China’s Arunachal Policy is one that exposes its vulnerabilities

Chinas Arunachal policy has been one that has significantly strained the two countries bilateral relations over the past decades. Arunachal Pradesh, Indias north-eastern most state, has unilaterally been made to be contentious due to Chinas unprovoked aggressive behaviour. The state shares a critical border with Tibet, another region in which China maintains its hawkish approach.

The contention between both the countries has persisted even after Arunachal Pradesh legal recognition as a part of India’s sovereign territory through the Shimla agreement of 1914 signed by Great Britain, China and Tibet.

Although, China in the past has on various occasions accepted the McMahon Line in its desire to settle border disputes with both Myanmar and Nepal, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), has more often than not intended to use aggressive means while resolving its prevailing disputes with India.

More so it has laid claim over whole of Arunachal Pradesh, which until the 1980’s was limited to solely the Tawang region. The recent skirmish in Yangtse located 25 km away from the Tawang region, was evidence of a similar tactics deployed by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of further destabilizing the bilateral relations.

The Yangtse region in particular holds significant strategic value and is located at a height of 15,000 feet and thus offers a clear view of Chinese post across the LAC. The inability of the PLA in securing the vital position has provoked the Chinese side into instigating detrimental confrontations with the Indian side throughout the years and the recent clash is also in consonance with one of China’s long-standingstrategies in Arunachal Pradesh of unprovoked instigation.

Although the PLA’s transgression attempts are not a novel affair, the Chinese ruling elites’ intent of changing the status quo has only intensified in the recent years.

As per the Indian government, more than 1,000 transgressions from the Chinese side were thwarted by the Indian Army between 2016- 2018 all along the disputed border; most of these transgressions came during the stand-off in Doklam in 2017. The pattern to such attempts is revealing in the sense that the Chinese side has always stroked unprovoked tensions at the border when it has felt that the Indian has been gaining an upper hand in the neighbouring regions.

Either it be the visit of the Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh or internal conflicts within China, transgressions into Indian territory have been China’s go to strategy to divert attentions of domestic populations as well as to contain the growing superiority of its rising neighbour.

Prominent scholars and officials have interpreted these attempts as China’s growing concern with India’s rapid advancement in developing regions adjoining the border areas. In the past years, India has focused on building and improving infrastructure in areas that could provide better connectivity for locals and defence forces alike in the sensitive regions.

However, a far more concerning incentive for such actions is the CCP’s attempt to gain a stronger hold over the Tibetan region by declaring a successor to the 14th Dalai Lama. The Tawang district inculcate great cultural value for Buddhism and is home to the oldest and second biggest monastery in Asia where the Sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso, was born in 1683. These cultural roots have led many Lamas to believe that the next Dalai Lama would very well emerge out of the Tawang region, a situation the CCP has been trying to avoid.

The CCP has been attempting to declare a successor to the Dalai Lama for years but has been unsuccessful in doing so as well. The succession plans of the 14th Dalai Lama are an integral aspect of China’s approach of integrating the Tibetan region into China and is a proposition that has been prevented by India’s rights over the region. However, due to the its hawkish approach as well as its lack of understanding on India’s sovereign rights over the whole of Arunachal Pradesh, China is expected to only exemplify its aggressive behaviour in its quest to contain its neighbour’sdevelopment as well as fulfil its Sinicization process.

More so as an advancement to such tactics, China has unilaterally been renaming parts of Arunachal Pradesh both in 2017 and 2021 as part of its ‘standardising’ procedure. These ‘standardisations’ are not only in clear violation of international norms, but are also indicative of China’s strategy of propping up points of contention with New Delhi.

Astonishingly, according to recent reports, Beijing has also been focusing on building ‘Xiaokang’ village models in sensitive regions near the border. Recently, China’s President Xi Jinping had called upon herdsmen from the Tibetan region to expand their settlements on to its borders with Arunachal Pradesh in order to instigate a confrontation with the India side as well as lay its claim over the disputed region. The statement also publicly endorsed the need for a sharp change in the demography of the area.

Although bilateral agreements regarding the maintaining of peace in the border areas exist, it has largely been ignored by China to restrict development in strategically vital regions. For instance, the Border Peace and Tranquillity Agreement (BPTA) signed in 1993 which stated that both countries would strictly respect and observe the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has mostly been breached as part of China’s constant policy to deter India’s growth. Furthermore, agreements to diffuse tensions and avoid stand-offs had also been signed in 2013 after the Daulat Beg Oldi Standoff in 2013. However, even after such agreements, the tensions between both countries have remained high due to multiple skirmishes and border clashes including the Chumar Standoff in 2014, Burtse in 2015, Dokhlam in 2017 the Galwan skirmish in 2020 as well as the recent Yangtse clash.

It is clear from China’s constant attempt of toppling the prevailing status quo that it does not intend to embark on a peaceful resolution and thus it is important any provocation and action by the Chinese side be seen in the same light. Beijing’s vulnerabilities lie in its limited access to the Indian ocean and in order to prevent diversion of resources to such sectors as well as to achieve its nefarious decades long Sinicization objective of the Tibetan region, China is only expected to provoke its neighbour into a prolongedconfrontation. Therefore, India’s decision-making processes must diversify its endeavours to not only develop vital strategic locations surrounding the border regions but should also enhance it capabilities in sectors where China finds itself exposed.




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