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Discord over accord with China

Beijing, June 24: After the agreement, the disagreements. India and China today offered their own versions of what the joint declaration meant for each other’s stands on Sikkim and Tibet — or what it did not.

China made one thing clear — the opening of the Nathu-la trade route should not be seen as China’s recognition of Sikkim as part of India. In typical Chinese-speak, its foreign ministry spokesman, Kong Quan, said: “Sikkim is an enduring question which is left over by history. It cannot be solved overnight. We hope this question can be solved gradually.”

The document says the Indian side agreed to “designate Chhangu of Sikkim state” as the venue for the border market. China will designate Renqinggang of the Tibet Autonomous Region as the border market on its side.

The two sides agreed to use Nathu-la for entry and exit of persons, means of transport and commodities engaged in border trade. Each side will establish checkpoints at “appropriate locations”.

China’s reference to “Sikkim state” falls short of recognising it as a state of the Indian Union. For India, though, this Chinese position is no big issue. It can only mean that while China has de facto recognised Sikkim’s accession to India in 1975, it is not ready yet to do so de jure.

India was not unduly upset over it. On the contrary, it sees the opening of the route as one more proof of China’s de facto recognition of Sikkim’s merger with India.

But the Tibet question in the joint declaration seemed to have become a more controversial matter. While China was clearly jubilant over India’s acceptance of the Tibet Autonomous Region being an integral part of it and sought to present it as one major gain from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit, the Indian side, for obvious reasons, sought to play it down.

For China, the important thing is that this is the first time that India put its acceptance of Tibet as part of China in an official document. “Tibet is an inalienable part of China and this has been internationally accepted for many years. The Indian government has its own position on Tibet for many years. Through the joint declaration, India’s position will become clearer,” the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said.

The Indian side was more circumspect. There was no official explanation of the declaration’s position on Tibet. But Indian officials took pains to explain that there was no change.

India had accepted China’s suzerainty over the Tibet region in 1954 and in 1958 — a position reiterated on Rajiv Gandhi’s 1988 visit. But this was the first time the Indian position has been stated in an official document.

The recognition of the Tibet Autonomous Region, Indian sources said, was not the same as accepting China’s control over the entire “Tibet region”. There were other regions of Tibet which were outside the autonomous region. The Indian position continued to be that these areas are part of the Tibet region, and not of the autonomous region.

The two countries’ perceptions also differed on how the Dalai Lama would react to India’s acceptance of the autonomous region as part of China.

The Indian side argued that the Dalai Lama could not be upset about the declaration because it did not signify any change in the Indian position.

But the Chinese had different ideas. They thought that the declaration would reduce the Tibetan religious leader’s bargaining position with China.

A team of his representatives was in Beijing only earlier this month for negotiations.

Kong, however, made no secret of China’s unrelenting attitude towards the Dalai Lama. In reply to a question, he was rather blunt: “China’s position is well known as to what kind of a person he is.”

He then went on to add that it is “not natural of India to allow activities (by the Dalai Lama’s supporters) to be organised against China”.

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