India-China relations have since millennia not been antagonistic, primarily due to the impact of geography. Separated by Tibet and the high Himalayan ranges, the two countries had little contact with each other till the Chinese Communist Party annexed Tibet in 1950. That was the time when the then Chinese premier, Chou en Lai would oft repeat the bogey of the “eternal friendship between our two countries,” while using the time to convert Tibet into a base of operations against India.
The era of ‘Hindi-Chini, bhai bhai’ was a classic example in deception, with the Indians getting duped by Chinese perfidy. The 1962 war between the two countries was a wake-up call for India and brought home the realisation that peace can only be realised through strength and the ability to protect our borders.
Over the last two thousand years, the people to people connect was limited to visits by Chinese monks such as Fa Hien (Faxian: 337 CE-422 CE) and Hiuen Tsang (Xuanzang: 602 CE-664 CE), who travelled to India and spent many years in the country, learning from Indian texts and paying homage to the places sanctified by the Buddha. Some Indian scholars too, such as Dharmaraksha (mid-third century), Kumarajiva Gunavarma (beginning of the fifth century) and Dharmagupta (end of the sixth century) went to China and dedicated their lives to translating Buddhist texts into Mandarin.
While Indian thought influenced China, there is no evidence of the reverse having taken place.
While Indian thought influenced China, there is no evidence of the reverse having taken place. The relationship was essentially spiritual and one way, but this too went into decay with the Islamic invasions of India beginning in the eighth century, and continuing for about a millennia.
India-China relations were renewed only in the early years of the twentieth century, brought about by the common struggle against imperialism, which resulted in the growth of bonds of empathy between the two nations. However, while the Indian political leadership was imbued with a sense of misplaced idealism, the Chinese Communist Party which came to power in 1949 in China, had its feet firmly implanted in real politic. The friendship was one-sided as India was to sadly learn after Tibet was annexed.
With the current political uproar about Indo-China relations, post the clash between the two neighbouring countries in the Galwan Valley on 15 June 2020, the relationship between the two countries is at its lowest ebb since the 1962 war and the 1967 clashes at Nathu La.
This book, One Mountain Two Tigers: India, China, and the High Himalayas, edited by Shakti Sinha, has hence come at an opportune moment when the need to understand the Chinese thought process and possible intentions are rife across the country. Through a series of well-crafted essays that map the India-China relationship from early times to the present day, the book presents a holistic analysis of the India-China relationship and its possible future contours.
The book busts the myriad myths that China has masked itself under, and works to unravel each different question about the history behind the country and its relations with India. In the present times, where information released in the media is more often than not taken with a pinch of salt, this book provides a comprehensive history of Sino-Indian relations, separating fallacies from facts and establishes a holistic relationship between the two.
The first essay shows the far-reaching cultural influence of the Indic civilisation across what is now, mainland China. The author adds particular emphasis onto the region of Uttarakuru (now Xinjiang) and how the Indians of the post-Vedic era had an impact on the region’s language, culture and religion.
The book takes on a comfortable narrative moving through the ages from the time where the parent languages Prakrit and Sanskrit were still in use. It then delves into the early relations between Ladakh, Bhutan and Tibet and correlates the influence on Indo-Tibet relations during Nehru’s time as Prime Minister. Thereafter, it delves on the occupation of Tibet and Xinjiang by the People’s Republic of China, an issue that is under debate to this date. The focus is however not simply on the occupation of the country, but the effect it had on trade relations of Tibet.
Lessons from history
The nuances of the history between India and China as well as the surrounding territories that were affected, influenced, or in some cases occupied by the two are well brought out. While most histories on the subject only look at the colonial and post-colonial era to understand the conflicted and tug-of-war like the relationship the two countries share, this book attempts to establish a firmer grasp on the history that has culminated to the current standing that both countries hold in the comity of nations.
Three of the 14 chapters of this book provide an overview of the history before and during that of the colonial era. From the fourth essay onwards, the relatively modern history of the countries are addressed. Alok Bansal authors a chapter on the history of the Indo-China border dispute. With the current flare-up on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), this chapter provides the necessary context to understand why the border has been and continues to be under contestation since the McMahon line came into existence.
In our recent memory of the tug-of-war like the alliance that India and China seem to possess, the beginning of what seemed to be a budding animosity from China’s side came to a head in talks leading up to the 1962 Indo-China War.
In our recent memory of the tug-of-war like the alliance that India and China seem to possess, the beginning of what seemed to be a budding animosity from China’s side came to a head in talks leading up to the 1962 Indo-China War. Two of the essays that form this book cover the reasons that led to the rather violent dispute that shook India out of its pacifist stupor and left a dent in the two countries’ perceptions of each other.
The remaining essays look into the current status-quo and the relationship between Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping. The Galwan scuffle and how India reacted, both in terms of military and political response, has been analysed in detail. The book also looks into China’s choice of the battlefield in Ladakh and what India can do to strengthen its capabilities. In this regard, Lt. Gen. Vinod Bhatia puts up a cogent argument for an amendment to the Rules of Engagement, due to the lack of regard for them by the Chinese, which inevitably puts the Indian Forces at a potentially fatal disadvantage.
Apart from the strategic perspective, the book also addresses the political impact. It delves into the Wuhan and Mamallapuram Summits of 2018 and 2019 respectively, and the impact this had on the polities of both nations. The roles played by external powers and the influence of the United States, Pakistan and Taiwan, as also the turmoil in Tibet, is analysed, along with China’s current Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The book ends with an analysis of the Chinese Communist Party and speculates on what could have caused this outbreak of blatant military aggression against India on the LAC and China’s aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea. The analysis by all the erudite authors is something which needs to be taken note of and would be of great interest to China watchers, as also to those who desire to understand the current state of Sino-Indian relations in a holistic manner.