India and China have been wrangling all week after the latter reopened one of the major territorial disputes between the two nations by announcing new names for 11 places in Arunachal Pradesh.
China reiterated its claims that Arunachal Pradesh, which it calls "Zangnan, the southern part of Tibet", is part of its territory. It had also reportedly skipped the two-day G20 meeting held in Itanagar in the last week of March.
So what do these latest diplomatic rumblings mean in the larger India-China conflict? Dr Kanti Bajpai, Professor and Wilmar Chair in Asian Studies at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore and author of ‘India Versus China: Why They Are Not Friends’, told Connected to India that China’s latest move serves a reminder that the Sino-Indian border dispute is much larger than small sector confrontations in parts of Ladakh and Sikkim.
“Settling places in the disputed border regions and renaming various places is reminding us of China’s claims and their considered strength. They are showing us that they are willing to play hardball on the border issue,” Dr Bajpai said.
He went on to state that there are many reasons why the Northeastern state is the focus of Chinese attention.
“Arunachal may be even more important to China than other border regions. It has been pushing its claims to a much bigger chunk in Arunachal than Ladakh or Sikkim. Most of its military strength is closer to Arunachal than Ladakh as well; Tawang is near the Tawang Monastery which China has marked as a critical target,” he added.
In his book, Dr Bajpai has highlighted negative perceptions, differences over perimeters, rival partnerships and the power asymmetry between the two countries as the four drivers (four Ps) of the China-India conflict. He also told Connected to India that the military and economic disparities were the biggest obstacle between the two nations forming a cordial relationship. “
"China does not see why it should make concessions from a position of strength and India cannot make any concessions which will be seen as a sign of weakness. In other words, China doesn’t see why it should make concessions and India can’t afford to make any concessions. If we don’t reduce this gap, it’s difficult to see any sort of equal relationship forming,” Dr Bajpai said.
This is not the first time that China has renamed locations in Arunachal. Two such lists were released in 2018 and 2021. China issued a list of six names in 2017, while in 2021 it 'renamed' 15 places in Arunachal Pradesh.
Since China’s announcement, New Delhi and Beijing have engaged in a war of words on the issue. Responding to the Chinese announcement, India issued a strong statement on Tuesday rejecting any Chinese claims on Arunachal.
A bipartisan United States Senate resolution was tabled last month and stated that Arunachal Pradesh was an integral part of India and recognised the McMahon Line as the international boundary between China and India.
The United States also stated that it "strongly opposes" China's attempts to advance a claim over Indian territory, Arunachal Pradesh by renaming localities, the White House said on the same day.
"The United States has recognised that territory for a long time (as an integral part of India). And we strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to advance territorial claims by renaming localities," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre had said.
A day later, in a press conference, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said, "Zangnan (Arunachal Pradesh) is part of China's territory. In accordance with relevant stipulations of the administration of geographical names of the State Council, competent authorities of the Chinese government have standardised the names of some parts of Zangnan. This is within China's sovereign rights."
India’s Ministry of External Affairs again refuted China’s statements on Thursday.
"This is not the first time that China is making such attempts, and we have criticised such attempts. Arunachal Pradesh is an inalienable part of India. China giving its own inventive names will not change the ground reality. I would like to re-emphasise that," MEA Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said during the weekly media briefing on Thursday.
India and Chinese troops had clashed along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Arunachal's Tawang sector last December, in a face-off that came amid a months-long border standoff in eastern Ladakh. The two nations have been facing off over the disputed 3,440km-long border for over 70 years.