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China's endeavours at the Eastern Sector of Sino-Indian Border (2000-2024); By: Sruthi Sadhasivam

Image Courtesy: Bloomberg

Article: 11/2024

On 9 March 2024, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Arunachal Pradesh to inaugurate the Sela Tunnel, triggering tense exchanges between the Chinese and the Indian counterparts. 

On 11 March, 2024, China protested against Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh claiming that the latter is Chinese territory and that India’s actions would only worsen the border issues (Times of India, 2024). 

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin claimed that“the area of Zangnan is Chinese territory. The Chinese government has never recognized the so-called “Arunachal Pradesh” illegally set up by India and firmly opposes it. The China-India boundary question has yet to be solved. India has no right to arbitrarily develop the area of Zangnan in China. India’s relevant moves will only complicate the boundary question and disrupt the situation in the border areas between the two countries. China strongly deplores and firmly opposes the Indian leader’s visit to the East Section of the China-India boundary. We have made solemn representations to India” (MOFA, PRC, 2024). 

The following day, India rejected China’s claims to Arunachal Pradesh and also claimed that China objecting to India’s developmental projects in the region are unreasonable. 

Randhir Jaiswal, the spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) claimed that “We reject the comments made by the Chinese side regarding the visit of the Prime Minister to Arunachal Pradesh. Indian leaders visit Arunachal Pradesh from time to time, as they visit other States of India,” He further added that “it will not change the reality that the State of Arunachal Pradesh was, is, and will always be an integral and inalienable part of India. The Chinese side has been made aware of this consistent position on several occasions” (Bhaumik, 2024). 

The new developments make it significant to explore the nature of border tensions between India and China in the eastern sector since the past. It is in this light that a conflict tracker was curated to study the nature of China’s endeavours at the eastern sector of the Sino-Indian border from 2000-2024. China’s activities at the eastern sector are as follows - aggressive patrolling, temporary intrusions and transgressions, minor skirmishes and stand offs. What has remained a constant in China’s grayzone tactic is China’s annual publication of maps depicting Arunachal Pradesh as China’s territory and objecting to Indian officials’ visit to Arunachal Pradesh. Most of China’s grayzone endeavours to lay claims over Arunachal pradesh has been renaming territories of AP, PLA’s increasing border intrusions and camping inside India’s side of the LAC closer to AP, issuing stapled visas, opposing Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, developing dual use border villages and so on. 

The most prominent trait of grayzone conflict is to maintain the conflict below the threshold of open warfare. Dialogue between conflicting parties is necessary to prevent conflict escalation. In this sense, it can be deduced from the conflict tracker that China would participate in border defense cooperation talks and meetings with India despite frequently engaging in activities that involve altering the status quo. 

From 2000-2024, it can be observed that India has always been vocal in claiming Arunachal Pradesh as its territory. At the sametime, it can be seen that China has missed no opportunity in laying its claims to Arunachal Pradesh. Although India has been explicit in asserting its sovereignty of Arunachal Pradesh, until a particular time period it kept downplaying China’s intrusions into its side of the LAC.

India starts describing China’s endeavours around 2016 more strongly. For instance, the minister for Home Affairs in one instance described Chinese actions as an act of transgression rather than incursion. 

The case of India and China brings us to question the effectiveness of the conflict management mechanisms. In most cases, it's India that calls for a meeting to diffuse the tensions in the aftermath of the Sino-Indian standoff at the border. And in a matter of days, China would start engaging in activities 

From the conflict tracker it can be noticed that China’s use of grayzone war tactics at the LAC have pushed India to respond with grayzone responses. For instance, in 2013, like their Chinese counterparts, Indian military officials also trespassed into China’s side of the LAC while patrolling. This can be interpreted as a tit for tat method adopted by India or can be seen as an act that occurred due to differing perceptions of the LAC by India and China. 

In 2020, Chinese’ construction of border villages was brought to limelight. Dr. Brahma Chellaney, former member of India's National Security Advisory Board claimed that 'China has been using a strategy of settling Han Chinese and Tibetan members of the Communist Party along the India border to strengthen its territorial claims and escalate border intrusions," he added, 'like it used fishermen in the South China Sea, China uses civilian resources - herders and grazers - as the tip of the spear to intrude into Indian-patrolled Himalayan areas." (Som, 2020). 

China engaged in construction of new villages near Arunachal Pradesh when the Sino-Indian standoff was occurring at Ladakh (Som, 2020). 

A detailed analysis of the border tensions at the eastern sector is to be made in the upcoming editions. 

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