The new map of borders and areas around China
China has once again released, a few days back, a land-border map targeting our sovereignty and integrity. It has claimed our Ladakh in the north and Arunachal Pradesh in the east as its own. There are two exaggerated lies in this narrative.
Firstly, there has never been a land border between India and China. The two countries that act as buffers between us and China are Tibet and East Turkestan. The Great Ranges of Karakoram and the Himalayas divide us and Tibet and East Turkestan.
Secondly, Tibet and East Turkestan do not belong to China. They have been independent states, which China aggressed and occupied in the previous century. The Indian province of Gilgit-Baltistan, a part of Jammu & Kashmir, under Pakistani occupation, is now located north of our Kashmir Valley. The region to its east is what is called as ‘Xinjiang’ by China but known otherwise as East Turkestan. The Red Chinese army attacked it in c. 1949. Tibet is located south of this state.
Tibet emerged as a strong State which defeated China for two centuries but became a vassal now and then after that (like present-day Vietnam, North & South Koreas), and which was (and continues to be) the spiritual capital of the Mongols who defeated China and ruled over it, was captured by the Chinese Army after killing thousands of Buddhist monks in c. 1951. Dalai Lama, the spiritual and temporal head of Tibet, escaped from the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, in March 1959 and took asylum in India, where he has lived since then with his followers and a Tibetan Government in exile.
Tibetans emerged as a great force in 7 CE. The Chinese Tang Dynasty initially took no notice of them. Tang realised the grave danger when the Tibetans easily captured Chinese territories in the west and the north. Realizing that it is impossible to fight the Tibetans in the Tibet plateau, located at an average of 16000 feet, which is true even today, the Chinese decided to enter into a peace treaty with the Tibetans by paying vassalage and marrying off their princesses to Tibetan Kings.
Ladakh, which is part of our Jammu & Kashmir, is situated between Tibet and East Turkestan states. China is interested in Ladakh because neither Tibet nor East Turkestan have fully integrated with Mainland China, and there are continuing separatist movements in these two places. Other reasons are the invaluable water resources (great rivers like the Indus, Brahmaputra, Mekong, Salween, and Irrawaddy originate in Tibet; the innumerable glaciers make Tibet the third Pole after the North and the South Poles) and the availability of other natural resources (metals, oil and gas).
Therefore, China has unleashed suppression to keep its control there. It built a highway (G-219) to link these two disturbed places through the Aksai-Chin part of Ladakh without our permission as early as c. 1953, even when India-China relations were good. As the relationship deteriorated in c. 1962, it occupied even more of Ladakh. At every opportunity, it incrementally occupies our land there. This is known as salami-slicing. As part of this approach, it entered into an agreement t with Pakistan in c. 1963 and took over our Shaksgam Valley in Gilgit, an area of 5000 sq. km. for its security needs. It continues to aggress our Ladakh. The May 2020 attacks by China at Galwan, Depsang, Pangong Tso and Demchok were part of this strategy.
Tibet is a very vast and aggressed part of China. It alone constitutes one-eighth of the entire land mass of China. Like East Turkestan, it was aggressed and occupied 70 years ago. As we have already seen, its natural resources, like water, which can satisfy one-fourth of the entire water needs of China, are badly needed by China. China can dominate several lower-riparian states by becoming the upper riparian of those big rivers mentioned earlier. These reasons prompted China to occupy Tibet.
In 8 CE, the Abbassid army sent by the Caliph of Baghdad established Islam in China’s northwest, where the Turkic people lived in East Turkestan. Uyghurs, as we know them today, speak Turkish and came from Central Asia. Even though the Qing Emperor captured East Turkestan in the 18th century, his rule in this faraway peripheral land of the Chinese Empire was tenuous. East Turkestan was functioning as an independent state in the early 20th century. After the Communist party took power in China on October 1, 1949, it integrated the peripheral lands such as Yunnan, Tibet, East Turkestan, Mongolia and Manchuria more tightly with the Mainland by aggressing them. Only in c. 1955 East Turkestan was fully integrated, when its name was changed to Sinkiang. The Uyghurs have ever since opposed Chinese rule.
Therefore, in the accompanying map, all these areas have been shown as independent states but under occupation by China. China has border disputes not only with us but with many others. It has land borders with fourteen countries. Even though it settled all the border disputes (except with India and Bhutan) by the 1990s, it continues to chafe that its lands continue to be under illegal occupation by these countries. For example, it claims the entire Siberia of its closest ally, Russia.
Apart from land border disputes, China has maritime boundary disputes with all its maritime neighbours. It claims Indonesia’s Natuna Sea, which is 1500 nautical miles from the nearest Chinese shore, as its own. Historically, China never had a name for itself. Only others call it China. Similarly, China used to notify the seas around it as the East Sea and South Sea. It was the Portuguese who, in the 16th century, renamed the South Sea as ‘South China Sea’. That stuck. Because of that name, China wants to assume total control of that sea by randomly marking nine dashes and claiming possession of that waterway. It uses its powerful Navy, Coast Guard and the unofficial Maritime Militia to enforce its control over other littorals. It has occupied islands, converted reefs into islands, stationed its Navy in these places and built missile launchers and radars. It has junked the 2016 -Award of the UN Arbitral Tribunal under the UN’s UNCLOS.
While so, India has influenced this region for over 2000 years in many ways. Without wars and aggression, India had influenced many Empires that flourished richly in this region through its religion, language, literature, epics, science, sea trade, unique products, and diplomacy. Particular examples of such great Empires are Funan in the Mekong delta of South Vietnam and Cambodia between 1 and 6 CE, the Champa in Central Vietnam between 2 and 18 CE, the Sri Wijaya of Sumatra between 7 and 12 CE, and the Majapahit in neighbouring Java between 13 and 16 CE. These thalassocracies reigned this area for 2000 years as anchors of sea trade and culture. They functioned based on the Hindu and Buddhist precepts, Sanskrit as lingua franca, the Indian Luni-Solar calendar, the ‘Chakravartin’ concept of rulership, Indian philosophical thoughts, architecture, and town planning.
The Indian influence extended up to today’s Papua-New Guinea in the Pacific Ocean. The Indian ports were natural trans-shipment points for traders from the west and the east. The ocean-sailing Indian dhows traded between the Chinese seas and the Indian provinces known today as Bengal, Orissa, Tamilnadu, Kerala, Maharashtra and Gujarat. As Indian sailors were experts in predicting monsoon and trade winds, the sea trade prospered.
On the contrary, only in the 10th CE did the Song Empire allow the Chinese to trade across far seas. But this stopped when the Song Empire fell in the early 12th CE. Even though the Ming Empire allowed Chinese traders to cross oceans once again in the 15th CE, it did not continue for long. The French archaeologists who explored these areas from the 18th CE, aptly named them ‘Indo-Chine’ because of the deep and wide Indian influence. The aggressive and coercive behaviour of China now demands that this area be referred to as ‘Indo-China’.
The sea around Vietnam had been known for a long time as the ‘Champa Sea’. The Filipinos have always referred to the sea to their west as the ‘West Philippines Sea’. The remainder of the sea must, therefore, for the reasons above, be rightly renamed as the ‘Indo-China Sea’. India and China have equally influenced this region for over 2000 years. This should also be a lesson taught to China, which wants to do cartographic aggression by renaming places and then claiming possession of these renamed places.
The accompanying map reflects the changed names for these reasons.
(Inputs from Chennai Centre for China Studies)