India-China Tension Over Renaming of 11 places in Arunanchal Pradesh
In a step that is expected to increase mistrust between New Delhi and Beijing and in the midst of their worst bilateral thaw in decades, 11 places in Arunachal Pradesh that China says are in South Tibet have uniform names. Chinese names for topographical features in Arunachal Pradesh for the third set of names in Tibetan, Pinyin, and Chinese characters that China has announced in six years, most recently in December 2021 and again in April 2017. Beijing's approach was swiftly rebuffed by New Delhi, who asserted that Arunachal will always be an essential and "indispensable" component of India.
Five mountain summits, two more inhabited areas, two land areas, and two rivers are among the 11 locations mentioned. India has always had command and control over the disputed territory. The names of the 11 locations were listed in Chinese, Tibetan, and Pinyin, together with their precise Latitude and Longitude coordinates, in an appendix that was made public by China. In the southern portion of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, which China refers to as Xizang, a large portion of Arunachal Pradesh is shown on a map as Zangnan.
The initial list, which included six locations throughout the state, was released on April 14, 2017, following the Dalai Lama's visit to Arunachal Pradesh. The six names on that list at the time were "Wo'gyainling," "Mila Ri," "Qoidengarbo Ri," "Mainquka," "Bumo La," and "Namkapub Ri" written in the Roman script. According to the latitude and longitude that were provided with the names, the places were Tawang, Kra Daadi, West Siang, Siang (where Mechuka or Menchuka is a developing tourist destination), Anjaw, and Subansiri, respectively. These six locations, "Wo'gyainling" in the west, "Bumo La" in the east, and the other four in the state's centre, covered the entire length of Arunachal Pradesh. China released a new list of names for locations in the state in December 2021. According to the state-run Global Times, this encompassed eight residential districts, four mountains, two rivers, and a mountain pass. It had once again given the latitudes and longitudes of these locations.
Arunachal Pradesh is part of China's 90,000 sq km of claimed territory. The region is referred to as "Zangnan" in the Chinese language, and "South Tibet" is frequently mentioned. Arunachal Pradesh is depicted as being a part of China on Chinese maps, and is occasionally referred to as "so-called Arunachal Pradesh" in brackets. China periodically makes an attempt to emphasise this one-sided claim to Indian territory. Part of the effort involves giving sites in Arunachal Pradesh Chinese names.
Chinese policy includes making territorial claims to Indian territory. China regularly expresses displeasure anytime an Indian dignitary visits Arunachal Pradesh as part of this approach. Beijing's foreign policy playbook includes asserting aggressive claims to areas on the basis of supposed historical injustices committed against China. One such instance is the claim of Taiwan, as well as the persistent attempts to alter the "facts on the ground" on a number of contested islands in the South China Sea. China published a list of 80 geographical objects in the South China Sea, including 25 islands, in April 2020. China had earlier in 1983 classified 287 characteristics in the disputed oil-rich region. The use of China's economic and military might always supports the aggression in overt and covert ways.
The 2017 action was perceived as payback for the Dalai Lama's visit to Tawang. The action was taken in 2021 in response to China's new "Land and State Boundary Law," which effectively gave the government permission to retake lands it had previously claimed. It was seen as a means of reasserting China's claim over the State as a whole. The latest action could be the result of a number of reasons, including China's retaliation for the Indian Army's refusal to allow the PLA to seize a post at Yangtse in the Tawang sector of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in December 2022, the Chinese embassy's boycott of the G-20 engagement group meeting on innovation technology in Itanagar, or a sign of more sinister plans in the future. Above all, it shows the low point in relations and the absence of substantive discussion for three years following the gathering of Chinese forces at the LAC in 2020 and offences that resulted in altercations, including the fatal confrontation at Galwan.
The Chinese government has a history of renaming contested territories under new names. In recent years, and especially since early May 2020, India and China have been involved in a stalemate in the Ladakh region that has lasted almost three years, causing the worst bilateral relations in decades. India has increased infrastructure in forward portions of the region, particularly the Tawang sector, and greatly improved weaponry along the LAC in Arunachal Pradesh. However, it is unclear whether the third set of renaming was timed in any way related to that border dispute. China's intention to press its territorial claims and undermine India's control over Arunachal Pradesh can be observed in the action.
The government must be clearer about the substance of its discussions so far in light of China's most recent act of hostility. Even as it combats China's false narrative and renames locations that are clearly within India's borders, it will be difficult to plan for a future course of action until the government looks into the causes of China's actions and the inspiration for its ongoing aggressions.