NEW DELHI: Responding to Dalai Lama’s recent Tawang visit, China sent a strong message this week that Arunachal Pradesh was non-negotiable as the Chinese government on April 14 released “standardized” Chinese names of six towns in the north-eastern state.
Rewriting Tibetan names like Bumla into Mandarin, China aims to strike the Tibetans by ‘Sinicizing’ the names and at the same time challenge India’s claim over Arunachal Pradesh which it regards as “South Tibet”.
Chinese foreign ministry said on Wednesday that more standardized names of towns in Arunachal Pradesh would be made public.
Though the ministry tried to pass it off as routine, but Xiong Kunxin, professor of ethnic studies at Minzu University of China in Beijing, contradicted the foreign ministry saying that the renaming exercise was aimed to “reaffirm Chinese sovereignty” over the area. Indian experts said despite China’s renaming exercise, India’s control over the territory was indisputable.
The ministry of civil affairs in Beijing issued an order on April 14 saying that, “The official names of the six places using the Roman alphabet are Wo’gyainling, Mila Ri, Qoidengarbo Ri, Mainquka, Bumo La and Namkapub Ri”. It did not give the existing names of the six towns in Arunachal Pradesh, but Bumo La could be BumLa, an area that was captured by China in 1962 but from which it later withdrew.
China had used a similar ploy naming islands in South China Sea or pulling out ancient records showing old Chinese names of islands to support its claims over the sea areas, and fight back similar claims from other countries including Vietnam, Indonesia and Philippines. China also began announcing weather forecasts of the disputed area to prove that they are part of Chinese territory.
China may use old maps to justify new names
The new names will be shown in the international diplomatic arena as proof of China’s claims, informed sources said. China might even pull out old maps and records to show that these names existed for hundreds of years. At present, it has scant historical record to support its claims besides the fact that the 6th Dalai Lama was born in Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, and the Tawang monastery was linked to monasteries in China in the past.
P Stobdan, China expert and former diplomat said China is trying to get India to concede that it would never ever use the 14th Dalai Lama in future, a move they had made successfully with Mongolia in recent months. India has, in recent months, boosted the defences in Arunachal Pradesh. Stobdan also said the Chinese response came after Beijing made an assessment of how popular Dalai Lama’s visit was to that state.
“The standardization came amid China’s growing understanding and recognition of the geography in South Tibet. Naming the places is a step to reaffirm China’s territorial sovereignty to South Tibet,” the state backed Global Times quoted Xiong in an article on Wednesday.
What is likely to happen is that India and China may get into a cartographic battle if China forces international institutions and websites and search engines to use the Chinese words. Chinese foreign ministry refused to accept suggestions from reporters that the renaming was a retaliatory measure linked to the recent controversy over the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh. The move comes after China summoned India’s envoy in Beijing Vijay Gokhale to protest the Dalai Lama’s visit.
“About why we choose this time to announce standardization of names, China is now doing the second census of names of localities and an important part of it is to standardize names in ethnic languages,” Lu Kang, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said. “In the next step we will also step up our study of those names in Tibetan ethnic languages and in the next step we will announce more standardisation of these names.”
But Lu agreed that naming had “supported” China’s territorial claims. “These names reflect from another side that China’s territorial claim over South Tibet is supported by clear evidence in terms of history, culture and administration,” he said.
He said that the renaming was a “legitimate”move because the names “have been passed on from generation to generation by people who have lived there for generations, the Tibetan ethnic and Monpa ethnic groups”. “To issue these names it is actually carried out in accordance with our regulations about the names of localities and it is a legitimate action by the Chinese government,” he said.
The foreign ministry reiterated its opposition to the Dalai Lama’s visit. “Let me stress that about the Indian government’s indulgence of Dalai Lama activities in disputed eastern section of the India China boundary and also about his anti-China activities, this is something we are firmly against. These activities are also against the Indian government’s commitments to China.”
“China’s position on the eastern section of our boundary is consistent and clear,” Lu said.
“These names have existed since ancient times, but had never been standardized before. Therefore, announcing the names is like a remediation,” added Guo Kefan, a research fellow at the Tibet Academy of Social Sciences.
The latest move might make it very difficult for India to accept China’s invitation to participate in its Belt and Road Forum on May 14-15. China needs Indian presence to enhance the credibility of the forum and the One Belt, One Road programme as a whole.