As I predicted last Friday, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee’s trip to Arunachal Pradesh did raise eyebrows in China. Over the weekend, China’s official state-run news agency, Xinhua, emphasized Beijing’s claim to the the state, which it noted is seen by the Chinese as “currently under Indian illegal occupation.” Every visit to the northeastern Indian state in recent years by a high-level Indian government official, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former President Pratibha Patil, has drawn a similar reaction from China.
The reaction this time is slightly more muted than it has been in the past, considering it was delivered through Xinhua and not in the form of a formal diplomatic protest (as it was when former President Patil visited a 1962 war memorial in a previous visit to the region). The Xinhua article, however, did cite Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang’s comments on the Indian President’s “visit to the so-called ‘Arunachal Pradesh’ from Nov. 29 to 30.” In 2009, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited the region, China merely noted that it was “deeply upset” that he chose to visit the “disputed region.”
“China urged India on Saturday to refrain from moves that complicates boundary issues and work with China to create conditions for talks,” according to Xinhua. The Arunachal Pradesh territorial dispute is the second major territorial dispute between India and China — the other being the Aksai Chin region in Northeastern Kashmir, claimed by India but administered by China. The two states signed a Border Defense Cooperation Agreement (BDCA) in late October to prevent the recurrence of the sort of stand-off seen in April 2013 when Chinese troops camped out on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LoAC).
China considers Arunachal Pradesh to be an inextricable part of Tibet’s “Monyul, Loyul and Lower Tsayul” regions. Xinhua cites these in addition to noting that the British Empire’s establishment of the McMahon line illegally distorted what China perceives to be the “customary boundary between China and India.” Arunachal Pradesh describes the territory between the McMahon line — which India takes as its sovereign borders — and the Chinese “customary boundary,” which is roughly equivalent to the borders of the contemporary Indian state of Assam.
New Delhi must have anticipated this response from the Chinese ahead of Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to the region — indeed, prompting such a response indicates that Mukherjee’s visit succeeded in exerting New Delhi’s sovereignty in the peripheral and under-developed Indian state.