Sunday, June 22, 2008

Special Series: Indo China border Dispute - 1

The beautiful Ladakh (Kashmir) and the ugly dispute. [IMAGES: Courtesy: google]

In the world as is exists today if there is one dispute that is the longest(in terms of area), most complex and most convoluted, it is the India-China border dispute. It is also the least understood amongst Indians themselves.

THIS ARTICLE IS A VISUAL JOURNEY TRAVERSING THROUGH TIME AMIDST THE DIVINE HIMALAYAS and understanding how and who created this problem and where it stands today.

This is a special series that will try and simplify the understanding of the dispute. The intention of writing this is to make everyone aware of the problem and its solution. It will also be an attempt to judge the claims made by various stakeholders.

China and India have disputes over 2 main regions - Aksai Chin in Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh in the East(India). Each dispute is distinct in its origin and solution. The complexity in each of them is varied and has gray shades and stakeholders have ambiguously legal evidences.

Part-1 concentrates entirely on Aksai Chin:

Where is Aksai Chin?

Aksai Chin is the area between the beautiful Pangong Tso Lake in the south and the great historical Karakoram Pass in the north. Below is a picture of the Pangong Tso Lake. It is so beautiful that I feel like jumping into the lake. The lake is the highest altitude brackish lake and 2/3 lies in Chinese occupation while 1/3 in India. Look at the pics below.


Karakoram Pass (below picture) is 18,250 ft above sea level and is the world's most ancient trade route. With temperatures -30 C (NEGATIVE 30 C), there is no vegetation and is full of blizzards and snow storms.

It is this Aksai Chin that is the most complex boundary that exists between any 2 countries in the world, unsettled and undefined.

Let's go back in time.

-------------Sept 1842--------------------------

Maharaja Gulab Singh (Dogra Ruler) occupied Kashmir and extended his empire up to Kuen Len Mountains and Shahdula.Here, Sikhs attacked Ladakh and occupied it but when they ventured into Tibet, they were checked by Chinese and Leh was captured by them. A treaty between autonomous Tibet (Lama Guru of Lhasa), Emperor of China and Kashmir was signed. No boundary issue discussed.

Many rivers pass through and the most famous is Karakash. Below is the pic.

-------------Oct 1842---------------------

Sikhs and Chinese sign a treaty - "That the boundaries of Ladakh and Lhasa shall be constituted as formerly, the contracting parties engaging to confine themselves within their respective boundaries, the one to refrain from any act of aggression on the other" (An `Agreed' Frontier Ladakh and India's Northern-most Borders 1846-1947 by Parashottam Mehra; Oxford University Press, 1992; pages 169-170).

Which means by agreements – Ladakh was still a part of India and China accepted.


British sold Kashmir to Gulab singh and took the responsibility of its security. Then they discussed with China the boundary issue and British and Chinese agreed to have boundaries from PsangPo to Karakoram Pass. Aksai Chin was not agreed upon and was left undefined i.e the area did not belong to anyone.


Gulab Singh has an agreement on paper saying that the boundary between Ladakh and Tibet is going to be same as before.

Note: What was clear on paper after both parties jointly signed (India and China) was the boundary between Tsang Po Lake and Karakoram Pass. Aksai Chin was undefined. Verbally, China accepted Aksai Chin was a part of India. Factually, Aksai Chin was occupied by Gulab Singh (India)


During this time, Britain and China were allies. Russia was trying to advance into Tibet and Britain decided to draw a complete and definite boundary. This was significant because neither China nor Kashmir had rights over Aksai Chin. However, Aksai Chin was with Gulab Singh and China agreed that it belonged to India verbally without a clear demarcation. Johnson (a sub civil engineer under the Maharaj gulab Singh) included Aksai Chin as a part of India. This was however not communicated to the Chinese. The Chinese for long never claimed Aksai Chin as it belonged to no one. The British Govt had time to accept the proposal of Johnson. The problem lay with China. It must have demarcated a boundary at the very time Gulab Singh signed a treaty with them. The same blame goes even to Gulab Singh. Johnson set out to clear this confusion of this no man’s land which neither belonged to China nor India. He included it in India because the Maharaja had occupied it. Several scholars, historians have questioned Johnson. Even from the day this boundary was proposed, the British did not 1) convey to Chinese 2) never accepted the very line. They were doubtful of Johnson’s map.

Johnson line puts all of Aksai Chin into India


British appointed Drew (who was Governor of Ladakh) to conduct a survey to see if Johnson was indeed wrong. Drew’s survey was better established and documented. He came up with 2 split parts of Aksai Chin. One part which is in India and the other in China. This was a better proposal, but Drew’s map was not published officially.

Before they could decide between Johnson Line and Drew Line two major 2 events happened – in 1878 and 1890.


China establishes a post north of Shahdula without contesting Kuen Len.

The red area indicates the area occupied.


China occupied Shahdula, moves westward and occupied regions upto Karakoram pass.

At this time they placed their first ever claim on entire Aksai chin area showing old maps of theirs. The British knew that the quality of maps by Chinese were very poor and no solid evidence existed. According to Chinese maps, if Aksai Chin was there, it was not jointly accepted by India and China. Hence, both Johnson Line and Chinese maps are wrong.

The British in fact showed a map from Russia which clearly showed Aksai Chin as part of India (Kashmir). Chinese did not trust the map. There are 2 things here- 1) The Britishes did not show Johnson line which was already published 2) They did not also clearly define on map what they wanted

This was the first ever claim made by Chinese. The fault lies with both India and China. Both never documented jointly to agree Aksai Chin belongs to whom. Hence, no one can claim it is theirs. Hence, when it comes to claiming the entire area, both cannot get it completely. It was the mistake of not showing the published Johnson line to Chinese and the mistake of the Chinese not to jointly sign as to whom the area belongs to.


Attempts to solve the confusion and clear the claims:

In order to solve the prevailing confusion, MacDonald the Governor General considered MacCartney’s proposal of keeping India’s border limited to the one that existed in 1842 according to which Aksia Chin would not be in India. The new addition was that instead of leaving Aksai Chin as a no man’s island, give it to the Chinese. This was communicated to Chinese, but they have never replied till now. So, Chinese show this map even today while resolving the dispute while India shows Johnson line map and both are wrong. There was miscommunication from both sides.

“George Macartney, the British representative in Kashgar, brought the issue of the disputed border to the leading Chinese official in Kashgar. Macartney was half- Chinese and spoke fluent Chinese; his father had been advisor to the Chinese Legation in London. Macartney was loyal to Britain, yet he had a deep understanding of the Chinese. Macartney agreed that the British claims (the Johnson line) were inappropriate, and that if this deserted area were to be divided, then it should be half British and half Chinese. He felt that Aksai Chin proper, north of the Lokzhung Range, was Chinese; south of the Range, British. In the summer of 1898, Lord Elgin's Indian Government incorporated Macartney's ideas into a definite proposal. The proposal asked the Chinese to accept a verbal description of the Kashmir boundary, and that physical demarcation on the ground did not seem necessary in this remote area. The relevant portion of the proposal was as follows:

From the Karakoram Pass the crests of the range run nearly east for about half a degree, and then turn south to a little below the 35th parallel. . . . Rounding . . . the source of the Karakash, the line of hills to be followed runs north-east to a point east of Kizil Jilga and from there, in a south- easterly direction, follows the Lak Tsung (Lokzhung) Range until that meets a spur . . . which has hitherto been shown on our maps as the eastern boundary of Ladakh.

Lord Elgin's proposal was fortunate not only as an attempt to resolve the boundary, but also to stem the growing number of lines demarking the Kashmir border in Aksai Chin. Map Two shows the variety of claims which had evolved by the turn of the century.

On March 14, 1899, Sir Claude MacDonald, the British minister to China, submitted the description of this alignment of the proposed border (in writing, but regretably without any maps) to the Chinese Department of External Affairs in Peking. The MacDonald proposal included the boundary suggested by Macartney, and further added:

It will not be necessary to mark out the frontier. The natural frontier is the crest of a range of mighty mountains, a great part of which is inaccessible. It will be sufficient if the two Governments (of Great Britain and China) . . . enter into an agreement to recognize the frontier as laid down by its clearly marked geo- graphical features. The Department of External Affairs in Peking communicated the proposal to the Sinkiang Provincial Government. The Sinkiang Government had no objections to the boundary alignment, and the British Legation was informally notified that there were no objections; however, no formal acceptance was forwarded from Peking. By the time the Chinese had responded, the British were beginning to reconsider the pro- posed boundary; hence, the British made no efforts to secure a formal response to MacDonald's proposal. The Chinese Com- munist government of the mid-20th Century would regret that the 1899 Chinese government did not convey a formal acceptance of the MacDonald boundary proposal; as Map Three shows, the controversial Chinese military road--the key issue which eventually led the two nations to war--lies to the north (the Chinese side) of the 1899 MacDonald line.”
The above map shows the Line - follow the white line. That was the proposed MacDonald Line.


The Chinese power fell, British wanted to give up all other proposals and published official maps showing Johnson line as the boundary (This was all during Lord Curzon). Did Britain do the right thing? According to me, they did take the right step. The Chinese never bothered to communicate their opinion on 1899 proposal.

The official published map of 1909 that clearly showed Aksai Chin as Indian territory.


Britain changed its mind and decided not to include Johnson but to choose a new line similar to that of Dew. This was, however, not updated. Hence, Johnson line still officially was India’s border. The first official maps were circulated. By now, entire India knew the borders and everyone knew Aksai Chin was an inseparable part of India.


Post Independence, the first map showing Indian boundaries was officially published. Pandit Nehru declared that finalization of boundaries had begun. Observe the map below. It is very clear that Aksai Chin has been left undemarcated.

The official map indicating Aksai Chin as Indian territory. China even at this time did not raise an issue. But the Chinese maps continued to show Aksai Chin as theirs. When Nehru raised this matter, Chinese never took it seriously and said there are no disputes.


The Great India China War in which Indian army was devastated. The worst defeat India ever faced. How the war started will be dealt in the later articles.

Aksai Chin occupied by China. It retreated 20 miles from its occupied position at the end of the war. As of now, it is still contesting Aksai chin is its area. The new line known as LAC (Line of Actual Control) was drawn. This is at present the accepted Line. The talks are still going on.

This is the revised map (below).

Thus happened a war and till date Indian people have not forgotten this covert act of war and are too skeptical of any move China takes. 1/3 of Kashmir was thus lost.

Solution: Go as per Drew Line and divide Aksai Chin into 2 parts - one for India and the other for China.



Jimmy's Blog said...

I've been looking for photos of Karakoram Pass, and found that it's a fairly difficult matter to find good photos of this pass. Perhaps because it is located in restricted military area for both sides, India and China.
Do you know where can I obtain Karakoram Pass photos?

jaggia said...

There is a distortion in the article. In the portion and para "September - 1842", it is stated that "Gulab Singh, a Dogra Ruler...and occupied Leh(etc)". Instead, it should have been stated as "Gulab Singh, a Dogra General of the Sikh Empire, under instructions from Lahore Durbar...attacked Ladakh ...and occupied Leh...(etc)" to make the record clear and put it in a proper light.