Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 18 April 2023

Third list of names for places in Arunachal Pradesh

Source: By The Indian Express

Just two days after the Chinese government released a list of “standardised” names of 11 places in Arunachal Pradesh, the Indian authorities on 4 April 2023 said they rejected the move “outright”. In a statement, India’s Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi categorically stated that “Arunachal Pradesh is, has been, and will always” be an integral part of India.

“We have seen such reports. This is not the first time China has made such an attempt. We reject this outright. 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,” he added.

China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs put out names of 11 places in Arunachal Pradesh in ChineseTibetan and pinyin characters, acting in accordance with regulations on geographical names issued by the State Council, the equivalent of the Chinese Cabinet. As per an ANI report, these places include two land areastwo residential areasfive mountain peaks and two rivers. It also listed the category of places’ names and their subordinate administrative districts.

This isn’t the first time that China has done something like this. It released two different sets of “standardised” names of places in Arunachal Pradesh back in 2017 and 2021.

Why is China giving names to places that are in India?

China claims some 90,000 sq km of Arunachal Pradesh as its territory. It calls the area “Zangnan” in the Chinese language and makes repeated references to “South Tibet”. Chinese maps show Arunachal Pradesh as part of China, and sometimes parenthetically refer to it as “so-called Arunachal Pradesh”.

China makes periodic efforts to underline this unilateral claim to Indian territory. Giving Chinese names to places in Arunachal Pradesh is part of that effort.

Which places were featured in the previous lists?

The first list came out on 14 April 2017, containing six places in the state. China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs had said at the time that it was releasing a “first batch” of “standardised” names.

“According to relevant regulations on the management of place names, the department has standardised some place names in China’s South Tibet region. We have released the first batch of the place names in South Tibet (six in total),” the Chinese government had said.

The six names on that list then, written in the Roman alphabet, were “Wo’gyainling”, “Mila Ri”, “Qoidengarbo Ri”, “Mainquka”, “Bumo La” and “Namkapub Ri”.

The latitude and longitude listed with the names showed those places as TawangKra DaadiWest Siang, Siang (where Mechuka or Menchuka is an emerging tourist destination), Anjaw, and Subansiri respectively.

These six places spanned the breadth of Arunachal Pradesh — “Wo’gyainling” in the west, “Bumo La” in the east and the other four located in the central part of the state.

Once the first list was released, India didn’t mince any words and condemned the Chinese act. The spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs had said “renaming or inventing names of states of your neighbour do not make illegal occupation as legal.”

Then, four and a half years later, China put out another set of names for places in the state. This included eight residential areasfour mountains, two rivers, and a mountain pass, according to the state-run Global Times. This time too, it had provided the latitudes and longitudes of these places.

Strongly reacting to the release of the second list, India at the time said Arunachal Pradesh was, is, and will always be an integral part of India and the “standardised” names were a Chinese invention. This is exactly what the country has reiterated after the Chinese authorities on 2 April 2023 put out another set of names of places in the state.

But what is China’s argument for claiming these areas?

The People’s Republic of China disputes the legal status of the McMahon Line, the boundary between Tibet and British India that was agreed at the Simla Convention — officially the ‘Convention Between Great Britain, China, and Tibet’ — of 1914.

China was represented at the Simla Convention by a plenipotentiary of the Republic of China, which had been declared in 1912 after the Qing dynasty was overthrown. (The present communist government came to power only in 1949, when the People’s Republic was proclaimed.) The Chinese representative did not consent to the Simla Convention, saying Tibet had no independent authority to enter into international agreements.

The McMohan Line, named after Henry McMahon, the chief British negotiator at Shimla, was drawn from the eastern border of Bhutan to the Isu Razi pass on the China-Myanmar border. China claims territory to the south of the McMahon Line, lying in Arunachal Pradesh.

China also bases its claims on the historical ties that have existed between the monasteries in Tawang and Lhasa.

In 2017, Lu Kang, then spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, had said: “China has a coherent and clear standpoint of the border between China and India. It is proper action to announce those Chinese place names to the public, as it is according to regulations established by the State Council.”

What does China seek to gain from making these claims?

As stated earlier, it is a part of the Chinese strategy to assert its territorial claims over Indian territory. As part of this strategy, China routinely issues statements of outrage whenever an Indian dignitary visits Arunachal Pradesh.

Beijing keeps harping on its “consistent” and “clear” position that the Indian possession of Arunachal Pradesh, though firmly established and recognised by the world, is “illegal”, and asks New Delhi to stop taking actions to “complicate” the border issue.

The “first batch” of renaming in 2017 had come days after the Dalai Lama visited Arunachal Pradesh, against which Beijing had lodged a strong protest. Spokesperson Lu had, however, claimed that the “standardisation” was necessary since all names used in “southern Tibet” were inherited through word-of-mouth for generations by minority ethnic groups.

“These names reflect and indicate from one aspect, that China’s proposal on the sovereignty claim of South Tibet region has a prominent historical, cultural, administrative and jurisdictional basis,” Lu had said.

Speaking to The Indian Express at the time, Wang Dehua, then director of the Institute for South and Central Asia Studies in Shanghai, had claimed that through this move, China wanted to prove its territorial jurisdiction over Arunachal Pradesh.

“The changing of names is an ongoing process in China. Just like how Bombay was changed to Mumbai or Madras was changed to Chennai in India. It just so happens that the names standardised are in southern Tibet,” Wang had said.

Laying aggressive claims to territories on the basis of alleged historical injustices done to China is a part of Beijing’s foreign policy playbook.

The claim on Taiwan is one such example, as are the consistent efforts to change the “facts on the ground” in several disputed islands in the South China Sea. The aggression is at all times backed in overt and covert ways by the use of China’s economic and military muscle.

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