India and China are the two major global leaders and largest economies in the world. Despite having common historical, cultural linkages between both countries, there are various issues including border tensions that have become an important area of concern. China claims around 90,000 sq kms of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as their own territory by releasing new maps and calls the region by its Chinese name, “Zangnan”. Thus, it creates a hostile situation. China’s expansionist policy and map war is one of its games through which Beijing tries to put pressure on other countries. This is not only the case with India but also can be seen in the claim over Taiwan and various disputed islands of South China Sea for instance. India, however, always tries to settle its problems peacefully through negotiations whether it is China or any of its neighbors. But now, India has also made a strong move after the Ladakh standoff. This article focuses on why China asserts claim over Arunachal Pradesh and the geostrategic significance of it for both the countries.
China’s Unilateral Stance
China is unilaterally giving Chinese names to the places of Arunachal Pradesh considering it as parts of ‘Southern Tibet’. China did not sign the Simla Convention of 1914 between China, Tibet and Great Britain, which defines official boundaries, the McMahon Line, for British India, China and Tibet for the reason that it does not recognise Tibet as an independent authority which can enter into international agreements. Hence, the People’s Republic of China disagrees with the legal status of the McMahon line. In 2017, Beijing released names of six places in Arunachal Pradesh in the first batch. Later on, China released a second batch of standardized names of 15 places in 2021 and recently in August, 11 places in the third batch prior to the G20 summit held in Delhi that further escalated the matter.
Geostrategic significance of Arunachal Pradesh Region
The geostrategic location of Arunachal Pradesh makes the region crucial for both the countries which share international borders with Tibet, Bhutan and Myanmar. In 1962 war, Bum La Pass, a border crossing between Tibet and India in Arunachal, Tawang, was used by the Chinese forces to attack India. However, there are historical ties between Tawang and Lhasa monastery and the tribes of the upper Arunachal region are also connected with the Tibetan people. China is therefore extremely concerned that Tawang could be the site of the Tibetan pro-democracy uprising. Arunachal Pradesh is indeed important for India’s national security since it gives China a strategic entrance into the Northeastern region.
By rejecting China’s claims, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said “We reject these claims as they have no basis. Such steps by the Chinese side only complicate the resolution of the boundary question.”
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in the Lok Sabha said, “On 09 December 2022, PLA troops tried to transgress the LAC in the Yangtse area of Tawang Sector and unilaterally change the status quo. The Chinese attempt was contested by our troops in a firm and resolute manner. The ensuing face-off led to a physical scuffle in which the Indian Army bravely prevented the PLA from transgressing into our territory and compelled them to return to their posts.”
However, as a response to China’s aggressive stance, Rajnath Singh inaugurated 90 infrastructure projects in Jammu on September 12, which will be built under the Border Roads Organization. These projects costing over Rs 2,900 crore, include the 500-meter Nechiphu tunnel in Arunachal Pradesh, two airfields in West Bengal, two helipads, 22 roads, and 63 bridges.
The Nechiphu tunnel located on the Balipara-Charduar-Tawang road and the Se La tunnel, which is now under construction, wil give yearlong connectivity to the vital Tawang region along the LAC.
Tawang region is geographically significant for quick and easy accessibility to Brahmaputra plains and Tezpur in Assam. In addition, it is also strategically pivotal because of its connectivity links to Guwahati and the extended Siliguri Corridor.
Beijing has been rapidly building up its infrastructure along the border and its aggressive moves compelling India to take a proactive approach that is to build robust infrastructure and make India ready for the worst. The bone of contention between India and China for border disputes hampering the development of Asia. Therefore, these two power leaders of the global south are essential to come together or else the dream of an ‘Asian century’ cannot be accomplished. On the margins of the BRICS Summit in South Africa, Prime Minister Modi ji and Xi Jinping were ready to negotiate an agreement on ‘expeditious de-escalation’ but since then we have seen no such progress.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.