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The Sino-Indian Border Dispute

Prior to the Islamic invasion of India, cultural interaction between China and India appears unidirectional, with the spread of the Buddhist religion and of educational innovations often moving from Indian territory to Chinese, but not necessarily back. In the late 19th and early twentieth centuries, Chinese expansion moved westward, occupying Tibet in 1950, while the Indian nation was subdivided and physically shrank in the 1947 partition. This increased the proximity of China to India, now sharing a significant border along the Himalayas. A border dispute arose in 1962 that led to a full-scale war known as the Sino-Indian War, or the Sino-Indian Border Conflict. Diplomacy, to this day, has failed to fully settle the disputed claims. Specifically, Hindu Indians seek a swatch of Tibetan land on which rests a sacred religious mountains, Mount Kailash-Mansarovar. Chinese authorities too have a religious claim to Indian land, as they request the return of Tawang to Chinese hedgemony. Tawan is the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama. As a result, there is no direct cartographic delineation of borders in this territory, and remains so today. Yet, tensions in regards to this land are not stabilizing and prospects for an agreement seem far from fruition. Why is this?

A possible reason for why the dispute over a border is an ongoing issue can be found by looking at the more contemporary political mindset of China in regards to India. Chinese diplomats believed that a border settlement, without major territorial concessions from India, could help India rise in its power position in Asia, making India appear strong to foreign allies and negatively impact the status of China on the continent. Strategically, it is beneficial for China to maintain this border dispute. An unsettled border gives China leverage when dealing with India on other political fronts, leaving India vulnerable and eager to please on issues of serious concern for China. An unsettled boundary further suits Chinese authorities because it leaves India under pressure from two fronts in regards to their land disputes, as Pakistan too seeks to attain land in the Kashmir mountains from the Indian nation. Here, one can see the Mandala Theory and China’s related concentric-rings strategic theories in direct play. Chinese authorities maintain cordial relations with Pakistan while seeking influence over a territory that borders their lands in India. Similarly, Indian considers both its neighbors – Pakistan and China – to be “enemies” – in the sense that their interests are opposing and produce friction as common interests are not being met and settlements not conducted.