China Criticises US Recognition of Arunachal Pradesh; India Bolsters Border Defence

By Tsering Choephel

China Criticises US Recognition of Arunachal Pradesh; India Bolsters Border Defence. Image AFP.

DHARAMSALA, 22 March: China has criticised the US for declaring India’s sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh and the US’ opposition to “any unilateral attempts (by China) to advance territorial claims by incursions or encroachment, military or civilian, across the Line of Actual Control (LAC),” as stated in response to a question during the State Department’s press briefing on Wednesday.

This development occurred following Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s inauguration of the ‘Sela Tunnel’ in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh on 9 March. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin lodged a protest on 11 March against Modi’s visit to Arunachal state and the Sela Tunnel project, reiterating China’s claim over Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims as  ‘South Tibet’ and includes on its official published map as part of its territory.

India countered Beijing’s protest by calling its claim “absurd” and asserting that Arunachal Pradesh “is and will always be an integral and inalienable part of India.”

The Sela Tunnel, a bi-lane 12.4 kilometre-long tunnel constructed at close to 10,000 feet elevation by India’s Border Roads Organisation (BRO), greatly enhances the Indian military’s capabilities in combating the threat of China’s army incursions in the eastern sector of the LAC. With the distance and travel time from Tezpur to Tawang reduced by at least 10 km and 1 hour, respectively, the tunnel provides all-weather access, giving the Indian army advantages if conflict at the border erupts in the future, according to multiple online reports.

Bilateral relations between the two Asian giants plummeted following the 2020 clash in the Galwan Valley, which resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers and four Chinese soldiers. Recent media reports have also revealed several other skirmishes between Indian and Chinese troops along the LAC, with two incidents reported between September 2021 and November 2022.

With China’s massive military buildup along the border in its occupied Tibetan region becoming explicitly threatening, India has in recent years greatly increased its investment in border defence in both the western sector in Ladakh and the eastern sector in Arunachal Pradesh.

Besides the significance of protecting its border in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, the region holds special importance in connection with Tibetan Buddhism’s history as well as the Dalai Lama, according to Manoj Kewalramani, head of India-Pacific studies at the Takshashila Institution Research Centre in Bangalore, as reported by CNN today.

On the Ladakh side, the climate and social activist Sonam Wangchuk, who is currently on a 21-day hunger strike seeking New Delhi’s recognition of special status for Ladakh under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution and statehood, announced on 19 March a border march of 10,000 Ladakhis on 27 March to “expose” the extent of Chinese land incursion in the region, as reported by multiple media outlets.

Many observers and analysts fear that the India-China border tension might erupt into full-blown military conflicts. Both New Delhi and Beijing express ‘diplomacy and dialogue’ as the path to resolving the border issue. However, over a dozen rounds of diplomatic meetings have yielded no optimistic results, owing to differing views and approaches, most experts attribute this to China’s expansionist streak and its wolf-warrior diplomacy.

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