11/14/2006, 00.00
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Border demarcation dispute between China and India re-emerges

The two states have been claiming respective territories for more than 40 years. Now controversial declarations have been made by both sides, just days before President Hu visits Delhi.

New Delhi (AsiaNews/agencies) – On the eve of Hu Jintao's visit to India, a controversy between the two states over the ownership of border areas is re-emerging. "Arunachal is an integral part of India and we know the respective position" of India and China, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said today in an indirect response to Beijing.

Yesterday the Chinese ambassador Sun Yuxi, in a televised interview, said: "In our position, the whole of Arunachal Pradesh is Chinese territory and Tawang is only one place in it."

The governor of Arunachal Pradesh was critical of this stand, describing it as "arrogant" and saying it was "inappropriate for an ambassador to make such a comment".

Since the Sino-India war in 1962, the two states have been discussing the exact demarcation of the 3,500-km India-China border. New Delhi disputes Beijing's rule over 38,000 sq km of barren, icy and uninhabited land on the Tibetan plateau, which China seized from India in the war. China, for its part, claims 90,000 sq km of territory in Arunachal Pradesh. Within that disputed area is Tawang and its monastery, a vestige of Mahayana Buddhism. The sixth Dalai Lama was born here, claims Beijing, which shows that the district was part of Tibet. Several rounds of talks have been since 1981 to but have so far failed to make progress. In 2005, during Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to India, "political parameters and guiding principles" to resolve the controversy were finalized. Chinese experts recently asked for the "restitution" of Tawang zone as a precondition to resolving the dispute. But India believes this area is of strategic importance as the "doorway" to the Himalayan region. The matter is expected to be tackled by President Hu Jintao during his trip to New Delhi that will start on 20 November.

In recent years, the two global giants, and historic rivals, started to collaborate in sectors like energy, security and defence. Bilateral trade is expected to reach 20 billion US dollars in 2006. China makes no secret of its ambitions to become India's foremost trading partner within a few years, supplanting the United States. Cultural ties have also been resumed after 40 years of deep-freeze. India and China are celebrating 2006 as a "Year of Friendship". On July 6, a railway between Kolkata in Sikkim and Lhasa in Tibet was reopened after 40 years. It travels over the 4,310-metre-high Nathu La Pass, the ancient Silk Road that saw the passage of most trade between the two states for centuries.

But the border dispute remains an unresolved source of disagreement. For decades, China has been proposing an exchange between western Aksai Chin (that covers 20% of Kashmir) and eastern Arunachal Pradesh. But India declared that no "inhabited areas" could be considered so this ruled out any demands for Arunachal Pradesh. Meanwhile, in 2005, Beijing recognised the Indian territory of Sikkim, an ex-Buddhist kingdom. In return, New Delhi stopped protesting in international forums about human rights violations in Tibet.

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