The story so far : On December 30, China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs said it had issued “standardised” names for 15 places in the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh. The names are to be used henceforth on all official Chinese documents and maps, which show Arunachal as “south Tibet”. India responded to the move saying that “assigning invented names” will not alter the facts on the ground or Arunachal Pradesh’s status as an integral part of India. The issuing of the names came ahead of a new land border law taking into effect on January 1, 2022, which India has also voiced concern about.
What is behind the move to issue ‘standardised’ names?
In 2017, Chinese authorities first issued six “official” names for places in Arunachal Pradesh. That move was seen at the time as a retaliatory measure after the Dalai Lama visited the State. The new list is more extensive. It has 15 names, including eight towns, four mountains, two rivers and one mountain pass, covering 11 districts in Arunachal from Tawang in the west to Anjaw in the east. Following the issuing of the names, all official Chinese maps will have to mark the locations using the Ministry of Civil Affairs list. The naming is a largely symbolic gesture that will not change facts on the ground. It is, however, indicative of a broader new Chinese approach to territorial disputes. Zhang Yongpan, a leading Chinese expert on border issues at the official Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the official media that the renaming, coupled with a new land border law, were “important moves made by the country to safeguard national sovereignty, better maintain national security and manage border-related matters at the legal level amid regional tensions, including frictions with India.”
What is the significance of the new law?
Proposed in March 2021, a year into the crisis along the Line of Actual Control, the border law, which took effect on January 1, 2022, lists various responsibilities for civilian and military authorities in China to take steps to “safeguard national sovereignty”. The law has 62 articles in seven chapters, covering delineation and border defence to immigration, border management and trade. The issuing of new names is related to Article 7, which calls for promoting border education at all levels of government. Article 22 calls for the Chinese military to carry out border drills and to “resolutely prevent, stop and combat” what it calls “invasions, encroachments and provocations”.
How will it affect the India-China border dispute?
The broader aim of the land border law, in the view of New Delhi, is to give legal cover and formalise the Chinese military’s transgressions across the LAC in 2020. The border law also appears to give fresh impetus to civilian agencies in China to continue carrying out the construction of infrastructure, including “frontier villages”, in border areas, including some in disputed territories along the border with India and Bhutan, the only two countries with which China has unsettled land boundaries. Under the border village construction plan, launched in 2017, China is building 628 “first line and second line villages” in border areas and moving residents, mainly herders, to live in the new dwellings along the borders with India, Bhutan and Nepal as well.
In November 2021, satellite images surfaced showing a second Chinese cluster of 60 newly built dwellings on what India sees as its territory in Arunachal Pradesh, around 100 km east of another village built in late 2020. The territory in question has been under Chinese control since 1959 and previously had Chinese military installations there, but the civilian constructions were seen as further bolstering Chinese claims and essentially a fait accompli with regard to land that is still disputed and under negotiation by the two sides.
In October 2021, India expressed concern over the new law, saying that “China’s unilateral decision to bring out a legislation which can have implications on our existing bilateral arrangements on border management… is of concern to us”.