Why does China keep claiming Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin? First Post


China on Monday created fresh controversy ahead of the G20 Summit by releasing a 2023 map showing Arunachal Pradesh and the Aksai Chin region as part of its territory. Here’s why Beijing keeps repeating its claims – which India has rejected

China has created fresh controversy ahead of the G20 meet in India.

Beijing on Monday released the 2023 edition of its “standard map” showing the state of Arunachal Pradesh and the Aksai Chin region in Ladakh as part of its territory.

“The 2023 edition of China’s standard map was officially released on Monday and launched on the website of the standard map service hosted by the Ministry of Natural Resources,” state-run Global Times said in a post on X.


The development comes days after days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese president Xi Jinping agreed to de-escalation on the Ladakh border.

India has repeatedly stated that Arunachal Pradesh has “always been” and will “always be” an integral part of the country.

So why does China keep claiming Arunachal Pradesh and the disputed territory of Aksai Chin?

Let’s take a closer look:

 Arunachal Pradesh

 Arunachal Pradesh is largest state in India’s Northeast.  It shares international borders with Tibet, Myanmar and Bhutan.

 China claims the entire Arunachal Pradesh as “South Tibet”. Beijing calls the region “Zangnan” in the Chinese language.

The issue here is with the Line of Actual Control – which separates Indian and Chinese territory.

As per Indian Express, India pegs the LAC at 3,488 kilometres, while China says it is around 2,000 kilometres.

The LAC is split into three sectors:

  • The Eastern Sector – Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim
  • Middle Sector – Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh
  • Western Sector – Ladakh

The Eastern sector sees the McMahon Line – named after then British India foreign secretary Sir Henry McMahon, who drew the line at the 1914 Simla Convention – acting as the de facto boundary.

However, after the current communist government of China took power in 1949, it backtracked on all treaties it deemed ‘unequal’.

It also demanded that all its borders be reconsidered.

As per Indian Express, in November 1959, then premier Zhou in a letter to then prime minister Nehru wrote the LAC was “the so-called McMahon Line in the east and the line upto which each side exercises actual control in the west”.

Nehru responded, “There is no sense or meaning in the Chinese offer to withdraw twenty kilometres from what they call ‘line of actual control’. What is this ‘line of control’? Is this the line they have created by aggression since the beginning of September (1962)? Advancing forty or sixty kilometres by blatant military aggression and offering to withdraw twenty kilometres provided both sides do this is a deceptive device which can fool nobody.”

According to The Times of India, China’s main interest is in Tawang – which lies in the state’s north-western region and shares international borders with Bhutan and Tibet.

Tawang also houses Tawang Ganden Namgyal Lhatse or Tawang Monastery – the second largest monastery of Tibetan Buddhism in the world.

China claims Arunachal Pradesh has been part of its territory ‘since ancient times’.

Zhang Yongpan, a research fellow of the Institute of Chinese Borderland Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times in April that the government’s move to rename ‘Zangnam’ “falls within China’s sovereignty and it is also in accordance with the regulation on the administration of geographical names”.

China cites historical ties between the Tawang monastery and Tibet’s Lhasa monastery to bolster its claims over Arunachal Pradesh.

 Aksai Chin

The Aksai Chin region has been at the heart of a dispute between the two nations since the 1950s.

China occupied the Aksai Chin during the 1962 war with India. The region itself is a cold, desert wasteland nearly the size of Bhutan.

It gets neither rain nor snow. Almost entirely uninhabited, it relies on the Karakash river for water and brackish lakes, as per India Today.

Why does China keep claiming Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin
Sign of a PLAGF service station in Tianshuihai, Aksai Chin. Image courtesy: Eric Feng

CNN quoted British historian Neville Maxwell as calling it a “no-man’s land, where nothing grows and no one lives.”

So why would China be interested in such a place?

The answer is strategic.

China needs Aksai Chin in order to connect Tibet to its Xinjiang province.

UK think-tank Chatham House in June reported that satellite imagery of Aksai Chin shows China has expanded roads, outposts, installed modern weatherproof camps equipped with parking areas, solar panels as well as helipads.

The analysis was based on satellite images taken across six months since October 2022.

The Print reported in July 2022 that China had begun building a new highway that will pass through the Aksai Chin region.

The highway, which is being called the G695 national expressway, is near the Line of Actual Control and will connect Xinjiang to Tibet.

 According to the outlet, the highway would allow Beijing yet anothe access point to assemble and forward troops to the LAC.

It would also help with logistics for troops already posted at the LAC.

China, much like Arunachal Pradesh, lays an ‘ancient claim’ to Aksai Chin.

A piece in India Today says Beijing lays claim to Aksai China as part of China’s medieval empire.

“It is a convenient claim from an era when boundaries did not have the same sanctity as they do in the times of nation-states,” the piece noted.

  What do experts say?

India Today quoted historian Ramchandra Guha as writing in his book India After Gandhi, “No official Chinese maps showed Aksai Chin as part of China before the 1920s, and a Sinkiang (Xinjiang) map of the 1930s showed the Kunlun (the mountains) rather than the Karakoram (range) to have been the customary boundary – which had been the Indian claim all along.”

Praveen Swami, in a piece in Firstpost, had noted that numerous experts think India and China will eventually need to compromise on both Arunachal and Aksai China.

“….in essence, that India will have to sacrifice its claims to Aksai Chin in Ladakh for China acknowledging Indian sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh.”

Swami noted that while both sides had talked around the issue, neither seemed keen on sacrificing the political capital needed to achive such a deal.

Beijing’s repeated attempts to claim Arunachal

This isn’t the first time Beijing has made such a move to claim Arunachal.

China in April ‘renamed’ places in Arunachal Pradesh for the third time since 2017 – a move that has was strongly rebuffed by the Indian government.

China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs released a list of “standardised” names of 11 places in Arunachal in Chinese, Tibetan and pinyin characters on 2 April.

These places include two land areas, two residential areas, five mountain peaks and two rivers.

The ministry of external affairs had at the time dismissed Beijing’s actions.

“We have seen such reports. This is not the first time China has made such an attempt. We reject this outright. Arunachal Pradesh is, has been, and will always be an integral and inalienable part of India. Attempts to assign invented names will not alter this reality,” the MEA said in a statement.

China in 2021 objected to a visit to Arunachal Pradesh by Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu.

India hit back saying that such a protest ‘does not stand to reason and understanding’ of Indian people.

“We reject such comments. Arunachal Pradesh is an integral and inalienable part of India. Indian leaders routinely travel to the State as they do to any other state of India,” the MEA spokesperson said.

China in 2017, just days after a visit to Arunachal from the Dalai Lama which it protested, released the “first batch” of “standardised” names for six places in the state.

“According to relevant regulations on the management of place names, the department has standardised some place names in China’s South Tibet region. We have released the first batch of the place names in South Tibet (six in total),” the Chinese government had said at the time.

India-China hold talks in Ladakh

India and China held the 19th round of Corps Commander Level talks earlier this month at the Chushul-Moldo meeting point on the Indian side.

The Indian and Chinese troops have been locked in an over three-year confrontation in certain friction points in eastern Ladakh even as the two sides completed disengagement from several areas following extensive diplomatic and military talks.

India has been maintaining that its ties with China cannot be normal unless there is peace in the border areas.

The eastern Ladakh border standoff erupted on May 5, 2020, following a violent clash in the Pangong lake area.

The ties between the two countries nosedived significantly following the fierce clash in the Galwan Valley in June 2020 that marked the most serious military conflict between the two sides in decades.

As a result of a series of military and diplomatic talks, the two sides completed the disengagement process in 2021 on the north and south banks of the Pangong lake and in the Gogra area.

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