India-China joint declaration may include reference to Tibet’s political status

Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, currently in Beijing on an official visit, and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao have agreed upon a joint declaration on June 23, 2003, which includes India’s recognition of Tibet as Chinese territory, according to media reports. However, Press Trust of India (PTI) said Indian officials claim there was no “quid pro quo” on Tibet in the joint declaration, which is being made public on June 24, 2003.

Vajpayee Wen JiabaoA Xinhua report on June 23, 2003 said, “The Indian government has for the fist time recognized, in an explicit way, Tibet Autonomous Region as part of China’s territory, according to an official with the Chinese Foreign Ministry.” However, PTI said, “The details and the exact formulations on the sensitive subjects of Sikkim and Tibet would be known only tomorrow after the joint declaration, signed by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao, and the border trade agreement initialled by ministers of the two countries, are made public tomorrow, a day prior to the Indian leader’s departure to Shanghai.”

The joint declaration will be a declaration on principles for relations and comprehensive cooperation between the two countries, reports say.

These reports come as a prominent Indian newspaper carried a lengthy analysis on how Tibet figures in India-China relations. The Hindu newspaper on June 23, 2003 carried a report by its strategic editor C. Raja Mohan titled “Tibet Static in China.” Given below is the full text of the article.

Reports also say India and China have agreed to open the trade route on the Sikkim-Tibet border. “The memorandum of understanding on expanding border trade, signed by External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha and Chinese Commerce Minister Hu Fuyan, provides for trade through routes that go through Sikkim,”

Tibet Static in China

By C. Raja Mohan, The Hindu

New Delhi – The Tibet question may or may not come up formally in the talks between the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and his Chinese hosts in Beijing. But the political static from Tibet can never really be avoided in any engagement between the two neighbours.

Five decades of endless friction between the two nations has resulted in the accumulation of enormous static electricity. Much of it is centred round the issue of Tibet; and some of the static inevitably gets discharged on the rare occasions when the top leaders of India and China meet. Whether it is the discussion of the boundary dispute or the differences over Sikkim, Tibet does not take long to pop up.

When the Chinese leaders visit India, the Tibetan community here takes to the streets. And when the Indian leaders head to China, they are cautioned by the Tibetan movement not to abandon their cause.

During the historic visit of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to China in December 1988, the Chinese side had expressed concern about the activities of the Tibetan groups in India. Rajiv Gandhi came up with a formulation on Tibet that has remained the basis of Indian policy since then.

On the one hand, New Delhi recognises that “Tibet is an autonomous region of China” and on the other that “anti-China political activities by Tibetan elements are not permitted on Indian soil”.

Despite the dramatic rise in international support to the Tibetan movement since the late 1980s, New Delhi has consciously refused to take advantage and has done nothing to raise the political hackles in Beijing. Given the great sensitivities about Tibet on both sides, Mr. Vajpayee and his hosts are likely to handle the issue with supreme caution.

* * *

Mr. Vajpayee’s engagement of the Chinese leadership is taking place amid an interesting political dynamic between Beijing and the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, exiled in India for more than four decades. A delegation of the Dalai Lama’s representatives returned from China earlier this month after a second round of consultations in less than a year. Analysts of Sino-Tibetan relations all over the world are surprised by the positive tone on both sides.

Lodi Gyari, leader of the Tibetan delegation, in a press statement issued from Dharamsala on June 11 after he briefed the Dalai Lama about his talks, expressed cautious optimism. “We feel greatly encouraged by our first encounter and exchange of views with our new Chinese counterparts. They have explicitly acknowledged the positive efforts made by the Tibetan leadership to create a conducive environment for the continuation of the present process and we suggested that both sides take further steps.”

“Both sides agreed that our past relationship had many twists and turns and that many areas of disagreement still exist. The need was felt for more efforts to overcome the existing problems and bring about mutual understanding and trust,” Mr. Gyari added.

In a statement on June 12, the spokesman of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs reciprocated the sentiment. “This method proves that there is contact between the central government and the Dalai Lama. The lines of communications are open.”

When Mr. Gyari’s team visited China in September, Beijing characterised it as a private visit. But this time, China is calling it a “contact” which is expected to continue.

Analysts note that Mr. Gyari, once seen in Beijing as being responsible for the successful global campaign on Tibet, has now been accepted by China as an interlocutor. They suggest this could be yet another signal of a new level of seriousness in both Beijing and Dharamsala.

* * *

In an interesting move, the Chinese allowed the Dalai Lama’s delegation to travel this time to Tibetan areas outside the administrative border of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). The delegation visited holy sites in the Dechen Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province.

Tibetan exiles have long complained that China has merged many traditionally Tibetan areas into other neighbouring provinces such as Qinghai, Gansu, Yunnan and Sichuan. But the Chinese generally insist that the “Tibet issue” does not apply to other areas outside the present TAR. During its September 2002 visit, the Tibetan delegation was confined to the TAR.

While scepticism prevails internationally about Beijing’s approach to Tibet, many Tibet watchers are wondering if China has begun to soften a bit and recognise the advantages of settling the issue during the lifetime of the present Dalai Lama.

* * *

There is also an interesting debate about the role of the Chinese President, Hu Jintao, in the latest Tibet initiative from Beijing. Mr. Hu had served as Communist Party boss in Tibet in the past and still holds a seat in the National Peoples Congress, Chinese version of Parliament, from Tibet.

The new Chinese interlocutor for Mr. Gyari, Liu Yandong, is said to be close to Mr. Hu in Tibet. Ms. Liu, who heads the United Front Work Department of the Communist Party of China, and Mr. Hu rose through the ranks of the Youth League.

While many credit Mr. Hu for pushing the political contact with the Tibetan exiles forward, others give senior leader Jiang Zemin his due for opening the door for an engagement with the Tibetans. After serving as President for two terms, Mr. Jiang has held on to the powerful job of Chairman of the Central Military Commission.

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