China must realize changing names does not change sovereignty

 Its high time for India to reassert its claim on Minsar near Mt Kailash, and support Thimphu in its claims of the eight Bhutanese enclaves located in Western Tibet

By Claude Arp

Since 1984, the Chinese and Bhutanese officials have been meeting to discuss their common border. The Bhutanese negotiators are usually bullied by the big ‘northern neighbor’.

A few years ago, during a ‘discussion’, the Chinese side gave a long presentation about the names of places which, according to them, proved that Bhutan occupied Chinese territory at several locations. They started arguing that ‘la’ was a Chinese word (it means ‘pass’ in Tibetan and Bhutanese, not in Chinese). Bhutanese negotiators told their Chinese counterparts that it was not a Chinese name, but the latter insisted that the postfix ‘la’ showed that the place belonged to China.

A smart senior Bhutanese official interrupted the Chinese and asked: “What about Patia-la? Is it a Chinese place?” The Chinese were taken by surprise and kept quiet… at least for some time.

This anecdote came to mind when I read that Beijing released the second batch of ‘new’ names for places in Arunachal Pradesh. On December 30, the Ministry of Civil Affairs in Beijing announced that it had “standardized in Chinese characters, Tibetan and Roman alphabet the names of 15 places in Zangnan [they now call thus the southern part of Xizang or Tibet], in accordance with regulations on geographical names issued by the State Council, China’s cabinet.”

Though China has never used this term before, ‘Zangnan’ is probably an abbreviation of Xi Zang is Tibet and ‘Nan’ is ‘south’ in Mandarin. The names are not ‘invented’; they are transcriptions of the Tibetan names for these 15 areas. It is far more serious than ‘invented names’ because by ‘proving’ that these places had Tibetan names, China can come to the easy conclusion that they have been Tibetan places in the past and are therefore Chinese.

The argument is tenuous, but it does not stop China from using it. It however gives a clear message to India: Whatever has been Tibetan (or even has a Tibetan name) belongs to China. One day, places in Ladakh, Sikkim or Kinnaur can thus be claimed.

Why this mixture of different places is not clear and why only 15 names, if the entire State belongs to China (as claimed by Beijing).

Already in 2017, China had announced ‘standardized’ names for six places in Arunachal Pradesh. Why four years between the first batch of six names and the present ones?

China has renamed places in the past. After the signature of the infamous Panchsheel in April 1954 surrendering India’s rights in Tibet, China started intruding into India’s territory in Barahoti (today Chamoli district of Uttarakhand). Soon Beijing began to talk about a place called ‘Wuje’. It took time for Delhi to discover that Wuje was the same place as Barahoti. The reason for the confusion was probably because Beijing did not even know that Wuje/Barahoti was south of Tunjun-la, the main pass in the area and therefore south of the watershed.

In the present list two areas are close to the McMahon Line: Maja/Mechag, south of Longju, where a few months ago, China built a new village in Indian Territory; so is Tuting (Duding) where the Yarlung Tsangpo enters India in the Upper Siang district. India needs to be ready for any eventualities in these areas.

(The writer is a noted author, journalist, historian, Tibetologist, and China expert. The views expressed are personal.)

(Courtesy: First Post)

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