(This was originally posted in Hindustan Times by Rezaul H Laskar)
India on Wednesday angrily rejected China’s objection to a visit to Arunachal Pradesh by vice president M Venkaiah Naidu and again called on the Chinese side to work for the speedy resolution of the standoff on the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The terse exchange between the two countries highlighted tensions caused by the standoff in eastern Ladakh, which has dragged on for more than a year-and-half, and fresh face-offs between troops of the two sides in Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh sectors of the LAC.
Naidu made a two-day visit to Arunachal Pradesh over the weekend as part of a tour of the northeast, and addressed a special session of the state assembly in Itanagar on Saturday. Responding to a question on the visit from state-run media, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Beijing doesn’t recognise Arunachal Pradesh and is firmly opposed to visits to the region by Indian leaders. Hours later, external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi rejected China’s objection to the visit and asserted that Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India.
“We have noted the comments made today [Wednesday] by the Chinese official spokesperson. We reject such comments. Arunachal Pradesh is an integral and inalienable part of India,” Bagchi said. “Indian leaders routinely travel to the state of Arunachal Pradesh as they do to any other state of India. Objecting to the visit of Indian leaders to a state of India does not stand to reason and understanding of Indian people,” he said.
India’s demand for China to speed up the resolution of the standoff in eastern Ladakh was reiterated by Bagchi, who again accused the Chinese side of causing tensions along the LAC through unilateral attempts to “alter the status quo” in the border areas. “Further, as we have mentioned earlier, the current situation along the LAC in the Western Sector of the India-China border areas has been caused by unilateral attempts of Chinese side to alter the status quo in violation of the bilateral agreements,” he said.
“Therefore, we expect the Chinese side to work towards early resolution of the remaining issues along the LAC in eastern Ladakh while fully abiding by bilateral agreements and protocols rather than trying to link unrelated issues,” Bagchi added. The raising of Naidu’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh by the Chinese state-run media was an indication that Beijing intentionally raked up the issued against the backdrop of the lingering tensions due to the LAC standoff.
Replying to a question from Xinjiang Television, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao said: “China’s position on the boundary issue is consistent and clear. The Chinese government has never recognised the so-called Arunachal Pradesh established unilaterally and illegally by the Indian side and is firmly opposed to the Indian leader’s visit to the area concerned.” Zhao added, “We urge the Indian side to earnestly respect China’s major concerns, stop taking any action that would complicate and expand the boundary issue and refrain from undermining mutual trust and bilateral relations. It should instead take real concrete actions to maintain peace and stability in the China-India border areas and help bring bilateral relations back on the track of sound and steady development.”
During his address to Arunachal Pradesh assembly, Naidu had highlighted the transformation of the northeast and said this was evidence of a resurgence in the region’s development after being neglected for decades. China has often objected to visits to Arunachal Pradesh by Indian leaders and even the Dalai Lama as part of its efforts to lay claim to the region, which Beijing refers to as “South Tibet”. The latest exchange between the foreign ministries of India and China came two days after a meeting of senior military commanders was unable to make any progress on disengagement and de-escalation at the remaining friction points in eastern Ladakh.
Both countries doubled down on their positions, and the Indian said the Chinese side “was not agreeable” and “could not provide any forward-looking proposals” in response to constructive suggestions for ending the standoff on the LAC. A spokesperson for China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) contended India was making “unreasonable and unrealistic” demands. New Delhi has insisted that it is necessary to end the LAC standoff to ensure progress in the overall bilateral relations. Chinese leaders have said in recent months that the border issue should be delinked from other aspects of the bilateral relationship, a suggestion rejected by the Indian side.
The standoff on the LAC emerged in the open on May 5 last year following a violent clash in Pangong Lake area. Twenty Indian soldiers and four Chinese troops were killed in a brutal clash at Galwan Valley in June 2020. Following several rounds military and diplomatic talks, the two sides withdrew frontline troops from the north and south banks of Pangong Lake in February and from Gogra area in August.