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  Asia-Pacific
Beijing Eyes Northeast India !
By Nava Thakuria
Special Correspondent
Beijing Eyes Northeast India !

Does China government have an eye on the troubled northeastern region of India — this is the question asked by hundred thousand habitants of the region in the last few weeks. In fact, the views of a recent essay in a Chinese website to break India into many pieces, whether it was linked to the government in Beijing or not, shocked the people of Northeast India, because it indirectly spoke the language of the separatist elements of the alienated region.

The Northeast, surrounded by Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Burma and Bangladesh, has witnessed the insurgency movement since the days of its independence. The region gives shelter to nearly 30 armed outfits, who are fighting for various demands ranging from sovereignty to self rule.

An unusual fear psychosis among the people of the region remains intact since 1962 Chinese aggression. The people witnessed the Chinese marching ahead to Assam crossing Arunachal Pradesh. The small group of Indian soldiers fought on the way, but they were no match to the invading army personnel. The Chinese even reached down to Tezpur- a busy town of central Assam, which is around 250 km east of Guwahati-but suddenly they deserted the location and declared an unilateral ceasefire. The war took away thousands’ lives from both the sides. It is understood that the then US government came in support of India and
threatened Beijing to withdraw their army from the Indian soil. Since then India had a tense relationship with China, and Beijing too continued their argument that Arunachal is a part of Tibet and hence belongs to them.

Prior to China, the region was invaded by the Burmese army, who was later defeated by the British forces in 1826 and that way it went under the greater Indian territories. And this is the imperative debate, endorsed by the separatist groups (and their sympathizers) of the region, that Assam (and Northeast) were never a part of India before the Yandabu Agreement between the Burmese and British authority.

As India achieved freedom from British in 1947, the Northeast came under Bharat (greater India). But there are individuals and communities in the region, who even today donot prefer to identify themselves as Indian.

So when a Chinese writer argued for splitting India into 20 to 30 nation states and eventually supporting the insurgent groups of the country, the conscious people of Northeast expressed shock and anguish.

Posted on a website (www.iiss.cn) by one Zhan Lue, the article even described that after dismantling India, Beijing could bring Nepal, Pakistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh etc into its fold. The writer also suggested that China should push the local aspiration of various indigenous communities like Assamese, Naga, Kashmiri and Tamil with the final aim to make India fractured and week.

The article, originally written in Chinese, even insisted that the break up of India was for the benefit of China and the entire Asia.

The Government of India initially remained silent on the issue. But soon the media made it a big issue in the country, where it was almost described as a hidden agenda of Beijing towards its neighbour in the south.

Finally, the Indian foreign ministry in a statement clarified that ‘the article in question appears to be an expression of an individual’s opinion and does not accord with the officially-stated position of China on India-China relations conveyed to us on several occasions’.

The statement issued on August 10 however cautioned that ‘opinions and assessment on the state of India-China relations should be expressed after careful judgment based on the long-term interests of building a stable relationship between the two countries’.

Reciprocating New Delhi’s concern, Beijing alienated it from the article describing it as unauthorized. Earlier, the website editor Kang Lingyi asserted that they were no way connected with Beijing.

Moreover, he clarified that the website is not also linked to the Chinese government think-tank, the China Institute for International Strategic Studies.

But there are concerned among Assamese intellectuals that the Chinese writer (Zhan Lue) echoed the language of the militants belonged to ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom) in the article.

There was a time, when the separatist armed outfit ULFA opposed the election in Assam, which was conducted under the provisions of Indian Constitution, but slowly they faced rejection from the electorates.

Even today, the outfit tries its best to prevent the celebration of India’s Independence Day (Aug 15) and Republic Day (Jan 26) in the region, but the citizens start defying their diktat in visible ways.

There is also wild apprehension in Northeast that as New Delhi has gone closer to Washington, Beijing may find it irritating and so China may join hands with the Indian neighbours to counter New Delhi’s influence in the region.

The recent media reports about the initiative taken by the ULFA leaders to find out hide-outs inside China were taken seriously by the conscious citizens of the region. It is understood that after Bangladesh and Burma turned hostile to the outfit, the ULFA leader Paresh Barua starts maintaining relationship with the Chinese government.

Baruah, who is believed to be in Dhaka for many years, had reportedly gone to China’s Yunnan province for making understanding with local Chinese administrators. The ULFA has plans to start a training camp for its cadres some where in Yunnan-Burma border areas. The ULFA chief Arabinda Rajkhowa even wrote an official letter to Beijing few months back asking supports for their armed movement.

Amid the debate, both the Indian and Chinese soldiers as usual observed India’s Independence Day at the city of Bumla in Arunachal Pradesh on August 15. A special border personnel conclave was organized in which a Chinese delegation was led by Colonel Yang Zijing reaffirmed the commitment on both the sides to strengthen friendship and also maintain peace and tranquility along the international
border.

That India wants to maintain a warm relationship with China was articulated by New Delhi’s initiative to honor Chinese scholar and Indonologist, Ji Xianlin, who has immensely contributed by translating various Sanskrit texts into the Chinese. Honoring Ji Xianlin with India’s third highest civilian honor, the Padma Bushan, was a major initiative by the Indian government, argued Jiang Kui of Beijing University, who also said in a telephone interview that it would make a lot of difference in the way many Chinese look at India hereafter.

For any reasons, it will be real difficult job to separate the Northeast from the mainland India, as the number of crowd opposing the armed struggle against New Delhi is increasing day by day. Today more and more students from Northeast go to Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Pune for studies and many of them continue working in other parts of India.

Communication facilities have been developed in the region and the local media, once preferred to be anti-New Delhi, has changed its faces. Though the common resentment against the Union government in New Delhi is there, very few people in the region might pursue the separatist theory to go with Islamabad, Dhaka or Beijing.



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Nava Thakuria, who serves as a special correspondent for The Seoul Times, is based in Guwahati of Northeast India. He also contributes articles for many media outlets based in different parts of the glove, and can be contacted at navathakuria@gmail.com

 

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