DAYS AFTER reiterating that the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh would damage India-China relations and registering a protest with the Indian Ambassador in Beijing, the Chinese government has “standardised” names for six areas in the state. While experts said the move was meant to underscore its territorial sovereignty to India, the Chinese government said it was a legitimate process as part of a census exercise, and indicated that more could follow.
The announcement of the six names was made by China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs on April 14. “According to relevant regulations on the management of place names, the department has standardised some place names in China’s South Tibet region. We have released the first batch of the place names in South Tibet (six in total),” said the announcement. The six names on the list are: Wo’gyainling, Mila Ri, Qoidengarbo Ri, Mainquka, Bumo La and Namkapub Ri. The latitude and longitude listed with the names show these places as Tawang, Kra Daadi, West Siang, Siang (where Mechuka or Menchuka is an emerging tourist destination), Anjaw and Subansiri respectively.
The six places span the breadth of the state — Wo’gyainling in the west, Bumo La in the east and the other four located in central Arunachal Pradesh. Addressing a press briefing on Wednesday, Lu Kang, spokesperson, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the standarisation of names was legitimate. “China has a coherent and clear standpoint of the border between China and India. It is proper action to announce those Chinese place names to the public, as it is according to regulations established by the State Council,” Lu said.
Asked if the move was China’s response to the Dalai Lama’s visit, Lu said, “I can also tell you that the Chinese government is carrying out the second national census and one of the important tasks is to standardise minority names. In the next step, relevant departments will further increase the research on the study of Tibetan names, and we will be able to publish more standard names.”
According to Lu, the standardisation was necessary since all names used in “southern Tibet” were inherited through word-of-mouth for generations by minority ethic groups. “These names reflect and indicate from one aspect, that China’s proposal on the sovereignty claim of South Tibet region has a prominent historical, cultural, administative and jurisdictional basis,” Lu said.
Wang Dehua, Director, Institute for South and Central Asia Studies in Shanghai, maintained that through this move, China wanted to prove its territorial jurisdiction and was not necessarily a response to the Dalai Lama’s visit. “The changing of names is an ongoing process in China. Just like how Bombay was changed to Mumbai or Madras was changed to Chennai in India. It just so happens that the names standardised are in southern Tibet,” Wang said. “India has played the Tibet card now and it may not work. Soon, India may play the China-Pakistan card too. But the way forward is cooperation, not confrontation,” he said.
Lu had said on Tuesday that the Dalai Lama’s visit had damaged China-India relations. “For some time, due to reasons known to all, the political foundation for China-India relations has been damaged, casting a shadow over bilateral relations and the boundary negotiations. What is imperative now is for the Indian side to take concrete actions to honour its solemn promises on Tibet-related issues,” he had said. He had added that India should never use the 14th Dalai Lama to “undermine China’s core interests”. “If the situation has to improve, India must send a signal to China, like restricting the Dalai Lama’s activities, and renew commitments over the border dispute,” Wang said.