While Chinese soldiers beat up Indians around Pangong Lake in Ladakh near the contested border between the two nations, one thing is clear — while India and China have faced off in the area before, no one knows what’s to come next. India ‘s alliance with China once seemed inevitable to a country that put democratic ideals in its national constitution and prided itself on independence from the Cold War.
India and China
It was unsurprising that India was involved in broadening relations with other recently developed communist nations, including China, under its first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. But factors more potent than ideological affiliation knocked off course the connection, leading to an underappreciated war and today’s tensions.
The friendship was at first all smiles and camaraderie. The Indo-Chinese alliance was allegedly based in its early days on five principles set out in the Panchsheel Agreement: reciprocal respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in domestic affairs, dignity and mutual gain, and peaceful coexistence. These principles, together with a shared belief in socialist economics, led to a strong relation. As the slogan went, “Bhai-bhai Hindi Chini”—India and China are brothers.
Nehru met Mao Zedong in Beijing in 1954, and the two leaders agreed on many issues — primarily. The need to stay strong against Western imperialism. Despite being entertained by presidents Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, Nehru had no respect for the US. He speculated in the early days of the Cold War that “there is more justification on Russia’s side as a whole”. Mao saw himself upholding the anti-imperialist legacy of Chinese revolutionaries.
But India and China, due in part to the history of disputed imperial borders. They disagreed at the boundary between the two countries. The Ardagh-Johnson Line was a British India-drawn boundary that placed Aksai Chin in India between Jammu and Kashmir. Instead, China said it never recognized this frontier and lobbied for the Macartney-MacDonald Line. It’s a later boundary that gave it more ground.