How to decipher China's answer

China today "standardised" the names of six towns in Arunachal Pradesh, parts of which Beijing claims as "South Tibet", a week after the Dalai Lama visited the frontier state.

By Anita Joshua and our Guwahati Bureau
  • Published 20.04.17

April 19: China today "standardised" the names of six towns in Arunachal Pradesh, parts of which Beijing claims as "South Tibet", a week after the Dalai Lama visited the frontier state.

At least one name - Wo' gyainling - appears to have a direct link with the Dalai Lama's visit.

Sources in the Arunachal Pradesh chief minister's office in Itanagar said they felt that Wo' gyainling was a probable reference to the Urgelling Monastery, the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso, 5km south of Tawang. The 14th Dalai Lama, the current Tibetan spiritual head, had visited the monastery on April 9.

The "standardisation", according to Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang, reflects "that China's territorial claim over South Tibet is supported by clear evidence in terms of history, culture and administration".

The Communist Party of China-run Global Times reported today that "the ministry of civil affairs announced on April 14 on its website that it had standardised in Chinese characters (and) Tibetan and Roman alphabets the names of six places in South Tibet, which India calls 'Arunachal Pradesh', in accordance with the regulations of the State Council".

India maintained silence on the development through the day.

According to China, the official names of the six places using the Roman alphabet are Wo'gyainling, Mila Ri, Qoidêngarbo Ri, Mainquka, Bümo La and Namkapub Ri. There was, however, no official word from China on which towns would bear these names.

Since China has been claiming Tawang in particular as the minimum condition to consider a settlement of the border dispute, the general assumption is that the six towns are in and around that district. Bumo La could well be Bum La on the Line of Actual Control, and Namkapub Ri could be Namka Chu.

But confusion also crept in. The sources in the Arunachal chief minister's office said Mila Ri in Tibetan meant "cotton-clad mountain" and Qoidêngarbo Ri "mountain with stupas". But there are several mountains with stupas in Arunachal. Besides, there is a mountain called Mila in the Tibet autonomous region of China, about 150km by road northeast from Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.

Lu, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, described the renaming as "legitimate'' and said the names "have been passed on from generation to generation by people who have lived there for generations - the Tibetan ethnic and Monpa ethnic groups".

The view was echoed by Guo Kefan, a research fellow at the Tibet Academy of Social Sciences, in the Global Times report. "These names have existed since ancient times, but had never been standardised before. Therefore, announcing the names is like a remediation," he was quoted as saying.

China had several times warned India against facilitating the Arunachal trip of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader it views as a separatist. It had spoken of "serious damage" to relations with India and issued a demarche to India's ambassador in Beijing.

Lu today claimed the standardisation of the names was done at this juncture because China was conducting "the second census of names of localities and an important part of it is to standardise names in ethnic languages".

On the Dalai Lama's visit, Lu said the spiritual leader's "anti-China activities" in the "disputed eastern section of the India-China boundary" are against Delhi's commitments to Beijing.

In response to a question on India's clarification that there is no change in Delhi's position on Tibet being a part of China and that India remains committed to a fair and mutually acceptable solution, Lu had said on Monday: "For some time, because of reasons known to all, the political foundation of China-India relations has been damaged, casting a shadow on bilateral relations and boundary negotiations."

The spokesperson had said it was "imperative" for India "to take concrete actions to honour its solemn promises on Tibet-related issues as well as the important consensus reached by the two sides on settling the boundary issue, in particular never again using the 14th Dalai Lama to undermine China's core interests, so as to create a good atmosphere for greater mutual trust between the two countries and proper settlement of the boundary question".

While the Dalai Lama has visited Arunachal Pradesh six times since 1983, what has upset China the most this time was the fact that a Union minister - junior home minister Kiren Rijiju - accompanied him through the visit and also took him to his native village, giving a political colour to the trip.