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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Border Disputes: Arunachal Pradesh India or South Tibet?

April 15, 2009

by Chris Devonshire-Ellis
April 14, 2009

With yesterday’s news that China has vetoed plans
for an Asian Development Bank loan to India for
development of the Arunachal Pradesh region, we
take a look at why the region is disputed, where
it is, and the commodities and economic benefits possession of the area brings.

The political problems with the region go back to
the days of the British Raj, and predate the
current government of China’s authority. Indeed,
Taiwan claims ownership also under its position
as an alleged government of China. Historically,
the region was a kingdom, with several mentions
of it being made in a number of Vedic texts. It
is also mentioned in the Indian epic, the
Mahabharata, although it is usually acknowledged
that much of the region was a de facto vassal
state of Tibet, and that tributes were paid to the Dalai Lama in Lhasa.

Parts of the region however are known to have
been administered by Bhutan, and to the east,
Burma, until the British annexed India completely
in 1858. The region was an important trading
route with Lhasa, and connected Tibet to the
nearest port, at Calcutta. The sixth Dalai Lama
was born in Tawang, in the northwest of the region.

Problems over sovereignty go back therefore to
the Chinese claim over Tibet, which was enforced
in 1949, and to the “Simla Accord”, of 1914, when
China was ruled as a republic, in which
representatives of Britain, China, and Tibet were
to define the borders. The purpose of the
agreement was to designate borders of Inner and
Outer Tibet, in addition to borders between Tibet
and British India. An 890 kilometer-line was
designated as the border. British and Tibetan
officials agreed on the demarcation; however the
Chinese had issues with the designation of
“inner” and “outer” Tibet, and walked out of the
discussions. Fast forward to the Chinese civil
war, and the Nationalists fleeing to Taiwan, and
the Communist Party’s moving into Tibet in 1951.
Since then, the Chinese government has made it
clear that its position has remained constant,
and that it inherited the Nationalist position
that the agreement over the borders in 1914 was
never agreed to by China. It subsequently has
refused to do so, and in 1962 fought a brief
border war with India over the territory. China
won, but subsequently withdrew from its
territorial gains in the region and allowed India to repossess them.

China and Taiwan accordingly jointly claim
Arunachal Pradesh as belonging to Tibet and being
the province of “South Tibet” as neither signed
off on the original border demarcation. India
claimed the area as under its sovereignty in
1950, while the Tibetan government in exile
continues to identify Arunachal Pradesh as
belonging to India and recognizes the Simla
Accord and border demarcation between Tibet and India.

Arunachal Pradesh is agriculturally rich, with
rice, maize, millet, wheat, pulses, sugarcane,
ginger and oil seeds all grown in the region and
processed here. The region also has some 61,000
square kilometers of forests, and this represents
an important sector of the local economy, however
tree felling and saw mills are prohibited on
conservation grounds. It is understood part of
the disputed loan India was to obtain from the
ADB was to deal with water management and
ecological problems caused by deforestation on
the Chinese side and impacting on Arunachal
Pradesh. Limited trade with Tibet has commenced,
with roads having been constructed by China up to
various borders crossings up to the border, with
routes leading back to Lhasa. However, the Indian
side remains distrustful of Chinese intentions in
the region, and similar infrastructure on the Indian side remains downgraded.

Arunachal Pradesh Fast Facts:

Population: 1.1 million
Area: 83,743 sq km
Capital city: Itanagar
Current GDP: (est.) US$480 million
Government website:

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