By Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury, ET Bureau | The Economic Times
NEW DELHI, India, 3 January 2018
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to visit Arunachal Pradesh in the early part of this year, continuing with the policy of sending out a strong signal to China that its repeated protests will not deter Indian leaders from visiting the frontier state.
Although the dates of the PM’s visit have yet to be firmed up, the matter was discussed when Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Pema Khandu met Modi in Delhi recently, ET has learnt.
In November and December 2017, visits by defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman and President Ram Nath Kovind to Arunachal Pradesh had drawn sharp reactions from China, which seeks to lay claim to parts of India’s north-easternmost state.
Earlier, too, China had expressed strong displeasure when Dalai Lama had visited Arunachal Pradesh. Even a visit by then US envoy to Arunachal Pradesh in 2016 was not spared by the Chinese establishment. Modi’s first visit to Arunachal Pradesh as the PM, in February 2015, had similarly evoked a strong protest from China.
China had protested visits by Indian leaders during the erstwhile UPA regime too, but its protests have become sharper in recent years amid its growing global ambitions.
Following President Kovind’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh last month, a spokesperson of China’s foreign ministry had told journalists in Beijing that China expected India to refrain from “complicating” the border dispute between the two neighbouring nations, particularly when bilateral relations were at a “crucial stage”. China had also lodged a protest with India when defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman visited Arunachal Pradesh in November.
At the heart of Sino-Indian boundary dispute is the issue of Arunachal Pradesh (90,000 sq km), which China describes as “Southern Tibet”. China has been demanding that at least the Tawang Tract of Arunachal Pradesh, if not the whole of the state, be transferred to China. While China has ruled out a boundary settlement without the transfer of at least Tawang, India has made it clear that there can be no compromise on Arunachal Pradesh.
There can’t be any compromise even on Tawang, which is an area with a settled population, according to Indian officials, who said that the government has repeatedly made it clear to China that the entire state is an integral part of India.
China, on its part, argues that since the sixth Dalai Lama Tsangyang Gyatso was born in Tawang, it is close to the hearts and religious sentiments of the Tibetan people, and India should make a concession on Tawang. The current Dalai Lama fled to India via Tawang in late 1950s. Therefore, according to China, control over Tawang and Arunachal Pradesh is essential for it to fully establish its control over Tibet.