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India coy over ‘Chinese spy’

February 4, 2011

Asia Times, 4 Feb 2011: The Indian government has deported a woman it claims was spying for the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in India’s insurgency-wracked northeastern state of Nagaland.

Wang Qing, 38 or 39, had reportedly met with Thuingaleng Muivah, the general secretary of one of the factions of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-I-M), who returned from self-imposed exile over a year ago for slow-moving peace talks in Delhi.

Qing had apparently attempted to pass herself off as a travelingrepresentative of a Chinese timber concern, a Naga student, or aHong Kong television journalist, depending on whom she encountered. On inspection of her laptop by Indian authorities, it was discovered she had photos of herself with Muivah, Prachanda, head of Nepal’s Maoists, and members of the Kachin Independence Army, a ethnic separatist movement in Myanmarthat Delhi believes has acted as a channel for Chinese arms to Naga rebel armies in decades past.

Muivah, a septuagenarian with decades-old links to China, advocates for the creation of an independent Naga state known as “Greater Nagaland” or “Nagalim” that would encompass present-day Nagaland, Naga-inhabited parts of the neighboring Indian states of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, and perhaps ethnic-Naga areas in neighboring Myanmar.

Muivah’s ideology is a somewhat confounding mix of Maoist people’s war thought and “Nagalim for Christ”, a localized version of evangelical Protestantism, a legacy of the Naga’s contacts with the PRC’s intelligence during the period of Mao Zedong’s reign as well as Nagaland’s geographic proximity to China and the successful history of colonial-era Christian missionaries in the area.

Muivah has been housed in an Indian government guesthouse in Delhi while waiting for peace negotiations to materialize and refusing to meet with Indian media outlets in the interim.

On January 4, Qing turned up to meet Muivah posing as journalist and the two had a closed-door meeting. Twelve days later, Qing traveled incognito to Nagaland from Delhi by train where she reportedly visited Camp Hebron, a Naga rebel training center.

Qing was detained in the city of Dimapur, Nagaland’s commercial capital, and transported back to Delhi for questioning. The fact that Qing was “quietly” deported back to China rather than put on trial in India indicates that the Indians wanted to avoid a public incident that would derail near-term future negotiations with a rebel movement that has been fighting the Indian state for over three decades.

Qing’s contacts with Muivah and the possibility of China reviving links with northeastern insurgents may be linked to shifting geopolitical facts on the ground in the region. Many militant leaders from the region have traditionally been sheltered by the Bangladeshi state but with the restoration of democracy there and the return of Prime Minister Sheikha Hasina Wajed to power in January of 2009, Dhaka has sought to restore congenial relations with Delhi and has extradited several Indian militant leaders as a show of good faith.

In turn, still active militant leaders may be looking again toward their previous sponsors in Beijing to provide them weapons, logistical aid and shelter. Chinese intelligence, in a matter of pragmatic maneuvering, sends agents to meet with rebels to assess the ground realities and needs of its anti-Indian clients and likely forwards them discarded arms stock as the People’s Liberation Army continues to modernize in a bid to raise China’s military stature in the Asian realm.

It may also benefit Beijing to have clientele on its payroll who can provide up-to-date intelligence on the movements and capabilities of the Indian army with whom it claims to contest the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which Beijing considers part of what was historically “south” Tibet and therefore part of modern China.

Following the death of Mao in 1976, much of China’s overt exporting of Third World Maoist revolution largely died with him, including to economic and ethnic Maoist adherents in South Asia. It was quelled under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, who sought a thawing of Sino-Indian relations.

But for India, some doubts stemming from the tumultuous era still exist when Mao’s China executed a humiliating invasion inside the McMahon Line deep into Arunachal Pradesh (then known as the North-East Frontier Agency) in the fall of 1962 and tensions remained at high pitch until Mao passed from the scene 14 years later.

Long since the days of the Cold War and the Sino-Soviet split, Delhi has alleged that the PLA has made repeated incursions into Indian territory, though such accusations tend to be made in a subdued fashion to avoid rankling larger key bilateral issues. The peculiar case of Wang Qing appears to fit this tradition.

She was questioned for a day and half and on January 21, then simply sent on her way back to Guangdong, China (though she claimed to be a resident of Beijing) even as her past travel history to India and highly suspect photos on her laptop evoked more questions than Qing had answers as she was detained at Indira Gandhi International Airport.

From the local police superintendent in Nagaland where Qing was caught to the high officialdom in Delhi who deported her, no one seems to be keen on publicly stirring up direct accusations of Chinese meddling in India’s most remote, unstable corner. The Indian Army is modernizing itself and Delhi is bolstering Arunachal Pradesh’s traditionally rudimentary infrastructure along with raising a force of local paramilitaries capable of high altitude exercises and operations.

While not addressing the Arunachal border issue vis-a-vis China nor the negotiations with the NSCN-IM specifically, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while addressing a conference of chief ministers on Tuesday highlighted progress in the northeast overall as an achievement for India’s internal security, stating: “What is essential, however, is a genuine desire for peace and a willingness to abjure the path of violence.

It is the commitment of our government, that if these two conditions are satisfied we will respond in full measure in considering the demands of various groups. There has been fruitful engagement with several groups in 2010 and we wish to deepen this process of engagement this year.”

What remains in question for Indian security analysts is whether China, with its ever-deepening bilateral trade ties with India, would still seek to destabilize some of India’s most vulnerable, underdeveloped territory in pursuit of Beijing’s national interest or whether Northeastern insurgents are simply being supplied by black market arms networks emanating in China and transiting Southeast Asia and Bangladesh en route to insurgent clients which Chinese intelligence may be well aware of but indifferent at halting.

Beijing does not hesitate to express immense and immediate dissatisfaction with high profile visits to Arunachal by Manmohan or the Dalai Lama and although Sino-Indian relations have been improving rapidly in the last decade, China’s views on northeastern issues, and Indian perception of them, remains an entirely sensitive issue.

While Delhi has gradually softened its support of the decades-long embattled Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon in lieu of regional realpolitik and gradual engagement with Than Shwe’s junta in accordance with its “Look East” policy and facing stiff competition from China inside Myanmar, the Indian establishment has yet to abandon the Dalai Lama who it continues to host as an “honored guest” and provide Beijing with a raison d’etre to provide succor to the NSCN-IM, the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), and a gaggle of the other militant irredentists.

In light of ongoing cross-border tensions with Pakistan and unending strife in Kashmir, and the post-1962 Sino-Indian feud over Arunachal described herein, perhaps India needed to have one less hostile neighbor on along its troubled frontiers and began dealing openly with Naypyidaw’s generals to counter China’s mounting strategic depth inside Myanmar.

Indian engagement in Myanmar, in which the Ministry of Defense leads the charge, may hope to reap benefits on the never-ending Naga question that has plagued India since partition. India hosted an official visit of (since retired) Lieutenant General Thar Aye, head of the junta’s Bureau of Special Operations along the Indo-Myanmar border situated in the vast Sagaing Region in Myanmar’s northwest bordering Nagaland where Delhi believes NSCN-K chief S S Khaplang is based.

India’s suspicions of any hammer and anvil style counterinsurgency operations being conducted with Than Shwe’s Tatmadaw forces may be a flight of fancy. The bogey man of anti-Indian insurgents based in Sagain may incentivize the junta’s need for many of them to be just out of reach while continuing to gain armaments and concessions from India as its kinetic military operations most often deal with rebel armies like the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army along the Myanmar-Thai border rather than low priority campaigns along Myanmar’s borders with India and Bangladesh.

Though a formal ceasefire has been in place in Nagaland since mid-1997, no formal peace or political agreement has materialized in the nearly 14 years since but not for lack of talks in the interim that essentially went nowhere. One of the most vexing issues for Delhi is that which divides the Naga rebel leadership into two distinct, warring camps.

In 1988, the NSCN was split into a faction helmed by Muivah and Isak, long considered the dominant faction in the Naga rebellion, and the NSCN-K led by the Myanmar-based S S Khaplang two wings of the NSCN continue to clash violently evidenced by recent skirmishes in districts of southeastern Arunachal bordering Nagaland.

In what may be very problematic for the central government’s negotiations aimed at creating lasting stability in far-flung Nagaland, while the leadership and emissaries representing both factions have intimated at reconciliation with one another and Delhi, guerrillas units on the ground from the NSCN-I-M and the NSCN-K do not seem to have gotten the message.

And while both leaders of the NSCN-I-M have come in from the cold, S S Khaplang and the leadership of the NSCN-K are still in the Myanmar bush. No one is clear, politically speaking, just what a finalized Naga peace would look like.

Aside from outright independence from the Indian union, the idea of the unification of contiguous ethnic-Naga territories across borders of neighboring states is an equally distant prospect and Delhi entertaining even mild talk in this vain may merely be a way on buying time to extend the ceasefire’s status quo without addressing the NSCN-I-M’s core grievances.

The other great difficulty is that while dealing directly with Muivah and Isak, Delhi does not have Khaplang present in the capital and it can therefore be claimed that the Nagas are not being represented by unitary voice. The Manmohan government is keen to have both of the main Naga rebel factions on board as well as the tiny NSCN-Unification faction and the Naga National Council (NNC) led by the daughter of Angami Zapu Phizo, Nagaland’s post-World War II separatist leader, which spawned the various NSCNs, in order to create some form of lasting agreement.

The return of the NSCN-I-M’s chairman Isak Chisi Swu from self-imposed exile in Thailand at the request of the Indian government has been hailed as a significant step forward by Manmohan in a long stalled process impeding the development and integration of South Asia and Southeast Asia.

Delhi is desperate not to have this process disrupted by Chinese intrigue which is seeks to play down. Clearly, the rebel factions maybe saying one thing in Delhi and another in Nagaland. On January 31, chairman Isak Chisi Swu had a deputy read a statement at an annual NSCN ceremony in Nagaland that told his followers, “The integration of Nagaland is our birthright” and added that “Every Naga is expected to participate in our struggle for the integration of Nagalim.” [6]

One can be sure that Beijing is watching these quixotic developments with great interest and it is doubtful that Ms Wang Qing was merely a curious tourist with an avid interest in regional insurgencies with which China once had a close relationship.

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