India and China share a 3,488-km unmarked border — the Line of Actual Control (LAC) — that spans across Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir. The border is not entirely demarcated, hence making it difficult for both countries to clarify and confirm the LAC.
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On December 9, 2022, the Indian and Chinese armies clashed along the LAC in the Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh, injuring personnel from both sides. China said the situation was now "stable" and claimed Indian troops had crossed the border "illegally," while India's Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said the "PLA soldiers have retreated to their own locations."
General (Retd) VP Malik, former Chief of Army Staff, said it seems like the Chinese are not only claiming the Tawang area, but the whole of Arunachal Pradesh. "This is obviously not being done only at the level of military commander on the spot. I am sure they had some of the political leadership at the back. So, looking at the situation, the fact is that the Chinese are claiming not only this area, but also the whole of Arunachal Pradesh, that is why I don't see any de-escalation taking place on the LAC or disengagement taking place," he said.
India-China border conflicts
The India-China border conflicts date back to the pre-Independence era. In 1914, representatives from Britain, Tibet and Republic of China tried to negotiate a treaty to settle the borders between British India and China by drawing the McMahon Line. While Tibet and British India accepted the demarcation, China refused.
In 1947, India gained Independence from the British, and in 1949, the People's Republic of China (PRC) was formed. The new Chinese government also considered the McMahon Line invalid.
In the 1950s, after China annexed Tibet, it claimed that the latter was never an independent territory, whereas India always maintained that China had no sovereignty over Tibet.
The India-China war of 1962 ended with the Line of Actual Control — an informal cease-fire line between the two countries. But after losing the war, India started rethinking its foreign and security policy with a focus on its military, which also resulted in the increased defence spending.
The two countries clashed again in Nathu La and Cho La in September-October, 1967, after the Indian troops started putting up barbed wires along the border.
On February 20, 1987, India granted Arunachal Pradesh statehood, which predictably raised Chinese hackles, resulting in skirmishes from China's side. Incidentally, Arunachal was established as the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) in 1954.
Off and on in recent years, China has asserted its claims on Tawang.
Signficance of the Tawang Monastery
The Tawang Ganden Namgyal Lhatse is the second largest Tibetan Bhuddhism monastery in the world. It was founded in 1680-81 to honour the wishes of the fifth Dalai Lama. China has claimed that the monastery serves as evidence that the district had belonged to Tibet at some point. China has cited historical ties between the Lhasa monastery in Tibet with the Tawang monastery to support its claim over the state. Also, in 1959, when the Dalai Lama escaped from Tibet, he entered India via Tawang and stayed at the monastery for a while.
India has rebutted these claims and repeatedly told the Chinese government that Tawang is an integral part of India, asserting the point again in 2009, when the two prime ministers met in Thailand.
In April 2017, China strongly objected to the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang. Earlier, it had objected to a visit by the US ambassador to India.
A report that the Chinese Army had briefly invaded Arunachal Pradesh in 2016 was strongly denied by India's Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju.
India has been focusing on development in all aspects as it aims to become a $5-trillion economy. Last month, the Arunachal government signed an MoU with the National Highway Logistics Management Limited for infrastructure development in the state. The Indian government has also been ramping up its infrastructure along the border areas in the northeast.
China is investing in construction along the borders as well. "This is not a small incident, because there is a huge mobilisation and both sides were expecting some kind of flashpoint since the Galwan incident. If you look at the kind of arrangements they have been making, this is mind boggling — $23 billion of investment according to the 14th five-year plan in Tibet alone, and specifically in terms of road construction and air base construction. In fact, we need disengagement and de-escalation in many of these areas if peace were to come back to China and India," said Srikanth Kondapalli, professor, China studies, JNU.
Einar Tangen, Political Affairs Commentator, Beijing, had another take, terming the recent Arunachal clashes as minor. "As I said, they are very concerned about the issue with the United States, they are concerned about Taiwan, they are not interested in opening up more issues on their borders. So it doesn't make sense from that perspective, either economically, politically, or militarily," he said.
Hindi influence in the state
On another note, the people of Arunachal Pradesh are more averse to speaking in Hindi than any of the other Northeastern states. The Indo-Sino war can be seen as one of the reasons why the language is so common in the state — the locals would have to converse in Hindi with the Army, which also helped with the opening of hospitals, schools, etc in the state.