The Sino-Indian border is divided into three sectors. The western sector is known as Aksai Chin sector, the central sector where China shares a border with Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh and the eastern sector comprises the states of Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim—the largest disputed area covering around 90,000 square kilometers. Arunachal Pradesh (south Tibet) has 63 percent of its population belonging to faiths other than Hinduism. The state contains the highest proportion of Buddhists in India and it was also known as North East Frontier Agency (NEFA), a term coined by the British. However, India renamed it Arunachal Pradesh and made a state from the union territory.

In 1914, Tibet and Britain negotiated a treaty and Sir Henry McMahon, the foreign secretary of British India at that time, drew the 550 mile (890 kilometer) McMahon Line as a border between British India and Tibet. The Tibetan and British representative at the convention agreed to the line which ceded Tawang and other Tibetan areas to British India. China, not being a signatory to this agreement, objected to the validity of line. Until 1935, the McMahon Line was forgotten; it was only activated when the British published the 1937 edition of Aitchison’s collection of treaties.

The demarcated line is called the Line of Actual Control (LAC) which China did not recognise. The pretext of the 1962 war, besides the Dalai Lama, was a dispute over the sovereignty of Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin while the 1962 skirmishes turned provoked war as well. The Indian army proved to be too weak to fight the Chinese army and after heavy losses, they escaped towards Bhutan. During the war the entire Arunachal Pradesh was occupied by the Chinese army, who came down till Tezpur, Assam. In his book, ‘Avoiding Armageddon’, Bruce Riedel writes, “India was humiliated, Nehru was devastated. Driven Indians from the east and even Calcutta was at risk. Nehru was so desperate and requested the US to rescue them”.

After the war, while declaring victory, China voluntarily withdrew. After the 1962 war, India went forward to areas of Arunachal Pradesh and started patrolling the border. In 1984 India established an observation post on the bank of the Sangduolue He and resultantly, the Chinese also moved their forces in the area. India, in a major military push through operation Falcon, airlifted a mountain division of the army to the borders. In the disputed region, India also carried out another exercise Chequerboard—an air and land exercise to further strengthen their positions all across the Himalayan region. By 1987, the Indian army deployed 11 divisions in the region backed by paramilitary forces as opposed to the 15 Chinese divisions. The successive Chinese government never recognised Arunachal Pradesh as a state of India. China always opposed the Indian politicians’ visit to the state.

In 2009, the Dalai Lama visited the Tawang monastery after a gap of almost five decades when he first fled from Tibet. Tawang is the northern part of Arunachal Pradesh where there is a Buddhist temple dating back to the 17th century, a sacred place for Buddhists of Tibet. In 2014, China also objected to Lobsang Sangay’s, the leader of the Tibetan Administration Council in India’s—also referred to as the PM of the Tibetan government—attendance of the swearing in ceremony of PM Modi. China also objected to the visit of PM Modi to Arunachal Pradesh to lay a stone foundation of an airport at Hollongi and even objected to the recent visit of Amit Shah and Rajnath Singh to the disputed region.

The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said that the visit ‘violated China’s territorial sovereignty, undermined the stability of the border area by sabotaging political mutual trust and violated all relevant bilateral agreements”. China destroyed 30,000 world maps printed in the country for not mentioning Arunachal Pradesh and Taiwan as part of Chinese territory and also for the wrong depiction of the Sino-Indian border. China has given Chinese standardisation names to six places in Arunachal Pradesh to reaffirm the country’s territorial sovereignty to the disputed region. According to Chairman Mao, “Tibet is the right hand’s palm of China and Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and NEFA are its fingers”. The other disputed areas in the eastern sectors are Doklam and Nathu La in Sikkim.

Doklam, or Donglong, is a disputed region between China and Bhutan. It is an area spread over less than 100 square kilometres at the tri-junction between China, India and Bhutan. It is surrounded by the Chinese Chumbi valley to the north, Sikkim to the west and Bhutan’s Ha valley to the east. Bhutan has not established diplomatic relations with China because of a signed treaty of friendship with India to protect its borders and the subsequent Indian pressure.

If this area is occupied by the Chinese, they will not only threaten Bhutan’s security but the India’s as well. The Chinese will be on a higher ground and it will be easy for them to roll down to Bhutan. This will also facilitate Chinese access to the Siliguri Corridor (Chicken’s Neck), a 20-kilometre-wide stretch of land which connects the seven sister states in the north east of India. It will also facilitate the transportation of Chinese war machinery to the Indian border.

The standoff started in June 2017 when the Chinese started construction of a road in the region southward in Doklam. Bhutan asked for help from India to stop the construction of the road and protect them from China’s intervention. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said Doklam belongs to China and India should have learned a lesson from the stand-off of 2017. China’s view point is that India has no right to make territorial demands on Bhutan’s behalf.

Indian worries revolve around the road which China is constructing; if completed, it will give China a strategic advantage as it will have access to the Siliguri Corridor and they may lose the entire north east. The other dispute is Sikkim where India deposed the king in 1975 and through a manipulated referendum, made Sikkim a state of India. Sikkim is important because of its strategic location and China’s refusal to recognise it as part of India. Nepalis constitute two thirds of the population and hold political power. The Nathu La pass, which connects Sikkim with Tibet, provides a short cut to Indian pilgrims (Hindus, Buddhist, Jains, Bon) to reach the sacred Mount Kailash. The place also has a history of clashes between the Chinese and Indian army, dating back to 1967, and at present, the situation on this front is also tense. China has closed the pass because of the Doklam standoff.

Recently, on May 9, 2020, a scuffle also took place at Nathu La pass between the Chinese and Indian troops. India was not in a position to take any action along its so-called borders, realising its weaknesses and the advantageous Chinese position. India is still licking the wounds caused by the 1962 war. No options are available to India because they don’t have the capability or the will for a full-fledged war. Although it is not possible for India to escalate the situation, if done, they will pay a heavy price.