International armed conflict between India and China
India and China are involved in an international armed conflict over the control of two main regions, namely Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh, and a number of smaller regions along the Sino-Indian border.
For an international armed conflict to exist, there must have been a resort to armed force involving at least two states. The threshold for an international armed conflict is very low and does not require a certain intensity or duration. The existence of an international armed conflict is to be determined by the facts, not the subjective intent of the belligerents. For further information, see the Classification section.
On 9 October 2019, Pakistani Prime Minister Khan met Chinese President Xi in Beijing. Following the meeting, President Xi affirmed that China has a ‘unique all-weather strategic partnership’ with Pakistan and that ‘China has always given priority to Pakistan in its diplomacy and will continue to firmly support Pakistan on issues involving its core interests and key concerns.’ Commenting on Kashmir, President Xi clarified that ‘The rights and wrongs of the situation in Kashmir are clear’ and that China supports Pakistan in safeguarding its legitimate rights and interests and hopes that the parties concerned can resolve the dispute through peaceful dialogue.’ ‘China’s Xi Backs Pakistan on Kashmir Ahead of Meeting with Modi’, Bloomberg News, 9 October 2019.
On 15 January 2020, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) held a closed-door meeting on the situation in Kashmir upon Chinese request. The same day, the Chinese ambassador to the UN recognized Kashmir as a disputed territory between India and Pakistan. According to the Chinese authorities, the objective of the meeting was to trigger talks between India and Pakistan. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, January 2020; M. Lederer, ‘China Hopes UN Meeting Spurs India-Pakistan Talks on Kashmir’, The Diplomat, 16 January 2020.
In late April 2020, China deployed thousands of troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Himalayan contested territory, where they established camps and brought artillery. This decision raised tensions between India and China dramatically. On 6 June, during a meeting between Indian and Chinese authorities, both countries agreed to disengaged in the area. However, Chinese troops did not withdraw. On 17 June 2020, for the first time in 45 years, clashes between Indian and Chinese soldiers have been registered along the Himalaya border between the two countries. Twenty members of the Indian troops lost their lives and casualties have been registered among Chinese soldiers as well. M. Safi and H. Ellis-Petersen, ‘India says 20 soldiers killed on disputed Himalayan border with China’, The Guardian, 17 June 2020.
In September 2020, the situation did not deescalate, and new armed confrontations took place between the two countries. On September 2 Indian forces took control of a strategic outpost. Specifically, it has been reported that ‘thousands of soldiers climbed up mountain peaks for about six hours to claim the vantage points along the south bank of Pangong Tso – a glacial lake roughly the size of Singapore.’ S. R. Sen and R. Chaudhary, ‘India Captured Strategic Outposts in Stealth Move Against China’, Bloomberg, 2 September 2020; A. Panda, ‘India-China Tensions Spike in the Himalayas’, The Diplomat, 5 September 2020. On 12 October Indian and Chinese military officials held ‘positive, constructive’ dialogue with regard to the disengagement of troops along the Line of Control. Further meetings took place during the following months, notably on 6 November and 18 December. While both parties committed to find a solution, no breakthrough was reached during the negotiations. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch: India.
On 8 January 2021, Indian armed forces captured a Chinese soldier who crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh and handed him over to Chinese authorities three days later. On 20 January Indian and Chinese troops engaged in ‘minor face-off’ at Naku La pass in north-eastern Sikkim state. On 24 January India and China held talks, where they reiterated their commitment to the disengagement along the LAC. On 11 February, following nine rounds of negotiations, India and China announced that they reached an agreement on partial withdrawal of military forces from Pangong Lake area, and affirmed their intention to continue dialogue to settle the dispute. In April 2021, talks stalled as China and India could not agree on the sequencing of border troop withdrawal. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch: India.
On 9 September 2022, India and China announced their soldiers started to disengage from contested areas at the border. Notwithstanding the withdrawal of troops, the IAC is not over, as China controls about 20% of Kashmir. ‘Chinese-controlled Kashmir’, Al Jazeera, 21 April 2003; ‘India rebukes China FM over Kashmir remarks before expected visit’, Al Jazeera, 24 March 2022.
India and China are party to the four 1949 Geneva Conventions. In addition, they are bound by customary international humanitarian law. Customary international law consists of unwritten rules that come from a general practice accepted as law. Based on an extensive study, the International Committee of the Red Cross maintains a database on customary international humanitarian law.