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  4. Old tricks with new names: What does Beijing want?

Old tricks with new names: What does Beijing want?

In 2017, Beijing had released the first list of new names for six Indian towns, shortly after the Dalai Lama had visited the state.

Manish Prasad Edited by: Manish Prasad @manishindiatv
New Delhi Published on: January 04, 2022 23:34 IST
xi jinping, china
Image Source : AP

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a keynote speech via video for the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) Annual Conference

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) under Xi Jinping seems to have devolved into a thin-skinned and brutish organisation, prone to employing street-gang tactics to get its way. The latest such move by Beijing’s mandarins was the needless ‘re-naming’ of places in India’s northeast state of Arunachal Pradesh on 29 December 2021. In response, India’s External Affairs Ministry promptly dismissed this attempt as ‘fiction’, and reasserted the inalienable integrity of India’s territory. However, the deeper question remains – what drives the CCP to continue with such facile moves?

This list of names is definitely a small part of Beijing’s strategy to further expand its territory. Since Xi ascended to the throne in 2014, he has declared his intention of reclaiming ‘lost territories’ along the periphery on several occasions. Since then, several areas falling within Beijing’s self-declared ‘historical territory’ have seen themselves being assigned new names. The South China Sea and Arunachal Pradesh are two significant examples.

In fact, in 2017, Beijing had released the first list of new names for six Indian towns, shortly after the Dalai Lama had visited the state. At that time, the move had largely been dismissed as the ill-tempered reaction of a bully when it was stood up to – and the list was correctly ignored. While ignoring any such hollow action is definitely the way to go, it is also important to appreciate the changed context this time.

China has been engaged in an active territorial dispute with India over the last two years, where its salami slicing tactics have been largely thwarted by the brave actions of Indian soldiers. Both armies have built up forces along the borders, which have made military adventurism a high-risk option. Moreover, the CCP realises that its ‘chocolate soldiers’ may not be able to dominate India’s battle tested forces in the challenging terrains of the Indo-China border. A latest report in dailymail has claimed that the Chinese soldiers are struggling to live in high altitudes and cold areas and consequently PLA has been deploying kill-bots/ robot soldiers on the borders with India. It is evident now that CCP seeks to further ‘prepare the battlespace’ using a mix of propaganda, lawfare and psychological tactics – its preferred three warfare approach.

This re-naming of places on Dec 21 is likely to be the first new salvo of misinformation released by the CCP with regards to Arunachal Pradesh. This can be expected to be complemented by new maps, legislative bodies, nomination of administrative officials, etc in coming months. These actions were seen in the South China Sea in recent years, and will inevitably be repeated in Arunachal.

Not coincidentally, on the same day this list was released - Xi signed China’s new land laws into force, which give unprecedented powers to the CCP’s Army and Armed Police forces. For India, this will definitely manifest as new security challenges on ground, as China would seek to use the provisions of this law to change the status quo on ground in Arunachal to its favour. Beijing countered international opposition to these laws by stating that ‘they would not affect areas covered by existing treaties’. 

There are, however, two problems with this situation. First, Beijing does not recognise any territorial treaty pertaining to Arunachal, including the internationally recognised McMahon line. Therefore, this craftily worded assurance actually does not apply to India! Secondly, the events at Galwan in 2020 have clearly demonstrated that Beijing, under Xi Jinping, cannot be trusted to respect existing agreements and protocols. Consequently, the CCP’s new land laws must be treated as a security threat to India, and countered both legally and on ground.