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Arunachal Pradesh - Foreign Relations

The remote Northeast Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh shares a 1,030 kilometer, unfenced border with China. Arunachal undoubtedly occupies a space in China's South Asia strategy. Much of the northern border with China remains disputed territory. In 2003, Beijing gave up its territorial claim over the Himalayan Indian state of Sikkim, but continues to assert that a vast stretch of Arunachal Pradesh - 90,000 sq.kms. - belongs to China.

The state is claimed by China and significant portions of its populace feel that India has kept the state intentionally under-developed for decades, preferring to use it as a buffer against Chinese aggression much like the British did during their Raj. India has left Arunachal Pradesh underdeveloped in the misguided hope of having the mountainous state serve as a natural, physical buffer against the Chinese. However, ethnically and geographically removed from mainland India, Arunachalis may be feeling some growing bonds with China as their awareness of greater development (and economic opportunity) across the border increases.

Infrastructure was not developed because of the anxiety over possible Chinese intrusion into the state and so it is impossible to travel by road from east to west in the state. All east-west travel by road must go through neighboring Assam. The lack of infrastructure has in fact made access to the Chinese border very difficult from the Indian side, while the Chinese have built infrastructure to facilitate movement for their military and people.

China invaded parts of Arunachal Pradesh during the 1962 conflict and India's border with southern Tibet remains disputed. This contributed to the 1962 Sino-Indian war that was waged mainly in Arunachal and ended in India's humiliating defeat. As a result, the state has remained "sensitive" from India's security perspective and even Indian citizens require special permission to visit it. This has severely hampered development, but the resulting isolation has not been entirely unwelcome to its xenophobic tribal inhabitants.

As the Indian and Chinese governments engage in a dialog over the border issue, Arunachal Pradesh's strategic importance has increased. According to media reports, the Tawang District in north Arunachal Pradesh bordering Tibet was being contemplated for a swap with China in exchange for Aksai Chin in the Ladakh region.

In the last week of November 2004, then Indian National Security Advisor J.N. Dixit went to Beijing, and at the same time Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran went to Arunachal. Saran did not discuss the GOI's deliberations with China during the visit. But no resolution of the border issue, including territorial exchange, would be possible without taking the people of Arunachal Pradesh into confidence. Given these negotiations, perhaps it is no coincidence that Arunachal Pradesh's new Governor, S.K. Singh, sworn in on December 16, 2004, is a former Foreign Secretary of India.

Lack of development combined with isolation from the Indian "mainland" have led some in Arunachal's intelligentsia to develop a "pro-China" slant. Several student leaders and human rights activists candidly admit their pro-Chinese tilt, even saying that living with China would be better than living with India. Arunachal, like other parts of northeast India, is ethnically and culturally more akin to their Tibetan and South East Asian cousins than to the majority of Indian citizens, but these statements appeared more a product of frustration than of any careful assessment of what costs any serious effort at secession would entail.

China lodged a protest with Tokyo after Japan’s foreign minister was quoted as saying 20 January 2015 that Arunachal Pradesh was “India’s territory.” Japan’s Sankei Shimbun, a conservative daily, quoted Fumio Kishida as having made the remarks in New Delhi. Japan played down the issue today, saying it could not confirm Kishida’s reported remarks. It added that it hoped India and China could resolve their border dispute peacefully. Kishida’s reported remarks drew an angry response from China, which called on Tokyo to “understand the sensitivity of the Sino-India boundary issue.”

A Japanese foreign ministry spokesperson said “the statement was made considering the reality that Arunachal Pradesh state is basically in reality controlled by India and that China and India are continuing negotiations over the border dispute.” China disputes the entire territory of Arunachal, calling it south Tibet, especially Tawang, a key site for Tibetan Buddhism. The historic town briefly fell into Chinese hands during their 1962 war before Beijing retreated.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry backtracked expeditiously, indicating that Kishida’s remarks were perhaps a slip of the tongue and not meant to inject Japan into the Arunachal Pradesh issue. Ever since Prime Minister Abe returned to office with an India-centric Asian policy, yearnings have been expressed that Japan might openly side with India on the Arunachal Pradesh issue. The PRC, was extremely leery of previous PM Manmohan Singh and his overt diplomatic and emotional tilt toward Japan and, with good reason, has expected the current officeholder, Nadendra Modi, to play off China, Russia, and the United States in a more pragmatic manner.

For the PRC, an important area of anxiety is Arunachal Pradesh and the threat that India might “internationalize” the bilateral border dispute by canvassing its actual and would-be allies for support on the issue, perhaps even to the extent of going tit-for-tat with Japan i.e. India backing Japan on the issue of Senkaku sovereignty in return for Japanese aid and comfort on AP.

The U.S. has a significant interest in the peaceful resolution of the Sino-Indian border dispute, but this is an area where progress is likely to be made in capitals, not in the region. In the future there may be prospects for U.S. equipment sales or direct investment in hydropower projects or forest-based industries. When conditions allow, U.S. cultural and adventure tourism to Arunachal may expand considerably. One concern was an allegation, that the U.S. bore indirect responsibility for the conditions that generated the Chakma exodus from Bangladesh and therefore should assume a central role in assuring their return or their relocation and resettlement somewhere other than in Arunachal. The US had expressed sympathy for their plight, but disavowed any U.S. responsibility for finding a lasting solution to remedy it.

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Page last modified: 21-02-2018 17:59:52 ZULU