargé d’affaires level—without a full break. The low point in Sino-Laotian relations came in 1979, with reports of Chinese assistance and training of Hmong resistance forces under General Vang Pao  in China’s Yunnan Province.

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          This hostile relationship gradually softened. In 1989 PM Kaysone Phomvihane paid a state visit to Beijing, and in 1991 chose to spend his vacation in China rather than make his customary visit to the Soviet Union. Following the establishment of the Laotian-Chinese Joint Border Committee in 1991, meetings held during 1992 resulted in an agreement delineating their common border. In June 2020, Laos was one of 53 countries that backed the Hong Kong national security law at the United Nations.

China–Tajikistan Border Dispute – One sided Resolution 

          Chinese have claimed part of Tajikistan territory based on historical precedent (Qing Dynasty, 1644-1912). Their bilateral relations were established on January 4, 1992, shortly after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Ever since, China has been penetrating every aspect of Tajik life. More than 2,000 Tajik students are trained in more than 112 different institutions in China. A large number of students are trained in an educational and cultural center of Confucius in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Chinese Government is organizing training courses and seminars in various fields for Tajikistan’s specialists. Chinese language centers have been opened in a number of higher education institutions of the Republic of Tajikistan, moreover, the citizens of the People’s Republic of China are also trained in various universities of the country. The “Chinese culture corner” was opened at the National Library of Tajikistan.

          In 2011, China and Tajikistan signed a mutual agreement settling a century-old border dispute, with Tajikistan ceding 1158 square kilometers of territory to China. China relinquished claims to over 28,000 km2 (11,000 sq mi) of Tajikistan territory. Clearly it was a one sided agreement.

          Having border with its Muslim Xinjiang province, Tajikistan’s political stability is very important for China. China firmly supports Tajikistan’s efforts to preserve national security and stability, and also helps Tajikistan in economic development. In 2012, China gave Tajikistan the promise of nearly US$1 billion in the form of grants, technical assistance and credits on preferential terms.

Tajikistan ceding 1158 square kilometers of territory to China. Image Source: Wikipedia

          Chinese troops have been present in Tajikistan since approximately 2016, with the purpose of monitoring access to the Wakhan Corridor. This corridor is a narrow strip of territory in Afghanistan extending to China, and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan and Kashmir (India). The corridor, wedged between the Pamir Mountains to the north and the Karakoram range to the south, is about 350 km long and 13–65 km wide. The corridor was formed by an 1893 agreement between the United Kingdom and Afghanistan, creating the Durand Line. This narrow strip of Afghanistan acted as a buffer between the Russian and British Empire in India. Its eastern end borders with China’s Xinjiang region, ruled by the Qing dynasty. Tajikistan officially denies that there are Chinese troops in Tajikistan. In June 2020, Tajikistan was one of 53 countries that backed the Hong Kong national security law in the UN.

Indonesia and Territorial disputes in the South China Sea

          Parts of China’s unilaterally claimed nine-dash line overlap Indonesia’s exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)  near the Natuna islands. Although China has acknowledged Indonesia’s sovereignty over the Natuna islands, the PRC has argued that the waters around the Natuna islands are Chinese “traditional fishing grounds”. Indonesia quickly dismissed China’s claim, asserting that China’s nine-dash line claim over parts of the Natuna islands has no legal basis. Indonesia filed a comment with the PCA regarding China’s claim in the case of Philippines v. China. Chinese fishing vessels – often escorted by Chinese coastguard ships – have repeatedly been reported to have breached Indonesian waters near the Natuna islands. On 19 March 2016, Indonesian authorities tried to capture a Chinese trawler accused of illegal fishing in Indonesian waters, and arrested the Chinese crew. They were prevented from towing the boat to harbour by a Chinese coast guard vessel which reportedly “rammed” the trawler in Indonesian waters. While Indonesia let go of the Chinese boat but kept the Chinese crew in custody. Chinese claim of “traditional fishing grounds” was not recognised under the 1982 UNCLOS. This incident prompted Indonesia to deploy more troops and patrol boats, and to strengthen the Ranai naval base in the area. Indonesia was “very serious in its effort to protect its sovereignty”. Indonesia challenged the Chinese nine-dash historical claim by arguing that if the historical claims can be used on presenting the territorial naval claims, Indonesia might also use its historical claims on the South China Sea by referring to the ancient influence of the Srivijaya and Majapahit empires. The presence of the Indonesian National Armed Forces on the islands have been reinforced. In early 2020, a further 600 troops were deployed and eight navy warships were sent to the area. The Indonesian air force also sent 4 F-16 and a Boeing 737-2×9 Surveillance, and put BAE Hawk aircraft nearby on alert after Chinese fishing vessels increased illegal activity within the EEZ, escorted by a Chinese Coast Guard vessel.

China’s unilaterally claimed nine-dash line overlap Indonesia’s exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)  near the Natuna islands. Image Source:

Mongolia – China Historic Issues

          The Han Chinese and Mongols have been in contact with each other for millennia. Throughout history, Mongolia and China have had complicated relations. The Great Wall  was constructed to ward off the northern nomads attacks, from the Xiongnu during the Qin Dynasty, the Turks during the Tang Dynasty, and later, the Mongolians and Central Asians. In 1271, Mongols under Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, established the Yuan Dynasty and conquered all of China in 1279. In 1368, the Chinese under the Ming Dynasty successfully expelled the Mongols from China and in 1388, sacked the Northern Yuan’s capital at Karakorum.

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          The Ming Great Wall was strengthened and the period was characterized by repeated Mongol raids into China and Chinese raids into Mongolia. During the Qing conquest of the Ming, the Mongol leader Ligdan Khan allied with the Ming against the Qing until Ligdan was defeated by Qing forces and Inner Mongolia was conquered by the Qing. In 1644, the Ming Dynasty was overthrown by peasant rebels under Li Zicheng, who established the short lived Shun Dynasty which would soon be replaced by the Qing Dynasty. During the Qing rule from 1691, Inner and Outer Mongolia were incorporated into the empire.

Ming Great Wall . Image Source: Wikipedia

          After the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911, the Republic of China was established and Mongolia declared its independence after more than 200 years of Qing dynasty rule. During this period, the Beiyang government as the successor to the Qing claimed Mongolia as Chinese territory, but lacked any stable control over the region due to massive civil wars in the south and the rise of regional warlords in the Warlord Era. Consequently, Outer Mongolia sought Russian support to claim its independence. In 1919, Chinese general Xu Shuzheng advanced into Outer Mongolia and annulled its independence. In 1921, Chinese forces were driven out by White Russian forces led by Baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg. Some months later they were driven out by the Red Army of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, the Far Eastern Republic and pro-Soviet Mongolian forces. In 1924, the Mongolian People’s Republic was proclaimed. With the onset of the Japanese invasion of China, little effort was given to reestablish Chinese control over Outer Mongolia.

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          Following the end of World War II, the Republic of China, led by the Kuomintang, was forced to formally accept Outer Mongolian independence under Soviet pressure. In 1949, the Communists won the Chinese Civil War and re-recognized Mongolia’s independent status. The People’s Republic of China established diplomatic relations with Mongolia on October 16, 1949 and both nations signed a border treaty in 1962. With the Sin-Soviet split, Mongolia aligned itself with the Soviet Union and asked for the deployment of Soviet forces, leading to security concerns in China. As a result, bilateral ties remained tense until 1984, when a high-level Chinese delegation visited Mongolia and both nations began to survey and demarcate their borders. In 1986, a series of agreements to bolster trade and establish transport and air links was signed. In 1988, both nations signed a treaty on border control. Mongolia has always been suspicious that China wants to claim Mongolian territory based on some old historical documents that suit them, nd concerned by fears of China’s over-population pouring into Mongolian territory.

          China offered to allow the use of its Tianjin port to give Mongolia and its goods access to trade within the Asia Pacific region. China also expanded its investments in Mongolia’s mining industries, giving it access to the country’s natural resources. Mongolia and China have stepped up cooperation on fighting terrorism and bolstering regional security.

Broad India China Dispute

          Sovereignty over two relatively large and several smaller separated pieces of territory has been contested between China and India. The two major parts being the Aksai Chin in Indian union territory of Ladakh, currently administered by China as part of the Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang. The other disputed territory lies south of the McMohan Line, formerly called the North East Frontier Agency, and is now called Arunachal Pradesh. The McMahon Line was part of the 1914 Simla Convention between British India and Tibet, without participation of China. As of 2020, India continues to maintain that the McMahon Line as the legal border, while China has never accepted the border, stating that Tibet was never independent. Around 1962, Chinese troops crossed the McMahon line and, during a one-month war, pushed forward to establish a “Line of Actual Control”. A border conflict escalated into a second war in 1967, at the end of which India stated it had established a new “Line of Actual Control”; no further military deaths occurred until 2020. In 1987 and in 2013 potential conflicts over the two differing Lines of Actual Control were successfully de-escalated. A conflict involving a Bhutanese-controlled area on the border between Bhutan and China was successfully de-escalated in 2017 following injuries to both Indian and Chinese troops. Multiple brawls broke out in 2020, escalating to dozens of deaths in June 2020.

British India, China and Tibet, the McMahon Line was demarcated in 1914 at the tripartite Simla Convention, Image Source:

          The 1962 Sino-Indian War was fought in both of disputed areas. The agreement to resolve the dispute concluded in 1996 included “confidence-building measures” and the mutually agreed Line of Actual Control. In 2006, the Chinese ambassador to India claimed that all of Arunachal Pradesh is Chinese territory amidst a military buildup. At the time, both countries claimed incursions as much as a kilometre at the northern tip of Sikkim. In 2009, India announced it would deploy additional military forces along the border. In 2014, India proposed China should acknowledge a “One India” policy to resolve the border dispute.

Aksai Chin Part of India – the “Johnson Line”

          Aksai Chin is an Indian territory currently administered by China as a part of its Xinjiang and Tibet autonomous regions, mostly as part of Hotan County in Xinjiang. It constitutes the eastern portion of the larger Kashmir region which has been the subject of a dispute between India and China since 1962. Because of its 5,000 metres (16,000 ft) elevation, the desolation of Aksai Chin meant that it had no human importance other than as an ancient trade route, which provided a temporary pass during summer for caravans of yaks between Xinjiang and Tibet. For military campaigns, the region held great importance, as it was on the only route from Tarim Basin to Tibet that was passable all year round.

          One of the earliest treaties regarding the boundaries in the western sector was signed in 1842. Ladakh was conquered a few years earlier by the armies of Raja Gulab Singh (Dogra) under the suzerainty of the Sikh Empire. Following an unsuccessful campaign into Tibet in 1840, Gulab Singh and the Tibetans signed a treaty, agreeing to stick to the “old, established frontiers”, which were left unspecified. The British defeat of the Sikhs in 1846 resulted in the transfer of the Jammu and Kashmir   region including Ladakh to the British, who then installed Gulab Singh as the Maharaja under their suzerainty. British commissioners contacted Chinese officials to negotiate the border, who did not show any interest. he British boundary commissioners fixed the southern end of the boundary at Pangong Lake, but regarded the area north of it as terra incognita.

The Ardagh–Johnson line marked in red as the “traditional boundary” of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Image Source: Wikipedia

          William Johnson a civil servant with the Survey of India proposed the “Johnson Line” in 1865, which put Aksai Chin in Kashmir. This was the time of the Dungan revolt, when China did not control most of Xinjiang, so this line was never presented to the Chinese. Johnson presented this line to the Maharaja of Kashmir, who then claimed the 18,000 square kilometers contained within, and by some accounts territory further north as far as the Sanju Paass in the  Kunlun mountains. The Maharajah of Kashmir constructed a fort at Shahidulla (modern-day Xaidulla), and had troops stationed there for some years to protect caravans. Eventually, most sources placed Shahidulla and the upper Karakash river firmly within the territory of Xinjiang. In 1878 the Chinese had reconquered Xinjiang, and by 1890 they already had Shahidulla before the issue was decided. By 1892, China had erected boundary markers at Karakoram Pass. In 1897 a British military officer, Sir John Ardagh, proposed a boundary line along the crest of the Kun Lun mountains north of the Yarkand river. At the time Britain was concerned at the danger of Russian expansion as China weakened, and Ardagh argued that his line was more defensible. The Ardagh line was effectively a modification of the Johnson line, and became known as the “Johnson-Ardagh Line”.

Aksai Chin Part of China – the “Macartney–Macdonald Line

          In 1893, Hung Ta-chen, a senior Chinese official at St. Petersburg, gave maps of the region to George Macartney, the British consul general at Kashgar, which coincided in broad details. In 1899, Britain proposed a revised boundary, initially suggested by Macartney and developed by the Governor General of India Lord Elgin. This boundary placed the Lingzi Tang plains, which are south of the Laktsang range, in India, and Aksai Chin proper, which is north of the Laktsang range, in China. This border, along the Karakorum Mountains, was proposed and supported by British officials for a number of reasons. The Karakoram Mountains formed a natural boundary, which would set the British borders up to the Indus river watershed while leaving the Tarim river watershed in Chinese control, and Chinese control of this tract would present a further obstacle to Russian advance in Central Asia. The British presented this line, known as the The Macartney–Macdonald Line, to the Chinese in 1899 in a note by Sir Claude MacDonald. The Qing government did not respond to the note. According to some commentators, China believed that this had been the accepted boundary.

The Macartney–Macdonald Line, Image Source:

          Both the Johnson-Ardagh and the Macartney-MacDonald lines were used on British maps of India. Until at least 1908, the British took the Macdonald line to be the boundary, but in 1911, the Xinhai revolution resulted in the collapse of central power in China, and by the end of World War I, the British officially used the Johnson Line. However they took no steps to establish outposts or assert actual control on the ground. In 1927, the line was adjusted again as the government of British India abandoned the Johnson line in favor of a line along the Karakoram range further south. However, the maps were not updated and still showed the Johnson Line.

          From 1917 to 1933, the “Postal Atlas of China”, published by the Government of China in Peking had shown the boundary in Aksai Chin as per the Johnson line, which runs along the Kunlun mountains. The Peking University Atlas, published in 1925, also put the Aksai Chin in India. When British officials learned of Soviet officials surveying the Aksai Chin for Sheng Shicai, warlord of Xinjiang in 1940–1941, they again advocated the Johnson Line. At this point the British had still made no attempts to establish outposts or control over the Aksai Chin, nor was the issue ever discussed with the governments of China or Tibet, and the boundary remained undemarcated at India’s independence.

          Upon independence in 1947, the government of India used the Johnson Line as the basis for its official boundary in the west, which included the Aksai Chin. From the Karakoram Pass (which is not under dispute), the Indian claim line extends northeast of the Karakoram Mountains through the salt flats of the Aksai Chin, to set a boundary at the Kunlun Mountains, and incorporating part of the Karakash river and Yarkand river watersheds. From there, it runs east along the Kunlun Mountains, before turning southwest through the Aksai Chin salt flats, through the Karakoram Mountains, and then to Pangong Tso lake.

          On 1 July 1954 Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru wrote a memo directing that the maps of India be revised to show definite boundaries on all frontiers. Up to this point, the boundary in the Aksai Chin sector, based on the Johnson Line, had been described as “undemarcated.” During the 1950s, China built a 1,200 km road connecting Xinjiang and western Tibet, of which 179 km ran south of the Johnson Line through the Aksai Chin region claimed by India. Aksai Chin was easily accessible to the Chinese, but was more difficult for the Indians on the other side of the Karakorams to reach. The Indians did not learn of the existence of the road until 1957, which was confirmed when the road was shown in Chinese maps published in 1958. The Indian position, as stated by PM Nehru, was that the Aksai Chin was “part of the Ladakh region of India for centuries” and that this northern border was a “firm and definite one which was not open to discussion with anybody”.

          The Chinese argued that the western border had never been delimited, that the Macartney-MacDonald Line, which left the Aksai Chin within Chinese borders was the only line ever proposed to a Chinese government, and that the Aksai Chin was already under Chinese jurisdiction, and that negotiations should take into account the status quo. Despite this region being nearly uninhabitable and having no resources, it remains strategically important for China as it connects Tibet and Xinjiang. Construction started in 1951 and the road was completed in 1957. The construction of this highway was one of the triggers for the Sino-Indian war of 1962. The resurfacing of the highway taken up for first time in about 50 years was completed in 2013.

          In June 2006, a satellite imagery revealed a 1:500 scale terrain model of eastern Aksai Chin and adjacent Tibet built by China in the Ningxia  autonomous region of  China. Such terrain models are known to be used in military training and simulation. Local authorities in Ningxia claim that their model of Aksai Chin is part of a tank training ground, built in 1998 or 1999.

          In August 2017, Indian and Chinese forces near Pangong Tso lake threw rocks at each other. On September 11, 2019, PLA troops confronted Indian troops on the northern bank of Pangong Tso lake. A continued face-off in May and June 2020 between Indian and Chinese troops near Pangong Tso Lake culminated in a violent clash on 16 June 2020, with at least 20 deaths from the Indian side and unknown number of deaths from the Chinese side. Both sides claim provocation from the other.

          Aksai Chin is one of the two large disputed border areas between India and China. India claims Aksai Chin as the easternmost part of the union territory of Ladakh. China claims that Aksai Chin is part of the Xinjiang and Tibet. The line that separates Indian-administered areas of Ladakh from Aksai Chin is known as the line of Actaul Control (LAC) and is concurrent with the Chinese Aksai Chin claim line. Aksai Chin covers an area of about 37,244 square kilometers of a vast high-altitude desert with a low point on the Karakash river at about 4,300 m (14,100 ft) above sea level. In the southwest, mountains up to 7,000 m (23,000 ft) extending southeast from the Depsang plains form the de facto border (Line of Actual Control) between Aksai Chin and Indian-controlled Kashmir. The western part of Aksai Chin region is drained by the Tarim River. The eastern part of the region contains several small endorheic basins. The largest of them is that of the Aksai Chin lake, which is fed by the river of the same name. The nearby Trans-Karaloram tract is also the subject of ongoing dispute between China and India in the Kashmir dispute.

Darbuk Shyok DBO Road. Image Source:

Shaksgam Tract

          The Trans-Karakoram Tract also known as Shaksgam or the Shaksgam Tract, is an area of more than 2,700 sq mi (6,993 km2) north of the Karakoram, including the Shaksgam valley and Raskam Yarkand river valley. The tract is now administered by China as part of its Xinjiang region. Although the area was not under Pakistan’s control since 1947, it was claimed by Pakistan as part of Kashmir until the 1963 Sino-Pakistan agreement in which Pakistan ceded the territory to China. It is claimed by India as part of the union territory of Ladakh. Most of the tract is composed of the Shaksgam Valley and was formerly administered as part of Shigar, a district in the Baltistan region. A polo ground in Shaksgam was built by the Amacha Royal family of Shigar, and the Rajas of Shigar used to invite the Amirs of  Hotan to play polo there. Most of the names of the mountains, lakes, rivers and passes are in Balti/Ladakhi, suggesting that this land had been part of Baltistan/Ladakh region for a long time. Bounded by the kun Lun mountains in the north, and the Karakoram peaks to the south, including K2, on the southeast it is adjacent to the highest battlefield in the world on the Siachen region controlled by India.

Shaksgam Tract, Image Source:

Galwan River

          The river is named after Ghulam Rasool Galwan, a Ladakhi explorer of Kashmiri descent, who first explored the course of the river. In 1899, he was part of a British expedition team that was exploring the areas to the north of the Chang Chenmo valley, when he ran into this previously unknown river valley. The river’s length is about 80 kilometers, and it is fast-flowing. The Galwan river is to the west of China’s 1956 claim line in Aksai Chin. However, in 1960 China advanced its claim line to the west of the river along the mountain ridge adjoining the Shyok river valley. Meanwhile, India continued to claim the entire Aksai Chin plateau. These claims and counterclaims led to a military standoff in the Galwan River valley in 1962. On 4 July, a platoon of Indian Gorkha troops set up a post in the upper reaches of the valley. The post ended up cutting the lines of communication to a Chinese post at Samzungling. The Chinese interpreted it as a premeditated attack on their post, and surrounded the Indian post, coming within 100 yards of the post. The Indian government warned China of “grave consequences” and informed them that India was determined to hold the post at all costs. The post remained surrounded for four months and was supplied by helicopters.

Galwan River. Image Source:

          By the time the sino-India war started on 20 October 1962, the Indian post had been reinforced by a company of troops. The Chinese PLA bombarded the Indian post with heavy shelling and employed a battalion to attack it. The Indian garrison suffered 33 killed and several wounded, while the company commander and several others were taken prisoner. By the end of the war, China reached its 1960 claim line.

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          In summer 2020, India and China have been engaged in a military stand-off at multiple locations along the Sino-Indian border. On 16 June 2020, it was reported that a violent clash took place between troops of the two countries near India’s Patrolling Point 14 in Galwan Valley. Twenty Indian Army soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers were killed.

Aksai Chin Lake

          Aksai Chin Lake on the Aksai Chin Plateau is administered by China but also claimed by India. The lake is part of Hotan county in Xinjiang. The lake is located just south of the Kunlun mountains. It is approximately 15 kilometers long and 6-8 kilometers across. It is fed by the Aksai Chin River. China National highway 219 passes some 20 kilometers to the southwest of the lake on its way from Shiquanhe, Tibet to Yarkand, Xinjiang. In the 1950s, prior to the Sino-Indian war, India collected salt from this lake and two other lakes in Aksai Chin to study the economic feasibility of potential salt mining operations. This lake was the only lake deemed economically viable. First known reference to aksai chin is made in Vishnu Purana volume 9 where there is a description of Samudra Manthan by koormavatara. Subsequently many other religious scriptures of Indian Origin mention this place as Akshay Chinha or a place whose sign is immortal.

Image Source:

Chip Chap River

          The Chip Chap River flows from the disputed Aksai Chin region in southern Xinjiang of China to Ladakh in India. It originates at the eastern edge of the Depsang plains and flows west, skirting around the Depsang Plains in the north. It discharges into the Shyok river. It is one of the upstream tributaries of the Indus river. The upper course of the river is in a relatively flat area with a drop of only 190 metres over 30 km. Several mountain streams from the south drain into the relatively stagnant pool of water in this area. Near the LAC that separates the Indian and Chinese controlled portions of Depsang Plains, the Lungnak Lungpa stream joins from north. Another stream passing by Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO)  joins the river in the Indian controlled area. The combined river joins the Shyok at an elevation of 4800 m. The 1899 British offer to China for the border in Aksai Chin (The Macartney–Macdonald Line) placed the entire course of the Chip Chap River in the Indian territory. The 1956 claim line of China also did the same. But by 1960, China advanced its claim line to include a major portion of the Chip Chap river, coming within 4 miles of Daulat Beg Oldi.

Chip Chap River. Image Source:

          The Chip Chap river valley played a key role in the evolution of the border conflict between China and India in 1961–62. In September 1961 India discovered that China had established a military post in the Chip Chap valley four miles east of the Indian post at DBO. China had also constructed a motorable road leading to the post. Finally, the Chinese troops attempted to capture an Indian patrol in the area. India concluded that China was attempting to extend its control to its 1960 claim line. In response, the Indian government evolved a policy that came to be called the ‘forward policy’. The government directed the Indian army to patrol as far towards the international border as possible, asking it to establish posts so as to prevent the Chinese from advancing any further west. In March–April 1962, the Indian army created posts in the Chip Chap valley as well as Depsang plains to prevent Chinese incursions.

          In May 1962 a stand-off occurred as the Chinese troops moved toward an Indian post, giving every indication of intending to attack. The army asked if it should withdraw, but PM Nehru asked it to hold firm and not submit to the threat of force. The Chinese troops eventually withdrew. Following a similar standoff in the Galwan valley, the commanders in Ladakh were authorised to fire on Chinese if they came too close. This happened in September 1962. When the Chinese troops came close to one of the Indian posts, the Indians opened fire at “point-blank range”, killing several men. The Indian government arranged for the bodies to be returned to the Chinese without generating any publicity. This was perhaps the last major clash before the breakout of open hostilities on 20 October, after which all the Indian posts were attacked with major force and neutralised. By the end of the Sino-Indian war of 1962, the Chinese forces had occupied all the territory up to their 1960 claim line.

Dehra Compass

          Dehra Compass  is the location of a historical caravan campsite in Aksia Chin. It is under Chinese control and claimed by India. Historically, the camp was used by caravans journeying between the Indian subcontinent and Tarim Basin. It was traversed by European explorers during the 1800s. At one point, there were stone shelters constructed at this location to facilitate camping. ‘Dehra’ is derived from Punjabi language word ‘dera’, meaning camp, while ‘Compass’ comes from the name of a survey officer, Kompas Walla. In the events leading to the Sino-Indian war, Indian patrols used Kompas La and Dehra Compass to monitor the area. Chinese troops gained control of this area after May 1961. Kompas La or Dehra La is the pass through a nearby mountain spur. Historically the pass was to the south reached an elevation of 18,160 feet (5,540 m). Present day, the vehicle accessible gravel road routed to the east, while still one of the highest in the world, only reaches elevation of 5,476 metres (17,966 ft), serving the Chinese border outpost of  Heweitan to the west.

Dehra Compass. Image Source: Wikipedia

Depsang Plains

          The Depsang Plains are located at the LAC that separates the Indian and Chinese controlled regions. The Chinese Army occupied most of the plains in 1962. India controls the western portion of the plains as part of Ladakh, whereas the eastern portion is part of the Aksai Chin region, which is controlled by China and claimed by India. In April 2013, the Chinese PLA troops set up a temporary camp in the Depsang Bulge, but later withdrew as a result of a diplomatic agreement with India.

Karakash River

          The Karakash or Black Jade River, is a river in the Xinjiang, China, that originates in the disputed Aksai Chin region administered by China. It passes through the historical settlement of Xaidull (Shahidulla) and passes by Khotan (Hotan) before joining the Tarim River. The lower course of the river is known as the Hotan river. The river begins above 19,000 feet (5,800 m) about 7 miles (11 km) northeast of Galwan Kangri peak in the disputed China controlled Aksai Chin. The Karakash River is famous for its white and greenish jade (nephrite) carried as river boulders and pebbles toward Khotan, as does the nearby Yurungkash (or ‘White Jade’) River. The Karakash Valley was also a caravan road for the north-south trade between Yarjand (China) and Leh, passing over the Karakoram pass.

Karakash or Black Jade River. Image Source:

          It can be seen that there is no title dispute on the territorial ownership between India and China. China does not dispute the annexation of Kashmir by British. The succession of Kashmir, and Ladakh by virtue of accession, is not questioned by China. India-China border dispute is a dispute on the identity of territory. Because, the question is the identification of the international boundary line between India and China based on historical material on who had exercised sovereign control over the territory at a relevant time. The world hopes and expects that China would agree to the restoration of status quo as it had prevailed before intrusion in the first week of May.

          In September 2014, India and China had a standoff at the LAC, when Indian workers began constructing a canal in the border village of Demchok, in south-eastern Ladakh and Chinese civilians protested with the army’s support. It ended after about three weeks, when both sides agreed to withdraw troops. The Indian army claimed that the Chinese military had set up a camp 3 km inside territory claimed by India. In September 2015, Chinese and Indian troops faced-off in the Burtse region of northern Ladakh after Indian troops dismantled a disputed watchtower the Chinese were building close to the mutually-agreed patrolling line. Some Western observers felt that that China gains territory with every incursion.

Demchok. Image Source:

India’s Eastern Border Dispute – The McMahon Line

          British India annexed Assam in northeastern India in 1826, by treaty of Yandabo at the conclusion of the First Anglo-Burmese war (1824–1826). After subsequent Anglo-Burmese wars, the whole of Burma was annexed giving the British a border with China’s Yunan province. In 1913–14, representatives of Britain, China, and Tibet attended a conference in Shimla, India and drew up an agreement concerning Tibet’s status and borders. The McMahon Line, a proposed boundary between Tibet and India for the eastern sector, was drawn by British negotiator Henry McMahon on a map attached to the agreement. All three representatives initialed the agreement, but Beijing soon objected to the proposed Sino-Tibet boundary and repudiated the agreement, refusing to sign the final, more detailed map. After approving a note which stated that China could not enjoy rights under the agreement unless she ratified it, the British and Tibetan negotiators signed the Shimla Convention and more detailed map as a bilateral accord. The basis of these boundaries, accepted by British India and Tibet, were that the historical boundaries of India were the Himalayas and the areas south of the Himalayas were traditionally Indian and associated with India. The high watershed of the Himalayas was proposed as the border between India and its northern neighbours. India’s government held the view that the Himalayas were the ancient boundaries of the Indian subcontinent and thus should be the modern boundaries. Chinese boundary markers, including one set up by the newly created Chinese Republic, say that the boundary stood near Walong until January 1914, when T. O’Callaghan, an assistant administrator of North East Frontier Agency (NEFA)’s eastern sector, relocated them north to locations closer to the McMahon Line (albeit still South of the Line).

McMahon Line. Image Source:

          By signing the Simla Agreement with Tibet, the British had violated the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907, in which both parties were not to negotiate with Tibet, “except through the intermediary of the Chinese Government”. Also the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1906 bound the British government “not to annex Tibetan territory.” Because of doubts concerning the legal status of the accord, the British did not put the McMahon Line on their maps until 1937, nor did they publish the Simla Convention in the treaty record until 1938. Rejecting Tibet’s 1913 declaration of independence, China argued that the Simla Convention and McMahon Line were illegal and that Tibetan government was merely a local government without treaty-making powers.

          In 1947, Tibet requested that India recognise Tibetan authority in the trading town of Tawang, south of the McMahon Line. Tibet did not object to any other portion of the McMahon line. In reply, the Indians asked Tibet to continue the relationship on the basis of the previous British Government. The British records show that the Tibetan government’s acceptance of the new border in 1914 was conditional on China accepting the Simla Convention. Since the British were not able to get an acceptance from China, Tibetans considered the McMahon line invalid. Tibetan officials continued to administer Tawang and refused to concede territory during negotiations in 1938. The governor of Assam asserted that Tawang was “undoubtedly British” but noted that it was “controlled by Tibet, and none of its inhabitants have any idea that they are not Tibetan.” During World War II, with India’s east threatened by Japanese troops and with the threat of Chinese expansionism, British troops secured Tawang for extra defence.

          China’s claim on areas south of the McMahon Line, encompassed in the NEFA, were based on the traditional boundaries. India believes that the boundaries China proposed in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh have no written basis and no documentation of acceptance by anyone apart from China. Indians argue that China claims the territory on the basis that it was under Chinese imperial control in the past, while Chinese argue that India claims the territory on the basis that it was under British imperial control in the past. The last Qing emperor’s 1912 edict of abdication authorised its succeeding republican government to form a union of “five peoples, namely, Manchus, Han Chinese, Mongols, Muslims, and Tibetans together with their territory in its integrity.” However, the practice that India does not place a claim to the regions which previously had the presence of the Mauryan Empire, and Chola Dynasty, but which were heavily influenced by Indian culture, further complicates the issue.

          India’s claim line in the eastern sector follows the McMahon Line. The line drawn clearly starts at 27°45’40″N, a trijunction between Bhutan, China, and India, and from there, extends eastwards. Most of the fighting in the eastern sector before the start of the war would take place immediately north of this line. However, India claimed that the “intent” of the treaty was to follow the main watershed ridge divide of the Himalayas based on memos from McMahon and the fact that over 90% of the McMahon Line does in fact follow the main watershed ridge divide of the Himalayas. They claimed that territory south of the high ridges here near Bhutan (as elsewhere along most of the McMahon Line) should be Indian territory and north of the high ridges should be Chinese territory. In the Indian claim, the two armies would be separated from each other by the highest mountains in the world.

          During and after the 1950s, when India began patrolling this area and mapping in greater detail, they confirmed what the 1914 Simla agreement map depicted six river crossings that interrupted the main Himalayan watershed ridge. At the westernmost location near Bhutan north of Tawang, they modified their maps to extend their claim line northwards to include features such as Thag La ridge, Longju, and Khinzemane as Indian territory. Thus, the Indian version of the McMahon Line moves the Bhutan-China-India trijunction north to 27°51’30″N. India would claim that the treaty map ran along features such as Thag La ridge, though the actual treaty map itself is topographically vague (as the treaty was not accompanied with demarcation) in places, shows a straight line (not a watershed ridge) near Bhutan and near Thag La, and the treaty includes no verbal description of geographic features nor description of the highest ridges.

          On 20 October 1975, four Indian soldiers were killed at Tulung La in Arunachal Pradesh. According to Indian official position a patrol of the Assam Rifles comprising a non-commissioned officer (NCO) and four other soldiers was ambushed by about 40 Chinese soldiers while in an area well within Indian territory, and which had been regularly patrolled for years without incident. India registered a strong protest with the Chinese.

Tulung La in Arunachal Pradesh. Image Source:

          The Nathu La and Cho La clashes of 1967 were a series of military clashes between India and China alongside the border of the Himalayan Kingdom of Sikkim, then an Indian protectorate. The Nathu La clashes started on 11 September 1967, when the PLA launched an attack on Indian posts at Nathu La, and lasted till 15 September 1967. In October 1967, another military duel took place at Cho La and ended on the same day. According to independent sources, the Indian forces achieved “decisive tactical advantage” and defeated the Chinese forces in these clashes. Many PLA fortifications at Nathu La were said to be destroyed, where the Indian troops drove back the attacking Chinese forces.

Nathu La and Cho La clashes of 1967. Image Source:

          In 1975, the Sikkimese monarchy held a referendum, in which the Sikkemese voted overwhelmingly in favour of joining India. At the time China protested and rejected it as illegal. The Sino-Indian Memorandum of 2003 was hailed as a de facto Chinese acceptance of Sikkim joining India. China published a map showing Sikkim as a part of India. However, the Sikkim-China border’s northernmost point, “The Finger”, continues to be the subject of dispute and military activity. Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said in 2005 that “Sikkim is no longer the problem between China and India.”

          The Doklam Military Standoff in June 2017 took placein what China claims as a disputed territory of Doklam, near the Doka La pass. On June 16, 2017, the Chinese brought heavy road building equipment to the Doklam region and began constructing a road in the disputed area. Previously, China had built a dirt road terminating at Doka La where Indian troops were stationed. They would conduct foot patrol from this point up till the Royal Bhutanese Army (RBA) post at Jampheri Ridge. The dispute that ensued post June 16 stemmed from the fact that the Chinese had begun building a road below Doka La, in what India and Bhutan claim is not Chinese territory. This resulted in Indian intervention to stop China’s road construction on June 18, two days after construction began. Bhutan claims that the Chinese have violated the written agreements between the two countries that were drawn up in 1988 and 1998 after extensive rounds of talks. The agreements drawn state that status quo must be maintained in the Doklam area as of before March 1959. Due to the ambiguity of earlier rounds of border talks beginning from the 1890 Anglo-Chinese Convention that was signed in Kolkata on March 17, 1890, each country refers to different agreements drawn when trying to defend its position on the border dispute. Following the incursion, on June 28, the Chinese military claimed that India had halted construction of a road that was taking place in Chinese sovereign territory. On June 30, India claimed that China’s road construction in violation of the status quo had security implications for India. Following this, on July 5, Bhutan issued a demarche asking China to restore the status quo as of before June 16. Throughout July and August, the Doklam issue remained unresolved. On August 28, India issued a statement saying that both countries have agreed to “expeditious disengagement” in the Doklam region. In May 2020, Indian and Chinese forces in the Sikkim area engaged in fighting and 10 were injured.

Doklam. Image Source: Wikipedia

India China – Central Sector

          This stretch of 545 kms runs along the states of Himachal and Uttar Pradesh. Though least complicated of the three sectors, it nevertheless has disputed portions. Here the Chinese claims account for some 2000 sq kms in eight small separate blobs. Though comparatively more stable, in this sector too China keeps asserting its presence and the claims from time to time. As a result, this segment also has its share of occasional ‘incidents’. Chinese troops have often driven away Indian shepherds from grazing grounds close to the border near Barahoti. Their makeshift shelters were also dismantled.

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To Summarize Chinese Approach to Disputes

          China occupies 38,000 sq km Indian territory in Aksai Chin. It also stakes claim on Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh. It was this expansionist policy that led to the recent clashes between the PLA and the Indian Army. China’s global cartographic aggression has no parallel. The periodicity with which China changes its territorial claims gives an indication that the Communist Party of China (CPC) randomly picks old maps that suit China’s hegemonic expansionist ambitions.

          Practically in all disputes they have tried to expand territory. Be that with Russia, Pakistan, Tajiks, and in the South China Sea. In all these cases the countries chose not to stand up or fight the Chinese. The Vietnamese fought. Taiwan and Japan are taking firm stand. India has been taking a firm stand in last few years.

          China has been trying to evolve as a super power through stealing and reverse engineering Russian and Western military equipment designs. They do not follow global ethics/norms. Having refused to adhere to the PCA ruling on South China Sea, it is ready to undermine international institutions for territorial gains and to bulldoze its way to become a super power. India is one of the main significant powers in the region. China treats as a regional competitor , and a road block in its free run. India has refused to join the China’s ambitious expansionist Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It can be seen that many countries of the region and also USA and Europe see China’s expansionist approach as a global threat. India is the Bulwark that needs to remain strong and has to be joined by other forces inimical to Chinese designs.  China always quotes historical maps that suit their narrative for boudary claims. As Bhutanese journalist Tenzing Lamsang writes “If we are to go by territorial claims then Greece, Rome, Mongolia, Spain and Britain should divide the world between the five of them. They would have maps, treaties, proof of tributes, evidence of rule and what not”.

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Published by Anil Chopra

I am the founder of Air Power Asia and a retired Air Marshal from the Indian Air Force.

15 thoughts on “China’s Serious Border Disputes With Most Neighbours – Unilateral Approach – India the Bulwark – Comprehensive Story

  1. In recorded history, a border dispute has never been resolved militarily. It can only be resolved by negotiations. Like it or not, the same would have to be done with China. With a country like China, whose expansionist intentions are well known we will have to devise our strategy and move ahead but negotiate we will have to. India is also not pure as the driven snow as far as sitting across the table and negotiating is concerned. We have missed many good opportunities. Lastly, the border alignment WILL have to take the ground realities as they exist today. We cannot tie ourselves down with the rhetoric of the past. To put it bluntly, in some cases we will have to accept “gone is gone” and not become victims of our own rhetoric.


    1. When you live within the same borders as the neighbour who claims your land as his, it is virtually impossible to sit down and discuss it rationally. If you’re a person living on one side of the border and your neighbour on the other, and he says, “I’m going to stop you from living in your home.” That, to me, is insane. If you’re on one side of that wall, what are you doing? But, if you’re on the other side of it, if that wall comes down, you’re going to build a wall of your own.

      That’s my idea of a better outcome than a militaristic solution.


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