China’s meddling in the affairs of northeast India is nothing new. Beijing has long liked itself to be like an ‘elder brother’ to northeast-based insurgents.
Mid-last year Beijing and its agencies had reportedly mounted pressure on the aging Naga militant leader Thuingaleng Muivah to delay the ‘peace process’ — pending since 1997 with New Delhi. This was done around June 2020 when Chinese and Indian forces clashed, and both sides suffered casualties at Galwan Valley.
Apparently, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah faction (NSCN-IM) about that time raised the twin issues of a separate flag and Naga Constitution and in the process, the entire peace mechanism was stalled. In the meantime, several rounds of diplomatic and military level talks between India and China have taken place and some of it signaled towards a withdrawal of forces.
Lately, India’s External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar also held telephonic talks with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. A statement from the Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi said: “Noting the completion of disengagement in the Pangong Lake area, Dr Jaishankar emphasized that both sides should now quickly resolve the remaining issues along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh. He said that once disengagement is completed at all friction points, then the two sides could also look at broader de-escalation of troops in the area and work towards restoration of peace and tranquility”. The LAC is the borderline between India and China.
There were similar talks of reconciliation from the Chinese side as well. However, it goes without stating that skirmishes on the border along China, which stretches for 3,480 km, are not new as much of it has been disputed and un-demarcated ever since India attained liberation from British India in 1947.
In the meantime, there are indications possibly China will be buying peace in the Ladakh region in north of India and could enhance its activities along the far-eastern sector. Therefore, the military coup in Myanmar is seen with a jaundiced view in Delhi.
Now, sources say in circa 2021, the Chinese agencies have intensified activities in Arunachal Pradesh and also with Naga militant groups.
Some of those who matter in the India-China conflict in Delhi were alarmed by the fact that Beijing ‘continues to keep its channel of communication’ with other Naga groups including militant outfits ‘operating’ within the state of Nagaland. Unlike these groups, the NSCN(IM) of Muivah has substantial operational presence in the state of Manipur.
Now if grapevine or some nuggets of information from Indian agencies are to be believed, China has offered to ‘renew’ its logistic help to N. Kitovi Zhimomi, the militant leader who is heading an umbrella organization of seven groups Naga National Political Groups (NNPG).
Notably, the NNPG is ready to sign a peace deal with the government of India which would ensure an enhanced developmental package for the state of Nagaland.
Of course, what suits the possible machinations of Chinese agencies via-a-vis winning over NNPG is the fact that the earlier announced signing ceremony to ink a peace pact has been delayed for quite some time now.
“The delay in the Naga peace process is like sending the files back. The peace is stalled and there may be violence yet again,” admitted a source close to NNPG.
“We want peace but why should the powerful government of India be afraid of some Naga elements who want to delay it,” the source said in oblique reference to the NSCN (IM), whose twin issues of flag and Constitution have delayed the final peace accord.
Indian agencies are assessing the ground situation and treading the path cautiously as Prime Minister Narendra Modi is against any violence and renewal of insurgency in the northeast.
Reportedly China is interested to win over these pro-peace talks Naga groups. Some of these groups have been urged to revive their insurgency-related activities with the ‘assurance’ that they would be provided with ‘security and logistic support’ in western Myanmar. The military takeover in Myanmar needs to be understood from that perspective.
To top it off, China has started making noises here and there on Arunachal Pradesh related matters yet again. Beijing does not recognize the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as an integral part of India.
In 2017, when Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama had visited Arunachal Pradesh, Beijing had registered its protest saying: “It (Dalai Lama’s visit) goes against the momentum of the sound growth of bilateral relations and will not benefit India in anyway.”
The Indian government rejected the objections and stood by its ground and had asserted that as a secular country India could not stop a spiritual leader’s visit to any part including Arunachal Pradesh.
The India-China standoff threatens to kill peace in the region and it has certainly alarmed global powers like the United States. Modi has been aware of the significance of this conflict. At the first virtual stage sharing between Modi and Xi Jinping since the Galwan crisis in June 2020, the Indian prime minister took a dig at China and said all member nations of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) should respect each other’s territorial integrity.
China’s problems are also complex. The border issues with India came at a time when China was actually running out of money over the US monopoly on trade and politics. The Taiwan issue was at its peak and Hong Kong was another pain in the neck case. Of course, one could say the India-China border problems in circa 2020 has wider geopolitical ramifications mainly linked to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
China has also faced criticism over its handling of the coronavirus. Detractors did not mind calling it Wuhan-virus.
The World Health Organization (WHO) meetings and subsequent US snub have shown China could be left isolated, licking its wounds.
Then came in another factor. The Modi government has grown close to the United States. Some experts feel that with the COVID-19 crisis affecting geopolitics and the global economy, it may not be erroneous for China to presume that India will attract more investments from global corporations at the expense of China. New Delhi also persisted in spreading its message clearly at various international gatherings.
In September, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh categorically told his Chinese counterpart Gen Wei Fenghe during their meeting in Moscow that none should “doubt” about India’s determination to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The Chinese Defense Minister also agreed on the importance of peace and harmony and suggested that both sides should maintain communication at all levels.
The contemporary history of Nagas has come a long way since then.
Old timers among the security agency sleuths say in 1966-67, China not only had backed the Naxalites uprising in parts of West Bengal, in the same year Muivah and his other colleagues went to Yunnan province. The Naga group was even initially christened as the ‘Naga National Volunteers’.
It’s turning into a case of much ado about Xi’s statecraft and Modi’s attempts to make a name for himself internationally.
John Y Berkeley is the pseudonym used by an Asia-based contributor who would like to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of some of the topics he covers. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of LiCAS.news.