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<-Back to WTN Archives Old rivals search for common ground
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World Tibet Network News

Published by the Canada Tibet Committee

Sunday, July 6, 2003

3. Old rivals search for common ground

Sunanda K. DattaRay
International Herald Tribune
Saturday, July 5, 2003


SINGAPORE During the recent visit by Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari
Vajpayee to China, little seems to have been said about China's wariness at
India's improving ties with the United States, or India's worries about
Chinese military help for arch-rival Pakistan, though both issues played a
part in bringing the two sides together after years of coolness.

Still, the visit did achieve two successes. First, senior officials from
each side were charged with resolving the boundary dispute over which the
two countries fought a brief but bitter war in 1962. The officials are
expected to explore a previous Chinese offer of a pragmatic exchange of
disputed territories that Vajpayee, then leader of the opposition, had

The second achievement was the decision to set up a joint study group to
recommend ways of strengthening economic cooperation. Trade between India
and China has rapidly grown from almost nothing to $5 billion, and the
Chinese are anxious to marry their hardware with India's software skills.

Less satisfying for India was the joint declaration that Vajpayee and
Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao signed. True, there is nothing new in
India's declaration that "the Tibet Autonomous Region is part of the
territory of the People's Republic of China" or that Tibetans should not
engage in "anti-China political activities in India." India has never
claimed that Tibet is independent.

But the presence in India of two senior Tibetan Buddhist prelates, the Dalai
Lama and the Karmapa Lama, and another 100,000 Tibetan refugees, gives India
a diplomatic "Tibet card" that Vajpayee essentially surrendered. What if
China now decides to take umbrage at, say, a Tibetan publication or a speech
by the Dalai Lama, or even demands the latter's expulsion?

Indian misgivings on this score could explain why the Vajpayee-Wen
declaration was not made public until 26 hours after it had been signed.

Whatever the ethics of the sorry saga of Sikkim, the Himalayan kingdom India
annexed in 1975, it is a fait accompli that the United States and other
governments have accepted. There are no Sikkimese refugees or rebels in
China or anywhere else. Unlike Tibetans, Sikkimese have come to acquiesce in
the union with India as its 22nd state.

Nevertheless, when Vajpayee's entourage claimed that China's acceptance of a
trade route through Sikkim implied recognition of the kingdom's absorption,
a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman was quick to object. China is not
giving up its theoretical bargaining card.

The trade route through Sikkim to China - the windswept Nathu-la pass - is
mainly of academic interest. But mention of trade routes is itself evidence
of Beijing's willingness to place geopolitical disputes on the back burner
while forging ahead in areas that are free of controversy. As an Indian
newspaper commented, the new relationship's operative phrase "is more likely
'trade' than 'trade-off.'"

Indians are coming to accept that the most effective cure for political
differences is the free flow of goods and services, investment, joint
projects, exchanges of technical experts, students and tourists, and the
"effective alliance" in information technology that Vajpayee proposed.
China's promise to invest $500 million in India's infrastructure marks a

There is a chance now of restoring fraternal bilateral ties. But the
exuberance generated in India must be tempered with a realistic
understanding of China's determination to negotiate only from a position of

The writer is a former editor of The Statesman newspaper in India and author
of "Smash and Grab: Annexation of Sikkim."

Articles in this Issue:
  1. Dalai Lama celebrations blocked
  2. Nepal Police Relent, Celebrations Go Ahead
  3. Old rivals search for common ground
  5. Tibetan journalist seek permission to cover Tibet

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