Techi Takia, a village leader in Arunachal Pradesh’s Sagalee sub-division in the district of Papum Pare, knows exactly where China is.  “After a day-long trek, from a hill there, you can see mountains on the Chinese side with binoculars,” he said.

However, the events in Delhi seem too distant for him to care about. Though Takia had heard something about the visit of Chinese president Xi Jinping to India, but didn’t know much about it.

In the rest of India, policymakers and journalists are often enraged by China’s claim on Arunachal Pradesh. The Chinese refer to the state as South Tibet and consider it part of their country. They have launched incursions into the state in the past, including one that led to the 1962 Indo-China war. Additionally, when Arunachal residents travel to China, Chinese authorities issue them special “stapled visas” that mark them as residents of a disputed territory.

Given all of this, one might expect Arunachalees to hold strong opinions on China. But that was hardly the case.

Public disinterest

Upper Siang is another of Arunachal’s 17 districts, one of nine bordering China. Few Upper Siang residents have gone to China, because, as the district’s deputy commissioner Dr Tariq Thomas and additional deputy commissioner Rinchin Thungon explained, most of them are poor, and their lives revolve around their clans and villages. Few if any residents of the district have been granted such stapled visas themselves. Since the Upper Siang-China border is mostly uninhabited, with long passes and mountains, no incursions have occurred in the district. Most of the district’s people have never met a Chinese person.

This lack of interaction with China and the Chinese is true for most of today’s Arunachal. Incursions have occurred chiefly in remote parts of two districts: Tawang and Anjaw. As a result, only a miniscule percentage of Arunachalees has ever been directly affected by incursions. For the few affected, however, the Chinese have been dangerous. Some reports indicate that a few villagers have even been taken hostage in the past, though subsequently released.

As for stapled visas, as Ramesh Negi, chief secretary of the Arunachal Pradesh government, explained, only a tiny number of Arunachalees – mostly sportspersons and students – have gone to China. Consequently, the percentage of the state population directly acquainted with the dispute is small.

Media coverage

Perhaps because few Arunachalees have directly been affected by Chinese policy, state newspapers are exhibiting relative disinterest in the Xi visit.

On September 15, two widely read newspapers in the state, The Arunachal Times and Echo of Arunachal, carried no original reporting or analysis on Jinping’s imminent visit. They simply republished one or two articles from the Press Trust of India and United News of India. On September 16, Echo carried one UNI article related to China. The Times carried one editorial and a letter to the editor.

The state papers’ lack of interest stands in sharp contrast with the interest displayed by their national counterparts.

Bigger problems than China

“For us, China does not exist,” said Jarpun Gamlin, the editor of the daily Eastern Sentinel. Instead, Gamlin said that his readers are more affected by policy in North Block and South Block, the buildings that house the Indian central government’s main offices in New Delhi.

After several interviews, it's clear that most Arunachalees are more worried about everyday problems of governance than high-policy matters of border conflict and international travel.

“Right now, there’s hardly anything that we can call a road,” Gamlin continued. The state’s roads are in a state of advanced decay.

In addition, people in the state are worried about rising crime. Arunachal Pradesh police classifies crime under 13 categories. From 2011 to 2012, eight of these saw a rise (with dacoity rising by 110%), according to Taba Tusar, the Public Relations Officer of Arunachal Police. From 2012 to 2013, ten categories saw an increase (attempts at murder rose by 73%).

Arunachal residents are also unnerved by what they insist are continuing instances of illegal entry into the state. Every non-Arunachal resident entering the state requires a permit, but many have been caught without legal papers. Residents claim that illegal entrants are behind the rising crime.

Concern over invasion

When China does figure in a conversation, it's to compare Arunachal’s weak infrastructure with the more robust systems across the border.

“Tomorrow, if anything happens, the Chinese can easily take over Arunachal in a few days,” said Taba Ajum, editor of The Arunachal Times.

Thungon, the additional deputy commissioner in Upper Siang, who is stationed in Tuting, a border town, agrees. The roads are unsatisfactory, he said, adding that travel from Tuting to the state capital, Itanagar (a distance of 640 kilometers) can take three days.

The absence of an airport in the state contributes to the weakness of its transport-infrastructure. Furthermore, no trains are coming into the state at present.