China and its Geopolitics of Renaming



The Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs released the fourth list with thirty names of places in Arunachal Pradesh, as The Global Times reported on 31 March 2024. This exercise of renaming and cartographic redesigning is familiar in China's diplomatic and strategic parlance. This is a very old tactic used by Beijing to create tension in the region. It intends to determine the geopolitical temperature of the region. India's determinacy to remain decoupled from the Chinese scope of influence has disturbed Chinese composure. The politics of nomenclature has seen its iteration in 2017 when China arbitrarily renamed six places in Arunachal Pradesh, in 2021 fifteen places, in 2023 eleven places and in 2024 thirty places. The number of places renamed seems to be increasing. This indicates the Chinese disappointment over India's resolve to funnel development to the Northeast. India's capacity-building measures in Arunachal Pradesh to challenge China face to face if such situations develop in future will decrease Beijing's relevance. In addition, these developments along the border are seemingly designed to provide some fuel to the election campaign in India for some interest groups. 

However, given these invented claims made routinely by China, New Delhi does not take the former's claims seriously. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has called these claims 'ludicrous' and asserted that the frontier state Arunachal Pradesh is a 'natural part of India'. The response is sharp and clear. To add to this, the strong statement that came from the U.S. on 09 March is as follows: 'The U.S. recognises Arunachal Pradesh as Indian territory, and we strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to advance territorial claims by incursions or encroachments, military or civilian, across the Line of Actual Control'. This disappointment is reflected in Beijing's recent renaming of thirty places in Arunachal Pradesh. However hard it may try to make such unfounded and subjective claims, India will not succumb to China's synthetic pressures. These unilateral claims do not carry any weight. It is designed to trigger some tension in the region. Reacting to these renaming gimmicks of China, Chief Minister Pema Khandu asserted that Arunachal Pradesh is an 'inalienable integral part of India'. He added, 'Proud citizens and patriots of Arunachal Pradesh are rejecting such antics'. It is now clear that the Chinese indulgences in phantoms are their own making without any empirical relevance.

The McMahon Line decided in 1914, as part of the Shimla Convention, the border demarcation between Tibet and British India, and China and Tibet were party to this discussion and ratification under the chairmanship of Henry McMahon, foreign secretary of British India. China's disagreement then and now on Tibetan territory sees no foreseeable end. Its annexation of Tibet and the Sino-Indian War in 1962 bolstered Beijing's politics of obscurity. It does not accept any form of determinacy on border space along LAC. The claims it makes are often quite cluttered without any clarity or definitiveness. To perceive the logic behind this kind of whimsical exercise is to constrain India and its developmental goals at the border space. China's border fiction is a geopolitical gimmick to distract India from its economic and developmental aspirations. It cannot bear the rise of a competing power in the neighbourhood. Its bullying tactics and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)-related debt trap did not work with India as it has bullied other South Asian nations to remain in its sphere of influence. Therefore, the Chinese cosmetic assertiveness in renaming places in Arunachal Pradesh, border skirmishes, cartographic redrafting and verbosity is to restrict India from realising its potential- the potential to rise as a challenging or competing player.

There is no shortage of symptoms in this direction, and it is self-evident from its growth trajectories. In addition, China also knows quite well that in the event of war between the two powerful Himalayan neighbours, there will be no winner. Therefore, Beijing's routine practice is to set some limits against New Delhi, and if the latter goes beyond the Chinese-determined threshold, it devises ways to curb such extra signs of progress made. The main objective is to exercise Chinese relevance and its hegemonic structure and not to allow any other competing power to rise to the heights of challenging it. However, it seems China will not do anything beyond the usual exercise of bullying and threatening. Its export-driven economy needs the Indian market. Its sinking global image in the event of Covid 19 pandemic, debt trap ingrained BRI structurality, South  China Sea hegemony, conflicts with the U.S. over Taiwan, QUAD formations, etc., develops enough deterrence to ensure slowness of its economy. Economic fragility is likely to cause more internal issues. The geopolitical posturing in the form of renaming places in Arunachal Pradesh may be construed as a distracting mechanism to control discontentment on the home turf.



Dr. Chandan K. Panda is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Rajiv Gandhi University (A Central University), Itanagar.


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