US envoy visits town near India-China disputed border

United States’ Ambassador to India Kenneth I Juster inaugurates the 7th edition of Tawang Festival at Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. Arunachal Chief Minister Pema Khandu and Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju are also seen. (PTI Photo)

The Government has allowed a visit by United States' ambassador to India, Kenneth Ian Juster, to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh – a move, which is sure to rile China. 

New Delhi made the move, apparently to re-assert its sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh, which is at the centre of India-China boundary dispute. It came just weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping had the second “informal summit” at a seaside resort near Chennai. The two leaders had agreed to put in place more measures to enhance mutual trust between the armed forces of the two nations as well as to maintain peace along the disputed boundary between the two nations, pending the settlement of the boundary dispute. 

Juster is the Chief Guest at the Tawang Festival being held by Department of Tourism of the Government of Arunachal Pradesh from Monday to Thursday. He is being accompanied by US Consul General in Kolkata, Pattie Hoffman. “It is great to be in Tawang as the Chief Guest for the Tawang Festival. #USIndiaDosti,” US ambassador to India posted on Twitter. He also posted a picture of him after reaching Tawang on Monday. He earlier visited Nathu La on India-China border in Sikkim. 

His predecessor Richard Verma had also attended the Tawang Festival in October 2016 – triggering a strong reaction from Chinese Government, which had warned that  that “interference” by the US in the boundary dispute between India and China would “disturb the hard-won peace and tranquillity” in border areas and “stir up or heighten tensions”.

“Welcome to Ambassador Mr Kenneth I. Juster and Consul General Patti Hoffman for Tawang Festival,” Pema Khandu, Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, tweeted on Monday. 

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which is in power at the centre, also runs the government in the frontier state.

The visit by Juster and Hoffman to Arunachal Pradesh is likely to raise the hackles in China. 

Beijing does not recognize Arunachal Pradesh as a part of India and has been claiming over 83,500 sq. kms of area in the state as territory of China. New Delhi, on the other hand, has been dismissing the claim by China, maintaining that the entire mountainous state was an integral part of India.  

The festival is being held at Tawang – not very far from the McMahon Line, which serves as the de facto border between India and China in the absence of a settled boundary. 

The Centre apparently gave its nod to the State Government of Arunachal Pradesh to invite US Ambassador to India for the festival.

Juster's visit to the frontier state was also cleared by the Union Government. 

China has been opposing Modi Government's August 5 decisions on Jammu and Kashmir – not only to stand by its “iron brother” Pakistan but also because it was concerned over the implication of the moves on its protracted boundary dispute with India.

Beijing perceived New Delhi's decisions on J&K as “unilateral” moves by Modi Government to change the status quo in the disputed territory and strengthen its claim – not only on areas of Kashmir under the occupation of Pakistan but also on 5180 sq. kms of areas ceded by Pakistan to China in 1963 as well as on Aksai Chin – a disputed territory between India and China.

Beijing's consistent support to Islamabad on J&K struck a jarring note to the bonhomie that marked the relations between India and China ever since Prime Minister and Chinese President held the first “informal summit” at Wuhan in the communist country in April 2018. 

The two sides, however, managed to keep the issue of J&K off the table during the second “informal summit” near Chennai on October 11 and 12. 

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