Beijing has issued another list of Chinese names for 30 places in Arunachal Pradesh, which China illegally claims as South Tibet. This is the fourth such list, with the first three having being released in 2017, 2021 and 2023. Beijing issued the recent list after Prime Minister Narendra Modi dedicated the Sela Tunnel to the nation virtually from Itanagar on March 9, 2024.

On March 11, China lodged a diplomatic protest with India over Modi’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said “Zangnan (Chinese name for Arunachal Pradesh) area is Chinese territory. The China-India boundary question has yet to be resolved. India has no right to arbitrarily develop the area of Zangnan in China. Relevant moves by India only complicate the boundary question. China is strongly dissatisfied with and firmly opposed to the leader’s visit to the eastern section of the China-India boundary. We have made solemn representations to India. China never recognized the so-called Arunachal Pradesh illegally set up by India and firmly opposes it.”

Some media reports have termed the Chinese act aimed at fingering the Modi Government. But then such a strategy is in the genes of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Witness how China is consistently needling Taiwan and the Philippines, which also involves muscular actions.

‘Creating Something Out of Nothing’ is one of the 36 stratagems of ancient China, which advocates using a false front, not to deceive the enemy, but to make what is false seem real. To add to this is China’s ‘Middle Kingdom’ syndrome advocating that Chinese universality is inseparable from a certain idea of civilization, with the centre shining upon the surrounding regions; or in more simpler terms everything under the Sun belongs to China.

India rejected China’s attempts at claiming the region as part of their territory. The official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Randhir Jaiswal said in an official statement.”China has persisted with its senseless attempts to rename places in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. We firmly reject such attempts. Assigning invented names will not alter the reality that Arunachal Pradesh is, has been, and will always be an integral and inalienable part of India.”

External minister S Jaishankar dismissed the Chinese list of names and asked, “If today I change the name of your house, will it become mine?” Union Minister for Earth Sciences Kiren Rijiju attributed it to China’s being nervous as India is developing its border areas, which were underdeveloped in the Congress era. The opposition slammed the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for its “subdued response”.

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma went a step further saying, “My request to the government of India – we should give a list of 60 geographical names of the Tibetan area of China. It should always be tit-for-tat. But I don’t want to comment because it is a policy decision of the government of India. But if they have named 30, we should name 60.”  

Where China appears to have succeeded is that, like everything else, this has also has been reduced to a BJP versus Congress issue, which takes the attention away from realities on ground. The original ancient map of China is circulating on social media but have we officially pointed out this reality to China?

During the Heads of State Summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization at Uzbekistan in September 2022, attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, China distributed maps showing Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh as part of China and Jammu and Kashmir as part of China, as tweeted by former Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy in 2022. So why don’t we tell China officially that we have a border with Tibet, not with China, and we do not recognize ‘One China’ anymore since China does not recognize ‘One India’.

Expecting the above from the Indian Government would be too much in view of the pusillanimous attitude adopted towards Beijing. However, no amount of diversionary tactics can hide the ground realities. All these ministers denouncing China for giving Chinese names to places in Arunachal Pradesh, nor the central government, has anything to say when the BJP MP Tapir Gao from Arunachal Pradesh openly said in Parliament that China is 50-60 km inside Arunachal Pradesh. China has constructed dual-use villages in Arunachal Pradesh, even during the ongoing India-China standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) but we have not represented or issued a demarche to China. How do Nepal and Bhutan, who are facing similar Chinese encroachments, view our behaviour?    

The ground realities in eastern Ladakh are in the public domain. The 3-bags full brigade argues that India does not believe in warmongering. But here was a situation where: four motorized PLA divisions invaded the area; PLA crossed China’s 1959 claim line (that India never recognized) and occupied new positions west of that line; we have lost control of over 4000 sq km and we cannot patrol 26 of 65 patrolling points out of 65 in the area; what India refers to as “friction points” are intrusions made by the PLA – the one in Depsang is 20 km deep; Ladakh’s nomad tribes have lost their traditional grazing grounds.   

Will it amount to warmongering if the above ground reality is acknowledged and we tell China so? Did we hide the ground realities during the Kargil conflict in 1999? Doesn’t singing like Defence Minister Rajnath Singh “not even an inch of territory lost in Ladakh” amount to someone plundering your house and you break his umbrella in the verandah wishing it rains cats and dogs?

China is already extracting mileage from the mess that has been created by us in the border state of Manipur, even though the mainstream media refrains from covering the details. Similarly, it would be naïve to think that China is not aware of the turmoil in Ladakh, including the public resentment and protests, which again is covered little in the media, for example thousands of Ladakhis peacefully fasting for 32 days in protest.

Finally, we do need to focus more on defence and national security notwithstanding the political noise about acquisition of weapons, weapon platforms and military wherewithal, while we remain the largest weapon importer in the world despite the sloganeering of self-sufficiency.  Just three examples will suffice to prove this: one, we still don’t have a national security strategy despite the NSA officially tasked in 2019 to define one; two, our defence budget allocation continues to remain below 2 percent despite mounting threats to national security, and; three,  the proposal for the indigenous 5th generation AMCA was stuck with the government for full four years till finally the prime minister was told that any further delay would be “too late”.

China is believed to already have a fleet of some 200 J-20 5th generation fighter jets in operation. Meanwhile, Pakistan has disclosed intentions to acquire the Chinese Shenyang FC-31/J-31 fighter. China will have a much larger 5th generation fighter fleet, possibly also many 6th generation fighters also, when the AMCA starts getting inducted into the Indian Air Force beyond 2035. 

The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed are personal.

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