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<-Back to WTN Archives Warmer ties? Sino-India border still bothers
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World Tibet Network News

Published by the Canada Tibet Committee

Thursday, July 3, 2003

3. Warmer ties? Sino-India border still bothers

By Ching Cheong
The Straits Times
July 3, 2003

HONG KONG - Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's visit to China last
week marked a major rapprochement between both countries that could enhance
stability and peace in South Asia.

Basically, both sides got what they wanted.

On the Indian side, out of the three benchmarks that militant Indian
pundits, such as the South Asia Analysis Group, used to gauge the success of
the visit, at least two were partially met.

The three criteria were: China's support for India's bid to become a
permanent member of the United Nations Security Council; Chinese recognition
of Sikkim as an integral part of India; and 'acceptance of the natural
strategic asymmetry that exists in South Asia'.

The last, in plain terms, means conceding that India holds sway over South
Asia as its pre-eminent power. China came close to satisfying at least the
first two criteria.

In the Joint Declaration inked by the two neighbouring giants, both
countries pledged to work together to promote reform in the United Nations

In reform of the UN Security Council, they called for priority to be given
to enhancing representation of developing countries.

This could be taken to mean that if China had to choose between the two main
contenders - Japan and India - to be the sixth permanent member of the
Security Council, Beijing would lend its support to New Delhi.

On Sikkim, Beijing's decision to open up Nathu La, a border town on the
Tibet-Sikkim border, for trade, was highly symbolic.

It signified its willingness to accept the once-independent Himalayan
kingdom as part of India.

After India annexed Sikkim in 1975, China refused to accept the new status
quo and closed the mountain pass at Nathu La.

Even today, Sikkim still appears on Chinese maps as an independent state.

The Chinese foreign ministry denied that the re-opening of Nathu La was
linked to the Sikkim issue, which it said could not be solved overnight.
Nevertheless, the acceptance of Indian visa control for Chinese entering
Sikkim through the pass marked a first step in that direction.

In reciprocating, India recognised, for the first time, China's sovereignty
over Tibet and vowed to stop any political activity by the Tibetan
government-in-exile residing now in Dharamsala.

Until this proclamation was made in the Joint Declaration, India considered
Tibet a buffer state created by British imperialists two centuries ago to
provide a degree of security for India against China.

Even during India's honeymoon years with China in the 1950s, then prime
minister Jawaharlal Nehru recognised only Chinese 'suzerainty' - not
sovereignty - over Tibet.

This change regarding Tibet represents a shift to pragmatism in India's
foreign policy towards China.

Indian political analyst P.M. Kamath argued in the June 20 edition of Indian
Express that 'with the Dalai Lama in India and heading a
government-in-exile, any use of Tibet as a bargaining chip with China to
promote Indian security interests is inhuman and immoral'.

In the Joint Declaration, Mr Vajpayee also made clear that India was the
first country to adhere to the one-China principle and would continue to do
so in future.

The reassurance goes some way to easing Chinese concern that India might get
involved in a Tokyo-Taipei-New Delhi axis against China, as had been
proposed by Taiwan's pro-independence former president Lee Teng-hui.

As for the third criterion, China was less forthcoming because it would
imply restraining its long-time ally Pakistan, as well as jeopardising its
own security interests along its south-western flank.

To the Chinese, this south-western flank is far from secure. Beijing has
always suspected that despite its declaration of non-alignment, India has
been working with the United States to covertly monitor China over the

US media reports over the last decade suggested that the US and India had a
hand in the Khampa revolt against the communist Chinese in Tibet in the

More recently, two American scholars M.S. Kohli and Kenneth J. Conboy, in
their book Spies In The Himalayas: Secret Missions And Perilous Climbs,
documented in detail a joint project by the US Central Intelligence Agency
and India's Intelligence Bureau to keep track of nuclear and missile
developments in China.

To counter this potential threat, China sought to help India's rival,
Pakistan, including building a naval port at Gwadar on the Mekran coast in
Baluchistan, a province of Pakistan.

Security interests aside, the Sino-Indian border remains a bone of

China has never recognised the MacMahon Line proposed by the British in 1914
as a boundary between India and China. The disputed territories in the east,
central and western sectors total about 125,500 sq km.

Before a formal border arrangement with India can be settled to the
satisfaction of both sides, and before China is convinced that Indian
friendship is mutually beneficial, Beijing will be hard-pressed to accept
Indian supremacy in South Asia.

Articles in this Issue:
  1. Vajpayee taken for a ride in Beijing? (TIB)
  2. Experts slam Indian stand on Tibet
  3. Warmer ties? Sino-India border still bothers
  4. 19 Tibetans Arrested in Nepal Handed Over to UNHCR
  5. Temples to Tibet on RSS agenda at crucial meet
  6. US warns of worsening Chinese record on human rights

Other articles this month - WTN Index - Mail the WTN-Editors

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