Arunachal Pradesh in India-China relations

China’s locus standi on Arunachal?

The basis of its territorial claim is laughable

The Economic Times, October 16, 2009

Does China have any locus standi in relation to the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh? A “yes” answer would be an invitation to India to assert its locus standi in the matter of Tibet, 

Brahma Chellaney, Strategic Affairs Expert

given that China’s claim to Arunachal is based not on any Han connection, but on alleged historical links with Tibet. In making that claim, Beijing indeed advertises that Tibet is the core issue and that it covets Arunachal as a cultural patio to Tibet — a classic attempt at incremental annexation. 

The Dalai Lama has publicly said that Arunachal historically was not part of Tibet. That is why, as he has explained, the 1914 Simla Agreement, of which the then-independent Tibet was a party, did not include present-day Arunachal Pradesh in Tibet. China does not recognise the McMahon Line because its acceptance of the 1914 border will be admission that Tibet was once independent, seriously undercutting the legitimacy of its control over an increasingly restive Tibet. 

Beijing thus fashioned its claim to Arunachal originally as a bargaining chip to compel India to recognise Chinese control over Aksai Chin. That was the reason why in the 1962 war, China withdrew from the Arunachal areas it invaded but retained its territorial gains in Ladakh. 

But as part of its hardening stance toward India, China has since 2006 publicly raked up the long-dormant Arunachal issue. The basis of its territorial claim, however, is laughable. Just because the 6th Dalai Lama was born in the 17th century in Arunachal’s Tawang district, Beijing claims that the state belongs to Tibet and thus is part of China. 

By that argument, it can also lay claim to Mongolia as the 4th Dalai Lama was born there in 1589. The traditional ecclesiastical links between Mongolia and Tibet actually have been closer than those between Arunachal and Tibet. In fact, as part of its cartographic dismemberment of Tibet, China has hived off the birthplaces of the 7th, 10th, 11th and present Dalai Lama from Tibet. 

The issue in India-China relations up to 1962 was Aksai Chin; the issue now is Arunachal. If history is not to repeat itself, India must put the spotlight on the source of China’s claim — Tibet.


(c) Economic Times, 2009.
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