TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – China’s recent renaming of the Indian province of Arunachal Pradesh, which it claims as its own territory, has again stoked tensions with Delhi and drawn attention to the aggressive expansion from Beijing to the Himalayas.
A spokesperson for India‘s External Affairs Ministry criticized China’s renaming last month as a “ridiculous exercise” that did not change Arunachal Pradesh’s status as an “inalienable part of the India,” according to a report by The Hindu.
Beijing claims the entire province – roughly twice the size of Switzerland – as “Southern Tibet” (“南藏”), claiming the presence of Tawang Monastery, the second largest in all of Tibetan Buddhism, as proof enough this strip of the Himalayas is also an “inherent part” of Chinese sovereign territory.
Not only does Beijing have no administrative control or recognized authority over the area, but the history of other holy sites elsewhere in the disputed Himalayan region also shows how inconsistent and hollow the basis for its claims is.
A prime example is the holy mountain of Kailash. Nestled in the western corner of Tibet, this mountain is believed by Hindus to be the abode of Lord Shiva, the god of destruction. A bit of an eastern equivalent of Delphi in ancient Greece, the mountain is also considered the navel of the world – a site that Hindu pilgrims have revered since pre-Buddhist times, according to academic researchers.
The region’s civilizational ties with India received international recognition when UNESCO considered the Indian part of Mount Kailash as part of its cultural heritage site in 2019. The Indian territory is part of the “Sacred Landscape of Kailash wider, which covers an area of 31,000 km2. straddling the borders between India, Tibet and the far west of Nepal.
Although India’s application for UNESCO has yet to be successful (and it is unlikely to be due to China’s opposition and outsized influence in the organization as a member of the UNSC), the region’s administrative history also affirms it as historically Indian.
Just take the last Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh, who joined the newly independent Indian Republic in 1947. When Singh did, his official title was “Shriman Inder Mahinder Rajrajeswar Maharajadhiraj Shri Hari Singhji, Jammu & Kashmir Naresh Tatha Tibbet adi Deshadhipati” which granted him the right to rule over Jammu and Kashmir, eastern Ladakh, as well as areas inside Tibet proper, including the domain of Menser, according to a report of the IDSA.
The Menser domain was an enclave of villages clustered at the foot of Mount Kailash and on the shores of nearby Lake Manasarovar, nearly 300 kilometers deep inside what is now Chinese territory.
Yet the story goes much further back to the 1684 Treaty of Temisgang which was the result of a war between Tibet and Ladakh at the time. Temisgang gave the ruler of Ladakh control of the Menser villages to ensure access for Indian Hindu pilgrims to Mount Kailash and to cover the extent of their ceremonies.
While Mount Kailash is sacred to four different religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Bon – the fact that Hinduism is the oldest religion in the world and two of the other three religions originated in the valley of the Indus gives India a far greater historical and cultural claim to the peak than China.
Despite these deep civilizational, historical and administrative precedents on the Indian side, Mount Kailash today remains under the control of the Chinese authorities, who have repeatedly blocked Indian pilgrims’ access to the holy site in recent years. If Tawang Monastery – the largest monastery in all of India – fell to the Chinese, more devotees would surely suffer the same fate.
Meanwhile, Beijing continues to step up its efforts to take more Himalayan territory. Not only is China once again exerting pressure on Arunachal Pradesh in India, but new reports this year show that it has recently built hundreds of new structures in an area disputed by Bhutan while simultaneously encroaching on the district of Humla in Nepal.
It appears that Beijing is not only pushing the boundaries of its historic claims, but also accelerating the speed of its so-called “salami slicing” techniques by which it attempts to gradually take over additional territory without resorting to military force. The long-term consequences for all Himalayan nations are disastrous.