Modi's visit to Arunachal Pradesh irks China

Modi's visit to Arunachal Pradesh irks China

Prime minister Narendra Modi is greeting people Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh on Saturday. (Twitter/@narendramodi)

China on Saturday struck the first jarring note to its 15-month-long détente with India as it issued a strong statement opposing Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Arunachal Pradesh.

Beijing, which claims Arunachal Pradesh as a part of China, warned New Delhi that the visits by the prime minister and other leaders of India to the disputed territory might escalate and complicate the boundary row.

New Delhi too retaliated, underlining that Arunachal Pradesh was an integral part of India and its leaders did visit the state from time to time. 

“China's position on the China-India boundary question is consistent and clear-cut. The Chinese government has never recognized the so-called Arunachal Pradesh and is firmly opposed to the Indian leader's visit to the East Section of the China-India boundary,” Hua Chunying, spokesperson of the ministry of foreign affairs of the Chinese government, said in a statement in Beijing.

The statement was put up online shortly after Modi visited Arunachal Pradesh and inaugurated and laid foundation stones of projects worth over Rs 4,000 crore.

“China urges the Indian side to bear in mind the common interests of the two countries, respect the interests and concerns of the Chinese side, cherish the momentum of improvement in bilateral relations, and refrain from any action that may lead to escalation of disputes or complicate the boundary question,” Hua added.

The prime minister's visit to Arunachal Pradesh on Saturday was his first after he and Chinese president Xi Jinping had an “informal summit” at Wuhan in central China on April 27 and 28 last year.

The “informal summit” resulted in a thaw in bilateral relations, which had hit a new low in 2017 over the 72-day-long military face-off at Doklam Plateau in western Bhutan.

A few weeks after the military face-off at Doklam Plateau ended peacefully, New Delhi and Beijing started reaching out to each other.

The process to end the diplomatic chill started when External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had bilateral talks with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi in New Delhi on the sideline of a RIC (Russia-India-China) meeting in New Delhi in December 2017.

“The state of Arunachal Pradesh is an integral and inalienable part of India,” Raveesh Kumar, spokesperson of the ministry of external affairs, said in New Delhi on Saturday, responding to the statement his counterpart Hua made in Beijing.

“Indian leaders visit Arunachal Pradesh from time to time, as they visit other parts of India. This consistent position has been conveyed to the Chinese side on several occasions,” Kumar added.

The last time China protested against the visit by a leader of India to Arunachal Pradesh was in November 2017, when President Ram Nath Kovind was on a tour to the state. India also responded reasserting its claim over the frontier state.

New Delhi and Beijing, however, refrained from such war of words in the past 15 months, which saw a series of engagements between the two neighbours, including as many as four meetings between Modi and Xi between April and December.

The lull came to its end on Saturday.

China has been in illegal occupation of approximately 38,000 sq km of Indian territory— in Jammu and Kashmir itself— since 1962.

Pakistan illegally ceded an additional 5,180 sq km of Indian territory to China on March 2, 1963.

China too claims approximately 90,000 sq km of areas in Arunachal Pradesh of India, in addition to about 2000 sq km in the middle sector of the boundary.

The Special Representatives of India and China have been holding negotiations to resolve the boundary disputes since 2003, albeit without much progress.

They had their latest meeting in Beijing on November 23 last.