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In to the past – India and China

In to the past – India and China

UPSC CSE Mains Syllabus: GS-2  India and its neighborhood- relations.

In news:

The deadly clashes at Galwan and the ongoing standoff between India and China on the ridges or “fingers” around the Pangong Tso are a metaphor for the wider conflict between the two countries over all the areas that Chinese strategy refers to as the “five fingers of the Tibetan palm”.

Five fingers of the Tibetan palm:

According to the construct, attributed to Mao and cited in the 1950s by Chinese officials, Xizang (Tibet) was China’s right palm, and it was its responsibility to “liberate” the fingers, defined as Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, and the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA, or Arunachal Pradesh).


Sixty years ago, India began to set about ensuring that quite the reverse ensued, and all five fingers were more closely attached to India, not China.

Chinese agenda:

Even after India and China signed the Panchsheel agreement in 1954 and before the 1962 China-India war, the Nehru government had begun to worry about some of China’s proclamations.

  • Especially after the flight of the Dalai Lama to India in 1959, China began to demand “self-determination in Kashmir”.
  • The Chinese press and radio launched a propaganda war against India.
  • The Chinese government allowed Naga and Mizo dissidents into China for refuge and training.
  • More importantly, school textbooks there began to depict the “five fingers” as a part of China.

India’s counter strategy:

Following this India set into motion at the time, that provided an effective counter to Mao’s five finger policy over the course of the century.

  • India push for building border infrastructure and governance.
  • In the mid-1950s the government piloted a project to build the Indian Frontier Administrative Services (IFAS)for overseeing NEFA (Arunachal Pradesh) and other areas along the India-China frontier.
  • A special desk was created in the Ministry of External Affairs for officers who would tour all the regions from NEFA to Ladakh in order to make suggestions for the rap
  • Most of the bases in these regions were made during the brief period the IFAS existed.
  • However, IFAS was wound up in 1968.
  • Its role has since been transferred to the Indian Armyand the Border Roads Organisation.
  • IFAS is an idea worth revisiting,especially as areas along the frontier continue to complain of neglect and a lack of focus from the Centre (in 2019, the Chief Ministers of Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram called for the resurrection of the IFAS).


  • Series of treaties were signed around that time with neighbours such as Nepal and Bhutan.
  • The consolidation of control, militarily and administratively, of other territories that acceded to India, including Ladakh as a part of Jammu and Kashmir (1947), and NEFA (1951) was carried out.
  • In 1950, India signed a treaty with Sikkim that made it a “protectorate”, and by 1975 the Indira Gandhi Government had annexed Sikkim and made it the 22nd State of India.
  • Each of these treaties built unique relationships with New Delhi, tying countries such as Nepal and Bhutan in ways that were seen as a “win-win”for both sides at the time.


  • However, over time, the treaties have outlived their utility, and the benefits of unique ties with Nepal and Bhutan, including open borders and ease of movement, jobs and education for their youth as well as India’s influential support on the world stage, have waned in public memory.
  • Now, China has been able to make inroads into Nepal and not with Bhutan. This is because the government renegotiated its 1949 Treaty of Perpetual Peace and Friendshipwith Bhutan.
  • This has held India and Bhutan ties in good stead thus far, even during the Doklam stand-off between India and China in 2017 in the face of severe pressure from China.

The same has not happened with Nepal.

What is needed:

  • A report by the Eminent Persons’ Group (EPG) on Nepal-India relations has recommended a new treaty.
  • New treaties may not, in themselves reduce India’s security threat from China in its neighbourhood, but they create space for a more mutually responsive diplomacy that is necessary to nurture special relationships.

Tibet issue:

  • India’s policy towards the “palm” or Tibet, itself should be looked at more closely as well.
  • India’s decision to shelter the Dalai Lama and lakhs of his followers since 1959 is a policy that is lauded.
  • However, it does not change the need for New Delhi to look into the future of its relationship, both with the Tibetan refugee community in India as well as with its future leadership.

J&K reorganisation:

  • India’s own reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019 has changed the security matrix and threat parameters for India, and its neighbours.
  • While Pakistan’s extreme reaction to the move was expected, China’s reaction was perhaps not studied enough.

Beijing issued a statement decrying the impact on Jammu and Kashmir, and another one specifically on Ladakh, calling it an attempt to “undermine China’s territorial sovereignty by unilaterally changing its domestic law” and warning that the move was “unacceptable and will not come into force”.

Keeping in mind the past policies would help India in succeeding in the current border issue with China.

Source:” The Hindu“.


In order to resolve the recent border issue with China it is imperative to look in to the past policies that India adopted. Elaborate.