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History of Aksai Chin–and why Pakistan settled the Chinese border

by on 08/21/2010
by Moin Ansari


The discussion of Aksai Chin is lengthy–and it depends on how far you want to go back. Britain as the preeminent power wanted to encroach upon Chinese territory, and every few years expanded the definition of “India”. First they took over Leh and Ladakh, then they defined the McMohan Line. But that did not satiate their appetite. They then took over Aksai Chin–but never exercised control over it—the Chinese a weak and weakened power were powerless to halt the march of the British. However when the conquered Eastern Turkistan–they became a bit more assertive. Aksai Chin was left as “territory undemarcated” (and on many Pakistani maps it is shown as such).

The current Bharati claims on Aksai China are based on the arbitrary McMahon line which the British tried to impose on them. The Chinese Government claims that it never signed any agreement which the McMohan Line an unfair demarcation. The British officials designed such the McMohan line and then had taken 9 million from China to their other great colony–India . The old India maps of India did not show the parts as part of “India”.

One of the earliest treaties regarding the boundaries in the western sector was signed in 1842. At the instigation of the British, the Sikh Confederacy of the Punjab annexed Ladakh into the state of Jammu in 1834.

This period saw naked expansion of Britain–which was forcing China on all fronts. The First Anglo-Chinese War (1839–42), known popularly as the First Opium War pressured the Chinese to grant them more rights.

To continue this pressure in 1841, they invaded Tibet with an army but were defeated by the Chinese forces. The Chinese and the Sikhs signed a treaty in September 1842, which stipulated no transgressions or interference in the other country’s frontiers.[The Sino-Indian Border Disputes, by Alfred P. Rubin, The International and Comparative Law Quarterly, Vol. 9, No. 1. (Jan., 1960), pp. 96-125.]

The British defeated the Sikhs in 1846 and took over sovereignty over Ladakh. The British commissioners and the Chinese officials were apparently sufficiently satisfied that a traditional border was recognized and defined by natural delements, and the border was not demarcated. The boundaries at the two extremities, Pangong Lake and Karakoram Pass, were well-defined, but the Aksai Chin area in between lay undefined.

The Second Opium War from 1856 to 1860 and China lost it too forcing China to import Opium into China. At the same time other stuff was happening on the Western front

W. H. Johnson, a civil servant with the Survey of India proposed the “Johnson Line” in 1865, which put Aksai Chin in Kashmir.[4] This was the time of the Dungan revolt, when China did not control Turkestan, so this line was never presented to the Chinese[4]. Johnson presented this line to the Maharaja of Kashmir, who then claimed the 18,000 square kilometres contained within,[Mohan Guruswamy, Mohan, “The Great India-China Game”, Rediff, June 23, 2003.], and by some accounts territory further north as far as the Sanju Pass in the Kun Lun Mountains. The British government had some doubts on the validity of the Johnson Line[Calvin, James Barnard (April 1984). “The China-India Border War”. Marine Corps Command and Staff College. Retrieved 2006-06-14.] and Johnson was censured

That would have been the end of it–but other events happened.

In 1878 the Chinese had reconquered Turkestan, and by 1890 they already had Shahidulla before the issue was decided(Mohan Guruswamy, Mohan, “The Great India-China Game”, Rediff, June 23, 2003.). By 1892, China had erected boundary markets at Karakoram Pass (Calvin, James Barnard (April 1984). “The China-India Border War”. Marine Corps Command and Staff College. Retrieved 2006-06-14).

By 1865 Yakub Beg, the Commander-in-Chief of the army of Kokand too advantage of the Hui uprising in Xinjiang Province, and captured Kashgar and Yarkand from the Chinese and gradually took control of most of the region of Eastern Turkestan, including Khotan, Aksu, Kucha, and other cities in 1867. After Begs death his state of Kashgaria rapidly fell apart, and Kashgar was reconquered by the Qing Dynasty.

In 1890s Britain was principally concerned that Aksai Chin not fall into Russian hands. In 1899, when China showed an interest in Aksai Chin, Britain proposed a revised boundary, initially suggested by George Macartney, which put most of Aksai Chin in Chinese territory. This border, along the Karakoram Mountains, was proposed and supported by British officials for a number of reasons:

1) The Karakoram Mountains formed a natural boundary, which would set the British borders up to the Indus River watershed while leaving the Tarim River watershed in Chinese control,
2) Chinese control of this tract would present a further obstacle to Russian advance in Central Asia.
3) The British presented this line to the Chinese in a Note by Sir Claude MacDonald.
4) The Chinese did not respond to the Note, and the British took that as Chinese acquiescence.
5) This line, known as the Macartney-MacDonald line, is approximately the same as the current Line of Actual Control
6) Both the Johnson-Ardagh and the Macartney-MacDonald lines were used on British maps of India until at least 1908, the British took the Macdonald line to be the boundary

In July 1, 1954 Prime Minister Nehru wrote a memo directing that the maps of India be revised to show definite boundaries on all frontiers. Up to this point, the boundary in the Aksai Chin sector, based on the Johnson Line, had been described as “undemarcated.”

Bharat historiography would have drawn the border of Bharat half into China ( and reduced China to the size of Sikkim. If Pakistan had no assisted China in the fifties, China had no land link to Tibet.

It was a matter of political survival for Pakistan to settle the boundary with China–in fact Pakistan got all the territory which was under its control and also got hundreds of square miles of additional territory from China. The boundry of Kashmir conjured by Bharat is an attempt to divide China into many parts. If Bharati “historians” are to be believed half of Afghanistan and all of KP also belongs to Bharat—from Kabul to Bali (Indonesia). Bharat’s dispute over Aksai Chin was really due to India’s unilateral interpretation of a previously undefined border.
A.G. Noorani writes in the Hindustan Times:

The McMahon Line is clearly shown as India’s boundary in the east. But for the entire western sector, right from the Sino-Indo-Afghan trijunction to the Sino-Indo-Nepalese trijunction, the legend reads: ‘Boundary Undefined’.

This legend was used for this sector in all the three maps attached to the two white papers on Indian States published by Patel’s ministry in 1948 and 1950 also. The Aksai Chin belonged to nobody. This was the position when the Panchsheel Agreement was signed on April 29, 1954. But on July 1, 1954, Nehru ordered: “All old maps dealing with the frontier should be… withdrawn… new maps should also not state there is any undemarcated territory… this frontier should be considered a firm and definite one which is not open to discussion with anybody.” Unilateral changes are legally ineffective. [A G Noorani/Hindustan Times]

Aksai China connects to Nepal. “Eastern Turkistan” and Aksai China are Muslim areas of China and the world accepts them as such. We should work with the Chinese to ensure that Pakistan gets integrated with Kashgar, and Central Asia.

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