NEW DELHI — India has responded angrily to a new map published by the Chinese government showing Beijing’s claims to contested territory, as the dispute threatens another flare-up in relations between the two Asian giants at a key diplomatic juncture.
While the map did not illustrate any new Chinese territorial claims, Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said Tuesday that India has lodged an official diplomatic protest. China’s so-called “standard map” is released annually by the Chinese Ministry of Natural Resources and usually shows Arunachal Pradesh, a state in India’s far northeast, as part of China. Arunachal, governed by India but long claimed by China as “southern Tibet,” was the site of fighting during a 1962 war between the two nations.
Two other Asian governments, Malaysia and Taiwan, joined in Wednesday to criticize China’s claims over nearly the entire South China Sea and over self-ruled Taiwan. The Philippines said Thursday it also “rejected” the map’s depiction of Chinese maritime claims.
Speculation has mounted in recent weeks that Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi may seek a settlement of a border dispute that has persisted since 2020 and led to military clashes and a costly buildup by both sides. The two leaders met last week in South Africa at a summit of the BRICS bloc of major emerging economies — including Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — and pledged to intensify efforts to settle the dispute, which is being negotiated by high-ranking officers from the Indian and Chinese armies.
But the new edition of China’s map, which had “no basis,” would complicate those negotiations, Bagchi warned. At a Wednesday briefing with reporters, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin responded by saying the maps were released on a “routine” basis and asked India to “stay objective and calm.”
Happymon Jacob, a professor at the School of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the map’s claims were not surprising.
But “the timing, immediately after the BRICS summit and shortly before the [Group of 20] summit, is surprising though,” he added. “Both the act and the timing underline the harsh reality that China is inflexible about its revisionist claims and that it is unlikely to stop.”
In what could be another blow to bilateral relations, Xi is expected to skip the G-20 summit to be held next week in New Delhi, Reuters reported Thursday, citing unnamed officials from India and other countries.
The Chinese Communist Party leader has never missed a G-20 summit since he became president in 2013, and his absence will be seen as a snub to India, which has invested heavily in promoting the event to showcase its rising clout and frame Modi as an influential international broker who can straddle both the U.S.-led Western alliance and other blocs.
The Modi government’s diplomatic push has fallen short this year, however, with officials from G-20 countries failing to reach consensus on issues ranging from the Ukraine war to fossil fuels during a series of meetings hosted by India. This month, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian President Vladimir Putin would also skip traveling to New Delhi due to his “busy schedule.”
Top leaders including President Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida have confirmed their attendance at the two-day summit, which will take place Sept. 9-10.