On the face of it- the situation at the Line of Actual Control seems frozen – but ties between India and China appear to worsen by the day. The past few weeks saw a number of headlines, lets break them down for you:
1. Arunachal visit by Amit Shah
This week, China issued a strong objection and received a strong rebuttal from India, after the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticised the visit to Arunachal Pradesh by Home Minister Amit Shah. Mr. Shah visited the easternmost village of Kibithu- where he announced the government’s programme for border villages.
Now while India has always been in control of Arunachal Pradesh, China claims the entire state is part of Tibet - which it calls Xizang, and more specifically South Tibet or Zangnan
“Zangnan is China’s territory. Indian officials’ activities in this area violate China’s sovereignty and territorial sovereignty and not conducive to peace and tranquillity in the border regions. We firmly oppose it,” is what spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Wang Wenbin said.
In reply, here’s what the MEA said: Indian leaders routinely travel to the state of Arunachal Pradesh as they do to any other state of India. Arunachal Pradesh was, is and will always remain an integral and inalienable part of India. Objecting to such visits does not stand to reason and will not change the above reality.”
2. Arunachal renaming
The Home Minister’s visit came a week after a different verbal spat over Arunachal after the Chinese government announced a plan to rename 11 places in the state including one right next to the capital Itanagar—publishing a map and a list of those places in Mandarin, Tibetan and Pinyin
This is clearly an offensive act, and not the first – In 2017, Beijing renamed 5 places, in 2021 it renamed 15 and India reacted sharply, saying “Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India, and China’s attempts of using such invented names cannot change the ground reality.
3. Bhutan King visit- speculation of deal
Next, there has been speculation over a possible deal between China and Bhutan over Doklam - an area disputed between the two and one of the areas under discussion in boundary talks. If you can look at the Map, the areas under discussion are Doklam to the west of Bhutan and the two valleys of Jampurlung and Sakarlung to the North of Bhutan.
Ahead of Bhutan King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck’s visit to India, an interview by PM Dr. Lotay Tshering suggested there had been considerable progress in talks. Now if this were to happen, and that’s a big If, since Bhutan has resisted the deal for decades, it is a matter for concern as the Doklam area abuts India’s Siliguri corridor or what’s called Chicken’s neck, and India will definitely object to Chinese presence at a vulnerable spot.
Here’s what Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said when asked about the possibility.
“Government of India very closely follows all developments which have a bearing on our national interest and we would take all necessary measures to safeguard them as necessary. Now as regards the recent statements and the related commentary to them is concerned, I would say one, that India and Bhutan remain in close touch relating to our shared interest, including security interest, and I would only reiterate, you know, our earlier statements on this issue, which very explicitly and very clearly bring out our position on the determination of the tri-junction boundary points.“ “
4. G-20 differences
Then there were differences between India and China over the G20 meetings- In the face of opposition from China and Pakistan- which isn’t a G20 member, India is holding G20 meetings in three places that China sees as disputed territory-
March 23- Itanagar- G20 Engagement group on Innovation
April 26- Leh- G20 Engagement group on Youth
May 22- Srinagar- G20 working group on Tourism
China skipped the first one, and is expected to boycott the other two. Earlier in March, China joined Russia in openly opposing India’s draft communique which meant the government failed to issue a joint statement in two meetings- all eyes on how China will behave ahead of the summit in September
5. Journalist visas
This week, the Chinese MFA and MEA exchanged accusations on the treatment of their journalists in each other’s countries-as China is moving to take what it calls counter measures against Indian journalists in response for Indian actions against Chinese journalists.
All of these tensions are in the backdrop of the past three years of a standoff at the Line of Actual Control that began with the LAC
1. Amassing of nearly 100,000 troops on both sides - after Chinese transgressions at Ladakh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh
2. Violent Skirmishes for the first time in 45 years- deaths in Galwan, injuries in Sikkim, and in Yangtse, where PLA attempted to overrun an Indian post
3. No talks at the highest levels- apart from one short encounter between PM Modi and President Xi Jinping at the Indonesia G20- Ministerial level meetings have focussed on boundary talks.
4. 17 rounds of Corps Commander talks have been held to resolve the standoff and have held their 26thWMCC meet- and achieved disengagement at 4 out of 6 points.
Most important, is the question- why did all of this start in the first place- is there any indication of what could have been the reason for the Chinese to amass troops along the LAC- just six months after Modi Xi met in Mamallapuram
1. General hegemony- China has made it clear that it intends to take back “every inch” of territory it believes it owns- from SCS to LAC. It’s three-pronged Modus Operandi is therefore- to publish maps, rename places to claim them, and finally, settle populations in disputed territories
2. Stop Infrastructure Building- for the past decade, India has stepped up its construction of infrastructure- roads bridges and airstrips close to the LAC, and this is something China may have been trying to stall with its actions China is also hoping to build more infrastructure as part of the BRI and CPEC to Pakistan, in areas Indian troops have some oversight of, like the Karakoram 2 highway, or the Aksai Chin railway, and troops may have been attempting to cut off India’s access
3. And China may have been responding to India’s moves in 2019- not so much the move to reorganise Jammu and Kashmir, but the changes in Ladakh, and the publication of new maps for the region- and reacting to those.
4.Three years into the LAC standoff, it should be clear to Beijing that ties remain frozen and not much is likely to move until the standoff is resolved. For India, as it watches Chinese moves that much more closely than before, and adjusts to the new normal of a fully manned Line of Actual Control, it must also begin a proper study of the reasons for China’s actions in 2020, without which, it will be impossible to move forward on resolving the situation peacefully
Many of the books this week have been referred to before, so I’m choosing the latest of them:
1. Understanding the India-China Border : The Enduring Threat of War in the High Himalayas by Manoj Joshi
2. China’s India War: Collision Course on the Roof of the World by Bertil Lintner
3. India-China Boundary Issues: Quest for Settlement by Ranjit Singh Kalha
4. Contested Lands: India, China and the Boundary Dispute Hardcover – 22 November 2021 by Maroof Raza
5. INDIA, CHINA, AND THE WORLD : Connected History by Tansen Sen
6. How China Sees India and the World by Shyam Saran
7. India Versus China : Why they are Not Friends by Kanti Bajpai
8. The Fractured Himalaya: India Tibet China 1949-62 by Nirupama Rao
9. Nehru, Tibet and China: Avtar Singh Bhasin
The last two are based heavily on archives.
Script and Presentation: Suhasini Haidar
Production: Gayatri Menon and Reenu Cyriac