The news that customs officials in China have destroyed 30,000 world maps printed in the country for not mentioning Arunachal Pradesh and Taiwan as part of its territory, should not surprise anyone.
With no immediate roadmap towards the settlement of Sino-Indian border dispute in sight, there is a reason to expect that China would, off and on up the ante, by laying claim to Arunachal Pradesh now or a fingertip in Sikkim next.
Earlier, the Chinese Foreign Ministry released a map depicting Doklam as part of China. The standard Chinese tactic of assigning their own names to places and then claiming historic association with them is also old hat.
China claims almost the entire Arunachal Pradesh. They protested when Arunachal was granted statehood and have not recognised it as a part of India yet. It did the same with Sikkim.
China’s claims over a large part of Arunachal Pradesh (called South Tibet in China) being a key pickle of the Sino-Indian border dispute, constitutes the core of India’s opposition to the Belt-and-Road-Initiative (BRI).
India has not lent any serious thought to the Northeast. Sardar Patel’s geopolitical view of the Northeast as first and foremost a sensitive border region with China, inhabited by culturally distinct “Mongoloid” people whose loyalty to India was highly tenuous, exemplifies the worldview of Indian elites.
China occupied the Aksai Chin plateau in the 1950s and completed a road through it in 1957 when India was caught napping (in fact India claimed some 180 km of the 1,200 km-long road, when they found out about the road by reading Peking newspapers of this “remarkable” piece of engineering).
In the east, India argued that the border was delimited by the McMahon line between Bhutan and Burma, the boundary negotiated by Britain in 1914.
From 1958, Chinese maps started showing large parts of Bhutanese territory as part of China as well.
Chinese authorities unveiled a ‘new’ map showing the totality of Beijing’s territorial claims in 2014 too, taking into account Taiwan (which Beijing considers a renegade province), the Spratlys and Paracels, the two main archipelagos of the South China Sea, contested by Vietnam, the Philippines and a number of other Southeast Asian nations, and a 10-dash line (as opposed to China’s earlier nine-dash line) encircling most of the South China Sea, not to speak of its old claim over the Arunachal Pradesh.
China does regularly issue diplomatic complaints when officials from New Delhi travel to Arunachal Pradesh – be they Pranab Mukherjee, Narendra Modi or Dalai Lama.
It unilaterally renamed six places in Arunachal Pradesh in 2017 in apparent retaliation against the Dalai Lama’s visit to India’s easternmost state, with an irredentist intent of reaffirming Beijing’s “territorial sovereignty” to the region.
What should India do if China sticks to its wide territorial claims and refuses to budge from any part of the occupied territories and evince little interest in an early settlement of territorial issues?
In view of China’s nerve-sapping bargaining over where the Line ought to be, the settlement of the LAC cannot be forthcoming any time soon – the first exchange of maps occurred seven years after the 1993 agreement to maintain peace and tranquillity along the LAC.
The answer is to redouble its claim on Arunachal Pradesh by focusing on infrastructure development along the disputed border with China (the McMahon Line), thereby promoting further migration into the area.
China started the territorial game way before and it’s only lately that India has woken up to the menace.
The Indo-China frontier was mapped and the line drawn by Captain Henry McMahon of the Indian Army, starting in 1893, following which the border was known as the McMahon line, a demarcation of which China had almost always remained disdainful. Now if China fancies some maps, assigning to itself territories owned by other nations, we reserve our fair share of being disdainful. Perhaps, a lasting peace calls for a permanent solution.