Today's Headlines

Today's Headlines - 30 July 2023

The ‘free movement regime’

GS Paper - 2 (Internal Security)

The illegal migration of tribal Kuki-Chin peoples into India from Myanmar is one of the key issues in the ongoing ethnic conflict between Meiteis and Kukis in Manipur. The Meiteis have accused these illegal migrants and the alleged “narco-terror network” along the Indo-Myanmar Border (IMB) of fomenting trouble in the state.

What is the Free Movement Regime on the IMB?

  • The border between India and Myanmar runs for 1,643 km in the four states of MizoramManipurNagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh.
  • The FMR is a mutually agreed arrangement between the two countries that allows tribes living along the border on either side to travel up to 16 km inside the other country without a visa.
  • The FMR was implemented in 2018 as part of the Narendra Modi government’s Act East policy at a time when diplomatic relations between India and Myanmar were on the upswing.
  • In fact, the FMR was to be put in place in 2017 itself, but was deferred due to the Rohingya refugee crisis that erupted that August.

Why was such a regime conceptualised?

  • The border between India and Myanmar was demarcated by the British in 1826, without seeking the opinion of the people living in the region.
  • The border effectively divided people of the same ethnicity and culture into two nations without their consent. The current IMB reflects the line the British drew.
  • People in the region have strong ethnic and familial ties across the border. In Manipur’s Moreh region, there are villages where some homes are in Myanmar.
  • In Nagaland’s Mon district, the border actually passes through the house of the chief of Longwa village, splitting his home into two.
  • Apart from facilitating people-to-people contact, the FMR was supposed to provide impetus to local trade and business.
  • The region has a long history of trans-border commerce through customs and border haats. Given the low-income economy, such exchanges are vital for the sustenance of local livelihoods.
  • For border people in Myanmar too, Indian towns are closer for businesseducation, and healthcare than those in their own country.

Should the FMR be removed?

  • The regime has been reviewed from time to time, and most experts agree that the FMR needs better regulation. As the crisis in Myanmar escalated and the influx of refugees increasedIndia suspended the FMR in September 2022.
  • Given the interests of the local population, however, neither the complete removal of the FMR nor full fencing of the border may be desirable.
  • Livelihoods will be impacted, and essential travel for health care and education may be hit.
  • FMR or no FMR, it is not an easy task. And all borders, even the fenced ones, are struggling to deal with drug trafficking.


China issue Stapled visa to Indians

GS Paper - 2 (International Relations)

India withdrew its eight-athlete wushu contingent from the Summer World University Games beginning in Chengdu after China issued stapled visas to three athletes from the team who belong to Arunachal Pradesh. Wushu is the Chinese term for martial arts. Two hundred and twenty-seven Indian athletes are participating in 11 other sports at the games that are held every two years, and are officially known as the FISU World University Games.

What is a stapled visa?

  • A stapled visa is simply an unstamped piece of paper that is attached by a pin or staples to a page of the passport and can be torn off or detached at will.
  • This is different from a regular visa that is affixed to the passport by the issuing authority and stamped.
  • China has made it a practice to issue stapled visas to Indian nationals from Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir.
  • It says the visas are valid documents, but the Government of India has consistently refused to accept this position.
  • The Ministry of External Affairs said the issual of stapled visas was “unacceptable and we have lodged our strong protest with the Chinese side, reiterating our consistent position on the matter”.

Why does China do this?

  • Passportsvisas, and other kinds of immigration controls reiterate the idea of a nation-state and its sovereignty which is inalienable and inviolable.
  • A passport is the certificate of its holder’s identity and citizenship. Since nation-states reserve the right to control and regulate who enters or leaves their borders, a passport and visa entitle their holders to travel freely and under legal protection across international borders.
  • China disputes India’s unequivocal and internationally accepted sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh. It challenges the legal status of the McMahon Line, the boundary between Tibet and British India that was agreed at the Convention Between Great Britain, China, and Tibet at the Simla Convention of 1914.
  • It is this disagreement that lies at the heart of Chinese claims over the position of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), and its repeated transgressions into Indian territory.
  • China claims some 90,000 sq km of Arunachal Pradesh as its territory. It calls the area “Zangnan” in the Chinese language and makes repeated references to “South Tibet”. Chinese maps show Arunachal Pradesh as part of China, and sometimes parenthetically refer to it as “so-called Arunachal Pradesh”.
  • China makes periodic efforts to underline this unilateral claim to Indian territory, and to undermine the sovereignty of India over parts of Indian territory.
  • As part of these efforts, it issues lists of Chinese names for places in Arunachal Pradesh — it has issued three such lists in 2017, 2021, and in April this year — and takes steps such as issuing stapled visas.

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