China has no claim on Tibet and East Turkestan, what to talk of Ladakh
by Jaibans Singh on 04 Jul 2020 4 Comments

The history of South Asia and China was dominated by the British broadly from the 17th century to the mid-20th century. Today, almost seven decades after the exit of the British, India and China remain unable to reconcile to their new destinies and move on. Border demarcation done by the British dominates the political spectrum. Over almost seven decades and even after fighting a full-fledged war, it has not seen settlement. To find a way forward, it is necessary to go briefly into the history that impacts the situation.


In 1834, Ladakh was conquered by Zorawar Singh, a general of the Jammu ruler Gulab Singh, who was under the suzerainty of the Sikh Empire. By 1840, he brought Gilgit Baltistan under Dogra control. After the first Anglo-Sikh War, the British under the Treaty of Amritsar, 1846, sold Kashmir to Gulab Singh and gave him the title of Maharaja. Thus was born the kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir. The royal Namgyal family of Ladakh was given Stok as Jagir, which it retains nominally to date. 


Jammu and Kashmir remained a princely state all through British rule. The Dogras administered Ladakh as a wazarat (principality) with an independent Governor on three tehsils (districts) of Leh, Skardu and Kargil. Ladakh was given two seats in a Legislative Assembly called Praja Sabha that was established in 1934 by Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir in an attempt to usher democratic tenets into the monarchy.


At independence, Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession on October 26, 1947, effective October 27, 1947, making Jammu and Kashmir an integral part of India. Hence, there is no doubt about Ladakh being part of India.


China has a diverse and interesting trajectory of evolution. In the 19th century (after 1932), the British had started getting seriously involved Chinese politics. The Opium Wars gave the British a fair degree of control over Chinese affairs. In 1912, the Qing dynasty declined in the face of challenges from abroad and internal revolts, and British hold strengthened.  


Around that time, the demarcation line between Tibet and the North-East region of India was created and named the “McMahon Line.” It was ratified in 1914 by the Simla Convention between British and Tibetan representatives.


With the decline of the monarchy, China embarked on a road to becoming a Republic. The transition was long and arduous, marked by a long struggle between the Kuomintang (KMT or Chinese Nationalist Party) and the Communist Party of China that came into existence in 1921. After debilitating civil wars, on October 1, 1949, mainly due to Soviet support, the communists gained control of mainland China and Mao Zedong became the founding father of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Communist China moved swiftly to gain control over many neighbouring areas, of which East Turkestan, Tibet and South Mongolia are the most prominent.


Significantly, India has borders only with the occupied territories of East Turkestan and Tibet and not with mainland China. Also, the McMahon Line was not contested all through the period of political turmoil in China and Tibet, nor was it contested at the time when the British left India.


Two factors emerge from the foregoing. First, Ladakh was a part of India for about 87 years before the PRC came into existence. Second, the Government of China at the time when the British were leaving the sub-continent in 1947 did not object to the McMahon line.


India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, having accepted the suzerainty of China over Tibet refused to be party to negotiations based on a perceived boundary dispute between the two countries. He insisted that the boundary stood resolved along the McMahon Line. In this he had the complete support of the Indian Parliament.


China rejected and continues to reject the Simla Accord, contending that Tibet was not a sovereign state and therefore did not have the power to conclude treaties. Chinese maps show some 65,000 sq. km. of territory south of the line as part of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and calls it South Tibet.


China, however, had tacitly accepted the Line of Actual Control (LAC) as it exists between East Turkestan and India. In a letter to Nehru dated October 24, 1959, Zhou Enlai proposed that India and China withdraw their forces 20 kilometers from the LAC. Even after the Indo-China War of 1962, the Chinese unilaterally withdrew to the earlier demarcation of the LAC, except for Aksai Chin.


History is replete with instances of great empires breaking due to over extension through forcible subjugation. The latest example is the breakup of the USSR. Communist China has forcibly occupied Tibet, East Turkestan, South Mongolia and other territories. Voices are being raised against this forcible occupation and against incidents of gross human rights violation of the people of these areas by the repressive Chinese regime.


Being unable to control what it has, one wonders why China is nibbling at Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh where it has no jurisdiction or justification of claim whatsoever.  For the sake of a few kilometers of territory that does not belong to it, Beijing is jeopardizing India’s goodwill and billions worth of trade with the country. Even East Turkestan and Tibet can contribute more to the prosperity of mainland China if they are freed from the existing shackles.


India needs to rework its posture on its borders on the basis of historical facts. If at all, borders can be discussed only with Tibet and East Turkestan as and when they gain freedom.  There is nothing to discuss with Beijing and the McMahon Line is the irrefutable border. An attempt by China to change the same should be termed as aggression against the sovereignty of India and dealt with accordingly. Diplomatic and military attempts need to be made to get back Indian territories under forcible occupation of China.


(Jaibans Singh is a geo-strategic analyst, writer and commentator

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