The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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IFS officer on Taiwan trade mission

New Delhi, July 28: For the first time, a senior serving diplomat is being appointed to head India’s trade mission in Taiwan.

The decision, which closely follows reports of an incursion in Arunachal Pradesh by Chinese troops and their disarming of an Indian patrol, has set off speculations about Delhi’s “proactive” policy in dealing with Taipei.

Though no official announcement has been made so far, South Block dubbed Vijay Gokhale’s appointment “routine”.

Gokhale is a joint secretary-rank Indian Foreign Service officer of the 1980 batch who speaks Chinese. He has served twice in Beijing and was, till recently, the director in the foreign ministry’s East Asia division.

His appointment has raised a few eyebrows in diplomatic circles here as India, which pursues a “one-China policy”, does not have any diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

Some sections could see this as Delhi’s “proactive” policy in dealing with Taipei.

In the past decade or so, Delhi has maintained an office called the India-Taipei Association, with a director-general as its chief, to maintain trade ties.

Earlier, Vinod Khanna and Ranjit Kumar Gupta were posted as the director-general. But both were retired officers who had been re-employed by South Block.

Sanjay Kumar Varma, a junior serving officer, is number two in the association.

South Block officials said Gokhale’s appointment is aimed at exploiting the growing economic and trade ties between India and Taiwan.

But sections in the foreign ministry see more in the appointment than just Delhi’s attempt to boost trade ties.

Adding fuel to the speculation is the recent war of words between India and China on the violation of the Line of Actual Control in Arunachal.

India maintained that though the incursion by Chinese troops might have been a mistake, their decision not to adhere to a 1996 agreement in dealing with such incidents violated the pact.

But Beijing accused the Indian patrol of similar violation, saying it had entered Chinese territory without official permission.

The incident, now being sorted out by both sides at a diplomatic level, has spoiled somewhat Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s “successful” China visit last month.

Though China is yet to react officially to Gokhale’s appointment, Chinese officials here had clarified Beijing’s reservations over India’s dealings with Taiwan days before Vajpayee’s visit.

They had even referred to an invitation extended by a government-funded think-tank in Delhi to a senior Taiwanese leader a few months ago to participate in an Asia security seminar focusing mainly on China. But South Block officials insisted that such references were just an overreaction by China.

An Indian diplomat said Beijing realises that most countries with representatives in Taipei are no longer interested in a political relationship with Taiwan at the cost of hurting their economic stakes in China.

“Whenever China gets a little too comfortable on Taiwan, they tend to push countries which have dealings with Taipei a little,” he said.

So even if Beijing does make noises on Delhi-Taipei ties, it could not possibly derail the normalisation of India-China relations, he added.

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