China has unilaterally renamed six places in Arunachal Pradesh in an apparent retaliation against the Dalai Lama’s visit to India’s easternmost state, with experts saying the move is aimed at reaffirming Beijing’s “territorial sovereignty” to the region.
Changing the names was a “legitimate” action done in line with Chinese law, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday, adding it supported Beijing’s territorial claim.
State-run Global Times tabloid reported on Tuesday the civil affairs ministry had “standardised in Chinese characters, Tibetan and Roman alphabet the names of six places in South Tibet, which India calls ‘Arunachal Pradesh’, in accordance with the regulations of the State Council”.
The report added, “The official names of the six places using the Roman alphabet are Wo’gyainling, Mila Ri, Qoidêngarbo Ri, Mainquka, Bümo La and Namkapub Ri.”
“Naming the places is a step to reaffirm China’s territorial sovereignty to South Tibet,” Xiong Kunxin, professor of ethnic studies at Beijing’s Minzu University of China, told the tabloid. The legalisation of the names is part of the “rule of law”, Xiong said.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang defended the move at a news briefing on Wednesday: “To issue these names, it is actually carried out in accordance with our regulations about the names of localities and it is a legitimate action by the Chinese government.”
He added, “These names reflect from another side that China’s territorial claim over South Tibet is supported by clear evidence in terms of history, culture and administration.”
Long Xingchun, director of the Centre for Indian Studies at the China West Normal University, told Hindustan Times: “This is a very strong signal from China. It seems to be because of the Dalai Lama visit. China could have been prepared to this and was waiting for the right time and opportunity. India seems to have miscalculated China’s response (to the visit).”
Though no details were provided by the government, Wo’gyainling is likely to be the new name for Ugyen Ling monastery, the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama in Tawang district. Similarly, Qoidêngarbo Ri is likely to be Choten Karpo Ri, Mainquka is likely to be Mechuka in West Siang district and Bümo La is likely to be Bumla, located a short distance from Tawang.
The civil affairs ministry carried out the name changes on April 13, a day after the Dalai Lama left Arunachal Pradesh following a nine-day high-profile visit. The visit angered China, which calls the Dharamsala-based Tibetan spiritual leader a “separatist” out to carve an independent homeland within the Chinese mainland.
India turned down repeated Chinese calls to cancel the visit, saying the Dalai Lama had gone to Arunachal Pradesh in the past and was free to travel across the country.
The Chinese state media had on several occasions warned India of consequences for allowing the Dalai Lama to visit the “disputed area”.
Beijing says Arunachal Pradesh, on the 3,488-km disputed border, is part of South Tibet with close Buddhist links to the Tibet Autonomous Region. Official Chinese maps show the state as part of South Tibet.
Speaking on the timing of the name changes, spokesperson Lu said: “China is now doing second census of names of localities and an important part of it is to standardise names in ethnic languages.
“In the next step, we will also step up our study of those names in Tibetan ethnic languages and in the next step we will announce more standardisation of these names.”
According to Lu, the names were “passed on from generation to generation by people who have lived there for generations, the Tibetan ethnic and Monpa ethnic groups”.
Changing the names could be an indication of China hardening its stand and claims on Arunchal Pradesh, especially Tawang.
Guo Kefan, research fellow at the Tibet Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that “standardising the names from the angles of culture and geography could serve as a reference or leverage when China and India negotiate border issues in future”. He described the standardisation as an act of “remediation”.
The Global Times reported Sino-India border disputes were centred in South Tibet. The Chinese government has never recognised Arunachal Pradesh, it added.
Spokesperson Lu laid bare China’s anger at the Dalai Lama’s visit – and the unsaid link between the trip and the step to change the names.
“Let me stress that about the Indian government’s indulgence of Dalai Lama activities in disputed eastern section of the India-China boundary and also about his anti-China activities; this is something we are firmly against. These activities are also against the Indian government’s commitments to China,” he said.