Chinese Tactics in Northeast India
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Chinese Tactics in Northeast India

By Dr. Sriparna Pathak

Chinese Tactics in Northeast India

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The year 2018 began in India with news reports that China had crossed 200 meters into Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh, with road construction material. This was, however, shortly negated by both Indian and Chinese officials. To note, there have been incidents of Chinese incursions along the border. Of which, the most recent was that of December 2017, which came merely a few days after Yang Jiechi, China’s Special Representative on India- China boundary delivered messages of friendship for generations. As has been the case previously, incursions are frequently interspersed with a diplomatic sweet talk which is nothing short of deception.

Besides incursions, China’s strategy in Arunachal Pradesh has also been accompanied by road building activities and other infrastructure projects, along with lodging of protests with the Indian government when any Indian official visits the State. Recent examples include those when India’s Defense Minister and President visited the State in November and December respectively in 2017. The question that comes to the fore is why has the State become so important to China, and why did it unilaterally return from the State in 1962 after having taken control of it.

The question as to why the State of Arunachal Pradesh is so important for China becomes even more complicated when the package deal offered by Zhou Enlai to Jawaharlal Nehru is taken into consideration. Zhou had asked Nehru to forfeit the claim over Aksai Chin, while China would give up its claim over Arunachal Pradesh in return. As stated by Dai Bingguo, former State Councillor, the same deal was offered to Foreign Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in 1979; and the last time it was offered was during Rajiv Gandhi’s meeting with Deng Xiaoping in 1988. Needless to say, the package was not accepted. The question that needs deliberation is "what makes it so important now?"

The answer to the question is multilayered. To begin with, while China officially lays claim to Arunachal Pradesh in the eastern sector, it employs several tactics in the other Northeastern states as well. A reflection of this lies in representations in Chinese social media. For example, with respect to Manipur, which does not even have any boundary dispute with China, an article appeared on 13 August 2017, in Chinese, which translates on the lines of “Within Indian Boundaries, Exists A Small China, People Call Themselves Chinese”. The author goes by the pen name of 十三姐讲历史 (shisan jie jiang lishi) or Thirteen Sister Teaches History. Similar to this was an article by the state-run China Daily in April 2017, after the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh. Wherein, the article stated how the people in Arunachal Pradesh live difficult lives under India’s illegal rule and they look forward to returning to China.

A more outcome-oriented tactic has been the Chinese support to rebel outfits in the region. While India is yet to fully unleash the potentials of the region through the creation of infrastructure and jobs, China has for decades aided insurgency in the region, through support to rebel groups as well as the supply of arms and ammunition. Bertill Lintner’s book, Great Game East traces the history of the linkages between China and rebel groups belonging to Northeast India, wherein, he starts the entire documentation with the visit of Angami Zapu Phizo to China in the 1960s. Phizo was the leader of the Naga underground movement, seeking independence from India. While evidence of training to secessionist groups is difficult to find in the current age, it is common knowledge that Khaplang when he was alive and Paresh Baruah of ULFA often shuttle between Taga in Myanmar and Ruili in China - and are in regular touch with Chinese officials. The Hindustan Times reported in 2015 that Chinese intelligence played “an active role” in assisting nine northeast Indian insurgent groups to form a united front. The illicit flow of Chinese arms to India, including to Maoists, was confirmed by Home Secretary G.K. Pillai in 2010.

The Northeastern region of India is rich in mineral resources, which could further economic growth. A control and proper exploitation of a mineral-rich region would be of economic benefit to any country. Aid and abetment to a conflict in the region ensure that Indian domestic players that have the capacity to invest in the industrial and economic growth of the region, stay away amid security concerns. This, in turn, results in the lack of employment opportunities, who continue to resort to violence, ensuring the cycle of unemployment, lack of growth and violence continues.

However, in order to accelerate the growth of the region, the government of India has launched the Act East Policy which sees the enmeshment of domestic and foreign policies. In fact, while inaugurating the Bhupen Hazarika Bridge in May 2017, Prime Minister Modi had said that the Central government is building infrastructure to make the Northeastern region of India an important business hub under India’s Act East policy. The policy also has a special focus on establishing trade and connectivity with Southeast Asian countries. An example of the benefits that could accrue through trade lies in the Nampong Land customs station in Arunachal Pradesh. The station notified since 1951 had largely remained nonfunctional and border trade had been limited to informal channels. However, with the initiation of the Act East Policy, the Government of India renovated the station- which is an enabling factor in border trade. If only Arunachal Pradesh were to be taken as an example to elucidate the potentials of the Act East policy, then it could be stated that the State can provide electricity to cross-border regions once hydropower projects are fully commissioned and the national power grid is connected to the Southeast Asian grid for energy trading with the ASEAN countries.

The potentials of Arunachal Pradesh in terms of economic growth, mineral and natural resources become especially alluring. While the official reasons for Chinese claims to Arunachal Pradesh might lie in its stories regarding historical ties between Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh, the fact remains that these historical ties have come to the fore only recently. Till 1988, despite the existence of historical ties as per Chinese claims, offers for packages were made with India, which basically was that China was willing to trade off its claims to Arunachal Pradesh in return for jurisdiction over Aksai Chin.

With increasing economic might in China, what has also been witnessed is a more aggressive expansionist military policy, wherein examples range from the South China Sea to Northeast India. In 1988, Deng Xiaoping had told Rajiv Gandhi that it would be best to put off resolution of the dispute “for future generations to resolve”. With the growth in economic might which has fuelled military might, the time to resolve it in a way which would be in line with China’s demands seems to have arrived. Over the years, China kept the Northeastern border in a state of an active and prolonged dispute over tactics ranging from training to rebel outfits to arms supply. From being an area which China was willing to barter off, the dispute in the eastern sector now has become a “core national interest” of China. This can only be understood by examining Deng’s statement in 1988. The changes in Chinese stances on the region, to incursions, to training and support to nonstate actors, among a host of other tactics, have all been part of a long drawn out plan- an understanding of which is necessary for India to keep its Northeastern territory secure.

About the Author:

Dr. Sriparna Pathak (TR RID: L-7702-2017is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, Nagaon College, Assam, India.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this insight piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the IndraStra Global.

Cite this Article:

Pathak, S. "Chinese Tactics in Northeast India", IndraStra Global Vol. 04, Issue No: 03 (2018), 0002, | ISSN 2381-3652