China keenly follows India's citizenship debate, Northeast ferment

The debate over the Indian Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019, or CAB, has been widely reported in the Chinese media, from the time the Bill was tabled in the Lok Sabha December 9  until December 12, when it was signed into law by the President Ram Nath Kovind, after the CAB was passed through both houses of parliament

Alakh Ranjan Dec 14, 2019
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The debate over the Indian Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019, or CAB, has been widely reported in the Chinese media, from the time the Bill was tabled in the Lok Sabha December 9  until December 12, when it was signed into law by the President Ram Nath Kovind, after the CAB was passed through both houses of parliament. In various Chinese media outlets, the Bill which was tabled by the Home Minister Amit Shah was termed as another step of Prime Minister’s Narendra Modi to push the hardline Hindu nationalist programme. The China Daily termed the passing of this bill as "a third major step" of the Modi government, after the scrapping of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, removing the special status of Jammu & Kashmir, and the verdict on the Ayodhya temple issue, which may adversely impact the country’s Muslim minority population. 
 
The Citizenship Act grants swift citizenship rights to people who belong to the Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi, Christian and Buddhist faiths who have been persecuted in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Chinese  state media was critical of this measure, with Xinhuanet reporting about the tumult in Parliament by parties opposed to the Bill. The China Daily quoted Shah saying, “For India’s Muslims, there is nothing to worry about, nothing to debate. They are citizens and will remain citizens.” In their reports, several media outlets repeatedly mentioned that this bill goes against India’s secular Constitution. The words used repeatedly in media reports were ‘secularism’, ‘Hindu nationalist/nationalism’ and ‘Muslim persecution’. 
 
The protests which erupted against this Act, particularly in the North-Eastern states of Assam and Tripura have been reported in detail in the Chinese media, with frequent updates. In their reports, China Daily and South China Morning Post reported the concerns of the North-eastern people. The people of these states are concerned that this bill will grant citizenship to settlers who came from Bangladesh. The people fear that this Act will affect the demography and local culture of the region. 
 
The Bangladesh Foreign Minister cancelling his visit to New Delhi was seen by Chinese media as a form of protest from Bangladesh against the passing of Citizenship Amendment Bill. South China Morning Post (SCMP) also reported the increased security around the Bangladesh Consulate-General in Guwahati. The death of two people in Assam during protest and communication shutdown in Assam and Tripura was reported in the Chinese media.
 
The cancellation of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to India due to the ongoing protests was also reported in major Chinese newspapers. The SCMP reported that China was closely watching the Abe-Modi meet, which was scheduled in Guwahati. China was very keenly interested as Guwahati is 200 km away from Arunachal Pradesh, over which China lays its territorial claims.
 
One conclusion that can be drawn from the coverage of CAB in Chinese media is that this issue holds importance for China. The debates and protests across India over this Act have been reported comprehensively, particularly the agitations and protests which are happening in Northeast India rather than the parliamentary debates or the protests happening in Delhi, Aligarh and elsewhere in India. For the Chinese media, India’s Northeast is their focus area. It appears that China will be closely monitoring the developments in India’s Northeast. 
 
(The writer is with the Vivekananda International Foundation)

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