China on Saturday asked India to exercise “restraint” on its plan to link the strategic border district of Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh with a railway network, saying any “unilateral action” might “complicate” the unresolved border issue. “We hope that the Indian side can exercise caution, show restraint and refrain from unilateral actions that might further complicate the question so as to create a sound condition for enhancing mutual trust between China and India and promoting proper resolution of the boundary question,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.
“China’s position on eastern section of the China-India boundary is consistent and clear. At present, the two sides are working to resolve the territorial dispute through negotiation and consultation,” the ministry told PTI in a written reply following a query about reports that India was exploring possibilities to link Tawang with a railway network.
China has in recent days upped its rhetoric on claims to Arunachal Pradesh, which it says is Southern Tibet, and even warned India of “serious damage” to ties if New Delhi allows Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to visit the state next week. The ministry yesterday warned New Delhi that the visit of the Dalai Lama, the highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism, will “come down to India to make a choice”.
Tawang, which happens to be the birthplace in 1683 of the sixth Dalai Lama, is at the centre of Tibetan Buddhism and a friction point between India and China relations. India and China are in discussion to resolve their border dispute that covers the 3,488-km-long Line of Actual Control (LAC). While Beijing claims Arunachal as part of Southern Tibet, India asserts that the dispute also covers the ‘Aksai Chin’ area, which was occupied by China during the 1962 war.
The ministry said the two sides have “agreed that pending final settlement, both sides will work together to properly manage the dispute” and preserve peace in the border areas. The Chinese reaction today to the possible rail network and the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang was the third time in recent weeks the foreign ministry has aired its objections. Tawang has immense strategic value to India due to its location. The hilly region close to the Sino-India border was also in the news earlier this month when Dai Bingguo, a former Chinese Special Representative for India-China border talks, said the border dispute can be resolved if New Delhi accepts Beijing’s claim over Tawang.
“If the Indian side takes care of China’s concerns in the eastern sector of their border, the Chinese side will respond accordingly and address India’s concerns elsewhere,” Dai had told the Chinese media in an interview. But the proposal was rejected as impractical by Indian officials as Tawang is an integral part of Arunachal Pradesh and has sent representatives to Parliament in every election since 1950.
Lian Xiangmin, Director of contemporary research of China’s state-run Tibetology Research Centre, last month said, “Tawang is part of Tibet and Tibet is part of China. So Tawang is part of China. There is not much problem here.” India, giving a push to its strategic interests, is exploring the feasibility to link Tawang with a rail network. The government has asked Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha and Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju, who is also a Member of Parliament from Arunachal West seat, to explore the feasibility of a rail network in the remote area.
The two ministers will tour the state to study the viability of connecting Tawang with Bhalukpong – the last station of the Railways on Assam-Arunachal Pradesh boundary at a distance of 378 kms – and to commence the final location survey of a new broad gauge line connecting the two cities. It takes 18 hours from Guwahati in Assam to reach Tawang by road. Guwahati is the nearest major city and Tawang residents depend on it for medical emergencies.
The other broad gauge railway line that will be part of their survey will be the 249-kilometre North Lakhimpur-Bame- Silapathar section, which is between Pasighat airport and Rupa in Arunachal.