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Global Concerns: Why Ladakh matters to India and China

Why Ladakh matters to India and China?

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In News: Why Ladakh matters to India and China?

  • Tensions were building up along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Ladakh region for more than a month now which led to fighting (without using any firearms) between Indian and Chinese militaries along the disputed border.
  • The border face-off between the two countries along the LAC resulted in killing of at least 20 Indian soldiers including a commanding officer losing their lives.

Why Ladakh matters to India and China?
Why Ladakh matters to India and China? | Image Sources: Tribune

Geography of Ladakh:

  • Ladakh is a cold, dry, high altitude territory with extremely scarce vegetation. But that doesn’t limit its economic or geostrategic importance.
  • It is bounded by the Karakoram in the north and the Great Himalaya in the south.
  • The Ladakh region has two other parallel ranges– Zanskar ranges and Ladakh ranges.

Ladakh’s History:

  • Originally, Ladakh was an independent Himalayan state (like Bhutan and Sikkim) until the Dogra invasion of 1834.
  • The state was historically and culturally always intrinsically linked to neighboring Tibet. This was through language and religion and sharing a common history politically.
  • Ladakh was part of the Tibetan empire which broke up after the assassination of King Langdarma in 742 CE.
  • Thereafter it became an independent kingdom, though its borders fluctuated at different periods of its history and, at times included much of what is now western Tibet.

Ladakh’s Economic Significance:

  • The passes of Ladakh connected some of the economically significant regions of the world, including Central Asia, South Asia and China.
  • Since ancient times till partition between India and Pakistan, Ladakh remained an important point along the silk route and an entrepôt between central Asia and Kashmir.
  • For example, Tibetan pashmina shawl wool was carried through Ladakh to Kashmir.
  • At the same time, there was a flourishing trade route across the Karakorum pass to Yarkand and Kashgar to Chinese Turkestan.

Ladakh’s Integration into Jammu and Kashmir:

  • The Sikhs acquired Kashmir in 1819 and Emperor Ranjit Singh wanted to integrate Ladakh into Jammu and Kashmir.
  • This task was later completed in 1834 by Gulab Singh who was the Dogra feudatory of the Sikhs in Jammu. Thereafter, Ladakh came under Dogra rule.

Sino-Sikh War (1841) and the Treaty of Chushul:

  • In 1841, Tibet under the Qing dynasty of China invaded Ladakh with the hope of adding it to the imperial Chinese dominions. This lead to the Sino-Sikh war.
  • However, the Sino-Tibetan army was defeated and the Treaty of Chushul was signed that agreed on no further transgressions or interference in the other country’s frontiers.

British and Ladakh:

  • The British East India Company had initially lacked interest in Ladakh.
  • The state of Jammu and Kashmir was essentially a British creation which served as a buffer zone where they could meet the Russians.
  • However, this integration of Ladakh with Jammu and Kashmir interested the British later as they expected a large portion of Tibetan trade to be diverted to its holdings.
  • Consequently, there was an attempt to delimit Ladakh’s and Jammu and Kashmir’s exact extent. But it became convoluted since that area came under Tibetan and Central Asian influence.
  • After the first Anglo-Sikh war of 1845-46, the state of Jammu and Kashmir, including Ladakh, was taken out of the Sikh empire and brought under British suzerainty.

India and Ladakh:

  • India claims Ladakh based upon the British legacy of the map of the territory.
  • Indians have insisted that the border was, for most part, recognized and assured by treaty and tradition.
  • But the Chinese argued that the border had never really been delimited.
  • The claims of both China and India rested in part on the legacy of imperialism- British imperialism for India and Chinese imperialism over Tibet for China.
  • Geo-Strategic Significance of Ladakh for India: 
    1. Ladakh shares borders with both Pakistan and China.
    2. Itsprime location makes it significant and strategically important for India’s national security.

Chinese Interest in Ladakh after the occupation of Tibet in 1950:

  • China renewed its interest in Ladakh after the annexation of Tibet by the People’s Republic of China in 1950 particularly after the 1959 Tibetan uprising.
  • The uprising erupted in Lhasa when the Dalai Lama fled into exile and was granted political asylum in India.
  • Chinese built first road connecting Tibet with Xinjiang across Ladakh in 1956-57 for their control over Tibet.

How did Ladakh become Disputable between India and China?

  • In 1958, an official monthly magazine in China  published a map of China that showed large parts of the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) and the Himalayan territory of Ladakh as part of China.
  • The publication had been preceded with the Chinese building a road in 1956-57 linking parts of Ladakh with Xinjiang.
  • The building of the road through Ladakh upset Nehru’s government because only a relatively independent Tibet would serve as a buffer between the Chinese and India.
  • Nehru had hoped that Tibet would have a degree of autonomy even though it came under Chinese occupation. But the road construction meant that Chinese wanted to exercise greater control over Tibet.
  • This became a bone of contention between India and China with the leaders of both countries began negotiating through letters.

Sino-India War:

  • The failure of negotiations between India and China was followed by the Sino-Indian war of 1962.
  • It was Chinese victory in 1962 as the Chinese forces captured Aksai Chin and Demchok region of Ladakh.
  • The war also led to the formation of the loosely demarcated Line of Actual Control (LAC) running through Ladakh.

Reasons for the Present Conflict:

  • Up to 2013, India’s infrastructural development in the region of Ladakh was minimal.
  • From 2013, India started pushing for infrastructure projects there it became a major defense priority by 2015.
  • On August 5, 2019 India removed the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and downgraded the state into two Union Territories. 
  • From the Chinese point of view, India would reassert its control over the entire region as it made Ladakh a Union Territory.
  • Over time, Xinjiang which is part of Aksai Chin, has become very important to China for their internal reasons.

Also Read: Global Bytes: India coasts to win in Security Council polls

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