by Subir Bhaumik

Knowing the Chinese penchant for homework and reliance on real expertise rather than know-all bureaucrats, I wonder what will President Xi tell PM Modi when they meet next.

Knowing the way China’s growing band of South Asia experts advise their leadership on our region, I am well placed to hazard a guess.

Xi will ask Modi about the death of six Assam policemen during their violent Monday encounter with Mizoram police.

“If your state borders cannot be solved 70 years after Independence, how to you expect to resolve your borders with China,” Xi may ask.

The Chinese have long-eyed conflicts in the Northeast to fuel anti-Indian separatist movements. If pushed hard on the borders by the Indian army, they may do so again. But the Assam-Mizoram boundary row taking a violent turn will not help China in promoting ethnic separatism in the Northeast.

It will help China built a new narrative of India for global consumption. The Chinese state-owned media has projected a very gloomy picture of the Indian economy as if all is falling apart. They have been somewhat restrained in playing up the religious conflict because China’s treatment of Uighurs is as much in global headlines as the problems now faced by Indian Muslims.

But border conflicts between Indian states, in which armed policemen shoot at each other, is a perfect story for China’s growing army of spin doctors to portray a ‘conflict-ridden disunited India’. The failure to solve disputed borders between its own states may be used by them to blame the festering border dispute with China loud and square on India.

The message would be simple but forceful — India can’t solve disputed borders within its own country, how can it be expected to solve border disputes with China?

And then they will spin a line that the late Neville Maxwell used to — China has resolved its border disputes with all countries on its frontiers, all except India. Implying India is at fault. Maxwell was a great admirer of Mao and Zhou — but his thesis projecting India as the aggressor in 1962, though summarily blasted by Bertil Lintner and other scholars recently, did run its mile for five decades and helped China justify its 1962 invasion.

Therefore, Delhi can’t sleep over these border skirmishes in the Northeast. It should first deploy central forces on the tense borders between North-Eastern states to control and prevent flareups like the one at Lailapur. Then it should set up a Northeast Boundary Commission to resolve all the inter-state boundary issues and freeze the borders as they were.

To set a time frame for like 2022 (as suggested by Home Minister Shah) is not a bad idea but one should allow some overrun if that makes the boundary awards more credible. This is a key national issue, and not to be swept under the carpet after two days of primetime TV verbal wars.