By Lucy Hornby in beijing, Aliya Ram in New Delhi – Financial Times, 20 April 2017
India calls Arunachal an ‘integral’ part of its country after Beijing adjusts place names
China and India have renewed a war of words over the north-eastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, a Tibetan Himalayan region claimed by Beijing, after China said it would “standardise” six place names in the territory.
The announcement of the new romanised spellings for three towns and three mountain passes by China’s ministry of civil affairs is the country’s latest move to stake its claim over an area that came under formal Indian control in a series of 19th-century boundary agreements between the Manchu Qing empire and the British government in India.
India responded on Thursday by insisting that Arunachal Pradesh was “an integral part” of India. “Nothing can change that,” the foreign ministry in New Delhi said. “We have an established bilateral mechanism to discuss the boundary question with China and it has made progress. We seek a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution to the boundary question.”
Beijing’s current claims over Arunachal Pradesh — which it calls South Tibet — rest on its control over the rest of Tibet, the vast mountain territory it invaded and seized in 1950. The decision to release new names follows a dispute over a visit to a Buddhist monastery in Arunachal this month by the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader who lives in exile in India.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the “standardisation” was in line with Chinese regulations on the management of geographical names: “These names reflect from another angle that China’s territorial claim over South Tibet is supported by clear evidence in terms of history, culture and administration.”
Earlier this week Mr Lu said India-China relations had been damaged for some time.“What is imperative now is for the Indian side to take concrete actions to honour its solemn promises on Tibet-related issues”, he said, calling on New Delhi to “never again use the 14th Dalai Lama to undermine China’s core interests”. The Dalai Lama has lived in exile in India since 1959 when he fled Lhasa following a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule. The influential leader is reviled by Beijing, which views him as a threat to China’s control of Tibet.
After a previous visit to the Tawang monastery in Arunachal Pradesh by the Dalai Lama in 2009, China stopped recognising the Indian passports of people born in the state. Rather than normal visas, it issued travel permits stapled into their passports. The dispute escalated as both countries included maps in newly issued passports showing the conflicting claims.
The ageing Dalai Lama has resisted attempts by Beijing to put forward its own candidate for his reincarnated successor. He has said the reincarnated spiritual leader will not be born in Chinese territory.
An alternative option of identifying his successor in Mongolia — which the Dalai Lama visited late last year — seems to be ruled out by China’s growing political and economic influence over its landlocked neighbour.
The place name “standardisation” adheres to a playbook China has followed in the case of other border territories it claims, for instance the uninhabited Tokyo-controlled islands known as Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese, and atolls in the South China Sea. According to the process, a first step is to have the territory in question recognised as “disputed” by an international audience.
“The motivation might be to show historical claim and historical ownership of the disputed territory,” said Jian Zhang, associate professor at the University of New South Wales. “Naming does carry significance in terms of a country’s claim to a disputed territory.”
Additional reporting by Emily Feng in Beijing