Written by Salih Hudayar
The extreme controversy of whether Aksai Chin (Eastern Ladakh) is part of India or a “part of China” has heightened conflict between India and China in recent months. It should be very clear that Aksai Chin also known as Eastern Ladakh is not a part of China as India has historically never shared a border with China. In fact if it had not been for the Chinese occupation of East Turkistan in 1949 and Tibet in 1950, no border would exist connecting India and China.
China’s false claims regarding Aksai Chin as being “a part of China” is not unique as China also falsely claims East Turkistan, Tibet, South Mongolia, Manchuria, and parts of other surrounding countries as being “part of China.” However, in the case of Aksai Chin (Eastern Ladakh), the Chinese have pushed a false narrative claiming that the term ‘Aksai Chin’ is a Chinese term and that the “Chin” in ‘Aksai Chin’ refers to China.
The term ‘Aksai Chin’ is not a Chinese terminology and it predates Chinese occupation of East Turkistan in 1949 and the Manchu Qing Empire’s occupation of East Turkistan in 1884. In fact, the British who were ruling India at the time first encountered the term ‘Aksai Chin’ in the 1860s.
The term ‘Aksai Chin’ is a Uyghur / Turkic term and not a Chinese term. When breaking the down the term ‘Aksai Chin’ in the Uyghur language we can see the following: Ak = white, Sai = ravine / gorge, Chin = actual, true or real. The meaning of ‘Aksai Chin’ in the Uyghur / Turkic language would translate into English as ‘the real white gorge’ or ‘the true white ravine.’ Aside from Aksai Chin near the Chinese occupied East Turkistan and Indian border, there are villages, towns, and regions named Aksai in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and even Russia.
The term ‘Chin’ doesn’t refer to China as the Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples in Central Asia have historically never referred to China as “Chin.” The term for China or Chinese in the Uyghur and other Turkic languages of Central Asia has historically been to this day “Xittay [Hittay]”, “Kitay [Qitay], or “Tabghach.”
In 1865 the British Government in India established the Johnson Line to clearly mark the borders separating East Turkistan and India. During this period, East Turkistan was independent from Chinese rule and influence as the Manchu Qing Empire wouldn’t invade East Turkistan until 1876 and subsequently occupy it in 1884 and rename it to “Xinjiang” or the “New Territory” in the Chinese language.
Even after the Manchu Qing conquest of East Turkistan in 1884, Aksai Chin was administered and recognized as a part of what was then British India. Following the demise of the Manchu Qing Dynasty in 1911, ‘Aksai Chin’ still wasn’t included or claimed as part of Chinese-Occupied East Turkistan be it in Chinese maps, East Turkistan maps, Indian maps, European maps, Russian maps or even American maps.
In 1933 when the first East Turkistan Republic (1933-1934) was established in East Turkistan, ‘Aksai Chin’ was not included in the territorial claims or sovereignty of the East Turkistan Republic, similarly, the second East Turkistan Republic (1944-1949) didn’t include or claim ‘Aksai Chin’ as being a part of East Turkistan’s 1.828.418 km2 territory. In fact, even the Chinese didn’t include ‘Aksai Chin’ as a being part of Chinese Occupied East Turkistan or Tibet until after 1962.
Aksai Chin (Eastern Ladakh) was annexed into Chinese occupied East Turkistan, or what China calls “Xinjiang” following the Sino-India War of 1962. Looking at historical data and maps pre-1962, including maps created by the British, Chinese, East Turkistan, Indian, Russian, and United States governments, we can see that since at least 1865 Aksai Chin (Eastern Ladakh) was exclusively marked as being a part of India.
Therefore the issue of Aksai Chin (Eastern Ladakh) being a part of India should no longer be a controversy as it had been recognized internationally as being a part of India nearly a century prior to China invaded and occupied it in 1962. China has no right to Aksai Chin (Eastern Ladakh) and is illegally occupying India’s sovereign territory since 1962 just like it has been occupying East Turkistan since 1949 and Tibet since 1950.
The historical maps below from 1865-1960 doesn’t show ‘Aksai Chin’ (Eastern Ladakh) as a part of East Turkistan or as a “part of China.”
Salih Hudayar is an East Turkistani independence activist and historian. He has been serving as the elected Prime Minister of the East Turkistan Government in Exile (ETGE) since November 2019 and is President of the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement (ETNAM). He is leading the struggle for the restoration of East Turkistan’s independence. You can follow him on Twitter @SalihHudayar