The US has sent out another strong signal to China that Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India.
The US embassy in New Delhi has co-sponsored an event highlighting the culture of the indigenous tribes of the eastern state as part of India’s ongoing Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav and the seventy-fifth anniversary of Indo-US ties.
The event, titled ‘Living Heritage of Arunachal’, will be launched in New Delhi Tuesday (27 September) evening.
The US embassy’s ‘Ambassador’s Fund For Cultural Preservation’ is the co-sponsor of the event along with the Union Ministry of Tourism and UNESCO’s ‘International Information & Network for Intangible Cultural Heritage In Asia-Pacific’.
China is sure to react angrily to the USA’s support for the event. Three years ago, the then US ambassador’s inauguration of the annual Tawang Festival--a cultural extravaganza at Tawang, a major town near the LAC in western Arunachal--had enraged Beijing.
The visit by the then US ambassador, Kenneth Juster, to Tawang took place days after the second summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping at Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu.
Immediately after the visit, the Trump administration had said that the US ambassador’s visit to Tawang was a show of US support for India’s sovereignty.
The then Assistant Secretary in charge of South Asia, Alice Wells, had tweeted that the US ambassador’s visit to Tawang “highlights resolute US support for Indian sovereignty..”.
That riled Beijing, which opposed the US ambassador’s visit and reiterated that Arunachal Pradesh is ‘South Tibet’ and an integral part of China.
That wasn’t the first time that China saw red over US actions concerning Arunachal Pradesh. In October 2016, Richard Verma became the first US ambassador to India to visit Arunachal Pradesh, triggering a volley of angry reactions from Beijing.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang had said the US diplomat’s actions would damage the “hard-earned peace and tranquility in the China-India border region”.
China is also opposed to US support for some social sector projects and educational programmes in Arunachal Pradesh.
The US supports a major health infrastructure development programme in the eastern Indian state, while the University of South Florida has a strong tie-up with the Rajiv Gandhi University in Arunachal. The USA also has inked government-to-government exchange programmes with Arunachal Pradesh.
The USA has also reiterated many times its rejection of Chinese claims over Arunachal Pradesh and strongly supported India in the border stand-off with China.
Washington has, on many occasions, strongly criticised China’s aggression towards its neighbours, especially India, and China’s expansionist policies which the US holds is a grave threat to world peace.
China routinely opposes visits by not only foreign dignitaries, but also Indian leaders to Arunachal Pradesh. It sees red whenever Dalai Lama visits Arunachal Pradesh and has even opposed Prime Minister Modi’s visits to the state.
New Delhi was, till the stand-off along the LAC in Ladakh, circumspect about highlighting visits by foreign dignitaries to Arunachal Pradesh.
The foreign policy establishment in New Delhi harboured the impression that provoking China beyond a point would result in aggressive actions by the PLA and violation of the LAC.
But that false impression that New Delhi had been harbouring since 1962 was rudely broken by Chinese incursions in Ladakh and its steadfast refusal to restore the status quo since the 2020 stand-off. New Delhi changed its policies and is no longer defensive over Arunachal Pradesh.
Apart from supporting Tuesday’s cultural event depicting the indigenous tribes of Arunachal Pradesh, the US embassy is also delegating its acting Deputy Chief of Mission, Brian Heath, to launch a website on the cultural heritage of the tribes of the state.
What will also rile China is the Dalai Lama’s next visit to Arunachal Pradesh. The Tibetan spiritual leader indicated earlier this month that he would be visiting the eastern Indian state “soon”.
The Dalai Lama, who is an anathema to China’s ruling communists, has visited Arunachal Pradesh seven times since 1983. The last visit was in 2017.
The Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh has been centred on Tawang, which houses the Gaden Namgyal Lhatse, popularly known as the Tawang Monastery, which is the largest monastery in India.
Tawang is closely associated with the sixth Dalai Lama, who was born at the Urgelling Monastery there in 1683. China’s claim over Arunachal Pradesh rests on this; Beijing asserts that since the sixth Dalai Lama was born in Tawang, it was part of Tibet.
Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.
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