China’s move to unilaterally rename 11 locations in Arunachal Pradesh, which Beijing claims as South Tibet, earlier this week is in line with its strategy of keeping the border with India unstable, even as it pretends that it wants to keep up business running as usual in other domains of the bilateral ties. This is the third time in six years — in April 2017, it renamed six locations, and in December 2021, another 15 — that Beijing has tried the provocative strategy, underlining that China has no intention of cooling tensions along the Line of Actual Control with India. This plan was apparent with the repeated border incursion attempts and skirmishes along the frontier, but has been made clearer now.
New Delhi has always strongly protested against such moves. This time, too, the external affairs ministry was categorical in saying that such steps will not alter the reality that the state is an integral part of the country. But what added more steel to India’s stance was a reiteration by the United States (US) of its long-standing position of recognising Arunachal Pradesh as a part of Indian territory and opposing unilateral attempts to advance territorial claims. At a briefing, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, “The United States has recognised that territory for a long time. And we strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to advance territorial claims by renaming localities. And so, again, this is something that we have long stood by.”
Though this position has remained unchanged since 1962, it gains salience against the backdrop of US-China tensions, Beijing’s embrace of Moscow in a partnership of unequals, and its attempts to keep the border dispute alive. The move is a portent of a larger global strategy by Beijing to try and keep India off balance. New Delhi’s response has been prompt, in building capacities, biding time, and expanding its international coalition. It should stay the course.