China Protests Against Indian Prime Minister’s Visit to Disputed Arunachal Pradesh
On Feb. 9, 2019, China’s Foreign Ministry expressed its firm opposition to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, the disputed northeastern border state of India, which concluded the same day. During his visit, the prime minister inaugurated a series of infrastructure projects worth over 40 billion rupees (562 million USD), including several airport construction and retrofitting projects, the dedication of a hydroelectric dam, and the establishment of a permanent campus for the Film and Television Institute of India in the state.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, in response to queries about Modi’s visit to the disputed state, voiced “strong opposition to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to a region on the east section of the China-India border.” Additionally, Hua restated the Chinese government’s “consistent and clear-cut” position on the status of Arunachal Pradesh, namely that “the Chinese government has never recognized the so-called ‘Arunachal Pradesh.’”
Hua concluded her remarks on the matter by calling upon India to “bear in mind the common interests of the two countries” by respecting “interests and concerns of the Chinese side” and “cherish[ing] the momentum of improvement in bilateral ties and refrain from ‘any action that may lead to an escalation of disputes or complicate the border issue.’”
India officially responded to the Chinese statement through spokesman Raveesh Kumar for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, who asserted that the “State of Arunachal Pradesh is an integral and inalienable” part of India, with “Indian leaders visit[ing] Arunachal Pradesh from time to time, as they visit other parts of India.” Kumar’s statement, also made on Feb. 9, concluded with the remark that the “consistent position” of the Indian government has been conveyed to China on “several occasions.”
Jurisdiction over two separate regions on the Sino-Indian border remains disputed between India and China since the independence of the former and the transformation of the latter from ailing imperial dynasty to a regional powerhouse of a socialist people’s republic, namely: Aksai Chin, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India or Xinjiang province in China; and Arunachal Pradesh, controlled by India but claimed by China as part of South Tibet.
Border disputes between New Delhi and Beijing have triggered open conflict in the past, most notably the the Sino-Indian War in 1962, which saw China decisively expel Indian forces from Aksai Chin within a month amid extreme high altitude warfare conditions.
Since 1962, tensions have arisen in regions around Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh over episodes of border skirmishes in 1967 and 1987, armed standoffs from 1986 to 1987, and disputes over road-building activity by both sides in 2017. Most recently in December 2017, Chinese forces were discovered constructing roads in Arunachal’s Upper Siang District, almost a kilometer into territory controlled by Indian forces.
Prime Minister Modi’s remarks at the inauguration ceremony of several developmental projects in the Arunachal Pradesh’s capital city emphasized the importance of the disputed state as “the gateway of India’s security” in its role as a connection to countries located east and southeast of India.
The prime minister’s plan of developing the region — as “New India can only take sape when Northeast India becomes stronger” — encompasses building new road, rail, and air infrastructure, including the Trans-Arunachal highway, and establishing a new campus of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in Jote, Arunachal Pradesh.
However, with Indian general elections scheduled for May 2019, it is clear that the Prime Minister is visiting the state with a larger political agenda of garnering public support for his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with the Arunachal Pradesh visit a part of Modi’s ongoing multi-stop tour to India’s northeastern states.