NEW DELHI: India’s powerful home minister paid a visit to a Himalayan frontier state that China claims as part of its territory on Monday to launch a 48-billion-rupee ($585 million) development scheme that he claims will improve border security.
According to Home Minister Amit Shah, the program, which will cover nearly 3,000 villages in four states and one federally administered territory on the Chinese border, is intended to help reverse migration out of border areas.
During his visit to Arunachal Pradesh on Monday, Shah stated that Indian troops, who have long been stationed in the region, were ensuring that no one looked over its borders or encroached on its land.
His remarks came just hours after Beijing said it strongly opposed his planned trip to the eastern state and saw his activities there as a violation of China’s territorial sovereignty.
Arunachal Pradesh has become a new flashpoint in relations between New Delhi and Beijing, which have been strained since bloody clashes between their armies elsewhere in the western Himalayas in 2020, which killed 24 soldiers.
Troops from both sides clashed in the state’s Tawang sector in December last year, and India recently rejected China’s renaming of 11 locations in Arunachal Pradesh, including five mountains.
A map released last week depicted the 11 renamed places by China as being within “Zangnan,” or southern Tibet in Chinese, with Arunachal Pradesh, included.
Shah, a close confidant of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the government’s second most powerful leader said Indians in the hinterland could sleep peacefully because of the “bravery and sacrifices” of troops on the border.
“They have ensured that no one can look over our borders,” Shah said at a public meeting in Kibithoo, a border village in Arunachal Pradesh’s Anjaw district that is one of India’s last inhabited settlements just miles from the Chinese border.
“Today, we can proudly say that the days of anyone encroaching on our territory are over,” Shah said in Hindi, without naming China.
In 1962, India and China fought a brief but bloody war, and Kibithoo was among the first areas to be overrun by Chinese forces.
There was concern ten years ago that the village would empty, but Shah said the ‘Vibrant Villages Programme’ he launched on Monday would provide banking, power, cooking gas, jobs, and physical and digital connectivity to what he called “India’s first village.”
Since taking office in 2014, the Modi government has spent millions of dollars to improve military and civilian infrastructure along India’s 3,800-kilometer border with China, which analysts say has irritated Beijing.
“Zangnan is Chinese territory,” Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, said earlier on Monday in response to a question about Shah’s visit.
“The Indian official’s visit to Zangnan violates China’s territorial sovereignty and is not conducive to the border situation’s peace and tranquility.”