India's recent acts, remarks over China's Zangnan 'serve election purpose'
Consequence of sparking military conflict in border region 'too grave for New Delhi'
Published: Mar 20, 2024 08:48 PM
India Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

India Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The Indian government's recent acts and remarks over the Chinese territory of Zangnan are in the interests of helping Prime Minister Narendra Modi win re-election, as he and his party want to shape a hawkish image for their nationalist voters. This does not necessarily mean that India will take real actions to provoke China or change the status quo in border regions, because New Delhi wants to win the election, not sparking a military conflict that it cannot afford, Chinese analysts said. 

The Indian foreign ministry said on Tuesday that China was making "absurd claims" over the so-called "Arunachal Pradesh," adding that the region "will always be an integral and inalienable part of India," Reuters reported. "Repeating baseless arguments in this regard does not lend such claims any validity," Randhir Jaiswal, India's foreign ministry spokesperson said.

This is the latest response from the Modi administration to remarks made by the Chinese Defense Ministry last week. Zhang Xiaogang, spokesperson for the Ministry of National Defense, said at a routine monthly press conference that the area of Zangnan is Chinese territory and the Chinese government has never recognized the so-called "Arunachal Pradesh" and strongly opposes the so-called "Arunachal Pradesh" illegally established by India, demanding India to stop taking any actions that complicate border issues and effectively maintain peace and stability in border areas.

Earlier this month, Modi visited the region to inaugurate the Sela Tunnel and other projects on March 9. The Indian Ministry of Defense put out a press release and said that the tunnel will provide "all-weather connectivity" and "boost defense preparedness," media reported.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a routine daily press conference on March 11 that "The area of Zangnan is Chinese territory. The Chinese government has never recognized the so-called 'Arunachal Pradesh' illegally set up by India and firmly opposes it. The China-India boundary question has yet to be solved. India has no right to arbitrarily develop the area of Zangnan in China." 

"India's relevant moves will only complicate the boundary question and disrupt the situation in the border areas between the two countries. China strongly deplores and firmly opposes the Indian leader's visit to the East Section of the China-India boundary. We have made solemn representations to India," Wang noted. 

Lin Minwang, a research fellow at the Center for South Asian Studies, Institute of International Studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times on Wednesday that "India's recent acts and remarks are serving the Modi administration's purpose to win the upcoming election, so it's important for us to take this background into consideration."

Chinese analysts said the Modi administration and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) want to show a hawkish and hard-line image to their nationalist voters, and being tough against China on border issues is a very effective tactic in the election. However, India's recent remarks have not gone beyond its existing stance, and its military deployments and relevant projects are more like internal adjustments and would not be able to change the status quo of the border area significantly.

"On the issue of Zangnan area, China and India are crystal clear about the stances of each other, so considering how to prevent this issue from escalating, we hope that both sides could have some consensuses and tacit understanding. The possibility of India unilaterally launching provocations in the border regions remains low," Lin noted. 

The Modi administration wants to shape its image as being hard-line rather than provoking an actual military conflict with China that it cannot afford, said a Beijing-based Chinese military expert who asked for anonymity. "The border conflicts in recent years alongside the border region prove that India has always suffered losses, and if it provokes a conflict at this moment and receives a military failure, that would be extremely bad for the BJP in the election."

When India hypes the topic about Zangnan with high-profile rhetoric, China does not need to overreact, as this serves the Modi administration's election purposes.  China needs to pay attention to India's moves and give India's hysterical remarks the appropriate response, experts said. 

Hu Zhiyong, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Wednesday that the Modi administration has always tried to use the issue of Zangnan to bargain with China. "Militarily, China needs to keep on high-alert and be prepared for any provocation and present effective determination. Only by doing so can we make sure India will not be arrogant enough to do anything unwise," Hu noted.