India-China border issues were once settled on the border between local commanders. But not any more. Photo: AFP / Indian Defense Ministry

JAIPUR – The alleged abduction of a teenage boy by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has kicked off a political storm in India, one that threatens to spark a new round of border tensions between the two Asian giants.

The 17-year-old boy from Arunachal Pradesh, a state in northeast India, had been missing since January 18 and a tweet on the case by a ruling party parliamentarian has created an uproar in the country.

Tapir Gao, a Bhartiya Janta Party MP from Arunachal Pradesh, said in a tweet on January 19: “Chinese #PLA has abducted Miram Taron, 17 years of Zido vill. yesterday 18th Jan 2022 from inside Indian territory, Lungta Jor area (China-built 3-4 km road inside India in 2018) under Siyungla area (Bishing village) of Upper Siang dist, Arunachal Pradesh.”

“His friend escaped from PLA and reported to the authorities. All the agencies of Govt of India is requested to step up for his early release.”

The opposition has seized on the tweet to castigate the Narendra Modi government over its lack of action on the alleged kidnapping.

Rahul Gandhi, a senior leader of the opposition Indian National Congress party, also took to Twitter, saying in Hindi: “Just a few days before Republic Day, the future of India was kidnapped by China. We stand with the family of Miram Taron and will not give up hope and won’t accept defeat. The Prime Minister’s cowardly silence is his statement … He doesn’t care.”

India celebrates Republic Day on January 26. Reports indicate India’s army contacted the PLA as soon as it received information about the missing boy.

On Sunday (January 23), India’s wire agency ANI, quoting defense public relations officer Lieutenant colonel Harshvardhan Pandey, tweeted: “The Chinese Army has communicated to us that they have found a missing boy from Arunachal Pradesh and the due procedure is being followed.” 

Soon after this statement came, Gandhi tweeted: “If you are running a government, do your duty. Bring back Miram Taroun! Bring back #MiramTaron!”

Source: Twitter

Similar incidents have recently been reported. According to a Hindustan Times report, a similar abduction took place in September 2020 when the PLA took five youths from Arunachal Pradesh’s Upper Subansiri district and released them after about one week. 

“It is not only the case of abduction of a boy; the tweet by the BJP MP also talks about China building 3-4 kilometer road inside India in 2018. If it is true it is a big issue. India should raise it at a proper forum,” a defense expert said on condition of anonymity.

“A citizen of our country has been abducted, a road is built inside our border, they enter and you are silent on this? Why?” Shaktisinh Gohil, a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha, or upper house, said.

#China builds an illegal bridge on Pangong Tso Lake, Ladakh • Chinese Army transgresses and abducts our citizens in Arunanchal! • China illegally occupies Depsang Plains up to Y junction! • China illegally occupies Gogra Hot Springs! • PM Modi & GOI remain ‘mum’!,” Randeep Singh Surjewala, the General Secretary of Congress, tweeted.

India’s relations with China hit a new low after border clashes in the Galwan Valley in June 2020, where soldiers were killed on both sides. Soon after the killings, a #BoycottChineseProducts started to trend online.

The Modi government retaliated by banning more than 260 Chinese apps, including the popular TikTok, Shien and CamScanner.

Even so, the Congress-led opposition has in recent months lashed out at the government’s China policy, which it sees as too weak in the face of persistent provocations.

Congress spokesperson Gourav Vallabh, while addressing a press conference in December, alleged China had claimed 90,000 square kilometers of land in Arunachal Pradesh, part of the territory China calls Zangnan, or south Tibet.

He noted that China had renamed 15 places in Arunachal Pradesh in December, including eight residential areas, four mountains, two rivers and a mountain pass.

Vallabh said the Modi government’s alleged compromise of “national security” and “territorial integrity” had been exposed.

An Indian army soldier sits inside an upgraded L70 anti-aircraft gun in Tawang, near the Line of Actual Control in the northeast Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. Photo: AFP / Money Sharma

The Congress spokesperson said: “How come China entered into our territory, Arunachal Pradesh, and constructed a village, a dual-use village. Not just a residential village, it is also a military cantonment.

“Why is PM mum? Why Modi government compromises on our territorial integrity? When will Modi government respond to this verbal, geographic, military and strategic aggression of China?

“Why are we tolerating all-around aggression from China and doing absolutely nothing about it? And despite a tense military stand-off, why has India-China trade crossed $100 billion in the year 2021,” he asked.

Modi’s government has an economic incentive to downplay the disputes, according to observers and analysts.

According to China’s General Administration of Customs (GAC) data, bilateral trade between the two neighbors was more than $114 billion, up 46.4% year-on-year from January to November 2021. 

Trade between the two Asian giants has steadily grown over the last two decades, up from a modest $1.83 billion in 2001.

Follow Anil Sharma on Twitter: @anilsharma45