Modi’s Arunachal Visit Brings Sino-India Ties Back to Ground Zero

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh on February 20th reinvigorated Chinese suspicions over India. Of late, Sino-Indian relations had improved with new confidence-building measures, taking a departure from the long standing mistrust between the two countries since the 1962 Sino-Indian War. Progress was evident during the series of high-level visits between the two countries since June 2014 after the inception of the new Narendra Modi Government in India. The foundations for improved relations were laid by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s maiden visit to India in September 2014 where Prime Minister Modi and President Xi demonstrated good personal rapport, thereby elevating the level of trust between the countries.

Under this rubric of mutual bonhomie, Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the contested “Arunachal Pradesh” to inaugurate the opening of a train line and power station gave the Chinese cause for concern. Modi pledged a billion dollar investment in infrastructure in the region assuring “more development in the state in the next five years than it has seen in the last 28 years.” Modi’s visit accompanied by a “development strategy” in the disputed region reignited China’s unease over India’s motives.

China calls the disputed territory of Arunachal Pradesh its “Southern Tibet.” Thus, Modi’s visit brought a new challenge to Chinese security concerns as the area’s  ownership remains in flux. To clarify China’s stance on the territorial claim, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying commented, “The Chinese government has never recognized the so-called “Arunachal Pradesh” She further demanded India to, “pay attention to the strong concerns on the Chinese side” and resist, “any action that complicates the border issue before its resolution.” Adding to the strong protest against India, the Chinese Foreign Ministry official website called the act, “not conducive to properly resolving and controlling disputes between the two sides, nor in conformity with the general situation of growth of bilateral relations.” What is noteworthy here is that China’s protests signal its strong sovereignty claims over the disputed border just before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s official visit to China in May and the scheduled 18th round of border talks between the Special Representatives of the two sides due to take place soon- thereby putting pressure on India.

With this new state of affairs between India and China, relations have again suffered a “trust deficit” squaring the ties back to the territorial frame. PM Modi’s forthcoming China visit shall be ruled by several Chinese “dos” and “don’ts” – most importantly pertaining to the tensions in the disputed zones. Therefore, even a rapid boost in economic ties cannot bolster India-China relations when the fate of stability lies at the brink of the contested borders.

Featured photo of three men fighting during the making of a film in Tawag area of Arunchal Pradesh from Flickr.

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