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India-China border dispute: Why New Delhi will not consider handing over Tawang

After years of subtle and not-so-subtle attempts to get India to cede control of the Tawang Tract (in Arunachal Pradesh), China has made another play for that territory. Former Chinese diplomat Dai Bingguo was quoted as having told a Chinese daily that India ceding the Tawang Tract to Beijing could set the wheels in motion for an early resolution of the India-China border. This is an offer that has been made to India in the past too, but New Delhi has always declined it.

 India-China border dispute: Why New Delhi will not consider handing over Tawang

File image of the Tawang monastery. Wikimedia Commons

The unsettled border is one of the biggest sources of disagreement between the two countries and after 19 rounds of talks — a large number of which were chaired by Dai — between special representatives of both countries, a solution appears no closer in sight. That said, this statement by Dai, that comes close on the heels of the first strategic dialogue between the two countries, requires further analysis.

Dai was quoted as having said, "If the Indian side takes care of China’s concerns in the eastern sector of their border, the Chinese side will respond accordingly and address India’s concerns elsewhere... China and India are now standing in front of the gate towards a final settlement. The gate is a framework solution based on meaningful and mutually accepted adjustments. Now, the Indian side holds the key to the gate."

Which is all well and good for China. After all, Beijing refers to the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as South Tibet, claiming it to be "inalienable from China’s Tibet in terms of cultural background and administrative jurisdiction". Speaking of this cultural background aspect, it is believed that control of Tawang will tighten China's grip on Tibetan Buddhism.

There are a number of reasons India has rejected this offer in the past and is likely to continue to do so in the future for the following reasons:

First, there's a problem of nomenclature. To India, Tawang refers to a small town in Arunachal Pradesh. Just what China means by the 'Tawang Tract' is as-yet-unknown to India. It could mean the town or it could mean the entirety of Arunachal Pradesh.


The location of Tawang. Screen grab from Google Maps

Second, there's the strategic importance of the disputed area. Control of Tawang would give China the ability to cut India's North East from the rest of the country.

Third, there's the Bhutan factor. Thimphu has no diplomatic relations with Beijing, and remains one of New Delhi's closest partners in the region. Control of Tawang would give China the ability to flank Bhutan from the East, and allow it to put pressure on the country.

Fourth, there's the message that would go out to Pakistan. Seeing India cede territory to China would send Islamabad the message that New Delhi is in the mood to hand out swathes of land. And this will lead to more trouble in Kashmir.

It is primarily for these reasons that India is unlikely to take China up on this idea.

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Updated Date: Mar 03, 2017 12:23:26 IST

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