Is China Backing Indian Insurgents?
Image Credit: Agência Brasil

Is China Backing Indian Insurgents?

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On January 25, 2011, Wang Qing, a Chinese spy disguised as a TV reporter, was arrested and deported after she reportedly visited the headquarters of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) or NSCN-IM—one of India’s largest and most troublesome insurgent groups. Indian authorities said Qing admitted to being a spy for the People's Security Bureau, a Chinese intelligence agency, and that she had conducted a secretive four-hour-long, closed-door meeting with Thuingaleng Muivah, a key rebel leader of the NSCN-IM who is currently holding reconciliation talks with the Indian government. The rebel group, however, insisted that it was holding talks with the Indian Government in good faith and that it has had ‘no relations with China.’

While the news attracted little attention, it’s hard to see the incident as inconsequential for Sino-Indian relations, as it suggests potential links between China’s intelligence agencies with insurgent groups in India’s volatile Northeast region. More worrisome for New Delhi, though, is the fact that Qing’s case is only one of several recently that suggest an attempt by Beijing to step up efforts at undermining peace and increasing leverage over India as both countries grapple with sensitive border negotiations.

Such dealings were recently revealed in detail in a 100-page Indian government report, accessed by Outlook India. The report pertains to the October 2010 arrest by Indian authorities of Anthony Shimray, a key official and major arms procurer of the NSCN-IM, who had been operating out of Bangkok. During his interrogation, the report alleged that the NSCN-IM was offered the chance to purchase surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) by Chinese agents working on behalf of the Chinese intelligence agencies.

The negotiations for the deal reportedly took place in Chengdu in December 2009, with the agents asking $1 million for the missiles as part of a package that included training the rebels in the technical know-how to use them. However, the deal reportedly fell through as the rebel groups couldn’t raise the money. Shimray also admitted that in return for Chinese support, Naga insurgents had been giving away details of Indian army deployments in the China-India border region of Twang in Arunachal Pradesh, including positions of Indian aircraft and missiles.

If substantiated, Shimray’s revelations would mark for Indian officials a clear and troubling increase in covert Chinese intelligence activity in India’s internal affairs. China has maintained that it doesn’t interfere in India’s internal affairs, adhering closely to the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence—a series of agreements in 1954 put forward by Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai governing relations with India. But China also remains deeply distrustful of Indian intentions along the sensitive southern tip of the Sino-Indian border, and may perceive India’s complex web of insurgent groups in that area as an opportunity to undermine India’s grip on power there.

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