“With India, both countries stuck to the different boundary lines, both claiming Aksai Chin theirs. As stated earlier this region connects Xinjiang with Tibet, as such this area was very important for China.”
The recent standoff between Chinese and Indian forces at Line of Actual Control in Ladakh has again brought the focus to the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir. Ladakh is part of the larger Kashmir region which has been a matter of dispute between three nuclear armed nations. The region has again been the theater for disturbances but this time on the eastern side. It might be interesting to understand as to how it is connected with the decade old Kashmir dispute.
Galwan Valley near the Line of Actual Control (which is the defecto border between China and India on the eastern side of Ladakh) is where tensions are high between neighbouring nations. Aksai Chin which lies on the eastern side of LAC is currently under Chinese control but is claimed by India as a part of its recently created union territory of Ladakh. This region is close to Pamirs. Persian geographers call it Bam e Dunya i.e. roof of the world. This region is strategically very important. Mr Kennion, a European visitor explaining the importance of this region said, “what Port Said is to Suez Canal, Leh is to Central Asia”.
The region that is currently the hot spot between China and India traces its history to the state of Jammu and Kashmir under Dogra rule. Following the treaty of Amritsar, Jammu and Kashmir including Ladakh was transferred to Gulab Singh. Aksai Chin region was put into the newly formed state by William Johnson who surveyed the region in 1897. The boundary line created came to be known as the Johnson line. This line was preferred by Maharaja since this line increased the borders of his state. In around 1899, the Britishers revised their proposed borders with China in this region. This time they showed the Aksai Chin region on the Chinese side. The main reason behind this move was to keep Russians away. This line came to be known as the Macartney-Macdonald line.
Following the exit of British from sub-continent, this region became the focus of dispute between two newly formed nations. Both the countries claimed the whole princely state. While Pakistan claimed it on the basis of Muslim majority population in the state, India claimed it on the basis of accession signed by its last ruler. But China’s part in this dispute was totally different. With china the dispute was regarding the borders. And this was more with India. While India claimed Johnson line to be their border with china in the region, china claimed Macartney-Macdonald line to be one. Hence “the dispute of two lines”. For China this issue became more important following the taking over of Tibet. Since Aksai Chin connected Xinjiang region with Tibet.
By the end of first Indo-Pak war, Pakistan took control of what is today called Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan region of the former princely state. And India controlled rest of the state. During this time even though India claimed all of Ladakh, it did not control all of it.
Following the recognition of the People’s Republic Of China by Pakistan, China resolved the border issues with Pakistan on the table. The Gilgit Baltistan region shared borders with China. Both countries reached an agreement in March 1963, where both recognized the Macartney-Macdonald line to be the legitimate one. Accordingly, China ceded over 750 square miles to Pakistan and Pakistan recognized China’s sovereignty over the territories they claimed to be theirs including Aksai chin. Keeping in view the disputed nature of this region two agreed to reopen the negotiations following the settlement of dispute.
With India, both countries stuck to the different boundary lines, both claiming Aksai Chin theirs. As stated earlier this region connects Xinjiang with Tibet, as such this area was very important for China. Following taking control of Tibet, China built a road in this area. This resulted in protest from Indian side. This was ultimately followed by the Indo-China war in 1962, where India lost some of its territories while China fermented their control in Aksai chin. This resulted in new demarcation coming into being on the eastern side of Ladakh which is known as Line of Actual control.
Since the Indo-China war, keeping aside few incidents, both countries have maintained the status quo. This was until India abrogated article 370, which gave the former state of Jammu Kashmir special status within Indian union and bifurcated into two union territories. One being Ladakh where India faces a dispute with china was taken directly under the centre’s rule. This is where China might have felt the change in the status quo. This was hinted by the spokesman of Chinese embassy in Islamabad in his tweet (which he later deleted). He said, “India’s actions of unilaterally changing the status quo of Kashmir and continuing to exacerbate regional tensions have posed a challenge to the sovereignty of China and Pakistan and made the India-Pakistan relations and China-India relations more complex.
The tweet came at a time when soldiers from the two countries were camped out at Galwan Valley in the high-altitude Ladakh region, accusing each other of trespassing over the disputed border. When India scrapped Jammu and Kashmir’s special status on August 5 last year, the Chinese foreign ministry had issued two statements criticizing the development, including one that focused on the splitting of the state into union territories. “China has always opposed India’s inclusion of Chinese territory in India’s administrative jurisdiction in the western part of the Sino-Indian border,” it said.
It would be interesting to see where the current situation heads and what would be its impact on the relationship between two nations and on this region.
Hamaad Habibullah is an Economics student at Jamia Millia Islamia from Kashmir.