Recent events have solidified Arunachal Pradesh’s position as a territorial flashpoint between India and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The high-altitude province in northeast India is south of the nations’ disputed border. The PRC claims 90,000 square kilometers of the region, which it calls Southern Tibet.
The PRC’s renaming of 11 locations in Arunachal Pradesh — two land areas, two residential areas, five mountain peaks and two rivers — in early April 2023 marked the latest salvo in a longstanding disagreement about ownership of the province, The Indian Express reported. It was the third time since 2017 that the PRC has given Chinese names to locations within the province, the newspaper said, and India has scoffed at each attempt.
“We reject this outright,” India Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said after the PRC released its newest list, according to The Indian Express. “Arunachal Pradesh is, has been, and will always be an integral and inalienable part of India. Attempts to assign invented names will not alter this reality.”
The border dispute has touched off military confrontations, most recently in December 2022, when fighting broke out around Tawang, a Tibeten Buddhist pilgrimage site in Arunachal Pradesh. (Picture: A sign seen from the Indian side of the India-China border at Bulma in Arunachal Pradesh.) People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops crossed into India, Indian officials said, and attempted to “unilaterally change the status quo.” The PRC troops eventually returned to their side of the border as the fighting — which did not involve firearms — came to an end. Both sides sustained injuries.
Deadlier combat between Indian and PLA troops occurred in 2020 in the Galwan Valley, also along the India-PRC border, about 1,500 km southeast of Tawang. Twenty Indian Soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese troops were killed.
Other nations have sided with India. The United States Senate, for instance, is considering a bipartisan resolution reaffirming Arunachal Pradesh as an irrevocable part of India. The resolution recognizes the colonial-era McMahon Line as the international boundary, Indian analysts said.
“For the United States to take such an open and active stance on a border dispute between India and China is unusual and is particularly salient in the context of increasing India-U.S. cooperation to balance Chinese aggressions and expansionist policies,” Shairee Malhotra, associate fellow at the New-Delhi based Observer Research Foundation, told FORUM.
The McMahon Line dates to 1914, when it was established by the Shimla Convention involving Great Britain, the PRC and Tibet, which had declared independence a year earlier. The Indian government recognizes the line as its border with Tibet, thereby including Arunachal Pradesh as part of sovereign Indian territory, Malhotra said. Beijing, however, maintains Arunachal Pradesh is part of Tibet and thus under PRC dominion.
Zhou Bo, a retired PLA senior colonel, told the BBC in March 2023 that Arunachal Pradesh is “Southern Tibet” and belongs to the PRC.
“This [claim] has resulted in a longstanding dispute between India and China, which also led to the Indo-China War of 1962 where China claimed strategic victory over India,” Malhotra said. “Instead of efforts to mitigate tensions, China seems determined to provoke India through violent military flare-ups and skirmishes at the heavily militarized border aimed at altering the status quo.”
Multiple discussions between Indian and Chinese officials have done little to reduce the border tensions.
“Besides the use of military force, China has also engaged in several other activities including constructing villages in disputed areas, releasing maps where cities in Arunachal Pradesh are renamed in Mandarin and building strategic infrastructure in the region,” Malhotra said.
IMAGE CREDIT: REUTERS