NEW DELHI—Indian officials are accusing China of supporting insurgents who have been active in recent months in its northeast region.
The insurgents are being provided with weapons by Chinese proxies inside Burma (also known as Myanmar), according to Indian media, and are helping China open a new battlefront on India’s northeastern border, at a time when India–China relations are already tense because of a conflict in Ladakh in north-western India.
“There are telltale signs, which indicate that the Chinese have been supporting the internal insurgent movement in the northeast, in the sense that some of the armed groups that are operating in the northeast do have weapons that clearly have Chinese marks on them,” N.C. Bipindra, editor of strategic affairs magazine Defence.Capital and the chairman of Delhi-based think tank Law and Society Alliance, told The Epoch Times.
India shares its northeast border with China, Bangladesh, and Burma, a strategically important area for China, which claims the neighboring Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. A gap of several years had passed since an attack by militants, before a serious attack on Indian security forces left three personnel dead and six others injured.
Burmese terrorist organizations such as the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the Arakan Army (AA), acting as the proxies of the Chinese regime, are supplying arms and hideouts to insurgents in northeast India, Bloomberg reported, citing anonymous sources within the Indian administration.
The Arakan Army is engaged in a serious armed conflict with Burma’s armed forces in Rakhine State, on the border with Bangladesh, causing many civilian and military deaths. China is the only “external factor” that can influence AA, according to a report published by the United States Institute of Peace last month.
The Indian government has always “suspected and is wary” of the AA infiltrating the migrating Rohingyas inside India, Bipindra said.
“It is but natural that the Arakan Army and the insurgents in India’s northeast would collaborate. And China will be happy to facilitate this cooperation and thereby extend its influence and possibly achieve a grip on the insurgency in India’s northeast,” he said.
“The UWSA, being rooted in Maoism, has always enjoyed overwhelming support from the Chinese Communist Party.”
Warned About Insurgents
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been warned by the country’s intelligence agencies that, as recently as mid-October, four of India’s most wanted insurgent leaders were in the southern Chinese city of Kunming to source weapons and to train, Bloomberg’s sources said.
Satoru Nagao, a non-resident fellow with the Hudson Institute, told The Epoch Times that the insurgents in India’s northeast possess sophisticated weapons.
“Sophisticated weapons need a factory. If there’s no factory [inside India], this is smuggled. These arms are smuggled,” he said.
Nagao said the insurgents inside India are also detonating bombs, and need training to know how to construct the devices.
“This needs professional-level training; that’s the reason someone trains them. There’s a possibility that the regular army of a country trains them. But the training is something invisible. So it’s difficult to identify,” he said.
There were other reports in the Indian media last month that said as the tensions between India and China continue in Ladakh, China may utilize the insurgents in India’s northeast to gather intelligence and to spread propaganda against India.
Retired Brig. Ranjit Borthakur wrote in a first-person account in First Post, a Mumbai-based media outlet, that when relations between India and China had similarly deteriorated in 2017 due to a military standoff at Doklam, he received a call from an insurgent leader who falsely told him that the People’s Liberation Army had killed 27 Indian soldiers and that the incident had been reported in Global Times, a Chinese state-run newspaper.
“My instant reaction was that it was fake news. It was propaganda and rumor that the Chinese wanted to spread through the insurgent organization,” said Borthakur, who contacted the insurgents to encourage them toward peace talks with Indian officials. He had already talked with the same insurgent leader a few times since 1998.
“It was not the first time that the Chinese and Pakistan intelligence agencies were using insurgents to acquire tactical and strategic information or trying to sell their propaganda in exchange for providing arms and safe sanctuaries for the Northeast insurgents.”
Support for Decades
Nagao said the insurgency in India’s northeast depends on China because when the insurgents started their rebellion in the 1950s, they were fighting with bows and spears.
“So why can they fight? Because someone supplied them with weapons—more than weapons, guns! So these rebels in the northeast region depend on support from other areas that can supply guns, set up training camps outside India, and train them. And after that, enter India and fight in India,” Nagao said.
He said this makes the neighboring country very important. Before 1971, when Bangladesh was a part of Pakistan that was called East Pakistan, Pakistan or China could set up training camps inside Bangladesh. However, this changed after Bangladesh’s independence in 1971.
“So these days, they depend on other countries, China and [Burma]. Because the camp is located [in a neighboring country’s territory], Indian authorities can’t grab them without an agreement or without a big decision to attack them,” he said, adding that, under an agreement between the two countries, India has been able to cross the border and launch crackdowns inside Burma.
In a first of its kind, the Burmese military handed over 22 insurgents wanted inside India to the Indian government in May. The Indian and the Burmese armies also conducted joint operations called Operation Sunrise, to deal with insurgents and destroy their camps on both sides of the border since early this year.
“In the current international situation, it’s quite logical for China to create the third front. Indeed, China has supported this rebellion for a long time to deal with India in 1962—a two-sides war,” said Nagao, referring to the war between India and China. “To deal with enemies, they use rebellion.”
China stopped supporting the insurgents in 1979 because the relations between the two countries had improved, Nagao said, but relations have drastically worsened this year.
“If India cooperates with Tibetans for a rebellion inside China, then from China’s view, it has a legitimate reason to resume support to rebellion inside of India. From China’s view, this is tit-for-tat,” he said.
“But for India, that’s not true because the Tibetan movement is more peaceful and this is a human rights issue. And this is not supporting terrorists but what China has done is supporting terrorists. From India’s viewpoint, this not logical but from China’s viewpoint this is logical.”
The president of the Tibetan government in exile, Lobsang Sangay, attended a formal meeting at the U.S. State Department in a first-of-its-kind initiative in six decades on Oct. 15, immediately after the appointment of Robert A. Destro as the special coordinator for Tibetan issues.
Sangay told The Epoch Times in a previous interview that he and Destro discussed the critical situation inside Tibet and also about the recent report about mass labor camps in Tibet.
Nagao said this recent move by the United States to engage more closely with the exiled Tibetans was supported by India.
“This is how the international situation is developing,” he said. “The China–India relation is deteriorating, and the China–U.S. relation is also deteriorating. It is logical.”
India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh V. Shringla and army chief Gen. M.M. Naravane visited Burma and met with State Counsellor H.E. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on Oct. 5 to strengthen the bilateral relations between the two neighbors.
“According to media reports, the focus of the visit was to discuss India’s connectivity projects in Sittwe, capital of Rakhine State, and the situation of displaced Rohingya in Bangladesh,” said Avinash Paliwal, an associate professor of International Relations at SOAS University of London, in an analysis published by Observer’s Research Foundation on Oct. 7. “But the elephant in the room is likely to be relations with Beijing. China and India’s increasing friction on the boundary question has brought the role of third-party states as well as communities straddling these border areas into sharper focus.”
The boundaries of India, China, and Burma meet at a junction at Walong, which is extremely militarized and contested.
“If full-scale military hostilities break out between India and China, especially in the eastern sector, how Myanmar responds–and equally, how armed outfits in north Myanmar, such as the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), who control pockets of territory near the trijunction, respond–will have consequences for India,” Paliwal said.
Nagao said India and Burma have been cooperating to deal with insurgency because Burma also has many rebel groups inside its territory.
“Myanmar cooperates with China very well but at the same time, Myanmar is a separate country,” he said. “The Myanmar side doesn’t want the rebels inside Myanmar to create a sanctuary inside India and India desires that Myanmar doesn’t allow the rebels from India to create camps inside Myanmar.”
Burma and India share common interests to deal with rebels on both sides. Nagao said that while Burma hasn’t been able to fully crack down on the militants, it has collaborated with India, with some success.