India and China are two of the most populous and ancient civilisations. Mutual friendship between the two has a time-honoured history dating back 2,000 years. The Indo-Chinese border including the western LAC, the small undisputed section in the centre, and the McMahon Line in the east is 4,056 kilometres long and traverses the union territory of Ladakh and four states: Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.

Among India’s neighbours, it is China which occupies the most strategically significant position, particularly after its 1959 invasion of Tibet, which used to serve as a ‘buffer zone’ between the two.

However, Chinese boundary claim lines defy logic to everyone other than the Chinese Communist Party. It is as if the emperor draws a line and his ministers intimidate or even go to war to annex whatever territory is within those lines, and the Chinese people are told to believe that these areas were historically part of China.

The relationship between China and India has remained cordial almost throughout. In order to further strengthen this relation, an Agreement on Trade and Commerce between the Tibet region of China and India was signed in Beijing on April 29, 1954 by the Indian ambassador N.Raghavan and Chang Han-fu, deputy foreign minister in the Chinese government.

Remembered as the ‘Panchsheel Treaty’, its five major principles were:

1) Mutual non-aggression

2) Mutual non-interference in domestic systems

3) Mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty

4) Equality and mutual benefit

5) Peaceful co-existence.

Panchsheel was promoted by China and India as an instrument for advancing their respective national interests in the mid-1950s. China, the originator of the five principles, sought to reassure neighbouring states that had developed misgivings about it during the Korean War, and to wean them away from the United States. The treaty became very popular as expressed by the famous slogan ‘Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai’ (Indians and Chinese are brothers).

However, the logic of the Chinese border line is still a delusion for those outside of it. On this frontier a boundary line became necessary in October 1950, when China occupied Tibet and became India’s neighbour. The traditional boundaries that existed between India and Tibet were clearly not logical to China, and they proffered a series of lines to India in 1956, 1959 and 1961. The lines kept moving into India and led to the war of 1962.

Fast forward to current times, and it can be seen that China has been consistent in defying the logic of the lines.

After the Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement was signed between India and China in 1993, the process of LAC delineation commenced through Joint Working Groups and Experts Group meeting regularly.

The 2017 China-India border standoff or Doklam standoff between the Indian armed forces and the People's Liberation Army over Chinese construction of a road in Doklam near a trijunction border area, known as Donglang, lasted from 16 June to 28 August. In the end both sides withdrew their troops from Doklam and China halted its road construction.

India was the first non-Communist country in Asia to establish diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of China on April 1, 1950. But plans for celebrating the 70th anniversary of the event have been hit by the coronavirus pandemic which has affected perceptions and realities in ties.

Many countries of the world, including the U.S.A., hold China responsible for the origin and spread of the coronavirus. But so far the Indian government has been careful not to blame China for the spread of the pandemic.

China in turn has tried to woo India and other countries by saying that it stands ready to share its experience in epidemic prevention and control and diagnosis and treatment, and provide further support and assistance to the best of its capability.

But there is likely to be some wariness in Delhi, based on the kind of Chinese assistance provided to a number of countries, including Italy, Czech Republic, and Spain, where even the testing kits it sent showed faulty results.

All the same, China’s role in the pandemic is likely to have a negative impact on Indo-Chinese relationship. If China had been transparent, the pandemic could have been tackled much more efficiently, and this is clear for all to see including India.

It is also said by the US and other governments that China silenced the World Health Organization and other international organisations from raising concerns about the Wuhan virus. The WHO went one step further, with its director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praising China for its “transparency” and calling it a model to follow in virus management, clear for all to see.

China-India skirmishes have become an ongoing military standoff now. Since May 5 Chinese and Indian troops were engaged in non-lethal aggressive action, face-offs and skirmishes at multiple locations along the border. Skirmishes have taken place near the Pangong Lake in Ladakh and the Nathu La Pass in Sikkim.

The incidents in Sikkim occurred in early May when the Chinese reportedly intruded into the Muguthang Valley and shouted to the Indian troops: “This is not your land, this is not Indian territory... so just go back”.

Most recent of them is the Eastern Ladakh incident, reported on May 21, that Chinese troops had entered Indian territory in the Galwan River valley, citing objections to Indian road construction within (undisputed) Indian territory.

A later report on May 24 said Chinese soldiers had crossed into Indian territory at three places. At each of these places, around 800–1,000 soldiers are reported to have crossed over for about 2–3 kilometres, pitching tents and deploying heavy vehicles and monitoring equipment, not very far from the Indian side.

Indian troops have also been deployed in the area at a distance of 300–500 metres.

Amid the standoff, India has moved an additional 12,000 more workers to the region to help in completing Indian road projects.

The first round of talks was held on June 6 between the military commanders of India and China to resolve the month-long border standoff in Eastern Ladakh. The talks were held at the Border Personnel Meeting Point in Moldo on the Chinese side of the LAC opposite the Chushul sector of Eastern Ladakh.

In this meeting, India sought restoration of the status quo ante as in April 2020 end. India also asked China to reduce their mobilisation near the Galwan valley.

The Chinese side headed by Major General Liu Lin, commander of the South Xinjiang military region of the People’s Liberation Army, asked India to stop its road construction.

However, India defended its stand saying the construction was taking place inside the LAC, therefore there was no reason for China to object to the roadwork.

The people of India, at large, want peace and safety in our country. They expect that the sovereignty of the country remains intact and its borders well guarded. The people also expect that our government keeps us well informed about the prevailing situation at the borders and within the country.

The government must act democratically and involve all political parties and, above all, the people of India in major decision taking processes. There must be transparency and the government must feel answerable for all its actions, instead of putting blame on past governments.

People also expect that our information systems (print and electronic media) remain independent, and must not act under government pressure, and must not provide false or twisted information.

Way back in 2017, the defence minister Mulayam Singh Yadav said that the country faces its “biggest” threat from China, claiming that it was plotting to attack India in collaboration with Pakistan: “I have been cautioning the Central government for many years. None paid attention. China has joined hands with Pakistan. It has made a full preparation to attack India. China is India’s biggest opponent. What has the government done?”

We Indians, in general, are peace loving people and want a solution for international disputes through diplomatic means. War, in any form, is not good for any country and can only be a last resort.

A parliamentary session should be immediately convened to discuss threadbare the India-China relationship on the floor of both houses of Parliament.

Madhukar Jetley is a member of the Uttar Pradesh legislative council