Does history support China’s claim over Arunachal Pradesh?

Harendra Nath Bora

As per a recent news item, China destroyed thousands of world maps showing Arunachal Pradesh as part of India. The maps were published in China itself by a Chinese company. While such action of the Chinese government seem to be related to their agenda on claiming Arunachal Pradesh as China’s, the maps, however, reflect the prevailing mindset of the Chinese public in general, about the status of Arunachal Pradesh as a part of India only. Since a couple of years back, Beijing has been frequently claiming the entire Arunachal Pradesh as China’s although its bone of contention with India in the eastern sector, initially, was related to the Tawang tract only. Such newer claims of China are not confined to India only, but also include the other neighbouring countries, such as Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan etc.

As per a report, China has started raising such claims under influence of their newly grown sense on their perceived historical losses of territories comparing China’s present borders with that which had existed during the mighty Qing rulers’ period (1644-1912). The extent of the Chinese empire reached its zenith during this period which also included areas of the neighbouring countries. However, no areas of the present Arunachal Pradesh were ever a part of China under the Qing or any other rule. The present Chinese leadership being obsessed with their so-called “lost territories” have resorted to agenda, both overt and covert in their bid to recover the said “lost territories”. As a part of such hidden agenda, the Chinese are perhaps raising their claim over Arunachal Pradesh, unduly, giving the plea that Arunachal Pradesh is South Tibet and therefore, belonged to China.

Although, the Chinese claim that Tibet had all along been a part of the Chinese empire, Tibet’s history is otherwise. Historical records on Tibet are available from the seventh century onwards only. During the seventh to ninth century AD, a number of Tibetan kings ruled Tibet independently and at a time, even, the Tibet kingdom included territories of the present Chinese provinces of Gansu and Yunnan. Even during the subsequent rule of China by the different dynasties, viz., Yuan, Ming and the Qing, Tibet’s status was something like a feudatory state enjoying enormous autonomy when ruled by the Dalai Lama in his capacity as the Buddhist religious chief.

During this time, Tibet was recognised and honoured by the Chinese monarchs as the authority on religious and spiritual matter. During the Qing dynasty rule, the Chinese posted an official namely, ‘Amban’ who was stationed at Lhasa and he was like a Chinese High Commissioner in Tibet. In 1904, the British carried out a military expedition against Tibet. Led by Colonel Younghusband from the India side, the British had to fight with the Tibetan forces only and not the Chinese Army. The then Dalai Lama — ruler of Tibet — fled to Mongolia and eventually, the British Colonel signed the Anglo-Tibetan Treaty of Lhasa with the Tibetan Regent and the Tibetan National Assembly. The Chinese Amban’s authority was not taken into account while signing the mentioned treaty. The aforesaid position only shows that even during the rule of the mighty Chinese Qing rulers, Tibet enjoyed its freedom from China.

Then with fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911, the Dalai Lama returned to Tibet and after expelling the Chinese Amban he started to rule Tibet as a fully Independent and sovereign country from 1913 till 1950. In 1950, the People’s Liberation Army of China occupied Tibet by defeating the Tibetan Army. In the following few years, with a lot of political manoeuvres by the Chinese and using show of force by the PLA, Tibet was annexed to China, in spite of widespread protest and condemnation from the world community. There was, however, not even a symbolic protest from India against this incursion of the Chinese into Tibet.

India’s silence apparently emboldened the Chinese to complete the full annexation of Tibet with China within the next couple of years. The Tawang tract, covering nearly 2% area of the present Arunachal Pradesh which was a part of Tibet was ceded to India in 1950 by the then independent and sovereign Tibet just before the Chinese incursion to save the sanctity of the Tawang Monastery. Tawang areas are now legally and constitutionally a part of India along with the entire Arunachal Pradesh which status has been recognised by the entire world.

The areas under present Arunachal Pradesh except the tiny Tawang tract never formed part of Tibet and, therefore, cannot be termed as South Tibet which the Chinese often used to say. As regards China’s claim over Arunachal Pradesh, no historical evidences, whatsoever are available in their support. The Chinese did not have any military control or military post in Arunachal Pradesh at any point of time. The French born historian and Tibetologist Claude Arpi has written in his book ‘1962 and the McMahon Line Saga’ that “…during the last two millennia , the Chinese have never set a foot in what is today Arunachal Pradesh & former NEFA, except for one short visit in one particular location.”

The referred to ‘short visit’ was that of a Chinese Army contingent while in an expedition to Tibet in 1911 to suppress the Tibetan revolt against all foreigners including the Chinese. It came down to Wallong and planted some token boundary marks. The same were subsequently uprooted and confiscated by the British India forces and kept the areas free from further incursion of both the Chinese and the Tibetans. In any case, a casual incursion of this type does not mean that the entire Arunachal Pradesh was under the Chinese control.

The history of Arunachal Pradesh being so, it was never ever a part of Tibet or China (except the small Tawang tract), the claim over entire Arunachal Pradesh by China is nothing but an absurd proposition under some hidden agenda or motive.

On the other hand, there is abundant evidence of India’s political, religious and cultural presence in Arunachal. The ruins and relics of Bhishmak Nagar, Parasuram Kunda, Malini Than, Bhalukpung, the Brick Fort or Itanagar are some pieces of historical evidences of Indian cultural and political presence in Arunachal Pradesh in the period of early history. In the medieval period also, the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh remained independent who, however, expressed their loyalty to the rulers of Assam and in return, the Assam kings accorded the tribesmen free and safe passage to the plains of Assam and treated with lavish gifts. Evidences are there that the Ahom kings had recruits in its army from the Arunachali tribes too.

Above all, that the lofty mountain range of the Himalayas, the natural boundary of India and Tibet is known to the world since the time immemorial by the nomenclature ‘Himalayas”, which is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘abode of the snow’, no doubt, suggest of Indian influence and control over the areas up to and including the Himalayan ranges.

(The writer can be reached at his email

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