China 'renames' six places in Arunachal Pradesh: Here's what this name-game could mean

China's dispute over Arunachal Pradesh with India has just become more complicated with a name-game

Sujan Dutta April 19, 2017 13:32:16 IST
China 'renames' six places in Arunachal Pradesh: Here's what this name-game could mean

New Delhi: China's dispute over Arunachal Pradesh with India has just become more complicated with a name-game. Beijing has announced through state media that it was renaming or "standardising" the names of six places in Arunachal Pradesh, that it calls "South Tibet".

The territorial dispute with China has now spilled over from the map to the realms of the cultural and linguistic. This follows Beijing's objections to the visit of the Dalai Lama to Arunachal. The Dalai Lama returned from the North East Indian state on 13 April.

The first name mentioned in the report — Wo'gyainling — probably refers to the Urgyenling monastery, near Tawang town. It is obviously a reassertion of China's claim over the Kameng division in western Arunachal.

The sixth Dalai Lama (1683-1706), reputed to have been a colourful personality with a taste for wine and women and writing poetry and composing music, is said to have been born in the Urgyenling monastery. He was from Arunachal's Monpa tribe. Now, the 14th Dalai Lama — the current — has just returned (13 April) from Tawang. China protested against his visit vehemently. But the protests were limited to statements from its foreign ministry. It is now apparent that Beijing has put more state muscle — without using its military so far — behind its claims over Arunachal Pradesh.

China renames six places in Arunachal Pradesh Heres what this namegame could mean

File image of Indian soldiers patrolling the Arunachal border. AFP

The Global Times report said the announcement of the standardisation of names was made through the website of the Chinese ministry of civil affairs, and not by the foreign ministry.

Ambassador Phunchok Stobdan, senior fellow with the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA), New Delhi, former diplomat, author and expert on Tibetan affairs, spoke to Firstpost to give a quick rundown of what the announcement of the standardisation of the names means. Stobdan identifies most of the six names as places such as mountains and passes. There are two that may have a direct reference to towns — Urgyenling (as it is spelt in India) and Mechuka (as spelt in India), where the Indian Air Force has just upgraded an Advanced Landing Ground (ALG), a forward airstrip where its military cargo planes land and take-off from.

In the Chinese state media, these places are romanised as Wo'gyainling and Mainquka. Mechuka is roughly translated from the Tibetan by Stobdan as "mouth of fire".

Mila Ri — ri meaning mountain in Tibetan — says Stobdan, is probably a feature named after a Tibetan saint Mila Respa.

Qoidengarbo Ri translates to White Stupa Mountain. Stobdan could not immediately identify the place in Arunachal that it may be referring to. But says that the use of the word 'ri' indicates it is a high on a mountain.

Bumo La is likely Bumla. About an hour-and-a-half's drive above Tawang, this was one of the routes that the Chinese army had taken in 1962 when they overran Arunachal before withdrawing unilaterally. It is now an officially designated meeting point for the Indian and Chinese armies. The border is demarcated by a heap of stones called just that: "Heap of Stones". There are military buildings on both sides of the line called "huts" where the official meetings take place. The armies meet here to exchange pleasantries on ceremonial occasions (such as Independence Day and Diwali) as well as to lodge complaints or file evidence of deliberate or indeliberate incursions.

The last named place, Namkapub Ri, probably refers to another high feature over the Namka Chu. The place, about 60 kilometres west of Tawang, holds a historical lesson for India.

The Namka Chu, a river, flows through a gorge here. In September-October 1962, the Indian Army's 7th Infantry Brigade commanded by Brigadier JP Dalvi was smashed by Chinese troops and the brigadier himself was taken prisoner of war.

This is where the origins of then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru's "forward policy" lie and in some ways, the origins of the war can be traced to the Thagla Ridge here, according to Neville Maxwell in his book India's China War. The Chinese claimed that the Thagla Ridge was in Tibet, on their side of the border. The Indians claimed that it was on their side of the McMahon Line, according to the frontier demarcated by the British. Following the forward policy, Indian troops were ordered to set up posts ahead of the line, provoking the Chinese.

What is important now is that these historical reminders are being served now, following the visit of the Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh.

India, too, has played the name-game before. In 1987 it converted the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) into the state of Arunachal Pradesh.

"We have Sankritised or Hindi-ised names — Arunachal is a Sanskritised name — and they are Tibetanising names because they claim Arunachal to be 'South Tibet'," says Stobdan.

Name-games are not exclusive to only the foreign policies of India and China. Both countries have changed names of cities and towns to reflect a certain politics; think Bombay to Mumbai in India and Peking to Beijing in China. China has also toyed with the romanised spelling of its tallest communist leader, Mao Tse Tung or Mao Zedong.

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