Last week, China unveiled an update of its official national map. Most of the media attention was devoted to the emphasis on China’s South China Sea claims on these maps. Indeed, the new maps do emphasize China’s controversial “nine-dash line” claim to the South China Sea, making the islands and territories within that region appear more integral to China territorial integrity than previous maps. This same map additionally irk India as they continue to show the disputed territory of Arunachal Pradesh — administered by India in its entirety and inhabited by Indian citizens — as Chinese territory.
The Indian Foreign Ministry issued a statement regarding the new maps, noting that “cartographic depictions do not change the reality on the ground.” The timing of the controversy over the new map came as Indian Vice President Mohammad Hamid Ansari was in Beijing for the celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.” The principles were developed by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and China’s first Premier Zhou Enlai in the 1950s. During his visit to China, Ansari met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to raise “all issues of concern” in India-China relations, including the issue of Chinese firms planning a railway linking China and Pakistan through territory disputed by India and Pakistan in Kashmir.
The maps were unveiled shortly after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi traveled to New Delhi to move bilateral relations forward under India’s new center-right government. Wang, during his visit, emphasized a “reset” of sorts in bilateral relations with India. His visit purported to set the stage for mutually beneficial relations between Asia’s two giants by focusing on trade and investment.
The new map additionally provoked the All Arunchal Pradesh Students’ Union, which condemned China’s “expansionist attitudes,” echoing Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign rhetoric on China.
The new map is likely not the result of a conscious attempt by the Chinese Foreign Ministry to provoke India even though it certainly has had that result. India remains sensitive to any attempt by China to push its claims in Arunachal Pradesh. China does regularly issue diplomatic complaints when officials from New Delhi travel to Arunachal Pradesh (most recently with Indian President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to the state earlier this year).
Despite bilateral attempts to move the relationship into the realm of positive sum economic cooperation, India and China will continue to wrangle over their territorial disputes. The Indian government appears committed to doubling down on its claim to Arunachal Pradesh by focusing on infrastructure development along the disputed border with China (the McMahon Line), thereby promoting further migration into the area.