Possible Signs of a Thaw in India-China Relations

Both powers pull back from contested border . . .

After more than two years of tensions and 16 rounds of negotiations, the Indian and Chinese armies have pulled back from their last remaining friction point in eastern Ladakh at the Indo-Tibetan border and along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The two countries share a 4,056-km-long border strewn with areas claimed by both sides, and the LAC is a demarcation line separating Indian- and Chinese-controlled territory along this shared border. While both Beijing and New Delhi “agreed to disagree” on the exact border demarcation in 1962, their armies have clashed on occasion, before usually disengaging quietly. In May 2020, however, multiple military clashes along the disputed border led to casualties on both sides and a lengthy stalemate between the two powers.

Potential Modi-Xi meeting . . .

The disengagement along the border was completed just days before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping are to attend the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Uzbekistan today and tomorrow. The timing of the disengagement has triggered speculation about a potential bilateral meeting between Modi and Xi that could be held on the sidelines of the summit. While both leaders are expected to meet face-to-face, an official meeting has yet to be announced.

A thaw on the horizon?

India-China relations have been tense for many years. But the military conflict in 2020, which reflected a worsening of these tensions, is said to have “shattered Delhi’s political trust in China.” Since then, India has deepened its security co-operation with Washington; increased its participation in the Quadrilateral Forum with Australia, Japan, and the U.S.; and focused on modernizing its military. While the war in Ukraine and the growing tensions between China and the West are expected to loom large at the SCO summit, the interactions between Modi and Xi will also be worth watching, as they may portend the near-term future for India-China ties.