India’s Defence Minister, circumspect at most times, surprised senior army officers by publicly admitting that China was demonstrating “increasing assertiveness”. He was addressing the addressing the annual combined commander’s conference on September 13, 2010. “We want to develop friendly relations with China. However, we cannot lose sight of the fact that China has been improving its military and physical infrastructure. In fact, there has been an increasing assertiveness on the part of China.”
The Chinese “assertiveness” is often seen in the context of strategic and massive build-up of military infrastructure in the Chinese side along the Line of Actual Control and also the building of Chinese naval establishments in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Perhaps, it is time to recognise Chinese “assertiveness” in cross-border espionage activities.
On May 18 at around 11.30 a fisherman of Digaru village in Lohit district spotted a Chinese man at the village ferry point. He immediately alerted the local police outpost. When the local police team apprehended this “suspicious” man, he stunned the cops with his fluent English. Guan Lian, 28, told the police he was a resident of Henan province and worked as the manager of a restaurant in Beijing. He claimed that he had lost his way! “We suspect him to be a Chinese spy,” said Deputy Superintendent of Police, Manik Gogoi. The suspicion that Guan is a Chinese spy was strengthened by his practiced move to deflect persistent interrogation by the police. He claimed he was from a village called Zhuma Dian, then changed track to claim that he belonged Xiping Quan Zhai. He claimed he began his working life as a steward in a village restaurant in Xigping Quan Zhan.
Later he moved to Beijing to join a band attached to an American restaurant. Gogoi who interrogated Guan narrated the story the suspected Chinese spy revealed: “He later joined a French-run restaurant in Beijing where he was promoted to manager. He fled the country unable to bear the torture of Chinese police, who raided his house several times after he sent an email to the International Human Rights Commission alleging rights violations.”
Guan has not applied for asylum. This and several other inconsistencies in his statement raise doubts if he was indeed a genuine torture victim of Chinese law enforcement authorities. There are several surprises in the Chinese spy suspect’s motives to sneak into India through the Kibithu in Anjaw district. According to Arunachal Pradesh Police Guan confessed possessing a map of India and some Chinese currency. He also turned out to be a polyglot with admirable language skills in Hindi, French and English.
It is an established fact that Chinese spies assuming identities of victims of repression, social workers, tourists or research scholars have often been able to easily infiltrate the LAC
The police filed a case under Section 14 of the Foreigners’ Act against Guan, but it’s still unclear what he did and how he survived for nearly two and half weeks before his apprehension. Apparently, his plan was to reach Sadiya in Assam from Arunachal Pradesh and then travel across India. It is strange why a potential Chinese asylum seeker who is multi-lingual and quite well versed in Hindi failed to turn himself to the army or police immediately after sneaking into Arunachal from China?
Guan is presently jailed at Tezu police station. From whatever he has stated on record it is difficult to patch together a coherent, credible motive for his fleeing China. According to Guan he was being chased by Chinese police after he complained of Human Rights violations. He escaped to his home in Henan province from Beijing, but the police tracked him down and raided his house. He again managed to escape and began his long trek across the mountains on February 18, finally reaching Kibithu, a border village in Arunachal Pradesh. He even claimed to have crossed an Indian Army camp after sneaking in at Kibithu on this way to Digaru near Tezu town, which is the headquarters of Lohit district.
What could be worrisome for Indian security agencies is the possible coordination between Chinese and Pakistani espionage missions in Indias Northeast.
It is an established fact that Chinese spies assuming identities of victims of repression, social workers, tourists or research scholars have often been able to easily infiltrate the LAC and move unhindered in Arunachal. . It must be recalled that a Chinese spy suspect was arrested by the police in 1999 from Namsai in Lohit district. A Chinese spy was reportedly apprehended from Tawang during the Dalai Lama’s visit last year. Arunachal Pradesh, which shares a 1,080-km-long border with China, 440km with Myanmar and 160km with Bhutan, is not new to such attempts at espionage. The state government has maintained a severe silence on this issue. Consistent with its oft-repeated statement, the administration in Itanagar said infiltration by Chinese spies on subversive missions is an issue which the Central security agencies have to tackle.
China’s “peaceful rise” ironically involves creating an offensive ring around India. The Gwadar port in Pakistan and Hambantota port in Sri Lanka and its naval assets in Myanmar will soon enable Chinese Navy to effortlessly move up and down the high seas along India’s vast coastline. The importance of Defence Minister Antony’s comments at the commander’s conference must be seen in the context of reports in American media on the Chinese military infrastructure being built in Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir’s so-called Northern Areas. For those looking for a surprise element there is actually none because this is consistent with China’s large-scale plan to encircle India with enhanced military capabilities and assets.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Antony flagged a three-fold concern—enormous Chinese military infrastructure being put in place along the 4,057-km LAC, its bid to emerge as the dominant naval force in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and increased Chinese emphasis on the modernisation of the People’s Liberation Army. The Indian Prime Minister told the Indian military commanders that India should counter the Chinese infrastructure build-up on land and sea with “a sense of urgency”. “We cannot lose sight of the fact that China has been improving its military and physical infrastructure,” added the defence minister.
Indian force commanders informed the political leadership that a comprehensive, integrated and long-term national security plan to thwart all external threats must be put in place. Air Chief Marshal PV Naik said that IAF had begun to base the Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jets in the Northeast as well as upgrade several airstrips and helipads in the region. Navy Chief, Admiral Nirmal Verma said that Navy is evolving strategies to counter the increasing Chinese presence in IOR. He said the plans to test India’s most ambitious ballistic missile, the 5,000-km Agni-V, by early 2011 will bolster Indian deterrence against China. Army Chief General VK Singh said two new specialised infantry mountain divisions (35,000 soldiers) and an artillery brigade for Arunachal Pradesh is in the works.
What could be worrisome for Indian security agencies is the possible coordination between Chinese and Pakistani espionage missions in India’s Northeast. In the first week of September BSF apprehended Nayeem Ahmed Mamoon, 22, at Lankamura border on the outskirts of Agartala in West Tripura as he tried to escape into Bangladesh at night. Mamoon’s arrest was preceded by the arrest of another suspected ISI agent in July.
Both had similar plans of surveying strategic installations in northeast India. At the time of Mamoon’s arrest he was carrying Pakistani currency, Pakistan and Bangladesh banks documents, bank pass-books, fake identity cards, photographs and train tickets. Mamoon is a resident of Gopalganj, a township near Bangladesh capital Dhaka. “During preliminary interrogation, Mamoon told the police that he entered India from Bangladesh two months back via Murshidabad of West Bengal. From West Bengal, he went to various northeastern states and came to Tripura to return to Bangladesh. Mamoon has stayed at Anantnag in Kashmir Valley for sometime, and is suspected to have laiason with banned outfits,” stated Tripural police in its official statement. he said.
Another ISI spy, Manir Khan alias Omar Ashraf, 30, and his six Indian associates were arrested July 3 in Agartala. Manir’s interrogation sparked off a joint probe by Assam and Tripura police. The police in Tripura and Assam allege that Manir and his Indian associates were involved in some terror cases in Assam, though specific details of their involvement hasn’t been disclosed yet. Police in both states also said that Manir disclosed significant information on the ISI plans in the Northeast and other parts of India. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has also joined the probe and has interrogated Manir Khan, who according to the police was trained by ISI in Multan, Pakistan. A team from Punjab police also visited Agartala to interrogate Manir.
Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar informed the media that the Central Government has passed intelligence inputs to the state government asking for increased surveillance. “To check infiltration from across the border, trans-border movement of militants, anti-India elements, the state government has been asking the centre to strengthen the vigil along the India-Bangladesh border,” he said. Tripura police’s Mobile Task Force (MTF) has been entrusted with the mandate to check infiltration from across the border and push back illegal entrants.
Even as Tripura increased its surveillance activities to check agent saboteurs from entering India from Bangladesh, a court in Tripura sentenced a Bangladeshi arms dealer and an ISI agent Mamun Mian, 49, to ten years rigorous imprisonment. The court found Mamun guilty of forging a voter’s identity card, a ration card, a PAN card, a driving licence and other documents. Mamun was arrested in March 2008 for his involvement in anti-India activities and trafficking of arms and explosives.
China and Pakistan complex espionage missions in India’s Northeast should not be seen in isolation. It should be seen in the context of Beijing-Islamabad jointmanship to keep India in a perpetual state of instability.