India China ever-changing Boundaries, the Great Game with World maps


1. Relationship

India China are two of the oldest civilizations in the world.

Cultural and economic relations between India and China date back to ancient times, 2nd century BCE to be precise.

The Ever-changing Boundaries of India China
Cordial relations between India and China dating back to 2nd Century BCE

The Silk Road not only served as a major trade route between India China but is also credited for facilitating the spread of Buddhism from India to entire East Asia and subsequently Japan.

Relation between India and China remained cordial for most of the long shared history.

Spread of Buddhism from India and China
Spread of Buddhism from India China and then to Japan via Silk route

However, the same cannot be said for the times we are living in now.

Multiple border disputes in recent times have worsened the relations between India China which were already marred by the war of 1962, Cho la clashes in 1967 and a skirmish in 1987.

Given that these two civilisations coexisted peacefully for the most part of history, one must ask, what went wrong and when.

In this article, we are going to take a look at the history of India China Border disputes and how did they arise.

India and China share a 4056 km long border most of which is disputed.

Two of the biggest disputed areas include Arunachal Pradesh in the east which is governed by India since independence and Aksai Chin in the west most of which is controlled by China.

This is going to focus on the border disputes in the Aksai Chin area.

Here, we will go on a historical journey of India China, on how the boundaries of Aksai Chin came into being and why are they disputed till this day.

2. Bits about the region

India China have battled just one conflict, in 1962, when India endured an embarrassing loss.

In any case, stewing pressures imply the danger of acceleration – and that can be crushing given the two sides are set up atomic forces.

There would likewise be financial aftermath as China is one of India’s greatest exchanging accomplices.

Some sources interpret Aksai to be a word of Turkic origin with the meaning “white stone desert”, including several British colonial, modern Western, India China sources.

The meaning of the word “Chin” is disputed. It is taken to mean “China” by some Chinese, Western, and Indian sources.

At least one source take it to mean “pass”.

Other sources omit “Chin” in their interpretations.

Because of its 5,000 metres (16,000 ft) elevation, the desolation of Aksai Chin meant that it had no human importance other than as an ancient trade route with links to the Silk Road, which provided a pass for caravans between Xinjiang and Tibet.

3. Sikh Empire’s Conquest of Ladakh

The story of disputes related to Aksai chin starts in early 19th Century.

At the time, Raja Gulab Singh was the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir under the suzerainty of the Sikh Empire.

He was the great grandfather of Maharaja Hari Singh, who was responsible for the merger of Jammu and Kashmir in India in 1947.

At the time, Ladakh was the hub of trade routes that branched out into Turkestan and Tibet.

A treaty with Tibet granted Ladakh exclusive right to receive the pashmina wool produced in Tibet, in exchange for brick-tea.

The world-renowned Kashmir shawl industry received its pashmina wool supplies from Ladakh. This made Ladakh a lucrative territory to control.

In 1834, Raja Gulab singh’s armies led by his general Zorawar Singh captured Ladakh and made it a part of the of Jammu and Kashmir.

Sikh Empire's Conquest of Ladakh boundaries disputes of India China

The Sikh Empire (1799-1839) governed under Maharaja Ranjit Singh incorporated all of present day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, all of Pakistan-Punjab, all of Jammu Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, and present day India-Punjab.

After the demise of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1839, the domain started to decay because of inward struggles and debasement inside the pioneers.

The British utilized this chance as a benefit and dispatched a progression of wars (Anglo-Sikh Wars) on the Sikh Empire.

After the Second-Anglo Sikh War in 1849, the realm totally broke up and the British dealt with the area.

But after the capture of Ladakh, Tibetan pashmina wool found its way into the British empire.

In order to regain a monopoly on the Tibetan pashmina wool trade, Zorawar Singh tried to expand the empire further to the east into Tibetan territory which leads to the Dogra–Tibetan war from 1841 to 1842.

Tibet at the time was suzerainty of the Qing empire of China which led to Chinese support for Tibetan armies.

Zorawar Singh eventually died when fighting Tibetan forces in Taklakot. After his death, Tibetan forces advanced into Ladakh and reached Nubra valley but were pushed back to Chushul.

At this point, neither side wished to continue the conflict, as the Sikhs were embroiled in tensions with the British and the Qing were in the midst of the First Opium War with the East India Company.

The Sikh empire and Tibetans signed the ‘Treaty of Chushul’ in 1842 agreeing to stick to the “old, established frontiers”, which were left unspecified.

The British defeat of the Sikhs 4 years later in 1846 resulted in the transfer of the Jammu and Kashmir region including Ladakh into British hands, who then installed Gulab Singh as the Maharaja under their suzerainty.

4. Frontiers of the British Empire

Maharaja always regarded Shahidulla, a strategic point between the Karakoram range and Kunlun mountains, as his northern outpost, in effect treating the Kunlun mountains as the boundary of his domains.

Chinese Turkestan regarded the “northern branch” of the Kunlun range with the Kilian and Sanju passes as its southern boundary. Thus the Maharaja’s claim was uncontested.

After the Chinese rule collapsed in Turkestan in 1863, the governor of Ladakh, Mehta Mangal, sent a small force to Shahidullah, and constructed a chauki and stationed some troops to protect trade caravans.

Border disputes in India and China
The great game of World maps by India and China

However the British were not so sure about Maharaja’s influence over the region and hence W.H. Johnson was commissioned to survey the Kashmir series “beyond and to the north of the Chang Chenmo Valley” in May 1865 by the Great Trigonometric Survey of India.

Border disputes of China and India
China India border disputes

Jonhson set out on his expedition two months later, with a party consisting of fifty coolies (porters), an attendant, five mules, six horses and a state trooper.

Governor Mehta Mangal is said to have made all the arrangements for his expedition.

5. Story of the Johnson Line

Johnson started his expedition from Leh and took the well-known route to the Pangong Lake, and entered the valley of Chang Chenmo. He then marched eastwards up the ChangChenmo valley, halting at the celebrated Hot springs.

After a brief halt at hot springs, Johnson continued towards the north and reached the plains of Aksai Chin to mark the line between India China and described them as following:

 “I then marched in a northerly direction on high extensive table-lands, which might be called plains in comparison with the rugged ranges of the Himalayas, for they have a greater extent of level than of hilly ground, and the hills are low and have such easy slopes, that a horse may be galloped over them everywhere.

The first plain is about 17,300 feet above the sea-level; it bears traces of having been the bed of a large lake, and at present contains two lakes, which, when I saw them, covered areas of about 16 and 60 square miles respectively, and are probably much larger in April and May, on the melting of the snows.

A second plain slopes for a distance of 30 miles in a north-easterly direction from 16,700 feet down to 15,300, when it rises again towards the watershed of the Kun Lun.

I traversed these two plains and skirted the third lying to the northwest of the second.

From the hills, I ascended I noticed other plains of the considerable extent to the east and south-east, which are believed to merge into the Changthang Plains of Kudos. On the other hand, to the west, there were no plains, but a series of deep valleys, which are the sources of one of the principal affluents of the Karakash River.”

Johnson line of British era to play the game with the Soviets
Source: Wikipedia
The lines of Disputes India China border

Shortly afterwards, Johnson reached the southern part of the Kun Lun mountains and scaled a few peaks to survey the surrounding area.

By this point in this journey, he had done satisfactory exploration and he could have returned to Leh, however, during his stay in Leh, Johnson was visited by a messenger from  Khail Badsha, the Khan of Khotan, inviting him to visit Khan’s country beyond the Kun Lun mountains.

This detour offered valuable information for the British Government about the provinces of Central Asia which at the time were almost unknown to the Europeans, and also of the movements of the Russian forces in those parts of the world.

Johnson took the risk and visited Khotan.

He met the Khan of Khotan, Khali Badsha, who kept all his promises and treated Johnson well in the beginning but revealed his true intentions by detaining him in hopes of getting assistance from the British empire against local rebellions and Russian forces advancing towards Yarkand and Khotan.

However, Johnson successfully convinced him that this attempt to ransom the British government will not work.

The Khan agreed but insisted Johnson stay longer in the country.

During his stay in Khotan and surrounding towns, Johnson recorded a wide variety of aspects of the country ranging from natural flora and fauna, wildlife, local culture to religion and economy.

By the time Johnson was allowed to return, it was already October and the winter was about to start.

He considered several routes for his return journey but ultimately settled for the more traditional and well-defined trade route from Khotan to Leh going via Shahidulla and Karakoram pass.

India China Border disputes

Johnson described this arduous journey as following:

    “The route over the Karakoram Pass is good but very difficult, owing to the want of grass and wood, the difficulties being enhanced at certain seasons of the year when no water is obtainable, the whole of the rivers and streams, including the great Mobra, being frozen over.

The cold is so intense that men and laden horses have been known to be frozen to death while in the elevated plain between the Niobrara and Karakash rivers.

While I was marching over this place, in November, the cold was so great that I and the natives with me could get no sleep during the nights, and our beards used to be covered with icicles while marching along the road in the sun.

The thermometers which I had could not show the temperature, as they were not graduated below 15° Fahrenheit.

This route is sometimes infested by Hunza robbers, who have established themselves at the village of Shingshal, situated a little north of the Karakoram.

Only so lately as last season they plundered a very large caravan while on its way from Yarkand to Leh, and carried the traders and their goods away to their own country, where they sold the former as slaves to traders from Badakskan, Chitral, and Khokan”

Upon his return, Johnson submitted his survey report which noted that Khotan’s border was at Brinjga, in the Kun Lun mountains, and the entire Karakash Valley was within the territory of Kashmir.

The boundary of Kashmir that he drew, stretching from Sanju Pass to the eastern edge of Chang Chenmo Valley along the Kunlun mountains, is referred to as the “Johnson Line”.

Johnson Line was the first attempt at demarcating the northern frontiers of British India and later on became the subject of much controversy and contest. 

5. Expansion of China from 1948 to 1979

By late 1948 the Communists were acquiring the activity in the Chinese Civil War. Toward the beginning of November, Communist powers moved to encompass a huge assemblage of Nationalist soldiers at Xuzhou.

The accompanying two-month fight brought about the passing or catch of more than 500 thousand Nationalists, seriously debilitating the Nationalist position north of the Yangtze.

History of India and China

By June 1950, North Korea attacked South Korea, prompting battle with the United States and its partners.

As the U.S. considered terrain To be a component of a similar Communist danger as North Korea, they likewise sent boats to guard Taiwan, finishing any chance of a Communist intrusion.

History of border disputes

Mao’s endeavors to quickly modernize China prompted the appalling Great Leap Forward from 1958-61.

Simultaneously, Tibet ineffectively endeavoured to lose the Chinese principal and its chief, the Dalai Lama, took safe haven in India.

Sino-Indian war pressures were additionally expanded by a boundary disagreement about two Himalayan regions associated with Tibet, Aksai Chin and the North-East Frontier Agency.

In 1962, China crushed India in a short line war yet consented to pull out from the North-East Frontier.

India China disputes on border clashes

Because of the Pakistani junta’s abusive and destructive principle, East Pakistan proclaimed freedom as the country of Bangladesh (frequently additionally called ‘Bangla Desh’ at that point).

On 3 December, India entered the conflict on the side of the Bangladeshi guerrilla powers, quickly concluding the contention and driving the Pakistanis to give up in Dhaka.

At the expense of upwards of 3,000,000 non-military personnel passings, Bangladesh was free.

Border clashes between China and India

7. Conclusion

Both the nations i.e. India China had long-standing practice of authentic friendship.

The fellowship among India China was being proceeded as long as both were not extremely mindful about every last trace of room in the infertile land in the Himalayas.

Before the Socialist coalition’s system in China, Tibet had significant free status and extremely close and welcoming relationship with India.

There exists no obviously checked line among India China.

While India follows the Johnson Line and the McMohan Line, China is slanted towards the Macartney-MacDonald line.

This line issue ought to be settled with strategic and military level talks, and a reasonable limit between the countries is an unquestionable requirement.

There is also significant documents discovered in recent times to know the intentions of Britishers of ever-changing boundaries and their Great Game with the Soviets.

Researched by Hemant Kumar and executed by Suman Saurabh.

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