Chinese shenanigans on Arunachal Pradesh

The State represents the finest of India’s cultural and civilisational heritage, and there is absolutely no basis to the Chinese claim over any part of Arunachal Pradesh

April 18, 2023 12:16 am | Updated 08:13 am IST

‘Whether it is in the Himalayas or the East and South China Seas, China’s depredations and unfounded irredentist claims are legion’

‘Whether it is in the Himalayas or the East and South China Seas, China’s depredations and unfounded irredentist claims are legion’ | Photo Credit: RITU RAJ KONWAR

For the third time in recent years, China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs, on April 2, made a provocative move by releasing new names for 11 places in Arunachal Pradesh under the fig leaf of standardising geographical names in “Zangnan” (a phoney term invented by Beijing to claim that Arunachal Pradesh is “South Tibet”). According to media reports, these names include “two residential areas, five mountain peaks, two rivers, and two other areas”. In 2017, China had ‘renamed’ six places that lie in Arunachal Pradesh. It had also ‘standardised’ the names of 15 places in 2021, which had similarly included population centres, mountains, rivers, and a mountain pass.

Taken together, and on the face of it, some of the places are located along the Pangchen-Tawang-Jang-Sela axis running down from the Line of Actual Control; others are near old Buddhist pilgrimage circuits near Taksing in Upper Subansiri district, Menchuka-Tato tehsil in West Siang, and still others towards the Lohit and Anjaw districts, near Walong.

Whether it is in the Himalayas or the East and South China Seas, China’s depredations and unfounded irredentist claims are legion. In 2020, China gave names to 80 geographical features in the Paracels and Spratlys in the South China Sea, where China is embroiled in maritime disputes with several states. In 1983, it had named 287 geographical features in the South China Sea. It began using the term “Diaoyutai” for the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea in the 1950s, even before raking up the Senkaku issue with Japan. Often, the Chinese modus operandi is to lay the groundwork through fictional renaming of alien territories as a basis for sham “historical” claims which are then pursued using the “three warfares” strategy — of waging propaganda, psychological and legal warfare. China also struck a jarring note in the wake of the apocryphal exercise concerning place names in Arunachal Pradesh by naming several under-sea features in the Indian Ocean, ironically using the names of Chinese musical instruments.

China issued the Geographical Name Regulation in 1986 designed to regulate naming, renaming, and so-called standardisation exercises. It introduced an amended rule that came into force on May 1, 2022. While these pieces of legislation have mainly dealt with naming, renaming, and standardising names within China, they also cover several alien territories claimed by China.

It is instructive to recall two related developments. China enacted a new Coast Guard Law that came into effect on February 1, 2021, to take necessary measures, including the use of force, to safeguard “sovereignty”. China also passed a new law on the protection and exploitation of the country’s land border areas that came into effect on January 1, 2022. This unilateral step has the effect of converting the boundary dispute with India into a sovereignty issue. In the run-up, from 2017 onwards, China launched the construction of dual-purpose villages, the so-called Xiaokang villages, in areas adjacent to the border with India, from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh. One can discern a new and aggressive thrust by China to emphasise its territorial claims, whether land or maritime.

The Government of India has consistently dismissed such shenanigans on China’s part. After the latest move by China on Arunachal Pradesh, the Ministry of External Affairs said that “this is not the first time that China has made such an attempt. We reject this outright. Arunachal Pradesh is an integral, inalienable part of India. Attempts to assign invented names will not alter this reality”.

China’s bogus claim, Indian history

China’s claim on Arunachal Pradesh is as bogus as can be. A reading of Tibet And Its History by Hugh Edward Richardson clearly suggests that the Qing presence in Tibet began to emerge around 1720, after Chinese intervention in the internecine succession struggle following the death of the Sixth Dalai Lama (1683-1706).

Therefore, there is absolutely no basis to the Chinese claim over Tawang, or for that matter any other part of Arunachal Pradesh, on the flimsy grounds that it is the birthplace of the Sixth Dalai Lama. China, in any case, had no locus standi in Tibet at the time. But that has not prevented China from concocting so-called historical claims with retrospective effect. A study of the 1960 reports of the officials of the two sides on the boundary question reveals the vague, patchy and superficial nature of “evidence” proffered by the Chinese side in support of Beijing’s boundary claims.

Arunachal Pradesh, formerly known as the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA), is home to various tribes that have historically been a part of India’s civilisational heritage. Most of its populace has been historically oriented towards the Assam plains. The tribes there were in regular contact with the Ahom power in Assam, including for the grant of rights to levy the Posha from the plains people in the adjacent areas.

While some tribes, such as the Monpas, have professed Buddhism, others follow animistic practices. Some tribes practise a form of Vaishnavism. The Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the Kalika Purana, the Vishnu Purana, the Yogini Purana, and Kalidasa’s Raghuvamsa have references that give a clear indication of the inclusion of these tribal tracts in the collective consciousness and cultural moorings of ancient India.

These sources have indications about the boundaries of the kingdoms of Pragjyotisha and Kamarupa, whose limits appeared to include the whole of Arunachal Pradesh. The Shiva Linga in Ziro, Parshuram Kund, and the temple ruins of Malinithan, which are connected to the legends of Parashuram, Rukmini, Bhismaka and Sishupala, show an ancient Hindu influence in the region. Some Mishmis consider themselves to be the descendants of King Bhishmaka, and some Akas claim their descent from King Bhaluka. Archaeological finds have unearthed silver coins and inscriptions in the Arabic script at Bhalukpong, linked to a Muslim ruler of Bengal. The architecture of many forts, such as those at Bhalukpong, Ita and Bhismaknagar (built between the 10th and 16th centuries), is heavily influenced by the architectural principles of fort construction found in the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and Arthashastra. These forts were frontier posts of the security system that was prevalent in the Brahmaputra Valley.

There is no other comparable influence of any other culture or history on Arunachal Pradesh as a whole. Today, the State represents the finest of India’s cultural and civilisational heritage.

Now is the time perhaps for India to not only reject Beijing’s charade of giving Chinese names to places in Arunachal Pradesh but also to assign Indian names to places and territories under the illegal occupation of China. Aksai Chin, for example, may be called Akshaya Chinha — which means an “everlasting symbol” (of India). It is an indelible part of the Indian consciousness. As for Arunachal Pradesh, it is and will remain an integral part of India.

Sujan R. Chinoy is a former Ambassador. He is the Director General of the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. The views expressed are personal

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