Why Ladakh matters to India and China?Approx Read Time: 6 minutes
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.
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.
- 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:
- Ladakh shares borders with both Pakistan and China.
- 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.
- 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.