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China keeps its word on Sikkim

Bali, Oct. 8: With a tweak in cyberspace, China took a visible step towards resolving a decades-old dispute over the legality of Sikkim’s accession to India.

Hours before the meeting this morning between Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at the Bali Intercontinental Hotel, Chinese officials pointed out to the Indians that their foreign ministry website had stopped showing Sikkim as a separate country.

The move paves the way for progress when the special representatives of the two countries, national security adviser Brajesh Mishra and Chinese senior vice-foreign minister Dai Bingguo, meet in Delhi later this month to resolve the long-standing boundary dispute between the neighbours.

“We are trying to honour whatever understanding was reached between us in Beijing,” Wen told Vajpayee during their 30-minute meeting.

“This morning’s meeting can be characterised as excellent,” foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal told reporters later, adding that the talks were marked by “cordiality and friendliness” in both “tone and content”.

The alteration in the Chinese foreign ministry’s official website — www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/ — was conveyed to the Indian delegation late last night by officials accompanying Wen. Earlier, Sikkim was mentioned as a separate country along with a one-line statement: “The Chinese government does not recognise India’s illegal annexation of Sikkim.”

“Yesterday if you looked at a list of the countries in the region, Sikkim used to figure after Singapore,” Sibal said, referring to the website. “It is no longer there.”

During Vajpayee’s visit to China this June, Beijing had agreed to open a trade-point with India at Nathu-la in Sikkim — a move widely seen as the beginning of the process by China to accept Sikkim as a part of India. The alteration is yet to be reflected in China’s official maps. Delhi believes it will be done in the coming days.

Wen told Vajpayee that China sees the resolution of the boundary dispute in the perspective of its “long-term and strategic” relations with India. Confident that the dispute could be settled with “clear political determination from both sides”, the Chinese Premier called for efforts to take bilateral relations forward.

“Resolution of the boundary issue will send out an important message to the outside world that the two Asian giants have come together to resolve this dispute,” Wen said. He pointed out that along with Southeast Asia, India and China accounted for nearly three billion people and together they could make a significant contribution not only to the world, but also to the “rejuvenation” of Asia.

 Vajpayee echoed Wen’s sentiments and shared his view that a “political solution” should be found to the boundary dispute.

Wen, who toured India nearly a decade ago as a politburo member of the Chinese Communist Party, expressed his desire to visit again, particularly Bangalore, as Premier.

Indian officials feel the Bali bonhomie will be reflected not only at the meeting of the special representatives, scheduled in Delhi for October 23 and 24, but also at a conclave of experts on clarification of the Line of Actual Control in Arunachal.

The two sides have exchanged maps on the western sector in their attempt to resolve the border dispute, but talks have been stalled over the eastern sector.

Sibal said India, though keen on settlement of the dispute, was not willing to set any deadline. “It is a dispute which has been there for decades. You cannot set artificial deadlines to resolve it,” he said. “What is required instead is clarity in political thought and determination.”

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