China’s Territorial Claims Must Be Checkmated

Given Beijing’s constant claims on India’s Arunachal Pradesh, the time has come for India to revisit its Tibet policy and challenge the CCP’s false narrative which underlies Xi Jinping’s aggressive policy. 
Keywords: China, India, Arunachal Pradesh, Tibet, Conflict, CCP, Institution, Military, Policy
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Beijing is at it again. On Sunday 31st March the Chinese government released a new and fourth list of what it calls ‘standardized geographical’ Chinese names of 30 places in Arunachal Pradesh. When it published this list the Beijing government’s mouthpiece, the English language daily ‘Global Times’ repeated the claims of the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs that ‘Zangnan’, the Chinese name for Arunachal Pradesh, is ‘South Tibet’ and hence a ‘part of China’. Earlier in 2017 Beijing had released a first list of five names, followed by 15 in 2021 and 11 more toponyms in Arunachal  in 2023. 

This aggressive Chinese overture comes on the heels of Beijing’s strong objection to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh last month to inaugurate a strategically important road tunnel at Sela Pass on 9th March. On many earlier occasions too Beijing has been consistently challenging similar visits to Arunachal by Indian leaders like Home Minister Amit Shah in April 2023; PM Dr. Manmohan Singh in October 2009; the US Ambassador to India’s visit in November 2023 and the Dalai Lama’s visit in April 2017. In July last year, China issued stapled visas to Indian athletes from Arunachal and J&K for their participation in the Asian Games on the grounds that it did not recognize J&K as a part of India and that the visitors from Arunachal don’t need a Chinese visa as they are ‘Chinese’ citizens. 

Reacting to the latest Chinese list of names, India’s External Affairs Ministry has repeated the response given regarding Narendra Modi’s visit to Sela and earlier events. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar says that China’s claims will not change the reality that the State of Arunachal Pradesh was, is, and will always be an integral and inalienable part of India. But despite being unambiguous about India’s position on Arunachal Pradesh, the common Indian feels hurt at Xi Jinping’s ever louder assertions that Arunachal is a ‘part of China’ and his open and arrogant challenge to the authority and right of the Indian Prime Minister to enter a State of his own country. This public irritation is more understandable after having seen the impact of PM Modi’s decisive surgical strike as a military response to Pakistan’s open support of separatism and terrorist acts at Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama. 

Looking back at the history of India-China relations one finds that there is no let-up in China’s expansionist ambitions in India’s territory over the past seven decades. Unfortunately, the soft, merely defensive, and almost acquiescent reactions of New Delhi for the first six decades after independence, a trend started by late Prime Minister Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, has only encouraged the Beijing leaders to continue this tradition. For example, soon after occupying Tibet in 1950-51 China quietly grabbed about 38,000 sq km of Indian land of Aksai Chin in upper Ladakh. When the Indian Foreign Secretary brought this to the notice of Nehru, the latter was furious to start with and instructed the FS to send a strong letter of protest to Peking (i.e. today’s ‘Beijing’). However, only a couple of hours later Nehru called the Secretary back and asked him to hold it, saying that he would talk to Chinese Premier Zou Enlai, which never happened. In September 1957 when China inaugurated the 1200 km long stretch of the G-219 highway through Aksai Chin and invited the Indian Ambassador in Peking to attend the ceremony Nehru’s government got into ‘action’ and sent a strongly worded protest letter to Beijing asking how had Chinese labour entered that Indian region without Indian visas.  The net result was that China remained in control of the Karakoram Highway and Aksai Chin which links Tibet to its other colony Xinjiang and also with Pakistan through Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.

In the next five years, China turned newly occupied Tibet into a military stronghold and used it as a launch pad to attack an unprepared and unsuspecting India in October 1962. Despite suffering a humiliating defeat on that occasion, India has perpetually hesitated to point out to Beijing that it is illegally occupied Tibet which is the real fountainhead of its aggressive moves and territorial claims against India. Indian security agencies have confirmed now and then that China uses Tibetan land for training, sheltering, and supplying arms, money, and drugs to several anti-India terrorist and separatist groups. Beijing’s latest misadventures in Galwan and Doklam too have proved once again that China’s occupation of Tibet leads to periodic confrontation with India. China’s open support for Kashmiri and Pakistani terrorists even in forums like the United Nations only reflects the PRC’s anti-Indian policies. 

President Xi Jinping’s latest campaign to control the selection of reincarnated religious dignitaries in Tibetan Buddhism, especially that of the Dalai Lama, too has very serious implications for India. His aim is to install in due course the next, i.e. the 15th Dalai Lama as a Chinese puppet in the Potala. Understanding the fallout of this plan the US Congress, despite serious differences of opinion and policies among the warring Democrats and Republicans, has passed a near-unanimous bi-partisan constitutional amendment that makes it obligatory for all future Presidents and governments of USA to take effective action against the Chinese government to stop it from usurping the institution of the Dalai Lama. 

The silence of New Delhi on this subject calls for an urgent and fresh look at Xi Jinping’s aggressive approach to the Dalai Lama’s succession. India needs to take full stock of the threats Xi’s designs pose to the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of India. The fact remains that the  root-monasteries and root-Gurus of almost all Mahayana Buddhist traditions practiced in the Indian, Nepal and Bhutan Himalayas lie in Chinese-occupied Tibet. A scenario in which a Lhasa-based Dalai Lama and other incarnate root-Gurus act on Beijing’s instructions would have perilous consequences on the entire 4000 Km long Himalayan belt for all three countries. It is high time for New Delhi to prepare for this likely development which could turn Ladakh, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal, from India’s ‘first line of defence’ into seedbeds of secessionist rebellion. 

This prospect surely calls for a qualitative change in the Indian government’s approach towards the Dalai Lama and the overall issue of Tibet. Sadly, right from the day the Chinese PLA marched into Tibet in 1950 and the subsequent signing away of Tibet by New Delhi as an  ‘Autonomous Region’ of China through the much-hyped ‘Panchsheel’ Agreement of 1954, successive Indian governments have been handling the Dalai Lama and the issue of occupied Tibet as liabilities rather than as assets in their dealings with Beijing. Given the latter’s consistent use of Tibet as an anti-India launch pad and Xi’s claims on Arunachal as ‘Southern Tibet’, New Delhi must have by now realized that the real source of trouble from China for India is the former’s control of Tibet. 

It is not viable for India to take military action against the mighty  China of today. Yet the policy-makers in New Delhi can surely use some fine tools of diplomacy and international politics and take some decisive steps, like standing by the Dalai Lama on the issue of his reincarnation, honoring him with India’s highest civilian award ‘Bharat Ratna’ (as was done for other foreign dignitaries like Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan) and granting higher status to the Dalai Lama’s ‘Central Tibetan Administration’ in Dharmashala, as compared to its present ‘NGO’-like accreditation. Taken one after another in a staggered manner, such steps may lead Xi and his communist establishment to shift from their aggressive stance to a more defensive posture.  

Given Beijing’s constant claims on India’s Arunachal Pradesh, the time has come for India to revisit its Tibet policy and challenge the CCP’s false narrative which underlies Xi Jinping’s aggressive policy. 

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Vijay Kranti

Shri Vijay Kranti is a senior journalist, Tibetologist and Chairman, Centre for Himalayan Asia Studies and Engagement (CHASE).

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