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India–China Borderlands Conversations beyond the Centre
Copyright © Nimmi Kurian, 2014 All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilised in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. First published in 2014 by SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd B1/I-1 Mohan Cooperative Industrial Area Mathura Road, New Delhi 110 044, India www.sagepub.in SAGE Publications Inc 2455 Teller Road Thousand Oaks, California 91320, USA SAGE Publications Ltd 1 Oliver’s Yard, 55 City Road London EC1Y 1SP, United Kingdom SAGE Publications Asia-Pacific Pte Ltd 3 Church Street #10-04 Samsung Hub Singapore 049483 Published by Vivek Mehra for SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd, typeset in 10/13 pt Berkeley by Diligent Typesetter, Delhi and printed at Saurabh Printers Pvt Ltd, New Delhi. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Kurian, Nimmi. India–China borderlands : conversations beyond the centre / Nimmi Kurian. pages cm Includes bibliographical references and index. 1. India—Relations—China. 2. China—Relations—India. 3. Borderlands— India. 4. Borderlands—China. 5. Regionalism—India. 6. Regionalism—China. I. Title. DS450.C6K87 327.51054—dc23 2014 2013049965 ISBN: 978-81-321-1351-5 (HB) The SAGE Team: Rudra Narayan, Prasenjit Paul, Rajib Chatterjee and Rajinder Kaur
To Jayashree and Benny a beyul of my own in a mundane world
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Contents List of Maps ix List of Abbreviations xi Preface xiii Acknowledgements xv 1 Fences and Frames: Narrativising the Borderlands
2 B/Ordering Spaces: Governing Multi-ethnic Borderlands
3 Barriers to Bridges: Geoeconomic Text, Geopolitical Subtext
4 Competing or Compatible? Interrogating India–China Subregional Visions
5 Fugitive Frames: Rewriting Research Peripheries
References 152 Index 170 About the Author 176
List of Maps 1: India–China Subregion
2: Subregional Economic Zones in Asia
3: China’s Recent Border Infrastructure Projects
4: India’s Recent Border Infrastructure Projects
5: Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport Project
Note: Base maps are based on the GADM Database (Database for Global Administrative Areas). Website: www.gadm.com
List of Abbreviations AFSPA Armed Forces Special Powers Act ACD Asia Cooperation Dialogue ARF ASEAN Regional Forum ASEAN Association of Southeast Asian Nations ASEM Asia–Europe Meeting BCIM Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar Forum BIMSTEC Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation BSF Border Security Force BRGF Backward Regions Grant Fund DONER Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region GMS Greater Mekong Subregion GMS CBTA Greater Mekong Subregion Cross-border Transport Agreement GCC Gulf Cooperation Council ICAR Indian Council of Agricultural Research ICLEI International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives ILP Inner Line Permit ITBP Indo-Tibetan Border Police KSL Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation Initiative LCS Land Customs Stations MGC Mekong Ganga Economic Cooperation MRC Mekong River Commission MOMS Management-oriented Monitoring Systems NDFB National Democratic Front of Bodoland NDC National Development Council NEC North East Council NLCPR Non-lapsable Central Pool of Resources NSCN (IM) Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isaac-Muivah) NSF Naga Students Federation
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NTPC National Thermal Power Corporation PMC ASEAN Post-ministerial Conference PLA People’s Liberation Army PAP Protected Areas Permit SCO Shanghai Cooperation Organisation SAARC South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation UNESCAP United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific ULFA United Liberation Front of Assam UNWTO United Nations World Tourism Organization WDS Western Development Strategy WWF World Wide Fund for Nature
Preface In many ways this book seeks to reopen a debate that perhaps had never really drawn to a close. Why is it that the 4,056 km long border that India and China share exists in a sort of freeze frame, as it were, suspended between lived memory and state erasure? Not unlike the elephant in the room, more than visible yet never acknowledged. Why is it that ‘Chindia’, its evocative wordplay notwithstanding, appear to be more delusional than real? Even as their interactions have scaled impressive heights, why has it curiously not taken much for India–China conversations to break down? This seems not unlike a Matryoshka challenge, nesting one intellectual puzzle within another. The book is a small step towards unpacking this interesting conundrum. Why bother? Because, if creatively re-imagined, the borderlands can be at the centre of a promising regional conversation of change that India and China have the potential to initiate. There are of course no silver bullet solutions possible to tackle a complex subject such as this. But perhaps this is what makes it such an interesting intellectual challenge too. Subregional initiatives are currently underway, connecting India’s Northeast and China’s Western region with their immediate neighbourhood. The critical challenge for public action in both countries will be to sustain rapid growth and to make it inclusive across all regions, sectors and sections of society. What got me interested in the topic in the first place is the potential for their respective subregional visions to coincide in creating joint stakes in prosperity. I have also been curious about the capacity of alternative democratic models at the community level particularly on transnational issues and to look at the role social networks play in advancing awareness on governance challenges. The agency it can provide to the local level for transforming its fortunes is vital if they are to emerge as stakeholders in the growth experience of both the countries. India and China have been natural comparators, be it the size of their economies, their demographic heft or their geopolitical ambitions. What
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remains largely understudied though has been how the much larger debate on accountability in India and China gets framed and its capacity to define the civic space for citizen engagement. This will mean questioning the rather simplistic democratic versus authoritarian binary into which India–China comparisons tend to get pigeonholed into. To frame the debate on accountability in such a limiting manner is simplistic on two counts. First, while the representative safe zone of popular elections provides an all-too-easy claim to legitimacy for democratic systems, it tends to hide significant accountability deficits. Second, the performanceoriented basis of accountability in non-democratic systems makes them far more vulnerable to governance deficits than is commonly understood to be the case. Negotiating transparency with Chinese characteristics, for instance, is turning out to be a deeply contested space and the Chinese state is increasingly coming under pressure to respond to the voices, needs and concerns of its citizens. Obsessing only over the differences in their political systems thus could run the risk of missing the wood for the trees. The more interesting question would be to interrogate how India and China cope as polities with the loss of public trust that represents the biggest legitimacy challenge facing the state today. This could also be a cue for scholars in both the countries to critically debate ways in which states, communities and citizens negotiate the allocation of resources: economic, social, spatial and environmental. My exchanges with Chinese academics over the years have convinced me that we have reached the basic comfort levels to now go into specifics since the devil lies in the details. The sense one gets from sustained interactions with policymakers in India is that a more nuanced understanding of challenges is evolving and there is a greater willingness to take incremental steps to trade ideas with a can-do spirit to problem solving. If handled well, asking some of these questions will offer policy communities in India and China a richer and wider repertoire of learning processes to experiment with. These will be particularly valuable in situations marked by high levels of public alienation such as the India–China borderlands. Although this should still be treated as work-in-progress, we may be reaching an interesting juncture where we can now start connecting the dots for the big picture to emerge.
Acknowledgements One is delighted to acknowledge many debts, big and small, that one has incurred along the way in writing this book. At the outset, I am happy to acknowledge a deep intellectual debt to the Centre for Policy Research’s enabling environment and ethos. I cannot think of many places that have either the self-assuredness or the audacity to bear the intellectual risk that invariably comes with an eclectic orientation. To Pratap Bhanu Mehta, President, CPR for breaking the mould in more ways than one by consciously choosing not to draw red lines and facilitating, in the process, some interesting intellectual meanderings and deep conversations. To my senior colleagues, K. C. Sivaramakrishnan, Ramaswamy Iyer and B. G. Verghese for their valuable support, generosity and warmth towards me over the long years of my association with them; their indefatigable commitment to CPR; and above all, for standing notions of retirement and age squarely on its head with their outstanding contributions. It would be remiss of me not to mention the valuable inputs and feedback received on papers on related themes that I presented at conferences that have helped me revise the manuscript. In particular, I appreciate the feedback received from discussants and participants at the International Conference on Northeast India and its Transnational Neighbourhood, organised by IIT Guwahati and the International Institute of Asian Studies, Leiden, Netherlands, Guwahati in January 2008; International Conference on Prosperity and Inequality: India–China in Global Perspective, organised by the India China Institute, The New School, New York in March 2010; the International Conference on Globalisation and Cultural Practices in Mountain Areas: Dynamics, Dimensions and Implications, organised by Sikkim University, Gangtok, on 13–14 December 2011 and the Workshop on Borders and Boundaries in International Relations: Barriers, Buffers, Bridges, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, in October 2012. In particular, I am grateful to the detailed comments and feedback I received from Sanjib Baruah, Sanjoy Hazarika, Rob Jenkins, Prem Shankar Jha,
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Mahendra Lama, Lo Sze Ping, Varun Sahni and Peter van der Veer. I also wish to sincerely thank the anonymous referees whose detailed comments and suggestions brought out many additional nuances and perspectives. I have also benefitted immensely from some interesting research networks that I have had the good fortune to be a part of. I would like to acknowledge the Fellowship Programme of the India China Institute, The New School, New York, and its Senior Director, Ashok Gurung. Thank you Ashok, for your friendship and for the skill with which you have steered this growing community of scholars and thinkers. I have greatly benefitted from a programme that facilitated open-ended conversations between Indian and Chinese scholars, writers and activists. These have more than helped me keep my ear to the ground on how the debate was shaping up in China on critical issues. One recalls, in particular, the valuable perspectives gained from Lu Zhi, Beijing University; Xu Jianchu, Kunming Institute of Botany, Kunming; Ma Jun, Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs, Beijing; Alex L. Wang, former senior attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Beijing; Li Bo, Director, Friends of Nature, Beijing; Xu Zhiyong, founder, Open Constitution Initiative, Beijing and Jianying Zha, writer and China Representative of the ICI in Beijing. These insights were vital in helping me escape many of the set caricatures that tend to characterise much of Indian scholarship on China. Also, perspectives gained during travels to Yunnan, Sichuan and Inner Mongolia helped in demystifying the ‘periphery’ as well as bust many myths spun by armchair observers. Work done as part of a joint research project with Chinese researchers, Systems of Innovation for Inclusive Development headed by Dr Rajeswari Raina and supported by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada, helped me critically interrogate issues of space, scale and situated development with reference to the Northeast. Many of these perspectives have found their way into the book particularly those relating to probing the interface among diverse actors engaged in resource governance in Northeast India and exploring creative ways of power sharing within a multilevel governance framework. Thanks to Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman for the able fieldwork he conducted in Assam, Nagaland and Meghalaya in connection with this project. For sharing their valuable insights during interactions in 2012, I wish to thank Alemtemshi Jamir, Additional Chief Secretary and Development Commissioner, Government of Nagaland;
U. K. Sangma, Secretary, North East Council (NEC), Shillong, Meghalaya; P. P. Shrivastava, Member, NEC; Patricia Mary Mukhim, Editor, Shillong Times, Shillong; Adrian Marbaniang, Director, Monitoring and Evaluation, the North Eastern Region Community Resource Management Project (NERCORMP), Shillong; Sanjib Kakoty, Indian Institute of Management, Shillong; Frankie Lyngdoh, Martin Luther University, Shillong; Charles Chasie, Kohima, Nagaland; Monalisa Changkija, Editor, Nagaland Post, Dimapur, Nagaland; Udayon Misra, Omeo Kumar Das Institute of Social Change and Development, Guwahati, Assam; Nandita Hazarika, Ecosystems India, Guwahati; Alakesh Barua, Swati Chaliha and Sanjay Sharma from the Foundation for Ecological Security, Guwahati. My interactions with scholars, activists and community leaders in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Assam also helped me get a better understanding of local perspectives on challenges facing the Look East policy, drivers of state–community conflicts and the functioning of asymmetrical federalism. Grateful thanks to the 14th Thegste Rinpoche, Khinmey Nyingma Monastery, in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh; Geshe Ngawang Thupten, Joint Secretary, Buddhist Culture Preservation Society, Bomdila, West Kameng and Geshe Ngawang Tashi Bapu, Director, Central Institute of Himalayan Culture Studies in Dahung, West Kameng; to Monirul Hussain, Dulal Goswami, Nani Gopal Mahanta and Jayanta Krishna Sarmah at Gauhati University’s Department of Political Science; to Ram Wangkheirakpam of the North East People’s Alliance in Imphal, Manipur; to Amar Yumnam, Rajen Singh Laishram, Konsam Ibo Singh, Vijaylakshmi Brara, Priyoranjan Singh and Nongthombam Jiten Singh at Manipur University. A network with a difference has been the BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar) Forum for being the only forum of its kind with an evolving focus on the borderlands of India and China. This is an idea whose time has clearly come with a rich potential to articulate the view from the ‘margins’ as it were and its self-image. A group with which I have worked closely since its establishment in 1999, it has brought together an eclectic network of research institutes, civil society organisations, scholars, media and businesspersons from the four countries. I wish to sincerely thank Eric Gonsalves, Patricia Uberoi and Ravi Bhoothalingam for helping to sharpen many of my formative arguments on subregional resource governance issues that I presented at Forum meetings in Yangon,
xviii India–China Borderlands
Naypyidaw, Kunming, Dhaka, Delhi and Kolkata. I am sure they will see many of these reflected in the book. I am also grateful to the workshops organised by the Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India brilliantly steered by K. J. Joy of the Society for Promoting Participatory Ecosystem Management (SOPPECOM), Pune. These have greatly helped me refine sections in the book on transboundary resource conflicts. For their insights on the dynamics of water conflicts in the Northeast, sincere thanks to Neeraj Vagholikar, Kalpavriksh, Pune; Partha Das, Aaranyak, Guwahati; and Chandan Mahanta, IIT Guwahati. Several people have worked behind the scenes in providing support and help that can never be adequately repaid. My thanks to a small band of research assistants and interns for their doggedness and penchant to reach into the proverbial hat and pull out hard-to-find facts and references. To Manka Bajaj, Chang-Chen Shen, Rakshit Chopra, Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman, Roshini Diwakar, Swetha Murali and Elmie Konwar Rengma, a big thanks for their assistance during critical stages of writing and revision. Thanks also to the library staff at The New School, New York, especially John Allen, Marisol Rivera and Mary Grueser for their prompt assistance in fixing glitches on more than one occasion. A special thanks to Grace Hou, Officer Manager, ICI, for her extraordinary warmth and generous help during my research visits to New York. To Gopal Chauhan, Assistant Librarian at CPR, for his prompt and cheerful assistance in securing research materials; to Sunil Sejwal for his cartographic skills and his ingenuity in ably incorporating quirky wish lists so aesthetically. A hat tip to the editorial team at SAGE for shepherding the book through the publication process; Rekha Natarajan, my first editor and Rudra Narayan, Associate Commissioning Editor, Isha Sachdeva, Production Editor and the team at SAGE for their valuable support. Saving the best for the last, it is a joy to thank my husband and my sister; as good a crack team as any for bouncing ideas and helping me connect the dots. An in-house editor and an academic can be a demanding and hard-to-please duo. I was always amazed by their natural and seemingly insatiable flair for brilliant critique even as I chafed at having to do yet another revision. For this and so much more, this book is dedicated to both of them. To my in-laws, especially Sheila and George, a cheery thanks for being my stress-busters and for all the fun times, love and laughter. But,
most of all, to Amma and Acchan for unabashedly cheering each milestone crossed and for treating every bout of the writer’s block with indulgence and humour. For their infectious optimism, faith and for identifying so closely with it, this book owes more to them than words can convey. To Mani for the woofs, wags and fuzz therapy that never failed to lift spirits during the long writing spells.
1 Fences and Frames Narrativising the Borderlands Territory has today become something of a conversation stopper in India– China relations. Despite the compelling immediacy of a 4,056 km long border, it is intriguing that when we think of India and China we typically think of New Delhi and Beijing and not locations along the border. So entrenched has this imagined reality been that border regions today have become virtually invisible in India–China relations. Cross-cultural signposts such as Shigatse, Jelep La, Lohit, Chengdu, Ledo and Dali today hardly figure in the mainstream policy and research consciousness. Some of this reductive logic is more than evident in the fact that, even as bilateral trade is projected to surge to $100 billion by 2015, much of it has passed the borders by. A limited territorial imagination has indeed reduced the borderlands to being geographies of loss. It has also been a loss of imagination. Today, the India–China border regions evoke all the allure of a period piece, steeped in the romanticism of Silk Road lore. But if we must borrow from history, let us at least do so truthfully. It would be as absurd to think of the Silk Road as one single road as to assume that only silk travelled on it. If anything, it has been a rich slice of economic and cultural history, of sinuous, well-beaten tracks that carried goods, peoples, ideas, customs, religions and languages; and of the way it has shaped the daily lives of people who lived across these borders and bound them together as one unit. Stripped of these rich layers, what emerges is a neighbourhood uprooted from its moorings, which has to unwittingly disown not just this intimate past but to foreswear a shared present as well as future (Kurian 2009a). As the sociologist Raimondo Strassoldo reminds us, border regions leave ‘complex mental imprints’, affecting the culture and consciousness of a people in ways that are difficult to assess and measure unlike the physical flows of goods and people (Strassoldo 1998: 87). The discontents, which the region has experienced, originate in this legacy of loss. The truth is that perceptions have got so
2 India–China Borderlands
used to its invisibility that there has been little attempt to raise the bar on a possible alternative imaginary for the borderlands. An interesting policy shift, currently underway in both India and China, could offer the potential for just such an alternative vision (Kurian 2010). The India–China border regions are today undergoing wide-range transformations with a state-directed ‘political and economic push to its sovereign edge’ (Freeman and Thompson 2011: 2). The state is today stepping into its periphery armed with a powerful new discourse of prosperity and an even more formidable arsenal of resources. Both Northeast India and Western China are seeing a huge infusion of funds from their respective central governments.1 On completion of a decade of its implementation, the Western Development Strategy received $512 billion from the Chinese central government for the development of the western region (Xinhua 2009). The flow of funds to the Northeast region during the 11th Five Year Plan (2007–2011) amounted to `122,086 crore. Sources of funding have come from the Planning Commission, North East Council, DONER and various Central ministries and departments (Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region 2012). Both programmes place a strong accent on reducing regional disparities and raising the socio-economic profile of the respective border regions. For instance, the then Chinese President Jiang Zemin described the WDS as being critical to China’s development strategy and called for ‘gradually reducing the gap in development between regions’ (Lai 2002: 435, People’s Daily 2000). Similarly, India’s Look East policy is significantly connected with the domestic imperative of developing the Northeast region. The Northeast Vision 2020 document prepared under the auspices of the North East Council in 2008 sets itself the objective of closing the gap between the region and the rest of the country and restoring the Northeast to a ‘position of national economic eminence’. Reflecting the subtext of stability and unity, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described the Vision document as a ‘unique event in our nation-building process’ (Press Information Bureau 2008). There are compelling reasons for examining the immediate subregion of India and China, a neighbourhood they both share and an area of the world little known or studied (see Map 1). The northeastern region of India has 4,500 km long international borders, with only a 22 km link 1 The Western Development Strategy was introduced during the Jiang Zemin–Zhu Rongji administration in 1999.
Map 1: India–China Subregion
4 India–China Borderlands
to the Indian mainland through Siliguri, West Bengal. The eight states that constitute Northeast India account for 7.9 per cent of the total geographical area of the country, with a population of 44 million that makes up 3.65 per cent of the country’s population. The region is home to immense ethnic diversity with an estimated 160 Scheduled Tribes and over 400 tribal and sub-tribal groupings (Bhaumik 2007: 59). China’s western region too has a high degree of ethnic diversity where many of the 55 officially recognised ethnic minority groups besides the dominant Han ethnic group live. China’s 2010 Census records the ethnic population as constituting 8.49 per cent of the population (China Daily 2011). Ethnic minorities are largely concentrated in 12 western provinces, particularly the five autonomous provinces of Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Tibet, Ningxia and Guangxi.2 The small percentage, however, makes up for a substantial presence geographically inhabiting 64 per cent of the country’s total area, mostly along international borders (Lai 2009: 6). Its demographic presence is also substantial, making up 113.8 million (China Daily 2011).
Crossing the Discursive Border? This massive developmental thrust that India’s Northeast and China’s Western borderlands are witnessing constitutes the focus of the book.3 It is a feel-good narrative for sure. The discourse, that till now had created fractured geographies by turning its back on social processes in the borderlands, today romanticises its transnational character. Delhi and Beijing’s ‘new’ reading of the borders speaks a comfortable cosmopolitan Ethnic autonomous areas are categorised to correspond to three broad spatial administrative levels, namely autonomous regions, autonomous prefectures and autonomous counties. Autonomous regions are at the provincial level, autonomous prefectures are located between provinces and counties and autonomous counties at the county level. For details, see Zhang, Haiting. ‘The Laws on Ethnic Minority Autonomous Regions in China: Legal Norms and Practice’ (27 March 2012), available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2029781/ 3 The eight states of the northeastern India are Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim. China’s Western Development Strategy covers Chongqing Municipality, Sichuan, Guizhou, Yunnan, Shaanxi, Guansu and Qinghai provinces, Tibet, Ningxia Hui, Xinjiang Uygur, Inner Mongolia and Guangxi Zhuang autonomous regions. [For details, see Lan (2010).] 2
Fences and Frames 5
language and lays claim to a universal vision of globalism. The global language is no mere chance, for it strips away the messy complexity of its politics. It is an account that seeks to make the periphery intelligible to a new powerful class of stakeholders interested in ‘developing’ it. In the frothy promotional literature of governments, the idea of subregional integration is said to be fast ushering in a borderless world of expanding economic opportunities and growth. It is essential to first locate the subregion in the national narrative, an exercise likely to be fraught with contestations. Order and stability concerns have always ranked high in the security calculus of decisionmakers with separatist movements, protests and bouts of violence being an endemic feature. There are an estimated 79 active armed insurgent groups in the Northeast, and transborder linkages among these groups have compounded security challenges facing the Indian state.4 The fear of ‘external forces’ has been a constant source of worry for Beijing too, most evident in the aftermath of violent protests in Lhasa in 2008 and in Urumqi in 2009.5 The external dimension is particularly a salient factor for the state in India and China, given their long territorial borders.6 How feasible is the new subregional imaginary likely to be within such a continued securitised environment? Even less understood is the nature of India–China interactions at this level and the implications their concurrent moves hold for the dyad. Assam Tribune 2011. For a comprehensive analysis of the various conflicts in Northeast India, see S. Baruah. Durable Disorder: Understanding the Politics of Northeast India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005); S. Hazarika. Strangers of the Mist: Tales of War and Peace from India’s Northeast (New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2000); S. K. Das. ‘Ethnicity and the Rise of Religious Radicalism: The Security Scenario in Contemporary Northeastern India’, in Religious Radicalism and Security in South Asia, eds. S. P. Limaye, M. Malik and R. G. Wirsing (Honolulu: Asia Pacific Centre for Security Studies, 2004), 245–271. 5 A Tsinghua University Report in 2011 warned that China was caught in a ‘transition trap’ which could seriously undermine its growth trajectory. The Report warned ‘the problem today is that we’ve become so obsessed with feeling the stones that we do not even wish to cross the river anymore’. The Report concluded that only by reinstituting ‘equity and justice’ as core values can the political system offset the growing disaffection and loss of public trust in society. (David Bandurski. ‘Critical report pulled from China’s web’, China Media Project, 12 January 2012, available at http://cmp.hku.hk/2012/01/12/17967/). 6 While China shares more than 22,000 km of land boundary with 14 neighbouring countries, India shares 15,000 km of land borders with seven countries. 4
6 India–China Borderlands
Clearly then, there is a tension at the heart of the borderlands that needs to be pushed and foregrounded into any moves to rethink borders as bridges. What is problematic is that the new discourse on rethinking borders is, by and large, foisted on an existing narrative of anxiety and insecurity. A remapping of the border region as a gateway will be incomplete without first critically engaging with this extant discourse. If these fractured geographies are to be restored, creative ways of thinking out of the territorial trap has to be a first. The manner in which India and China address this central tension will be critical to their capacity to start a conversation of change on the borders as well as with each other. It also means appreciating that there is more to borders than establishing hotlines and holding flag meetings. It will also entail recasting ageing agendas and releasing the borderlands from the freeze frame of securitised narratives. This will essentially call for unpacking borders as conventionally understood and the binaries they produce. Unless this is done, the discourse is likely to reproduce extant categories of thinking. The study looks specifically at the implications the shifting border discourse holds for the periphery in whose name this development is being initiated and whether it will be in a position to benefit from these interventions. It seeks to engage with this vast and entrenched literature on borders at multiple levels—cognitive, territorial and disciplinary (Kurian 2010). Seen from the national narrative, the periphery marks the outer limits of a state’s sovereignty, a space that is territorially organised, patrolled, enforced and enclosed. The more expansive and fluid frontier gave way to the more precise and rigid notion of the territorial border, creating the binary worlds of the domestic and international as it were. Where the former existed as a zone, the latter was conceived as a line. Where the former was a site of intermingling of peoples, cultures, religions, languages and ideas, the latter was imagined as a line separating the self from the others who were labelled as different by virtue of being beyond. The assumption of a space being also a culturally contiguous entity, thus, becomes instantly problematic internally since sameness gets prized over difference. Jeffrey Sachs, for instance, holds ‘bad latitude’ to be the chief ‘material impediment to growth’, flattening in the process, historical contingency, institutions, state structures and politics to irrelevance (Watts 2002). This bias leads to a perception in the popular imagination of border spaces as somehow lacking in talent and innovation and the privileging of ‘large metropolitan
Fences and Frames 7
areas as the obvious spaces where creativity thrives’ (Hall and Donald 2009). The inherently contested nature of borders owes itself to its socially constructed character (Jenson 1995; Neumann 1993; Paasi 2001). Statist categories of ordering space constructed forms of identity and divisions that were perforce experienced within these fixed, enclosed spaces. Identity and space did not coalesce as much as they were made to coincide within what John Agnew refers to as the ‘territorial trap’. Within this calculus, the borders constitute a land of contested symbols, conveying transitions and transformations, a liminal zone resisting change as much as it produces it. A space that the state seeks relentlessly to render ‘legible’ but where its attempts to define are more often than not met with diffusion.
Border as a Verb For those living on the frontiers, the border is far from being the line of control that the state constructs it to be. That these labels are rarely self-chosen and tend to be imposed categories only go on to make the dualisms sharper and more difficult to negotiate. Paradoxically, for borderlanders, the border is both an invisible as well as an integral aspect of their social existence. Its invisibility stems from the fact that much of the transactions not ‘authorised’ by the state take place anyway, despite it. As Willem van Schendel notes, border regions resonate with stories of how states are unsuccessful in ‘enclosing people bent on crossing’ the border (Schendel 2005: 202). Integral to the way a border is imagined or reimagined will be practices and perceptions of those who negotiate it in their daily lives, imbuing it with a dynamic character. It is this constitutive nature of border regions that assumes a centrality in the lives and experiences of communities, which typically can be understood only within a transnational frame of reference. Often overlooked in totalising narratives is the historical agency of actors other than the state. A non-state centric reading can, however, help capture the flows, networks and actors that otherwise go missing in statist accounts. For instance, border communities have constantly used a mix of evasion and local resistance to effectively dodge the state’s attempts to define and control border movements. The interactions between them have
8 India–China Borderlands
thrown up interesting insights on differing border imaginaries. Mobility and transnational networks have for long also been effective livelihood strategies. For instance, to make use of more lucrative economic opportunities across the border, communities have always tapped into centuries-old traditional networks of trade and kinship. Most of these rites of passage are done ‘illegally’ without work permits and documents, such as through the jalan tikus (mouse paths) mediated almost exclusively by Iban kinship networks to illegally migrate from West Kalimantan, Indonesia to Sarawak in Malaysia (Eilenberg and Wadley 2009: 65). Such processes also point to a unique understanding of ‘interrelated territorialities’ with a highly complex ethno-geographical mapping of resources and places (ibid.: 60). Thus, the border, while being ‘ubiquitous’ in the consciousness of borderlanders through ties of trade, commerce and matrimony, no longer remains ‘an institution of exclusion’ for them. Territorial administrators, as James Scott notes, have been ‘constantly frustrated by peoples who refused to stay put’ (Scott 2008: 12–13). He draws attention to ‘non-state spaces’ such as mountains, river deltas, deserts that the state finds difficult to establish its control over. Scott argues that hill peoples followed ‘state-repelling social structures’ that helped them escape the state’s homogenisation activities, a conscious political choice of evasion by them. Mobility thus becomes a critical tool to stay out of reach of the state and its sedentarist agendas. It has also been very effectively used by the Orang Suku Laut or the sea nomads of Riau, Indonesia, who have a mobile production structure that operates at multiple sites. Official definitions of citizenship have no place for such mobilities and tend to see these as ‘illegal’ and ‘dangerous’. Policies by India and China towards the forced sedentarisation of pastoral nomads betray this statist impulse and mindset. Thus, for the border region, the appropriate frame of reference naturally becomes the transnational as against the national. As Vandergeest and Peluso argue, ‘People do not experience space as abstract, as they generally have no access to maps produced by militaries and government surveyors. Experienced territory or space is not abstract and homogenous, but located, relative, and varied’ (Vandergeest and Peluso 1995: 389). Thus, the borderlands, far from being the ‘periphery’, are uniquely positioned at the intersection of national and cultural crossroads and bring several crossover disciplinary and policy insights. If these are dismissed as illegal,
Fences and Frames 9
or worse as irrelevant, such rich narratives would have no hope of finding entry points into the mainstream discourse.
De-romanticising Border Crossings It is thus clear that the starting point for any exercise on rethinking borders by default has to be an acknowledgement of their sheer diversity and complexity. The politico-military understanding of borders as being mere geographical markers masks the enormous complexity that a border region encompasses. In a typically transnational frame, the border becomes not quite the ‘margin’ but the centre of a vast and bustling network of social and cultural flows. It is this traffic that is so vital to and an integral part of the everyday existence of border communities and which operate despite the exclusionary nature of territorial mapping. When the state seeks to ‘close’ its borders through formal measures, informal processes go on to ‘open’ the same border. While the logic of the former seeks to exclude, the latter is premised on a mutually constitutive relationship that spans the very same markers. There is a constant ‘manipulation of legal boundaries’ by people on both sides who move ‘back and forth’ and subvert procedures to their benefit (Cusick 2000: 48). Through such ‘open defiance of state border control’ the border is thus ‘overcome’ in visible and telling ways (Ghosh 2011: 54). It is not surprising then that the history of state building has had a recurrent skein of competing national–community claims, be it over space or resources. Many of these issues clearly need to be framed as questions of accountability and placed at the intersection between rights and resources, making it central to the ability of border communities to realise their rights to resources (Newell and Wheeler 2007). Sovereignty claims of the state and the community have rarely colluded, with the former threatening traditional user rights as well as the ‘cultural sovereignty’ of communities with a long history of independence (Hirsch and Warren 1998: 15). Resource peripheries tend to be by and large seen through a ‘specific national lens’ without ‘political or cultural referents’, thereby emptying these spaces of people. These statist cadastral imaginations often deploy biogeographic criteria defined by scientists as definitive maps of entire
10 India–China Borderlands
ecosystems. As Raymond Bryant notes, ‘Not visible in this map is any sign of people: there is no reference to cities and towns or any real indication of cultural and linguistic factors’ (Bryant 2002: 275–276). Scott rightly stresses the need for ‘vernacular knowledge’, namely ‘forms of knowledge embedded in local experience’ (Scott 1998). The extension of the notion of accountability beyond its legalistic–technocratic understanding makes it more meaningful to the lives of the marginalised. Accountability struggles across many parts of the region for mythical homelands are as much an assertion of ethnic identity as they are a right to resources and the land, seen an integral part of their cultural identity. Accountability struggles such as these importantly define a resource in more than economic terms to acknowledge its inherent political character as well as intrinsic contestation. The close connections that borderlanders have had with their ecosystem are integrally tied with their sense of security, resources, livelihood and identity. Raymond Bryant’s fascinating study of the ThaiMyanmar border shows that the subtext of the Myanmarese state’s military campaigns against the Karen ethnic group has been the state’s overriding need of ‘eliminating a rival claim’ to the frontier. However, it is also important to sound a much-needed caveat that border crossings are not always the stuff of resistance. As contrasting examples show, border communities can also often identify more with the state and the national project despite the existence of ethnic similarities across borders. The border narratives of the state and the community can also occasionally reinforce each other and present yet another instance of how border ethnographies seldom obey easy categorisations. What these instances bring out is the agency of the border community as an actor who shapes these processes and is constantly making conscious choices. An illustrative example is how the Brogpas of Ladakh actively use the discourse of nationalism to shape its own notions of territoriality and sovereignty. This border community has traditionally used khral or the practice of mandatory labour to consciously symbolise affiliation to a particular village and by extension, denote its identity to the country. Khral in Ladakh and Tibet has traditionally involved contributions by villagers in cash or through their labour to the kings. Although the Indian government abolished the practice of obligatory taxes and contributions after Independence; the Brogpas have continued the practice by offering their labour and knowledge of the high-altitude terrain to the army. The
Fences and Frames 11
constant shelling from across the border and the immediacy of the threats to their security has resulted in the Brogpas seeing their identity and the preservation of national borders as being synonymous (Bhan 2008: 147). As Ravina Aggarwal points out, the Ladakhis ‘fiercely claim Indian identity, not only by resisting or accommodating centralised ideologies, but by seeing themselves as central to the national project’ (Aggarwal 2004: 13). State power and authority also need not always be pitted against illegality and illicitness in the borderlands need not always be the caricaturised realm of evasion and circumvention that it is often made out to be. It can at times also be a collusive act that both the state and other actors in society partake of. The ‘licit’ and the ‘illicit’, as Willem van Schendel and Itty Abraham argue, can often times coincide with statist definitions of the ‘legal’ and the ‘illegal’ but at other times need not (Schendel 2005: 3). The robustness of cross-border flows that are prohibited by the state underlines the reality that there is often a ‘local acceptance of such movements’ that are deemed legitimate by the border people (Ghosh 2011: 52). For instance, when the formal channels are tightened, there are numerous instances that the border could still be opened at the right price. The role of ‘lineman’ or facilitators who enable illegal border crossings is a highly institutionalised one, with the willing connivance of border guards (Carney 2011). These agents of state or ‘petty sovereigns’, as Judith Butler calls them, wield enormous discretionary powers, ‘performing their acts unilaterally and with enormous consequence’ (Butler 2004: 65). The well-coordinated chain of financiers, traders, middlemen and the couriers involved in cattle smuggling across the India–Bangladesh border with an estimated annual turnover of `5,000 crore is a case in point. Instances of Lao–Thai petty smuggling on the Mekong bring out the reality of the ‘close collaboration’ and ‘personalised engagement with—rather than avoidance of state border officials’ (Walker 2006: 5). Government complicity in the production of illegality in the drug trafficking trade underlines this collusive zone aptly. A recent case in point is how Tachileik, a militia chief in the Myanmar army, built a powerful drug empire along the Golden Triangle during his term in the army, with agents of the state playing an active role in sustaining illegality. While it may not be incorrect to interpret these as actions by local agents of the state that undermine central fiat, what these exchanges underline is the socially embedded nature of state power and the reality that the illegal and the licit coexist in a shared social space.
12 India–China Borderlands
Social acceptance, thus, can go a long way in explaining and making the licit–illicit binary dysfunctional. For instance, there are powerful reasons for the widespread social acceptance of opium cultivation in the Kokang, Wa and Shan regions of Myanmar, not the least being the fact that the cash crop serves both as a form of currency as well as credit and is often used as barter for household commodities (Chouvy and Laniel 2006). Border economies tend to thrive when the degree of openness of the border is ‘just right’ (Strassoldo 1998: 88). Take for instance the price differences in goods and wages that constitute a key livelihood source for border economies. Organised syndicates smuggling fuel on the India–Bangladesh border respond to the ready economic logic of price differentials. The seizure of nearly 4,000 L of fuel in 2005 from the Benapole border town in Bangladesh has revealed official complicity on both sides and reportedly the involvement of the anti-smuggling taskforce officials as well. Brisk fertiliser smuggling from India to neighbouring regional markets is another such instance where heavy fertiliser subsidies in India have created an expanding and ready market in the rest of South Asia where no such subsidies exist.7 What these diverse instances bring out is the reality of overlapping and often competing levels of authority that fitfully heave and push against one another’s domains. These complex domains may involve a host of ‘states’ or ‘state-like’ authorities, each with a relative capacity to govern and exercise a measure of political authority. The ‘management and economics’ of conflicts thus need not spell disorder and anarchy but instead ‘can be quite structured between the various stakeholders’ (Smith 2006: 20). Violence has also not been the domain only of the state, with quasi-state agencies and insurgency groups often using coercion as a tool to advance their goals. These non-state actors operate in the same institutional space, as does the state, considerably subverting the state’s monopoly over force. What these multiple reconstructions point to is the reality of multiple imaginaries at work. Across the fixed line, human geographies have reconstituted social and symbolic practice, transforming landscapes into For instance, the subsidised price of diammonium phosphate was `9,300 a tonne in India as against the international price of `60,000 per tonne (Prasad 2010). Hence, this traffic is well-established that Nepal’s entire demand of 300,000 tonne fertilisers in 2008–2009 was said to have been met illegally from India (ibid.). 7
Fences and Frames 13
multiple sites of interaction. Border ethnographies seldom obey easy categorisation and border-spanning networks reveal the paucity of ‘methodological territorialism’, in that it tries to trap complex social phenomena within territorial containers (Schendel 2005). These reconstructions by ‘nations from below’ offer contra-worldviews to the state on territoriality, history and sovereignty, taking their cue from ethnic boundaries as against state-drawn political boundaries.8 The social reality of the borderlands also means that identity and citizenship defy easy categorisations and get constantly transformed almost on a daily basis. The consonance of this shared social reality results in a consequent dissonance with their respective state strategies. It is this dynamic that transforms the border into a site of contestations and mires it in the binaries of illicit versus licit and the formal versus informal labels (Schendel and Abraham 2005). These counter-narratives reinforce the reality that there is a multiplicity of ways in which a border can be read and imagined.
Borderlands as Research Peripheries The manner in which scholarship frames many of these questions about the ‘periphery’ has also been deeply problematic. An ‘excess of geopolitics’, Sanjay Chaturvedi points out, has also resulted in fractured frames (Chaturvedi 2005). The geopolitics of knowledge this has resulted in has today reduced the borderlands to being research peripheries (Kurian 2010). This is particularly unsurprising for a discipline like International Relations (IR) that so distinctly bears the imprint of its subject matter. Far from offering alternative imaginaries, IR has largely tended to faithfully mirror the ‘cartographic anxiety’ of the state (Krishnan 1994). The mainstream discourse has been structured to peripheralise these spaces, and from this conceptual peg it has been, however, a small leap to micromanaging and the parachuting problem-solving models from a distant centre. Any new border imaginary will hinge as much on the capacity to identify implicit biases in knowledge production as it would For instance, the collective imaginations of the Zos, the greater Naga homeland or the Tai–Ahoms conceptualises the nation as including those whom the state excludes (Roy 2005: 8). 8
14 India–China Borderlands
on its ability to problematise notions of space, epistemology and agency (Kurian 2010). These could recast research peripheries by placing hitherto missing issues onto the agenda and enable the borderlands to reimagine their own future differently. Academic silences have been deafening, not least for their power to distort but also for their power to frame. Borders have often been conceptualised as passive locations and as actors lacking agency. It becomes deeply problematic when the region is studied as a subject since it gives both discourse and policy the power to frame without commensurate accountability. As Kathleen Lynch argues, academic representations ‘frame the lived existence of those who cannot name their own world’ and by this act of appropriation, ‘the frame becomes the picture in the public eye’ (Lynch 1999: 52). This linear storytelling by professionals thus creates a further level of exclusion as communities even lose ownership of their stories of marginalisation, which now belong to the experts for recounting and representation. At another level, the intellectual power of representation also tends to be dismissive of, or unable to engage with oral traditions and knowledge systems. The act of appropriation thus renders the power of speech in double jeopardy here (Lynch and O’Neill 1994).9 Unless the linear narrativising is made interactive, these silences cannot find voice and representation in their own right. The technical, jargon-laden language of public discourse also deters easy interactive interfaces and in overtly participatory forums such as public hearings, the community, ‘can be physically present but technically absent’ (Lynch 1999: 56). Clearly, IR’s generalisations thus ignore the multiplicity of meanings that borders embody, all of which point to the need to contextualise and locate each border within its own political, economic, social and cultural specificities. A deliberately simplified categorisation robs the border of its rich and varied cultural, historical and social layers of identity. The border bears daily witness to a multiplicity of crossings, much of which, while not being ‘official’ or ‘legal’, are very much real in every sense. The discourse has to engage with such flows if it is to offer a richly textured analysis of the complex reality of the borderlands. The way ahead, as Thongchai Winichakul says, lies in a ‘project of marginal history’ that will allow voices from the margins to speak and the interesting ways in which 9
On intellectuals and the power of representation of the social world (Bordieu 1993).
Fences and Frames 15
they are reconstructing territoriality (Winichakul 1994). As Prasenjit Duara notes, the trouble with linear, evolutionary history is that ‘we still find it difficult to count histories that do not belong to a contemporary nation’ (Duara 1995: 3). National identity as he argues, has to be understood not as some sort of ‘unitary consciousness’ but needs to be located ‘within a network of changing and often conflicting representations’ (ibid.: 7). The discipline of IR would be well served as Llyod Pettiford argues, by a ‘period of coexistent paradigms’ (Pettiford 1996: 305). For instance, no single discipline could possibly hope to provide an explanatory framework that can bring out the layered complexities of the borderlands. Rethinking scale as a category of practice, would, as Rogers Brubaker and Frederick Cooper argue, define it as ‘categories of everyday experience, developed and deployed by ordinary social actors’ as against ‘experience-distant categories used by social scientists’ (Brubaker and Cooper 2000: 4). The lived experiences of border communities thus have to be at the centre of any new rethinking on borderlands. Without connecting with the lives of the people who inhabit these physical spaces, IR’s theoretical agendas will remain both unimaginative and reiterative.10 The resistance to change, evident in the narrow agenda that the discipline chose to pursue, has enervated it of much of its explanatory power since it had few conceptual means to interrogate transformations in world politics. Instead, to the extent that IR has sought to engage with new theoretical concerns from outside its fold, it has tended to ‘domesticate’ them through a process of ‘incorporation’ within the discipline’s own terms of reference (Darby 2000: 4). But these are essentially forced partings, which stem from a research orientation that self-consciously seeks an identity closer to science than to the social sciences. The tendency then to view disciplines and even sub-disciplines as oppositional categories creates a set of false dualisms of inside–outside and self–other, snapping what were essentially organic links to an integrated whole. These have fed their own myths that have gone on to create and reinforce disciplinary silos. New discourses are engaging with the international in imaginative ways, bringing fresh insights into its domain. IR needs to find a viable For instance, owing to the parsimonious boundaries that it has drawn for itself, IR has had little engagement with the entire period of colonialism in world history, parcelled as it has been to the fields of history, culture and anthropology. 10
16 India–China Borderlands
interface with these forms of knowledge, be they from the fields of political economy, development studies, postcolonial studies or globalisation. In fact, it is these counter-narratives that have to be the theoretical take-off point for new disciplinary enquiries. These will in turn allow IR to engage with themes of identity, culture and the like which have been relegated to the disciplinary margins of IR. Disciplinary IR, thus, clearly needs to make a fresh set of choices. But the question is, will the academy continue to consign itself to a justification of the mainstream or will it take up the challenge of ‘remaking the mainstream’ (Herring 2006). It is indeed unfortunate, as Eric Herring notes that ‘most IR’ academics tend not even to be aware of making a choice in failing to carry out such vitally necessary work’ (ibid.). These are self-serving red lines drawn by scholars themselves and stems from the misplaced belief that the writer must somehow be absent from his/ her work. IR scholars like Morgan Brigg Bleiker, Oded Lowenheim and Roxanne Lynn Doty have led the call for an autoethnographical IR that helps make ‘connections to the world of human beings’ (Doty 2010: 1050). Reimagined, thus, international studies could, as Robert Jackson argues, be ‘a broadly humanistic subject which involves the scholar in a philosophical, historical, jurisprudential or sociological approach: it is not and could never be a strictly scientific or narrowly technical subject’ (Jackson 1996: 204).
Polarised Narratives The academic debate on India–China relations has largely been an unsparingly monochromatic one. These have essentially tended to be polarising narratives with considerable research effort being expended in agonising over whether the relations of the dyad will be cooperative or competitive. This has clearly been the most overstudied aspect of their relations (Bajpai and Mattoo 2000; Frankel and Harding 2004; Sidhu and Yuan 2003). Each round of polemical jousting has ceded the middle ground further, an unfortunate gap that seriously impoverishes our understanding of liminal spaces, power and the consequent remaking of state capacities. Not surprisingly then, borders themselves have been held captive to a set
Fences and Frames 17
of binaries that cast them simplistically either as barriers or as bridges. Trust deficit is also amply evident with both sides blaming the other for the lack of progress in border negotiations (Fu 2013; Kanwal 2000; Peoples Daily 2009; Samanta 2009). There is also a surfeit of straight-line projections that draw a direct correlation between India and China’s rise and rivalry particularly in the region. Asia is said to be ‘ripe for rivalry’ and conflict presumed to be endemic to the region on account of its legacy of unresolved disputes, weak institutional structures, militarisation and nascent state building (Friedberg 2000; Malik 2005). The borderlands are seen as yet another theatre of growing strategic rivalry between India and China, with ethnic insurgencies potentially becoming a part of a new Great Game between the two countries (Lintner 2012). There is also a clear and overriding preoccupation on both sides with the classic security dilemma that itself could lead to increased levels of tensions between the two countries. Efforts by one side to enhance its own security could result in similar moves by the other side, leading to a spiral of conflict neither country is able to contain. Opinion on China’s appetite for military action against India is similarly divided. While some see the recent border ‘incursions’ in Ladakh essentially on account of the absence of a mutually agreed Line of Actual Control, others interpret these as an instance of a more ‘aggressive tactical posturing’ (Kanwal 2000). China could, it is argued, have a strong incentive to ratchet up tensions on the border and attack a ‘soft target’ and occupy territory in the Northeast. China could, some argue, find it an attractive proposition to repeat history by launching a military attack against India for its presumed ‘demonstrative effect’. This could, it is argued, simultaneously ‘give a crushing blow to India’s great power aspirations’ as well as nudge a greater accommodation of China’s growing power by Asian powers (Mallik 2009). Chinese public perceptions of India seem to be divided between largely ‘benign’ and pessimistic accounts (Pei 2011; Yang and Zhao 2009). Besides an overall ‘perception gap’ within China regarding India, the intellectual debate within China on India’s rise has tended to be a highly polarised one (Pei 2011). The larger question on whether India’s democratic political system represents an effective alternative to the Chinese model has been a divisive one. But a far more fraught issue has been the concern over India as a strategic counterweight to China. India’s increasing engagement with East and Southeast Asia and the implications of this ‘strategic expansion
18 India–China Borderlands
for its national strategy’ are strong related concerns from China’s point of view (Li 2008; Ma 2008). India’s growing role beyond South Asia is clearly perceived by many in China’s strategic community as aimed at curbing China’s role and influence in the region (Zhang 2006). In stark contrast to the geopolitical narrative, are the rather straightforward neoliberal visions of shared prosperity (Bhattacharya and De 2005; Khanna 2007; Singh 2005). For instance, booming bilateral trade is held out as ‘the strongest pillar of China–India rapprochement’ and to have ‘overtaken the pace of political confidence-building’ (Singh 2005: 1). Constructions, such as ‘Chindia’, seek to conjoin the economic dynamism and closer integration of two rising economies (Ramesh 2005). The optimism behind such assessments has, however, been dented somewhat by the reality that while India–China bilateral trade has grown dramatically to reach nearly $74 billion in 2011–2012; India’s trade deficit with China too touched a record of its own at $40 billion. The skewed nature of trade has stoked insecurities of its own in India and the role of trade as a confidence-building measure has been openly questioned. A few insightful enquiries have provided a much-needed corrective through a critical engagement with India and China’s growth trajectories and their inherent domestic weaknesses (Jha 2010). Similarly valuable have been enquiries that have carefully questioned the assumption of China’s linear and inexorable growth trajectory (Huang 2008; Pei 2008). India’s rise could also be an opportunity for China, according to Yasheng Huang, to critically interrogate the ‘imperfections’ of its own economic model and nudge it out of its ‘sense of complacency’ (Huang 2006). It is also evident that the articulation of Chindia may be ‘joined by name but not by nature’ and reality clearly lags the rhetoric of bonhomie. Despite common stakes in the process of Asian regionalism, Chindia increasingly could just as well become a site for multiple contestations on key definitional issues, questions of inclusion and exclusion and prioritisation of security concerns (Kurian 2006a). But while the evolving subregional environment may be competitive, it need not automatically be crisis-prone (Kurian 2005a). Important as these inquiries have been, there is little relief to be found in such parsimonious categorisations on how the cycle of rivalry can be broken. Instead, the bulk of these writings by and large continue to be in reactive mode with each power presumed to grow at the expense of the other (Chellaney 2013; Kaplan 2010; Karnad 2011; Pant 2006). There has
Fences and Frames 19
also been relatively little attempt to problematise under what conditions either scenario of cooperation or competition is likely to become a reality. There is also often only a passing acquaintance with domestic debates and how preoccupations with stability concerns and legitimacy challenges in the ‘periphery’ play out in foreign policy behaviour of either country in the neighbourhood. Some of the monotony of a fixed narrative is broken by accounts that explore alternative sites of interactions and introduce a set of actors that go missing in meta narratives that tend to telescope history (Bhattacharji 2006; Kurian 2005b; Roy 2012; Sen 2003; Uberoi 2009; Vasan 2005). There are also nascent enquiries into looking at the links between federalism and IR and border states and foreign policy (Jacob 2011; Kurian 2010; Sharma 2009). There is no denying that the growing broad-based India–China engagement has resulted in a situation where the border as Alka Acharya notes, is ‘no longer the sum and substance of a relationship’ (Acharya 2005). But by and large, between the geopolitical accounts of endemic competition and the geoeconomic feel-good narrative of prosperity, the India–China border region has tended to remain suspended in a sort of time warp. The call to review ‘political geography and clear the decks of the debris of the 1962 war’ is a call well worth heeding to (Bhalla 2010). Such an exercise will imply questioning the dominant mode of understanding borders as ‘consequences of location, sovereignty, and territoriality’ (Chavez and Salmon 2010). The critical role that borders can play in communication, stemming naturally from their being points of contact between different systems, has not been apparent in either discourse or practice in the India–China context. This is an unfortunate omission since cross-border communication is a complex issue with signals, meanings and a constant process of interpretation. This becomes even more challenging in intercultural communication where ‘thresholds of uncertainty’ could be higher and predictability levels lower (Gudykunst 2004: 21). In the face of such complexity, the standard accounts of states as monolithic entities are also increasingly difficult to sustain. Absent from such meta-analyses is the role that domestic politics, in particular political uncertainties, plays in fashioning foreign and security policy (Bhalla 2005). For instance, rarely is the link between the domestic and external variables established, as Indian scholarship continues, by and large, to study China as a monolithic identity. The role of factors,
20 India–China Borderlands
such as state–society relations and political stability in affecting China’s foreign policy choices, is seldom acknowledged in Indian IR. Ground realities, on the other hand, point to assumptions of domestic-external divides as being outdated and passé. A case in point is the pattern of informal processes driving China’s engagement, the graduated manner in which China has re-engaged with the regional economy and the process of decentralisation of decision-making powers aimed at providing local incentives for growth. Andrew Hurrell prefers to define these new patterns as constituting soft regionalism or ‘regionalisation’, namely ‘the growth of societal integration within a region and the often undirected processes of social and economic interaction’ (Hurrell 1995: 334). These processes represent clear instances of domestic–external interlinkages that became a catalyst for rapid economic growth and development across the region. They also add enormous fresh insights to mainstream theories of economic integration and call for a more nuanced definition of regionalism.
Rationale The book offers a critical comparative analysis of India–China relations at the subregional level, an analytical level that remains an understudied aspect in both research and policy. The study situates their evolving dynamics within the rubric of the massive state-led developmental thrust that India’s Northeast and China’s Western border regions are currently witnessing. By and large, India and China’s parallel moves in the subregion have tended to be studied as isolated cases. This has been a clear drawback since a single case study can at best offer only a slender base for comparison (Lombaerde et al. 2009: 16). A comparative treatment of subregional dynamics has been conspicuous by its absence, with India and China’s parallel moves being studied largely as isolated case studies. This has been a curious omission at a time when processes of subregional integration are rescaling India and China and call for the need to disaggregate our understanding beyond solely national frames of reference. The study attempts to fill this gap by offering a comparative analysis of India and China’s parallel moves towards subregional integration. It does so from a consciously borderlands perspective by positioning the borderlands as an analytical category in its own right,
Fences and Frames 21
instead of being merely a tangential dimension of India–China relations. The book argues that such an approach can also perform a critical paradigmatic function of making one’s research ‘less provincial’ and distancing oneself from the case one knows best, namely one’s own history (Kocka 2003: 41). The capacity to critically engage with these questions can offer India and China to look beyond the cooperation-versus-competition frame that their relations are often typecast into. Failure to study their interactions at the subregional level will impoverish our understanding of the changing contexts of India–China relations, evident from the fact that the geoeconomic and the geopolitical narratives have tended to engage each other parenthetically, often with wary resignation. Thus, while the concepts of security and development are often invoked together in rhetoric, they have, more often than not, undermined each other in practice. It is these tensions in their interface that need to be interrogated in the India–China borderlands. If creatively reimagined, the India–China borderlands could be at the centre of a promising subregional conversation of change. This will in turn depend on India and China’s capacity to recast ageing agendas and to imaginatively decentre practices of governance and diplomacy. Specifically, the study shall look at three key research questions: 1. What will be the capacity of border narratives in India and China to move beyond linear modes of problem solving and shift the focus to local sites, towards issues that have a direct bearing on those living on the frontiers? What institutional entry points can be created for the border region to structure their choices of benefit sharing, negotiate trade-offs, and allocate risks and burdens? 2. Second, what is the scope for India and China to move away from simplistic border narratives and rigid notions of territoriality to work towards institutionalising peace as a regional public good? In what manner will they choose to negotiate the contradictions between the geoeconomic mapping of subregional integration, on the one hand, and the geopolitical discourse of fear and anxiety on the other, that pull in different directions? 3. And lastly, what are the implicit biases in knowledge production and in what creative ways can IR’s ageing research agendas be recast? Can scholarship cross territorial and disciplinary borders
22 India–China Borderlands
to explore understudied issues instrumental in framing a borderlands research agenda? These intellectual enquiries, the book argues, could introduce a muchneeded borderlands perspective as an analytical category in its own right, instead of remaining as a mere tangential dimension of India–China relations.
Subregionalising International Relations Ironically, what makes the borderlands a site of contestations also makes it a site that abounds in possibilities. Possibilities to question received categories of thinking and to rethink them anew. The subregional turn in IR, the study argues, presents just such an opportunity to bring the borderlands centre stage into social research as a level of analysis in its own right. These fugitive landscapes also command respect as subverters par excellence, which succeeds in renegotiating relations of power and authority, invoking Foucault’s reminder that ‘power exists only when it is put into action’ (Bhabha 1990; Foucault 1982: 219). A borderlands perspective can help redraw the conceptual toolkit to look at the transborder governance challenges a shared neighbourhood brings. This will also depend on the willingness of India and China to begin a subregional conversation on a range of regional public goods. This raises two difficult questions at the outset that need to be tackled. Can problem-solving models be nimble enough to make the conceptual leap from the national and the bilateral level to the subregional scale? Secondly, can scholarship cross territorial and disciplinary borders to explore common issues of governance, livelihood and resource sharing within joint analytic frames? As Tony Smith argues, each paradigm has tended to be ‘monotheistic, home to a jealous god’; its insularity and parsimony fostering binaries that have been difficult to break. The evolving subregional turn in IR, the book argues, could offer an appropriate template to look beyond the ‘territorial trap’ and to frame an alternative normative architecture around which a positive-sum game approach to regional public goods could be structured. If the subregional imaginary is to be effective, it also needs to be
Fences and Frames 23
located within the same frame as notions of accountability, representation and agency. Further, it needs to move out from the ‘administrative centres’ and ‘reach the steep slopes and fragile environments that are home to a rich diversity of mountain cultures’ (Byers 1995). Borderlands governance and its evident synergies with other public goods such as peace and stability also need to be acknowledged. This linkage is all too apparent when concerns over resource scarcity threaten peace and stability and become a source of conflict.
How the Book Is Organised The introductory chapter has made the case that the statist discourse on borders and the accompanying geopolitics of knowledge carry implicit biases that portray borders as peripheral, distant spaces. It has looked at counter-narratives from the borderlands that deploy imaginative and complex strategies to reconstruct the statist discourse. The ‘spatial turn’ in social sciences and humanities is fundamentally changing the way we understand and think of space (Warf and Arias 2008). This is bringing to the fore new metaphors that imagine these spaces as connectors as well as separators (Baud and Schendel 1997). Acknowledging their fluidity, fungibility and liminality will be a first. Such a spatial turn has, however, been a long time coming to IR. Understanding the processes of regional differentiation, spatiality and the need for ‘situated development’ all underline the continued and even increased relevance of a geographical enquiry in IR. Chapter 2 provides a historical overview of state-building challenges in the India–China borderlands. A long view helps to escape conceptual cubbyholes and alerts us to how these temporal frames and their borrowed images continue to filter spaces after the original context and periods are long gone. Unbundling some of these tropes add layers to our understanding of the weave and warp of the India–China borderlands. Recalling these would also help us understand how the Indian and the Chinese state have approached this historical legacy and to be mindful of economic, cultural and intellectual continuities. These caution us against treating historical eras as neat dividing lines. What is often overlooked
24 India–China Borderlands
is that these historical processes did not flow one way, and least of all produce any one meta-narrative. Chapter 3 looks at the consecutive moves by India and China to redefine their land borders as bridges as effective bearers of their influence across the region. In particular, it critically examines the transformational potential of transborder linkages in trade, tourism and transport that both countries have been underscoring. It locates these within the larger, more complex transitions in processes of regionalisation. It offers a critical reading of the working of subregional arrangements from across Asia and looks at the contestations that the process of ‘landscape transformations’ brings in its wake, in particular the growing reality of differential mobilities. The chapter argues that while perspectives on the margins are gaining attention for a variety of factors and are to be welcomed, this is not necessarily the same as perspectives from the margins. It stands to reason that if the region is becoming important, then surely it needs to be an active partner in this rethinking process, primarily because these changes are going to have a direct bearing on its own future. Chapter 4 critically engages with the question whether India and China’s subregional visions are likely to coincide or not. It argues that for any meaningful subregional cooperation between them, India and China would first need to debate their respective conceptions of peace, contending value orientations and the fundamental question of how the subregion gets defined. This will in turn depend crucially on their own capacity to recast ageing agendas and to imaginatively decentre practices of governance and diplomacy. Their ability to do so could create institutional entry points to explore issues and actors hitherto missing from the subregional governance agenda. Illustrative examples from various border regions in the world bring out a range of innovative responses to address shared challenges of micro-level governance such as growing ecological imbalances, be it climate change, water resource degradation, disaster management or biodiversity conservation. These point to the effectiveness of devolved monitoring and implementation mechanisms that take subregional institutions as the locus of problem solving. The manner in which these difficult transformations are negotiated will in turn decide the success of the India–China subregional imaginary. Chapter 5 argues that a limited intellectual imagination has today reduced the India–China borderlands to being research peripheries. A new
Fences and Frames 25
border imaginary will hinge on the capacity to identify implicit biases in knowledge production, which has resulted in theoretical navel-gazing of the worst kind that has had little use of, and is of little use to, processes at the margins. It is at a deeper level, also about how knowledge is defined and the privileging of certain forms of knowledge and the sidelining of others. Within the structural parameters of knowledge use, the role of people has been reduced to becoming passive recipients of knowledge flows. An alternative imaginary for the India–China borderlands will depend on their capacity to engage with the mainstream discourse not only on borders but also on the geopolitics of knowledge with its attendant biases and binaries. Such an integrative narrative could potentially subregionalise IR by reimagining the borderlands as actors with agency.
2 B/Ordering Spaces Governing Multi-ethnic Borderlands Order and stability have historically been the ‘frontier fetish’ of the state in India and China from the imperial era to the present. Effective consolidation over its distant frontiers tended to furrow brows of the political class then as now and consolidation of authority continues to remain a pressing political priority. Concerns over state building and assimilation have been at the core of the governance of multi-ethnic borderlands (Rossabi 2004). To be sure, there were tensions and contradictions in state building, as the state constantly sought to negotiate between the often-competing goals of assimilation and autonomy.1 The frontier was thus hardly a neutral site of intermingling where identities fused and overlapped. It was an arena marked by dramatic, almost relentless change and dynamism. It was also no less a place of violence on account of the fierce struggles over control that it witnessed. It is important in this regard to remember that state building has a distinct history that gives it a specific cognitive frame of reference. The chapter brings out how the understanding of the ‘spatial’ has changed continually through history in response to changing political and economic transformations (Giersch 2001: 215). A historical overview of Qing imperial and British colonial state-building experiences brings out many similarities in terms of overall statist concerns, interests and priorities. However, there were also important differences in British and Qing conceptions of control. The attempt here will be to understand this historical context from the point of view of constructions and interpretations of national identity narratives. How the Indian and the Chinese states have approached this historical legacy is instructive, for there are strong elements of economic, cultural and intellectual continuities that
For a theoretical treatment of borders as socio-spatial processes, see Henk Van Houtum, eds. Oliver Kramsch and Wolfgang Ziefhofer. B/Ordering Space (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005), p. 262. 1
B/Ordering Spaces 27
marked many of these transitions. Historicising could help uncover many of these cognitive echoes, and how these impart an invisible subtext to our subjective consciousness.
Cosmopolitan Histories It is clear that the borderlands of India and China have always looked outwards, the ethnic makeup of its peoples reflecting centuries-old processes of co-mingling and migrations. The ‘intellectual isolation’ that has characterised scholarship on the writing of these histories, has failed to recognise many of these implicit interlinkages between the national, regional and international. The Eastern Himalayas can, as Stuart Blackburn argues, lay claim to being a ‘culture area’ in its own right on the basis of shared oral traditions that provide a useful optic to explore cross-cultural dynamics in this part of the world (Blackburn 2007: 425). The ‘extended Eastern Himalayas’ stretches in a wide arc from central Arunachal Pradesh, across the Naga, Chin and Chittagong Hills and encompassing the upland regions of southwestern Chinese provinces of Yunnan, Guanxi, Sichuan and Guizhou (ibid.: 423). Also powerful has been the tug of shared history, geography and languages such as the Mon-Khmer and the Tibeto-Burman family of languages that are spoken across Southeast Asia, Southern China and Northeast India. Typical of this has been the metamorphosis of faiths as they crossed borders and returned, enriched with local flavours. Cultural crossings have been aplenty with the Tibeto-Burman languages forming a shared link.2 For instance, oral traditions among Apatanis and other Arunachali tribes typically tend to share a lot of resonance with those in the upland areas of the transborder neighbourhood than necessarily with Indian ones (Blackburn 2007). A deliberately simplified categorisation thus could end up robbing the border of its rich and varied cultural, historical and social layers of 2 Mark Turin argues that the term Tibeto-Burman is problematic and notes that it is ‘neither an “ethnic” category nor is it a classification that can be used to impute socio-cultural behaviour’. For details, see Mark Turin. ‘Rethinking Tibeto-Burman: Linguistic identities and classifications in the Himalayan periphery’, in Tibetan Borderlands, ed. P. Christiaan Klieger (Leiden: Brill, 2006), 35–48.
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identity. Rich narratives can be pieced together from a multiplicity of sources, not all of which come to us in the written form. These were iconographic accounts that itinerant traders, pilgrims and monks carried with them and relayed orally to enrich a common knowledge base. We learn of the issues that animated these pre-modern conversations, of its ebb and flow as well as its many tensions. We know, for instance, the interdependent networks of trade, diplomacy and Buddhism that have historically had spill over effects on their shared neighbourhood (Sen 2003). For instance, the transmission of Buddhism to China was not a seamless process but often faced a fierce backlash from those who questioned its relevance and contested its very emancipatory fundamentals. These tensions gave a powerful push to moves by the Chinese Buddhist clergy to Sinicise the religion and eventually, to the development of indigenous schools of religious thought. It is interesting how some of the key Buddhist texts thought to be lost forever with the decline of the religion in the subcontinent are available to us through translations carried out under the supervision of Xuanzang. Upon his return to Xian in 645 AD, the itinerant monk spent the next 19 years till his death overseeing the translation of hundreds of Sanskrit texts and documents. These multiple sites of interactions thus call for a comparative Asian context as against a national or statist framing. These are best understood as ‘cosmopolitan histories’ or more appropriately as ‘histories of Asian cosmopolitanism’ (Harper and Amrith 2012: 256).
Mobility as a State Tool Unbundling some of these layers adds to our understanding of the weave and warp of the processes in the India–China borderlands and more critically alerts us to the fact of these constituting a site of contestations. It is also important to sound a caveat that while the self-image of the borderlands may be that of a zone, the state need not and often did not imagine it to be one. The state occasionally also stepped in to restructure these flows and networks, intervening to ‘open’ and ‘close’ these frontiers. Recall the Qing court’s key administrative reforms in 1793 that included moves to enforce a century-long isolation of Tibet from its transnational
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neighbourhood (Huber 2008: 233). This was done in the immediate aftermath of a military intervention by the Qing court in the Gorkha–Tibetan war undertaken at considerable expense. The end of the war saw a direct imperial state interest in Tibet’s affairs, in the process restricting its mobility and irrevocably affecting Tibet’s ties with the neighbourhood. Also affected in the process was the flow of Tibet’s international pilgrimage activities as travel restrictions were placed on the movement of clergy and laypersons. Border patrolling along the frontier passes leading from Tibet, south across the Himalayas, significantly affected pilgrim flows from Tibet. But these could not seal all flows and movement. Frontier controls tended to be less stringent and easier to negotiate along both the far western routes leading to Upper India and the southeastern routes leading to Assam (ibid.: 236). These were the routes traversed by the Tibetan ethnic group, the Khampas, themselves part of a long process of historical migrations across the western Himalayas. Although mobilities of all kinds challenged states, force was not necessarily the default imperial strategy to establish and consolidate power over territories. For instance, the state relocation and resettlement policies followed by the PRC were not unlike similar exercises by the Qing court’s strategies of state building at the frontiers. But unlike the historical pattern set by the Qing population resettlement policies where the relocatees were mostly men, the PRC consciously recruited women to migrate to border areas and ‘their movement and reproductive power became integral parts of state policy in border regions’ (Rohlf 2007: 446). There was a dual projection of the role of women that state policy chose to promote. While recruitment drives by the state projected the borderlands as presenting unique opportunities for the advancement and equality for women, it also at the same time reiterated their traditional roles as wives and mothers. For the state, the purposeful movement of women could critically help in the consolidation of its control, helping to shift the border region from being a ‘frontier of control’ to being a ‘frontier of settlement’ (ibid.: 428). In Qinghai, the movement of single women in large numbers as part of state policy resulted in a sharp spike in the official female Han population that grew faster than the male population between 1964 and 2000. Their role was also promoted so as to ease the ‘marriage squeeze’ in the border regions that had earlier seen waves of large-scale migration of single men. This was as Greg Rohlf notes ‘state-building at its
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fundamental level—reproduction’, an aspect of state policy that does not get the attention it merits (Rohlf 2007: 444). The British, like the Qings, also used mobility as a state tool to repeatedly structure and restructure flows and networks. A case in point was the construction of a complex and elaborate system of inner and outer rings at the border that spanned from Afghanistan, Xinjiang, Tibet, Balochistan, the northwest frontier provinces, Gilgit, Leh, Sikkim to Bhutan and Nepal (Mehra 2007). The concept of creating buffer regions, integral to Sir Alfred Lyall’s elaborate system of defence in the late 1800s, amounted to a virtual continental moat between its possessions and those of powerful potential adversaries. But, the British practice of creating buffer zones flew in the face of both economic logic and social reality. These would go on to severely disrupt traditional trade and communication routes and would remain as Sanjib Baruah notes, ‘colonialism’s most enduring negative legacy’ (Baruah 2004: 213). For instance, the Bengal East Frontier Regulation of 1873 gave the government the authority ‘to prescribe, and from time to time to alter by notification’ an Inner Line that allowed the state governments to ‘prohibit all [citizens of India or any class of such citizens] or any persons residing in or passing through such districts from going from beyond such line without a pass…’ (Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region 2011). The Inner Line functioned as a no-go zone, a sort of ‘security perimeter’ as it were, beyond which no settlement was permitted. There was also a legal separation between these spaces that accompanied their territorial divisions. This distinction was between areas where land relations were to be governed by customary law and those to be under the purview of common law. The restrictions of 1873 effectively threw a military cordon around the hills. This enforced isolation forced a divide between the hills and plains and threw into disarray older patterns of exchange and interaction that had hitherto existed. Similarly, the Government of India (Excluded and Partially Excluded Areas) Order of 1935 declared the Naga Hills District, the Lushai Hills District, the North Cachar Subdivision of the Cachar District and the frontier tracts as Excluded Areas (Haokip 2006). These areas were kept out of the purview of national and state legislations. The Garo Hills District, the Khasi and Jaintia Hills District (excluding Shillong) and the Mikir hill tracts of Nowgong and Sibsagar District were designated as Partially Excluded Areas and exempted from the jurisdiction of any act of national or regional
B/Ordering Spaces 31
legislatures. The ‘Non-Regulation system of administration’, as Jayeeta Sharma notes, concentrated enormous powers in the hands of the colonial rulers, particularly in its military cadres without accountability (Sharma 2011: 61). British officials and missionary groups were the only non-locals with access to these areas and this single factor was to give them a near total monopoly over religious, health and educational service delivery in the hills. What these categories did, Sanjib Baruah argues, was to create a ‘zone of illegality’ ‘providing fewer rights to those that the natives view as interlopers’ (Baruah 2010). Similarly, British colonial projects in commercial plantations brought about rapid and wide-ranging changes in topography, demography and economy. Centralised control over natural resources was considered essential for scientific management and securing control over natural resources and local communities in turn became a key component of this pursuit. For instance, the Easement Act of 1882 recognised the state’s absolute rights over water resources. Similarly, the imperial land management policies ushered in a great degree of centralisation of control with the Forests Acts of 1878 and 1927, which severely restricted and even prohibited access to newly established reserved and protected forests. Large swathes of forestland were cleared to make way for meeting the growing demand for tea. Indentured labour was brought in from outside the region to work in the tea gardens since local labour was scarce. These were accompanied by new institutional rules, norms and practices designed to facilitate the entry of European capital. Discovery of coal and petroleum reserves gave a powerful impetus for the establishment of a vast rail network in the valley. The last decades of the nineteenth and early twentieth century thus saw the rapid expansion of railway network in Assam (Handique 2004). The Wasteland Rules of 1838 further allowed the leasing of tracts categorised as grassland, marshes and forests to tea planters at nominal prices. The Fee Simple Rules introduced by Lord Canning in 1861 offered revenuefree tenure and complete proprietary and hereditary rights among other concessions (Roy 2007: 22). The Wasteland Settlement Rules in Cachar in Assam known as the Jungleburi Rules of 1864 opened up large tracts of wastelands at revenue-free terms (ibid.: 66). The tea industry demanded a vast labour force and this presented considerable difficulties to the British given the reluctance of the local Assamese people to work in the gardens. The only locals who came to
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work in the plantations were the Kacharis and some Naga and Singpho labour to do unskilled work (Sengupta 2009: 36). Thus, began the process of importing indentured labour from Central India and the settling of more than a million migrants, irreversibly transforming the region’s social landscape (Sharma 2011: 5). Deforestation took on new dimensions under the Assam Land Revenue Settlement of 1886 and the Assam Forest Regulation of 1891. The shortages even compelled Assam Company, one of the oldest plantation companies in the area, to import Chinese labour in 1839 and 1840 from Singapore, Penang and Indonesia at great expense to work in the sector (Sengupta 2009: 215; Barpujari 1997: 253). This, however, proved to be an unsuccessful experiment. While meagre wages and inhospitable terrain were compounding factors, the Chinese workers recruited to work in the tea plantations strongly resented being forced to engage in hard manual labour including the clearing of forests. These soured relations on both sides with the Assam Company returning many Chinese workers to Calcutta with complaints that they were ‘turbulent, obstinate and rapacious’ (Sharma 2011: 38). By 1860s, the recruitment of Chinese labour had completely stopped in the face of increasing management challenges. Some of these demographic shifts often had permanent effects on frontier regions, remapping them to suit statist objectives. Regions that were once profoundly cosmopolitan in character were shunted to the margins as the political fate of Hunza, an erstwhile princely state which was annexed by the British in the late nineteenth century. It brings out the critical role colonial routes played in manipulating the flow of mobility in a preferred direction often away from its historical pathways. Colonial routes altered and eventually ended Hunza’s distinct character as a frontier region with a rich and complex network of transfrontier linkages with Kashgar in China to the north and Badakhshan in Afghanistan to the west. These remapping exercises went on to eventually snap Hunza’s traditional linkages with China and Afghanistan, disrupting social and cultural dynamics in the process. For instance, Chad Haines notes that ‘the British were concerned not with a border but with access-routes, passes, ease of transport’ and hence in this sense it was ‘routes (that) defined the colonial frontier’ (Haines 2004: 540). The geopolitical subtext had to do as much with British interest in trade with Chinese Turkistan as with an acutely felt need to define the northern frontiers against Russian influence across Central Asia.
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Limits of State Power While the state thus actively used mobility as a tool to (re)organise border spaces, these were also spaces that often frustrated the state and where the limits of state power was often more than evident. Thus, state building was no linear, vertical progression, and its history is littered with instances of how its course was often diverted against its will. This sobering caveat is the jumping-off point to understand why no two statebuilding projects are structurally similar. The Qing dynasty, China’s last imperial dynasty was also its largest, its territorial expansion reaching new heights to double the territorial girth of the Ming Empire and triple its population3 (Rowe 2009: 1). Successive military campaigns by the Qing expanded the empire’s territorial borders to incorporate into the imperial fold the regions of Manchuria, Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tibet and Taiwan. The administration of frontier provinces often followed different principles as dictated by local realities. A case of contrasting principles is the manner in which the imperial court dealt with Outer Mongolia and Tibet in the late seventeenth and the early eighteenth centuries. While it chose not to militarily occupy the former, preferring instead to create a system of self-government, Tibet saw an overtly centralised apparatus being put in place. Tibet was also administratively remapped to carve out the regions of Kokonor and eastern Kham. While Kokonor was placed under the Lifan Yuan, eastern Kham was incorporated into Sichuan (Di Cosmo 1998: 292). The Lifan Yuan represented a Qing bureaucratic innovation and was the ‘foreign office’ of the imperial court (Crossley 1991: 26). The criticality of frontier security for the Qings was more than underscored by the sweeping reforms undertaken by the empire following the incorporation of the ‘outer provinces’ of Tibet, Central Asia and Mongolia.4 3 Under the Mings, the Inner Asian territories of Manchuria, Mongolia, Tibet and Xinjiang were formally not considered a part of China and were tribute-paying countries (Gang 2006: 5). 4 The measures included the decision to set up a department to oversee emigration to Mongolia, the setting up of a school for the colonisation of the frontier and the decision to upgrade the Lifan Yuan, the administrative body in charge of frontier management, into a full-fledged ministry in 1906 (Nicola: 289).
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The fear of insecurity was a constant concern evident in the words of the Yongzheng emperor, ‘a day of unrest outside the borders is a day without rest (for the people) inside the borders’ (Di Cosmo 1998). The protracted contest for control of the region with the powerful Zunghars of Mongolia echoed the anxiety that consumed the state’s energies and resources for nearly a century, starting from the Kangxi reign in the 1660s to the defeat of the Zunghars by the Qianlong emperor in 1759. The Qings feared the possibility of a strong Mongol Empire at its bordersconcerns stoked by the Zunghar’s expansionary streak, their attacks on Tibet and Qing outposts and the threat of a potential Mongol–Russian alliance (Graff and Higham 2002: 128). It would take several armed expeditions, internal Mongol conflict-ridden politics and the military acumen and discipline of Qing forces before the northern threat to its frontiers would be controlled. In dealing with the Mongol threat, the Qing had to acknowledge the limits of a strategy based on force alone. It also had to follow a largely defensive approach of withdrawing from the region and tacitly conceding Zunghar dominance of the northern regions. The Mongol subjugation was also eventually made possible by the Qing carrot of a considerable measure of autonomy to tribal areas, economic benefits undergirded by a careful manipulation of inner tribal divisions to the benefit of the imperial court. The Mongol military might was strategically an asset that the Qings were to employ with stunning success in its subsequent state-building efforts on the frontiers. As Frederick Mote notes, ‘…it was the combined force of arms—Manchu, Mongol and Chinese—under [the] resourceful, determined Manchu leadership, that built the empire’. The Mongol cavalry played a key role in securing new territories as well as in safeguarding the Qing Inner Asian Empire (Mote 2003: 869). Timely communication also presented huge challenges to imperial state-building efforts, made conspicuously worse by pre-modern communication technologies. For instance, the news of the capture of the city of Wuchang, located 1,000 km from Beijing, by the Taiping rebels took eight days to reach the imperial court (Sng 2010).5 The imperial postal relay The Taiping rebellion from 1851 to 1864 was a civil war with a millenarian agenda, which posed a grave existential crisis for the Qings and managed to wrest control of large southern areas including Nanking. 5
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system would take 10 days from Beijing to reach Shanghai. Tuan-Hwee Sng has argued that China’s relative economic decline in the nineteenth century could also be traced to the challenge of administering its huge size. This also presented critical principal-agent problems for the state. To keep rebellion at bay, tax burdens were conspicuously low in regions far from the political centre. These agency problems underlined the sobering reality of the limits of political control the imperial centre could achieve. There was ample scope for recalcitrant provinces to take advantage of the lack of effective imperial oversight by withholding information. For instance, local granaries in outlying areas used information asymmetries to their benefit by lowering their granary storage levels so as to gain access to central government disaster relief (Shiue 2004). Chinese imperial policy towards the frontiers both under the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties preferred to follow a strategy of entrusting native officials with the imperial task of defending the frontiers, thereby choosing consciously to safeguard indigenous political institutions (Giersch 2001: 68). By and large, this was a cost-effective strategy that sat well with the political agendas of the imperial state, but not always. For instance, the Qing state did on occasion switch to a more coercive strategy of increasing imperial control and dispensing with the policy of governing through local officials. The use of coercion to expand and consolidate the farther reaches of the empire was infrequent but nevertheless remained a critical component of the Qing state strategy.6 Much like the Qings, the frontier policies of the Ahoms (thirteenth to nineteenth centuries) in Assam did not seek direct political control over the tribes. The key institutions they established to regulate relations between the hills and the plains would later be adapted by the British. A significant feature was the institutionalised system of ‘blackmail payments’ (posa) made annually to hill tribes to buy peace, as it were. It was State efforts to reconstruct spaces also involved efforts to reconstruct history writing. The representation and recording of this history was something that the state devoted a great deal of interest and resources. A major frontier war that posed a serious military challenge to the Qings was the daunting four-year Burma campaign in 1765. Despite being an unsuccessful campaign, the imperial court under Qianlong went on to mount a formidable project on chronicling official history to include it among the 10 major military victories. [Yingcong, Dai. ‘A Disguised Defeat: The Myanmar Campaign of the Qing Dynasty’, in Modern Asian Studies (2004), 145–189). 6
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as Stuart Blackburn notes, ‘a thinly disguised form of blackmail used by the state to impose its idea of law and order on the frontier’ (Blackburn 2003: 38). Villages located near the hills offered all kinds of items by way of tribute both in cash and kind including rice, animals, salt and cloth. The hill tribes saw it as a form of tax that underwrote their right over land in the plains. The Ahoms exempted families who made these payments from paying any taxes to the Ahom treasury. Many of these posa arrangements continued to be in operation in some parts of Arunachal Pradesh till as late as the 1950s. The nature of state-building challenges in Northeast India underlines the fact that administrative histories and state-formation processes in the region have tended to markedly differ from that which developed in the rest of the country. The state’s capacity to ensure its writ was circumscribed by a range of factors including the extent of local resistance and institutional limits to its power (Sivaramakrishnan 1999). British attempts at centralisation of control over forests resources in the region were also constantly plagued by an interdepartmental tug of war within the colonial bureaucracy. The Revenue Department, for instance, promoted the safeguarding of customary rights and practices, given its stakes in avoiding disruptions in agrarian production and revenue generation, while the Forest Department sought absolute state control over resources (Bauman 2003). Together, these diverse pressures played their part in ensuring significant scope for community management and control over forest and land resources.
Legibility Projects The bewildering ethnic complexity at its borders presented tough challenges to the imperial state in India and China. This was compounded by huge knowledge gaps. For instance, imperial surveys in Northeast India were precipitated largely by the ‘information panic’ brought about by the Anglo-Burmese War of 1824–1826. The war brought out the woefully inadequate knowledge base regarding the frontier in general and Burma in particular. Christopher Bayly notes that as the British moved beyond the plains into the frontiers, they ‘were often confronted by a
B/Ordering Spaces 37
virtual information famine which slowed their advance and sometimes put the whole edifice of their power in peril’ (Bayly 1999: 97). Military and intelligence failures together with their financial toll only made its vulnerability conspicuous. These added to a heightened threat perception with regard to frontier security and a constant fear of external adversaries joining hands with forces inside (Zou and Kumar 2011). Colonial maps served as a particularly powerful mode of illustrating imperial power and geography came to be reified as ‘the queen of all imperial sciences’ (Richards 1993: 13). As the ‘language of empire’, cartography and imperialist forays tended to march in tandem. For instance, the cartographer James Rennell, the first Surveyor General of India was appointed by Robert Clive, Governor of Bengal, to undertake a survey of Bengal. Suitably then, perhaps, Rennell’s Bengal Atlas carries generous tributes and dedications to officials of the East India Company. As J. B. Harley notes, ‘the cartographer has never been an independent artist, craftsman, or technician. Behind the mapmaker lies a set of power relations’ (Chester 2000: 261). The imperial project in the late eighteenth century saw highly sophisticated forms of cartographic knowledge being wielded by the state to variously imagine the land as a ‘place of travel, a theatre of war, a space in need of administration, and a field of commerce’ (ibid.: 257). It became a powerful tool of state building, given its sheer capacity to reorder space, both cognitive and territorial. These were also critical in countering ‘non-European conceptions of space’ (Mignolo 1993: 255). Likewise, colonialism and ethnography were rarely dualistic. The colonial administrator was more often than not also the ethnographer, with academic ethnographical studies emerging only in the postcolonial period (Wouters 2012: 101). Colonial ethnography was essentially ‘applied anthropology’ and as Jelle Wouters reminds us, its chief aim was ‘to render the population visible and to find ways to effectuate colonial policies’, and to ‘provide vital intelligence to the colonial government about the people they governed’ (ibid.: 102). These were often written by a medley of travellers, missionaries and administrators. It is thus not surprising that J. H. Hutton and J. P. Mills, both well-known ethnographers of the day, did not have any professional training but went on to author several studies on the Nagas. Notwithstanding this, the colonial ethnographical literature was as rich as it was exhaustive, with detailed descriptions of local customs and traditions.
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Ethnographical studies and state projects underwrote the need to organise the complex social world of the borderlanders into ‘common sense’, and easy-to-understand categories of analysis. The first set of ethnographical studies in India was commissioned by the British to produce detailed studies of the life worlds of hill communities in the Northeast. These were oriented to meet multiple imperial objectives—from improving administrative legibility, to assessing tea plantations as well as exploring the commercial possibilities of trade with Myanmar. Commercial and military considerations often marched in lockstep, as was the case of the economic expansion for tea and the military expansion in the Upper Brahmaputra valley. The setting up of tea plantations brought about a dramatic transformation of the landscape that served administrative and military interests well since it made for easier control of an otherwise difficult terrain. Many of these political objectives were behind the large number of surveys that the British colonial state conducted. Thus, the Great Trignometric Survey launched in 1817 was motivated by the prospect of a standardisation of information by unifying extant geographical archives and imparting a higher level of accuracy to topographical maps of British territories in India (Edney 1999: 323). This was seen as a valuable tool of governance aiding ‘rational and effective rule’. A uniform geographic archive allowed ‘the administrators in London, Calcutta, Bombay, or Madras to treat distant areas all in the same manner’ given its clear advantages for military planning and the enabling of an India-wide infrastructure of roads, rails, telegraphs and canals (ibid.: 323–324). These certainties were relayed on to the ‘rational, uniform space’ of colonial maps to produce a ‘single view’. Lesser known are the substantial contributions of a band of Indian surveyors, pilgrims, adventurers and filmmakers towards making transHimalayan geography legible to the colonial rulers. The early British explorations of Tibet and Central Asia owed no small debt to the critical role played by a band of intrepid Indian surveyors employed by the British to map the length and breadth of these areas. In the 1860s, the Trignometrical Survey went on to recruit and train a group of trans-Himalayan explorers that was despatched across Tibet and Central Asia to clandestinely map the geography of these regions (Rawat 2004; Walker 1990: 1). These explorers, known as ‘pundits’ or ‘native explorers’, produced the first surveys of these remote and inaccessible regions. These agents were
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recruited from local communities for their knowledge of the terrain and their links with communities in Tibet that greatly facilitated their access to the region. The Survey was necessitated as much by the British demand for ‘precise frontiers and...orderly political and economic relationships with their neighbours’ as by ‘their ignorance of the geographical, political, and military complexion of the territories beyond the mountain frontiers of the Indian empire’ (Walker 1990: 1). The contributions of explorers like Nain Singh and Kishen Singh Rawat who made these perilous journeys and went on to collect and bring back data hidden in prayer wheels are now being belatedly acknowledged (Rawat 2004: 8).
The ‘Will to Classify’ In China too, many projects underwrote the state’s ‘will to classify’ and one of the ways in which the Chinese state sought to address the problem of ethnic diversity was to mount a massive state-sponsored exercise known as the Ethnic Classification Project or minzu shibie in 1954. The project undertook field-based surveys to recommend groups for official recognition as minorities. Interestingly, the exercise was a ‘joint social scientific– political expedition’ undertaken by social scientists in collaboration with the Communist Party cadres (Mullaney 2010: 325). The mapping exercise and the categories of ethnographical knowledge it produced have become the cognitive frame to perceive issues of ethnicity and identity in China (Mullaney 2004: 207). In actual practice, the reference point for the classification process tended to be folk categories and existing scholarly works in the area. The official classification programme drew considerably from Qing and Republic era approaches to key questions of national history and identity formation. The Ethnic Classification Project also endorsed the strong Stalinist criteria of a correlation between language and ethnic identity, borne out by the nation-wide linguistic surveys of the 1950s. On the centrality of language to ethnicity, Stalin had observed, ‘[t]here is no nation which at one and the same time speaks several languages’ (Chirkova 2007: 409). But this was a problematic working definition for China to follow and one that could not have been further from the reality in China’s context where ethnic identification clearly spilled over
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state-assigned categories. Official recognition was given to only 56 of the more than 400 ethnic groups that sought minority nationality status (Chirkova 2007: 405). There have been moves in recent years towards a more realistic official acknowledgement of linguistic diversity. These can be seen in government programmes that have been launched to support languages that are identified as endangered. Official estimates are beginning to admit to the existence of a larger number of languages than those included in the official list. Recent official figures talk of 128 languages with speculation of more additions in the future (ibid.: 406). There are interesting and intriguing differences in the manner in which ethnic minorities have responded to some of these cultural and linguistic assimilationist pressures. Ethnic groups have responded differently to official classifications, adopting different strategies with respect to the labels given to them. An interesting example is that of the two ethnic groups, Xumi and Baima, both of which have been classified as Tibetans. But their response to this categorisation has been anything but similar. While the Xumi has perceived its identity as being in sync with the official classification, the perception of the Baima has been to the contrary. The former has chosen to align themselves with the Tibetan identity while the Baima has consciously resisted such attempts at integration (Wang 2000). Another interesting exception is the absence of large-scale resistance against the state in Inner Mongolia. Inner Mongolia, Enze Han argues, presents a case of ‘the dog that hasn’t barked’ on account of the fact that it has not witnessed political mobilisation for autonomy when compared to either Tibet or Xinjiang. This is not to suggest that there are no taproots of discontent since there are serious concerns over the considerable Han footprint in the region besides anxieties over erosion of language and culture. Demographically, the Mongols have now become a minority in Inner Mongolia, constituting a mere 17 per cent of the population (Han 2011: 55). A key factor that has played a role in fashioning their relationship with the Chinese state has been their perception of the neighbouring country of Mongolia. The province of Inner Mongolia has played a major role in China’s growing engagement with Mongolia. China has proactively sought closer economic ties with its northern neighbour with loans and attractive financial assistance for specific sectors such as mining and energy and invested in road and rail projects to enhance physical connectivity (Han 2011: 69–70). But, the shared ethnicity notwithstanding, the low levels of development across the border and the
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process of national identity construction within China have played a part in accounting for low levels of political mobilisation within Inner Mongolia.
Death by Administrative Mapping Administrative mappings and boundary adjustments have had a long history in China with provincial and administrative boundaries being remapped to suit the political preferences of the centre. Provincial boundaries tended to expand and contract to an invisible central imperative, often going back and forth with little overt logic. For instance, in 1951, the province of Guangdong lost the region of Nanlu to Guangxi. It was transferred back to Guangdong in 1956 only to be merged back with Guangxi in 1965 (Lary 2007: 186). These administrative manoeuvres did not merely tailor or swap territories among provinces. These sometimes resulted in entire provinces disappearing altogether as was the case with the province of Rehe, which was divided in 1955 among the three provinces of Hebei, Liaoning and Inner Mongolia. A similar death by administrative remapping happened to Xikang, another defunct province whose area originally comprised most of Kham region of traditional Tibet. Its territory was later merged into the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Sichuan province. Political priorities also on occasion gave birth to new provinces as was the case when the island of Hainan, which had for centuries belonged to Guangdong, was established as the Hainan province in 1988. The status of the border region has likewise tended to fluctuate to accommodate the changing political priorities of the centre. Over the decades since 1949, China’s developmental debate has seen several temporal and spatial shifts, with priorities swinging from a focus on inland development during the Mao years to Deng’s coast-led strategy and most recently, back again to the inland provinces under the Western Development Strategy. Interestingly, the Maoist pursuit of self-sufficiency had less to do with equity concerns as commonly understood and more with an overriding preoccupation with safeguarding national assets, as the sanxian policy (Third Front) clearly demonstrated (Cannon and Jenkins 1990: 37–38). The Maoist policy of the Third Front in the 1950s oversaw a heavy infusion of subsidies to the western region as China established a huge military–industrial
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base. The Cold War logic that drove these projects sought to protect China from external attacks by creating a Third Front of defence. Underlining the political rationale for the programme, Mao noted in 1965: We must pay close attention to Third Front construction: it’s a way of buying time against the imperialists, against the revisionists.... In Third Front construction, we have begun to build steel, armaments, machinery, chemicals, petroleum and railroad base areas, so that if war breaks out we have nothing to fear. (Naughton 1988: 351)
The international environment was seen as particularly adverse following the Sino-Soviet split and there were fears of potential military threats from both superpowers. The country was thus divided into the first, second and third fronts with emphasis on the rapid development of basic industry such as the construction of the massive integrated steel mill at Panzhihua in Sichuan. This was driven by the logic that the concentration of industry in coastal urban regions left China open to possible attack. What this heightened sense of threat perception entailed was to authorise an unprecedented central programme of defence industrialisation of the interior provinces. An imminent fear of attack prompted the relocation of existing factories inland and the rapid construction of railway lines in Yunnan, Sichuan and Guizhou. This was all accomplished in a highly centralised manner and the planners mobilised vast amounts of resources for industrial development. A series of ‘command posts’ were assigned to oversee production and their authority ‘cut across functional and regional administrative boundaries, an extraordinary dispensation that was made acceptable by the urgency accorded to the construction itself’ (Naughton 1988). The improvement in China’s threat assessments following the fledgling moves towards Sino-US rapprochement in the early 1970s had equally dramatic effects on the fortunes of the western region. As the political logic that drove it faded away, there now took place a swift reordering of national priorities with Third Front construction ceasing abruptly by the end of 1971. There now took place a reverse flow of resources as China embarked on the next turn in its regional development, namely a coastal development strategy. Although the ‘frontier fetish’ was a constant concern for both the imperial and colonial states, Qing and British conceptions of control had important differences. The cartographic mapping of the sovereign domains
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of states for instance, stood in stark contrast to imperial Chinese conceptions of control over the frontiers. For large multi-ethnic empires such as the Qing, these clashed most directly with indigenous conceptions of boundaries which to begin with, were neither clearly delineated nor were subject to direct forms of control (Horowitz 2004: 475). China’s experience with semi-colonialism through the unequal agreements of 1843, 1858 and 1860 introduced European conceptions of international law and diplomatic practice that were alien to the Qing worldview. The idea of a presumed equality of states that international law was premised on sat uneasily with the complex, hierarchical world orders that presupposed a superior position for the Chinese emperor as the ‘Son of Heaven’. Tributary relations with elaborate customs of accepting the suzerainty of the emperor underwrote his special status. Qing and British conceptions of international relations also showed stark differences in diplomatic ritual practice that spoke of deeper dissonances in approach and self-image. For instance, the failure of Lord Macartney’s mission to the Qing court in 1793 owed as much to lack of cultural sensitivity on the British official’s part as to the more substantive differences regarding foreign relations and trade between the British delegation and the Qing court. For instance, for the Qianlong emperor, the notion that diplomacy and trade was an exchange of mutual benefit was unacceptable; for this was an honour that was only conferred by royal fiat (Teltscher 2006: 250). The conflicts over appropriate diplomatic ritual practice proved to be a protracted one with the British official refusing to kowtow and the emperor rejecting British requests for trade concessions and diplomatic residence (Horowitz 2004: 251).
National Narratives and Cognitive Echoes As noted earlier, a comparison of the Qing and British periods is instructive for the historical continuities that find resonance in the contemporary period also.7 This is also a useful exercise and a necessary caveat to the tendency to treat historical eras as neat dividing lines (Tanner 2010: 33). 7 On the need to identify ‘unarticulated historical tendencies’ and in particular tracing the adaptations of the Qing imperial idea to the current day, see Prasenjit Duara. ‘History and Globalisation in China’s Long Twentieth Century’, in Modern China (2008).
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For instance, the construction of China as a multi-ethnic state can be seen as a Qing legacy to the political history of the modern Chinese state. It owed no less to the consummate skill with which the Qings snapped the prevailing view of China as the land of the Han peoples. This was no trifling turnaround in perceptions as is clear from Qing references to the preceding Ming Empire as nikan gurun or the state of the Han (Gang 2006: 5). The Qings consciously chose a clear departure from such correlations and broadened the understanding of China to include both Han and non-Han peoples. This was a self-chosen image and one that the Manchu rulers, themselves a non-Han minority group, had clear stakes in constructing. It achieved this through a ‘creative reinterpretation of China’ based on its incorporation and rule over diverse ethnic groups. By ‘publicly embracing the concept of China’, the Qings laid claim to the identity of the nation as a distinctly multi-ethnic one. The imperial court struck down the ethnocentric notions of earlier dynasties and official appropriation of the concept of China is evident in the late seventeenth century imperial records. For example, an official communiqué to Russia in 1693 uses the self-referential term ‘our great China’ (ibid.: 8). In recent times, narratives in China are also gradually moving away from the historiographical writings of the early decades which tended to be overtly Han-centric accounts (Baranovitch 2010: 86). A more inclusive historical narrative has begun emerging with the onset of reforms by the late 1970s and early 1980s with a discursive incorporation of the ethnic minorities into the Chinese ‘historical self’. The creation of a ‘comprehensive and coherent multi-ethnic narrative of Chinese history’, Nimrod Baranovitch points out, has contributed in no small measure to political unity in the face of ethnic nationalism (ibid.: 116). The canonisation of this narrative in high school textbooks, she argues, powerfully projects the idea of a multi-ethnic nation in existence ‘since antiquity’ (ibid.). But, it is important to note that this has been no overarching narrative with only the centre exercising supervening influence and the provinces remaining passive onlookers. Provincial divisions such as the Shanghai and Shandong factions underscore the reality that ‘regionalism has invaded the centre’ (Lary 2007: 189). It is also interesting to look at how the state has used ‘memory sites’ such as museums to construct national history narratives. For instance, newer constructions are emerging in China to replace revolutionary era
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narratives that have a subtext of integration and incorporation. These newer constructions stress the historicity of the country’s multi-ethnic composition. Gwen Bennett’s ongoing research shows how the Chinese state is using museums to create new identity narratives that are now ‘positioning the “Chinese” state as having inhabited its current borders since the early Western Han Dynasty, ca. 150 BCE’ (Bennett 2012). The use of museums projects a new image of the ‘nation on display’, one that seeks to gain legitimacy by ‘repositioning its history’ (Bennett 2012; Kim 2011; Vickers 2007). Such state representations of past events almost always are deeply contested acts, ‘suspended between lived memory and state erasure’ (Kurian 2009b: 29). The historical imaginations of the state and the minorities have often collided, as Jangkhomang Guite’s study of Manipur shows. An ‘act of selective remembering, deliberate forgetting’ he points out, has almost always favoured the dominant community. While certain representations have been ‘overly remembered’, struggles by women, peasants and tribals have been ‘deliberately ignored, misrepresented or reluctantly recognised’ (Guite 2011: 58). Communities have countered these state projects of erasure by developing their own ‘vernacular memorials’ to represent their historical imaginations. There are also several continuities that hark back to the colonial period. The post-independence legal framework in many ways marks a continuation of these policies with many of the colonial regulatory frameworks relating to resources such as forests, land, water and soil continuing to affect current resource use patterns. A case in point is that several special laws show continuities with those enacted during the colonial period, borrowing not only the official raison d’etre but even the language (Alam 2004; Arora 2006). For instance, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Ordinance of 1942 promulgated by Lord Linlithgow, British India’s Viceroy and Governor General was later invoked both in letter and spirit by the Assam Disturbed Areas Act of 1955 passed by the Assam State Assembly. Expressions such as absolute powers to ‘use force...even to the causing of death’, the provision that ‘no prosecution, suit or other legal proceeding shall be instituted’ in both Acts can be read almost interchangeably (Ministry of Home). This seemed to occasion little consternation or moral dilemmas and the official dispensation perhaps is best captured in the way the then Union Home Minister, Govind Ballabh Pant, chose to describe the need to enact the AFSPA in 1958. During the
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debate on the issue in Parliament, the Minister introduced it as ‘a very simple measure’ that only ‘seeks to protect the steps the armed forces might have to take in the disturbed areas…. I do not think it is necessary for me to say more in this connection’ (Luithi and Haksar 1984). Independent India, as Arijit Sen remarks, had ‘adopted both the permit and the idea behind it’ (Sen 2011: 19).8 Today, there are strong stakes within the region for the continuation of these restrictive acts, seen as they are as a sort of legal buffer against unwelcome new entitlements from ‘outside’. Recall the sharp opposition and protests that greeted the Central Government decision in 2010 to exclude Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland from the purview of the Protected Areas Permit regime (PAP) of 1958. The Naga Students Federation (NSF) and the Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP), for instance sounded strong opposition to any proposed moves to remove the colonial era institution of the Inner Line Permit (ILP). Mizoram demanded its re-imposition fearing a possible abolition of the Permit which is mandatory for travel to the state. These also echo the calls in Manipur to reintroduce the ILP that was abolished in 1950 on the ground that ‘the social issue of the protection of minority Manipuris from the overwhelming inter-state migration within the framework of Indian republic has now become a serious political agenda for the state of Manipur’ (E-Pao 2011). As stated in the agenda paper on the formation of the Expert Committee to study the introduction of ILP in Manipur, the groups steering the agitation have also made it clear that the public will enforce the ILP if the government failed to do so, hinting at mass support for such possible action. Such a framing produces what Giorgio Agamben termed as the ‘neurotic citizen’ who responds naturally to a climate of fear. This has the effect of getting the citizen to do ‘border policing in sites far from the geographic border’ (Wonders 2006). Two parallel sets of othering tend to be at work at any given point of time, constructing and reconstructing imageries constantly. As mainstream caricatures of the Northeast abound, there are also parallel and contra-constructions from the region towards ‘outsiders’ (Mukhim 2009). These conflicting ethnovisions have resulted in a highly divisive region where groups have fought at multiple This also leads to a reverse profiling of the mainland ‘Indians’ as the ‘outsider’ as is reflected in the terms used in various parts of the region—bahirot manu—in Assam, mayang in Manipur, vai in Mizoram, bahar manu, tephreima and tsiimar in Nagaland (Sen: 20). 8
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fronts—against the state, against ‘outsiders’ and frequently against one another. Demands for independent homelands have also proved to be highly resistant to negotiation given that these symbolise incentives to further political and economic influence and leverage.
Autonomy Arrangements What autonomy arrangements in India and China tell us is the sobering reality that functional and fiscal autonomy of local tiers have, more often than not, been severely constrained by parallel structures in the administrative hierarchy. Despite its potential in principle to nudge the locus of decision-making from the bureaucratic to the elected, the record of building meaningful local governance capacity has tended to be a chequered one. Statutory guarantees also tell us virtually nothing of the quality of participation and the scope that political processes hold for ‘dignity, diversity, dissent and development’ (Citizens Report on Governance and Development 2006).9 In India’s case, the representative safe zone of popular elections has provided an all-too-easy claim to legitimacy for democratic systems and concealed significant accountability deficits.10 What this ends up doing is to frame the debate on accountability in very simplistic terms. Emerging critiques problematise the ‘presumed benefits’ of Indian democracy, which as Niraja Gopal Jayal argues tend to be ‘more celebrated than understood’ (Jayal 2010). To understand these shortcomings, one must first recognise the central tension that stands at the core of both India and China’s efforts to institutionalise power sharing as a norm between different political and administrative levels. This has to do with a strong resistance to devolve power, stemming from a deeply ingrained fear of an erosion of state The Parliamentary Review Committee on Local Self-Governance set up a decade after the 73rd and 74th Amendments noted with disapproval the government tardiness in furnishing information on the functioning of the bodies of self-government. 10 The lack of effective asymmetric powers has been critiqued for exacerbating conflicts in the region. Baruah, for instance, argues that without effective jurisdiction over critical issues such as immigration and development, Assam saw the emergence of a violent assertion of ethnic nationalism (Baruah 2005). 9
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capacity. It is this tension that central–local relations are shot through with, tilting the equation increasingly towards greater centralisation and bureaucratisation in governance arrangements. Adopting a development strategy that has been designed in the distant centre has also brought with it all the assorted dangers of parachuting, which is becoming apparent in the region. Such a strategy has been highly vulnerable since it is programmed to respond, not to local particularities and specifications as it should, but to the changing political preferences and priorities of its designers at the centre. The following sections will look at the functioning and challenges of autonomy arrangements in India and China.
Problematising Asymmetrical Federalism The nature and scope of power-sharing arrangements between the national and local levels in India reveal several contradictions and tensions. The need to institutionalise power-sharing norms was recognised early at the time of drafting of the Indian Constitution. A Sub-Committee of the Constituent Assembly, the North-East Frontier (Assam) Tribal and Excluded Areas Subcommittee was appointed under the chairmanship of Gopinath Bordoloi. The Bordoloi Committee was set up in 1947 under the Constituent Assembly’s Advisory Committee on the Rights of Citizens, Minorities and Tribal and Excluded Areas. Its mandate was to mediate the contending pulls between autonomy and integration by seeking to ‘… reconcile the aspirations of the hill people for political autonomy with the Assam government’s drive to integrate them with the plains’ (Barbora 2002: 202). The principle of differential provisioning in the Indian Constitution was widely expected to provide the institutional capacity to safeguard the unique historical and cultural identities and aspirations of its regions.11 This was a clear departure from the principle of treating all constituent units in a federation as identical, seeking instead to respect and accommodate diverse traditions. The Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution Asymmetrical federalism refers to a constitutional structure or arrangements wherein constituent units within a federal system could lay claim to differential powers than others in relation to the central government. It provides differential arrangements in plural societies to socio-cultural space for the observance of ethnic, linguistic and religious freedoms. 11
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under Articles 244 to 275 provides for the administration of tribal areas by District Councils that were established with the mandate to frame laws and safeguard the customary laws within their jurisdiction. This institutional innovation ‘linked equality for the individual with equality for diverse communities’, working on the principle that individual freedoms could not be viable if the community to which he or she belonged was disadvantaged in the public domain (Mahajan 2005).12 Thus, Article 371A of the Constitution safeguards the rights of the Naga ‘way of life’ with special reference to their ‘religious and social practices’, ‘customary law and procedure’ as well as their right to ‘ownership and transfer of land and its resources’.13 Regional District Councils were constituted under Article 244(2) of the Sixth Schedule as autonomous bodies for administering tribal areas with law-making powers in some areas. Multilevel federal arrangements such as the creation of the Bodoland Autonomous Council recognised the specific rights of tribals living in the plains such as the Bodos and accommodated the demands of tribes living in the hill regions of Assam, eventually leading to the creation of Meghalaya (Mahajan 2005: 306). The Constituent Assembly Debates revealed deep reservations on the issue of granting differential powers to local levels. For instance, the proposed Sixth Schedule, it was felt, would result in strengthening an ‘old separatist tendency’. Arguing against the granting of such a provision, one 12 The oft-cited example of differential provisioning is that of Canada, drawing its asymmetrical character from the range of distinctly different powers and greater jurisdiction given to Quebec over subject areas such as immigration, employment and pension plans than other provinces. For instance, the Immigration Act of 1976 introduced the requirement of planning and consultation with provinces on issues relating to immigration. Under the Cullen–Couture Agreement reached between the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec, while it vested overall responsibility for immigration with the federal government, it permitted Quebec to adopt a point system for immigrants that would work alongside the federal system. These powers were further substantially enhanced under the Quebec Accord of 1990 (Kelley and Trebilcock 1998). While Quebec is the most cited instance of flexible federal arrangements, it is by no means the exception. Nova Scotia and Sasktchewan too entered into their separate provincial arrangements with the Canadian government. 13 Article 371-A ensures that no Act of Parliament shall apply to Nagaland in relation to ‘(i) religious or social practices of the Nagas, (ii) Naga customary law and procedure, (iii) administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to the Naga Customary law, (iv) ownership and transfer of land and its resources ...’.
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of the members of the Constituent Assembly railed, ‘to vest wide political powers into the hands of tribes is the surest method of inviting chaos, anarchy and disorder throughout the length and breadth of this country’ (Suan 2007). Federalism debates took place against the backdrop of the tumult of Partition and, not surprisingly, led to an overweening concern with unity and stability. Opposing the granting of the administration of tribal areas to the Assam government on the grounds that it was on the ‘border of five or six foreign states’, Brajeshwar Prasad, a member of the Constituent Assembly asked: [I]s it right, is it safe, is it strategically desirable, is it militarily in the interests of the Government of India, is it politically advisable, that the administration of such a vast tract of land should be left in the hands of the provincial government…? (Savyasaachi 1998: 114)
Many of these concerns thus resulted in an essentially top-down autonomy model that has often stumbled along. This is clear from the fact that the Constitution proclaims the country as a ‘Union of States’ with the federal government commonly referred to as the Centre (Singh and Verney 2003: 3). However, as Balveer Arora and Nirmal Mukherjee observe, ‘policy shifts resulted from often violent pressures and protests from below, and political expediency frequently became the guiding principle’ (Mukharji and Arora 1992: 9). The outcome was an often grudging acknowledgement of ethnocultural diversity.
Institutional Gridlocks The functioning of asymmetrical federalism has shown that departures from the federal design have been more the norm than the exception, working to belie the spirit of accommodating and responding to diversity. Such democratic deficits have bred a festering anger and resentment in the popular imagination towards what is perceived as an unresponsive state. As Special Category States, the Northeast receives 90 per cent of Plan assistance as grants from the Centre and only 10 per cent as loans in comparison to other states that receive 30 per cent as grant and 70 per cent as loans. The lack of an inbuilt monitoring system has disincentivised
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accountability and created a political class with easy access to funds with virtually no attendant performance requirements. The Northeast has also not been able to completely utilise the grants-in-aid it receives from the Centre under the Non-lapsable Central Pool of Resources (NLCPR).14 The Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (MDONER) has no mechanisms for monitoring state-wise utilisation of expenditure and the states have consistently failed to submit utilisation certificates. The MDONER Minister, P. S. Ghatowar, attributed this to shorter working season, inclement weather, shortage of professionals and geographical disadvantages (Nagaland Post 2011). These have also created a ‘politicalinsurgent complex’ with deep stakes in the steady flow of funds from both the Centre and state governments. The systemic logic has resulted in strange bedfellows, with the offender and the law enforcer often colluding to ensure conflict maintenance. This creates an unfortunate scenario of a self-induced dilution of state capacity through willing underperformance, thereby permitting a governance and public order crisis. Going by the resource flows from the Centre, the Northeast unlike popular perception is far from being a neglected region. The problem with resource-flow-based growth strategies is that they can end up being double-edged swords. On their own, huge fund transfers can at best only be a partial solution and can often end up being part of the problem itself. In the Northeast, financial transfers from the Centre to the tune of `30,000 crores annually has gone on to create its own constituency of vested interests among politicians, expatriate contractors and extortionists. It also explains official tolerance of rebel taxation to the tune of `600 crores of government money being reportedly siphoned off by different underground groups annually (Gabriel 2011). Rebel taxation in the Northeast has several captive taproots including extorting contributions from individuals and even government officials (Bhattacharya 2011). This has also been institutionalised in Nagaland into a sort of monthly ‘revolutionary tax’. The law and order discourse thus becomes both a foil and fuel for the state and the insurgent to perpetuate repeatedly. This low-level equilibrium is considered tolerable, even relatively 14 The unspent balance till June 2011 for Arunachal Pradesh is `160.38 crore, Assam `107.95 crore, Manipur `65.77 crore, Meghalaya `97.58 crore, Mizoram `71.69 crore, Nagaland `61.33 crore, Sikkim `85.93 crore and Tripura `35.1 crore (Nagaland Post 2011).
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preferable as seen from the eyes of a government official who insists, ‘Today at least there is some sort of peace. We are only losing our money, not our lives’ (Gabriel 2011). The absence of viable domestic sources of revenue generation has considerably compromised local initiative and in the long run any prospects for meaningful autonomy. For funds to be effective it is imperative that they are conjoined with capacity building so as to absorb the resources in generative ways. In the absence of attention to the latter, funds would only serve to sustain a self-serving cycle of corruption, militancy and underdevelopment. Centralised agencies such as the North East Council (NEC) and the Department of North East Region (MDONER) function from the distant capital, isolating themselves from local realities. Even when the NEC was recast as a regional planning body in 2001, its decision-making structure continued to consist of senior bureaucrats and politicians as well retain a strong security subtext. The NEC is placed under the Ministry of Home underscoring the mainstream law and order approach to questions of development. Other centralised agencies, such as the Brahmaputra Board under the Ministry of Water Resources, have shown the limits of a topdown model that does not seek to involve active cooperation by the states. These agencies have chosen not to integrate extant traditional governance institutions and have thus virtually functioned as parallel bodies. The resultant institutional gridlocks have permitted few opportunity structures for learning and adaptation among key actors. Creation of new local government structures has gone on to create endemic conflicts between the state and community institutions. These also threaten to displace long traditions of community resource management and constitutional safeguards for local autonomy. The actual functioning of the District Councils has produced a range of conflicts that threaten the legitimacy of traditional institutions. For instance, the legal mandate given to the District Councils to appoint or suspend chiefs has had a disruptive effect by triggering a power struggle within traditional institutions (Dev 2007). A uniform set of national rules further straight jacketed these governing bodies without the flexibility to accommodate local level requirements. The district has also proved to be too large a unit and has been ineffective in dealing with the layers of diversity within it. These have resulted in ‘a surfeit of political institutions...locked in a dynamic yet irreconcilable clash of institutional egos’ (ibid.). Further, as
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long as jurisdictional domains remain vaguely defined or designed as parallel structures, the potential for conflict between governance actors and between formal and traditional institutions is both endemic and endless. For instance, despite the abolition of chieftainship under the Manipur Hill Areas Acquisition of Chief’s Rights Act of 1967, customary law still retains its relevance at the local level and the authority of chiefs remains strong in Kuki villages (Chawii 2007). What these governance deficits highlight is that unless institutional entry points are created for local inputs within a participatory ethos, public perception of funds would tend to veer between indifference and a lack of ownership, furthering feelings of alienation (Baruah 2007). This, as Hiren Gohain notes, reduces ‘governance to theatre’ and ‘actions taken by its ruling class appear as an “act” more to convince its political masters in faraway Delhi than to benefit the region’ (Gohain 2006: 4109). Weak autonomy arrangements are further compounded by dubious understandings of what development and backwardness in a region actually entail. The manner in which backwardness gets defined further illustrates the adverse consequences of the power to frame. A specific case in point is the problematic definition of backwardness that the Indian Backward Regions Grant Fund (BRGF) uses to provide additional resources for capacity building at the Panchayat and municipal levels. The criteria of backwardness adopted by the National Development Council (NDC) in 1969 designated the district as the unit of disbursement of funds. But in doing so, the NDC went against the recommendations of the Pande and Wanchoo Working Groups set up by the Planning Commission in 1969 to identify the criteria for backwardness. The two working groups had recommended the State or the Union Territory as the appropriate level for benchmarking backwardness (Yumnam 2005). By designating the district as the benchmark, the Council catered to the preferences and demands of large states and consequently eroded the institutional capacity of smaller states to respond to spatial and demographic heterogeneity (Yumnam 2007). It is not surprising then that decontextualised policymaking stumbles have been frequent owing to a demonstrably weak institutional capacity to comprehend local dynamics. Take for instance, the fencing of the Manipur–Myanmar border at Moreh. Meant ostensibly to prevent militants from using the road to procure arms from international gunrunners, the
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fencing project brings out the futility of attempting to ‘close’ a porous border as traffickers ‘open’ new routes to replace those closed. The fencing, however, has drastically disrupted the lives of villages situated along the border. Thanks to the building of the border fence that was erected 10 metres into the Indian territory, the village of Muslim Basti today finds itself without any access to fresh water (The Sangai Express 2011). The Lairok and Khujariok rivers now both fall within Myanmarese territory after the construction of the border fence. Their traditional means of livelihood also stands imperilled with fishing on the Myanmarese side no longer a possibility. This is one of the innumerable unfortunate consequences of policymaking from a distance where a measure taken to address one problem ends up creating another, often producing a grave livelihood crisis for border communities. There are similar experiences with border-fencing programme along the India–Bangladesh border. The programme begun in the mid-1980s and now covers nearly 70 per cent of the border with 621 miles of riverine tracks that are open but patrolled. The fence runs through villages on both sides and despite the 150-yard ‘no-man’s land’ on both sides, it is not uncommon for houses to have ‘the front door in one country and the back door in the other’ (Banerjee 2010). The decision, as per the Ground Rules agreed by India and Bangladesh, not to permit construction of any defensive or permanent structures within the designated 150 yards has virtually trapped 450 villages that fall inside it (Schendel 2005: 213).
China’s Decentralisation Debate In China too, the issue of decentralised control has been a red rag to those who have feared a fatal erosion of state capacity. These fears were further heightened by the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. The critical takeaway from China’s point of view was that radical reforms had brought about the collapse of not just the communist regime, but also of the Soviet nation state itself (Zheng 2007: 2). Strengthening local capacity was seen as highly undesirable and in inverse relation to central capacity. It was also feared that a relative weakening of the centre vis-à-vis the provincial level would eventually undermine the reform effort and
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the development of a fully functional market economy. The governance deficits such assumptions resulted in are in turn organically linked to local accountability deficits. The delegation of service delivery responsibilities to the local level, without commensurate revenues required to execute them, has turned the original logic of creating incentives for local autonomy and accountability on its head. Decentralisation has succeeded in creating a permissive climate with minimum accountability on the part of local officials. It has led to regressive practices such as predatory taxation as well as a fillip to local corruption. Such anomalies have been compounded by political centralisation, which has tied the fortunes of the lower levels even more tightly to higher levels of jurisdiction. This double burden has ensured that the local level has lacked both the incentive and the finance to develop credible stakes in ensuring social stability (Kurian 2007a). China’s experience with the working of autonomy arrangements has shown a critical engagement in recent years with domestic discourses of federalism. These are pushing the government to seek a growing reliance on formal law and regulations to justify its policies. The growing ‘legalisation’ to govern the periphery is clearly aimed at building legitimacy for central government policies (Potter 2005: 296). The legal framework, according to Deng Xiaoping, would help ‘carry out the protection of the right of minority nationalities to autonomy’ (Ghai and Woodman 2009). Reflecting this political direction, the 15th Chinese Communist Party Congress in 1997 projected the Law on Nationalities Regional Autonomy as a manifestation of its commitment to the rule of law. The Law, passed in 1984 and subsequently revised in 2001, however, does not clearly define the nature of autonomous legislative powers. Although it grants powers to autonomous areas to modify higher level policies and laws, it has been criticised for being more notional in nature and rarely used (ibid.).15 The debate on the law on autonomy has become a particularly divisive one with little agreement on what its remit should be. The province of Guangxi’s experience of drafting autonomy regulations underlines the experiential challenges in its operation. The protracted 15 Articles 112 and 116 of the Constitution provide for a ‘modification power’ with the latitude to alter national policies and laws to suit ‘the political, economic, and cultural characteristics’ of minorities in the five autonomous regions of the country: Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Tibet Autonomous Region, Ningxia and Guangxi.
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negotiations on key conceptual issues relating to autonomy legislation went through no less than 19 drafts between 1958 and 1995 (Ghai and Woodman 2009). Legal provisions notwithstanding, the experience of the working of autonomy regulations has shown that these have by and large tended to be ‘unused powers’. China’s experience in managing the process of decentralisation has shown how rising spatial inequality can be traced to the costly mismatch between a decentralisation of responsibilities and a centralisation of revenues (Lin et al. 2006).16 The vertical movement of responsibilities to the township level has meant that the sub-provincial levels were left with the responsibility to finance an increasing array of welfare services. The underlying political logic of national unity and not interregional equity has been a key factor in deciding Beijing’s intergovernmental fiscal transfers (Shaoguang Wang 2001). The economic presence of the state is most conspicuous, for instance, in Tibet with central government subsidies to Tibet outstripping local revenue earnings several times over. Tibet has also seen a trend towards increasing centralisation reflecting the centre’s preoccupation with order and stability. This marks a picture of contrast with other regions of China, even within southwest China, which have seen an increasing devolution of decision-making authority. As central grants and flows to backward areas have expanded, it has also brought with it new costs in terms of bureaucratic expansion to oversee and provide services. Ironically, on account of the degree of central control, the administrative apparatus has registered a steady high growth rate in Tibet particularly in the early decades of the WDS. The largest tertiary category of growth has been government and party administration that grew at an average of 47 per cent between 1998 and 2001. What is particularly striking is the fact that it surpassed trade, mining and industrial activity to become the largest-growing category. As Andrew Fischer notes, ‘The expansion of The working of China’s autonomy arrangements also shows that while there are statutory safeguards that recognise ‘the equality of all nationalities’, there are inbuilt institutional checks that curb the effective and independent use of these powers. For one, there is the overarching requirement that autonomy regulations must conform to the framework of national laws. Article 15 of the Law (REAL) places them under the State Council. Further, the CCP has the overriding authority to overrule any autonomy measure provided under the law. Moreover, there are no requirements, legal or otherwise, on the Party to appoint members of ethnic minorities to key Party positions (Ghai 2000: 83–84). 16
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government and communist party administration had quite simply become the “engine of growth” in the TAR’ (Fischer 2005: 44). The expansion of the government apparatus only confirms the underlying priority attached to security considerations in the minds of policymakers. Such a growth is also seen as being vital to the success of the campaign itself and from the point of maintaining order and stability. It is little wonder then that horizontal ripple effects have been anything but uniform, with regional variations in performance indicators of health, education, housing and infrastructure showing huge differentials across China. Unlike their counterparts in rich provinces, agrarian-based inland provinces have seen a marked fall in the quality of service provision since they have no comparable claims to lucrative incomes, such as a higher tax revenue base to draw upon. These have directly translated into a scaling back of social development spending and a passing on of the burden to the individual to bear. China is yet to institutionalise a stable and institutionalised fiscal distribution arrangement aimed at a graduated reduction of regional gaps in public finance. The delegation of service delivery responsibilities to the grave local level without commensurate revenues has in turn resulted in grave local accountability deficits (Kurian 2007a: 4). Loss of public trust and rising rural anger has been a powerful concern that is increasingly acknowledged in policy. Agrarian distress levels have been on the rise in China with declining state investments in agriculture and agricultural infrastructure since the onset of reforms. Most agricultural products have experienced declining terms of trade as prices have been constantly driven down due to a combination of domestic as well as international pricing moves. The disbanding of the communes in the late 1970s and the redirection of capital and labour away from large-scale infrastructure into short-term projects and investments meant that little investment flowed into the maintenance or improvement of public goods such as reservoirs, dykes, irrigation canals, tube wells and forest cover (Muldavin 1998: 246). Although water control infrastructure remained under collective management, it proved to be a notional ownership since these collective structures could no longer claim assets of any kind. Rising rural angst has kept pace with the declining fortunes of the marginalised communities. This has been stoked by an inexorable demand for higher taxes from the state, further compounding the loss of public trust. It has
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led to indirect forms of resistance to ward off predatory taxation by the state. The ‘strange’ increase in peasant declarations of natural disasters in the 1980s is a telling case in point. The scramble among many poor villages to get their area labelled as disaster stricken is a telling example of the effectiveness of ‘poor-mouthing’ strategies to garner state funds and withholding local surpluses (Muldavin 1998). Thus, the experience of governance arrangements in Northeast India and Western China reiterates the fact that the credibility and utility of governance mechanisms need to be seen not just from the eyes of the government but also from the points of views of its multiple stakeholders. Developmental interventions and the ensuing rising resource degradation are creating interlocking webs of environmental and socio-economic vulnerability for local communities. Each of these potential or extant sustainability conflicts involves a range of choices: be it over choices of mode of production, of technology or value orientations. As actors with differing technologies, interests and power, the community and the state tend to have different approaches to questions of benefit-sharing, conservation of sources of innovation and renewal. These divergent interests have produced a set of ‘institutional dissonances’ that have distorted and disrupted forest governance and local livelihoods (Kumar 2008: 3). These get reflected in the manner in which policymaking from a distance tackles issues of resource governance in the region. These also get reflected in the conflicting value orientations and approaches towards resource management issues that the state and the community hold. Central to these contestations is the means-ends rationality that defines the technocratic approach and the diffused and highly place-centric notions of governance that defines traditional conservation regimes.
Governing Multi-ethnic Borderlands A key takeaway from the governance experience of multi-ethnic regions is that the institutional capacity to deal with legitimacy challenges has been tested repeatedly. For large, multi-ethnic political systems, negotiating power-sharing arrangements between different levels has been both a necessity and a dilemma. The fortunes of the border region have
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thus tended to swing between competing statist impulses of assimilation and autonomy, with the state caught between the imperative to ‘prevent power from slipping from the center to the periphery’ while at the same time not wishing to be ‘bogged down with the great volume of decision making’ (Whitney 1970: 166). While legitimacy has been a long-standing official goal and exhortations to good governance a tired homily, it has by no means been an easy objective to achieve. This partly had to do with the conventional understanding of governance in largely technical terms, which has also meant that the concept has often been ‘delinked from conceptions of democracy and welfare’. Such fissures have only reinforced the danger of ‘two-track polities’ wherein democratic ethos remains limited to the electoral sphere and does not extend to decision-making practices.
3 Barriers to Bridges Geoeconomic Text, Geopolitical Subtext Across the region, ‘sites of Asian interaction’ have been thickening in recent decades bringing to processes of regionalisation a diversity of institutional forms and actors (Harper and Amrith 2012). The ‘noodle bowl of Asian regionalism,’ as Paul Evans notes, may not be as ‘thick or rich as its spaghetti-bowl counterpart in Europe’ but in a post-Cold War setting, the ‘bowl has been filling quickly’ (Evans 2003: 14). State-led institution-building efforts from the top have grown visibly denser as is evident from the thicket of regional organisations that jostle for space today in Asia such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD), ASEAN+3, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the Mekong River Commission (MRC) and ASEAN Postministerial Conference (PMC).1 Together, state-led institution building, Track-II dialogues and civil society associational activities are introducing a level of complexity and diversity to the institutional landscape of Asia that is both new and nascent. These processes are also bringing new insights to the study and understanding of regionalisation that has come a long way from its assumptions of a linear progression of economic integration based largely on the European experience to now accommodate less formal and more complex forms of regional flows. Asian regionalism, as Evans reminds us, is ‘not, for better or worse, Europe redux’ (Evans 2003: 10). They, in fact, mark a point of departure from the thick web of formalised institutional arrangements The growing institution building has, however, been critiqued as ‘making process, not progress’. See David Martin Jones and Michael L. R. Smith. ‘Making Process, Not Progress: ASEAN and the Evolving East Asian Regional Order’, International Security (2007), 148–184. 1
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that characterise conventional economic blocs. This informal nature of economic integration adds enormous fresh insights to mainstream theories of economic integration and calls for a more nuanced definition of regionalism. For instance, a defining characteristic of China’s Open Door policies has been the informal processes driving regional economic integration (Kurian 2006a). The Southern China Growth Triangle is a case in point where there were no formal inter-state agreements between Guangdong and Fujian provinces of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. These processes represent instances of domestic–external interlinkages and although not state led, the Chinese state played a critical role in setting the direction, pace as well as nature of the country’s external economic relations. Furthermore, overseas Chinese business networks played a central role in defining and imparting its distinctive impact on the character of the regional political economy. These networks constituted a valuable source of information and an entry point to overseas markets, besides providing a critical impetus to the forces of regional economic integration through heavy infusions of capital into the mainland. These networks alert us to the co-existence of both processes of regionalism and regionalisation in the region, but it will be a mistake to over-interpret these layers as being mutually exclusive in nature. More often than not, these have tended to be interdependent processes that intersected at various levels. Shaun Breslin rightly argues instead for a ‘focus on the relationship between the two different types of actors and the two different processes’ (Breslin 2000: 208).
The Subregional Turn Subregional community building is also seeing a robust growth in Asia as is evident from the thicket of growth triangles and subregional economic zones in the region (see Map 2). Several such growth triangles or quadrangles are already in operation, such as the Singapore-southern Johore–Batam Island, the Southern China Growth Triangle and the Yellow Sea Economic Zone. The opportunity structures for cross-border regions have responded to a set of macro-processes that have affected the nature and function of borders (Perkmann and Sum 2000: 2–3). To begin with, processes of globalisation are today resulting in a massive expansion in transborder mobilities of all kinds, be it the movement of goods, services
Map 2: Subregional Economic Zones in Asia
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and people. This is also matched by the transfer of state power ‘upwards, downwards and sideways’ into various processes of regional integration. The ending of the geopolitical stranglehold of the Cold War has also opened up a space for refashioning regional orders. The regional institutional architecture Simon Tay argues, is driven by the need ‘for function, for identity, and for geo-political weight’ (Evans 2003). These networks resemble ‘a broader transnational spatial entity’ encompassing overlapping layers of social, economic and cultural flows. Xiangming Chen observes: A transborder subregion, which intersects the global-national space, comprises multiple intra-national regions, generally on or near borders that stretch across the national-local spaces.…The transborder subregion links cities or towns, many of which may have been previously isolated in their peripheral, border locations, directly to the global economy. The aggregation of several intra- and sub-national areas into a transborder subregion highlights the latter’s distinctive geo-economic composition and in-between location at the interface of global, national, and local spaces. (Chen 2000: 44)
Looking in Two Directions The idea of subregional cooperation has been raised to the highest levels of rhetorical importance by both the Indian and Chinese governments. There are interesting similarities between India’s Look East policy, which was initiated in 1991, and China’s Western Development Strategy, which commenced in 1999. For instance, both programmes place a strong accent on reducing regional disparities and raising the socio-economic profile of their respective border regions. Thus, China’s Open Door policy for the western region recommended ‘an opening programme that looks in two directions simultaneously: south and east to the coastal areas and developed countries; west and north to neighbouring countries across the Chinese border’ (Lu 1989: 4). The policy was ‘aimed at converting the minority regions from remote places far from domestic markets into frontier areas adjacent to an international market’ (ibid). Reflecting these changed national priorities has been China’s New Security Concept structured
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around the values of accommodation and cooperative security. China’s Defence White Paper of July 1998 explicitly refers to ‘a new kind of security concept’ that embodies the principles of ‘mutual and equal security; seeking security by establishing mutual trust, dialogue and cooperation without interfering in the internal affairs of other countries and without aiming at a third party’ (Information Office of the State Council 1998). For China, such a policy was seen as having ‘its greatest effects on bordering provinces, since they might change from being on the military’s front line to being first in line for trade…’ (Brantly and Guangzhi 1994: 160). The conceptual shift serves another important goal of Chinese foreign policy particularly in the region, namely that of raising the acceptability of China as a responsible and peaceful power. There is also a similar strong emphasis on positioning Northeast India as a gateway to the wider dynamic Asian neighbourhood. For instance, placing the Northeast at the centre of the country’s eastward orientation, India’s then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee noted in 2004, ‘When I look at the North-East, I also naturally look at India’s extended neighbourhood in South East Asia’ (Press Information Bureau 2004). In the same vein, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during his maiden visit to Arunachal Pradesh in 2008, described the border state as the land where the ‘sun kisses India first’ and waxed eloquent on how the region ‘will rise from the east as a new star and become one of the best regions of our country’ (Prime Minister’s Office 2008). While the metaphor may be a trifle trite, it reflects the growing priority India attaches to several subregional initiatives in recent years (Kurian 2008). Subregional initiatives such as the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation), the Mekong Ganga Economic Cooperation (MGC) and the BCIM Forum (Bangladesh China India Myanmar) formed in 1999 aim at integrating the entire eastern region of India with the fastgrowing economies of Southeast Asia and beyond.
Historicising the Transnational The talk of reopening borders is, however, misleading, for it conveys the impression that one is talking of reopening a dormant border. Far from it. Today, economic forces are in fact building on complex histories of
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transnational social and cultural exchanges that have operated both above and below the national level. As Darryl Crawford notes in this context, ‘social relationships have always been transnational in nature, but today their economic activities have come to match the transnationalism of their social connections and now constitute a series of coordinated socioeconomic networks’ (Crawford 2000: 180). Recalling these ancient linkages also underlines the reality that the contemporary notion of Northeast India as a landlocked region has little or no historical credence. For instance, both during the 600-year reign of the Ahoms and prior to it, the region had close trade ties with Bhutan, Tibet and Myanmar (Misra 2005: 49). The trade with Bhutan took place along seven duars or gates—narrow strips of land over which Bhutan enjoyed sovereignty (ibid.: 51). The Duar lands gained importance as border market zones; their control regulating traffic along the passes. Bhutan’s control and sovereignty over some of these lands also endowed them with taxation rights over local Indian border people. We know of the religious, cultural and economic links Bhutan had with Cooch Behar (West Bengal) and Kamrup (Assam) between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. Though Bhutan followed a policy of isolation towards much of the world during this period, historical accounts point to sizeable commercial exchanges with its immediate neighbours. For instance, Cooch Behar minted money for Bhutan; Bhutanese horses, wool products and musk found a ready market in North Bengal and Assam while it imported spices, tobacco and cotton from the region (Pommaret 1999). Tashigang in Bhutan served as an important node on the Tibet–Assam route and these interconnections allowed the Khampas of southern Tibet to dominate the trade on the Assam–Bhutan route. Hajo in Assam emerged as a pilgrimage hub for Tibetans in the late seventeenth and the early eighteenth centuries, its popularity aided no less by the ease of access both via the Monyul corridor east of Bhutan and directly through Bumthang and Devangiri in Bhutan (Huber 2008: 139). Trade networks that linked the Kham region in southeast Tibet with areas that spanned a wide arc during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries brought this out well. China’s southwestern province of Yunnan was historically an ‘interaction zone’ maintaining linkages with India, Tibet and Southeast Asia. The ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Road began from Sichuan and Yunnan and travelled along two spurs to reach India. One of them passed through Lhasa on to Burma, Nepal and India while the other route travelled through Nepal to reach India. The Sichuan–Lhasa route, arguably
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one of the most difficult terrains in the world was 2,350 km long, had 56 travelling stages, with 51 river crossings and passes through 78 mountains over 3,000 m high. Weather was both inclement and highly diverse along this route with the traveller said to experience both heavy snow and hot sun in a single day (Yang 2004). The regional economy was a highly interdependent one and Yunnan contributed to this traffic by providing horses and silver, two products of immense value to the region. Horses were of considerable commercial and military value particularly for kingdoms in southern China in resisting northern invasions. They were exported to mainland Southeast Asia and also India and the ability to obtain horses often played an important role in shaping domestic power struggles (Bin 2004: 299; Chakravarti 1999). Bullion movements during the late thirteenth and the early sixteenth centuries from the Shan states of Burma and Yunnan also constituted part of the Southern Silk Route regional trade flow. Tea and horses were not the only products that were traded along the eponymous route; it carried local mountain produce such as sugar and salt that was traded between Sichuan and Tibet. Commodities such as gold, silver, cloth and salt served dual functions both as commodity and as currency (Bin 2004: 305). Given its high volume and limited stocks, land transportation was considered safer as well as shorter than maritime transport, which was also hobbled by the ban on the export of precious metals that the Yuan and Ming dynasties had imposed. The importance of the Silk Road to the regional economy and cultural communications was considerable with the road serving as a key corridor linking scattered ethnic groups across its length. As a route linking cultures and peoples, it has a history of nearly 4,000–5,000 years long before the Tang (618–907) and Song dynasties (960–1279) when its importance grew as a tea and horse trade route. During the seventh century, Tibetan military administration in the region in and around Yunnan was also close to the tea and horse route. Under the Song rulers, tea was traded for warhorses from Tibet, critical for the defence of the empire against the northern nomadic Liao, Jin and Xixia tribes. According to an estimate, more than 20,000 warhorses per year were exchanged for tea during the northern Song dynasty. Of the total annual output of tea in Sichuan, 15,000,000 kgs, at least half was sold to Tibet (Fuquan 2004). The route was to later emerge as a key communication node during the Second World War
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when international access routes to China and Burma lay sundered due to the Japanese occupation. During this period, it is said that nearly 25,000 horses and mules and more than 1,200 trading firms transported materials from India to China (Fuquan 2004). The Silk Roads were also interaction zones, linking, for instance, the agrarian worlds with the pastoral Inner Eurasian steppes (Christian 2000: 1). In these exchanges, the figure of the nomad was a significant one, providing a crucial linkage function bringing ‘peripheral civilizations to come into contact with one another. Like a chemical solution, the nomads allowed “reactions” to take place, but were not themselves the main agents’ (Cosmo 1999: 3). Good relations with the pastoralist communities often were critical since the caravans bearing riches needed access and safe passage through the steppes. These flows provide a much-needed caveat to the dangers of totalising narratives and alert us to be mindful of the historical agency of actors other than the state. Historically, there were limits to the sovereign control that the state could achieve over the frontiers and it often had to acknowledge and accommodate actors whose compliance was valuable for the imperial state’s political agenda at the frontiers. A honeycomb of institutional actors comprising merchants, officials, lamas and rulers represented a powerful collusion of economic and political power (Giersch 2010: 218).
Déjà vu Moment State-led networks of trade, transport and tourism are promising to bring a déjà vu moment for the borderlands underscoring many of these historical continuities. Since building multi-modal continental connectivity is the key to success for any subregional initiative, both India and China have been actively involved in creating a subregional communications network. Both countries have been underscoring the transformational potential of the three Ts—trade, tourism and transport within the subregion (Kurian 2005a). India and China are simultaneously working on two fronts, namely to build internal connectivity at the borders as well as to seek cross-border transport linkages with neighbouring countries. With a massive programme of road and rail construction underway along its frontiers, China is in the process of acquiring a major physical,
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economic and strategic presence all along its borders with India. Largescale infrastructure construction has been identified as being critical to the success of the Western Development Strategy. The report ‘On the Great Development of the West’ prepared by the China Western Development Research Institute, recommended that in order to speed up laying the foundation for the great development of the west, it is essential to apply greater resolve, use more investment and speed up construction of basic infrastructure, and in particular strengthen construction of the basic facilities including irrigation, roads, railways, airports, natural gas pipelines, electricity grids, telecommunications and broadcasting.
Towards this end, China has been ploughing huge investments to put in place a vast network of rail corridors. The significance of the Qinghai– Tibet line lies in the fact that it connects Tibet for the first time to China’s national rail network. The Qinghai–Tibet railway links Xining, capital of Qinghai to Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region. The 1,142 km long section from Golmud, Qinghai’s second largest city to Lhasa, was completed in 2006. The 12th Five Year Plan for 2011–2015 has allocated $526 billion for further railway construction (Dey-Chao 2011). Besides the signature rail link, Lhasa today has air links to nine Chinese cities. There are direct flights from Beijing to Lhasa since 2006 with a travel time of four hours as compared to two days on the rail route. There are five highways into Tibet, long-distance buses as well as trains that link Lhasa with Beijing, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Shanghai, Chongqing, Xining and Lanzhou. China is also in the process of putting in place several cross-border infrastructure projects (see Map 3). To expand its rail network across Asia and beyond to Europe, China has been in negotiations with 17 countries. By 2007, it had international road transport links at more than 60 border gates with 140 routes for freight and passenger traffic with neighbouring countries (Liang 2007). Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province adjoining Myanmar, is being developed as a key regional hub connecting existing rail networks in the region. The province today has 12 civil airports and ranks fourth in air passenger volume across China (China Daily 2010). In 2012, China put in place the last piece of the rail link connecting Yunnan with Southeast Asia. The 141 km Yuxi–Mengzi railway line that links
Map 3: China’s Recent Border Infrastructure Projects
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Yuxi in central Yunnan to Mengzi in southern Yunnan forms part of the eastern line of the Pan-Asia railway network. The provincial government of Yunnan has been an active sponsor of the project, providing a total of $707.4 million in partnership with the central Ministry of Railways (United Press International 2012). A series of extensions on the Qinghai–Lhasa railway line are in the process of being put in place to locations close to the border with India. The first of the spurs is the $2.14 billion Lhasa–Shigatse rail link that will link Lhasa to Tibet’s second-largest city. Also planned is an extension from Lhasa to Nyingchi in southeastern Tibet. There are also plans to promote Nyingchi as a tourist hub. This could be a controversial move that is likely to ruffle feathers in India owing to its sensitive location close to the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims to be a part of Nyingchi Prefecture in southeast Tibet. In Nepal, China is building the Syabrubesi–Rasuwagadhi highway which will provide a second road link between Tibet and Nepal besides the existing Kodari highway. The 113 km long Kodari highway built in the 1960s with Chinese assistance links Kathmandu with the border township of Zhangmo in Tibet. China is also seeking a rail connection to Nepal through a possible extension of the Golmud–Lhasa railway line to Kathmandu. Rail and road links connecting Southwest China to the Indian Ocean are also being put in place. For this purpose, China is seeking access to the seas with multi-modal transport linkages through Myanmar, considered critical for improving the competitive advantage of its landlocked provinces. A key transport project in this regard is the 1,215 km long rail link between Yunnan and the Kyaukphyu deep sea port in Myanmar. China is keen on developing the Irrawaddy Corridor that seeks to link Kunming with Ruili (on the Sino-Myanmar border) onto Bhamo (in the Kachin state) and further to Yangon, 1,300 km downstream. Sections of this transport linkage are already being put in place such as a road from Kunming to Ruili onto Bhamo.
Closing the Infrastructure Gap China’s expanding road and rail corridors across its borders confront India with tough choices especially since they draw unflattering attention to
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the dilapidated and often non-existent infrastructure at its own borders. To begin with, these are resulting in an enhanced Chinese economic, strategic and physical presence in the neighbourhood. Changing a largely defensive mindset has, however, been a long time coming. A critical policy decision towards a shift was the decision taken by the Cabinet Committee on Security in 2006 for the construction of a 608 km long road network along the India–China border. What this amounted to was a virtual ‘reversal of an unwritten strategic code’ not to develop infrastructure along the border, borne out of a fear that in the event of a military confrontation with China, India’s road network could be used by the PLA to advance rapidly (Sharma 2006). A Task Force on Border Infrastructure headed by former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran recommended the construction of a series of highways and link roads in the borders. As part of building ‘operationally critical infrastructure’, three strategic railway lines are being planned by the Army in the Northeast: from Missamari (Assam) to Tawang (Arunachal Pradesh), from North Lakhimpur (Assam) Along (Arunachal Pradesh) to Silapathar (Assam) and from Murkongselek (Assam) Pasighat (Arunachal Pradesh) to Rupai (Assam). Many of these, such as the Pasighat rail line, have also been declared as national projects. The trans-Arunachal Highway is a 2,047 km two-lane highway project that will link Tawang in the west to Kanubari in the east. To improve operational capability of the IndoTibetan Border Police (ITBP) forces deployed along the India–China border, plans were announced in 2010 to construct 27 strategic roads at a cost of `1,937 crores. These are to be built along the border in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh (Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs 2010). There, however, exist formidable roadblocks to mobility which need to be addressed if the subregional vision of a seamless flow of people, goods and services is to be realised. For India’s Northeast, transit connectivity through Bangladesh offers quicker road, rail, inland water transport options. The lack of this facility has magnified distances, driving up costs enormously (Kurian 2000). For instance, the distance between Agartala, Tripura’s capital, and Kolkata is 400 km via Bangladesh. Take this connectivity away and the distance multiplies to 1,645 km. Similarly, a container from Delhi bound for Dhaka could cover the distance of 2,000 km by rail in two or three days. Lacking this crucial facility, the
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container now makes a circuitous journey that takes 45 days. From Delhi, it moves to Mumbai, then to Singapore onto Chittagong port from where it is finally transported to Dhaka. The transport linkages currently being negotiated with its neighbours are aimed at reducing the vulnerability and disadvantages accruing from geopolitics and providing the country with multiple options. Intra-connectivity within the Northeast also forms a critical corollary to external connectivity. Far more forbidding than the landlocked status of the Northeast is the fact that each of these states, as M. S. Prabhakara notes, suffers the double disadvantage of being ‘internally locked’, ‘themselves locked and locking out others, unable to connect with each other physically in terms of poor transport links, and more seriously unable to make connections intellectually and emotionally with their closest neighbours, or even with and among their own people’ (Prabhakara 2004: 4606). Internal rail connectivity within the Northeast has been in an abysmal state with the region having no rail network barring Assam and parts of Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. As a part of the broader programme of upgradation currently underway across the Northeast, the government announced plans to allocate $3.8 billion in 2010 to develop a rail network connecting the entire Northeast by 2016. Logistical challenges have been made worse by institutional logjams that seriously compromise the effectiveness of the border management strategy. An example of this is the lack of coordination among India’s border forces such as the Border Security Force, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Sahastra Seema Bal, Assam Rifles and the Army. A Group of Ministers Report set up in 2001 noted that the ‘multiplicity of forces on the same borders’ has resulted in serious problems of command and control as well as lack of accountability. These are also further compounded by inter-ministerial differences. The Ministries of Home and Defence also have had long-standing differences over operational control over key paramilitary forces stationed at the border. The Ministry of Defence, for instance, has backed the Army’s demands for operational control over the ITBP along the LAC sectors with China. But, the Ministry of Home Affairs has resisted these reportedly on the ground that it will be seen as a provocative measure by China. The ‘one border, one force’ goal has thus remained more notional than real with key institutional actors unable to agree on definitional and operational issues.
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Institutional Connectivity While physical connectivity across the length and breadth of the region is a vital prerequisite, a good road or rail network in itself cannot be the catalyst for increased trade and commerce. For this to happen, institutional infrastructure and trade facilitation need to be developed in tandem with physical connectivity. Besides formidable barriers to mobility, the lack of institutional connectivity has worked to keep levels of border trade considerably below their potential. Complicated procedural requirements and paper work have resulted in higher transaction costs and diverted trade to informal private channels at the cost of the national exchequer. Multiple handling and trans-shipment of goods are common, resulting in mindless duplication of procedures. Single-window clearance, harmonisation of tariff and customs procedures point the way forward complemented by banking facilities, warehouses and power supply. These will provide the enabling conditions for legitimate economic activity and discourage informal trade. This will also call for close cooperation between not only the respective central governments, but also the relevant state governments in the region. Besides these, there are several international land transportation facilitation conventions, which form part of Resolution 4811 of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) such as the Convention on Road Traffic, Convention on Road Sign and Signals, Customs Conventions on the International Transport of Goods and the Temporary Import of Commercial Road Vehicles. While India and China have acceded to one of these, Bangladesh and Myanmar have yet to accede to any. Lack of efficiency of border corridors has been a factor hindering competitiveness and trade expansion. Several cross-border regions across the world are moving towards more efficient border management practices at entry and exit points. This includes developing ‘one-stop’ border crossing points aimed at streamlining formalities and coordinating the activities of agencies involved in facilitating cross-border movement of people, goods and services. A comparison between East Asia and South Asia is sobering in this regard. Eight of nine Land Customs Stations (LCSs) in eastern South Asia were found to be relatively inefficient. For instance, many LCSs in the region, such as at Burimari and Banglabandh in Bangladesh, Karkavita in
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Nepal and Phulbari and Panitanki in India, did not have foreign exchange facilities (De, Khan and Chaturvedi 2008: 34). There is also no direct movement of road freight transportation between India and Bangladesh necessitating trans-shipment of goods. The absence of overland freight movement between contiguous regions along India’s neighbourhood has thus resulted in substantial transaction costs. Since no direct movement of vehicles from another country is allowed, merchandise has to be trans-shipped at the border. This involves loading and unloading of goods and transfers between vehicles. At the Petrapole–Benapole border crossing between India and Bangladesh, the absence of adequate warehousing facility, insufficient parking space, inadequate banking facilities, lack of standardisation of documentation and lack of documents such as through Bills of Lading constitute a range of physical and non-physical barriers to trade flows (ibid.: 29). An Indian exporter to Bangladesh has to reportedly obtain as many as 330 signatures on 17 documents at various stages, which include cumbersome procedural requirements (De and Ghosh 2008). This at a time when the neighbouring Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) is moving towards a single-window clearance system. The GMS Cross-border Transport Agreement (CBTA) adopted in the late 1990s, covers all trade transit facilitation measures within the region in a single document. These include single-stop, single-window customs inspection, visa regimes, eligibility criteria for cross-border traffic, exchange of commercial traffic rights and standardisation of road and bridge design, signs and signals (Srivastava and Kumar 2012). Many of these measures are drawn from the 1982 UN International Convention on Harmonisation of Frontier Control of Goods and the Revised Kyoto Convention.
India’s Cross-border Infrastructure Projects India is seeking to close the ‘infrastructure gap’ with China by developing its own cross-border transport corridors in the subregion (see Map 4). Restoration of several rail links between India and Bangladesh that were operational till 1965 are on the anvil. As noted earlier, owing to its location, Bangladesh offers quicker and shorter road, rail and inland water transport connectivity for the Northeast. As part of these efforts, India
Map 4: India’s Recent Border Infrastructure Projects
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is funding the construction of a $51 million, 14 km long railway link between Agartala, Tripura and Akhaura, the southeastern border town of Bangladesh (Ahmed and Haroon 2012). Akhaura, a prominent jutetrading centre during the British period, is today an important railway junction in Bangladesh with links to Chittagong, Sylhet, Mymensingh and Dhaka. The Agartala–Akhaura project, expected to be completed by the end of 2014, promises to bring multiple benefits to the Northeast. For one, it will drastically reduce the distance between Agartala and Kolkata and allow for freight movement between the two capitals. For example, the distance between Agartala and Kolkata through Guwahati is 1,650 km but the link through Bangladesh will reduce this to just 350 km. India and Bangladesh have also agreed in principle to revive the rail link between Chilahati, a border railway station in Bangladesh with Haldibari in West Bengal. Some sections of this rail route are already functional requiring relatively modest costs to re-establish connectivity on this sector. This route also offers Bangladesh much faster connectivity with Bhutan and Nepal. For instance, Hashimara in West Bengal bordering Bhutan is only 182 km from Chilahati and a travel time of three hours by train. Transit time to Nepal too stands to be drastically reduced. Similarly, Jogobani, an Indian railway point in Bihar is only 52 km from Chilahati. Another proposed link between Kulaura in Bangladesh and Mahishashan in Assam will open a trade route between Assam’s Barak valley and Bangladesh. India is also building three rail lines to Bhutan linking Assam and West Bengal with Bhutan. The two lines from Assam are a 51 km track linking Pathshala and a 57 km track from Kokrajhar to Bhutan’s Nanglam and Gelephu, respectively. A third rail line will link Hashimara in West Bengal to Phuentsholing, a border town in southern Bhutan through a 17 km track. Another link will be a 16 km track connecting Bengal’s Naxalbari to Kankarvitta in eastern Nepal and a 15 km track from Bihar’s Jogbani to Biratnagar, the second largest city of Nepal. India is also pursuing an East to West corridor through Myanmar to integrate the Northeast with Southeast Asia. The Indian Border Roads Organisation built the 165 km long Tamu–Kalemyo highway in 2001 that connects Moreh in Manipur to the towns of Tamu, Kalewa and Kalemyo in Myanmar. The road further connects with Myanmar’s second largest city, Mandalay, and onto the country’s road network. India, Myanmar and Thailand are also working on a trilateral highway project that will link
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Moreh through Bagan in Myanmar to Maesot in Thailand. The highway is expected to be extended to Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, holding out the promise of seamless continental connectivity within the Asian region. India and Myanmar also reached an agreement in 2012 to start a bus service from Imphal in Manipur to Mandalay in Myanmar. There are differences in traffic procedures and standards between the two countries that need to be sorted out. For instance, prospective passengers on the Imphal–Mandalay bus route will need to disembark at Moreh and Tamu and be transferred to the vehicles of the other country (Press Information Bureau 2012). The two sides have also agreed to allow Indian carriers to operate unlimited flights from 18 Indian cities to locations in Myanmar. The Gaya–Myanmar sector is expected to draw Buddhist travellers and pilgrims. Indian carriers were also allowed to fly from Myanmar to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. In this regard, a project that is being billed as a critical link for the Northeast is the Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport Project that aims to connect seaports on India’s east to the seaport in Sittwe, Rakhine state’s capital in western Myanmar (see Map 5). River and road links will also connect Sittwe to Mizoram through a 62 km highway from Kaletwa to the Mizoram border. As the Arakanese activist, Aung Marm Oo notes, Kaladan is ‘likely open up the economic geography of the region, potentially connecting to the Asia highway in the future, which will open up international trade routes’ (Oo 2013). The project, scheduled to be completed by 2014–2015, is funded by India at an estimated cost of $68.24 million. There are also moves to establish power grid connectivity for the first time between India and Bangladesh through the Bheramara and Bahrampur link (Lama 2013). The interconnection between Bheramara in Bangladesh and Bahrampur in West Bengal was completed in 2013 and 500 MW of power is to initially flow from India with capacity to be increased to 1,000 MW in due course. India’s National Thermal Power Corporation and the Power Development Board of Bangladesh are also working on a joint venture to set up a $1.5 billion coal-fired power plant at Rampal in Bangladesh, expected to be completed by 2016. A 124 km grid connection is being put in place under which Bangladesh is set to import 250 MW of electricity from India from July 2013 (Daily Star 2013). Bangladesh also allowed trans-shipment of heavy machinery through its Akhaura border point for the 726 MW Palatana gas power project
Source: Aung Marm Oo (2013).
Map 5: Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport Project
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in Tripura. The decision by Bangladesh to allow transhipment through its territory has been a critical factor in the successful completion of the project. A share of the power generated is likely to be sold to Bangladesh as well (The Telegraph 2012). There is also a need to look at the kind of trade-offs that are being made between critical issues such as hydropower, food security and biodiversity (Kurian 2013b). These are critical linkages since they involve resource choices that directly affect the livelihood chances of rural communities. The example of Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) is often invoked as a successful example in subregional cooperation and rightly so; but, it is also important to look at how the GMS is coping with some of these critical challenges. For instance, there is growing concern that transboundary dam projects are blocking fish migratory routes and fish production. For rural riparian communities this spells nothing short of a food crisis since fish constitutes their chief source of food and principal source of protein. Subregional cooperation needs to also explore viable options for rural energy access. While there is a great deal of mainstream focus on establishing inter-regional power grid connectivity, there are millions of rural riparian populations within the subregion who are not connected to national grids. The market logic often breaks down when faced with the challenge of connecting isolated border communities. Small hydropower could offer viable off-the-grid power options and bring multiplier effects. China has been the clear market leader in this regard; with small hydropower generation making up 55 per cent of the total global installed capacity while India makes up a mere 9 per cent.
Border Trade Even as bilateral trade levels between India and China have surged from $339 million in 1992 to $59 billion in 2013, border trade exchanges have seen only modest increases. India and China opened their first border trade route in 1991 between Dharachula in Uttaranchal and Pulan in Tibet through the Lipulekh Pass. A second border trade post was opened in 1993 between Namgyal in Himachal Pradesh and Juiba in Tibet. Garbyang in Uttaranchal and Shipki La in Himachal are the two
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LCSs along the India–China border. In 2006, both countries decided to reopen trade across the Nathu La Pass in eastern Sikkim. The Nathu La Trade Study Group under Mahendra P. Lama constituted by the Government of Sikkim in 2003 projected Sikkim as a key hub that could galvanise the entire northeastern region (Government of Sikkim 2005). The opening of the Nathu La has also led to demands from within the region to open alternate traditional routes for border trade. For instance, there is a growing demand to follow this up by connecting Kalimpong in West Bengal to Tibet via an alternate all-weather pass, the Jelep La. This route, at the India–Tibet–Bhutan tri-junction, had been an ancient trade route used by Indian and Tibetan traders and had seen brisk trade in silk, spices, musk, wool and textiles. Three private banks had also conducted operations in Tibet in the past (Chaudhuri 2003). The route also boasts of better connectivity with a motorable road connecting Kalimpong to Lhasa, facilitating easy movement of goods and people besides significant savings of time and expense (ibid.). There is also a growing demand for the opening of the ancient Ladakh–Tibet border at Demchok, southeast of Leh in Ladakh (Mohan 2004). The reopening of the route is expected to give a boost to border trade and Leh is keen on converting the existing informal trade into formal trade. Ladakh is also pressing for a revival of this route given the obvious potential it holds for religious tourism from India en route to the Kailash Mansarovar. The route has in its favour easier connectivity as compared to the more arduous and much longer trek through the Lipulekh pass in Himachal Pradesh. While several traditional trade routes from the Northeast to Tibet and Xinjiang such as Dibrugarh–Tezu–Walong–Kibithoo, Dibrugarh–Ledo– Pangsau Pass Mytkyina–Kunming and Tezpur–Bomdilla–Tawang–Bum La-Tsona Dzong are officially closed; there has been a brisk exchange and flow of goods across the borders at several places (Bhattacharji 2006). The thriving of what is euphemistically referred to as informal trade attests to the fact that the border continues to be a zone of brisk trade and commerce with the crucial difference that much of it bypasses the official channel. However, there is no official acknowledgement of the vast changes that have taken place in the type of goods exchanged at the border. Goods on the archaic list have long ceased to be traded, while the demand for even traditional items, such as wool, is no longer for barter trade among local communities but is at a commercial level. A whole range of goods
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cross through these borders, which do not get reflected in official trade figures. For instance, the import list at Nathu La till 2012 was restricted to 15 items such as yak tails, yak hair, goatskins, salt, sheep skin and horses. The discrepancy between official and unofficial trade numbers at the Moreh border post in Manipur is also revealing. While Moreh’s official trade is estimated at `40 lakh every day, the unofficial transaction volume is estimated at over `2 crores each day (Baruah 2012). Chinese traders have aggressively targeted the Indian market through Myanmar’s Namphalong market to sell goods. The irony is particularly hard to miss at Leh’s Moti Market, overlooking the Indian Intelligence Bureau’s offices, which does brisk business in Chinese goods with its clientele including the uniformed personnel as well (Bhattacharji 2002). It is evident that security considerations have often worked to thwart the scope of cross-border exchanges. For instance, India has been lukewarm to the demand from the northeastern states to reopen direct links with China through the Stilwell Road. The Chinese side of the Stilwell Road has been upgraded into a six-lane highway and a Chinese company, Yunnan Construction Engineering Group, is upgrading the section of the road within Myanmar. The 61 km stretch of the road within India is in a condition of total disrepair but the Indian government has been reluctant to restore connectivity to the road link. Apprehensions over rebel group activity along the route could be one reason behind this since the Stilwell Road passes through the Tirap–Changlang corridor in Arunachal Pradesh. The corridor has reportedly been used by insurgent groups in the Northeast to smuggle illicit Chinese arms through the Myanmar border with help from Kachin rebel groups (Bhaumik 2012). This nexus, Arunachal Pradesh’s Home Minister Tako Dabi recently noted, was turning the state into a ‘gun corridor’. There are also strong security reservations against reopening the Stilwell Road because of the China factor. This fear is echoed in the concern of a former Indian Chief of Staff, ‘India’s security will stand compromised because the Chinese would be in a position to use this road in the event of a war’ (Times of India 2010). There are arguments being advanced in favour of developing the Lohit in Arunachal Pradesh instead of the Stilwell Road (Bhattacharjee 2006). The recently constructed Lohit Bridge in Wakhro District of the state is said to be a more feasible alternative since it would provide one of the shortest links and all-weather connections to Tibet. Also, the low-altitude
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border crossing at Kahao in Arunachal Pradesh holds out the prospect for year-round trade with eastern Tibet, which is also its most populated part with a fast expanding network of roads. If resumed, this could present an attractive economic opportunity for upper Assam and Lohit District which has the potential to provide supplies to Tibet using this all-weather pass, especially in winter months when reaching supplies becomes considerably more difficult. Not all security concerns of the central government are, however, shared by state governments. Take for instance the issue of resumption of cross-border trade links in the region. There are several proposals submitted by state governments to set up border haats with Myanmar that are pending with the central government. In Arunachal Pradesh, these include the towns of Nampong, Chingsa, Makantong in Changlang District with those of Pangsau, Langhong and Ngaimong in the Kachin province of Myanmar. Proposed border haats suggested by Manipur include points linking Kongkan Thana, New Somtal and Behiang in the state with Aungci, Khampat and Chikha in Myanmar. Mizoram has proposed border haats at Marpara and Sillsury in Mizoram with Longkor and Mahmuam in Myanmar. Nagaland has proposed connecting Avakhung, Pangsha, Longwa and Molhe in the state with Layshi, Lahe and Pansat in Myanmar (Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region 2011). Many of the old trading passes remain in disuse with governments disinterested in restoring connectivity that could spur trade. It is, thus, not surprising that the bulk of Tibet’s cross-border trade is currently with Nepal than with India. Tibet’s trade with Nepal makes up 95 per cent of its total trade with the rest being through the Nathu La pass (Krishnan 2010). Tibet’s three open ports, Zhangmu, Nielamu and Xigaze, all lie on the Friendship Highway between Kathmandu and Lhasa (ADB 2003: 296). The Shipki La pass, which opened for border barter trade and trade on convertible currency basis in 1994, has seen woefully meagre levels of trade. The only motorable road on the Indian side is at Namgia Dogri in Himachal Pradesh, which is 14 km from the border. This means that only the most intrepid of traders can make the trudge with goods carried on mule back (Dogra 2005). The formidable road blocks to formal trade has meant that traders have chosen alternate routes such as Kaurik in Uttaranchal and Rishi Dogri in Kinnaur District of Himachal Pradesh that
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allows them to travel further into Tibet than to Shipki village permitted under the border trade agreement. It is hardly surprising then that much of this traffic does not get reflected in official statistics.2 The Moreh–Tamu border trade inaugurated, as part of the barter trade agreement between India and Myanmar in 1994, is yet another instance of an arrangement failing to realise its potential. Onerous provisions that have defied economic logic and deterred trade undo many of these promising initiatives. For instance, the 1994 agreement permitted cross-border trade in 22 products, mostly primary commodities. Border trade was restricted to only one trade point, namely Moreh in Manipur. Further, there was the requirement that imports from Myanmar to India should precede exports from India. Border trade was defined as restricted to head loads or nonmotorised means of transport. A host of civic problems such as power, water, health care, transport compounded by insurgency have also taken a toll on what promised to be a bustling exchange point. There are similar restrictions on the operation of border trade at Kalaichar in West Garo Hill District of Meghalaya and Baliamari in Kurigram District in Bangladesh that resumed after 40 years in 2011. As per these requirements, the total value of such barter trade should not cross $50 per day and is open only to vendors within a 5 km radius from the border haat. Meghalaya has asked the Centre to take up the issue of allowing goods produced beyond the 5 km radius to improve prospects for trade at the border. There have also been growing demands to convert most border trade points into regular international trade at the borders. As Shyam Saran rightly argues: The reality is that huge volumes of regular trade take place through these points but as contraband, corrupting local officialdom, criminalising trade and resulting in revenue loss to the government…. While we resist over ground economic integration, underground economic integration appears to be flourishing! (Saran 2011) The Shipki Pass was one of the routes Tibetan refugees took to escape to India during the 1962 India–China War. It was also the favoured route by pilgrims travelling to Mount Kailash since it was the closest route along the Sutlej river. (Ravinder Makhaik, ‘Indo-China Trade at Shipki La post touches `1.4 cr’, available at http://hillpost.in/2012/12/08/indochina-trade-at-shipki-la-post-touches-rs-1-4-cr/56336/latest-news/ravinder). 2
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Tale of Two Subregions Intra-regional trade levels in South Asia and East Asia tell a stark story of their own. While East Asia’s intra-regional trade currently stands at 55 per cent of the region’s total trade in 2011, intra-regional trade as a share of total trade for South Asia is less than 6 per cent (ADB 2012). Subregional trade levels within South Asia also remain modest. For instance, India accounts for less than 2 per cent of Bangladesh’s exports and 11.3 per cent of its imports (ibid.: 4). In stark contrast, the Chinese border areas are emerging as dynamic zones of growth and have drawn regional trade like a magnet. Gyirong in Tibet’s Xigaze (Shigatse in Tibetan) is set to become Tibet’s second-largest port for border trade, after Zhangmu. The port used to be a traditional hub for commercial exchanges between Tibet and Nepal (Xinhua News). Trade volumes between Yunnan and South Asia reached $1 billion with India–Yunnan trade volume pegged at $780 million (Zhang 2012). Yunnan’s international trade in 2012 surged to a new record high of $18.81 billion, 24 per cent higher than China’s national average. China’s trade with the Mekong region has also surged, from $10 billion in 2000 to $80.3 billion in 2010 (Naohiro 2012). A similar trade-oriented strategy of industrialisation for India’s northeastern region can bear desired results subject to several caveats. Regardless of the direction in which transborder linkages are eventually sought, what will be of utmost importance will be the implications these hold for the economic future of the Northeast. The promise of tradedriven growth will depend critically on the region being able to realise its potential based on its own indigenous resource endowments. The manner in which this challenge is managed will decide if the Northeast will either be a production centre or merely be a conduit for goods produced elsewhere. If one looks at the current export basket of India’s border trade, the Northeast as a region does not enjoy a comparative advantage in any of the products being traded (Baruah 2005: 441). The composition of India’s trade with Bangladesh as well as with Myanmar bears this out. Products such as wheat, steel, treated steel, electronic goods, which feature in India’s exports to Myanmar, do not originate in the Northeast but are sourced from other domestic locations in India. The same holds true for India’s export basket with Bangladesh, which
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includes products such as textiles, machinery, rubber products, chemicals and pharmaceuticals. The Northeast also does not find a presence in India’s export basket to Southeast Asia, which includes products such as shrimp, granite, cotton and aluminium ingots. If the region remains a mere conduit for exports on account of its location, the Northeast will only gain minimal benefits. From being on the margins of closed borders, it will be far more tragic if the Northeast is reduced to being on the edge of an open economy. For the Northeast to benefit therefore, products in which the region enjoys a comparative advantage must find a place in the export basket. Several such items have been identified such as bamboo, cane, livestock, food processing, spices and plantation crops such as rubber, coffee and tea. These resources offer good prospects for ancillary and auxiliary industries to be set up. However, they require a number of syncretic measures at various levels including concerted policy intervention to help realise this potential. Policy support will be essential, for instance, in making available technology-based innovations in improving the design, durability and attractiveness of products such as bamboo and cane. Effective marketing as well as networking with artisans would be needed to reach the products to markets within and outside the country.
Promoting Tourism in the Borderlands India and China have also been underscoring the transformative potential of subregional cooperation in the field of tourism. It is easy to understand why. The subregion presents a postcard collage with its rich fare of festivals, monasteries, temples and churches, verdant tea gardens, mighty rivers, deep forests, diverse ecological zones and diversity of languages, ethnicities and religions. The entire region is being promoted as a tourist destination and marketing is projecting its natural beauty and immensely rich cultural and ethnic diversity (Bhuthalingam 2003). At the initiative of the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (MDONER), the North Eastern Council has prepared a comprehensive master plan for tourism to be implemented in the ongoing 12th Five Year Plan (2012–2017). A three-day International Travel Mart (ITM) showcasing the Northeast
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and West Bengal as a tourist destination was held in Guwahati in January 2013. The Tourism Minister K. Chiranjeevi underlined the importance of the event as the first-ever international tourism event to be organised with an exclusive focus on the Northeast. The region is beginning to attract the growing international attention of investors, tour operators and service industry as seen from the participation of 23 countries at the event (Bangkok Post 2013). But whatever the glossy brochures may proclaim, the numbers tell a story of their own. While India is setting its sights on attracting 1 per cent of the total world tourist arrivals by 2017, China is aiming to become the world’s leading tourist destination by 2020. While China received 55 million tourists in 2010, foreign tourist arrivals in India stood at 5.5 million (UNWTO 2011: 7). Regrettably, many good initiatives have also not been accompanied by any significant relaxation in customs and immigration facilitation at the border. A case in this regard is that of the Maitree Express, the only train link from Kolkata to Dhaka that was inaugurated with much fanfare in 2008. Cumbersome security checks and lengthy customs and immigration formalities at border stations such as Darshana in Bangladesh and Gede in West Bengal and the requirement of disembarking at both border points have made the train service highly unpopular. In contrast, bus services between India and Bangladesh have been operating with relatively fewer security hurdles. There exists good potential to connect Northeast India and Southwest China to the well-established tourism networks of Southeast Asia. Southeast Asian and East Asian countries have all been aggressively marketing themselves as tourist destinations, and across the region, tourism has been a big revenue earner. The Greater Mekong Subregion represents an example of a successful transnational tourism regime, with tourism being one of the major growth engines among the 11 flagship programmes of regional cooperation. There are also efforts to promote the GMS as a single destination and move towards the harmonisation of regulations and procedures. The six member countries have agreed in principle to move towards a GMS visa that would be akin to the European Union’s Schengen visa to facilitate travel from outside the region. The Mekong Tourism Development Project has been so designed for the joint marketing of tour programmes in the region. An example is the Heritage Necklace Circuit that links the six heritage sites of Siem Reap in Cambodia, Hue
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in Vietnam, Luang Prabang in Laos, Bagan in Myanmar, Sukhothai in Thailand and Lijiang in Yunnan, China. There are also moves to institutionalise cross-border cooperation in marketing, transit, research, training and a variety of imaginatively conceived package tour programmes. Such an integrated approach can be extended to cover the entire region including India, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. An interesting initiative that India and countries in the region could join is the Tourism Earth Lung Initiative by Sri Lanka in 2007. The initiative aims to make the country a carbon-neutral destination by 2018 and plans to put in place a research and development programme to engage all stakeholders in the public and private sectors, communities, NGOs, tourists, the research community as well as liaise with the forestry, environment and energy departments. Similarly, the Buddhist circuit special train that was launched by the Indian Railways in 2007 connects major Buddhist pilgrim centres in India and Nepal such as Bodh Gaya, Nalanda, Rajgir, Varanasi, Shravasti and Lumbini. A campaign ‘Come to India: Walk with the Buddha’ was also launched in several Southeast Asian countries to promote tourism to Buddhist heritage sites across India.
Making Tourism Pro-poor The real challenge for India and China will be to design pro-poor policies to make tourism inclusive and sustainable. The promotion of a model of mass tourism has undoubtedly seen a massive expansion of tourism revenues and footfalls. But the fixation with the economic potential of tourism has meant that this growth has often sidestepped the lives of local communities, bringing few economic opportunities in its wake. Resource interventions that do not respect the supply potential of mountain ecologies are creating and reinforcing interlocking webs of environmental and socio-economic vulnerability. Growing resource imbalances are directly and adversely impacting on the livelihood options of mountain communities. A viable alternative model could be the concept of integrated rural tourism, which seeks to nest tourism within community concerns by nurturing the synergies between social, cultural, economic and environmental resources. These can also creatively alleviate the otherwise
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enormous pressure on local infrastructure during peak summer seasons. Planned well, rural home stays can be designed in winter months so as to not disrupt rural agricultural calendars as well as also provide additional income-generating activities (Sikkim Now 2009). Community-based tourism also has the potential of bringing tourism-generated revenues directly to the rural communities with the potential for diversifying and restructuring mountain economies. There are interesting communitybased tourism projects elsewhere that are beginning to redress these deficits and looking into questions of income generation, safety, crime and drug trafficking. These underline the critical need for ‘situated development’ that responds to local particularities (Bartholo et al. 2008; Saxena et al. 2007). If handled well, such an approach can also mark a shift from the obsessive focus on expansion of infrastructure that characterises mainstream mass tourism. It is only when tourism as a sector begins to address such questions that it can create enabling spaces for communities to partake of these opportunities as well as benefits. For instance, community-based tourism is allowing hill tribes in northern Thailand such as the Lahus and the Karens in the villages of Ja Bor, Mae Klan Luang and Pha Mon find their place under the sun (Pattullo 2008). Another successful case in point is the initiative in southern Africa called the Management-oriented Monitoring Systems (MOMS), which has seen active community participation from designing, monitoring, undertaking data collection as well as maintaining records (Diggle 2006). The model is aimed at restoring the symbiotic balance between communities, protected areas and tourism development, with tourism revenues being channelised back to the community and their environs. Similarly, the Addo Elephant National Park in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province, designed as a pro-poor strategy, is another example of a multi-stakeholder engagement between a range of actors related to the tourism experience. The involvement of the government, private tour operators, NGOs and local communities has seen community tourism projects such as drama troupes, arts and crafts groups being creatively packaged and inserted into tour programmes (Roe and Khanya 2001). Similarly, the model developed by Prainha do Canto Verde in Brazil has seen the local community take the lead in a range of activities, from drawing out tourism plans to administering it themselves. What is also fascinating in these examples is that tourism promotion is
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woven into a range of activities germane to the residents such as health, education, fishing and the environment, thereby creating a symbiotic interface. Sustainable tourism will thus call for learning alliances among all key stakeholders such as park agencies working in consultation with local communities, the tourism sector, researchers and NGOs.
Cross-border Partnerships in Sustainable Tourism Cross-border partnerships in conservation become the natural and critical corollary to sustainable tourism in a border region. A very narrow reading of tourism, however, does not acknowledge the natural linkages between subregional tourism and sustainability. This is particularly relevant in the context of the growing ecological imbalances in the form of rising temperatures, retreating glaciers, soil erosion and water resource degradation that present a shared set of concerns for the countries in the region to collectively tackle. Indigenous communities tend to be most vulnerable to growing environmental stress on account of being directly at the receiving end of these threats. The impact of mass tourism on fragile ecosystems has also seen growing tensions between the goals of rapid economic development and their non-economic costs in terms of ecological stress and socio-economic vulnerability. The critical role communities can play in this regard, as repositories of traditional ecological knowledge, through forest management, sustainable fishing, ecotourism and watershed management is enormous. Thus, the promotion of mountain tourism should at the outset define sustainable resource use patterns and the limits of acceptable use. Such specificities are bound to get overlooked in top-down approaches to conservation.3 Monitoring of waste disposal and impact on wildlife are also realistic only with active community involvement (Nepal and Chipeniuk 2005). A unique conservation initiative launched in the Northeast in 2008 seeks to promote sustainable wetlands tourism by making monasteries take 3 Community initiatives in Bongaigaon in Assam have seen an interesting conservation effort that set a world record when villagers planted 300,000 saplings on wasteland. In a similar initiative called ‘Ten Minutes to Greenery’, launched by Sikkim this month, more than 600,000 saplings were planted across the state in 10 minutes.
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the lead in the preservation of high-altitude wetlands like the Bangajan in Arunachal Pradesh. The three-year World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) project called Saving Wetlands Sky High seeks to innovatively engage monasteries in waste disposal activities so as to ensure that tourism does not adversely impact the wetlands. Another successful example is the sustainable tourist accommodations being built by local communities in China in Tian Shan in Xinjiang province. The innovative aspect of this initiative is that there are no permanent structures around Sayram Lake and care is taken to ensure that ecological footprints are minimised. Tourism, in particular borderland tourism, thus needs to evolve beyond the simplistic mix-and-stir-model of throwing resources at a region or being caught in a complacent statistical haze of charting spikes in tourist arrivals. For this to happen, it is essential that any meaningful vision of subregional cooperation begins by reimagining the role of the borders in it. Borders, as Trevor Sofield notes, constitute a relatively understudied component of tourism mobility (Sofield 2006). Tourism, like myriad other flows, will hinge critically on how a border region is imagined in the national narrative. This will call for decentring participation in tourism so that communities become effective stakeholders in the process. This will in turn hinge essentially on two overlapping concerns, namely the extent to which policy acknowledges that communities and sustainable tourism resource management are inseparable, and that cross-border partnerships constitute a critical corollary to sustainable tourism. The capacity to mainstream these dual constitutive narratives will define the road ahead for borderland tourism. Decentring participation will also further equip communities to become stakeholders in tackling common challenges of micro-level governance in this shared subregion. As shown earlier, there are examples of innovative experiments from various border regions in jointly managing shared resources. These point to the effectiveness of devolved monitoring and implementation mechanisms and sub-national institutions as the locus of problem solving. Such multi-scale and multiactor frameworks point to the wisdom of retaining the choice to imagine multiple futures and escape the hegemonic grip of one-size-fits-all paradigms to order sub-national and transnational spaces. A compelling imagery for borderland tourism would be to imagine the road ahead, not as a linear one but one with several forks and bends, each replete with local narratives (Kurian 2008).
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Geoeconomic Text, Geopolitical Subtext What may not be immediately apparent is that there is a strong geopolitical subtext to this overtly geoeconomic narrative. This is evident from a close look at India and China’s moves and counter moves in the subregion and beyond. Many of these cross-border projects are also driven by a fear of ‘losing influence to other powers’ (Holsag 2010: 3). For instance, some of these fears were recently stoked in the controversy surrounding the cancellation of a transborder road project in the region. The proposed Chittagong–Kunming rail link plan between China and Bangladesh via Myanmar has reportedly been shelved owing to Myanmar’s refusal to grant permission (Tusher 2012). A senior government official from Yunnan admitted that Myanmar had turned down Yunnan’s offer of a $2 billion financial support to finance the project. There have been open whispers about the India factor as the real reason behind the decision taken by Myanmar. India’s discomfort at the prospect of a direct continental link between Bangladesh and China is being cited as a possible reason. Clearly, building influence is not a one-way street with India passively viewing China’s expanding presence in the region (Kurian 2001). The growing Chinese physical presence is sharply stoking old concerns that China is getting too close for comfort (Kurian 2006b). China’s capacity to mobilise rapidly along the border is in contrast to Indian forward positions being several days walk from nearest road heads. While China has approach roads running right up to the border, on the Indian side of the border, the ITBP forces have to walk for days to reach the LAC (Dholabha 2009). Repositioning troops in the event of a conflict would, Ajay Shukla argues, ‘take so long...that the battle would be over by then’ (Shukla 2012). There are fears that the Lhasa–Nyingchi–Dali rail route which runs close to the Arunachal border, could allow the 14th Group Army located at Kunming to quickly reach Tibet by railway. The 13th Group Army based in Sichuan province could also be mobilised quickly in the event of a crisis (Rajagopalan and Prasad 2010). India has also on occasion expressed concern at China’s growing cross-border projects in the region. Recently, India’s Minister of State for Defence M. M. Pallam Raju noted that China’s planned rail link to Pakistan through the Karakoram was ‘definitely a matter of concern’ for India (The Hindu 2010).
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These tracks are also resulting in an enhanced Chinese military presence along the borders. China has strengthened its military presence in Tibet with 300,000 troops in addition to six Rapid Reaction Forces based at Chengdu, Sichuan. China has built a 58,000 km road network and five airfields at Gongar, Pangta, Linchi, Hoping and Gar Gunsa in Tibet. The 1,956 km long Qinghai–Tibet railway that connects Xining, capital of Qinghai, to Lhasa provides a major military advantage for the PLA since it vastly improves mobility and the time taken to transport men and material to the border. China has also embarked on a build-up of military infrastructure along the border. India is also taking concerted measures to significantly increase its troop presence at the borders. Under the $13 billion modernisation programme, there are plans to deploy an additional 100,000 troops over the next five years. Under the Modernisation of Airfield Infrastructure (MAFI), 30 IAF airbases are slated for modernisation including eight key airfields along the border with China such as Chabua and Tezpur in Assam and Hashimara in West Bengal. Order and stability of the peripheral regions have also ranked high in the calculus of policymakers in India and China. For instance, concerns relating to national unity, order and stability and border defence have found a prominent place in debates surrounding the western region’s development campaign.4 Stressing the dangers to stability, Hu Angang noted, ‘The worst case scenario-and what we are trying to avoid-is China fragmenting like Yugoslavia.... Already, regional disparity is equal to-or worse than-what we saw in Yugoslavia before it split’ (Hu 2000). The need to strengthen state building also found strong articulation in an influential report by Wang Shaoguang and Hu Angang (Wang and Hu 1999). The Sixth Plenum of the 16th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China held in 2006 also drew a direct correlation between continued prosperity and the need for social equity and justice. The existence of stark differences in regional development was likened ‘to an eagle spreading only one wing for flight’ (Zhong 2000). A National Conference of the heads of the Nationalities Affairs Commissions in 1989 imparted a strong push to expedite the development of the minority areas. It recommended that the minority areas be opened to ‘other parts of China and the world with 4 For details, see Premier Zhu Rongji’s Government Work Report for 2000 to the third session of the Ninth National People’s Congress, China Daily, 6 March 2000.
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the introduction of an opening programme that looks in two directions simultaneously: south and east to the coastal areas and developed countries; west and north to neighbouring countries across the Chinese border’ (Yun 1989: 4). Thus, an emphasis was laid on developing a strategy that optimised the ‘petty advantage’ of border trade conferred by geographic proximity. In recent years, inland border provinces have been actively encouraged to seek economic cooperation with neighbouring countries across land frontiers. An Open Door policy for the western region was ‘aimed at converting the minority regions from remote places far from domestic markets into frontier areas adjacent to an international market’ (ibid.). A statist subtext of assimilation and the larger national security logic is also evident in the promotion of large-scale infrastructure construction, which has been identified as being critical to the success of the Western Development Strategy. For instance, the Qinghai–Lhasa railway will, according to the Chinese official media, play an ‘important role in enhancing exchanges between ethnic groups, the development of resources and economic development in western China and in consolidating national security’ (Peoples Daily 2001). The rail line connecting the far-flung areas of the country to the centre was explained in a telling imagery of the horizontal and vertical strokes that represent the Middle Kingdom.5 There are also interesting and quiet departures in India’s official discourse from the domestic–external binary that are dictated by pragmatism despite continued rhetorical adherence at the formal level. An organic domestic–external security linkage is now being openly hinted at in official discourses on border security in India. This can be seen in a recognition of the increasingly diffused nature of security threats that span borders and call for regional responses. This is particularly so in the Northeast where porous borders lend themselves to encroachment and confound the efforts of security forces entrusted with the task of curbing illegal trade and drug trafficking. Being situated in close proximity to one of the largest narcotics producing and exporting regions of the world 5
Remarking on the powerful symbolism of the project, the People’s Daily notes, Crossed horizontal and vertical lines are akin to the character zhong, the syllable that means both centre and China, the central kingdom of Zhongguo. Add a few small strokes at the base of the cross and it means loyal and devoted. This railroad makes peripheral outer Tibet part of the centre, brings Tibet fully into China, and manifests Tibetan loyalty and devotion to Beijing. (People’s Daily 2001)
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has exposed India, particularly the Northeast to these flows. The Golden Triangle, comprising Myanmar, Thailand and Laos, produces nearly a quarter of the heroin produced worldwide. India has thus become not only a convenient transit route but also a potential market for these drugs. Drug addiction, rising AIDS cases and increasing levels of crime and violence have already spread to several parts of the Northeast. This has been a location-specific problem peculiar to the Northeast, due to its long international borders with China, Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh. It has been virtually impossible to insulate the region and its conflicts from the neighbourhood. The challenges of securing the cooperation of neighbouring countries and the porosity of borders have meant easy access to sanctuary, training, funds as well as arms for insurgent groups to fight against the Indian state. There is thus a clear security subtext to India’s moves to strengthen ties with its immediate neighbourhood. India has begun strengthening close coordination and cooperation with respective security agencies in the neighbourhood. These are expected to yield spill over security benefits in terms of better border management to cope with common challenges posed by drug addiction, AIDS and increasing levels of crime and violence. The efforts to secure transnational cooperation on battling insurgency have, however, been far from smooth and have often called for protracted and patient diplomacy to yield results. These efforts have also yielded mixed results, with some notable successes with Bhutan and Myanmar and with Bangladesh since 2009. India has also been regularly sharing intelligence inputs on the safe havens of Indian insurgent groups inside Bangladesh. In December 2011, the BSF shared a list of 46 militant camps to the Border Guard Bangladesh, which included the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), NSCN (IM), PLA, National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), among others. Bangladesh’s efforts since 2009 have led to several crackdowns on camps and resulted in the arrest and handover of ULFA’s leaders such as Arabinda Rajkhowa, Raju Baruah, Shoshodhar Chowdhury, Chitraban Hazarika and Progoti Deka to India. There has been a steady cross-border cooperation including joint military operations to eliminate camps. Indian and Bhutanese military have also held joint military operations since the launch of the Operation ‘All Clear’ in 2003. These have targeted the nearly 30 insurgent camps said to be based in Samdrup Jongkhar District in southern Bhutan. Naypyidaw has also
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responded to India’s sensitivities on this issue by bolstering its military deployment on its border with India. Among the 12 agreements and MOUs signed by India and Myanmar during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Myanmar in 2012 was one on border area development with a focus on issues related to improving connectivity. The Indian Defence Minister A. K. Antony’s visit to Myanmar in January 2013 further stressed the need for cooperation in defence matters.
Conclusion The emerging geoeconomic narrative in India and China is clearly shot through with a long trail of geopolitical fears, tensions and anxieties. The two cannot be seen apart and it is clear that economic, military and political interests have rarely marched in lockstep. The footprint of the state has been a growing one as it has sought to project influence along its territorial borders wherein power is becoming less about control and more about access (Hanreider 1978). What is clear is that the massive developmental thrust India and China are undertaking in their borderlands is resulting in an increased and visible state presence along the borders. Routes have long shaped the Asian borderlands from being ‘isolated peripheries that evoked no more than an occasional imperial heavy handedness … into areas of consuming strategic interest’ (Ispahani 1989: 2). These tracks have also put paid to the idea of the remote frontier, replacing the erstwhile ‘tyranny of distance’ with a new ‘tyranny of proximity’ that has increasingly brought the state to the borderlands (Dzuvichu 2008: 28). A certain teleology has, however, trailed the process of ‘inscribing the state’ at the borders, one that presupposes an inexorable and linear progression towards prosperity.
4 Competing or Compatible? Interrogating India–China Subregional Visions As India and China make moves to redefine their land borders as bridges that are effective bearers of their influence across the region, the critical question that needs to be asked is whether their subregional visions are likely to coincide or not. As rising powers cohabiting a shared geopolitical space, it is natural that both countries will find that their paths will tend to frequently intersect in the future. The question that arises is whether these are likely to be characterised by competition or by cooperation. Seen through the realist interpretive lens, the future trajectory of India–China relations is likely to be marked by rising tensions and rivalry. The pessimistic scenario is offered on account of parallel moves by both countries for regional and global influence, which by its very logic is said to stoke competitive elements. This scenario while plausible is, however, not the only frame within which their relations can be contextualised. Straightline projections disregard the range of options available for the dyad to manage and negotiate their bilateral relationship. As the nature of the border undergoes wide-ranging transformation, there also needs to be a simultaneous discursive engagement with these spaces. Not doing so could result in a throwback to ‘yesterday’s new world order’ of imagining borders as barriers. This will prove to be a delusional trap at a time when political sensibilities of the day in both countries are in the process of reimagining borders less as barriers and more as bridges.
India–China Conceptions of Peace Any creative reimagining of the borderlands would at the outset call for a critical engagement with India and China’s conceptions of peace, contending value orientations and questions of inclusion and exclusion of how the subregion gets defined. An integrative narrative to reimagine the India–China
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borderlands will crucially hinge on their capacity to recast ageing agendas. This in turn will depend on their capacity to imaginatively decentre governance and diplomacy to explore issues and actors hitherto missing from the subregional governance agenda. The opportunity to co-create their shared neighbourhood could help India and China unpack the idea of cooperation in a manner that becomes a powerful metaphor for initiating a bold new conversation of change. Such a conversation of change must simultaneously move at multiple fronts, transforming as Hugh Miall says, ‘relationships, interests, discourses’ (Miall 2004). This will also call for engaging with an intriguing puzzle at the heart of the subregional discourses being promoted by India and China. For all the enthusiastic rhetoric and even as they energetically promote a variety of cross-regional initiatives, it has clearly not been a full embrace of subregionalism. This incongruity becomes sharper when contrasted to the considerable engagement that is taking place in India–China relations at the global levels as well as regional levels. A limited territorial imagination and a long history of mutual mistrust have produced much wariness. This is borne out by the consciously eastward orientation of India’s continental connections aimed at integrating its eastern region with Southeast Asia. There have been nascent steps to engage each other subregionally at the Track-II level through initiatives such as the BCIM. These could also reflect political preferences and concerns. For instance, Tibet is conspicuous by its absence from the subregional initiative despite its compelling contiguity. Competitive subregionalism could be at work and these may not altogether be devoid of strategic subtexts. Note that the Mekong Ganga Cooperation subregional forum conceived around the evocative metaphor of Asian rivers conspicuously excludes China but includes India, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. For a river that runs 2,130 km of its entire length of 4,900 km inside China, the exclusion of China sends signals for sure, but perhaps not the right ones. It also indicates a forfeited opportunity to address micro-governance challenges that inevitably would require engaging with China. While such a paradoxical posture may have a rationale—at any rate a political rationale—the question to consider is how viable is an unstated policy of disengagement at the subregional level? Deliberate or otherwise, a policy of disengagement could end up being out of step with today’s vastly transformed context at the borders with India and China projecting their borders as effective bearers of influence. This is not to deny the
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importance of a host of confidence-building measures that India and China have taken in recent decades which has produced a modest space for engagement. There have also been gradual moves towards changing the political logic and the manner in which the border region is imagined in New Delhi and Beijing. Two key bilateral agreements between India and China have nudged the political understanding to set aside the border dispute and explore functional areas of cooperation between the two countries at bilateral and international levels.1 But while these have created new avenues of engagement, the borderlands have remained in a freeze frame, awaiting a new political imagination that has been a long time coming. As India and China strike new conversations on a range of relevant issues, their collective imaginations have tended to leapfrog the border region as it were, its ‘neglect akin to never looking at the ground one is walking on’ (Ruggie 1993: 174). At the end of the day, this could well be a problem of not knowing what the problem is. This could be because, by and large, their confidencebuilding measures have largely aimed at conflict prevention. But such an approach still remains essentially a power-political view of conflict management, which while it has its benefits also has conceptual straitjackets in its design. For one, such an approach is largely geared towards a ‘constructive management of difference’ (Bloomfield and Reilly 1998). 1 For instance, under the Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control in the India–China Border Areas signed during Indian Prime minister Narasimha Rao’s visit to China in September 1993, both countries agreed to resolve the border question through peaceful and friendly consultation; to refrain from the use or the threat of use of force against each other; to strictly respect and observe the Line of Actual Control; to jointly check segments of LAC where differences exist on its alignment; to keep military forces along the border to the minimum level. This was followed by the Agreement on CBMs in the military field along the LOAC in the India– China Border Areas that was signed during the Chinese President Jiang Zemin’s visit to India in December 1996. Under this, both sides agreed to the following measures: to not use their military capability against each other; to seek a mutually acceptable settlement of the border dispute and pending a final settlement to respect the LAC; to reduce or limit their respective military forces and major categories of armaments within mutually agreed geographical zones along the LAC to mutually agreed ceilings; to avoid large-scale military exercises involving more than one division; to prohibit flights of combat aircraft within 10 km of the LAC without prior notification; to prohibit firing, blasting, hunting within 2 km of the LAC; to hold regular flag meetings between the border commanders at specified border points.
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Conflict prevention can only imitate conditions of peace but can seldom become a durable basis for one. It essentially results in a holding pattern that remains in a limbo by default as much by design. India and China could well end up solving the wrong problem.
Bringing the People (back in) If these fractured geographies are to be restored, creative ways of thinking out of the territorial trap has to be a first. It will mean appreciating that there is more to borders than lines of control or establishing hotlines and holding flag meetings. Breaking out of this warp would call for a redefinition of the problem beyond conflict prevention to conflict transformation. Such a re-conceptualisation can also help take the edge off the shrill rhetoric that passes as dialogue between the two countries. Theories of conflict transformation could offer interesting ‘conceptual building blocks’ to produce transformed understandings. What needs to be underlined is that conflict transformation cannot limit itself to being a top-down process and must as John Paul Lederach observes: actively envision, include, respect, and promote the human and cultural resources from within a given setting. This involves a new set of lenses through which we do not primarily ‘see’ the setting and the people in it as the ‘problem’. Rather, we understand the long-term goal of transformation as validating and building on people and resources within the setting. (Lederach 1995)
Subregional futures also need to be sub-national futures that bring people back into these visions.
Problematising Accountability, Autonomy and Agency Such a rethinking could also lead to a critical inquiry about how the much larger debate on accountability in India and China gets framed and its capacity to define the civic space for citizen engagement. What spaces the
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discourse could open to problematise notions of accountability, autonomy and agency in the borderlands has largely escaped critical attention. The study questions the democracy versus authoritarian binary, arguing against making too much of this distinction. While the representative safe zone of popular elections provides an all-too-easy claim to legitimacy for democratic systems, it also hides significant accountability deficits. This is a crucial domestic dimension that tends to be glossed over in mainstream accounts as the messy or inconsequential bit. This will assume greater importance, as uneven geographies of participation increasingly become an area of concern in both India and China. In India, the discourse is shifting towards the need for ‘peaceful peripheries’ as being critical to sustain growth and development. The challenge for public action in both countries is to sustain growth, make it inclusive across sectors, sections and regions of society. India and China are today riding the tiger of complex transitions in their societies as new faultlines emerge and old ones get reinforced. As their economies scale new heights, their societies are seeing a rising graph of unrest in the form of protests, riots and strikes. This constitutes a sort of ‘Glass Curtain’, the visible divide between the rural and the urban, coastal and the inland, the wealthy and the vulnerable. Clearly, there is an urgent need that the present statist narrative be read together with how India and China address questions of accountability and legitimacy in the borderlands. These are relevant concerns especially given that the problem of uneven regional development is emerging as a growing area of concern in both India and China. It could also hold the promise of inclusive local governance by opening the space for direct community participation and institutionalising mechanisms of cooperation by addressing issues of governance, livelihood and resource sharing, among others. These find no place within politico-military frames of decisionmaking, which can at best only offer sub-optimal solutions for issues that are essentially deterritorialised in nature. The ‘lens of legitimacy’ thus is a powerful tool that allows us to look beyond procedural criteria that elections represent and focus on the larger accountability struggles that raise critical questions about social change and state adaptation in India and China (Gilley and Holbig 2010: 415). Rethinking accountability beyond ex post to ex ante formulations will, thus, be critical to shift the focus to local sites and towards issues that have a direct bearing on those living on the frontiers. It can have knock-on effects on the borders by building trust
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and paving the way for issue-based linkages within the neighbourhood. These will be particularly valuable in situations marked by high levels of public alienation and resistance to linear modes of problem solving such as Northeast India and Western China. Overlooked also in the largely uncritical celebratory rhetoric about participatory democracy are the ‘pathologies of deliberation’.2 As Iris Young argues, these call for ‘self-conscious mechanisms for widening discussion and challenging consensus’ since ‘simply having members of differing groups in the room is not enough to make for inclusive deliberative processes’ (Fung 2004: 49). Peter Bachrach alerts us to the dangers of democratic elitism that expects the ordinary citizen to ‘remain relatively passive—in fact the health of the system depends upon it’ (Bachrach 1967: 8). Innate deficits such as these remind us that participation has to be directly linked to power and the fact that participation is ‘neutered when separated from power’ (Barber 1984: 236–237; Read 1996). An instance of this can be the growing conflicts in Northeast India over resource management goals that have often resulted in deep alienation, even when community engagement efforts are overtly participatory in nature. An illustrative example is the public hearing organised by the State Pollution Control Board of Meghalaya on the controversial issue of uranium mining in Mawthabah in West Khasi Hills. Despite the huge public outcry against the project, the state government chose to override these and decided to lease 422 hectares of land in 2009 for uranium extraction activities. It bears recalling that provinces of Yunnan and Guangxi Autonomous Region bordering Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam are today direct participants in subregional economic cooperation arrangements such as the GMS.3 There are interesting examples from India and China of accountability from below that allow for a richer and more nuanced understanding of accountability mechanisms at work. The absence of formal institutionalised entry points to articulate demands open the space instead for what Richard Rose refers to as ‘informal coping systems’ that step in to On the types of exclusions that democratic practices taking place under conditions of structural inequality, see Iris Marion Young. Inclusion and Democracy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002). 3 Each province, autonomous region and municipality of China has a foreign affairs office that is directly under the central government. These offices serve as coordination channels between the provincial and central levels on issues relating to foreign affairs. 2
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fill accountability deficits (Tsai 2007). The performance-oriented basis of accountability in non-democratic systems compels a certain degree of responsiveness and transparency that cannot be overlooked. For instance, innovative examples from rural China show how state behaviour has, in the absence of strong formal institutions, responded positively to the moral authority commanded by social groups. Lily Tsai’s work shows how informal institutions such as lineages and village temples have played a critical role in ensuring better implementation of rural development programmes. Social linkages between the community and government officials have often proved to be the decisive driver for better performance indicators. The visibility and interactive nature of this interface has also led to appreciably lower incidence of official corruption and misappropriation of funds. This also explains the irony why prosperous villages with weak social ties have had a poor public goods provision record, despite their better economic performance and regular village elections. Importantly, informal social institutions do not necessarily replace formal institutions; rather they play a supplementary role to bolster service provision. They perform a critical buffering function of oversight and supervision ceded by the state. They also hold the potential to reduce information asymmetries and the scope for bureaucratic corruption. For Beijing, these informal coping systems have performed a valuable function of compensating for its weak administrative control over subordinate levels. Reframing the accountability question holds the potential to broaden the agenda to include issues that typically go missing in technocratic and legalistic notions of governance. Multilevel governance frameworks can also prove helpful in problematising the notion of the state as a unitary actor. A multi-actor framework recognises the state as cohabiting and sharing policy space with actors in the private and voluntary sectors. Such a conception of governance is inherently interactive and provides for inbuilt feedback loops and information sharing among policy nodes. It is such horizontal links among actors that can create an enabling policy space for institutional learning and change to take place (Dowsley 2008). These multi-scalar interactions among actors can also create opportunity structures for adaptive governance by compressing decision-making response time to meet local requirements. Recognising reciprocity in actor interactions can go a long way in building trust and strengthening overall system legitimacy and success. Multilevel governance could help unpack the emancipatory potential that sub-national futures promise by framing
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a subregional governance agenda (Kurian 2011a). The capacity to sustain robust iterative interactions among actors and the nature of their power relationships will decide the quality of the evolving spaces for citizen engagement and empowerment. These could also have knock-on effects on the state–community interface by building trust and paving the way for issue-based linkages. In this regard, rethinking the binary of a perpetual state–society opposition can be a useful start. Interesting recent experiments in co-governance in India’s Northeast are helping to rework some of these assumptions in a modest but potentially dramatic ways. For instance, the Communitisation Initiative in Nagaland is an ongoing experiment in co-governance wherein the government and the community work as partners to share development activities and responsibilities (Kurian 2012). The programme emerged as an innovative response to a serious crisis in public administration in the state, plagued by poor service delivery across key sectors such as elementary education, primary health care, rural drinking water supply and biodiversity conservation. The state’s capacity for institutional learning and adaptation is evident in its innovative use of social capital, by choosing to build on existing traditional civic institutions, rather than design parallel institutional frameworks. In recognition of its success, the Nagaland government was conferred the United Nations Public Service Award for innovative use of social capital in 2008 for ‘empowering local communities to manage essential public social services’ (United Nations 2011).
Beyond the Three Ts A largely uncritical framing of the subregional initiative as an economic project has also meant that there is a whole set of issues and actors currently invisible to the policy and research gaze. A critical reading of the working of subregional arrangements from across Asia reveals that the process of ‘landscape transformations’ brings a set of contestations in its wake, particularly the growing reality of differential mobilities. The transformative potential of transborder linkages in trade, tourism and transport that both India and China have been underscoring is important in this regard. The ecological sustainability of the initiative, a growing concern in the borderlands, remains both under-theorised as well as under-studied.
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Resource degradation is becoming a common feature afflicting the region and interventions that do not respect the supply potential of mountain ecologies are creating and reinforcing interlocking webs of environmental and socio-economic vulnerabilities. For instance, the developmental experiences of Mongolia and inner Tibet offer sobering lessons for the future course of the WDS. While successful integration came to these outlying areas, it has brought with it its own class of beneficiaries. With rail and road corridors, came new stakeholders who brought in capital, technology as well as settlers to service and tap newfound opportunities. The lessons of exclusion in inner Tibet in fact repeated an older story of marginalisation in Inner Mongolia. The building of the railroad and the new opportunities that sprang up along extractive industries had little to offer to the Mongolian nomads who have remained peripheral till date to the growth experience that is visible yet out of reach. It will also be instructive similarly to recall the Qinghai experiment of the massive migration-led development, which far from alleviating the situation severely compounded it. As a result of the campaign launched in 1956, the province saw the migration of 700,000 people over the course of four years (Goodman 2004: 386). The resentment among the local populace due to this massive ingress was exacerbated by the determined pursuit of collectivisation of pastoral lands. This experiment reduced pastoral areas to wastelands and threw the area into turmoil, triggering widespread resistance, famine and mass exodus. Such lessons of sequestered growth hold equally true for Northeast India also and these growth disparities would make the task of stabilitybuilding a challenging one. Without redressing the polarised nature of the growth, recourse to force to settle legitimacy challenges would only further stoke alienation and distrust. For growth to be sustainable, investments and growth opportunities would need to create opportunities for marginalised groups based on local resource endowments. Such an exercise has to but begin with capacity building by identifying commodities and products that will bring it income opportunities. Many centrally sponsored schemes are illustrative of decontextualised policymaking. A case in point is the jhum control programmes that sought to replace the practice of shifting cultivation with permanent agriculture. This has had far-reaching implications for predominantly agrarian economies where jhum constitutes the dominant land use system, particularly in the upland
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areas of Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland. The programme has had disappointing results, not least due to the fact that it has shown little understanding of how culturally embedded the practice has been in mountain ecosystems. It also overlooked the larger socio-economic factors that have compressed jhum cycles significantly, such as increased population pressure. Further, commercial tree plantation drives have edged out traditional jhum cultivation. The move away from jhum has also been a move away from multi-cropping towards monoculture. Many of these centrally sponsored projects failed to produce the expected results since the technologies employed were not ‘culture-specific’. For instance, the programme of terrace cultivation introduced in the Garo hills in Meghalaya preferred to rely exclusively on excellent field trials but proved to be disastrous when applied to farmers’ fields (Das 2006: 4915). The introduction of terracing without any provision for irrigation led to dramatically reduced yields and the experience of repeated crop failures explains why families have preferred to rely on jhum for food crops. Institutional innovations can also end up betraying many biases of decontextualised policymaking as illustrated by forest-related jurisprudence. A case in point is the Supreme Court decision of 1996 to ban timber logging, which sought to arrest rampant deforestation, but created a grave livelihood crisis for local populations dependent on forest produce. The Court decreed that statutory recognition ‘must apply to all forests, irrespective of the nature of ownership or classification thereof’. By introducing an element of uncertainty where none existed previously, the Court’s interpretation set the stage for conflicts between statutory safeguards for community rights and national conservation goals. The judgement paved the way for a further centralisation of resource management by directing that all Working Plans of forest divisions should henceforth be prepared by state governments and approved by the central government (Dutta and Kohli 2005). The Supreme Court’s decision also chose to treat different categories of forest users differently. While the order exempted contractors and companies supplying timber or wood to government departments and industries, the ban led to a drastic dispossession of entire families in the rural economy, which were heavily dependent on forests. There are also gender-specific ways in which the legal ban on logging has made its impact felt in the region. Besides increasing their economic burden in different ways, the Court’s insistence that Working Plans be
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centrally approved, threatens in fundamental ways, women’s traditional rights to land and forests and takes away a whole range of decision-making vested with the family (Nongbri 2001). As Tiplut Nongbri argues, the Working Plan concept deepened the ‘bureaucratisation of forest management and centralisation of control’ and placed women at a severe disadvantage, given their low levels of education and lack of familiarity with rules and procedures (ibid.). This is further exacerbated by the fact that even among tribes such as Khasis and the Garos, in which women retain inheritance rights over property, they have traditionally been excluded from the system of administration, seen as it was as a male domain.
One-way Vectors? The working of subregional arrangements also alerts us to the contestations that the process of ‘landscape transformations’ brings in its wake. These have seen pitched albeit unequal struggles over land acquisitions, mining and other resource-development projects. Modern political geographical knowledge tends to delegitimise, trivialise and downgrade indigenous and tribal conceptions of space as being inconsequential or backward (Sparke et al. 2004: 237). The porosity of borders allows the national economy to benefit from continual infusions of cheap labour without permitting claims to state protection or basic rights. Having no moral claims to citizenship, the social existence of such ‘nowhere people’ becomes most vulnerable to criminal networks, traffickers and corrupt state agents. This has also led to their widespread exploitation, a reality that remains largely ignored in the discourse on borders and transnational crime (Wonders 2006: 41). The physical enforcement of the border goes on to make governments and businesses direct beneficiaries in the form of a steady flow of cheap labour without having to ensure basic labour rights. Conventional understandings and definitions of transnational crime remain fixated on the crimes of the marginalised but remain largely silent on the role border constructions play by framing these as ‘illegal’. There are also uncomfortable silences on the issue of internally displaced persons (IDPs) as a result of repeated bouts of ethnic violence. For instance, Assam is estimated to have 150,000 IDPs living in dehumanised conditions in various camps. The Bodo–Santhal
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clashes in 2004 left 37,000 displaced, the Karbi–Dimasa conflict in 2005 saw 49,000 rendered homeless, the Karbi–Kuki clashes displaced 11,000 people while the Bodo–Muslim clash of 2008 claimed 14,279 and that between the Zeme Nagas and Dimasas in the North Cachar Hills in 2009 claimed several lives and displaced 44,000 people (Mukhim 2009). Such a framing has the scope to raise larger questions of social exclusion with questions of accountability placed at the intersection between rights and resources and how it impacts the ability of communities to realise their rights to resources. Both in India’s Northeast as well as in China’s western region, each of these potential or extant sustainability conflicts involves a range of choices: be it over choices of mode of production, of technology or value orientations. The nature of these challenges is evident in the shortcomings that both top-down and bottom-up approaches to common pool resource management reflect. For instance, linear models of natural resource management fail to recognise the organic linkages between sustainable conservation and sustainable livelihoods of local people and, thereby, induce a social exclusion challenge. The community-based approach, on the other hand, while it prioritises the community as an innovation actor is confronted with the sobering reality that the community is almost never the only stakeholder in natural resource governance. It is these understudied dimensions that have remained invisible to the policy and research gaze so far. It is also critical to look at bordering practices that happen within states rather than focus solely on movement across borders. The gated tourist enclave of Lagoi in Riau, Indonesia represents an illustrative example of multiple layers of exclusion at work (Ford and Lyons 2006: 266). This is seen in how the remaking of Lagoi was ostensibly designed as a different cultural experience with little resonance with the locals. Such practices entail new realities of boundary making that mark off areas that are out of bounds for communities. This is reinforced by the exclusion of the local community from employment opportunities within the island, which are instead taken up by Indonesian migrant labour from Sumatra, Sulawesi, Java and Bali. Without access to organised job-recruiting agencies and hospitality training facility, the locals remain non-participants in the growth experience. Rising protests against ‘the so-called development’ stand for a loss of public trust and constitute the biggest legitimacy challenge that confronts the state today in India and China. The ‘planner-centric’ pipeline model
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of policy cycle analysis offers ‘limited collective learning’ opportunities among actors, making the task of building trust among stakeholders increasingly difficult (Lundy et al. 2005: 1). This leads to considerable scepticism among communities about conservation initiatives that reduce them to being passive recipients and have no place for their skills, where decisions affecting their life chances are taken without seeking their consent. Conflicts over resource management goals have often meant a deep alienation and active non-participation from local populations. For instance, the state’s power to frame the environmental problem essentially as an ‘administrative problem’ results in whole traditions and ways of life being labelled as ‘irrational’. Reduced to an administrative problem, the environment is thus ‘cut down to size’, its composite unity hived into stand-alone parts that seldom speak to each other. Such a framing can be traced to the ‘limits of the administrative mind’ and as Douglas Torgerson argues, ‘although the problems could be regarded as somehow commonly “environmental”, they had to defined, in operational terms, as primarily separate, capable of being solved in a manner that matched the functional differentiation of the administrative apparatus’ (Torgerson 1998: 115). The high coping capacities that communities develop to withstand risk and vagaries makes for immense cultural diversity and a multiplicity of knowledge systems steeped in a distinctly mountain way of life. Such specificities tend to get overlooked in top-down approaches to sustainability and conservation. Research and knowledge production has also often presupposed the inferiority of place-centric technological choices of traditional communities. A case in point would be the biases reflected in the research conducted by agricultural universities such as the Agricultural Engineering Research Centre at Jorhat, Assam or government organisations such as the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) which use quantitative techniques such as modelling and laboratory tests to ‘disprove the efficacy of jhum’ which is dismissed as being ‘a non-scientific practice’. These can also be directly traced to a colonial legacy of prejudices against the subsistence practice.4 The lack of interface between the researcher and the researched A British colonial administrator had this to say about jhum, ‘the fact is that this cultivation is so wasteful that somehow or the other it must be put to a stop, just like any “settee” or any great evil’. 4
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comes out most starkly in the linear storytelling narrative employed by professionals and in the incapacity of disadvantaged social groups even to deny access or information about themselves as research subjects. The marginalised often are powerless to ‘hide from the research gaze’ and end up losing ownership of their own stories of marginalisation, which now belong to the experts for recounting.
Governing Regional Public Goods The taken-for-grantedness of the norm of territoriality often overlooks the fact that ‘breaches of the Westphalian model have been an enduring characteristic of the international environment’, with subversions resulting from ‘conventions, contracts or coercion’ (Krasner 1995/96). Far from being powerless or even reluctant participants, states often engage in conscious subversions of the norm of sovereignty through trade-offs that do not necessarily diminish it. It is also useful to recall Karen Litfin’s arguments for disaggregating the concept of sovereignty to its constitutive elements of autonomy, control and legitimacy. This will mean understanding that far from subscribing to a monolithic conceptualisation of sovereignty, states frequently engage in ‘sovereignty bargains’ to maximise their benefits by choosing to cede an aspect for increased national benefit (Litfin 1997: 169; Mattli 2000; Mehta 2005). A borderlands perspective can help redraw the conceptual toolkit to look at transborder resource governance challenges that a shared neighbourhood brings. This will depend on India and China’s willingness to begin a subregional conversation on regional public goods such as water management issues, cultural and natural resources, ecosystem and biodiversity conservation. What will be the nature of the sovereignty bargains that India and China may be willing to enter into in the subregional domain? How will the dyad structure their choices about benefit sharing, negotiate trade-offs, allocate risks and burdens on a range of regional public goods? (Kurian 2010). Interventions in the region being made on the problematic assumption of resources being ‘just an economic matter’ place an enormous strain on the carrying capacity of what are essentially young mountain systems that continue to be geologically active.
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An illustrative example of this is India’s massive road building programme in the mountain regions. While these have ushered in benefits in terms of much-needed connectivity, increased income, employment opportunities, health and education access, it has also brought serious concerns in its wake. Studies have shown a clear correlation between road construction and slope instability, with each linear kilometre of mountain road reported to result in 10 small to medium landslides. This has led to an enormous annual production of debris, estimated to be 40,000 to 80,000 m for an average kilometre of road (Ives and Messerli 1989). How changes in ecosystem and biodiversity loss affect the life chances of communities finds no mention in the discourse. There is also regrettably little scholarly interest in nomadic communities and the literature tends to be replete with what Aparna Rao terms as ‘an urbanised and sedentist bias’ evident from the references to the ‘problems’ these ‘backward’ communities pose to statist developmental targets (Rao 2002). What is called for is a radical transition from seeing communities including migratory herders as ‘exploiters’ to acknowledging them as partners in conservation efforts. Both India and China have followed similar forced sedentarisation policies towards migratory herders. Such policies and mindsets are beginning to be questioned and contested as these are inducing a social exclusion crisis. These point the way for decentring governance towards ‘multiple systems of rule making, interpretation and enforcement’ (Andersson and Ostrom 2008). A multilevel governance framework offers an alternative analytic framework to include multiple scales, levels and actors and their iterative interactions. Multilayered governance brings an increasing focus on power-sharing between levels of government and a blurring of traditional jurisdictional boundaries. The nature of the power relationships between these levels will decide the nature of multilevel governance achieved (Smith 2003: 1). If actor preferences and strategies remain vaguely defined, the anticipated adaptive governance capacities will be limited in its potential. If handled imaginatively, it could potentially result in the rescaling of authority at multiple levels—the national, sub-national and transnational. For instance, as those who are likely to suffer displacement and loss of livelihood, local communities can become natural partners in development. Such a conception of governance is also at once dynamic and interactive with inbuilt feedback loops and information sharing among
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nodes. A ‘decentred’ approach to sustainability offers, as John Dryzek points out, valuable lessons in social learning ‘for it does not rule out a variety of experiments in what sustainability can mean in different contexts, including the global context’ (Dryzek 1997: 199). Such a system is more attuned to fostering democratic legitimacy on account of creating multiple layers and arrangement for information, debate and deliberation. The credibility, legitimacy and utility of ecosystem management need to be seen, above all, not only from the eyes of the government but also from the points of view of multiple stakeholders. An ecosystem assessment, for instance, has to radically rethink what type of knowledge should ‘count’. Walter Reid reiterates the critical relevance of non-published/chronicled information ‘if a local assessment is to have any credibility’ (Reid 2006). If handled well, these hold the potential to rethink the region as an ecological space, and not merely as an economic space. The manner in which these choices are made will decide the capacity to look beyond the ‘territorial trap’ and see the other side of the mountain (Kurian 2011b).
Conservation Conversations Cross-border dialogues on conservation become the natural and critical corollary to the governance of regional public goods in a border region. As fugitive resources that refuse to stay put within territorial containers, interlinkages between environmental goods and services create ripple effects that affect all in the region. Conservation of the ecological balance presents common challenges and opportunities that the entire region needs to collectively address (Kurian 2002). The region is richly endowed with an immense wealth of biodiversity, which emanates from and thrives upon traditional ecological knowledge and has economic, social, cultural and ethical dimensions. Conservation strategies will need to address the problem of biodiversity depletion. As trends towards homogenisation of agricultural practices and culture gain ground, traditional systems that nurture crop biodiversity get edged out, reducing the ‘buffering capacity’ of the ecosystem. Water management issues, ecological imbalances in the form of rising temperatures, retreating glaciers and droughts caused by indifferent
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rainfall are also increasingly finding their way to parts of the extended region. The Himalayan river basins in India, China, Nepal and Bangladesh are home to almost 20 per cent of the world’s population and account for almost half the population of these countries. As a result of its crosscutting nature, water needs to be seen as a microcosm of the more generic concerns about poverty alleviation, resource security and sustainability. An estimated 700 million people in 43 countries currently live below the water-stress threshold of 1,700 cubic metres per person. This is expected to swell to 3 billion by 2025, and include large swathes in India and China as well. Climate change is also exacerbating the spatial and temporal variations in water availability. The annual runoff in mega deltas, such as the Brahmaputra and Indus, is projected to decline by 14 per cent and 27 per cent, respectively, by 2050 (IPCC 2001). This will have significant implications for food security and social stability given the impact on climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture.
Subregional Water Governance Water management issues affecting the extended neighbourhood as well as those relating to management of the ecosystem and biodiversity are concerns that need to be urgently placed on the subregional agenda. The Tibetan ‘water bank’ is in every sense Asia’s water bank and the environmental sustainability of Tibet means the environmental sustainability of much of Asia. It constitutes the headwaters of many of Asia’s mighty rivers including the Brahmaputra, Mekong and the Yangtze that flow into some of the most populous regions of South and Southeast Asia (Kurian 2004). The manner in which these waters are used upstream will thus decide both the quality and quantity of the flows received below. As past crises have shown, accurate and timely information is vital for successful disaster management. It calls for evolving a system of regular exchange of data and coordination between respective national agencies in India and China as well as within the region. This fact was brought home in a tragic manner during the flash floods caused from a landslide in Tibet in 2000 that ravaged the Northeast and Himachal Pradesh. Such crises underscore the need for early warning systems and
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to perfect coordination mechanisms including visits to sites as well as putting up permanent monitoring stations to enable quick transmission of information. It is important that these mechanisms are institutionalised so that such crises are not treated in an episodic manner. The lack of an information-sharing agreement between the two countries in 2000 resulted in loss of life, dislocation and extensive damage to property. Both countries have since signed an MOU on the sharing of hydrological data on the Brahmaputra’s flows, which will be vital for timely forecasting and management of floods in the Northeast. An MOU on sharing hydrological data on the Sutlej has also been signed between India and China in March 2005 prompted by the crisis posed by the formation of the artificial lake. Transboundary water governance forms the natural corollary to national efforts and access to adequate water resources directly affect the prospects for achieving the eight Millennium Development Goals. In a transnational neighbourhood, upstream management of river water has serious implications on the quantity and quality available for use to downstream countries and communities. Given these multiple ripple effects, water management issues rightly need to be conceived as a regional public good that requires transnational frames as against bilateral ones. But are we making this causal link yet? And if so, how are we framing it? The increased pressure on resources, erosion concerns and water diversion plans raise livelihood questions for river-dependent communities both within and beyond borders. The livelihood chances and well-being of millions of largely rural riparian communities also need to be read together in the same frame as questions of accountability and representation. Functional, issue-based linkages on transboundary water resources could also have positive knockon effects on regional peace and stability. Transboundary water management needs to be acknowledged as a critical means to the securing of other critical public goods. For this reason, it can be characterised as a ‘means type public good’ in that effective management can be both a means for creating and safeguarding other public goods such as peace, stability and biodiversity conservation (Erik 2007: 402). As a regional public good its benefits accrue to all countries sharing the river basin. These can go on to create greater stakes among a diverse set of stakeholders besides the state to see their interests aligned to the preservation of the public good. At the very least, it can provide enough incentives among key actors to
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avoid the production of regional public bads (Jägerskog et al. 2007). Can we frame some of these questions in ways that can create institutional entry points for a whole set of missing issues that currently are invisible to the policy and research gaze? (Kurian 2013a). The externalities that get generated through the use of natural resources in a shared basin between riparian nations clearly raise the potential for conflict since costs and benefits tend to flow unevenly downstream. The core issue in a shared basin becomes the criticality of perception, right or wrong. These become the vectors through which the actions of the upper riparian tend to get refracted and processed. While technical issues of measurements, flow patterns and runoffs have their importance, it is more often the more intangible perceptual aspects that create and entrench positions that can produce or retard cooperation at the transboundary level. For instance, when runoff levels fall substantially during the lean season, levels of vulnerability among downstream communities are likely to be heightened significantly. Changes in the hydrology of the glacier-fed river also raise fears of flash floods and dam safety. Rapid economic growth and the concomitant surge in per capita water consumption also give rise to fears over unequal access to water and the language of water crisis and water wars. The realisation of the finite nature of water has been a particularly painful one and high consumptive life styles have more often than not fed this. While over-interpretation and hysteria have tended to take the place of informed scholarship compounded by a hyperventilating media, India’s official narrative has largely tended to downplay many of these concerns. Allaying concerns in the Rajya Sabha, India’s Minister of State for External Affairs E. Ahamed noted that the Government was aware of the construction activity at Zangmu in TAR and has ‘ascertained that this is a run-of-the river hydroelectric project, which does not store water and will not adversely impact the downstream areas in India’ (http://meaindia.nic.in/mystart.php?id=100518234). Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also sought to dispel concerns by conveying to Rajya Sabha China’s assurance that ‘nothing will be done that will affect India’s interest’ (Times of India 2011). China’s dam-building plans are also serving as the ‘strategic reason’ for India to not only justify building mega dams on its side, but also to establish its first-user rights over the waters. The moves to expedite plans to develop mega storage hydroelectric projects on the sub-basins of the
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Siang, Lohit and Subansiri rivers can be read as India’s moves to institutionalise such a norm. But this raises a more critical question: what is the likelihood of India and China subscribing to the norm of prior use as a possible basis for equitable water sharing, given that both have chosen not to ratify the only existing international treaty governing shared freshwater resources?5 Since formal international law provides a feeble regulatory framework for mediating contested claims among riparian states, one needs to look beyond formal and legal instruments to ‘soft law’ and an entire range of innovative, informal processes that allow for flexibility and consequently greater measure of success. While successful cross-border resource governance arrangements in other border regions underline this, their prospects for the Asian region remain largely under-theorised and understudied. If downstream communities hold the upper riparian responsible for many of their livelihood setbacks, this is bound to be a sentiment that China’s public diplomacy will need to engage with seriously. This will by no means be an easy challenge for China since regional public goods cannot be expected to flow downstream in a single axis of progression from conflict to cooperation. Absent robust institutional backing by countries within the region for the norm of sustainable management of transboundary water resources, perceptions will tend to have a greater potential for generating conflict and mistrust. Growing lower riparian concern over the cascade of eight dams China is constructing on the Lancang Jiang river in Yunnan province is an illustrative example of this. There has been widespread perception that China’s actions were chiefly responsible for the 2008 floods and the 2010 drought in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam (Hirsch 2011).8 The criticality of dry season flows of the Mekong may be as high as 70 per cent (Liebman 2004). There could be interesting shifts in China’s public diplomacy on transboundary waters that bear closer attention. For instance, while China has chosen to formally stay out of the Mekong River Commission, the inter-governmental body set up in 1995 with a mandate to work in a coordinated manner towards sustainable development of water and related resources, Beijing has been increasingly engaging the forum 5 The 1997 UN Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses.
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informally as a dialogue partner. In what could be seen as a willingness to engage stakeholder concerns, China agreed to provide dry-season flow data on the Mekong, take downstream officials on visits to dam sites and to sacrifice the Mengsong dam to allay regional apprehensions. But any such shifts in China’s public diplomacy need to be qualified by the reality of asymmetry that weighs hugely in China’s favour vis-à-vis its smaller neighbours and provides it with a greater range of choice and flexibility. The incentives for China to take on the burdens of cooperation are thus relativised significantly. It is often argued that what China does with its rivers is an internal matter of China alone and that it is not answerable for its actions to downstream countries in the absence of a legal treaty on water sharing. But environmental risks of dam building on international rivers by China as well as by India and the effects of climate change and sustainability have to be treated as regional public goods that require transnational frames as against bilateral ones—from identifying problems to finding solutions to them. What kind of principles can a model of balanced subregional water management be based on? How different regional actors shape their choices about benefit sharing, negotiate trade-offs, allocate risks and burdens will need to be placed on the subregional agenda. The water issue was also raised at the India–China Strategic Dialogue in November 2012 between the Indian Foreign Secretary and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh conveyed assurances to the Indian public from the President and Prime Minister of China that ‘they are not doing anything, which will be detrimental to the interests of India’ (Times of India 2011). China has sought to allay India’s concerns by ruling out any plans to divert the waters of the Brahmaputra. China’s Vice Minister of Water Resources Jiao Yong cited technical difficulties, impact on environment and adverse impact on state-to-state relations for not pursuing the diversion of the Brahmaputra (Krishnan 2011). What is often overlooked in the almost complete fixation with water quantity are other equally grave causes of concern, such as water quality. Even within China, this is becoming a major concern with northern areas anxious about the quality of southern waters that will arrive in the north as part of China’s South to North Water Diversion project. A further cause of worry is that freshwater reserves in the Yangtze river basin are showing a steady declining trend, dropping 17 per cent from
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2005 levels to 172 billion cubic metres by 2009 (Jaffe and Schneider 2012). It is feared that diversion of water from the Yangtze will mean reduced waters will be available to dilute pollution. Nearly 40 per cent of China’s wastewater is reportedly emptied into the Yangtze, making the severity of the pollution menace confronting the south stark. These also raise the larger question about the cumulative impact of massive dambuilding projects across the entire Himalayan region (Dharmadhikary 2008). The consequences of such intensive interventions in an ecologically fragile and densely populated region call into question the feasibility of such mega projects (Kurian 2013a). There are growing concerns over dam safety amidst emerging evidence that the dams could induce earthquakes. Recent research by Chinese scientists has revealed that the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 that resulted in 80,000 casualties could have been triggered by the Zipingpu Dam on the Min River in Sichuan province. These findings were brought out in a study by Fan Xiao, a Chinese geologist and chief engineer of the Regional Geological Survey Team of the Sichuan Geology and Mineral Bureau, conducted between 2008 and 2012 (Bosshard 2009; Fan 2012).
Reimagining Tibet These concerns will also call for a political reimagination of Tibet and rescuing it from its time warp. If creatively reimagined, Tibet can be at the centre of a promising regional conversation of change that India and China can now initiate on some of these issues. This becomes increasingly salient since the fragile ecosystem of the Tibet–Qinghai plateau is showing signs of stress as it struggles to cope with the furious pace of economic activity that forms part of China’s Western Development Strategy. Many mega projects are transforming the face of Tibet. The ‘pillar’ industries of mining and timber processing have fed the rapid industrialisation of Tibet, bringing in its wake the assorted problems of deforestation, soil erosion, landslides, floods, acid rain and pollution especially of the water systems. While scientific studies are beginning to establish the extent of damage to the biodiversity in the Tibetan region, the social impact assessments are largely absent. It is only when detailed studies are done to map the
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extent of dislocation being suffered by communities that climate change can also be conceived as a human rights issue (Klein 2005). Similarly, the environmental and social impacts on downstream communities also need to be rigorously documented. There are also important definitional issues that need to be addressed. For any meaningful subregional cooperation to materialise, there has to be a shared conception of what constitutes the subregion, and arriving at one would also be critical for India and China. Physical geography of course provides the least common denominator for deciding questions of inclusion and exclusion of members. It is intriguing in this regard to note the exclusion of Tibet, despite contiguity, from the membership of the BCIM Forum and the inclusion of Yunnan. In fact it is Tibet, with the far-reaching transformations that it is undergoing currently, that has a direct bearing on the countries of South Asia and the wider Asian region. China’s Observer status in the SAARC only serves to underline the connectedness of Tibet with its southern neighbourhood. Forced sedentarisation policies followed by the Chinese state are also changing modes of ecological exchange, almost beyond recognition. For instance, forgotten in the fixation with the geopolitical has been the terrain that sustains Tibet’s water resources itself, that is, the grasslands that constitute the Tibetan plateau through which the mighty rivers of Asia flow for long stretches. It is this ‘intervening terrain’ that is largely forgotten, and forgotten too is the role of pastoral nomads in safeguarding this rich resource base (Lafitte 2011: 3). The construction of Tibet as the water tower of Asia tends to leapfrog the critical watershed that the Tibetan Plateau constitutes and the changes coursing through this landscape. The rapid degradation of the Tibetan rangelands holds implications far more sweeping and widespread than understood. Nomadic communities have had a long and organic relationship with their ecosystem, providing ecological services, whose beneficiaries have been not just they themselves but communities living far from these landscapes. The nomad and the landscape have shared an intimate relationship stretching back to over millennia ‘curating the land, extending the grassed slopes, controlling the extent of forest, managing the herds’ and in keeping ‘the grasses growing, the herds moving, the waters clear and unimpeded’, producing in the process sustainable and interdependent ecologies (Lafitte 2011: 3). Pastoralism has neither received attention as a livelihood strategy nor as a
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form of land-use, their livelihood setbacks often remaining invisible to the policy gaze.6 Research and policy orientations need to focus on restoring the nomad-watershed relationship and recognise the inherent synergies between natural and cultural resources that form its very bedrock. It is this intangible but crucial relationship that needs to be rescued from the framing of resources as primarily as economic assets and from the language of efficiency gains and cost-benefit analysis. Collective management and mobility have no legal safeguards and without effective policy support for land tenure, pastoral rangelands continue to be encroached upon. Instead of being dismissed as backward and seen as exploiters, pastoralism needs to be given due recognition as a livelihood strategy, acknowledged as a rational response to arid landscapes and their extreme variability. Due credit also needs to be given to their innovative coping mechanisms that thrive on and are dependent on social capital to adapt to high-risk environments. The domain knowledge they acquire in the process and the ecosystem services provided by them, however, find no place in national registers. The relationship of the nomads with their herds ‘walking, grazing, caring’ is rarely acknowledged as a crucial ‘form of insurance, savings and risk management’ and consequently the contribution they make to national and regional economies and the economic value of pastoral goods such as milk, livestock and leather remains undervalued. The standard solution to the degrading grasslands has been to vacate the grasslands of nomads and their animals and to hope for a restoration on its own. This rests on the official logic that nomads can be encouraged to migrate to cities or be settled on small plots as peasant farmers (Lafitte 2011). But the key challenge facing China’s policy of tuimu huancao (closing pastures and removing animals to grow more grass) is that the emptying pastures are refusing to stay empty. The vacated pastures are drawing large numbers of poor immigrant gold miners who are illegally mining the streams with cyanide and mercury. The resulting environmental degradation is presenting more complex challenges to existing ones. For instance, despite being vulnerable to drought, government policies supply dry fodder for cows but does not have a similar provision for camels, sheep and goats of the pastoralists. ‘Pastoralism Progressing Policies That Favour Pastoralists’, available at www. dfid.gov.uk/.../MediaBroad/PastoralismInformationNote2.pdf/ 6
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Transnational Institution Building This leads us to a larger and more fundamental question. How effective will our institutional architecture be to respond to some of these changing complexities and challenges? To what extent are institutional issues likely to emerge as a set of systemic constraints that hinder the capacity of the system to negotiate multiple scales, levels and actors? There is, for instance, a domestic as well as an external dimension that India and China need to negotiate in this regard. Bringing an increasing focus on power sharing between levels of government and between the national and sub-national levels will help to problematise the notion of the state as a unitary actor. There are successful instances of functional, issue-based linkages from other border regions with long traditions of institutionalised cross-border multi-actor interactions. European border areas have had some of the densest networks dating back to the 1950s with the Upper Rhine area establishing a pattern of regular cross-border exchanges between central and local government officials, municipalities, universities and members of the private sector. These issue-based linkages have ranged from issues such as land-use planning, transborder labour movement and pollution, among others. This border region has also established a cross-border warning system on communicable diseases with local and regional public health agencies and physicians coordinating information exchange in the Rhine area. A transborder reporting scheme for communicable diseases called the EPI-RHIN established in 2001 builds on trilateral agreements among France, Germany and Switzerland dating back to 1975. The programme establishes direct local contacts between the French, German and Swiss local public health service physicians and staff (Epi-Rhin 2001). Another example of institutionalised multi-actor interactions is the norm of prior consultation and agreement between federal and provincial authorities that the Canadian government has to mandatorily fulfil before it can undertake bilateral and international agreements. Thus, the US–Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement of 1972 required a prior Canada– Ontario Agreement that was concluded the previous year (Manno 1993). More recently, arrangements such as the Western Climate Initiative initiated in 2007 and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative of 2003 in the
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US–Canada border show how the sub-national level has led when federal policy has lagged. There are nascent efforts at transnational institution building in the India–China subregion that are beginning to plug gaps in knowledge base and bringing together local, national and regional stakeholders. For instance, the Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation Initiative set up in 2009 brings together India, China and Nepal to develop a framework for improved management of shared bio-cultural landscape issues.7 The area covered includes the southwestern part of Tibet and parts of northern India and northwestern Nepal. Its members include ministries from the respective countries, scientific research institutions as well as communitybased organisations in the member countries. The Brahmaputra–Salween Conservation Landscape is another recent initiative by India, China and Myanmar to share experiences on landscape approaches towards biodiversity conservation issues. Three protected areas to be the focus are the Gaoligongshan National Nature Reserve in China, Namdapha National Park in India and the Hkakaborazi National Park in Myanmar.8 Similarly, the Sunderbans Ecosystem Forum was launched by India and Bangladesh in September 2011 to undertake and share working plans on conservation of the world’s largest mangrove forests, spread over 10,000 km in the two countries, 60 per cent of which lies in Bangladesh. The fragile ecosystem has been increasingly vulnerable to sea-level rise caused by climate change that threatens to alter the salinity distribution and inundate mangroves. Some low-lying islands are already partially submerged and resulting in displacement and livelihood setbacks for the local community (Chaturvedi 2008). Studies estimate that several of the islands identified as the most vulnerable will disappear by 2020 with the prospect of more than a million The KSL members include the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Ministry of Environment and Forests, People’s Republic of China, Government of India and Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation, Government of Nepal. The lead participating research institutions include the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, G B Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development and the Central Department of Botany, Tribhuvan University. 8 See Consultation Workshop Report. 2009. Regional Experience Sharing Consultation on the Landscape Approach to Biodiversity Conservation and Management in the Eastern Himalayas: Towards Developing the Brahmaputra–Salween Landscape, 24–28 May, Kathmandu. International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences. 7
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people being directly affected in both countries by 2050 (World Wide Fund for Nature 2011). This is a significant initiative since it for the first time formally recognises the Sunderbans as a single ecosystem. The MOU signed by the two countries recognised the key role that the ecosystem performs ‘as a vital protective barrier protecting the mainland from flooding, tidal waves and cyclones’ (Prime Minister’s Office 2011). There are other nascent moves to concede some space to sustainability concerns as evidenced by the announcement of the Biodiversity Conservation Corridors Initiative (BCCI). The initiative commits the Mekong countries to assign nine areas in the region as conservation corridors and work towards greater coordination among various national parks and sanctuaries. China’s proactive role in the initiative has been hailed as ‘a sign that China is taking its responsibility as a big regional country seriously’ (Inter Press Service 2005). While these are certainly moves in the right direction, they have also become a mandatory add-on on regional agendas prompted largely by mounting evidence of ecological distress. Will such an initiative be a rhetorical device or will there be an attempt to integrate some of these perspectives into future domestic developmental interventions being planned is far from clear. The importance of developing a comprehensive knowledge base on water resources could contribute in meaningful ways to building habits of trust and predictability. Disputes over data, be it of access or of accuracy, can be both endemic and damaging to riparian trust building. Data coordination efforts in a shared region can, as Aaron Wolf argues, allow riparians ‘to get used to cooperation and trust’ (Wolf 1999). A successful case in this regard is that of the Mekong River Commission that foresaw the wisdom of investing the early years of its institutional history to data-gathering projects. Lack of agreement on data has been a long-standing constraint in the negotiations on the Ganges. Accurate and timely information is also vital for successful disaster management. The MOUs signed by India and China in 2002 and 2008 provide for information on the water level, discharge and rainfall from three stations on the Brahmaputra (Nugesha, Yangcun and Nuxia) from 1 June to 15 October every year. Each MOU is for a duration of five years and has to be subsequently re-negotiated for the continued release of data. A similar MOU was signed for release of hydrological information on the Sutlej in 2005 from the Tsada station on the river. The two countries
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have also set up the Joint Expert Level Mechanism, a decision taken during Hu Jintao’s visit to India in 2006.9
Regulating Dark Networks Inter-state cooperation to combat a range of non-traditional security challenges such as drug and human trafficking, small arms proliferation, HIV-AIDS and other epidemics also remains limited in the subregion. While there have been increasing levels of cooperation to combat drug and human trafficking, these have largely been limited to capacity building and soft mechanisms (Emmers 2004: 2). Part of the problem has also been that states have largely tended to see non-traditional security issues as traditional ones. Non-traditional security as Ralf Emmers argues, ‘been absorbed into an understanding of security that focuses on the stability of the state’ (ibid.: 25–26). A focus on the security of the state has often resulted in the consequent neglect of the security of other actors such as the individual who ironically bears the brunt of threats such as drug and human trafficking. The regions of Northeast India and Southwest China are both drug conduits as well as drug consumers, both factors significantly increasing the challenge of combating this threat. The shared neighbourhood is particularly susceptible to the operation of transnational criminal networks. More than 90 per cent of global heroin and morphine production reportedly takes place in Myanmar and Afghanistan.10 The capacity of organised criminal networks to go transnational has clearly not been matched by that of national governments to jointly address this challenge. Organised crime has today gone beyond clan-based organisations catering The Indian side is led by the Commissioner, Ministry of Water Resources and the Chinese side is led by Director, International Economic and Technical Cooperation and Exchange Centre, Ministry of Water Resources. 10 Poppy cultivation levels in Myanmar have spiked significantly since 2007 after a brief period in the late 1990s. By 2011, the total area under poppy cultivation in Myanmar had expanded from 21,600 hectares in 2006 to 43,600 hectares in 2011, an increase of nearly 102 per cent (Zhang 2012: 3). Zhang Yong-an, Asia, International Drug Trafficking and US–China Counter-narcotics Cooperation, The Brookings Institution, Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies, February 2012. 9
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to local needs and today operates on a truly global level for a global clientele. Even when law enforcement becomes effective in a part of the region, alternative routes are quickly sought. For instance, when China–Myanmar transborder coordination began yielding results, drug traffickers quickly shifted to the China–Vietnam border crossing to carry out their operations.
Beyond Formal Law Many of these challenges also point to the need to look beyond formal and legal instruments to ‘soft law’ and an entire range of innovative, informal processes that allow for flexibility and consequently greater measure of success. The Great Lakes watershed management initiatives involving US states and Canadian provinces are often cited as a successful model for managing international environmental issues. As an arrangement between respective sub-national levels, it represents an example of soft law with non-binding agreements to govern a shared resource. Alternative democratic models at the community level also point to the role social networks play in advancing awareness on social and ecological challenges. Such a system is more attuned to fostering democratic legitimacy on account of creating multiple layers and arrangements for information, debate and deliberation. An interactive, dialogical understanding can thus replace the top-down approaches that characterise many of the problem-solving approaches. Deliberative capacity building becomes critical in situations that have deep contestations and ‘competing understandings and values that need to be bridged’ (Dryzek 2002: 9). As John Dryzek notes, ‘networks do not hold elections, nor do they have constitutions’ yet their emancipatory potential is undeniable (ibid.). If managed creatively, these informal institutions can be held to account and made to fulfil the democratic deficits that mark the more formal institutional forms of governance. The institutional capacity to respond to complexity and uncertainty will also go a long way in explaining why socially inclusive development does or does not occur. A first step towards binding norm institutionalisation thus would be to create a growing acceptance for a soft law normative understanding. Remaining fixated on the formal has political drawbacks given the reluctance on the part of states to sign up for legally binding commitments. Soft law socialisation processes could
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contribute towards norm diffusion and producing continuous practices and habits of cooperation. These are no trifling gains since it allows countries to begin gradual processes of familiarisation and learning, creating patterns of communication where none previously existed. Collective learning platforms can also bring a wide range of actors and stakeholders that conventional governance arrangements fail to accommodate. Policy loops fixated with linear models flounder as research and the researched do not share frames that facilitate interactive co-learning. This structural design flaw leaves both sides worse off with experiential learning not in a position to influence policy and the benefits of research findings too not making their way to the poor. The cumulative loss adversely impinges on policy and development outcomes. To rectify these, learning alliances that enable actors ‘to learn across organizational and geographical boundaries’ point the way forward (Lundy et al. 2005: 1). Recent studies have shown how innovative strategies adopted by farmers in eastern India to mitigate the effects of water resource degradation bear the potential for a ‘reversal of knowledge flows’ by fostering more effective linkages among local communities, researchers, policymakers and development workers. The learning alliances framework could potentially help actors move from ‘single-cycle learning processes to a “double-loop” process’ which allows for a period of critical reflection to revisit formulations and provide entry points to new forms of knowledge (ibid.: 2). Developing effective institutions to deal with transborder governance challenges will be a valuable regional public good in itself. This will depend on the kind of normative choices countries in the region will be incentivised to make. Balancing contradictory norms will, however, have a tricky institutional journey in the region. Mediating contested claims among riparian states constitutes one such challenge, more so since formal law, as noted earlier, offers only a feeble regulatory framework. A measure of the extraordinary challenges these would entail can be seen from the fact that the 1997 UN Convention on the Non-Navigational Uses on International Watercourses Commission took 27 years to be negotiated. The key challenge is that the Convention tends to validate two contradictory principles regarding use of international waterways.11 By not setting 11 Article 5 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses speaks of ‘equitable and reasonable utilisation and participation’, while Article 7 lays down an ‘obligation not to cause significant harm’.
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a clear priority between the two, the Convention, as Aron Wolf argues, institutionalises the inherent upstream/downstream conflict by calling for both ‘equitable use’ and an ‘obligation not to cause appreciable harm’ at the same time. (Wolf 1999) Not surprisingly, upper and lower riparian have tended to advocate diametrically opposite interpretations, with the former arguing for a greater emphasis on the principle of ‘equitable use’ since it grants equal weightage to the needs of the present and earlier uses. The lower riparians, on the other hand, argued that the emphasis should be on the principle of ‘no significant harm’ since it protects the norm of prior and pre-existing water uses. The resulting institutional logjam has meant that evolving a set of international rules regulating shared water resources has remained elusive (Salman 2007). There will be other normative tensions that will present challenges for any efforts towards transnational institution building. For instance, prior consultation as a norm is likely to have a difficult political journey in the region for sure. To begin with, there is little in the region’s institutional history that suggests any measure of considered commitment to the principle. The principle of prior consultation would involve each country notifying developmental projects for regional consultations before its commencement. An interesting instance of this is the recent decision by Laos to notify the Xayabouri dam for regional consultations within the Mekong River Commission over a six-month period in 2011. Such norm building exercises undoubtedly face sobering realities. While it has the potential to strengthen a process-oriented approach towards transborder water governance, it is also a process that could be held hostage to the tug of conflicting interests between different actors as the Xayabouri case brings out. Any expectations on India’s part to nudge China to accede to such norms on the Brahmaputra or Yarlung Tsangpo will not be without implications for its own conduct in the region. Many of these norms and standards that India demands China to follow apply equally to itself too as an upper riparian in the region. The contradictions implicit in these will thus present normative challenges for Indian diplomacy as well. The norm of prior consultation also has a crucial domestic dimension that often goes missing. While water is a state subject, key international water agreements such as the Indus water treaty have been negotiated without prior consultation or negotiation with the state government involved. This has led to strong resentment within Jammu and Kashmir over
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the Indus agreement, which is seen as being unfair to the interests of the state. Policy coherence and legibility will be the first obvious casualty of these subterranean pressures and dismissing them will not make them go away. Some of the complexities involved in decision-making procedures came out quite sharply over the Teesta water-sharing issue between India and Bangladesh. The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Bangladesh in September 2011 could not proceed with the scheduled signing of the Teesta water-sharing agreement owing to concerns expressed by the state of West Bengal government over the adverse impact of the treaty on its share of the water resources. In an interesting contrast, the process leading to the signing of the Ganges Water Sharing Treaty between India and Bangladesh in 1996 was preceded by an active consultation with the then Chief Minister of West Bengal Mr Jyoti Basu. On Teesta, important perceptual issues could be at work particularly the state’s perception of being handed down with a fait accompli by the Centre and the perceived insensitivity of the Centre to its interests. This, however, is not a lone instance of a breakdown of consultative mechanisms between policymakers at the Centre and the states. The state of Bihar recently called for a review of the 1996 Ganges Treaty on the grounds that the treaty has been a gross injustice against the people of Bihar, with the chief minister lamenting that ‘it is unfortunate that the states are being overlooked... we don’t have any say in such an accord’ (Daily News and Analysis 2012).
Transnational Social Ethnic Capital A fixation with the formal has also meant that the role of transnational ethnic social networks in a border region is often not recognised as a form of social capital (Chen 2000). Transnational social networks based on ancestral and kinship ties and interpersonal trust networks constitute a form of social capital that is integral to a transborder subregion, resting on a highly place-centric sense of self and community identity (Chen 2000; Tilly 2007). A case in point is coastal China where cross-border kinship and ancestral ties have played a key role in the early investments that flowed from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Thousands of small and medium-scale business ventures that were encouraged during this period
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saw local governments consciously engage ethnic networks in fostering economic development. The overseas Chinese business networks have defined and imparted a distinctive impact on the character of the regional political economy. These networks have constituted a valuable source of information and an entry point to overseas markets, besides providing a critical impetus to the forces of regional economic integration through heavy infusions of capital into the mainland. A related factor has been the strong cultural identification that the ethnic Chinese diaspora has maintained with the mainland. This socio-cultural bonding was forged in the context of migrations from the mainland over long periods of history, triggered by political turmoil, displacement, economic deprivation and reinforced by the fierce resentment which Chinese immigrants faced at the hands of indigenous communities. It is thus little surprise that the first Special Economic Zones to be established in China were in the provinces of Guangdong and Fujian, from where the bulk of the overseas Chinese trace their traditional roots. The role that cross-border social networks can play in facilitating subregional integration is a question that needs to be interrogated further. These networks can be potential drivers of subregional cooperation if they are complemented by government policies that can harness them effectively. They can leverage an ‘opportunistic political use of social capital’ to facilitate regional economic development. This lends to transnational ethnic social capital a somewhat uncertain status, which ‘remains a necessary but not sufficient resource’ unless accompanied by complementary policy measures (Chen 2000: 284). However, many policy decisions on issues such as customs regulations, infrastructure development or border control that impinge on the lives of border regions envisage little or no involvement of local stakeholders. Conducive conditions now exist that could provide an appropriate setting for its successful uptake as a critical resource by policy in India and China. The increasing pace of transborder economic activities by India and China is opening up a space for a variety of sub-national actors to participate in and shape many of these processes. Many of these links are not necessarily formal or intergovernmental in nature but could typically have an ‘in-between location at the interface of global, national, and local spaces’. Transborder ethnic capital could find this a natural setting, one that allows commercial and business diasporic networks to create new actor linkages.
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Decentring Diplomacy The shared governance challenges in the subregion underline the reality of close linkages between the domestic and the external as interests, actors and linkages intersect sub-national, national and international levels (Hocking 1993). The fact that several transborder challenges are experienced at the local level is resulting in what Brian Hocking terms as a ‘localisation of foreign policy’. The foreign relations of sub-national governments has been a growing area of subject in recent decades (Blatter et al. 2008; Duchacek 1990; Marks and Hooghe 2005; Michelmann and Soldatos 1990). Jettisoning the domestic–external binary is crucial since cross-border governance challenges introduce a critical spatial and scalar dimension and a multiplicity of actors that go missing in meta-narratives. This will call for finding effective ways of incorporating border regions into decision-making processes on a range of issues that require coordination. As local level participation becomes both possible and necessary, this could well present a conceptual cue to ‘bring back the region into social research’ (Prasad 2005). Such an interrogation can bring interesting methodological and conceptual insights that will compel rethinking the region not as a passive location but as an actor with agency. Local governments are increasingly becoming participants in international collaborative initiatives in various fields. The International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) is one such initiative established in 1990 that brings together more than 1,200 cities, towns and counties spread over 70 countries. It includes programmes to provide training, capacity building, knowledge and information sharing aimed at strengthening local sustainable development goals. These are based on creating and building robust synergies among local, national and global sustainability goals. The forum is also emerging as a useful platform to connect local leaders such as mayors, councillors and officials with national and international organisations, the business sector and academics in a global network of stakeholders engaged in environmental sustainability. Diplomacy itself is thus becoming more of a ‘networking’ activity with a range of actors constituting nodes in forging issue-based coalitions. For instance, sub-national governments have been working in close coordination with national governments on the issue of climate change both
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during the process of negotiating international agreements and during the implementation of obligations and responsibilities ensuing from these. Adaptation and mitigation activities take place at the local levels, involving a range of actionable measures to set emission reduction targets, land-use policy guidelines and incentives for promotion of low carbon technologies. Although national governments negotiate international mandatory norms and standards, federal level capacity to enforce them requires coordination and cooperation with sub-national levels. Such exercises can, however, often be fraught ones requiring complex negotiations over the setting of priorities and ensuring target synchronisation. Rather than seeing these as sharp divisions, the boundaries between diplomacy and paradiplomacy could be blurring to mutual advantage. The key organising principle here is that of subsidiarity; the idea that each issue or task is performed most effectively at the local or immediate level. The role of the central authority is to be a subsidiary one with the relevant authority being the one at the immediate level. These make them critical actors in a range of issue areas such as energy, environment, land use and transport. The agency available to local governments tends to vary across a bandwidth of powers that needs to be negotiated with the central government.
New Forks and Bends India and China’s new subregional imaginary presents a unique opportunity to bring the border region centre stage into social research with issues that have a direct bearing on people living on the frontiers. It also holds the promise of more effective local governance by opening the space for direct stakeholder participation and institutionalising mechanisms of cooperation. Interestingly, such a discourse would have its greatest effect on the borders by building trust at three critical levels—at the bilateral and subregional levels between India and China but perhaps more critically between the state and society domestically. They point to the potential of alternative democratic models at the community level particularly on transnational issues and the role social networks can play in advancing awareness on socio-ecological challenges. A spatial focus would further
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enable researchers to think out of the ‘territorial trap’ and come up with actionable ideas that can create bottom-up, inclusive approaches to regional development. Rethinking India and China’s diplomacy with their shared transnational neighbourhood will be incomplete without rethinking the respective roles of Northeast India and Western China in it. As India moves away from making simplistic binary choices of seeing China either as an ally or adversary, there will be considerable scope for redefining this relationship more broadly. Under the rubric of engagement, there is potential for India and China to forge issue-based coalitions on areas where their interests converge. While the existence of such areas provide incentives for cooperation, it must be noted that these alone will not guarantee it. Both India and China need to create institutional mechanisms that will help identify specific areas of cooperation as well as facilitate dialogue on contentious issues. While the subregion is likely to emerge as a site of contestations, competitive regionalism per se need not automatically be crisis prone. The opportunity to co-create their shared neighbourhood can help India and China to unpack the idea of cooperation and to recast ageing security agendas. It will also offer policy and research communities in both countries a far richer and wider repertoire of alternative learning processes to experiment with.
5 Fugitive Frames Rewriting Research Peripheries The transborder subregion is under intense research and policy gaze like never before. Domestic discourses in India and China are in the process of reconnecting Northeast India and Western China with their transnational neighbourhood. The discourse on border security has begun witnessing a certain broadening of scope to draw a direct correlation between issues of regional economic development and regional stability. These are resulting in a conscious move to frame security issues at least at the rhetorical level more in terms of a developmental discourse and less as a security one (Cui and Li 2011: 153). Consequently, Indian and Chinese assessments have seen distinct advantages in a policy of diplomatic accommodation in the region. There is no denying that India and China’s subregional imaginaries open up a much-needed discursive and political space with the potential to shift the focus to local sites and towards issues that have a direct bearing on those living on the frontiers. It could also provide a suitable framework within which several overlapping themes relating to social exclusion in both countries could be looked at (Kurian 2007b). An interesting shift in India’s policy towards its neighbourhood could indicate a subtle discursive reorientation. In 2007, India’s Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon drew a clear link between India’s domestic–external security and argued that the ‘first area of focus for our foreign policy is naturally our neighbourhood, for unless we have a peaceful and prosperous periphery we will not be able to focus on our primary tasks of socio-economic development’ (Menon 2007). The theme of peace as an ‘entrepreneurial input for development’ has also been a recurrent one in China’s political discourse through the 1980s and 1990s. Recall, for instance, in the immediate aftermath of the ethnic flare up in Xinjiang in July 2009, President Hu Jintao underlined the need to ‘improve the quality of life’ as being a prerequisite for regional security (Cui and
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Li 2011: 157). There are also clear geopolitical anxieties that are directly linked to the location of the border region. For instance, China asserted that the incidents of ethnic violence in Tibet and Xinjiang in 2008 and 2009 were ‘strictly an internal affair’ but blamed ‘external forces’, seemingly unaware of the contradiction in the two statements (Freeman and Thompson 2011: 2).
Transborder Region: A Critical Reading As noted earlier in the book, the profusion of regional projects in the 1980s and 1990s has led to a resurgence in the study of regions and regionalisms (Breslin 2000, 2002; Mansfield and Miller 1997; Hettne et al. 1999). While regional trading blocs and arrangements have been a common phenomenon, both the bilateral and the regional levels have tended to bypass the subregional level with its local governance particularities. The economic functionalist logic that subregional projects underpin also tends to overlook the politics of such border-spanning projects. The subregion tends to get suspended in a sort of ‘double vision’ caught between geopolitical fears and geoeconomic hope (Sparke 2006). These produce serious contradictions that get reflected in a series of dualisms, such as the tensions between discourses of mobility and control or between border barriers and transborder flows. The grafting of the vision of geoeconomic integration thus runs parallel to a discourse of fear and anxiety. This book has attempted to interrogate the potential that the subregional discourse has in offering a critically constructive template for the study of bottom-up approaches to regional development and foreign policy formulation. But while subregionalism as a concept can offer useful new insights to mainstream theories of regionalism, its success can by no means be uncritically assumed. Regions are often technically conjured, viewed through a statistical haze and armed with a toolkit of numbers and graphs. The underlying power shifts and assumptions that such a cross-border remapping entails remain largely subsumed in mainstream visions. These remappings are no impartial imaginaries and it will be pertinent to invoke William Callahan’s warning that they could
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well result in ‘a new set of borders—which would have a different logic of exclusion and inclusion, creating new centres and peripheries—rather than a borderless region’ (Callahan 2006: 395). While distant capitals may be quick to pronounce these an economic success, there are local level realities that peel away the idiom of prosperity. Discourses of development can become ‘uniquely efficient colonisers on behalf of central strategies of power’ (Dubois 1991: 19; Slater 1992; Watts 1993). Alerting us to the multiple realities behind such remappings, Cynthia Chou argues that growth triangles essentially ‘are projects of comprehensibility and simplification by and for the administrators themselves… premised upon minimising the complexities of diversities so that areas become intelligible and possible for control and operations from an etic perspective’ (Chou 2006: 246). It is this political impulse to make spaces legible that creates a need for ‘new administrative knowledge’, one that is customised to meet the needs of the business forayer or the military strategist. This also finds echoes in the frequent refrain to aim at ‘transforming communities into a single people, or replacing customary laws with universal laws that embrace standard measures that would be similar everywhere’ (ibid.). The contestations these could spell for multi-ethnic borderlands can be endemic and endless. A constructivist reading could help us understand the ‘space-making and space-changing processes’ that go into the remapping of a region. It is clear that the politics of mapping and the power to create new geospatial imaginaries results in the creation of new knowledge systems and a new way of seeing old geographies. Such remappings, as Thongchai Winichakul reminds us, are not always a mere representation of that which ‘already exits objectively “there”’; instead, it can go on to anticipate spatial reality and ‘become a real instrument to concretise projections…’ (Winichakul 1994). Such a reading could also help raise interesting new questions that have the capacity for a creative unlearning of statist imaginaries. For instance, what does the hyper-globalisation vision of the region-state and the idea of ‘natural economic spaces’ mean beyond the celebratory spiel of inter-firm networking, factor price differentials and thickening webs of transactions? (Ohmae 1993). Do these envisage a space for the sub-national actor as an active participant in this transnational vision of a projected borderless world? In what ways do these change the hierarchical positioning between the centre and the periphery? It is vital
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to critically engage with these questions since in many of these new narratives, the mere opening of borders is unproblematically assumed as leading to cross-border integration. That increasing transnational flows are no impartial levellers is evident from the selective nature of their impact, whom they affect and in what manner. Such flows could also end up flattening socio-ecological landscapes by ‘framing-out political and historical divisions while picturing a preferred future by framing-in the flat, smooth vision of space’ (Sparke 2007: 6). These are messy issues that typically go missing from the frothy literature that heralds the arrival of a borderless world. Dominant imaginations capture little of the quotidian struggles that take place at the ground level, often speaking of space primarily as a strategic resource and asset. Far from being dormant landscapes or a ‘neutral backdrop’, borderland spaces need to be understood as lively sites of contestations. As Newman and Paasi argue, ‘space, physical-material, symbolic and imagined, lie(s) at the heart of the boundary discourse’ (Newman and Paasi 1998: 199). The study has underlined the need to identify implicit research and policy biases in the mainstream discourse on borders that hold important implications for the new subregional imaginaries being pursued by India and China. Of even greater essence is the need to contextualise and historicise border narratives and underline the location-specific nature of border discourses. Experiences and modes of mediating spaces are bound to differ with different contexts and these only further reinforce the diversity of the world of borders. Understanding the processes of regional differentiation, spatiality and the need for ‘situated development’ underlines the continued and even increased relevance of a critical spatial enquiry.
Linking Peace, Security and Development A critical engagement with the link between three analytical categories— peace, security and development—will be vital in this regard. India and China’s ongoing parallel moves towards subregional integration provide an appropriate context, if ever there was need for one, to understand and probe these interlinkages further. But far more critical will be to also recognise the tensions and contradictions inherent in this interface (Francis 2006: 8). It bears reiteration that no subregional integration blueprint can
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hope to succeed if the state continues to be delegitimised domestically. Unless the compact between state and society is repaired, security and development will continue to tread parallel tracks. Admittedly, today community engagement is being raised to the highest rhetorical levels but such a discourse could end up merely lip-syncing the language of a bottom-up paradigm. Although the discourse may have got the language right, the value orientation could be problematic. It could end up with the oxymoronic result of promoting community development ‘from the top’, wherein the community is seen as being a little more than a ‘sprayon additive’ (Craig 2007: 336). Recognising the social licence to operate in resource-rich regions and sensitising policymakers to obtain ‘free prior informed consent’ of local communities for resource development activities in the region will be critical in ensuring that they are not left at the sidelines of the growth experience. That said, an obsessive focus on state-society tensions could often take the attention away from new forms of conflicts, which remain below the radar. Postcolonial state formation challenges in the region are a case in point. For instance, the existence of long-standing border disputes with a history of violence and conflict among the states in India’s Northeast remain relatively understudied. There are border disputes that exist between Meghalaya and Assam, Assam and Nagaland, Manipur and Nagaland, Arunachal and Assam as well as Mizoram and Assam. Intercommunity interactive spaces such as the Singibil and Athkhel weekly marts that have functioned along the Assam–Nagaland foothills since pre-colonial times, today face imminent closure in such a polarised environment (Kikon and Barbora 2007). There are similar conflicts between the central and local as well as among the regions in China too which have confounded optimistic claims to ‘common prosperity’. These fissures have, as Cindy Fan notes, ‘ironically resulted in the opposite of what it was intended to achieve’ (Fan 1997: 628). Many of these conflicts can be traced to a set of policies that inland provinces began following to offset the negative effects of China’s uneven regional development policy. The measures referred to as ‘cooking with own stoves’ included setting up administrative barriers to restrict the flow of raw materials and primary products from the region. The ensuing ‘raw material wars’ left the Chinese market ‘segregated and fragmented’, producing protracted regional conflicts.
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Some of this local economic protectionism in Chinese provinces resonates eerily with the strong demand in different parts of Northeast India for the continued imposition of restricted access measures such as the Inner Line system. Such exceptional measures are commonly justified in the name of protecting local livelihoods and deterring migration. Measures such as the Armed Forces Special Forces Act (AFSPA) which mark spaces of ‘exception to Indian sovereignty’, ‘fall quite neatly into this pattern of controlled ambiguities’ (Farrelly 2009: 293). Autarkic demands and instances of ‘ethnically specific prices’ bring home the uncomfortable reality of ‘how the supposedly unfettered market relationships characteristic of globalization are vitiated, violated and turned aside’ (Das 2005). These also include instances of outright rejection of an ‘alien community’ as shown in the refusal by a section of Meiteis of Manipur to sell essential commodities to Nagas of Imphal valley (ibid.). As Udayon Misra rightly observes in this connection, ‘the answer to militant violence in this region lies not in the number of arrangements worked out with neighbouring SAARC countries to counter terrorism, but in India’s own genuine efforts towards ensuring inclusive governance and democratic growth in the northeastern States’ (Misra 2010). The rhetoric and self-congratulatory tenor of a borderless world clearly need to be brought several notches down to face these sobering ground realities.
Getting the Language Right At the outset, a transformative discourse will call for a new lexicon that consciously steps away from parachuting mainstream imageries thoughtlessly. As Thomas Princen argues, ‘getting the language right’ is critical and metaphors can be powerful conceptual tools that we work with to order the world around us (Princen 2008: 2). Such generalisations could also result in a set of semantic stumbles. For instance, an uncritical acceptance of the notions of the ‘periphery’, the ‘extended neighbourhood’ and the ‘gateway’ in the Indian discourse will mean not engaging with the far more critical question of whether Northeast India will be in a position to take advantage of the opportunities opening up. For instance, the portrayal of the Northeast as the ‘periphery’ and acceptance of this image in public discourse is problematic and represents a
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classic instance of reflexivity wherein a constructed image and its iteration becomes a social reality. Again, the idea of the ‘extended neighbourhood’ is a highly capital-centric conception of space and ignores the reality that for the border region, the neighbourhood is an immediate and not an extended one. The use of colonial terminologies such as the ‘Far East’ to refer to China or maintaining the artificial distinction between South and Southeast Asia are other illustrations of such a mindset. Today, the notion of the Northeast as a gateway interestingly projects the proximity factor to make the case for reconnecting India with its neighbourhood. This is indeed sweet irony given that this natural advantage was conspicuous by its absence during the long decades of its policy-induced segregation from the very same neighbourhood. A case in point is how the 1962 coup in Burma and Yangon’s policy of ‘severe isolationism’ adversely affected India and particularly the four Northeast states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram, given their immediate proximity and contiguity to Myanmar.1 India shares a 1,643 km long land border with Myanmar, which has a large population of Indian origin, estimated to be 2.5 million (Routray 2011: 300). The Indian presence and its disproportionate influence over the country’s social and economic life had made the Indian community the focal point of public resentment in campaigns such as the Thakin movement of the 1930s. The Burmanisation programmes during the early Ne Win era saw mass émigré waves of 300,000 people who fled Burma between 1962 and 1965 (Egreteau 2006: 41; Verghese 2001). Following the nationalisation policies of independent Burma, the Indian community suffered a crippling disenfranchisement, with the Constitution of 1947 refusing to confer recognition on them as an ethnic minority in Burma. Land owned by the Chettiars was nationalised with nominal compensation offered to the traders in return (Raghuram 2008: 4). This only reiterates the fact that the isolation and landlocked status of the Northeast are primarily political constructs and not immutable geographical givens (Kurian 2007b). 1 Border trade had traditionally been controlled by the Kukis, Nagas, Meiteis and the Tamils. The border towns of Moreh in Manipur and Tamu in Sagaing Region in northwest Burma had a significant presence of Tamils who were based there. The Indian community had traditionally enjoyed influence in British Burma across every major field, be it in local trading and moneylending activities besides services in the health, administrative, education and military sectors.
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Illusive Constructs The terms western region and the Northeast itself are also inherently problematic, based as they are on a set of flawed generalisations and assumptions. Far from being a unitary category, both border regions are characterised by an extraordinary diversity of cultures, languages, religions and traditions of governance. Northeast India is, as Udayon Misra argues, an ‘illusive construct’ since it tends to homogenise and treat an ‘extremely diverse region as one unit’ that has ‘never considered itself to be one compact unit’ (Misra 2000: 1). The region has the largest concentration of languages in the sub-continent with an estimated 220 languages and an estimated 160 scheduled tribes and over 400 tribal and sub-tribal groupings besides a non-tribal population that is both sizeable as well as diverse (Bhaumik 2007: 59). In this sense, the Northeast as Sanjoy Hazarika notes, qualifies as ‘one of the earliest “globalised” places in South Asia’ (Hazarika 2006). The powerful tug of shared history, geography and languages such as the Mon-Khmer and Tibeto-Burman family of languages that are spoken across Southeast Asia, southern China and the Northeast, impinge on daily consciousness across the region in a powerful way (Kurian 2010).2 There is also a similar politicality inherent in the definition of China’s western region. Questions of inclusion and exclusion of the boundaries of the region have proved inconclusive and anomalies abound. For instance, while the earliest definition of the western region under the WDS included nine provinces, by 2000 the total number of provinces had risen to 12 only to add another five the very next year (Goodman 2004: 320). Also intriguing is the example of Guangxi located in China’s far south with a coastline and the three ports which ‘joined as a western region in a statistical sense’ (Chen 2009: 94). Similarly, the characterisation of the Southwest either as wholly backward or as dominated by ethnic minorities has been a misleading caricature. The truth is that levels of backwardness have varied markedly from one province to another as have the mix of ethnic populations within provinces. While Tibet, Xinjiang and Qinghai have substantial ethnic minority populations, with respective shares of 2 The formation of the North Eastern Council, intended to function as a pan-India planning body, in 1971 went on to formalise the Northeast not just as a geographical construct but also as a political category (Haokip 2011: 113).
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96 per cent, 62 per cent and 46 per cent, the same does not hold true for Gansu, Sichuan and Shaanxi with 8 per cent, 5 per cent and 0.5 per cent respectively (Goodman 2004: 320–321). There are further complexities involved. Ethnic minorities are not represented only in Autonomous Regions as is commonly assumed. For instance, besides Tibet, there is a substantial Tibetan presence in the four provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan. Qinghai, which is not an Autonomous Region, has the third highest proportion of minorities, higher than Ningxia, Guangxi and Inner Mongolia which are classified as Autonomous Regions. Again, the provinces of Yunnan and Guizhou have a higher presence of minorities than the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia (Fischer 2005: 30).
Text and Subtext While the syntax of the new discourse represents advances in policy preoccupations with rigid notions of territoriality, they are nonetheless deeply problematic. At its core stands a set of contestations between the way New Delhi and Beijing perceive a set of key issues and the manner in which the periphery is imagined in their respective national narratives. A predominantly politico-military understanding of borders as mere geographical markers has tended to mask the sheer complexity and diversity of a border region. The statist discourse on borders and the accompanying geopolitics of knowledge also carry implicit biases that portray borders as peripheral and distant spaces. National borders situated in transnational neighbourhoods have always wrestled with many inherent contradictions and tensions between the national and transnational interpretive lenses. In the national narrative, the border appears as the periphery—the outer limits of the state’s absolute sovereignty, a space that is territorially organised, patrolled, enclosed and enforced. A deliberately simplified categorisation thus robs the border of its rich and varied cultural, historical and social layers of identity. Seen in this limited manner, the understanding of borders has been grossly generalised without reference to the multiplicity of meanings they embody. These further underscore the need to contextualise and locate each border region within its own political, economic, social and cultural specificities.
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State borders defined predominantly in territorial terms also tend to sit uneasily with the de-territorialised agendas that globalisation brings in its wake, where the reality of fungible borders confronts territoriality. The precise and rigid notion of the territorial border also creates the binary worlds of the domestic and international as it were. The repeated invocation of rigid notions of territoriality clearly stands to unravel the scope that alternative border discourses hold to transcend this logic to mutual benefit. These two contradictory norms hold out two vastly different futures for the border. While the logic of the former would imply little more than a military line, the latter would reconstruct the same as a dynamic gateway. While one would stimulate wariness, the other would help create joint stakes in peace. Where the former is conceived as a line, the latter exists as a zone; where the former is imagined as a line of separation between the ‘geo-body’ of the nation and the others who were labelled different by virtue of lying beyond, the latter is a site of intermingling of peoples, cultures, religions, languages and ideas. Thus, while uniformity was promoted internally as a national virtue in the face of diversity, the same statist logic rested on externally projecting difference, even in the face of cross-border affinities. The assumption of an internally shared socio-cultural space is as much integral to the nation-state project as is the need to reify cultural disconnects at the borders (Kurian 2010). The assumptions behind such a state-centric interpretive lens tend to trap the ‘centre’ and the ‘periphery’ in a mutually hostile interface, predisposed to ceaseless repetition. It also constitutes an arena where the security of the state clashes with that of its citizens in unfortunate ways, the logic of rigid territoriality sundering lives and making ‘normal’ life meaningless. A narrow hierarchisation of security crucially denies the region and its people agency on issues that have a bearing on its future. For the border region, the appropriate frame of reference has to be but the transnational where it becomes not quite the ‘margin’, but the centre of a vast and bustling network of social and cultural flows. It is this traffic that is so vital to and an integral part of the everyday existence of border communities and which operates despite the exclusionary nature of territorial mapping of borders. As to whether the discourse in India and China has shifted far enough to make frontier peoples as referent objects of security, however, remains open to debate (Cui and Li 2011: 157). Also, whether complex issues of
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misgovernance and alienation can be reduced to a simplistic formulaic strategy of economic development remains a contested proposition. A critical reading of the discourse can also help raise a different and interesting set of questions. For instance, what implications will these hold for the manner in which we think of agendas for the borderlands and its underlying ‘issue-hierarchy’? Will our discursive frames continue to prioritise the state as a unitary actor and to subscribe to the binary of the domestic and the external at a time when expanding global economic linkages, multiple channels of communication among actors are breaking these down on the ground? At the outset, such a rethinking must engage critically with the potential of the new discourse for bringing about such a transformation. This will be crucial given that the region is today being reimagined discursively as an engine of trade and cooperation while many of its key ordering principles remain largely unchallenged. A variety of border barriers to mobilities could unravel the ease with which the discourse has rhetorically travelled and spanned the borders. A predominantly economic reading of the remapping exercise overlooks or is constructed to overlook a number of ‘power asymmetries’ that remain in the shadows (Sparke 2006: 235). It is perhaps disingenuous that a discourse that till now had created fractured geographies by turning its back on social processes in the borderlands today romanticises its transnational character. As we have seen earlier, such a remapping tends to overlook complex human geographies that are involved in the reconstruction of a transborder region. Expunged from these meta-narratives are the messy political struggles over dispossession, dismissively consigned to the refuse heap as negative externalities of development (Sparke et al. 2004: 473). An uncritical framing of the subregional initiative as being progressive tends to leave out many critical issues from the agenda. The ecological sustainability of the initiative, for instance, a growing concern in the region, finds no mention in the mainstream discourse. The projection of the region as a powerhouse on account of its vast hydropower resources includes only a nodding recognition of the implications these hold for the fragile, seismic region. It is these silences that make it imperative that questions such as who benefits and whose interests are served by these developments are raised. It is these hard and uncomfortable questions that need to be first asked so that the initiative can be made inclusive beyond the proforma.
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Illustrative examples from within the subregion have shown just how contested and difficult the process is likely to be. It is also important to sound a caveat that state-led desecuritisation strategies do not always meet with success as the example of China’s attempt at transforming the border dynamics with North Korea reveals. Preferential policies such as substantial tax concessions for the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in China’s Jilin province, located on the border with North Korea, were widely expected to give a spurt to trade and economic cooperation. These also included a substantial upgradation of border infrastructure such as the construction of the Yanbian-Tumen highway, customs houses and border posts besides investments in institutional connectivity. But the 1,416 km long border has not been without its share of occasional tensions with the spectre of illegal migration from North Korea being a constant worry for Beijing. This has led to a tightening of security measures including frequent crackdowns to prevent illegal migration.3 An often-overlooked dimension of Chinese conceptions of frontier defence is that they have often tended to have a crucial domestic component that has stressed the preservation of political stability and the ‘absence of ethnic unrest’. On its North Korean border, China has thus far been unable to translate the success of its cross-border projects elsewhere and consequently Yanbian has ended up being the ‘Chinese side of a bridge to nowhere’ (Freeman and Thompson 2009: 30).
Borders to Borderlands The book has made the case for a conceptual leap from borders to borderlands and has argued that there is a strong spatial logic, which must constitute the core of any conception of subregional cooperation in the In May 2012, Chinese security forces launched a five-month operation in an attempt to identify and repatriate North Koreans without legal documentation. Although no authoritative figures are available, estimates put the figure of illegal North Koreans in China to be at 300,000 (Freeman and Thompson, 2009: 22). The backdrop for such drives is always the ‘negative impact on national security and social stability’ (‘China Starts Five-Month Crackdown on N. Korean Defectors’, Chosun, 25 May 2012, available at http://english.chosun. com/site/data/html_dir/2012/05/25/2012052500744.html). 3
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region. Processes of marginalisation cannot be tackled without problematising notions of scale, epistemology and agency. The chapter argues that an integrative narrative to reimagine the India–China borderlands will hinge crucially on the capacity to recast ageing agendas. This in turn will depend on the capacity to imaginatively decentre governance and diplomacy to explore issues and actors hitherto missing from the subregional governance agenda. The manner in which these difficult transformations are negotiated will in turn decide the success of the India–China subregional imaginary. The neighbourhood of Northeast India and Western China is a transnational one and it is this compelling locational dynamics that must serve as our starting point of reference. Conceptually, where we start from is critical since the starting point will decide and define the destination(s) ahead. The subregion is today being pitch forked as a template for growth and cooperation within the region. It then stands to reason that local communities need to be active partners in this rethinking process primarily because these changes are going to have a direct bearing on their future. Decentring participation will also further equip communities to become stakeholders in tackling common challenges of micro-level governance in this shared subregion. There are, as stated earlier, examples of innovative experiments from various border regions in jointly managing the shared opportunity structures and challenges that a shared subregion brings. These point to the effectiveness of devolved monitoring and implementation mechanisms and sub-national institutions as the locus of problem solving. Such multi-scale, multi-actor frameworks point to the wisdom of retaining the choice to imagine multiple futures and escape the hegemonic grip of one-size-fits-all paradigms to order sub-national and transnational spaces. Any effective subregional project has to be grounded in the principles of developmental regionalism so as to create collective capacities for border states to play meaningful roles in the regional economic processes (Dent and Richter 2011: 34). If creatively imagined and implemented, the imaginary could speak to a bottom-up vision of development with a potential to shift the focus to local sites (Kurian 2007b). A decentred approach will be well positioned to address the twin challenges of sustainability and social exclusion in the borderlands. It stands to reason that local communities need to be active partners in this rethinking process, more so since these changes
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will have a direct bearing on their own future. The focus on both agency and process helps us draw linkages between disparate processes that enable or thwart processes of social exclusion (Rodgers 1995). What is missing in conventional strategies to combat underdevelopment is that they often do not speak to governance particularities and acknowledge its multidimensional and multidisciplinary character. Without institutionalising multi-actor interactions, the discourse could merely lip-sync the language of a bottom-up paradigm.
Rethinking Research Peripheries At the end of the day, many of these are also problems of framing. Today, expanding flows and mobilities are increasingly questioning the assumption of a domestic–external binary at every level and questioning the parsimonious notion of boundaries as enclosures. The state of health of any field of enquiry can be gauged by the robustness and rigour of its intellectual discourse as well as its capacity to ask new questions and map alternative scenarios. One of the effects of a fixation on the state as a sole referent has been questions that IR refuses to ask. IR as a discipline will increasingly struggle with the contradictions of maintaining its analytical focus on relations between territorially bound sovereign states as it faces up to the overwhelming reality of social, economic and cultural flows that bear declining relevance to territory. A geopolitics of knowledge has closely accompanied the geopolitics of borders, often mimicking reasons of the state. Far from offering alternative imaginaries, mainstream IR has largely tended to faithfully mirror the ‘cartographic anxiety’ of the state. The mimetic nature of formal research has meant that many of these questions have been studied in fractured frames, with scholarship often taking the cue from statist frames. It has been disinterested in the everyday struggles and contestations of borderlanders, preferring instead the esoteric diversions of systemic battles that structuralism wages. A politico-military reading of border landscapes is conspicuous by what it leaves out of its research remit; that there is also alongside an anthropology, a history and a sociology of borders to negotiate (Lynch 1999). By presupposing the irrelevance of sub-systemic actors to state behaviour, mainstream IR
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theory tends to flatten out differences and effectively block voices and representations from the margins. This value assumption has meant that IR often has little, or at any rate, little useful to say about micro-governance challenges at the borders. This failing also has to do with the highly institutionalised thinking within the academy of treating the domestic and international spaces as virtually separate realms. The distinction is hardly a useful one since holding onto such a binary ‘exaggerates the differences between the two realms’ and ‘obscures the theoretically relevant similarities’ (Whytock 2004: 27–28). The high politics versus low politics binary has become increasingly passé with issues tumbling out of these ill-fitting constructs. This is evident from the reconceptualisation of security agendas that has begun recognising inter-relationships between the two. It is at a deeper level also about the privileging of certain forms of knowledge over others. Harold Innis rues the triumph of the written word over the vast corpus of oral history and the inability to recognise the need to balance the two knowledge founts. The kind of specialist knowledge that mountain communities acquire in the course of their lives constitutes an oral knowledge base that is almost unique and without parallel. As James Boggs notes, knowledge essentially gets structured as a transaction between two parties—‘knowledge producers (social scientists) and knowledge users (e.g. policy makers or decision makers)’ (Boggs 1992: 29). Such a dyadic framing fails to recognise people as important repositories of knowledge, denying them agency as social actors in their own merit. The challenge, as MacRae calls for, would be to affect a shift from a ‘social science oriented to bureaucratic management’ to one in which their constituency becomes the broader democratic community (ibid.: 55). The mainstream notion that knowledge and research have to, in the ultimate analysis, be relevant and useful to policymakers as their end user, has dictated choices and predetermined the terms of intellectual enquiry. Within these structural parameters of knowledge use, the role of people has often been reduced to that of subjects or targets, who become passive recipients of knowledge flows. If IR is to make itself relevant to borderlands, it will thus first have to rethink its conceptual borders. It will also have to problematise the peripheral status of the borders and rethink set categories of ordering spaces. Not doing so is likely, in turn, to consign IR to increasing
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marginalisation as a discipline. The diffused nature of threats and the multilevel nature of governance challenges call for creative outreach by the discipline. To reduce the borderlands to a mere physical space would strip it of the multilayered socio-cultural processes that define any border zone. Without connecting with the lives of the people who inhabit these physical spaces, theoretical agendas will be hopelessly irrelevant. The capacity to engage with the mainstream discourse on borders as well as the accompanying geopolitics of knowledge with its attendant biases and binaries will be critical to the success of any alternative imaginary for the borderlands. The book has argued against the reductionist logic of conceiving borders as territorial dividers; instead, they can be imaginatively understood as in-between spaces that could connect, communicate as well as bridge. The field of border research has covered much ground over the decades, with different disciplines arriving at the borders armed with their diverse theoretical toolkits. This has helped populate the landscape with new foci of intellectual enquiry such as demographic change, health, trade, environment and migration. These have nudged the research agenda beyond the narrow remit of studying patterns of intergovernmental conflict and cooperation. Border studies have covered an entire spectrum of seeing borders, from being inviolable to being reduced to irrelevance in a ‘borderless’ world (Ohmae 1990). In between these polarised positions, a range of literature on border studies is bringing a whole new lexicon of approaching these spaces as dynamic and socially constructed (Donnan and Wilson 1994, 1999; Newman and Paasi 1998; Warr and Schofield 2005). Boundary lines continue to be important, no doubt, but scholarship is increasingly looking at what crosses these lines and why. Itinerant enquiries are now stepping onto the road less taken, taking as their point of departure the holy grail of the modern state, i.e. the linear boundary line that divides and separates. These enquiries are reminiscent of Arjun Appadurai’s conception of ‘process geographies’, and he rightly notes, ‘Regions are best viewed as initial contexts for themes that generate variable geographies, rather than as fixed geographies marked by pre-given themes’ (Appadurai 2000: 6–7). The permeability of borders, and by extension of sovereignty itself, has created the conceptual space to interrogate IR in ways that would have been unimaginable traditionally (Vivekanandan 2011).
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Interdisciplinary Research: Merely ‘Stapling Together’? Although epistemological pluralism will be critical to the study and management of complex, socio-ecological systems—this is, however, severely constrained by a reluctance or an inability to break free from individual disciplinary precepts. Despite the ritual nod given to interdisciplinary knowledge, such research continues to work from ‘epistemological silos’ and brings with it its own disciplinary baggage of cognitive frames, research and benchmarks of what it seeks to include and exclude by way of methodological assumptions. These individual epistemologies are not unlike disciplinary turfs that result in knowledge production that reify and further entrench these silos. Given these turf issues and the lack of a common language, what goes in the name of interdisciplinary research is often a ‘stapling together’ of individual research outputs. Interdisciplinary research has to consciously shed what Healy refers to as ‘epistemological sovereignty’ or the tendency to privilege any one single discipline and enlisting others only as add-ons. An additional challenge is that many of these knowledge systems were shaped at a time when issues of dealing with multiple scales or an integration of multi-perspectival inputs were neither considered necessary nor relevant. Recognising that ‘there may be several valuable ways of knowing’ has to form the basis of any interdisciplinary enquiry. Stakeholder studies can redress many of these shortcomings and offer an inclusive framework to look into questions that top-down prescriptive policies tend to overlook. These also bring muchneeded attention to bear on the kind of ‘knowledge that institutions and individuals operate with’ (Keskitalo 2004: 428). Bringing in perspectives from outside the formal government structure and enabling participation from below can also lead to critical inputs on how specific sectors fare within a larger region, be it forests, mining or fishing. Crucially, such an approach can introduce vulnerability as a key concept and the ‘capacity to be wounded’ by looking at how different social groups are affected by policy interventions. By thus localising impact studies, it can allow for an inherently place-centric notion of socio-economic stress and impact. It is only when a diverse set of actors engage in extensive interactions and learn from such interactions that these processes can produce socially
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inclusive development outcomes. A subregional multilevel governance framework offers an alternative analytic framework to acknowledge the multiplicity of actors and issues that tend to remain largely invisible to the mainstream research and policy gaze. The mainstream notion that knowledge and research have to, in the ultimate analysis, be relevant and useful to policymakers as their end user has dictated choices and predetermined terms of inclusion and exclusion.4
Questioning the Cubbyholes of Area Studies Asia’s resurgence and India and China’s return to the region will also call for a robust engagement with cross-disciplinary knowledge production on Asia. Asian histories, as Sanjay Subrahmanyam reminds us, are essentially ‘connected histories’ and the tendency to compartmentalise regions to absurd levels are props for the ‘intellectually slothful’, who accept them as given and caricaturise these as closed systems (Subrahmanyam 1997: 742). Each region arrives at a given historical juncture with a complex trail of ideas, value systems and the wider intellectual context within which that knowledge is produced. This transport of cultural and intellectual streams and their claims over our collective imaginations is a filter through which a region is produced and imagined. These networks and flows also remind us that ‘it would be a mistake to assume that only the elite is capable of cosmopolitan practice’ (Harper and Amrith 2012: 257). Reminding ourselves of these cultural crossings assumes added relevance since much of the mainstream IR scholarship on the region remains hived into the cubbyholes of area studies. This will inadvertently reopen the old debate between social For instance, the intellectual discourse on water has been problematic because of its inability to project alternative scenarios as well as raise critical new questions. A straitened debate on the issue and an often uncritical intellectual acceptance of this has unfortunately diminished the space for unlearning. Broadly, water research has tended to eschew an interdisciplinary approach that should typically integrate the disciplines of hydrology, geology, earthquake engineering, agricultural sciences, structural engineering, social sciences and financial analysis. Also absent is an attempt to draw integral interlinkages between water, land use, environment and sanitation. There are few reports or publications that combine technical and social science perspectives and reference to technical literature is limited in social science research publications. 4
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sciences and area studies and it is only proper that it should. The question is: Can this binary be creatively recast to mutual advantage? India and China will have major stakes in how the region is imagined, the kind of order that is likely to emerge, its normative underpinnings as well as the manner in which Asian studies evolve. This is a process that will provide an opportunity as well as a challenge for both countries to help set the agenda on critical issues concerning the region. The future of Asia studies as Wim Stokhof rightly says ‘lies in Asia itself’ (Stokhof 2006: 2). Such regional learning and knowledge production processes need to, however, carefully step over ethnocentric minefields and avoid essentialising its multiple identities into a unique Asian way of life as it were. It also has to be conscious of the politicality implicit in the apparent objective categories of Asia’s many regional divisions—South, Central, East and Southeast Asia (Singh 2001; Yang 2010). An illustrative example of this reductive thinking is evident in the sequestering of Ladakh that historically functioned as the ‘land of trails’ and the celebrated ‘crossroads of high Asia’. It is unfortunate that a montane region that sat astride many of these traditional trade routes linking India, China and Central Asia today finds itself segmented between the bifurcated regions of South and Central Asia within area studies (Harper and Amrith 2012: 252). Rethinking many of these categories can have the potential to fundamentally transform the way we do area studies itself and as Rainer Lederman argues, move beyond ‘geographical mappings of placed topics’ towards ‘situated disciplinary discourses’ (McKinnon et al. 2008: 274). Such ‘grounded engagements’ can be critical in probing the role of ‘geopolitical gatekeeping’ on patterns of knowledge production in Asia. This will be particularly true of the area studies tradition in India. Although originally envisioned as a ‘vital element of India’s comprehensive national strength’, a fundamental flaw in its institutional design has been its inability to evolve into a comprehensive programme combining theoretical rigour and multidisciplinarity. The unfortunate snapping of what are essentially two constitutive links, has created false dualisms that contributed in no small measure to an erosion of its relevance (Bajpai 2009; Sahni 2009). This dualism was to strike deep roots since scholars often ‘mixed up IR with area studies, encouraged the latter to the detriment of the former… and thus beggared IR’ (Bajpai 2009: 125). Disciplinary and area knowledge projects have failed to co-evolve, impoverishing both traditions in
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the process (Sahni 2009: 50). These fragmented landscapes present a wake-up call for Indian and Chinese scholars of IR to creatively recast their research agendas. While border research as a field has seen several disciplinary crossings globally, the field of comparative border studies in India has remained dormant if not totally obscure. Pending the raising of critical new questions, the India–China borderlands have remained research peripheries and are yet to experience a similar creative recasting of ageing agendas (Kurian 2010). When all is said and done, it is important to reiterate that these are not challenges that can hope to be solved long distance from distant capitals. Beijing and Delhi must realise that a subregional discourse on development could lip-sync the language of a bottom-up paradigm but run the danger of creating exclusionary logics. How creatively to define the signature slogan of borders as gateways will ultimately be a call for India and China to take not just as polities but also as societies. To realise such a vision, Delhi and Beijing must first be willing to quit playing ventriloquist and recognise the ability of the borderlands to speak for itself.
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Index Abraham, Itty, 11 accountability, 99–103 ACD. See Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) Acharya, Alka, 19 administrative mapping, 41–43 AFSPA. See Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) agency, 99–103 Aggarwal, Ravina, 11 Ahamed, E., 114 Anglo–Burmese War of 1824-1826, 36 ARF. See ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 45, 137 Arora, Balveer, 50 Article 244(2), 49 Article 371-A, 49n13 Arunachal Pradesh, 4n3, 27, 81–82 ASEAN. See Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) ASEAN Post-ministerial Conference (PMC), 60 ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), 23, 60 ASEM. See Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Asia, subregional economic zones, 62 Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD), 60 Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), 60 Assam, 4n3, 31 Assam Disturbed Areas Act of 1955, 45
Assam Forest Regulation of 1891, 32 Assam Land Revenue Settlement of 1886, 32 Assam Tribune 2011, 5n4 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), 60 asymmetrical federalism, 48–50 autonomy, 47–48, 99–103 Backward Regions Grant Fund (BRGF), 53 Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar Forum (BCIM), 64, 97, 118 Baruah, Sanjib, 30, 31 Bayly, Christopher, 36 Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), 64 BCIM. See Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar Forum (BCIM) Bengal Atlas (Rennell), 37 Bengal East Frontier Regulation of 1873, 30 Bennett, Gwen, 45 BIMSTEC. See Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) Blackburn, Stuart, 36 Bleiker, Morgan Brigg, 16 Boggs, James, 146 border economies, 12 bordering spaces administrative mapping, 41–43 asymmetrical federalism, 48–50 autonomy arrangements, 47–48
Index 171 China’s decentralisation debate, 54–58 cognitive echoes, 43–47 cosmopolitan histories, 27–28 institutional gridlocks, 50–54 legibility projects, 36–39 mobility, as state tool, 28–32 multi-ethnic regions, governance experience of, 58–59 national narratives, 43–47 state power, limits of, 33–36 will to classify, 39–41 Border Security Force (BSF), 94 borders to borderlands, 143–145 border trade, 79–83 Bordoloi, Gopinath, 48 Bordoloi Committee, 48 BRGF. See Backward Regions Grant Fund (BRGF) British colonial state, 26 Brubaker, Rogers, 15 Bryant, Raymond, 10 BSF. See Border Security Force (BSF) Butler, Judith, 11 Callahan, William, 133 Canning, Lord, 31 Chaturvedi, Sanjay, 13 Chen, Xiangming, 63 China–India rapprochement, 18 China’s decentralisation debate, 54–58 China’s Defence White Paper of July 1998, 64 China’s open door policy, 63 China’s recent border infrastructure projects, 69 China’s Western borderlands, 4n3 China’s Western development strategy, 63, 117 China Western Development Research Institute, 68 Chiranjeevi, K., 86 Chongqing Municipality, 4n3
Clive, Robert, 37 cognitive echoes, 43–47 Cold War, 42, 63 conservation, 111–112 Cooper, Frederick, 15 cooperation vs. competition frame, 21 cosmopolitan histories, 27–28 Crawford, Darryl, 65 cultural and linguistic factors, 10 cultural sovereignty, 9 culture area, 27 dangerous, mobilities and tend, 8 dark networks, 123–124 Déjà vu moment, 67–70 de-romanticising border crossings, 9–13 diplomacy, 129–130 Doty, Roxanne Lynn, 16 Dryzek, John, 111 Duara, Prasenjit, 15 Easement Act of 1882, 31 Eastern Himalayas, 27 East India Company, 37 11th Five Year Plan (2007-2011), 2 Ethnic Classification Project, 39 Fee Simple Rules, 31 fences and frames border, 7–9 borderlands, research peripheries, 13–16 crossing, the discursive border, 4–7 de-romanticising border crossings, 9–13 polarised narratives, 16–20 rationale, 20–22 subregionalising international relations, 22–23 Fischer, Andrew, 56 Forests Acts of 1878 and 1927, 31 formal law, 124–127 frontier fetish, 26, 42
172 India–China Borderlands frontier of control, 29 frontier of settlement, 29 fugitive frames borders to borderlands, 143–145 constructs, 139–140 interdisciplinary research, 148–149 rethinking research peripheries, 145–147 text and subtext, 140–143 transborder region, 133–138 GCC. See Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) geoeconomic text, 91–95 geopolitical subtext, 91–95 geopolitics, excess of, 13 Ghatowar, P. S., 51 GMS. See Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) GMS CBTA. See Greater Mekong Subregion Cross-border Transport Agreement (GMS CBTA) Gorkha–Tibetan war, 29 governance of multi-ethnic borderlands, 58–59. See also bordering spaces governing regional public goods, 109–111 Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), 74, 79, 86, 90, 101 Greater Mekong Subregion Crossborder Transport Agreement (GMS CBTA), 74 Great Trignometric Survey, 38 Guangxi Zhuang autonomous regions, 4n3 Guansu, 4n3 Guanxi, 27 Guizhou, 4n3, 27 Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), 60 Haines, Chad, 32 Harley, J. B., 37
Hurrell, Andrew, 20 Hutton, J. H., 37 ICAR. See Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) ICLEI. See International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) illegal, mobilities and tend, 8, 11 ILP. See Inner Line Permit (ILP) India–China conceptions of peace, 96–99 India–China context, 19 India–China subregion, 2–3 Indian Constitution, 48 Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), 108 India’s cross-border infrastructure projects, 74–79 India’s recent border infrastructure projects, 75 Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), 71, 72, 91 infrastructure gap, 70–72 Inner Line Permit (ILP), 46 Inner Mongolia, 4n3 institutional connectivity, 73–74 International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), 129 International Relations (IR), 13, 15, 16 interrelated territorialities, 8 ITBP. See Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) Jayal, Niraja Gopal, 47 Jiang Zemin-Zhu Rongji, 2n1 Jungleburi Rules of 1864, 31 Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation Initiative (KSL), 121 Kaladan multi-modal transit transport project, 78
Index 173 KSL. See Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation Initiative (KSL) Land Customs Stations (LCS), 73, 80 language of empire, 37 LCS. See Land Customs Stations (LCS) Lederach, John Paul, 99 legal, 11 legibility projects, 36–39 Line of Actual Control, 17 linguistic factors, 10 Litfin, Karen, 109 Lowenheim, Oded, 16 Lynch, Kathleen, 14 Management-oriented Monitoring Systems (MOMS), 88 Manipur, 4n3 Manipur Hill Areas Acquisition of Chief’s Rights Act of 1967, 53 MDONER. See Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (MDONER) Meghalaya, 4n3 Mekong Ganga Cooperation, 97 Mekong Ganga Economic Cooperation (MGC), 64 Mekong River Commission (MRC), 60, 115 Menon, Shiv Shankar, 132 methodological territorialism, 13 MGC. See Mekong Ganga Economic Cooperation (MGC) Miall, Hugh, 97 Mills, J. P., 37 Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (MDONER), 51, 52, 85 Misra, Udayon, 139 Mizoram, 4n3 Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP), 46 mobility, as state tool, 28–32
modification power, 55n15 MOMS. See Management-oriented Monitoring Systems (MOMS) Mote, Frederick, 34 MRC. See Mekong River Commission (MRC) Mukherjee, Nirmal, 50 multi-ethnic regions, governance experience of, 58–59 MZP. See Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP) Nagaland, 4n3 Naga Students Federation (NSF), 46 National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), 94 National Development Council (NDC), 53 Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isaac-Muivah) [NSCN (IM)], 94 national narratives, 43–47 National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), 77 NDC. See National Development Council (NDC) NDFB. See National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) NEC. See North East Council (NEC) 1962 war, 19 Ningxia Hui, 4n3 NLCPR. See Non-lapsable Central Pool of Resources (NLCPR) Nongbri, Tiplut, 106 Non-lapsable Central Pool of Resources (NLCPR), 51 non-state spaces, 8 North East Council (NEC), 52 Northeast India, 2, 4n3 The Northeast Vision 2020 document, 2 NSCN (IM). See Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (IsaacMuivah) [NSCN (IM)]
174 India–China Borderlands NSF. See Naga Students Federation (NSF) NTPC. See National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) Orang Suku Laut, 8 ordering spaces. See bordering spaces Pallam Raju, M. M., 91 Pant, Govind Ballabh, 45 PAP. See Protected Areas Permit (PAP) The Parliamentary Review Committee, 47 Peluso, N. L., 8 People’s Liberation Army (PLA), 71, 92, 94 perception gap, 17 Pettiford, Llyod, 15 petty sovereigns, 11 PLA. See People’s Liberation Army (PLA) PMC. See ASEAN Post-ministerial Conference (PMC) political and economic push, 2 political and economic transformations, 26 Prasad, Brajeshwar, 50 Protected Areas Permit (PAP), 46 Qing dynasty, 33 Qinghai provinces, 4n3 Qing imperial, 26 Rao, Aparna, 110 Rawat, Kishen Singh, 39 regionalisation, 20 Rennell, James, 37 robustness, of cross-border, 11 Rohlf, Greg, 29 SAARC. See South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)
Sachs, Jeffrey, 6 Saran, Shyam, 71, 83 SCO. See Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Scott, James, 8 Sen, Arijit, 46 Shaanxi, 4n3 Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), 60 Sharma, Jayeeta, 31 Sichuan, 4n3, 27 Sikkim, 4n3 Singh, Manmohan, 116, 127 Singh, Nain, 39 Sino-Soviet split, 42 Sixth Schedule, of Indian Constitution, 48 socio-spatial processes, 26n1 South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), 60, 118, 137 state-drawn political boundaries, 13 state power, limits of, 33–36 Stokhof, Wim, 150 Subrahmanyam, Sanjay, 149 subregional economic zones, in Asia, 62 subregional turn, 61–64 subregional water governance, 112–117 tale, of two subregions, 84–85 Tay, Simon, 63 Tibet, 4n3 Tibet, 117–119 Tibet–Assam route, 65 Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), 41 Tibeto-Burman, 27n2 tourism, 85–90 transborder region, 133–138 transnational, histories of, 64–67 transnational institution building, 120–123
Index 175 transnational social ethnic capital, 127–128 Tripura, 4n3 Tsai, Lily, 102 Turin, Mark, 27n2 ULFA. See United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) UNESCAP. See United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), 94 United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), 73 United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), 86 UNWTO. See United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Vajpayee, Atal Behari, 64 Vandergeest, P., 8
van Schendel, Willem, 7, 11 vernacular knowledge, 10 WDS. See Western Development Strategy (WDS) Western China, 2 The Western Development Strategy, 2n1 Western Development Strategy (WDS), 2, 41, 56, 104, 139 World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), 90 Wouters, Jelle, 37 WWF. See World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Xinjiang Uygur, 4n3 Yunnan, 4n3, 27 Zemin, Jiang, 2 Zhang, Haiting, 4n2
About the Author Nimmi Kurian is Associate Professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, India. She is also India Representative of the India China Institute (ICI), The New School, New York. Her research interests include border studies, comparative regionalism and transboundary water governance. As an ICI Fellow (2008–2010), her study critically compared the accountability debates in India and China. She has been part of the BCIM Forum (Kunming Initiative) since 1999, an international Track-II initiative to create a bottom-up, inclusive approach to subregional development.