Chinese and Indian security officials at a Himalayan border area. Photo: Pinterest

MUMBAI – China today made a veiled threat to India, describing one of India’s northeastern states as “South Tibet” and saying it never recognized Arunachal Pradesh as part of India.

The latest threat come as the two most populous countries remained in a tense confrontation in mountainous Ladakh, where China has intruded into parts.

The Chinese threat came after a junior minister in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet said five men from India’s northeastern state were kidnapped by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

“The Indian Army has already sent a hotline message to the counterpart PLA establishment at the border point in Arunachal Pradesh. Response is awaited,’’ Kiren Rijiju replied to journalists’ questions on Twitter.

The Chinese response was unambiguous.

“China has never recognized so-called ‘Arunachal Pradesh,’ which is China’s South Tibet region, and we have no details to release yet about the question on the Indian army sending a message to PLA about five missing Indians in the region,’’ said China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian according to the mouthpiece Global Times newspaper.

In 1962, China invaded Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh’s northeastern tip called Aksai Chin in a similarly planned invasion. China then withdrew from large parts of Arunachal Pradesh, while holding on to Aksai Chin, which is contiguous with Tibet. China invaded and occupied Tibet in 1950, soon after its independence in 1949.

India and China share 3,488 kilometers of border, which is mostly mountainous and inhospitable. Most of the border was demarcated by the British before India’s independence in 1947. China refuses to recognize it, without providing its version of maps or earlier agreements.

Following India’s action to withdraw special status granted to the state of Jammu and Kashmir including Ladakh in August 2019, China and Pakistan raised objections and raised the issue to the United Nations Security Council, but found no support from global powers.

As the pandemic spread in India from March 2020 and Indian troops couldn’t move into Ladakh as snows melted, the PLA moved in to occupy parts of the region. India and China have been embroiled in skirmishes since May.

Twenty Indian and an undisclosed number of Chinese soldiers were killed in a clash in Galwan Valley on June 15. On August 30, Indian special forces occupied several heights overlooking Chinese positions including its military bases around south Pangong Lake.

After more than half a dozen rounds of negotiations over the past three months, China has hardened its position saying it won’t withdraw from a single inch of land, which it now claims as its own, and says it will use all its force to defend it.

Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and his Chinese counterpart General Wei Fenghe held over two hours of talks in Moscow on September 4, which ended without agreement and each side reiterating their stated positions.

Indian and Chinese troops march at a Himalayan border outpost in a file photo. Image: Facebook

Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi are scheduled to meet in Moscow on September 10 on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a meeting that may or may not defuse the situation.

Like Ladakh, India’s northeast is mountainous, covered in thick forests and difficult to monitor or guard. The two countries last had a skirmish in the region in 1967 at Nathu La in Sikkim, when India repelled Chinese forces.

In 2017, China encroached on parts of the small mountainous country of Bhutan, which depends on India for its defense. The issue of China’s encroachment in Doklam was nearly resolved after several weeks of stalemate. India shares a 700-kilometer border with Bhutan.