How Much Territory Has China ‘Grabbed’ in Arunachal Pradesh?

Nobody is willing to hazard a guess on the total area occupied by the Chinese in Arunachal Pradesh. 

Updated23 Jun 2020, 05:10 PM IST
Opinion
5 min read

In sharp contrast to China’s aggressive activities and claims on Galwan Valley is a stealthy project of ‘grabbing’ territory, that it has implemented thousands of kilometers away along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Arunachal Pradesh, over the past several decades.

After the war of 1962, there were only two episodes along the LAC in Arunachal Pradesh, resulting in a skirmish and stand-off between the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

In 1975, four soldiers of the Assam Rifles were ambushed and killed after a patrolling party of the PLA intruded deep into Indian territory in Tawang’s Tulung La on the western fringe of the border state.

Representational image of Tawang 
Representational image of Tawang 
(Photo: Rajeev Bhattacharyya)

A Matter of Concern: Rapid Build-Up of Chinese Infrastructure Along LAC in Arunachal

A more serious chapter had unfolded in 1986-87, which had almost pushed the neighbours to the brink of war. In 1986, an Indian patrol found permanent Chinese structures on the bank of Sumdorong Chu in Tawang, which was followed within weeks by the construction of a helipad. The Indian Army sent reinforcements to occupy Hathung La, prompting the Chinese to move their troops to the border.

Tension was defused only after External Affairs Minister ND Tiwari landed in Beijing with a clear message that India’s objective was not to aggravate the situation, following which the first formal flag meeting between the armies was convened on 5 August 1987.

Besides these episodes, there were numerous incidents in the past few years when both the armies came face-to-face during patrols, with each side refusing to withdraw from their respective positions. Along the LAC in Dibang Valley, the PLA had also once hung placards which said “This is Chinese territory. Please go back.”

However, what is of concern, is a rapid build-up of infrastructure by China which is discernible almost along the entire stretch of the 1126 kms long LAC in Arunachal Pradesh, from Anjaw district in the east, to Tawang in the west.

Concurrent with this development has been the gradual advance of the PLA into Arunachal Pradesh in certain locations since the past several decades, which include building of roads and bridges.

Representational image of Tawang 
Representational image of Tawang 
(Photo: Rajeev Bhattacharyya)

The Three ‘Danger Zones’

Politicians and intelligence officials speak of three ‘danger zones’ along the LAC in Arunachal Pradesh, where the Chinese have been observed to be advancing over the past two decades or so.

“The process has been on since a long time,” said Tapir Gao, Lok Sabha Member of Parliament who represents Arunachal Pradesh (East). “Last February, I had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, drawing his attention and making a case for resolving the issue at the earliest with all the details of the territory under occupation.”

Anjaw, which also borders Myanmar, is one of the districts that have witnessed a massive surge of Chinese activities in terms of new roads and increased deployment of troops. In Chaglagam circle, known for its large tracts of cardamom cultivation, the Chinese have constructed a bridge over a stream.

Locals and officials are reportedly apprehensive of further intrusion by the Chinese if the Indian Army’s deployment is not scaled-up.

In 2009, a report in The Telegraph which claimed that the Chinese occupation of Hundred Hill near Kaho was confirmed by locals to this correspondent last year who also speak of a new highway across the border.

Reports of Chinese ‘Occupation’ In Andrella Valley

Contiguous to Anjaw is the picturesque Dibang Valley where a patch along the border, called Andrella Valley, which was perceived to belong to India, has reportedly come under Chinese occupation. The situation has been rendered hazardous by the increasing migration of the border populace to towns and cities in search of sustainable livelihood options. The state government has already approached the Centre for pilot projects to prevent the people from leaving their habitats in the border areas.

The most perilous situation is along a stretch of the LAC, spanning over 100 kms west of Dibang Valley in Upper Subansiri district, touching Asaphila, Longju, Disa and Maja – where the Chinese have established their presence.

An official said that the encroachment in Upper Subansiri has been continuing “bit by bit” since 1980. He claimed that the PLA has moved about 50-60 kms inside Indian territory in the district which also witnessed action during the 1962 aggression.

A Question Mark Looms Over ‘Seized Territory’

Nobody is willing to hazard a guess on the total area occupied by the Chinese in Arunachal Pradesh.

The common refrain on everybody’s lips is “a large chunk” that might been snatched by China.

However, politicians and intelligence officials are on the same wavelength on certain aspects of the covert operations by the PLA into Arunachal Pradesh. First, there is a consensus that Upper Subansiri has witnessed the maximum seizure of territory. And secondly, the intrusion by the PLA has occurred mostly in areas devoid of villages and the army’s presence.

“For instance, in Upper Subansiri, an outpost has been created by the army in New Maja but Maja has already been occupied. The area under their (Chinese) occupation in our state could be huge,” Tapir Gao said.

Concern over Chinese intrusions in the border state has been brought to the notice of the Centre from time to time. In 2003, former state chief minister Gegong Apang highlighted the situation in Maja and the adjoining region to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee while making a case for early resolution of the dispute.

Increased Chinese Presence Along Points Across Upper Siang & Upper Subansiri

Most of the occupied zones are unlike the districts of Tawang, West Kameng and Anjaw, where more roads are discernible with intermittent human settlements. An army patrol still takes a week to reach places like Taksing in Upper Subansiri on foot, and the situation is even worse with some spots in Upper Siang district.

Some local hunters from the border village of Katenala in Upper Subansiri – who occasionally sell wildlife items and caterpillar fungus to agents in China – also spoke of the increased presence of China’s PLA along certain points across Upper Siang and Upper Subansiri, which they avoid by charting alternate routes. At times, they are accosted – but usually let off without any harassment.

(Rajeev Bhattacharyya is a senior journalist in Guwahati. He tweets @rajkbhat. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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Published: 23 Jun 2020, 02:40 PM IST

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