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Ladakh standoff: All about Aksai Chin and the Sino-India war of 1962

Aksai Chin is in news a lot. Recently, Chinese media has accused India of building defence facilities in the contested Aksai Chin area.

By Ayushman Ojha
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Aksai Chin and sino Indian war 1962

With the recent border clash of India and China in the Galwan Valley, Aksai Chin is in news a lot. Recently, Chinese media has accused India of building defence facilities in the Galwan Valley region of the contested Aksai Chin area. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Friday that his government has given the armed forces full freedom to take any necessary action, and he also appeared to downplay the clash that killed 20 Indian soldiers and injured more than 70 on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control in the Galwan Valley on Monday.

Nobody has intruded into our border, neither is anybody there now, nor have our posts been captured.
-PM Narendra Modi

What is Aksai Chin dispute?

Aksai Chin is a disputed border area between China and India since 1950s. China controls Aksai Chin area, while India claims that it is part of Indian territory (Union territory of Ladakh). During the time of British rule in India, two borders between India and China were proposed- Johnson’s Line and McDonald Line. The Johnson’s line (proposed in 1865) shows Aksai Chin in erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir (now Ladakh) i.e. under India’s control whereas McDonald Line (proposed in 1893) places it under China’s control. India considers Johnson Line as a correct, rightful national border with China. On the other hand, China considers the McDonald Line as the correct border with India. At present, Line of Actual Control (LAC) is the line separating Indian areas of Ladakh from Aksai Chin. It is concurrent with the Chinese Aksai Chin claim line.

Aksai region is the bone of contention between India and China since 1950. The area of Aksai Chin was neglected for a long time due to barren, isolated and mostly uninhabitable region. Earlier, Nehru had said: “There is a large area in eastern and north-eastern Ladakh which is practically uninhabite“Where not even a blade of grass grows,” he had said famously. In the 1950s the Chinese built a military road through this region in order to connect Tibet with Xinjiang. India objected this new development which led to border clashes between the two countries in 1962. In 1993 and 1996, both countries signed agreements to respect the Line of Actual Control. At the conclusion of the war, China retained control of about 38,000 square km of territory in Aksai Chin. The area remained a point of contention between the two countries till now.

At present, Aksai Chin constitutes 15 percent of the total area of Jammu and Kashmir, which is illegally occupied by China. India says that entire Jammu and Kashmir including Aksai Chin is an integral part of India while China has always claimed that Aksai Chin is Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang Uyghur).

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Sino-Indian War of 1962

India's then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Defence Minister V.K. Krishna Menon had both believed that the threat to India’s security came principally from Pakistan. Despite deteriorating India-China relations in the late-1950s, neither Nehru nor Krishna Menon had contemplated a war between the two countries. India never suspected that China would ever launch an attack, but it did. India was attacked on October 20, 1962 in what famously came to be known as Sino-India war of 1962.

Series of events

  • After independence, one of the policies of India is to maintain cordial relations with China.
  • China announces that it would be occupying Tibet, India sends a letter of protest proposing negotiations on the Tibet issue.
  • In the process of maintaining friendly relations, India does not even attend a conference for the conclusion of a peace treaty with Japan because China was not invited. India even strives to become China's representative in matters related to world since China has been isolated from many issues.
  • In 1954, China and India concludes the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, under which, India acknowledges Chinese rule in Tibet. It is the time when former Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru promotes the slogan "Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai"
  • To be on the safe side and prevent any border issues, Nehru writes a memo directing a revision in the maps of India to show definite boundaries on all frontiers; however, Chinese maps shows some 120,000 square kilometres of Indian territory as Chinese. On being questioned, Zhou Enlai, the first Premier of People's Republic of China, responds that there are errors in the maps
  • Dalai Lama flees to India in 1959. In April, 1960, Nehru rejects Zhou Enlai's boundary settlement proposal. Mao is convinced that India is working with the US and USSR against China. Contemporary Chinese thinking believes that India's desire to keep Tibet was the cause of the 1962 war.
  • Various conflicts and military incidents between India and China flares up. On July 10, 1962, around 350 Chinese troops surround an Indian post at Chushul and uses loudspeakers to convince the Gurkhas that they should not be fighting for India.
  • The Chinese also cut Indian telephone lines, preventing the defenders from making contact with their headquarters.
  • On October 22, the Chinese lights a bush which causes a lot of confusion among the Indians. Some 400 Chinese troops attacks the Indian position. The initial Chinese assault gets stopped by accurate Indian mortar fire.
  • When the Indian army discovers that a Chinese force has gathered in a pass, it opens fire with mortars and machine guns and killsabout 200 Chinese soldiers. On October 26, a patrol from the 4th Sikhs gets encircled, and after they are unable to break the encirclement, an Indian unit sneaks in and attacks the Chinese army and frees the Sikhs.

Mao did not see India as a perpetual foe, but famously remarked that force will "knock Nehru back to the negotiating table"

-Henry Kissinger (Former U.S. Secretary of State)

Chinese then withdrew although their victory was not without cost.The defeat, however, changed India's view of China forever. India claims the moral high ground, blaming China for a stealthy strike but it completely misread its giant neighbour. Mao, who saw Nehru as a conniving and pretentious leader, began and ended the war on his own terms. On October 24, 1962, Zhou offered Nehru a settlement that was rejected. Parliament passed a resolution resolving to "drive out aggressors" from Indian soil. Hostilities resumed with Chinese attacks on Sela and Bomdila. PLA was close to Tezpur, when China declared a unilateral ceasefire and withdrew 20km from the Line of Actual Control.

Written by Ayushman Ojha, a Journalism student at Delhi School of Journalism, Delhi University. Covers Politics, Education and International Affairs.