Arunachal Pradesh in the Sino-Indian Boundary Dispute: Constant Claims, Changing Politics

Published as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘Arunachal Pradesh in the Sino-Indian Boundary Dispute: Constant Claims, Changing Politics’, in Gurudas Das, C. Joshua Thomas and Nani Bath (eds), Voices from the Border: Response to Chinese Claim over Arunachal Pradesh (New Delhi: Pentagon Press, 2015), 48-62.

Abstract

The main point of contention in the Sino-Indian boundary dispute was originally the Aksai Chin area in the Indian northwest. In the mid-1980s, however, the core of the dispute shifted eastward to the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. This essay makes the argument that while Arunachal Pradesh remains central to the boundary dispute its significance for the two parties to the dispute has varied over time. For China, the shift in emphasis to Arunachal was in large measure tied to the Tibet question, and this emphasis has, if anything, become more important in recent years as instability and protests in Tibet have increased. For India too, Arunachal’s significance has grown, owing mostly due to the increased Chinese attention. But India also appears to be moving from defending Arunachal militarily within a purely bilateral context to defending Arunachal and strengthening Indian claims in the international context.

This essay also argues that Arunachal ought to be seen in the Sino-Indian relationship not only within the context of the boundary dispute but also within the framework of centre-periphery relations in China and India and in the larger context of the differences between the Chinese and Indian political systems. The nature of Arunachal Pradesh’s relations with the rest of India, including the Indian central government, is important not just for the Indian body politic but also for Sino-Indian relations and for Beijing’s relations with Tibet. If in India, this centre-periphery relationship is a just and equitable one, maintaining a fair and necessary balance between local aspirations for peaceful and sustainable development alongside national security considerations, then India and Arunachal can become the model to follow for China and Tibet – it is in this way that Arunachal will best fulfill its role as the ‘first line of defence for India.’

This essay is divided into four sections including a conclusion. The first section looks at how Arunachal Pradesh is currently involved in the Sino-Indian boundary dispute, the second, looks at how China’s stress on Arunachal is a part of its inability to stabilize Tibet; and the third section looks at India’s own relationship with Arunachal.

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